Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Expenses displacement activity

I am not here to account for my latest culinary cock-ups. Mostly because we’ve eaten out a tremendous amount this past couple of weeks. (The rest of the time I’ve been nibbling on bits of raw fruit or veg that find themselves within digging reach in the fridge.)

Also, I am not here to write obituaries for my bowel movements. 

Certainly remarks on my bowel movements will be largely omitted because my mother has joined Twitter. @MotherFantaskis and @FatherFantaskis continue their marital bliss online and, as in the non-virtual world, Mum goes around after Dad’s tweets and clears up the mess of any untidy 140 characters. 

I’m here, because I’m on the coach to London and it’s one of the few times when I truly go offline. Naff signal, and shag-all hope of 3G, I automatically open a fresh page and start tapping. 

And, I should be doing my expenses, so this serves a dual purpose.

It has been just over one year since my high-heeled entrance into the ‘ethical fashion’ world with the 2010 Ethical Fashion Show in aid of the Sacred Childhoods Foundation. 

I get a nasty sense of motion sickness when I go through what has happened in the last 365 days, but that’s probably due to the the suspension on the coach; notable by its absence. 

Providing some sort of catalogue and commentary on the past few months’ employment and activity would be dreadfully dull for the both of us. You’d be better following @HJFantaskis. But be prepared for your news feed to fill up with utter drivel about my thoughts on rain (shit), food (brilliant), my job (always positive, my boss is on Twitter), my lifestyle (mostly dull, with over-personal quotes lifted from exchanges between my boyfriend and I), and my constant struggle to live within my means (bollocks, but largely successful). 

The apex of the last 12 months has been leaving Bishopston Trading Company as a retail assistant to open my own shop in Bath. 

Enter Charlie Boots, a womanswear designer, with sustainability and human rights on her mind - not to mention a tremendously good eye for vintage jewellery.

Like most good plans, this one started in a pub. Here is the wine we drank: 

I would recommend it. I actually took the photo so I would remember to get it next time.

She had an idea. A couple of designer-makers and I (I can’t make for shit; my idea of sewing is stapling) opening a shop in Bath. The general ethos of the brands and stock we’d favour would have some sort of responsible-sourcing, or sensible thought behind its creation.

And so, after a couple of months of planning and a flurry of soapy water, paint and fittings, we’re open. 
I don’t like the word, and I certainly don’t like that it makes me sound like a total wanker, but I’ve been on an mind-bending journey. I’ve had a crash-course in plate-spinning. I’ve been introduced to buying and merchandising, and how to negotiate lead times and order sizes (ethically, of course). 

I’m pleasantly struck by how many brands and small businesses are out there that have brilliant stories to tell - how they upcycled some perfectly good quality waste material into a crafted, intelligent piece of design. Many of them you can’t get elsewhere in the South West and a few you can’t buy in the UK. (If you’re imagining me sat here bouncing and shuddering about in my seat with an insufferable look of smugness on my chops, you’d be spot on.) 

I realise I’m sermonising on the merits of living sustainably and buying ethically, so I’ll shoot off. I do need to at least start thinking about doing my expenses but, happily, we’re just about to arrive in Victoria, so I can leave putting it off to another day. 

Facts: Charlie Boots, 35 Broad Street, Bath, BA1 5LP. 

Sunday, 21 August 2011


For some time now, I have been trapped in a sort of long-term ‘Domestic Goddess Internship’; a bastard of a journey, long hours and unpaid - but ultimately, if you make it, a springboard into glory. 

Now, following that nicely shoehorned metaphor, I shall share with you some of my nuggets - nay, pearls - of wisdom that have been garnered by what can only be described as ‘cocking up a storm in the kitchen’. 

To set the scene, it was a quiet June evening. The Boyfriend was in bed with a headache, and I - having just devoured the latest copy of Waitrose Kitchen - was rallied with a false sense of potential and desire to offer something to relieve said headache of my beloved. 

Obviously, I felt the entire enterprise should be broadcast out via Twitter, 140 agonising characters at a time.

NB: Apologies to the The River Cottage for failing to faithfully follow their recipe for ‘Almond Tart with Strawberries’. 

Culinary supremacy does not come without its costs. Mostly to my pride and clean work surfaces. Hereby follows HJ’s Twenty-Four Step Guide to Bastardising a Flan.

1: Begin to prep pastry _before_ realising you not have a ‘flan’ tin-thing. Make do w/tin substantially lacking in diameter #CookingwithHJ

2: Since overcoming the recent battle to check full list of ingredients, begin to prep filling before checking the _amounts_ needed 

3: Get so engrossed in making filling, forget to take baking pastry from oven. #CookingwithHJ

4: Whilst Boyfriend headachy, begin screeching b/c usual oven gloves are in wash, & clean alien gloves don’t open oven door. #CookingwithHJ

5: Hot ovens are hot. Avoid pushing tray back into oven with bare hand. #CookingwithHJ

6: Having salvaged mostly edible remains of pastry base, spill ‘shape-forming baking beans’ across counter and floor. #CookingwithHJ

7: Realise you have started on a 3 hour baking mission at 8pm. #CookingwithHJ

8: Mid-mixing, realise you lack enough key ingredient. Run out into street covered in flour & wearing polka-dot pinny. #CookingwithHJ

9: On street, remember you’re still wearing slippers, & forgot your purse, before haring up to corner shop for ingredient. #CookingwithHJ

10: At corner shop, be greeted by, “Oh god, what are you cooking now?! Going badly, huh?’ #CookingwithHJ

11: Substitute unsalted butter w/salted butter. Hope for best. #CookingwithHJ

12: Once bastardised version of River Cottage’s strawberry & almond flan in oven, completely forget what time ‘baking’ began. #CookingwithHJ

13: Wipe icing sugar off face. Review wreckage of kitchen counter, inc. washing pile. #CookingwithHJ

14: Open gin bottle. Forget everything. #CookingwithHJ

15: Drop iPhone in leftover mixture. Lick iPhone. #CookingwithHJ

16: Where possible, work with ancient and cantankerous gas oven, which doesn’t keep a constant temp. thru-out. #CookingwithHJ

17: Return to gin glass. If it wasn’t meant to rise, it has now. #CookingwithHJ

18: When checking on progress, absent-mindedly turn off gas. Sit down for 20 minutes. #CookingwithHJ

19: On opening & reheating oven, allow smoke to pour into kitchen. Start fanning back-door furiously, to avoid smoke alarms/boyfriend going mental. #CookingwithHJ

20: Stand back, and enjoy stifled choking and forced murmerings of ‘Mmm.’ #CookingwithHJ

21: (Stood alone in kitchen) Consistency test: “It’s crunchy. Flans aren’t meant to be crunchy.” #CookingwithHJ
(From @richxphotog: if it’s crunchy, it’s gone past flan; it is now a tart.)

22: If in doubt, take most edible slab (salvaged from charred entity) & take to the office w/ an air of effortlessly victorious domestic goddess. #CookingwithHJ

23: Cover creation with two punnets of strawberries in a valiant effort to hide colour/texture inconsistencies. #CookingwithHJ

24: In office, pass round single cream to ‘take the edge off’ crunchiness. 

And there, reader, you have it. Total incompetency, stubborn determination and a feigned expression of delight at end result is all you will need to recreate this crunchy fruit tart. 

To close, I should share with you this gem from @richxphotog: 

@HJFantaskis Sounds like you’ve invented your own genre of pudding. A fruit quiche niche, if you will. 

Praise indeed. 

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Biome Lifestyle - ethical homeware

In the last few weeks I have re-discovered Biome Lifestyle, the ethical homeware etailer.

I have been working in the ethical and sustainable industry for a mere few months since graduating, and it has become increasingly clear to me that many ‘ethical’ websites - let alone specifically for homeware products - are just so terribly... Nineties.
Recently, a particularly fabulous couple of my acquaintance have moved in together. As my mother’s daughter, it has taken a will of iron to absolutely and resolutely restrain myself from diving in and demanding to co-ordinate the entire interior decor.

I have decreed that my limit to the overbearing help I should like to offer this couple shall be a house-warming gift/parcel. (Parcels, you understand, have more scope for a number of goodies). 
I wanted something for this wonderful couple that was incredibly stylish, individual and affordable - I am mostly broke. My work and inherent lifestyle choices happily imposes a need to fulfil the ethical purchasing criteria. I also wanted the online browsing & purchasing experience to be inspiring, stress-free and, for god’s sake, fun.

Etailer Biome Lifestyle hits all the right buttons. Refreshingly design-led, this selling platform is easy to browse and stylishly laid out with a gorgeously well-chosen collection of products - labelled according to their ethical credentials. 

I’m particularly taken with a few pieces (pictured throughout). I've definitely found my first-point-of-call for all future gift ideas.

The price points are slightly higher than some homeware etailers and bricks-and-mortar retailers (I’m thinking ikea, naturally), but founder Alexandra Bishop’s vision and creative direction has put them in direct competition with the likes of John Lewis and ilva (before their UK arm went into administration - to my mother’s grief).

Speaking to Alexandra, she tells me her priority was to bridge the overwhelming divide between style-led and ethical e-stores. An admirable ambition, and one she has certainly achieved. Which leaves me with one thought: ethical etailers, it’s time to step up your game.

For more information about Biome Lifestyle, visit them at:
Or follow them on Twitter: @biomelifestyle 

World Book Night 2011

I have begun some kind of quest to read each title on this year’s World Book Night book list (which can be found here).  
There’s no attachment to WBN, none. But I was passed one of their books (Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ ‘Love in the time of cholera’) across the counter one afternoon - which bore the branding. Inside the cover, to my delight, was the full reading list. 
The attraction lies solely in the ‘list’ factor. It takes the problem (if you will) of choice out of the equation on deciding which book to read next, and I like that it’s written down in one place for me, rather than me having to remember to find the scrawled note.
I scanned the list and I recognized several titles which were filed away under my mental category of, ‘ooh! I’ve been meaning to read that one!’ 
The other advantage of working through a list such as this, is that I am given a head start: having read 2 or 3 of the titles already. I think we can just glaze over this suggestion of appalling laziness on my part. Plus, there’s a bonus title (Margaret Attwood’s ‘The blind assassin’), which lives on my shelves but has never been read. 
In this attempt at a series of blogs, I’ll talk about where I found the book, where I read the book, and what I thought of it. And, if you’re especially lucky, it won’t be nearly as boring as the previous sentence. 
Bristol, I am slowly discovering, is a mine of good bookshops. Indies, 2nd hand, vintage and a nice large Waterstones.
I like reading. I’ve liked reading for a long time. But I don’t like having to actively find good books to read. I hate reading books to discover I am not enjoying the journey.
It’s only very, very recently that I’ve twigged my personal preference in a book is The One Where each chapter is written from a different perspective, a different voice. (Can someone enlighten me on the correct terminology, please? My English tutor would be horrified.)

St. Nicks Market, Bristol
Happily enough, the first book that I found on a recent scavenge in a 2nd hand book shop (Beware the Leopard Books, St. Nicks Market, Bristol - go in and say hello, and buy a book) was Kate Atkinson’s ‘Case Histories’.

It’s brilliant. 
I’m skeptical of reviews. Respected publishing houses and broadsheets having word-gasms all over a back cover isn’t usually what reels me in. I do like reading a good bit of teaser prose though - and I get tetchy with the author/publisher who denies me this. Atkinson has done nicely. 
Without giving too much away - I could still punch the guy who told me Dumbledore dies at the end - it’s a detective novel. There’s a few horrific deaths at the start, a really awkward sex scene that I physically tried to read through my hand covering my eyes, a healthy dose of characters who have completely broken down home lives and 410 pages of who in the hell did it. 
It’s taken me about a week to read it - I’ve been driven nuts by well-meaning, arseholing family and friends who want to spend time with me, and hear about how I’m doing, or in work, when I could be sat completely solitarily reading this bloody excellent book. I’ve been grabbing at spare 20 minutes and - I couldn’t believe myself the other day - I actually set my alarm early so I could get in a chapter before work.
I think, once I’ve exhausted the WBN2011 list, I’ll come back to Atkinson. 
Next up, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ 'Love in the time of cholera'. I’ve heard it’s a bit heavy going so I’ll get back to you on my progress.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Addled with fail? Probably.

I am partial to few good adjectival phrases like, ‘riddled with gin’. Today’s adjectival phrase of choice is, ‘addled with fail’.
I suppose you could argue that this superlative usage could not be applied to the proceedings of my day. Perhaps I should refer to it as Largely Bi-Polar. 
And so, dear, darling reader, I shall leave the outcome of my day to your good judgement. 
This morning, I woke up - without my alarm set - on time. This is good. 
Ambling downstairs, I find my father making tea. Upon the arrival of The Mothership, I propose breakfast, and there’s much  banter as I prepare and burn an omlette. This is good. 
I get ready for my interview in London, and am ready in good time. Dad offers his taxi services but he takes half an hour to be ready and out the door. It is now 10.55, my interview begins at 12. It takes me 55 minutes door-to-door. This is bad. 
Arriving in Oxford Circus at 11.50, I meet Lovely Eliza from boticca, who gives me my beautiful Little Glass Clementine necklace - a delivery that has been delayed by an un-named weekly glossy (don't ask). This is good (the delivery, not the delay).

Little Glass Clementine

From Oxford Circus, my new, 5 day old, case-less, iPhone 4 provides me with directions to my interview location. This is good. 
I arrive on time, just, but still with my jeans on and my flat boots. My beautiful silk embroidered skirt from Coast (painstakingly preserved for the journey in bags and tissue), and Old Favourites stilettos will have to remain in my bag. This is bad.
The interview (sought-after industry specific business mentoring programme - not a job) goes well. An hour of questioning and some fairly well-constructed but leading answers on my part, they tell me yes, I have a place. This is good. 
They ask me for my trading address. My trading address is in Bristol. They tell me no, I don’t have a place. My trading address is not in London. This is bad.

I receive a message from a friend nearby, and we meet for a London Power Catch Up. He buys me a coffee, which I suspect is particularly because I look rough as arseholes. This is good (the catch up, not my aesthetic). 

I get a text from The Mothership, informing me I’ve left my Bristol keys at Taskis Towers (Chez Taskis and Casa Taskis have fallen from popular usage - where ‘popular’ means me). This is bad.

Getting on my coach, I take a brief, but wholly satisfying call from my best friend. She informs me she is baking a cake. This is good.

Splendid Cake

My coach pulls into Bristol and I head straight a local, friendly curry house. I am handed a beautifully brewed spiced chai masala tea, with a healthy dollop of Golden Syrup. This is good. 
Since my boyfriend is shortly due to arrive for dinner, I decide to change out of my jeans and into my skirt and stilettos in the spirit of ‘making an effort, because I fancy you’. This is good.
Changing, I hear a *clunk, crack*. My iPhone, 5 days old, has vacated my pocket and fallen to the tiled floor of the bathroom. The glass screen is shattered. This is bad. 
Sad iPhone

Despite the dismay and disappointment from the day (and my new found rhyming skillz), I begin to discuss some Fantaskis-grown plans for the future of ethical fashion in Bristol over dinner (delicious lentil dahl & chicken tikka masala). This is good. 

So, what do you think, reader? Addled with fail? Distinctly bi-polar? Gaining less than I have lost? In need of a dose of MTFU?
I am going to sleep as soon as possible to avoid anymore catastrophes. Tomorrow I will visit the Apple Store in search for a resolution. My pride, I think, will take longer to repair. And a relocation to London, perhaps longest of all.

Monday, 21 February 2011

The Joy of Baking

As I sit, nibbling on the charred remains of my recent baking venture, I find I am still filled with The Joy of Baking. 

Without fail, my baking escapades - fondly referred to as ‘cocking up a storm in the kitchen’ - have been a complete disaster. 

The pecan pie, which came out a burnt slab on top, with an eggy, wet (strangely lemony) base. 

The scones [I’m not entering the debate on pronunciation. But it’s Sc-own-s.], which came out as smoldering shells, completely devoid of any ‘middle bit’ - light & fluffy or otherwise.

The ‘oaty bread’, which you could bring down with considerable force on the kitchen-counter, and run more risk of damaging the woodwork (tried & tested). 

The carrot cake that was meant to come out a warmly spiced, thick slab of moist, carroty goodness. I took it to work with a large Health & Safety sign attached: ‘WARNING: Non-functional charred edges. Serving suggestion: break apart in hands before attempting consumption. Soften with lengthy tea-dunking. Enjoy!’ 
The Victoria Sponge, which was fondly renamed ‘the Bernard Black placemat’ - crunchy, flavourless and hilariously pathetic. You could pick it up, as a whole, and vigorously wobble it 5ft above ground level before safely returning it to its wire rack without any structural damage (tried & tested). 

This was also true of my botched attempt at Nigella’s choc-chip cookies. 'The Bernard Black Coasters'. O! Nigella, how I’ve failed you.

And, finally, this evening’s effort - vanilla cupcakes. So bizarrely did they cook that my darling boyfriend assumed the gritty black rim of the golden-topped cupcake was the paper nest within which, it was scorched to perfection. In my defence - if you pick away the sides with a chisel - the middle & lid is quite passable.

Perhaps inexplicably, all attempts tasted delicious at the mixing stage (tried & tested). It’s just wonderful. Creamy, sweet and silky. All over my spoon. And face.

I even spilled a blob of mixture on my Moleskine once. I think I am among few of the writing community who can claim they have licked their Moleskine. [This is, incidentally, probably not the post that will establish my presence within the Blogging Community, but it made me LOL].

My mother’s theory is that our ancient gas oven is terrible at keeping a constant, even temperature. And I should probably learn to follow a recipe.  

My theory - far more plausible - is something terrible happens en route from mixing bowl to baking tin. Perhaps the mixture has an outright aversion being spooned? Or being tilted, en masse, to 90ยบ? 

Le sigh.
For me [she says, with a Nigella-esque sultry look to the camera], The Joy of Baking lies solely in the licking of the mixing bowl, waiting for my latest cock-up to finish laughing at me from the depths of our oven.