I’ve been asked recently where I get my ideas from and also how I chill out and relax… after a bit of head scratching I realised the answers aren’t actually that disparate.
Boredom comes very easily to me and I have a dreadful attention span. My colleagues at work are used to me drawing while I’m in meetings or training. I’m not being rude: this activity helps me actively listen. If I keep a part of my mind active through drawing it stops me switching off. Basically, if I don’t draw I’ll start nodding off. I have on occasion completely fallen asleep and been woken by a screwed up ball of paper finding its target of my face. If I can draw then I can listen, which in turn means I engage and fully participate. The upshot of this permanent state of fidget is that I’m always doodling, looking, investigating, making and I find inspiration just about anywhere.
Chilling out for me isn’t complete peace and quiet – that’s just being asleep. For most of my life I’ve coped with anxiety disorder and low self esteem, and part of the advice to overcome this is to be mindful and taking time out for yourself. This mindfulness is tricky for me: as you can gather I intensely dislike being quiet and sitting still. So how to chill without being bored or falling asleep? I’ve managed to find some ways to quiet myself that are still mindful but help me to gather new ideas and inspiration in the process. Relaxation and inspiration. It’s all starting to tie together.
So this latest ramble is a bit of relaxation, a bit of reflection and a lot of idea-generating and a heap of inspiration gathering. If any of this aspect of my jumbled life helps a single person with ideas then it’s been worth the write up 💙
What are your ways to relax and unwind and where do you go to (physically or mentally) to find inspiration?
What I do when I want some inspiration for food, for art
- Take out an old sketchbook – what ideas did I overlook that I can rework?
- Open the fridge: (the less that’s in it the better) what can you make right now?
- What sort of day is it – what mood are you in?
- Lazy? Make something simple. Got plenty of time or energy, then go make that complex bake you’re been meaning to for ages
- If it’s overcast, what could you eat that’s cheerful (no, not just that giant bar of Galaxy, though that might work!)?
- Is it unusually bright – bake something that would photograph well bathed in sunshine
- Are you on your own today or with friends and family or working? This could make you think about a dinner for one, baked treats to cheer up colleagues, family get togethers
- This may sound odd, but I actually AVOID the Internet when I am actively seeking inspiration. I want it to come from my ideas and what has influenced my life, not just what my search tells me are the things to look at. I’m more likely to pick out my own old recipe notes, look in my bookshelf, go to the library or just go for a walk. The only thing to search for is specific advice… like recently I wanted to know which icing type is best for making delicate modelled structures for a cake, in order to work out the practicalities of what you decide to make
- Make a colour palette to inspire your recipe or photograph – I love the free online Adobe resource called colour wheel (which used to be called Kuler). As a designer I also use this to import swatches into Adobe software but you can just use it to create sympathetic (or even clashing) colour palettes to guide you
- More on colour palettes – follow Design Seeds on Instagram which shows you how to pick out colours from your photos for a cohesive look for your Instagram
- Walk round a deli or a food shop you wouldn’t normally go in. I often get inspiration for coloured pasta from the shiny packets of dried pasta imported from Italy (the packaging is often even more beautiful that what’s inside), or if I know I have a glut of vegetables or fruit I need to preserve the jars on the shelves will give you some ideas. Also, definitely a chance to buy some more goodies – especially ones you’ve never tried before. There is a list in Resources of some delis and food shops I particularly love (including Delilah in Nottingham)
- Do you normally follow fashion, a clothes/tech/sportswear designer or are you into shows or accessories? Be guided by what’s in the shops now and what’s coming up for next season. Right now felt pom-poms seem to be on everything: earrings, shoes, bags, swimwear. Could you make a pom-pom cake? If you read fashion magazines see what fabrics and colours are ‘in’. For instance, if Dolce & Gabbana had a lot of black and maroon lace in a photoshoot you could look to make a cake incorporating lace icing and those colourways (this is just a random made-up example that popped into my head. Could’ve been any designer, any fabric, any colours. If it turns out they do black and maroon lace I may fall over)
- I know I hark on about this but GO OUTSIDE!! Even my garden dictates what I do… there may be nasturtiums in bright colours ready to use, a certain herb has particularly flourished, it’s autumn and the apples need picking. Also just the colours – they’re naturally seasonal and will guide you to seasonality in your food. A walk in an October wood with orange leaves and the smell of autumn might make you think you want a rich pudding, a wholesome soup or an in-season game casserole. It’s warm and sunny? Are you dying for a refreshing, crunchy salad or just want to cool off with ice cream or a cold IPA? At the very least it’ll make you hungry and you’ll know what you fancy
- Interior magazines are great inspiration. Often interior and architectural design is seasons if not years ahead of everything else (even fashion designers can get their inspiration from interior trends), as it’s more likely to be fuelled by new manufacturing methods, new tech, innovations in paint or materials, the work of furniture or appliance designers who are looking years ahead. For instance, last year and the year before interior magazines were full of large leaf and tropical prints, and this is now filtered down to fashion this year. Take good note of the colour trends, patterns and materials (I don’t just mean fabric – use of wood, granite, marble, quartz, copper, etc all appear here first then filter down)
- Go in a new cafe. One you’ve never been in before. Take a good look at how they’ve done the interior – could this inform your styling or your photo? What do they have on the menu. What’s popular (popular may be what you’re after if you want ‘likes’) or what’s new and unusual. What are people chatting about, what are they wearing. Take a sketchbook – doodle some ideas and write some notes. It doesn’t have to be good, just so it captures the moment and helps inform you
- Take photos of anything you like the look of – whether you use it or not. Delete at the end of the day if you want. Often I combine my phone snaps with notes in my sketchbooks (see the later note)
When abroad go in the shops and cafés and observe. Many places frown on the use of photography, but if you ask nicely and say it’s for inspiration/memories they may allow you.
- What ingredients are different? Can you bring any back in your luggage?
- If you normally like the cuisine is there a technique you didn’t previously know about (for example, with pasta is there a regional variety of shape you’ve not come across before, or a sauce you’d never had paired with the meat or vegetable?)
- Which local ingredient would provide a different slant to your cooking?
- When eating out, what is on the menu, what did you eat that looked great on the plate or was there a taste of an ingredient that you’re not used to?
- What bread and pastry shapes are there – is there anything you’ve not seen before?
- Write it all down if you can’t photograph it (or bring it back), which leads on to the next point:
- Carry a sketchbook EVERYWHERE. Even if I don’t get chance to use it I am NEVER without at least a plain page notebook and often with two or three sketchbooks and a case of pens, pencils and paints. I use them as much to write notes as to draw. I write down notes on:
- colours (it’s unlikely you’ll have the colour to hand to use it, so take a picture and note down adjectives and how it makes you feel for example: a little side plate in peacock blue, with a slight green iridescence to it – you’d think it would feel cold but next to the gold edging it looked warm and sumptuous – would be a great colour combination for a birthday cake, maybe with flecks of peach to bring it to life)
- time of day – what’s the light like? Do you like the candles glowing, a good idea to capture the sun coming up? Does the sun make great angles on the building or through the leaves?
- what was the most popular thing you heard get ordered in a restaurant? Why? What flavours or presentation made it so popular? Could you translate the flavours to another dish, could you recreate that dish at home?
- what flavours and colours enhanced a recipe?
- what smells were in the glass of wine or wafted out of the open kitchen window as you went past?
- what textures and materials in the restaurant, bar or cafe have you seen that you liked? Can you recreate these for backdrops and props?
- Patterns you like
- Shapes of cakes or food – has a garnish been added you’d not seen before? Can you sketch it briefly?
- Logos, graffiti and artwork on buildings and even people’s clothes that you like
- How items are styled and placed together – rows of books with succulent plants and old sewing machines… anything that takes your eye
- The Grammar of Ornament – Owen Jones – I bought this book when I was an art student and it’s been a source of inspiration ever since.
- We made this – a design agency run by Alistair Hall. You may think ‘Why would I want to look at some graphic designer’s pages?’ but just go look at the blog pages. Beautiful imagery, ideas for colours and compositions to bring into your photos (they can just as easily inspire food Instagrammers), the writing is witty and informative. Just have a browse, you may thank me (or rather Alistair) later
- Design Museum Instagram
- Anthony Burrill Instagram
- AIGA eye on design Instagram
Best way to relax or calm myself down (while doing something)
- Doodling, sketching ideas. it doesn’t matter how good or rubbish you think you are. It’s not about ability it’s about wandering with the pen, getting ideas and being mindful on what you’re producing not what was worrying you. And you can always recycle the paper before anyone else sees it
- Read some poetry. It’s doesn’t have to be heavy stuff, try some Betjemen to dip your toe in the water. There’s something about the lyricalness and timing of poetry that’s calming. Go read In Portishead by Tim Clare that always makes me grin from ear to ear
- Baking or pasta making – well, they work for me!
- A warm bath, scented with lemon verbena with a history programme on iPlayer on the tablet, though not one to do if you’re feeling isolated or lonely (this is about as quiet as I get!)
- Get out for a walk in the fresh air, away from traffic – it doesn’t matter what time of year it is or where it is. Connect with what’s around you. Scour for things you can forage, count bird species, identify plants, hug a tree: whatever makes you physically connect to the bigger picture. Drag someone along too. You never know what you find that might inspire you…
- Clear out a cupboard – donate to charity what you don’t want (but isn’t derelict). You may even find some barganous thing in the shop when you hand your stuff in. You’ve tidied, rid yourself of unwanted stuff and helped charity. Win:win:win
- Make something… even if it’s temporary. I feel most fulfilled when I create something with my hands. This could be as simple as playing with some blutack or playdough to build little animals that you then squash up and reuse. I call it doodling in 3D. Fine if you have a hobby that you can resurrect like sewing or woodwork, but it doesn’t have to be mammoth or permanent. Other small ideas are: making muffin cases from baking parchment for future use, cleaning old plant pots and giving them a coat of paint with a tester pot, covering old shoe boxes or books with wrapping paper, get an old jar and wrap it in raffia to use as a little vase or clean a large stone up from the garden, paint something simple on it and use it as a door stop, collect and dry some herbs to use as drawer scents. The sense of accomplishment in the littlest of things is invaluable
- Pick up an old cookbook you’ve not used in ages at random. Read the foreword and introduction but don’t flick through the recipes. I’m sure most of us usually jump straight in to pouring over the photos and the ingredients lists. Think of it as a short story that leads you to food. You get the mindset of the chef and the reason for the book (granted some are much better story tellers than others in this manner and some should have used a ghost writer as they’ve been terrible at writing prose! Still, those ones made me laugh and it normally doesn’t mean the recipes are poor and you still get their thoughts). Only now chose a recipe or two to make. Any new recipe book I get now I try to use this approach – I wait till I have the time to read it and then I open it at the first page. I’ve started reading cookery books like novels and I’ve learnt so much more. Plus, it’s engaging and relaxing.
Looking up to others
Women I am fangirling (sorry boys: there’s plenty of you I admire but this is about the girls)
- Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock – I could listen to her explain the universe for a year and not get bored
- Julia Bradbury – my kind of woman: outdorsey, windswept, likes a beer and fond of the Peaks
- Dame Kelly Holmes – what an inspiration. The result of never giving up
- Jessica Ennis-Hill – all her mammoth hard work and determination and sheer brilliance is worn with a smile and a lot of grace
- Anna Del Conte – the lady who brought Italian food to new generations in Britain
- Ursula Ferrigno – prolific chef, writer, demonstrator and all her recipes just work
- Diana Henry – just writes well, as well as writing great recipes
- Liza Tarbuck – such confidence, humour and quick wit
- Sandi Toksvig – sharp as a knife humour, taking on previously male dominated media roles
- Dr Alice Roberts – her enthusiasm for her subject just oozes through the TV
- Liz Bonin – calm, funny, speaks beautifully, a great presenter and she knows here subjects inside out
- Lucy Worsley – love how she’s so posh and yet down to earth and cheeky at the same time. If only history at school had been that interesting
- Ruth Goodman – another history lady, she immerses herself in her subject and you know that she understands it implicitly. Another lady I could listen to for hours
- Ruth Rodgers – with her late business partner Rose Gray – they brought seasonality and authenticity and honesty to British cooking via the River Cafe in the late 1980s and you can see her influence in many of today’s TV chefs (quite literally as many trained there)
- Elizabeth David – I have most of David’s books, all picked up second hand (there’s always one of her books in a charity shop). Some people love her writing: I love what she wrote about, her recipes and the details and research, but I confess I’m not a great fan of her actual style in her articles and column writing. I do love that she was a pioneer: this took guts and determination, especially on your own as a woman at that time. Her recipes are brief (how I like recipes written up) and never expanded into huge unnecessary depth, even for her contemporary audience that had not even seen many of her ingredients at that time. The breadth of recipes is enormous and all that I’ve tried just work well (no mean feat). Also you can thank David for much of the variety of goods we see on UK shelves – after rationing disappeared her books made people want these ingredients. They subsequently pushed for them and the shops eventually obliged. Thank you Ms David for your legacy
Pasta and Italian writers I love
- Ursula Ferrigno
- Anna Del Conte
- Katie and Gianfranco Caldesi
Pasta people I follow online
- SaltySeattle – of course!!
- Luca Donofrio
- David Marcelli
- Michael Fusano
- Anthony Andiario
- Anapaola D’allessio
Food journalists and online resources
- Sheila Dillon/R4’s The Food Programme – the presenter of Radio 4’s the Food Programme since 2001, although she did do some reporting for it long before that. To me, Sheila’s voice epitomises food and an honest, open approach to food reporting. It was she (and the Food Programme as a whole) that were the first to break the story and investigate the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) scandal. I’ve turned to her to inform me of the big stuff: foot and mouth, avian flu, ingredient scares, the truth behind food fads and healthy eating. Plus I listen for the lighthearted, informative things and investigations into food types, ingredients, diets, manufacturing, drinks and their championing of the BBC Food and Farming Awards. Sheila and the programme go beyond just the flippant coverage you’d find in a foodie mag or newspaper. For instance, the trend for fermented foods that is building would just get a cursory explanation and one or two recipes for kimchi in a magazine feature. For the Food Programme Dan Saladino went to interview Sandor Katz (you can still catch this here). There is a massive archive wealth of past programmes online. I’ve been listening to this since about the time Sheila started presenting and have barely missed an episode (many I’ve re-listened to time and again as podcasts on journeys). My only gripe is that it’s only 30 minutes long per week ~ I need more! I’d urge you to look through the archives and listen to some podcasts – there will be a foodie subject you’re interested in
- Dan Saladino – producer, reporter and sometimes presenter for Radio 4’s the Food Programme. I love his reporting style and his contributions to all of the groundbreaking reporting mentioned above
- Nigel Slater – you know this already: he writes wonderfully
- Marina O’Loughlin – food critic. I stumbled across her on Twitter many years ago and she’s naughty, witty, acerbic, not afraid to say something’s rubbish and just plainly, down to earth honest. Refreshing, compared with most food critics who think their writing should be up for the Booker Prize in literature and over-engineer their columns. Her tweets are usually pretty funny too
- Great British Chefs – what an amazing online resource. Details and recipes on chefs, recipe and how-to-cook posts, videos, restaurants: it’s all here
- Great Italian Chefs – a sister site to Great British Chefs and frankly, I’m looking through here at least weekly. The regional overviews are wonderful and the Italian cooking and recipes are superb. I particularly like picking a chef and finding our more about them, then reading through their recipes. Can’t believe these two related resources are actually free
- Locavore website and quarterly magazine (the website and monthly newsletter have plenty of resources) – slow food, seasonality, thoughtful well written pieces on sustainability, food, growers and more. A slower, richer pace of life
Bread bakers and recipe writers
- Richard Bertinet
- River Cottage
- Vanessa Kimble/The Sourdough School
- Dan Lepard
- Patisserie – Christophe Felder
- French Patisserie – École Ferrandi
- The Art of French Baking – Ginette Mathiot
Popular and clever baking people I’d recommend on Instagram – these I am lucky to count as close Instafriends and started out with – they all have deservedly gone on to have huge followings. (I try and keep the list of people I follow maintained, so if you want to know the other fabulous people I follow do just have a scout down my feed)
Lists of things that enrich my life
Best beaches UK
Beaches are my Nirvana:
- Holkham to Wells – Norfolk
- Porthminster/Porthmeor (too close to decide – one is quieter, more picturesque has the great Porthminster Cafe and backed by sub tropical planting and the other is lively, has Tate St Ives and is good for rock pooling, surfing and body boarding)
- Charmouth – not actually nice to look at. But it has fossils and awe inspiring cliffs. Enough said
Best towns for a browse in interesting shops/markets
- Creative quarter, Nottingham city
- Lyme Regis
- St Ives
- Matlock – for antique shops
- Lincoln – Steep Hill
- Chesterfield market
- Wells-next-the-sea – Staithe Street
Favourite modern music (now you get an idea of me – music tastes really identify a person, I believe). I like stuff I can jump about to, that puts a smile on my face and gets adrenalin going
- Black Keys
- Artic Monkeys
- Stone Roses
- Arcade Fire
- Catfish and the Bottlemen
- Wolf Alice
- Sam Fender
- Richard Hawley
- Underworld… and a whole lot more besides (though I wish more women produced the music I like)
Great places in Derbyshire for beautiful scenery and escape
- Winnats Pass/Mam Tor/Peveril Castle/Castleton (I’ve added the town as you should go have a beer in The George after your walk and it’s very cute)
- Monk’s Dale
- Robin Hood’s Stride
- Middle Black Clough
- Froggatt’s Edge
Favourite small things
- Time spent with my husband and my sons
- Having the cat lie on me, purring so hard I can feel it as well as hear it
- A brand new interior or food magazine, as yet unlooked at by anyone else
- Cracking the seal on a new jar of coffee, Nutella, Marmite (I just love breaking the newness of it)
- Shaking and rubbing the herbs in my garden to get billows of beautiful scent – I especially love the lavender and the lemon verbena
- Being cheeky, going up to the owner of a new puppy and asking if I can say hello to it (like most I’m a massive sucker for dogs)
- The way that with some family and friends it’s like you’ve never been apart – you just click – even if you’ve not seen each other for a year
- That our neighbours are such good friends with us we pretty much just walk into each others house and gardens and we’re always there for each other
- A big bowl of strawberries. To myself
- Finding something amazing for 50p or so in a charity shop and giving it a new home
- A long, long gin and tonic with a huge ice cube and tons of lime
- The sound of kids laughing and chuckling in the summer – whether that’s your own kids, background noise over the garden fence or on the beach. When kids are happy it makes others happy
- Fish finger sammiches
- The mix of tarmac, diesel, heat and excitement when getting off a plane on holiday
- Playing my guitar, in fact even just messing around on it really and learning new things as well as playing my favourite pieces. It reflects my mood – sometimes I play classical Spanish, sometimes it’s loud with lots of fuzz on an electric guitar, sometimes it’s rhythmical and almost tribal on a bass, sometimes difficult layered finger picking songs like Van Morrison, Paul Weller or complex and fast like a Muse song
- Being out on a warm summer night. It’s rare in the UK for people to just go out for a walk at night except during the warmest evenings. I love doing this – it’s my favourite part of any holiday abroad to get out in the evening and socialise or walk through a town or city with other people bustling around. I adore it during the summer months in the UK when this happens here, most particularly in coastal towns – couldn’t we all just wrap up and do it all year round too, please?
- Hats. Not sure why I love seeing people with a hat, even a beanie as it shows they’ve thought about their whole outfit and it’s like the icing on the cake; the finishing flourish. Bring back trilbys and bowlers.
- Telling someone randomly what I like about them … I often compliment strangers on their hair, bag, shoes, whatever I’ve spotted that makes them look fab. I like that it’s a nice surprise for them
- Calligraphy – often I just copy out a recipe, a poem or a phrase from a book. Very relaxing and satisfying
- Simple handmade pasta in fresh pesto
- Sitting under a beautiful tree and looking upwards at the canopy
- Crochet – I’m not great at it (the complex stuff is beyond me) but I find it mindful and creative. It’s a hobby I do only in winter really – I can knit but I really detest knitting, I’m not even sure why I dislike that and like crochet. I also quite enjoy embroidery but I have to be in the right mindset for that – it’s more of a planned project, sketched out and then completed. The crocheting I can just pick up and almost do without thinking
- Eating something bad for me and watching a Studio Ghibli film
- Our stove, roaring with heat in the winter with the cat passed out, deliriously happy in front of it
- Centre for Clinical Interventions – Australia links to many useful resources and guidance documents for anxiety, self esteem and some more difficult subjects
- Prof J Mark G Williams and his book ‘Mindfulness, A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World’ and associated mindfulness podcasts
- How to improve you self esteem by MIND, the UK charity for better mental health
- Anxiety and panic attacks – MIND