Unimaginable but true, Nigella Lawson, the prima donna assoluta of foodie porn, the doe-eyed, brown-haired, pink-sweatered doyenne of spatula and mixing bowl, the flirty sexpot of pot-roast and pavlova, hit 50 in January. The fall of years has not diminished her infinite gorgeousness by a jot or tittle, sprig or teaspoon, but some pretenders have been waiting in the wings, groomed by publishers and TV producers to take over the goddess's mantle.
First up is Sophie Dahl, formerly size-16 supermodel, now slender and mature food writer, but still with the huge, trusting blue eyes. Her show, The Delicious Miss Dahl (actually Mrs Cullen these days) comes to BBC2 next week. A trailer shows her clad in polka-dotted, halter-necked décolletage, constructing an Eton Mess while reminiscing about an almost-boyfriend who came to dinner: "He wolfed my spaghetti carbonara, turned his nose up at my chocolate mousse and left without kissing me. I sobbed all night. My mother said, 'If he won't stick around for your mousse, he's not worth it.'" She also sighs coquettishly about "the penny-novelish seductions of crystallised rose petals." Jamie Cullen is a fortunate man, on the rose-petal front.
Can Sophie fight off the rival charms of Gizzi Erskine, a presenter on Channel 4's Cook Yourself Thin and a regular on the banquette sofas of morning TV shows? Despite her porn-star name, Gizzi is a serious chef who trained at Prue Leith's cookery school. You can tell from her new book, Gizzi's Kitchen Magic, that she's a serious contender for the Nigella apron. The title contains a hint (Kitchen Magician = Domestic Goddess); the cover shows her drizzling stardust over a cake (Nigella started her book career with baking); and an introductory photograph shows Gizzi in an evening gown, enjoying a fry-up and mug of tea after (presumably) a night on the tiles. Magic, cakes and sex – the irresistible formula.
Can either lady, however, breast the tape to win the Nouvelle Nigella race ahead of Xanthe Milton? Raven-tressed and voluptuous, Xanthe is known as Cookie Girl because she peddles home-made cupcakes from her small but lovely shop in Notting Hill. She's very good at cupcakes, but now TV companies are fighting to have her front cookery shows, and there are signs that she may trade on something other than culinary skill in doing so. In one promo photo, she poses in a sylvan glade, wearing a drawstring blouse, lace-up boots, a gingham skirt and a picnic basket, a cross between Red Riding Hood and the Bavarian barmaid in Dracula Fancies a Bit. Her book, Eat Me!: the Stupendous, Self-raising World of Cupcakes and Bakes hints that Ms Milton is a bit of a teatime comestible herself, an impression confirmed by a clip of her breathily instructing viewers about squeezing out the perfect icing rose...
Any of these women would liven up a half-hour's cookery instruction. If, unfortunately, none can hold a candle to Nigella at any age, it's not for want of trying. John Walsh
National Trust goes hi-tech
You wouldn't think there'd be a significant overlap between iPhone users and National Trust visitors, but since the Trust released its iPhone app on Monday, it's been downloaded more than 13,000 times. Wherever you are in the UK, you're less than an hour from a National Trust property, and app leads you to the nearest one. So who is National Trust App Man (or Woman)? He loves technology, but the more artisanal the better – hence an iPhone, not a Blackberry. He thinks of himself as a history buff, but doesn't want to travel too far from Clerkenwell to prove it. Erno Goldfinger's "influential" apartment is only in Hampstead? Modernist, modest and a tube ride away? Hand me that Google Map. Tim Walker
Fabric of modern society
Tired of keeping up with the fashionable set? Don't sweat it. Or rather, do. There's nothing more nonchalantly hip right now than grey marl – whether a sweatshirt, T-shirt, or pair of jogging bottoms worn with heels.
"Grey marl has such school gym-hall connotations," says Kay Barron, fashion news editor at Grazia. "There is something really comforting, yet cool, about it. It goes hand in hand with the resurgence of sportswear as a major trend this summer."
But its style credentials stretch further than this season's elasticated waistbands: grey marl has been with us for a long time. Traditionally the stuff of Ivy League athletics teams, it has a preppy quality that latter-day hipsters yearn for. This, combined with its Pineapple dance studio/kids from Fame aesthetic, makes marl the perfect wardrobe hero: classy but cool, comfortable but current.
The swirly, tonal wash is thought to take its name from a layer of lime-rich mudstone often found in Triassic-aged sections of the Earth's crust.
Fast forward a few centuries, though, and modern designers are reinventing the shade. YSL's Stefano Pilati showed chic cocktail dresses in sweatshirt fabric for spring/summer 2008, while shoppers can now get anything from biker jackets to formal trousers in grey marl.
"It's one of those luxe, season-less fabrics that works with everything," says Luisa de Paula, buying director at My-wardrobe.com. No more excuses, then, for not looking your best. Harriet WalkerReuse content