Hunting for Treasure

I was wondering the other day if I’d lost it. ‘It’ being my ability to spot something that I liked. Most especially at vintage fairs, car boot sales and antique markets. It had been ages since I’d bought anything. I blamed the weather, I blamed the people selling things, I blamed the fact that I already have far too much stuff in my house and that was squashing my desire to buy. I was still finding clothes when I went shopping. And shoes. And bags and make up etc. But just not getting that hit when I went a hunting.

Many a Tuesday I have spent with my sister traipsing round Kempton Antique market in the freezing cold or boiling hot perusing the taxidermy, the old wine crates, the shop front letters, the school science equipment (remember those clamp stands that used to hold the test tubes over the Bunsen burners? [remember Bunsen burners!] Well there are whole heaps of them available to buy). My flat is laden down with odd little nicknacks and I eat my dinner off plates celebrating various coronations. There are so many pictures on my walls that it’s a strictly one in one out policy – I imagine the art cowering every time I leave for a car boot on a Sunday.

It was safe to say I was having a vintage dry spell. I was picking things up from tables out of desperation. Holding them up to whoever I was with only to see their faces crinkle with disgust. I bought a few things but they pretty much went straight into the cupboard under the stairs – a resting place for guilty car boot purchases before I can justifiably take them to the charity shop.

And then we went to France.

One week. A day or two of sun. Quite a lot of rain. Nice oysters. Horrid gales. No wifi. Teething one-ish year old. And quite possibly the best car boot sale I have ever been to.

It was the last day. We were taking a leisurely drive to Rouen where we were staying the night before heading to the ferry. All week we had seen signs for a brocante (french antique fair) in the nearby town. So many signs that we were pretty sure it was going to be a super dooper affair and had planned a number of hours into the itinerary in order to do it justice.

There were eight stalls. One of which was selling new crystal glasses. The one-ish year old was very bored. We were disappointed. We walked round forlornly. It started to rain. We bought a picture of a lobster (not found by me). And we left (working out which picture at home would be banished to the cupboard in favour of the crustacean).

It was as we were lamenting the tininess of our day’s activity and the amazing marketing for such a weeny event, that we saw more signs. They were less impressive, almost missable, tied to the odd lamppost here and there. They advertised a vide-grenier (french for car boot sale/ empty attic sale – I think). We definitely had the time, but did we have the inclination? We’d been burned by the brocante. Was it worth it? There was nothing else to do. So we snaked round houses, through parks, looped down cul-de-sacs until we finally found the football stadium which housed the vaguely signposted v-g. We followed the crowds. The poor one-ish year old could sense what was coming.

There it was. One whole field of stall upon stall of stuff.

It was amazing.

My french isn’t great. But it’s good enough to haggle. And I was back in the game. Now I know that what I buy isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I love it. And I loved this place. There were little ceramic jars for tea, sugar and spices, there was an old ice bucket branded for french liqueur, there was a small statue of St Teresa with only one eye that I bought for a euro from a woman who I think was a nun (it’s equally possible I made her a nun in my imagination), and for the one-ish year old there was a plastic crocodile and a plastic house thing.


It was magic. And what made it even better was at the end, unlike a British car boot, there was a big open tent selling little glasses of white wine, barbecued sausages in fresh baguettes and crepes with lemon or nutella, all for a euro or two. It was brilliant. I could go home happy.

I even found a space on the wall for the lobster so no pictures were banished or hurt in the telling of this tale.

Have you found any treasure lately? Tweet me and let me know @jenoliverbooks

My writing room

I first wrote this piece for Novelicious but I love seeing where authors write and I thought you might like to see this so I’m repurposing!
Any little peek inside someone’s house that I can get I love – it’s pure nosiness. I like to see the pictures they’ve chosen to hang on their walls, the nicknacks, the flowers, the photographs… it all adds up to the layers of who they are (and whether it fits with who I’ve decided they are in my head!) There’s nothing like peering into the background of an instagram shot and noticing the sofa and the table light!

So here’s a view of the space I write at when I’m at home. The table is yellow formica and I found it on the side of the road in pieces. I was too embarrassed to walk down the street with it – v pathetic – but my hubby made me and we stumbled along awkwardly with this broken table between us. But fixed and cleaned up, it’s my lovely yellow desk. I work on a Mac Book Air, which I love although I was seduced by the branding and the sleek silveriness when actually, I’m ashamed to admit, I quite miss Windows and Word. The light I bought at an antique shop and I get immense pleasure when I click it on and off – any distraction I can get! And every time I buy something I really like I have it on my desk for a while, just so I can look at it – like the dog which I got at a car boot this summer. The picture was from a flat that my sister bought, it hadn’t changed since the seventies and there were all these original fashion posters on the wall.

My desk


If I don’t work here then I work at the kitchen table – where I wrote the whole of The Little Christmas Kitchen. I’m not sure why I decamped but I think it was because of the light – the kitchen gets the sun all day. I let my desk get dusty and set up camp there instead, staring out the window at the leaves and the scaffolders.

If I need to get out the house I go to Caffe Nero, but I tend to be distracted listening to other people’s conversations, so then I’ll take myself to The National Theatre where it’s quiet and dark and they serve good coffee. But I usually only last an hour or two before I start to think about how cosy my desk is at home!

I quite often write by hand in a notebook – one that’s A4 and lined with no perforation marks so the pages don’t tear out. Initially quite hard to come by, I then found a stash of them at a really old stationers round the corner and bought in bulk for fear that they might go out of business. In the photo, the one I wrote The Parisian Christmas Bake Off in is on the top of the pile – you have to forgive the kittens, it was the only one I could find on holiday in Italy.

My notebook


So this is where I work at the moment, and because it’s daffodil season there are usually some on my desk because I think they’re beautiful – the best flowers! I’m sure soon enough I’ll decamp somewhere else and when I do I’ll post another photo. To see other people’s desks, and get your nosiness fix look here: My Writing Room on Novelicious.

My food history

I’m always asked if I bake or cook because I write so much about food. I do cook. I do bake. But really it’s my family that are the star bakers.

My mum is Russian and has ensured that our culinary history has been rich and varied. When we came home from school dinner would be Kotleti – oat-rolled meatballs in a rich tomato sauce – or stroganoff. For hors d’oeuvres at parties she’d make tiny Piroshki pasties filled with mushrooms and onions that we’d try and pinch pipping hot from the oven. And at Easter we always have a traditional Easter bread called a Kulich served with Paskha (a sort of sugary, raisiny cream cheese) and of course, all the hoo hah that goes with making both!

The success of the Kulich depends on the sweet bread rising super high – sometimes to over a foot. The dough spends the night in the airing cupboard and we all cross our fingers when it’s baked on Easter morning – hoping and praying that the bloody thing will rise so there won’t be tears over breakfast. One year we sliced the top off and the whole inside was an air bubble – disaster!

Easter eggs

The night before Easter we always paint eggs. It’s a beautiful tradition. We cover the table with newspaper, put out paints and a bowl of hardboiled eggs, and we sit round the table with wine and all try and come up with an idea worth painting. I’d recommend it as a tradition – because you’re concentrating on the painting, the chat is really relaxed and there’s loads of laughter. Probably a bit like a sewing bee!

If I look back at my childhood, a huge part of it was spent in the kitchen… From whipping up cream for meringues – sniggering when my mum swore because the first batch had burnt – to sieving raspberries for coulis or jabbing holes in the top of the lemon cake for the sugary syrup to drizzle down. So to answer the question of do I bake/ cook. Let’s say I grew up as a very good sous chef! I listened, I observed, I chatted, I got evil stares from my sister when I ducked out of making dinner – and that’s probably why I’m better at writing about food now than cooking it!

This Easter think of us as we’re all staring at the oven, fingers crossed hoping the Kulich will rise higher than ever before. I’ll tweet a pic so you can see if it worked. x

Behind the scenes of Cherry Pie

So I thought you might want a bit of a behind the scenes sneak peak at some of the inspiration behind the Cherry Pie Island series 

Here’s five things that you may not already know about The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe

Cherry Pie Island map

  1. I used to be a rower and The Dandelion Cafe is based on the cafe we used to go to between our rowing outings at the weekend. It was a tiny, dark little place that existed before all the trendy tea rooms and coffee shops started opening and was the only place to go. It had ripped red faux leather seats and served apple pie with fluorescent custard. We’d have mugs of steaming hot tea and toasted bacon sandwiches with ketchup and we’d sit and read the paper and do the crossword while truckers came in for a pit stop and clubbers stumbled in having not been to bed. We’d watch the rain outside – sick that we had to go back out on the river – or smile at the sunshine thinking how tanned we’d get during the next session. The cafe was tatty and run down and I don’t think it exists anymore but it was so cosy and friendly and the perfect place to escape the world for an hour or so.
  2. When I lived in Vauxhall, every morning I’d walk to the train station along a big, polluted main road. To make it a little bit more pleasant I’d cut through the park. In spring they had the most phenomenal blossom trees. I would stop and look up and the sky would be filled with pink frothy petals – just like the orchard on Cherry Pie Island.
  3. In Dandelion Cafe, Annie remembers discussions over the best way to eat cherry pie. Personally, I really like a teaspoon. So does my mum. My dad likes a fork. My husband thinks we’re all bonkers and should just eat with whatever piece of cutlery we’re given. How do you eat yours?
  4. Cherries are definitely my favourite fruit (close seconds: bananas, clementines and raspberries). Once, while driving through France, we stopped at a stall at the side of the road and bought a bag of the most exquisite, sweet, juicy, dark red cherries I’ve ever eaten. We still talk wistfully about them!
  5. The Dandelion Cafe becomes a tapas place in the evening. This is my dream cafe! Retro-chic cafe by day, cool little tapas bar by night. I went to Seville for my honeymoon and it fast became one of my favourite places – so friendly, exciting and beautiful. Orange trees line the streets and the little bars serve marinated anchovies, chorizo, pimiento de padron, serrano ham. It was food heaven. Hopefully I’ve captured a little piece of it for you to taste.

Happy reading!

And if you like, take a look at the map of Cherry Pie Island!

Jenny x

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