Myths about Mackintosh

Happy birthday Toshie! In honour of his 150th, take a look at some of the Mackintosh myths and misconceptions that still do the rounds…


First thing’s first: HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOSHIE! Today is his 150th, as anyone reading this probably already knows.

In honour of that, I thought I’d put together a very quick little post addressing some of the most popular misconceptions (and at times, myths) about our Toshie. Many have simply arisen from hearsay or misunderstandings of history. Almost all have roots in the earliest scholarship on CRM, namely Thomas Howarth‘s book Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement, 1952/77. Not to disparage this work – it is the foundation text for any serious research in the field. But it is also written through a particular Modernist (and male-biased) lens, and from accounts told to Howarth by people who knew Mackintosh – fascinating, but also second hand, and often unsubstantiated.

It is also the case that as ‘dead artists’ go, we’ve very little factual information left behind, and only a very small amount in Mackintosh’s own words.

What is somewhat baffling, though, is that these myths yet persist despite scholarship having debunked many of these decades ago. Writing in 1996, Alan Crawford spoke of what he called the ‘Mackintosh Myth’:

‘Howarth’s book and the popular image of Mackintosh are both informed by stereotypes of the genius, rooted in 19th-century Romanticism, and of the pioneer, rooted in 20th-century progressivism. Howarth’s Modernist version of Mackintosh may have lost academic credibility, but it lives on in the popular imagination.’

Over 20 years later, we still hear these same myths repeated even in the most recent articles and tv programmes, which Crawford and other authorities since have tried to clarify. Here is a sampling of the most common:

Mackintosh was a ‘(misunderstood, neglected, lone) genius’.

I (and I’m sure other CRM scholars) often get asked ‘Why was he so neglected? Why was he forgotten? Why was he so popular in Europe and not Glasgow?’ I’m not sure any of these notions are entirely true.

I suppose this misconception is a matter of perspective. It is true that for some time in the early-to-mid 20th-century, his name was not as famous in Glasgow as it has been for the last several decades. During his life, some press reports were derisive of his work, leaving behind the impression that he was a ‘misunderstood genius’. His critical success in international art & design exhibitions (such as the 8th Vienna Secession in 1900 and Turin 1902) have likewise been interpreted as his being valued and wildly successful on the continent, while Britain rejected him.

I feel this does not necessarily equate to neglected, or even genius. On the latter point, I’m going to borrow from Crawford: ‘I have not called him a genius because I am not sure what that means.’ He was very well-received in Europe in certain circles, and the handful of press articles (mostly in niche art and design journals like Decorative Kunst) lauded his work alongside others artists and designers associated with The Glasgow School of Art. And perhaps there is a nugget of truth in the notion that these designs were more palatable to European tastes, in their relationship to the Art Nouveau/Secession styles that were emerging at the time. The reality is, though acclaimed in press, Mackintosh received very few continental commissions from this exposure.

The original Willow Tea Rooms building, post-conservation, fresh and glorious in the rarified sun. Image courtesy the Willow Tea Rooms Trust, 2018.

I also think these assumptions do a disservice to Glaswegian art and design of the period, which was flowering both metaphorically and in decorative motif. To say that Mackintosh was misunderstood or even seen as bizarre, simply based on the comments of a few perhaps backwards journalists, is an over-simplification. After all, it was a savvy businesswoman, Catherine Cranston, who gave him some of his best visibility in her popular tearooms. And alongside the innovative architecture of the late Victorian ‘Second City’ (think Thompson, Leiper, Salmon, Burnett), Mackintosh was unique but certainly not out of place in radical inventiveness. Perhaps most importantly, he was part of a wider art movement which we now like to call ‘Glasgow Style’, and was certainly not alone in the production of such work, nor was Cranston the sole consumer.

Again, I must point to Crawford’s excellent 1996 biography, which successfully debunks this idea throughout. In any case – look around today. We certainly have rectified any neglect he may have experienced!

Verdict: Misconstrued.


Mackintosh is an internationally famous architect/design icon.

You wouldn’t believe it in Glasgow today, but unless you are really into architecture or design, Mackintosh is actually still little-known in large parts of the world. Maybe this is where the ‘neglected’ notion comes in, but by that argument we might say the majority of architects, and virtually all designers, are neglected. Perhaps we can get him a ‘Simpsons’ guest spot like Frank Ghery had?

Verdict: Aspirational

The Immortals: Frances Macdonald, Agnes Raeburn, Janet Aitken, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Katherine Cameron, Jessie Keppie, Margaret Macdonald, ca. 1893. Collection: GSA DC004/9
Mackintosh was engaged to Jessie Keppie. He then jilted her and married Macdonald, which ultimately ruined his career.

There is literally no factual evidence to support any of this.

I’ve recently written another post that talks about this supposed ‘love triangle’ in more detail, particularly as it relates to the misinterpretation of a group photo of ‘The Immortals’ now in the GSA collection. In brief, this image is often portrayed as depicting a ‘frission’ between Keppie and Macdonald, at far right. I don’t see it – they look like pals sharing a cheeky laugh to me, and to many others I’ve asked. People have read into this based on the aforementioned myth.

Roger Billcliffe most recently wrote that this bit of gossip may have initially been told to Howarth by Francis Newbury’s daughter Mary Newbury Sturrock. But as Billcliffe points out in his recent book The Art of the Four, she was ‘not yet born when these events took place and… would have been quoting, or making deductions, from later family discussions.’ He continues: ‘Many years later, in discussions with [me], she modified the word “engagement” to “an understanding”, as close perhaps to a withdrawal of the original suggestion as she was able to make.’ Billcliffe also points to discrepancies in Timothy Neat’s account of events in his book Part Seen, Part Imagined (1994), showing convincingly that the timeline of events, alongside the fact that no formal engagement was announced as would have been appropriate for the social rank of the Keppies, made such an arrangement rather dubious.

It also doesn’t make any sense to say he left Jessie Keppie, OR that it ruined his career, since he made partner in Honeyman & Keppie a few years after the supposed jilting took place.

Verdict: Possible but unsubstantiated, and unlikely.

Margaret Macdonald was a massive influence on Mackintosh. Mackintosh said, ‘I just have talent, Margaret has genius.’ Mackintosh said that Margaret was ‘half if not three-quarters’ in all his work.

Or some version of these.

In fact, as someone who entered this field by researching Margaret Macdonald, I often do get asked if she influenced him, how she influenced him, etc. I’ve always been happy to answer affirmatively as she was so unfairly marginalised in the past. However it is more accurate to say that their relationship was of mutual influence and import.

Did Mackintosh say, ‘I just have talent, Margaret has genius’? Maybe. It is another second-hand comment reported by his friend Major Desmond Chapman-Huston (in the Major’s own reminiscences). In fact Chapman-Huston goes on to say he disagrees with this, as he doesn’t see the same level of inventiveness in her work (to paraphrase).

Mackintosh DID say, in a letter to Margaret, ‘You are half if not three-quarters in all my architectural work.’ This does seem to indicate he felt her to be an inspiration, if not an influence, in this area.

I’ve written an article about their collaborations in the most recent issue of the Mackintosh Society Journal, but you can also get a little more insight at this post.

Verdict: Mostly true, but often overstated or taken out of context.

Macdonald’s ‘The Heart of the Rose’ (1902) from the GSA collection, on the conservator Graciela Ainsworth’s easel back in November 2015.
Mackintosh designed Macdonald’s gesso panels.

This one is a matter of critical debate, with some believing that because these works are so precise and architectural, and/or because Macdonald wasn’t as inventive; that the gessoes were likely designed by Mackintosh and executed by Macdonald.

I confess that my initial outrage at this theory kept me from thinking critically about it for some years. But I’ve taken a step back to consider whether this has merit. I will allow that it is certainly true that Macdonald often repeated subjects and motifs in her work; and that also she didn’t necessarily show a great deal of long-term ambition in her design practice (meaning her extant body of work is relatively small, all considered). But I do not feel that she was incapable of intricate or complex design work, particularly when she hit her stride with the gessoes after 1900.

What interests me is this thorny issue of collaboration, and how we can’t necessarily pick apart how their creative partnership worked. As above, Mackintosh considered Macdonald to be a massive part of his creative process, including his architectural work. He also said, when working on the Ingram Street panels, ‘Miss Margaret Macdonald is doing one and I am doing the other. We are working them together and that makes the work very pleasant.’ But this is the only word we have on this subject – what does ‘working them together’ mean? Perhaps he managed to help flesh out her ideas in sketches that were then executed by her hand, we simply don’t know. And we simply never shall.

Verdict: Unprovable. Unlikely.

Mackintosh was an alcoholic.

Again I am going to borrow from Billcliffe, and I shall have to paraphrase as it was in a recent talk given at Queen’s Cross Church where I heard him say that in his view, Mackintosh didn’t drink any more than anyone else in the office (or in Glasgow on any given day). And Keppie probably drank a lot more!

Mackintosh struggled with his career in Glasgow after he parted company with Honeyman and Keppie. Again from reports of friends, he certainly seemed despondent, and of course the Mackintoshes ended up quitting Scotland altogether. Because the latter part of his life seems to our mind a melancholy struggle, I think we tend to assume it was either due to drink, or perhaps he drank as a consequence.

In contrast, we know for a fact that it was McNair that was the alcoholic, even to the extent that he was sent of to Canada for a time to ‘dry out’. This is substantiated in a letter by close friend Jessie Newbery, and other reports.

Ultimately it was tobacco (via cancer), not drink, that did Mackintosh in.

Verdict: Perhaps, but we don’t really know for certain.

Mackintosh was into the occult.
1-2 MC_G_8
‘The Tree of Personal Effort, The Sun of Indifference’, January 1895 (from The Magazine, Spring 1896). Pencil and watercolour on paper, 213 x 173 mm. Collection: Glasgow School of Art (MC/G/8)

My favourite! Because I really want it to be true!

However, there is absolutely no evidence to support this prospect. What he definitely was into was Symbolism. And Symbolist Art was influenced by all sorts of esoteric fin-de-siecle philosophies and ideas, including Theosophy, which explored religions and spiritual practices of all kinds. And he certainly had friends in Glasgow who were Theosophists. Spiritualism and interest in the metaphysical were all part of the ‘cultural soup’ in this period, and these notions go hand-in-hand with the interest in Celtic/Nordic mythology, and a romanticised vision of Scotland’s past, which is evident across Glasgow Style art & design.

But there is zero evidence that he was an Occultist, a Theosophist, a Rosicrucian, a member of the Golden Dawn, or part of the Order of the Phoenix. Or a Timelord (although another famous GSA graduate was).

If there IS missing evidence though, I hope I’m the one to find it!

Verdict: If only!

Mackintosh was Steampunk

Full confession – I’m the culprit in this one! Every time I give an interview, either it slips out in chat, or I’m even asked if I think there is something Steampunk about him – and it seems to be the one thing I get quoted on now, every time! That and that he shows up in science fiction, something that fascinates me. In fact you can read the latest quote in today’s EXCELLENT article by Olly Wainright – in which no (other) myths appear, hurrah!

The truth here, expressed somewhat more intelligently I hope, is that there is something rather retro-futuristic about his work that is difficult to quantify. It looks back at the same time it looks forward, giving it a timeless quality. I often do explain this in interviews, but it usually doesn’t make the edit, heh. Ah well. I need a pair of brassy Mackintosh goggles to turn up, to prove my theory.

Verdict: Apologies – but kind of true if you think about it!

Mackintosh invented the Glasgow Style

Despite the title of the current exhibition at the Kelvingrove, Mackintosh did not ‘make’ or ‘invent’ the Glasgow Style on his own. And in fact this exhibition does an fantastic job of showing precisely how many amazing artists, designers, and architects – many friends of his – were involved. The accompanying text by Alison Brown is also excellent, and here’s hoping she can make an expanded version of this! Don’t miss this wonderful exhibit!

Verdict: Untrue, as you can see for yourself at the Kelvingrove!

There is just SO MUCH to celebrate about Mackintosh – so much he has given to the city, and the world. No need to romanticise him, or make him overly tragic – we can appreciate him in truth and beauty, as he would want.


Fashioning the Artist

With all best intentions, I keep failing to update this blog. Truthfully, my job has largely pulled me in another direction, and all my energy is focused on research around the Mackintosh Restoration Project, as a consequence of the 2014 fire. However, in the midst of this, the embargo came off my PhD thesis, Fashioning the Artist: Artistic Dress in Victorian Britain 1848-1900, and so I thought I’d go ahead and provide a link to where it can be dowloaded, here.

It needs a lot of editing, and I do hope to turn it into a book when the dust settles on current projects. Meanwhile I still try and get out to teach and talk about Artistic Dress wherever I can. Please do contact me if you ever want to know more.

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James Craig Annan, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, ca. 1901. Modern bromide print, 201 x 147 mm, 7 7/8 x 5 3/4 in. National Portrait Gallery, Purchased 1984 [NPG x132532].

The Thornycroft Dress

Hamo & Agatha Thornycroft, Dress (possibly a Wedding Gown), 1884. Striped washing silk from Liberty, with hand-smocked and gathered sleeves, lined with cotton, Victoria & Albert Museum, Given by Mrs W.O. Manning [T.171-1973].
Hamo & Agatha Thornycroft, Dress (possibly a Wedding Gown), 1884.
Striped washing silk from Liberty, with hand-smocked and gathered sleeves, lined with cotton.
Victoria & Albert Museum, Given by Mrs W.O. Manning [T.171-1973].

This is a post I wasn’t going to make – it was in the ‘save it for the book’ category. However, one of my keen-eyed students from my Artistic Dress class at the GSA pointed out to me that some of my research had been posted to the V&A online catalogue – with no credit to me. Now, before the gasps of outrage form, let me say that I am fine with this, and use it as an excuse to share one of my favourite stories from my thesis. It might prove an interesting (hopefully) insight into how research of this type makes an impact, even if small.

The research relates to a dress (above) that has been viewable in the online collection for some time (its condition is too fragile for sustained display). It was one of the first dresses I identified to study, and has been referenced in other literature in this area. Another wonderful white gown, it is one of those specimens often identified as Aesthetic Dress, and it does somewhat walk in that rather murky area. When I first researched this dress, and at the time of my PhD completion (early 2012), the V&A catalogue said very little about it, but credited it as being a Liberty gown, designed by Hamo Thornycroft. Now, the object information has been updated with information I discovered in the Thornycroft archive at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds, which I happily passed on to the curators. I did this because they allowed me to come and examine the dress when it was still being mounted for display in the Cult of Beauty exhibit, and after a chat with the Senior Textile Conservator Frances Hartog, I realised that they were not aware of the relevant letters. Interestingly, Hartog’s own observations on the gown were in line with the story I learned from the Thornycroft letters (more below). The marriage of research and technical study is a wonderful thing! As is academic generosity.

I shall cease being vague, and excerpt the relevant material from my thesis, as it was one of my favourite stories to write. Probably because it is a wee bit of a romance! Read on…

Unknown photographer, Hamo Thornycroft as Proteus from ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’, ca. 1880s. Photograph, Thornycroft Archive, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.
Unknown photographer, Hamo Thornycroft as
Proteus from ‘Two Gentlemen of Verona’,
ca. 1880s. Photograph, Thornycroft Archive, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.
Unknown photographer, Agatha Cox (later Thornycroft), n.d. Photograph, Thornycroft Archive, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.
Unknown photographer, Agatha Cox (later
Thornycroft), n.d. Photograph, Thornycroft
Archive, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

The Thornycroft Gown:
a Liberty Dress?

In 1884, the same year [that E.W.] Godwin began the ‘Art Dress’ department at Liberty, the sculptor Hamo Thornycroft and his wife Agatha created what is for me the quintessential example of an Artistic Dress. According to their daughter (Mrs W.O. Manning), who donated the dress to the V&A in 1973, this was Agatha’s wedding gown.

Both Hamo and Agatha had a well-established interest in both historic costume as well as dress reform, judging from photographs. One photo shows a young Hamo dressed as Proteus from Two Gentleman of Verona (perhaps for a fancy dress party or a tableau vivant); and another photo shows an even younger Agatha as the Queen of Hearts. But costume balls were a popular pastime for many Victorians; more interesting is a photo of the couple taken in 1884, probably shortly after their marriage [below]. Hamo wears the sort of comfortable outdoors attire that Godwin and [Walter] Hamilton spoke of… checked breeches tucked in woollen socks, a loose comfortable coat, and a short-brimmed cap. Agatha wears what was certainly a ‘rational’ ensemble: a loosely-fitted walking dress (comfortable but not straying too far for the fashionable silhouette), and a long mantle-like overdress topped with a shorter cape that ties artistically at her throat. From her posture and the fit of the outfit it is plain to see she wears neither corset nor bustle or crinoline; one imagines she has chosen the woollen combinations promoted by dress reform societies. It is a comfortable and candid portrait of the young couple.

Inknown Photographer, Hamo & Agatha Thornycroft, 1884. Photograph, Thornycroft Archive, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.
Unknown Photographer, Hamo & Agatha Thornycroft, 1884. Photograph, Thornycroft Archive, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds.

The Thornycrofts’ affection is plain in a series of letters written by Agatha that relate to the Artistic Dress she wore for her wedding. [At the time of writing this thesis], the gown… was labelled by the V&A as a Liberty dress, designed by Hamo Thornycroft. Specifically, the object file list[ed] ‘Liberty & Co. Ltd’ as the maker, then in the summary states:

The dress was made and worn by the wife of Sir Hamo Thornycroft (1850-1926). He was a sculptor and designed it for her. They were both interested in the dress reform movement and conceived the dress in accordance with the movement’s principles so it did not restrict the waist and arms…

The sewing is not professional and the dress has been altered. The Liberty material is a thin, probably Indian, washing silk of a type that seldom survives.[1]

The information in the entry is conflicting: the maker is listed as Liberty, yet the discussion states it was made by Agatha, and designed by Hamo. It also states the sewing is not professional, which would also negate authorship of Liberty & Co. as maker.[2] This conflictive listing is possibly due to cataloguing necessities mixed with information given to the museum by Mrs Manning. However, new evidence gives us a clearer picture of how the gown came to be: there is reference to it in three letters written by Agatha, which were not accessible until their daughter left Hamo’s personal papers to the Henry Moore Institute in the 1980s.

In a letter dated Jan 1st 1884, just after their engagement, Agatha wrote to Hamo while she was staying outside of London:

Dearest.  The box from Liberty caused me a great deal of surprise and delight at your kindness in sending me such a lovely present.  The stuff is beautiful and it has often been my ambition to have a dress of it but I cannot help reproaching you at the same time for indulging me to such an extent…  The question that arises is, how can I get it made into a wearable form?  I am afraid the genius of the Tonbridge dressmakers is not sufficiently great to induce me to let them try their hands on it.  But I cannot yet make up my mind on such a weighty and important subject.  You see women are all alike; just as vain as one another!  I have been considering already the design of the dress but I think you must help me with that. It requires great consideration…

A week later, she wrote:

I am going to get my dress made by a dress maker here, the only one I think who can carry out instructions at all near the mark.  I shall keep her well under my eye which will be possible if she comes here to work.  I think the conclusions we came to very satisfactory with regard to the dress the other night.  I have a good idea of what it should be like.  It was sweet of you to make so much trouble about it.

Then finally, on the 21st, she wrote to thank Hamo for lace and mittens he sent, and observed ‘The lace is lovely and will suit the Liberty gown.’[3] Thus these letters offer us rare insight into one way these clothes were made.  It is also interesting to note that she refers to this as a ‘Liberty gown’, although it was not made by Liberty & Co., merely the fabric came from there.

The final design encompasses all the aspects of a proper Artistic Dress. It is made of fine, lightweight silk, dyed in natural colours – an off-white, with a turquoise blue stripe (now badly faded so the dress appears ivory, see detail images). One can imagine it being worn with the turquoise jewellery that was very popular with the artistic set at this time. The dress design the Thornycrofts concocted was modest yet graceful, and in fact, according to V&A Senior Textile Conservator Frances Hartog, the stitching itself is rather basic, hinting perhaps at the uncertain skill of that Tonbridge dressmaker.[4]

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The bodice has a low square neckline and is decorated only with flattering smocking that gives it a rustic charm. Wilson tells us that smocking was revived in the 1870s ‘to give movement to the sleeves and yoke, and by the 1880s it was fashionable for conventional dress.’[5] I would add to this that smocking also had a specific social significance related to both a more picturesque, romantic (and historicised) attitude; and the joy and usefulness of handicraft promoted through the Arts and Crafts movement.[6] Smocking is beautiful and useful, a kind of ornamentation of which Godwin and his followers approved; that it becomes a popular feature of Artistic Dress (and subsequently fashionable dress) is unsurprising.

The back is adorned simply with pleating and a row of functional buttons. The sleeves are fitted above and below the elbow, allowing the coveted freedom of movement. The skirt is beautifully draped in the front in a Greek style that hints at coming Edwardian fashion, while the back is gathered up to create an illusion of a soft bustle, without the added weight of a crinoline. The overall effect is an elegant gown which in its healthful and aesthetic qualities embodies all the tenets of Artistic Dress, without straying too far from the fashionable Victorian silhouette.

Thus it stands that this dress, although made from Liberty silk, is not actually a ‘Liberty & Co.’ brand or make of dress, as we might understand it today. It is an excellent example, however, of the way in which Liberty supported the home arts industry through providing materials for Artistic Dress. They were proactive and even didactic in this respect, as the next chapter’s investigation of their catalogues, reveals.

And so, the object file has been updated to reflect that the maker is actually unknown, although it does still list Liberty as a ‘maker’. I can only imagine this is for search purposes, as I doubt they are trying to credit Liberty’s, but rather flag it up for researchers due to the fabric. It might easily cause confusion, however, another reason I’m glad the notes have been updated with the letter excerpts I provided.

The V&A was incredibly generous in allowing me access to this dress – and incidentally, I always find them wonderfully helpful and open to researchers. So I can’t really be upset that the they didn’t credit me with discovering this material (and the online catalogue isn’t an appropriate space for that anyway) – because the goal of research, at least for me, isn’t glory, but furthering knowledge. (Well, maybe just a little glory. Or a steady paycheck at least.) And now, the V&A know a bit more about this wonderful specimen, and future researchers can use this material to develop their own work. And I feel pretty good about that.


[1] From the online catalogue for: Liberty & Co. Ltd. (maker), Dress (Thornycroft/Liberty), Striped washing silk, with hand-smocked and gathered sleeves, lined with cotton, ca 1885, T.171-1973, Victoria & Albert Museum, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O13850/dress/.

[2] For more on amateur and professional sewing and dressmaking at this time, see: Burman, The Culture of Sewing.

[3] Liberty & Co. Ltd. (maker), Dress (Thornycroft/Liberty).

[4] Frances Hartog, related to the author in a conversation at the Victoria & Albert Museum, March 2010.

[5] Wilson, “Away with the Corsets, On with the Shifts,” 21.

[6] For more on this, see: Parker, The Subversive Stitch; and: Janice Helland, British and Irish Home Arts and Industries, 1880-1914: Marketing Craft, Making Fashion (Irish Academic Press, 2007).

The Künstlerpaar

One of the enticing things about the work of Margaret Macdonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh is the intimate creative partnership they shared. Their friend Muthesius called them the Künstlerpaar – the ‘art couple’. It’s part of what attracted me to their work, and I’ve written and talked about it for, gosh, over 15 years now. For Valentine’s Day, here a selection of things to swoon over…

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, 
The Heart of the Rose, ca. 1902. Painted plaster panel, 96.8 x 94 cm. The Glasgow School of Art. 

First, here is a talk I did a year ago for the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society on artistic couples.

A post on the May Queen and the Wassail.

More on my favourite, Willowood.

And picking apart the rumoured love triangle between Mackintosh, Macdonald, and Jessie Keppie.

From Tea Gowns to Buffet Dresses

Can we embrace these food-themed fashions for their beauty, rather than because they hide our curves?

Welcome to a post I started ages ago, and never finished off. So while the inspiration isn’t so ‘timely’, it is still a topic I’ve been stewing on (food pun intended) for some time.

This past Spring saw the very welcome return of The Great British Sewing Bee, which for the uninitiated, follows much the same format at The Great British Bake-Off: 3 challenges (corollaries: signature/pattern, technical/transformation, showstopper/made-to-measure), cheeky banter, and loads of tension. One ‘garment of the week’ (star baker), and one exit. The GBSB week 1 theme was ‘Wardrobe Staples’, and Sewists had 5 hours to create a made-to-measure Buffet Dress. Never heard of that? Me either! While 19th century fashion is my specialty, I’m not usually so switched off. Host Joe Lycett explained:

The loose-fitting Buffet Dress became a monster hit on the high street in 2019, and has since sold in the hundreds of thousands…


One contestant, Cathryn, a postal worker and former dinner lady, was more on trend than I, as she explained: ‘It’s been very popular with those who’ve been having some extra treats and things because we’ve been isolated.’ Cathryn is also, like me, a huge David Bowie fan and has a cat named Ziggy Stardust, so I totally trust her.

But looking at all the patterns, and finished dresses (which I won’t spoil here), it was apparent that a ‘Buffet Dress’ was the same thing as a Maxi Dress. Or possibly a smock. And when I ran shamefully to the internet to try and discern the origins of this tantalising term, I was relieved that many, many other people had never heard of a Buffet Dress before, including the brilliant Deborah Sugg Ryan.

I even asked at a recent 19th Century Dress and Textiles Reframed ‘At Home’ event – a respectable gathering of dress historians from all over the globe – if anyone had heard of a ‘buffet dress’. The response was a resounding no, with one exception of someone from Australia who said it had been a popular beach dress recently. So where does this come from?

Foodie Fashion

This is not the first time in fashion history that a woman’s desire for comfort – and food – has been linked to dress typologies. Tea Gowns were born for just such a purpose. Many dress historians state the Tea Gown became a ‘thing’ in the 1870s, according to popular press. However, its origins are a bit older and murkier than that, inspired by the beauty of highly collectable Chinese robes and Japanese kimnonos, and alongside the Artistic Dress of circles such as the Pattle Sisters. Watts’ Portrait of Sophia Dalrymple (1851) certainly depicts a precursor to a Tea Gown, its loose, unstructured form designed to be worn privately, perhaps during the ‘At Homes’ hosted by Sarah (Pattle) Prinsep’s at Little Holland House in Holland Park, London.

G.F. Watts, Sophia Dalrymple, 1851-53, oil on canvas, 198 x 78.7 cm. Collection: Watts Gallery, Compton [COMWG.200].

Equally, the dress James McNeil Whistler designed for Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink, Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland has been referred to as an example of an early tea gown – though I have questioned whether this dress, in the end, was even ‘real’ (as in, was it assembled in a manner that was robust enough to be worn out in the world, or was it an ensemble of fabric made for modelling?).

James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834 – 1903) Symphony in Flesh Colour and Pink: Portrait of Mrs Frances Leyland, 1872-1873 oil on canvas 77 1/8 in. x 40 1/4 in. (195.9 cm x 102.24 cm) Henry Clay Frick Bequest. Accession number: 1916.1.133

Certainly by the end of the 19th century, the tea gown was a popular form of dress amongst those that afford it, as evidenced by examples from Liberty’s catalogues:

Liberty ‘Valeria’ Gown, from Liberty & Co, “Liberty” Art (dress) Fabrics & Personal Specialities.1886; National Art Library, V&A.
Liberty ‘Francesca’ Gown, 1902. from Liberty & Co. Ltd., “Liberty” Costumes, Spring and Summer Designs, 1902; National Art Library, V&A.

Although the Tea Gown continues to be a term for a kind of ‘afternoon’ dress into the 20th century, these earlier draped assemblages were closely linked to the Victorian design movement known as Aestheticism. It was a holistic approach to design, a way of living and life really, that centred on the simple premise that surrounding oneself with beautiful things, including wearing beautiful clothes, showed that one was a beautiful person. On the surface, this sounds rather frivolous, but it was actually a much more nuanced philosophy that such aesthetics were a reflection of one’s interior self – their very soul, in fact. These lofty ideals will be the focus of a different post – I promise! – but to keep on topic, the Tea Gown, simply stated, is the comfortable and beautiful garment one might don for entertaining at home, notably when having companions over for tea. There are numerous extant examples in public collections – particularly as the House of Worth began producing them especially for the American market at the end of the 19th century. Here is a very small Pinterest board with just a few examples:

LATE EDIT: I completely missed that my wonderful friend & colleague Abby Cox did a whole fab video on tea gowns, featuring one from her own collection, a couple months ago! Please take some time to look at this, it’s great stuff!

So if a Tea Gown was a comfortable dress to be worn at home while enjoying one’s tea; the Buffet dress is the comfortable garment to be worn out into the world after you’ve eaten ALL THE THINGS, if the internet and Sewing Bee are to be believed. A search for ‘buffet dress’ now returns a bazillion hits, but one of the the earliest posts I found is from January 2019, which talks about it as if it is already a trend: a loose flowy dress perfect for hiding the hideous pounds one gained on Christmas cheese and chocolate. Because of course, whether being festive or weathering a pandemic, women must always HIDE even a few pounds of weight gain, right?

Buffet Dress by Plumo.com – WEDNESDAY DRESS, Ditsy floral printed oversized ankle length dress with gathered detailing, dropped shoulders, a round neck line, pleated knot tie cuff and lantern sleeves. With pockets. Shown here with Hampton boots.

I don’t mean to be a hypocrite – as a fat woman who grew up in the 70s/80s, I have long been a proponent of roomy clothes. In fact, too loose, too baggy – stuff that might ‘hide’ my shape, but fairly shouts that I’m not happy with my body. I am nearing 50 years on the planet, and only recently have I started to embrace clothes that fit me. But before I digress too far into my own personal history of being uncomfortable in my body, a popular pastime for pretty much every woman alive, my love of ‘flowy’ dresses isn’t solely down to my desire to conceal my form. Equally at play is the the desire for comfort, and the beauty of the fall of fabric. And that’s perhaps why I fell in love with Artistic Dress, particularly in the form of a Tea Gown. The irony of my attraction to food-themed garments is not lost on me, especially as I sit in a cafe writing this while side-eyeing the scones. How nice would it be, though, if we could simply embrace these beautiful dresses for love of form and design, rather than because they hide our curves?

I’ve more to say but as I feel this post is already ‘past its prime’, here is an article on Buffet Dresses from the Telegraph dated 4 July 2021. Given that I started writing this post in April, I’ll take this as a cautionary tale to not let things sit until they go stale – who likes staleness in their teas or buffets after all?

Bonus: if this post made you hungry, please check our my recipes, especially my lovely wonderful scones!

Recipe: Cuban Flan

Knocking this one out quick for my pal Lori, who finds herself stuck with 1 can evaporated milk & 1 can sweetened condensed, and unsure how to use. This is the BEST way, so easy, but definitely not one for people avoiding sugar.


Equipment: 1 quart round casserole AND 1 ovenproof dish or baking pan that the casserole will fit into; whisk, spatula, sauce pan.


  1. Pre-heat oven to 175c/350f
  2. Caramel: Add water to sugar in a small heavy-based pot, I prefer nonstick. Simmer over medium-low heat under the sugar melts into a golden brown liquid caramel, then remove from heat and immediately pour into your dish. Pro-tips: do not over-stir, keep stirring to a minimum or it will crystallise; be patient, and do NOT walk away. Caramel burns fast. It is easy to make, and easy to ruin. If you’ve never done it I recommend YouTube and a little practice.
  3. Custard: In a clean bowl, whisk the 1 whole egg and 5 egg yolks together. Add the evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk to the eggs and mix together. Add the vanilla extract, either 1/2 teaspoon or 1 teaspoon depending on what strength you prefer. Pour the custard mixture casserole dish over the caramel, which will have cooled. Cover with foil or lid.
  4. Put your flan into the ovenproof dish or baking pan and fill with hot water to about half-way up the sides, or as high as you can go and still move the thing without spilling hot water on yourself or into the flan.
  5. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven and let set for another 15 minutes.
  6. Remove from the oven and the water-bath and let cool. One cool you can refrigerate to plate later, but like revenge, this is a dish that must be served cold.
  7. Plating: Run a butter-knife around the outside edge of the flan. Place a plate large enough to handle the liquid caramel over the flan and invert. This can take a couple tries to be honest, also patience. Chill the flan for at least an hour before serving.

Basic for this recipe found all over the internet but this one adapted from Minathebrat.

Mind the Gap

From 2021, this site has the collected writings of several years, from a couple different blogs (which are still ‘out there’, and linked to on relevant pages. But as such, there is a glaring gap of a couple years in terms of blogging. It is both circumstantial and symbolic: the loss of the Mackintosh building at the Glasgow School of Art underpins many of the complex reasons for this. Shifts in focus, attention; the difficulty in writing about such an event; the need to pivot to other things; a renewed focus on redrafting and revising the book I am writing on this building; and an array of other personal and professional circumstances. Oh, and a pandemic – and here you will find a batch of my best recipes that kept me sane.

But it’s time to refresh and begin anew. Fingers crossed there will be more to say here in the coming months and years…

All posts preceding this one have been imported from other blogs, so links and images might be a little wonky.

Recipe: Picadillo & Pastelitos

Two of the most amazing Cuban staples, easy to make, and my ‘go to’ things when I want a little bit of Miami. These are two different recipes really: picadillo is a comforting bowl of seasoned ground beef that you serve over rice, and it is a little but saucy. But if you make a drier version (just cook a bit longer uncovered to let liquid evaporate), then it is perfect filling for pastelitos! I tend to only make these around Christmas because they are addictive and that’s a lot of puff pastry to eat. Or I try to keep it to that.

Here is the problem with my sharing this recipe though – I really don’t do well on measurements here. Everything is ‘to taste’, and that taste should be bold – taste as you go to correct seasonings! So I’ll try to offer as a guide, but you do you.

This picadillo recipe makes a LOT, and in fact you will have enough left after you make pastelitos to just enjoy it on its own. But it also freezes well for future meals, or pastries! UK versions of recipes here, too, cause that’s how I think now.


Amazing with tostones – smashed and fried plantains topped with garlic & lime
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, OR garlic infused olive oil (my personal choice)
  • 750g mince (beef is traditional but you can use turkey thigh, to a mix of both, too – it works great)
  • Ground Cumin, approx 2 tbs
  • 1 tsp or so ground sweet cinnamon
  • 1 tsp or so allspice
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • 1 tin tomatoes (omit if doing this for pastelitos as it adds a lot of liquid
  • 3 tbs tomato puree; or 4-5 if not using tin tomatoes
  • 75 mls red wine – whatever you have sitting around
  • 1 small (~340g) jar Pimento-stuffed green olives, drained of brine and for pastelitos, finely chopped to make about 1/2 cup
  • A couple handfuls or so sultanas
  1. Chop onion and sauté in olive oil a couple minutes in a large pan/skillet until starting to become translucent; then add your meat.
  2. Brown meat and season generously with spices (note on salt – I add a pinch or two at this stage, but then correct at the end after olives are added, since they are salty); mix and add tomatoes, puree, and wine.
  3. Olives: for picadillo, I like to leave these whole, but you could chop them up a bit. If you are doing pastelitos though, you want to finely chop these – I recommend a mini chopper of food processor, just be careful not to make tapenade! Add these next.
  4. Scatter with a couple handfuls of the sultanas. For picadillo, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes or so. For pastelitos, simmer uncovered until liquid has evaporated.
  5. TASTE, correct seasonings if needed.
  6. Picadillo – serve over steamed white rice, like basmati. Pastelitos – set aside to cool.


  • 2 packs ready-roll puff pastry
  • Picadillo – you would probably only use about 1/3 of the above recipe, so you could always make less.
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  1. Take pastry from fridge 20-30 minutes before use
  2. Place 1/2 cup sugar in small pan with 1/2 cup water; simmer until sugar dissolves and you have a simple syrup, set aside to cool
  3. Unroll pastry and either cut into an even number round circles, or be lazy and use a knife to cut into squares – I lay them on top with the baking paper between, then cut into thirds the long way, then into 6 across to make 18 rectangles.
  4. Place about 2 teaspoons of meat onto half of the pastry shapes – be a bit generous, but not some much that you don’t have an edge.
  5. Place the other half of pastry over the top of each. Ideally you would be patient and lightly wet the edges of each and seal with a fork maybe? But honestly I just pressed them down, then carefully picked up and pinched them closed because I am impatient to eat them and rustic is fun.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes at 200/180 fan, or until they are puffed and golden. Take out and brush with the syrup immediately, then let cool as long as you can stand it, but eat a couple hot! These will keep at room temperature a couple days, if they last that long. They won’t!

Recipe: Peanut Butter Oat & White Chocolate Chip Cookies

My partner is a bit of a cookie connoisseur – so I was shocked and appalled to learn he’d never had a peanut butter cookie (or biscuit as we say this side of the pond). I’ve adapted this one from the recipe at Sally’s Baking Addiction, doing white chocolate (his fave) and half light/ half brown sugar a blend of sweet/rich caramel flavour. The recipe says to let cool completely, but that is so not the right way. Eat some of them warm at least, perhaps 5-10 minutes out of the oven. The other great thing about this recipe is that it keeps in the fridge for several days, so you can bake them in small batches and pace yourself.

  • 1 and 1/2 cups (180g) all-purpose flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks; 235g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup each (50g) packed light & dark brown sugar (or 1/2 cup of either)
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (260g) creamy peanut butter (see notes)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups (180g) old-fashioned whole rolled oats
  • 1cup (200g) white chocolate chips
  1. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl using a hand mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat on medium-high speed until creamed, about 2 minutes. Add the eggs, peanut butter, and vanilla and beat on high speed until combined, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and up the bottom of the bowl and beat again as needed to combine.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low until combined. With the mixer running on low speed, add the oats. Once combined, beat in the chocolate chips. Dough will be thick and sticky. Cover and chill the dough for at least 20 minutes in the refrigerator (and up to 4 days). If chilling for longer than 1 hour, allow to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before rolling and baking because the dough will be quite hard.
  4. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.
  5. Scoop balls of dough, 2 Tablespoons of dough per cookie, and arrange 3 inches apart on the baking sheets. Bake for 12-14 minutes until lightly browned on the sides. The centers will look very soft.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
  7. Cookies stay fresh covered at room temperature for up to 1 week.


  1. Make Ahead Instructions: You can make the cookie dough and chill it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Allow to come to room temperature then continue with step 4. Baked cookies freeze well for up to 3 months. Unbaked cookie dough balls freeze well for up to 3 months. Bake frozen cookie dough balls for an extra minute, no need to thaw. 
  2. Peanut Butter: Use a non-natural peanut butter like Jif creamy or Skippy creamy. I do not suggest using natural style or oily peanut butter as both produce crumbly, fragile, and sandy tasting cookies. (Try this flourless peanut butter oatmeal cookie if you want to use natural!) Crunchy peanut butter is OK, but I find the cookies taste a little dry with it.

Recipe: Pumpkin Cookies

These are SO MUCH BETTER than pumpkin pie! It’s an American thing, so you’ll see it is in both N. American and UK baking language. One of the small shop pumpkins (not the tinies pictured!) made exactly 1.5 cups, perfect. Also, in case you don’t know – don’t ever try to eat a carving pumpkin, they are bland and stringy. Get the baking/culinary/sugar variety. And can easily be made vegan (I often just make them with nuts and no chocolate), or gluten free, but I’m no expert on that.

Robyne’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip/Pecan cookies

1 1/2 cups (330g) mashed pumpkin*
1 cup (200g) sugar (I use golden granulated)
3/4 cup (145 ml) vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg

3 cups (400g) all-purpose flour + 2 teaspoons baking powder and 1 baking soda (bicarb)
3 cups (400g) self-raising flour + 1 tsp baking powder 

3 teaspoons cinnamon (or combo of cinnamon and mixed spice/pumpkin pie spice) – I am heavy-handed with this cause I love it, adjust as needed.
1 teaspoon salt (omit or cut down if using self-raising flour with salt added)
1 cup (100g) quality milk or dark chocolate chips and/or crushed pecans or walnuts. 

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F /175 C
  2. Combine pumpkin, sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla and egg. 
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon/spice, and salt.
  4. Add flour mixture to pumpkin about a third at a time and mix well. (This is an easy dough so I do it with a wooden spoon, not bothering with electric mixer).
  5. Add your mix-ins (chocolate and/or nuts)
  6. Drop by spoonful on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F/175 degrees C for approximately 10 minutes or until lightly brown and firm (will vary according to your oven and the size of cookie).
  7. EAT UP!

*While canned pumpkin will work, it is harder to find in the UK and, admittedly, not quite as tasty as fresh, so I stopped using it years ago. Most groceries sell small culinary pumpkins in the Autumn, and they are fairly easy to cook. Simply cut in half, scoop out the seeds (rinse them, toss them in yummy herbed salt or curry powder, and toast them!), then cut up into chunks, brush with a little oil, roast at 180C for about 40 minutes, then let cool, scoop out flesh and mash up with a fork! If mix is very wet, strain it over cheesecloth or ghetto-style like me with a paper towel and a sieve. You’ll end likely up with 2-3 cups of fresh pumpkin, which freezes well. Can also be made with butternut squash, but will make a slightly flatter cookie!

Recipe: Lemony Saffron Chicken Pilaf

I absolutely love Nigella. She cooks like I do – like someone who just loves food. It’s earthy and rustic, only precise when baking and even then she is a bit free and loose. She doesn’t count calories and celebrates richness and flavour.

But I need be counting calories.

So, I’ve taken her wonderful Saffron Scented Chicken Pilaf and lightened it up a bit. I’ve used a bit less chicken (418g cause that’s the awkward Waitrose pack size) and rice (400g) since there is just two of us; but I’ve also increased the serving size, so it makes 4 servings instead of 6, for a big hearty bowl. I’ve kept the nuts the same amount because I love them, but these could probably be reduced in the end to cut more calories, since that’s where a lot of them come from; and I cut back to 1 tbs oil instead of 3. I also added an onion, based on some of the user comments that this was a bit bland; and then was heavy-handed with some sumac to increase the lemony zing. Finally, I marinated the chicken in 50g low fat Greek yoghurt, instead the 200g regular she uses – since you discard the marinade anyway, it seems a waste to have the chicken swim in it, and unneeded calories. I also only calculated 30g in the final dish, since most of it was tossed.

So in the end, I knocked a couple hundred calories off, woohoo! The original recipe was 682cal/6 servings; and 1023cal/4 servings; mine is 530cal/6 servings; and 795cal/4 servings. That probably still sounds like a lot, but I do count cals and tend to have the bulk of mine for dinner. You could definitely have this as 6 servings and add a nice veg side, but I couldn’t be arsed tonight!

My favourite part is it was delicious – in flavour, it was very close to my beloved Chicken Almandine, a dish I NEVER want to calorie count. I just want to enjoy it on the odd special occasion.


  • 418ish grams chicken breasts (cut into 2 x 1cm / ¼ inch cubes)
  • 50 grams greek yoghurt
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I forgot this!)
  • ½ teaspoon saffron strands
  • 800ml chicken stock (made from 2 Knorr stock pots)
  • 15 grams unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon groundnut oil, divided
  • 400 grams basmati rice
  • 4 cardamom pods (bruised)
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 50 grams cashew nuts
  • 50 grams flaked almonds
  • 25 grams pinenuts
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios (shelled)
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley (chopped) (I also forgot this!)


COPIED FROM NIGELLA with my edits in italics.

  1. Marinate the chicken pieces in the yoghurt, lemon and cinnamon for about an hour. I did 3. Soak the saffron threads in the chicken stock. I did this later when I made stock while cooking onion.
  2. In a dry pan – the one you will use for your rice – toast your nuts as in step 5, then set aside.
  3. Over medium heat, in a large pan with a lid, melt the butter along with 1/2 tablespoon oil and onion and sauté until translucent, then add the rice, stirring it to coat until glossy. Pour in the saffron and chicken stock, add the cardamom pods, lemon juice and zest and bring the pan to the boil, then clamp on a lid and turn the heat down to very low; a heat diffuser, if you’ve got one, would be good here. I mean really. Cook like this for about 10-15 minutes, by which time the rice should have absorbed the liquid and be cooked through.
  4. While the rice is cooking, shake the excess yoghurt marinade off the chicken using a sieve. Then fry the meat in a hot pan with the remaining spoonful or so of oil, and a couple teaspoons of sumac if you have it, and do this in batches so that the chicken colours rather than just pallidly stews to cookedness. I think if you drain the chicken and your pan is hot enough you can do it all in one, I did.
  5. When the rice is cooked, take it off the heat and fork through the pan-bronzed chicken pieces. Toast all the nuts except the pistachios, by simply shaking them in an oil-less frying-pan over a medium heat until they colour and begin to give off their waxy scent [you did this above because you are efficient], and then add them to the pilaf along with the chopped parsley. Pile everything on to a plate and add a fabulously green sprinkling of slivered or roughly chopped pistachios.

Recipe: Strawberry Scones

Living in the land of the scone, I’ve learned two things:

  1. They are pronounced skon. Not skohn. And if you mean the Scottish castle, it is pronounced Skoon. So you can have a skon in skoon but never a skohn in skoon.
  2. They come in 3 flavours only: plain, fruit (which means dried raising/sultanas/currant/an apricot if really lucky), cheese (cheddar, sometimes fancy with chive).

They can of course be delicious, and the best scones I’ve ever had were in England (at the Watts Gallery Cafe to be precise). But for variety, I love the American version of these. The kind you get in your local cafe, cut in wedges and available in all kinds of flavours: blueberry, lemon, ginger, walnut, cinnamon, and in the Autumn, pumpkin of course! They are often made with buttermilk too, and usually eaten on the go with no butter/cream/jam. That probably sounds more like a drawback, but Americans usually reserve that indulgence for a treat when you go somewhere for proper ‘High Tea’ as the Anglophiles like to call it.

Today I was faced with some lockdown dilemmas though – no buttermilk, and also, would my lovely Scottish co-isolater be down with a triangular scone filled with strawberries, the seasonal (and actual) fruit we had to hand? Sometimes things do need to be done a certain way that my crass American background falls short of. Potatoes are never breakfast food, for example, unless made into a potato scone – and entirely different kind of scone that what is discussed here, of course. So I tentatively explained, but was pleased to find that he was intrigued.

And he was rewarded, because these were AMAZING. I’ve never made a strawberry scone (blueberry is my go-to), so I was unsure. But these have a crisp flaky surface while soft inside, with just the right amount of sweet-tart strawberry. And in a nod to our mixed heritage, we did slather just a bit of cream over them (though I did mine on top while he was slightly outraged I didn’t spread it on ‘the bum’). Because strawberries and cream. I mean…

Btw, I made these because we have the most GORGEOUS strawberries in Scotland, best I’ve ever tasted. But I wouldn’t make these if they were overly ripe, I think they would just turn to mush in baking. Do this with really firm, fresh ones. If you get the massive punnets we have around this time of year then you’ll have plenty anyway, this recipe only takes about 6 or 7 medium size ones.

Finally, here is the pro-tip which most will already know if you’ve googled scones (or American biscuits) even once: DO NOT OVERMIX. That’s the trick. As little mixing as possible just to bring the dough together. And they will be lovely. Also – freeze your butter ahead, no less that 30 minutes, and then grate it into your flour at the last possible minute. Even if your recipe says to ‘rub it in’, don’t – your fingers are too warm, and cold butter is they key to light flakiness. I do this all the time now, and even stick things back in the fridge in other recipes (like crusts) if needed to keep the butter cold.

Enough rambling…

Strawberry Scones

Based on this Martha Stewart recipe for Blueberry-buttermilk scones. I also measured it out with the Imperial measurements, but on my scale and took notes to convert, so this is the right conversion for metric.


  • 1 1/2 cups or 200g plain flour
  • 1/2 cup or 70g strong white bread flour
  • 3 tbs granulated sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 oz (one stick) or 114g cold (from freezer) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup strawberries (not too ripe!) cut into blueberry size bites (you could also use blueberries of course, or any other berry, but not too wet.
  • 1/2 cup (110g) low-fat buttermilk; or 1/2 cup (110g) semi-skim milk + 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Caster sugar and 1 tbs milk for glazing and sprinkling
  1. Freeze butter at least 30 minutes ahead, but preferably a few hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 375f / 190c. Line a sheet with baking paper.
  3. If you don’t have buttermilk, measure out your milk and add lemon to it, and set aside to curdle (about 5 minutes or so is needed). Add a few drops more juice if it doesn’t seem to be turning a little bit textured.
  4. Prep your strawberries if needed.
  5. Whisk together buttermilk, 1 egg and the vanilla in a small bowl or measuring glass, set aside.
  6. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt.
  7. Grate your butter directly into the flour. I set my bowl on a kitchen scale so I know when to stop. Stir this lightly with a fork, as gently as possible, until it looks like a crumble.
  8. Add strawberries and stir with fork to coat.
  9. Drizzle all of the liquid over the mixture, then again use fork to combine. Stir until it just seems to come together for the most part, with just a bit of crumbly flour in a bowl.
  10. Turn this out onto a clean surface, and using your (clean) hands, pat this all together, kneading gently once or twice (but no more!) to bring it together. Remember you want to mix as little as possible, and your hands are warm. Pat into a 1 inch high round, then cut into 8 wedges.
  11. Use a turner to pick up each wedge and put on baking tray. Brush each with a little milk (you can also use egg but I think its a waste of an egg since you won’t use it all – pandemic times!), and sprinkle with caster sugar.
  12. Bake 20 minutes or until just turning golden brown on top.

Eat warm! Serve with gorgeous tea, treat yo self! Delicious plain but you’ll be forgiven for slathering some extra thick or clotted cream on them if you have them. These keep wonderfully though for a couple days in a sealed container, if they last that long.

Recipe: Chorizo & Chicken Spanish Rice

It’s not Paella. And it is not Arroz con Pollo. It’s what happens when you grow up in Miami then move elsewhere and concoct something inspired by Cuban-Spanish flavours and live nearer to Spain (Scotland is technically closer). Paella purists will tell you it will never have chorizo. And anyone from the Caribbean will insist your arroz con pollo be made with peas, Sazon spice mix, and include that magic secret ingredient Bijol (which is just annato powder to give colour and substitute expensive saffron). Unless of course you are cheating with that South Florida diet staple Vigo yellow rice (I miss it!).

What this is, is a regular at my table, as any of my friends who visit frequently can tell you. Once you get the knack it’s super easy, super fast, and can feed you for days, depending on size and hunger of your co-habitants.


  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper (I like yellow, orange or red for this)
  • garlic (a few cloves chopped)
  • 500-ish grams chicken*
  • 240-ish grams milder chorizo ring
  • 500g Arborio rice (paella rice)
  • Spices: smoked paprika, turmeric, thyme
  • 1 chicken stock pot (I like Knorr) or 1/2 litre chicken stock
  • 200ml white wine
  • saffron
  • Pimiento-stuffed green olives

*Note on chicken: use what you want with the following in mind: breast is healthiest but will dry out and isn’t as nice reheated (you WILL have leftovers); boneless thigh works very well here and reheats well; thigh on the bone also stays lovely and moist, tastiest fresh, but a bit messier to eat – this is most like traditional arroz con pollo though! If you do on the bone, cut it off the bone to store leftovers.

  1. Prep: Boil some water and add your stock pot to a small pitcher, pour in about 600ml water and saffron, crushing the threads in your fingers. A little saffron goes a long way, I suggest about 5-6 threads but use what you like/can spare. Set aside to steep while you get on with veg prep. Chop onion & pepper; slice chorizo into small coins; chop chicken into large chunks (if using boneless). I keep them large so they don’t dry out – about the size that if you cut it in half it will be two bites.
  2. Sautée onions and peppers in some olive oil until soft, then add garlic. Feel free to add more garlic if you want, but I tend to keep it mild for this dish (especially if I’ve made up some garlicky guacamole for friends to start). Season it at this point too – add a generous amount of smoked paprika (1-2 tbs) and about 2 tsps of turmeric, and 1 tsp dried thyme. I NEVER measure though. You could use a paella spice mix, or Adobo for the Americanos, but they often have additives I like to skip in favour of the pure stuff. Give it a good stir, it should look a lovely orangey-yellow.
  3. Add chicken, and a bit more seasoning (paprika especially). If using on the bone, add skin-side down and leave til it gets nice and brown, then turn over. Otherwise, just allow the outside of each piece to cook – you don’t want it to be cooked through yet.
  4. When chicken is cooked a bit on outside, add chorizo and stir so it begins to cook a bit. Let it visit the bottom of the pan.
  5. When chorizo begin to look like it is starting to be cooked (just a couple minutes really), add your paella rice and give everything a nice stir, so your rice gets coated in all the oil and spice released in the pan. Add more spices if you need.
  6. Add your prepared stock, then ‘rinse’ the pitcher with 200ml white wine and 200ml more water. Add to pan and stir.
  7. Now add about 3-4 heaping spoons of the olives. You want a good balance between plenty and whoa that’s too many. DOn’t worry if brine splashes in, that’s tasty and part of your salt. Speaking of…
  8. You’ll note I haven’t added any salt. Don’t. The chorizo, olives, and stock pot have plenty, and you can salt to taste when you eat it if needed.
  9. Bring this to a bubble, then cover and turn all the way down to simmer for about 20 minutes, until rice is cooked through. If you find it still seems a bit wet, you can crank the heat and cook uncovered a few minutes at the end. It should be a rather wet but tasty mix anyway, a bit like risotto but a lot less effort.
  10. Give it a good stir before serving up in big warm comforting bowls.

Leftovers: Unless you are feeding 4-6 hungry friends, you’ll have plenty leftover. I usually just microwave it in bowls (not all at once), and it’s still pretty good. Might be better reheated in a pan though, with a splash of water if needed. And yes British friends, YOU CAN REHEAT RICE. Most of the world does this, and I’ve never heard you couldn’t till I moved here. Stop it.