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cheesecake dame blanche

I am currently covered in white paint; the DIY continues, only this time, we thought it would add a ‘fun’ dimension if the entire bathroom was out of order (the floor is being tiled, the tiler has disconnected the appliances and, after four days, is yet to reconnect them. As I said, fun!).

I tried many ways to take my mind off the whole thing on Sunday so that I didn’t explode with the sheer awfulness of it all. It didn’t work, I had a meltdown of epic proportions at 12.50am, after two hours of trying to persuade my mind to switch off and let my weary body sleep. But hey, that’s life (and DIY).

On the plus side, being coated in white paint reminded me of my favourite desert when I was a little girl: dame blanche (white lady). A dame blanche is a typical Belgian ice cream sundae composed of vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. Simple, yet utterly delicious (plus, when I was a wee lass, Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food did not exist, so this was a positively exotic take on ice cream).

A note on speculoos (the biscuits I used for my base). Here I have used the bog-standard (no pun intended) Lotus variety that you can buy in the supermarket – at least you can in Belgium. If you’re planning to eat speculoos ‘raw’ as it were, Dandoy should be your port of call.

speculoos biscuits

Serves: six

For the base:

Half a pack speculoos biscuits

50g butter

3 tbsp chocolate spread (I used Cote D’Or Chokotoff)

For the filling:

1 x 200g pack cream cheese

1 x 300ml tub double cream

1 vanilla pod

Juice of half a small lemon

2 tbsp icing sugar

Cocoa powder and raspberries to garnish

Give the biscuits a good bash with a rolling pin (feel free to pretend it’s a CERTAIN tiler) until they break up into a fine crumb. Melt the butter and chocolate spread, add to the biscuits and stir well.

Line ramekins with cling film, then press the biscuits into the bottom and pop in the fridge.

In a bowl, mix the cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon juice. Score the vanilla pod down the middle vertically, then scoop out the soft centre and add to the cream cheese. Whip the cream, then fold into the cheese.

Fill the ramekins with the cheese mix, then refrigerate for a couple of hours. Coat with cocoa powder and garnish with a raspberry.

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Top tips for surviving DIY

Kitchen closed: the frugal kitchen becomes a temporary storage unit

As regular readers will know, the husband and I have been redecorating our four-room flat. Out of necessity – no cash – we’ve done a huge amount of the work ourselves (especially the magnificent husband), which means getting home from work at eight, pulling on the work clothes, stiff with paint, and slogging away.

But by far the worst part of doing DIY in a small apartment is that there is nowhere to escape. To paint a room, you need to empty it, and that means piling everything into another room. Paint two rooms and the majority of the flat is out of commission and there’s a constant danger of being buried by your own possessions if you make a false move. If I ever needed an incentive to declutter…

Of course, during the works, our budget continues to apply, so we can’t just go out to escape the chaos. We have to live around it. So, for fellow gung-ho DIY-ers, I thought I would share my thoughts preserving both your sanity and your marriage…

1) Don’t fight fire with fire (aka take turns to be ‘the strong one’)

Neither the husband nor I are renowned for our patience. We both have quick tempers, we love a good rant and above all, we both love getting our own way. However, through trial and error and one very explosive kitchen refurbishment, we’ve learnt that if one of us is at the end of their tether, the other one has to stay calm, lend a sympathetic ear and talk them down from the ledge.

2) When the going gets tough… Beat a hasty retreat

We’re lucky enough to have a courtyard garden out back, and I have turned it into my very own DIY-denial space. Here we can sit and have a cup of tea in peace, eat at a table like civilised people and just relax without being constantly confronted by all the work that still needs to be done.

3) Don’t let it all hang out

As a general rule, squalor breeds squalor. When the whole house is a tip, suddenly, it doesn’t seem worth wiping the kitchen surfaces. Why find a bin when there’s rubbish everywhere anyway? And I might as well just leave my dirty socks balled up on the floor since the laundry basket is in another room…

Don’t let yourself be dragged be down, reader. Trust me, it’s a vicious cycle. I aim for organised chaos, that way it’s not such a gargantuan effort to restore order once the work is done.

4) But sometimes you have to let go

Admittedly I am one of life’s control freaks but I’m learning to embrace the chaos. No, you can’t access your sock drawer, just wear flip flops. Yes, someone will daub paint on the sofa or use your best towel to wipe up a leak. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that they didn’t do it on purpose. And then hide all remaining clean towels…

5) Beware of the dust

Gah, the dust! Sometimes, it seems that you just have to look at a toolbox and the whole flat is suddenly covered in a fine, yet inexplicably clingy layer of plaster dust. Close all doors on rooms where work is not taking place. Then put a ‘no entry’ sign on said door. If you can, tape it closed. If you can’t, illustrate said sign with graphic depictions of just what will happen to anyone who dares cross the threshold.

6) Keep calm and carry on

In my experience, there is a point during every DIY project when you start to wonder why you started. Those chipped seventies kitchen cupboards weren’t that bad, were they? Surely we could just put a rug over the carpet stain, plus no one ever looks at the hallway ceiling anyway, so who cares if there’s a crack stretching half way across and a gross brown water mark up there?

Reader, you did. If your resolve fails, you just can’t bear it for another second and you begin to consider cutting corners to bring the DIY hell to a premature end, then go to your special DIY denial space, close your eyes and give yourself a stern talking too. And if your partner is having a wobble, remember the first rule of DIY. Yup, it’s your turn to be the bright cheery one – whether you feel like it or not.

For when it’s all done, you will wonder around your little abode sighing with pleasure at the gleaming paint work and pristine floors. And as the smell of new paint fades, so will the memories of the few weeks you spent weeping with frustration at the dirt and mess and grit that is part and parcel of any DIY project. And at that point, you’ll probably start looking at houses on Rightmove that ‘have potential’… Good luck!

Five minutes of sunshine at The Folon Foundation, Belgium

Five minutes of sunshine at The Folon Foundation, Belgium

Friday

Wake up with: £50

Go to bed with: £29.01

I’m returning to the fatherland (Belgium) to visit my dad this weekend, so I spend my first £20.99 of the week on a keg of beer for the old man and a top-up for my Oyster card; the bike isn’t equipped to lug huge suitcases half way across London. I donate the measely £1.52 I have left from last week to a homeless gentleman who has taken up residence by the cashpoint.

Today is indeed an exciting day: I’m meeting my beautiful, gentle sister at St Pancras so we can travel over to Belgium together. She is eight-months pregnant and I haven’t seen her bump for three months. I know it’s a cliché but she positively glows, radiating femininity like Venus in Botticelli’s Primavera—long, lithe limbs stretching out from the womanly swell of her stomach. We spend the journey gossiping and arrive in time for a very late supper. I miss my sister: I hate that we live so far apart.

Saturday

Wake up with: £29.01

Go to bed with: £29.01

No lie in for me today: the stepmother wants to buy some things for the bump, so we set off to the nearest retail park to look at teeny tiny things. We get back in time for lunch and—as it is pissing down with rain (quel surprise)—unanimously elect for Plan B: a trip to the Folon Foundation to admire the illustrator’s watercolours. The weather obliges us with a five-minute walk around the park before the heavens open once more so it’s back home via Leonidas.

The whole extended family pile round for supper and we feast on produce from dad’s kitchen garden, not to mention his wine cellar. Delicious.

Sunday

Wake up with: £29.01

Go to bed with: £7.56

There’s just time to pilfer some of the fruits of my dad’s kitchen garden before we have to leave for the train. He is mystified; why do I want to carry potatoes all that way? I neglect to tell him that I can barely afford to buy potatoes, so carrying them cross-border is the least of my problems.

I get the bus home and arrive to find the house in complete disarray and the husband covered in paint. I dump the suitcase in the only available space, don my decorating gear and start painting. After three radiators and a coat on all the walls in the hallway, I’m done in. I’m getting too old for this. We right the sofa and promptly collapse on it. The husband begs for a curry and I’m too tired to contradict him.

Monday

Wake up with: £7.56

Go to bed with: £7.56

I almost plead exhaustion and cancel supper club before I discover that the new season of University Challenge starts this very night. Yes, I am very cool. The husband is instructed to purchase a chicken and some salad. There is nothing quite like roast chicken and friends to cheer the soul and make everything alright, I find.

Tuesday

Wake up with: £7.56

Go to bed with: £7.56

The whole company has been summoned to a ‘team meeting’ on Friday. Oh great. Last time I got one of those overly cheery yet strangely vague meeting requests, I lost my job. Note to management everywhere: you only ever send out non-specific, yet bizarrely breezy emails when you are giving some poor bastard the chop. We all know this.

I get home in time for another scintillating evening playing real life Tetris with the furniture in our flat. Dinner is a leftover special: chicken salad. The decorating continues…

Wednesday

Wake up with: £7.56

Go to bed with: £7.56

The husband is supposed to have the day off, but business has finally picked up so we make an executive decision to get a builder in for the day to finish the painting. He does an incredible day’s work and when I get home, I discover the good news is that phase one of the painting is finished. The bad news is that the house looks like a bombsite, everything is covered in dust, there is paint on the sofa and the hoover has been blocked. This is a living nightmare.

Then I discover that SOMEONE has used the last loo roll without a) buying a replacement or b) telling the Chief in Charge of Household Supplies so they can buy a new one. Reader, this is almost the last straw but SOMEONE rescues the situation by paying for the new pack and a couple of peppers to boot, so I can turn the remaining chicken into a curry for tea. And thus another day of married bliss ends in peace.

Thursday

Wake up with: £7.56

Go to bed with: £0

Thank god for Marks & Spencer’s mystifying approach to customer service is all I can say. For if M&S had been able to deliver the elusive item I have been charged with sourcing for my best friend’s wedding directly to my work, home or even to my nearest branch, then I might not have had to go to Kingston tonight. And that would mean that I would have to spend another night in the house from hell, with no internet and no TV. I charge my Oyster card with the remainder of this week’s cash and set off on a blessedly dust-free mission. I get home in time to unblock the hoover and painstakingly pick the paint off the sofa before bed. The carpet for phase one is due tomorrow, so if all goes according to plan, my husband and I will have survived an entire week of DIY without having an argument. Miracles will never cease.

Tell me reader, how was your week? Thank you ever so much for stopping by!

Hallway colour scheme: wallpaper

Going for gold: hallway colour scheme

Yesterday I got home to a very dusty house; the first phase of our hallway renovation has started in earnest and we now have lighting. Almost blindingly-bright lighting. It will certainly act as a catalyst for the rest of the work as we can now see the stained carpet, chipped paint and cracked ceiling (water tank leak) in all its glory.

Next step: re-plaster the ceiling, replace the skirting boards, repaint, recarpet and then the fun stuff starts….

starlight, starbright: hallway lighting

Starry, starry nights: spotlights in the hallway

I bought a roll of Harlequin’s Radiance Gold wallpaper five years ago. No real reason, I just fell in love and knew I wanted it in my life. I don’t have enough to cover a wall, and I certainly can’t afford anymore – it’s £44 a roll. Plus, if we end up moving, it would be a bit of a waste. I think I will make long tall panels to hang along one wall. Hopefully it will glitter in the light and it make me smile every time I walk past.

LoveRichCashPoor in Amsterdam hallway lighting

Vintage vibes at De Weldaad Noordemarkt, Amsterdam

So the husband and I have been deliberating over what to do with our hallway. We live on the first floor of a two-up-two-down Victorian terrace and our hallway and stairwell gets no natural light. In the first set of renovations, the hallway was the last of our priorities—we painted, we added storage, we hung a couple of mirrors et voilà.

Now however, thanks to a leaking water tank, the ceiling has to be replaced. Great. It’s possibly one of the least exciting jobs ever… that is, if we just replace the ceiling. Yep, I wanna pimp up that hallway baby. My reasoning: in an apartment of four rooms, the hallway has to be more than a thoroughfare. It needs to wow.

For a long time, we’ve been considering a way to get some natural light flooding into the space—I’ve been hankering after a sun tunnel light tube (a miraculous refractive tube that beams light from the roof into a room) for a while and since we’re pulling down the ceiling anyway… Unfortunately, I was not prepared for an estimate to the tune of £500 + VAT + installation. Ouch. Plan B it is.

Plan B was originally to install spots throughout the corridor, but since our little mini-break, we’ve realised that is way too mundane.

Yes, the new Plan B—Plan C, if you will—is to buy a stunning, centrepiece light fitting. And the best part is, we can take it with us when we move. All we have to do now is choose one.

In Amsterdam, we were bowled over by the abundance of incredible, eye-catching light fittings. It seemed that everywhere we went there was another impressive chandelier. Paris Schmaris—when it comes to the ‘city of light’ title, Amsterdam could take you any day.

There was industrial chic at 360volt, expertly modelled in the Bloemenmarkt (flower market)

LoveRichCashPoor in Amsterdam hallway lighting

Industrial chic in the Bloemenmarkt, Amsterdam

Vintage gems and glass galore at De Weldaad—my new all-time favourite shop in the world.

LoveRichCashPoor in Amsterdam hallway lighting De Weldad

Gorgeous glass at De Weldaad, Noordemarkt Amsterdam

And some incredible Turkish lanterns on Huidenstraat.

LoveRichCashPoor in Amsterdam hallway lighting

Luscious lanterns on Huidenstraat, 9 Straatjes, Amsterdam

It’s going to be tough to choose. Right now, our hallway is monochrome—white walls, black and gold mirrors and a huge copy of Leon Spilliaert’s Vertigo taking up the majority of one wall.

I’d like to embrace the gloom with a sexy, moody colour scheme. I’m thinking glamorous and atmospheric. The same black, white and gold, but super-charged.

I’d also like a gallery of photos, some coathooks, a place to put post and keys and a panel of beautiful wallpaper. We don’t have much space to work with—but I’m game for a challenge. Watch this space.

The one that got away

The one that got away

As someone who has watched pretty much every episode of Location, Location, Location ever, I’m sure it would take Kirstie Allsopp precisely three seconds to lose patience with us. We have a long, specific wish list, we’re picky about location and we don’t have much money—so yes, we are a property finder’s nightmare.

What do we want: a period house in Sussex with a large garden that is not overlooked, three bedrooms and a large eat-in kitchen. Must have working fireplace. Preferably a renovation project. Am prepared to knock down plenty of walls.

What we don’t want: anything close to a busy road, anything modern, anything that is too ‘done’ – especially if it is not to my our taste.

The main problem is that we found all this and more, our offer was accepted, the valuation completed, and I spent hours picking paint colours and researching central heating systems—but the mortgage company wasn’t as keen on the renovation project as we were. The day before we were due to exchange and complete, it slapped a retention onto our mortgage offer pending completion of works—thereby rendering it impossible to proceed with the purchase. Humph.

So on to plan 4,623 part B. If we can’t buy the house we want without selling our flat, we would buy a tiny foothold in London first, then sell our flat and escape to the country. The first property is a non-starter. We are outbid almost instantly by an investor. Disappointing. The second property, bingo. Offer accepted, mortgage application in and approved in principle, survey done, solicitor prepped…. and the vendor pulls out. Humph.

On to plan 4,624. We’re now readying our flat for sale, and scanning Rightmove for any of the above. Oh and I’m occasionally getting sidetracked by how far our money would go in France. Watch this space.

While our forever home continues to elude us, there’s nothing to stop us making the most of what we do have. We’ve already changed this flat beyond recognition (see below), but after years of wear and tear (cough, and a few parties, cough), it’s due a repaint and re-carpet. And that was before the water tank leaked through the ceiling, the shower exploded and we decided to turn the study into a second bedroom.

Yes, we’re no stranger to the renovation game, ever since we picked up the keys one dark and chilly December evening five and a half years ago (almost to the day, it was December 15th), we have lavished care and attention (but not very much money) on our lovely Stoke Newington pad…

The sitting room before – vinyl wallpaper, six (yes, six!) layers of woodchip wallpaper on the ceiling and tinted mirrored wardrobes…

Stoke Newington before

Sitting room before

And after…

The kitchen before… (we got a little carried away with the demolition before we remembered to take the photo)

and after…

the bedroom before…

and after…

the garden before (well, work had already begun. Impatient us?)…

Garden before

and after…

A gratuitous picture of the kitten that has visited us regularly ever since he was big enough to climb through the window. I call him Stripes. Here he’s on the chaise longue that you can see in the sitting room before it got recovered with delectable Ian Mankin fabric (the husband was disappointed, he liked the pink velvet. He is going to kill me if he ever sees this!).

And I couldn’t resist a shot of my bespoke bathroom cabinet. I don’t have a before shot, but I did do the tiling all by myself on those alcoves (yes, that is why it’s a bit wonky).

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