jeudi 3 juin 2010

On beauty

Fridays are for me the toughest day of the week to get through; my day starts way before I'm ready for it, I find myself flagging and seriously in need of a caffeine fix already at 11am, there's 10 minutes at best to grab a bite to eat so by the last class, my blood sugar levels are plummeting. Luckily, the final group are not beginners and tell interesting stories, like the time one of them offered car sharing services and a seat was rented for a pet rat that someone wanted to send to her sister. Another participant is rather eccentric and collects the kinds of things that you might typically make fun of like stamps, old phone books and cacti. Recently though, he took a trip to visit to Dresden and saw an exhibition called What is Beauty? Two anecdotes stuck in my mind; the first was about snakes which people typically perceive as ugly and are often terrfied of (well, I know I am). There was a video of a guy who wants to show others that they can also be beautiful by asking them to lie naked on a sofa while he holds one above you. Apparently, he's able to read the snake's expression and if it smiles, he places it on top of you so you can appreciate how wonderful they are.

My favourite story from the exhibition though involves a video of a French girl with a very big nose. Her biggest fear was that on a date, it would look ridiculous whenever she tried to drink wine which instantly reminded me of Cyrano de Bergerac or Steve Martin in Roxanne, the Hollywood remake. Then one day, she met a rich man who offered to buy her a nose job to cure her complex about herself. The surgeon offered her several models of new noses she could choose from but she found each of them far too small. The final step came when they photographed her and asked her which picture she liked the most. It turned out that the image she picked was the one with her real nose and from that moment, she accepted her face as it was.

Writing about beauty is by definition narcissistic and shallow but I think it's true to say that most of us think about it at some point in our lives. For me it has often been a difficult question. When I was a teenager, my brother had an extremely attractive girlfriend with glossy brown hair who always wore boots with heels so she wouldn't feel so small. I remember being mesmerised by her efforts to make herself look beautiful before they went out together. She arrived with a small suitcase packed with skincare, make-up, brushes and hair products and spent the next 1-2 hours transforming herself, although everyone, including myself, later felt that she looked better naturally. Nevertheless, something inside of me was fascinated by that process. I began buying women's magazines like Elle and scraped together my little money I received each week in order to save up for expensive cosmetics and skincare.

To be honest though, I didn't much like what I saw in the mirror. All the boys at school drooled over Jennifer Anniston in her underwear and told me I was strange looking. Back then, I had no confidence in myself and no idea how to dress. My hair was scraped back into an unflattering ponytail and from the age of 16 to 27, I only ever wore trousers and jeans because I was convinced I could never look good in a skirt (funnily now it's the opposite, I only ever wear skirts and dresses). I always wondered (and still wonder) what it must be like to be amazingly beautiful and walk into a room. Good looks are, after all, a powerful weapon, even if we like to say that brains win over them.

During my trip home to Derbyshire at Christmas, I came across some old photos of myself during my trips to Paris at the beginning of the new millenium. I couldn't say I was beautiful but I found I looked nice and regretted the fact that I was never aware of it back then. Being with stunning people still makes me insecure; I recently quit a step class, mainly because I was hopeless but also because I felt out of place next to those trendily dressed girls with perfect hair and opted instead for body combat classes where the girls are still good looking but rather tougher and less image obsessed. There are still days when I'd like to smash every mirror, especially when the eczema on my face flares up and people ask me what's wrong with my skin. Yet, I also refuse to be defined by that and hide myself away.

Graffiti in Friedrichshain in the east of Berlin

Would you like to stay here?

For Abbie who used to live next door to this shop, I couldn't pass by without feeling sad that you weren't there

Cupcake, where I went with D. last weekend.

Deutsches Historisches Museum

Near the beautiful opera house on Unter den Linden which I'm sad to learn will be closed for renovation work for the next three years.

Say cheese!

Recovering from the failure of the croquembouche, I returned to the kitchen defiantly. David Lebovitz's French tomato tart looked too good to resist. It was unbelievably simple, delicious and made me long for sun drenched days in the South of France.

I also always keep my promises so here's that crostata I told you about last time. I first thought about making it after seeing a picture of one of Luisa's that had me seriously drooling. As it was my first attempt, I used lattice strips that were rather too thick but it was still unbelievably tasty and so simple to make.

Apricot crostata from BBC food


100g sugar
100g unsalted butter
350g plain flour
2 large eggs
a pinch of salt
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 drops vanilla essence
300g good quality apricot jam (or feel free to use the jam of your choice, I'm also keen to try it again soon with lemon which won't surprise you!)
2 tbsp milk to glaze

1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, butter, eggs, salt, lemon zest, baking powder and vanilla essence until the dough forms a ball. Use some cold water to bind if it's too dry. Wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for around half an hour.
2. Grease a 25cm loose bottomed pie tin and pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
3. Roll out the pastry on a floured surface so it fits the pie tin and it about 5mm thick.
4. Wrap the pastry round a rolling pin and gently transfer it to the pie tin. Press it gently around the sides and trim off the excess with a sharp knife and put the extra pastry to one side.
5. Spread the jam out evenly over the pastry case.
6. Roll out the extra pastry and cut strips that fit over the top of the pie tin. Lay them over the jam in a lattice pattern and brush them with a little milk for approx 20-30 mins or until golden brown. Leave to cool before serving.

28 commentaires:

  1. beautiful post! and thanks for the recipe :)

    xo Alison

  2. Vanessa! Your tomato tart is STUNNING! :) Seriously...and the crostata. I might have to be very wicked this weekend and make both.

    As for beauty, it is a strange beast. Thankfully it is all in the eye of the beholder (even though mass media would like us all to believe otherwise).

    And, yes, I'm a skirt wearing girl too.

  3. Beauty is very subjective... We all have our own version. At school, I was seen as being "bizarre". I was a kind of misfit who didn't fit people's concept of beauty... Then again, I had other tastes than them too. I had very frizzy hair and got laughed at everywhere. It is only later that I started finding myself nice (dare i say "beautiful"?). I am happy not to be like all the others.

    A beautiful post with gorgeous shots! I really HAVE to visit Germany. Nice tarts too. Drool...

    Have a lovely Friday nonetheless!



  4. Wonderful honest post. Great work as always. Clearly my favorite read of the week.

    Gorgeous tart and crostata. Your photos are amazing.


  5. I really like the story of the French girl. I have felt similar when shopping for clothes. I'll try on some very pretty items and then decide I prefer the worn jeans and blouse I was wearing when I entered the shop. Your daisy photograph is wonderful. I enjoy weathered flowers as I do weathered statues.

  6. I really enjoyed this post. Your photos are unique and interesting, and your thoughts poignant. I have had similar experiences before when looking at old photos and thought, 'that is really nice' when at the time I was feeling insecure. Now that I'm a little older, I am happily more secure and confident. I hope the positivity trend continues into my future!

  7. Oh dear, the snake story gave me shivers. Yikes.

    I think we all go through the "I'm so ugly" stage when we're young. It's amazing to look back on the photos only to discover how nice we really looked. Those are difficult years and teens can be cruel. Age helps put things in perspective, doesnt' it? And we accept things we would have been in a panic about when younger. I get roseacea on my face once in a while and also had a face and chest peel where I looked like a monster for 3 months. Didn't bother me a bit. But I probably would have worn a veil had I been younger.
    Love the photo of rooms for rent!

    And two marvelous recipes. I really must make something soon with all the lovely apricots I see in the market! Love your crostata.

  8. I enjoyed this post, great photos. Beautiful tomato tart, must try it. I made a special trip to the Cupcake shop when I was in Berlin, and it was closed on a day it was supposed to be open, so at least I can see a bit of the interior (thanks).

  9. I like the photo of the fountain, quite funny!
    About is a pity that so many girls think they have to put tons of make up on their face and adopt some clone-trendy style (how boring). Most of the girls who really try too hard would be so much more beautiful without.
    Less is more!

  10. @Alison - Hey there, thanks for your visit and the nice comment :-)
    @Tracy - Oh wow, thanks so much; I admire your photos so much. The tart was fun to make and tasty too, as was the crostata. Hope you find some time for baking this weekend. I have a chocolate pudding and something with fruit on the agenda among other things, although the weather's so nice, it'd be a shame to spend all the weekend in the kitchen. I feel we have so much in common, what a pity we can't meet but I'm glad you're also a skirt fan.
    @Rosa - School can be tough; for me, it only made me more aware of my difference. I really love your look and am glad that you also found a way to feel good about that. Conformity is boring. Although I'm fascinated by beauty, I love interesting faces most of all, even if they're not conventional. I hope you make it over to Germany one day as I'd love to see you here.
    @Lazaro - You always say the nicest things! I love the way that blogging puts us into contact with people we'd never normally meet and that I discovered your blog too. Am looking forward to the guest post already.
    Denise - I can totally relate to that as well. Sometimes we're not conscious of how much we're attached to certain things then realise we feel happiest as we are now. Weathered flowers in urban environments fascinate me and these were too good to miss.
    @Nicolette - It's nice knowing that others have had the same experience. With insecurities, you think you're the only one like that but it's not true.
    @Barbara - It sounds terrifying and I remember now that snake fear your mother had! Still, each to his own. Skin disorders on your face are awful but you have to find a way to live with them. I hate the eczema but it's mainly people who saw me without it before that make comments. Otherwise, I wear make-up and tell myself that getting depressed about it won't help. It's easier said than done of course. I hope you feel inspired to bake with fruits, in any case your recipes are always wonderful.
    @P.K - What a pity Cupcake was closed. I think there's a nice atmosphere and it's a charming place, although the cakes are big and very sweet so I couldn't eat one too often, unlike the tomato tart which I feel I'll be making fairly regularly.

  11. @Chosesetautres - I agree with you that it's a shame to think we have to change our appearence to look better. While I like some make-up, for me it's more about having fun and emphasising the good features you already have. I hate feeling pressure to conform and have always gone my own way. The fountain's nice, isn't it?

  12. Je me suis mise aussi aux jupes et aux robes, avec le temps (et l'été...) ; adolescente, je ne cessais de rêver à une autre garde-robe (que je n'aurais jamais osé porter).
    Je me rends compte aussi que je ne suis pas très sensible à la beauté chez les autres, je suis plutôt touchée par les imperfections, les particularités.

  13. Another amazingly thoughtful and artistic post. I enjoy your musings and recipes as much as the beautiful photography. Your tomato tart and apricot crostata turned out lovely.

  14. A beautiful thought provoking post... the tomato image is my favourite. STUNNING>

  15. @Rose - Je voudrais bien voir ces robes (en Berlin j'espère!). J'aime surtout ces robes de soir, pas exactement pratiques pour le travail mais cela me donne une impression de jouer un rôle quand je les porte. Je suis aussi devenue plutôt comme toi maintenant, intéressées par ces particularités.
    @Daniel - Oh, I'm pleased to hear that.
    @Valerie - Actually, that was my favourite shot too so thanks. Hope to have more time to catch up with your posts tomorrow.

  16. Vanessa
    Ta famille vit au Derbyshire? j'y étais il ya quelques années pour rendre visite a une amie qui habite dans un petit hameau, dans la maison du conducteur de train; bref, c'est charmant et j'ai adoré le coin. au sujet de la beauté, j'avais une amie "room-mate" qui se maquillait tous les matins de manière disciplinée et son mascara rendait ses yeux immenses; ça me fascinait, alors que je préfère le look "naturel"; mais la coquetterie de certaines femmes me fascine, je ne sais pas pourquoi; j'ai eu aussi un ami travesti qui m'a appris beaucoup de choses sur la féminité! tes tartes sont délicieuses, comme je les aime; et je te trouve jolie et attirante! et pleine de talent! tes photos sont géniales.

  17. I know it's a cliche but I always find people I like to be beautiful - I'm sure I don't have any friends that I don't find pleasing to look at, even when they're just smiling out from a photo.

  18. @Joumana - Je suis ravie que tu connaisses et aimes le Derbyshire; j'adore y passer mes vacances et voir de beaux paysages de mon enfance. Ce look avec de grands yeux très maquillés j'aime moi aussi mais je suis trop paresseuse pour les faire tous les jours. Dans tes photos, je trouve que tu as l'air belle et sophistiquée, même si c'est naturel (c'est mieux, non?!), merci beaucoup pour tes mots très gentils. Ça me fait super plaisir ce que tu dis.
    @Sasa - Hmm, thinking about it, all my friends are attractive but I'm not sure if that's just a coincidence or something subconscious!

  19. your photos from berlin make me really miss it there!

    and that tomato tart looks so simple and tasty, I'll definitely try making one when tomato season arrives over here.

  20. what a wonderful post. your emotional honesty is remarkable. thank you so much for sharing this.

  21. J'adore l'histoire du nez, presque un conte philosophique. C'est si vrai. Quelquefois il faut toute une vie pour apprendre a s'accepter.

    Et puis les tartes sont belles, et diablement tentantes, toutes les deux.

    Bonne semaine Vanessa.

  22. Encore un billet comme je les aime ! Du texte, une tranche de vie, de belles photos collectées lors de tes balades, et puis de jolies recettes pour terminer ! La vraie vie, quoi ! ;o)
    Bisous et bonne journée

  23. @Shirin - I can't imagine how sad I'd be if I ever had to leave Berlin. Yes, do try the tomato tart especially, I love all those summery flavours.
    @Des - Thanks a lot; sometimes i'm a little afraid about sharing such feelings but it helps to know that others have had.
    @Gracienne - Moi aussi je trouve cette histoire formidable et j'aurais adoré voir la vidéo avec elle. Parfois il y a des choses que nous aimons pas mais on se rend compte que c'est exactement ce qui nous rend intéressants. Ce serait bien dommage d'avoir le même look partout. Merci pour ce commentaire si gentil Gracienne et bonne semaine à toi aussi.
    @Hélène - Mais c'est aussi ce que j'aime chez toi, cette tranche de vie avec des photos et des recettes. C'est bien pour se rappeler toutes les expériences dans l'année car souvent j'ai l'impression que le temps passe si vite et j'oublie des choses.

  24. i hated the way I looked when I was youger, I recently found pics and thought..what's wrong with you? the tomato tart looks superb..always look forward to your pics


  25. your posts are so interesting! and your photos are great, and what can i say about these two recipes, the tomato tart i cannot wait to try it, and the apricot pie is one of my favorites, cheers from london

  26. @Bonnie - I'm glad it's something others can relate to. Thanks for stopping by.
    @Pity - Hey, I think your posts are really amazing and I love the recipes you come up with so thanks for the comments. I truly love apricot.

  27. What a beautiful post again, Vanessa. Very moving. The beauty of your words surpasses the sad, soon dead beauty of "perfect" trendy girls on a stepper.
    You have sth nobody could ever acquire in a fitness club : talent for storytelling.

    I met a very, very pretty young girl this weekend. A real Lorelei, 22 years old perhaps, perfect skin, big blue eyes and long, marvellous blond hair. But she was boring. She was too shy to be interesting, she had nothing to say.

    Her friend was not so cute : a bit chubbier, weird hairstyle... But what a personality! She was so funny, and open, and smart, that everyone was attracted to her. And I thought that Colette or Beauvoir will always win over the Lorelei. Charisma lasts forever, classical beauty dies very, very soon.

  28. Oh, you always know how to make me feel better. I tell myself that talent makes up for not being beautiful but sometimes it's hard to feel that way surounded by the coolest girls. I love your story with Lorelei and her friend and agree that personality wins out; just looks with nothing behind are boring. Although Beauvoir, Colette and you all manage to be both beautiful and talented!