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A christmas rose
15 December 2015


 Against the drab died-back look of winter the last few roses (see here, a John Clare specimen) decorate the garden in defiant shots of frivolous summer pink. I cut some blooms for the table to join candles and a bowl of aromatic  clementines in a simple festive still life.

 In the season for boxes of delights, I find particular pleasure in unpacking after a year`s rest in the attic  irisdescent baubles and a peg doll fairy for the tree.  And, there is all the hope and spring potential in the tulip and allium bulbs.  Arriving in boxes by mail order, they are tucked amongst  newspaper bedding, in net sacks and brown paper bags with special holes to keep the bulbs cool and dry. It is worth noting that most bulbs should be planted at a depth that allows twice their own height of soil above them.  Shallower planting is ok but the bulbs are unlikely to perform well after their first year, and  there is the added danger of being easier to be scavenged by squirrels. I have just finished planting about 300 pink tulips (including Blue Heron and Recreado) purple giant fluffy alliums (Gladiator and Globemaster). Do hope  the  rain and sogginess  will dry up for spring or I fear the consequent snail plague will be not only a threat to the young foliage but an unwelcome preoccupation.









Hooray, the last bulb is in. Time for a warm up by the fire!


Tags: christmas, roses, pink, winter, bulbs, garden


Tinseltime
21 December 2014

 Festive greetings and wishes for a healthy and happy  New Year  to all my blog readers .
 I haven`t forgotten the recipe for the cheesiest biscuits ( in the taste sense )to rustle up over the holiday. Adapted via Prue Leith`s Cookery Bible (every kitchen should have one) the recipe is easy on kitchen skills.  If made a couple of days in advance and stored in a tin, it is useful to  crisp the biscuits in a warm oven for a few minutes to bring out the flavour . Or chill the  biscuit dough in the fridge, ready for  rolling out and baking  some  tasty  snacks for a last minute get together.
Ingredients
225g plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
225g butter
225 gruyere , pecorino, or  strong cheddar, grated
2 tablespoons English mustard
beaten egg
3 teaspoons paprika

Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
Put the flour and into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture is like breadcrumbs.
Add the cheese, salt, pepper, mustard, paprika and egg to bind. Make a paste and roll into a ball.
Roll out on a floured board, or, for less mess,  between two sheets of greaseproof paper to a 5mm thickness. Cut into squares, ( or rounds, or rectangles or whatever shape you want)  and brush the remaining egg.

Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.






Tags: winter , homecooking, christmas, white,


Some ideas for christmas
14 December 2013

 I have escaped  the Christmas hysteria for a long weekend in Olhao. Bathed in  warm sun the Saturday market is a rich source of edible seasonal goodies. I can only look  and sigh at the honey- it wouldn`t make it past the xray scanner  but I load up on  piri piri peppers, nuts and figs for simple stocking fillers.




Two small girls are selling chestnuts  with their brothers from a barrow with a basic charcoal oven and a box of sea salt for flavouring.  They keep their wares   tucked up  like dolls in  a blanket of  sacking. I buy a bag for 2 euros and the nutty burnt flavours  evoke the  Christmases  we spent in  the Andalucian sierra.






Over coffee and a pastel de nata I consider more ideas, some practical, some  fanciful for my Pure Style Christmas wish list:

A scented rambling rose for summer blooms.
A pile of warm wool welsh blankets
 Cashmere socks
A cataplana for making Portuguese fish and rice stew.
Anything from Labour and Wait, especially a pot mat a stout work apron and a shiny new saucepan;
More kitchen knives.
A substantial linen tablecloth
Something simple in pottery
Just about any Aesop products but especially my favourite moisturiser
A new project like this one
The true version of this table rather than my Ikea rip off
A subscription to  visual inspiration at the Royal Academy.
A year`s supply of Bendicks  bittermints

Tags: Christmas, natural, colour, winter


Long Island light and shade
06 December 2011





  I feel the air miles  when a man with a festive beer in a plastic cup offers a seat on the packed late train  to Ronkonkoma  and questions with some incredulity  " You`ve come all the way from England for Thanksgiving ?"  I have  and  it`s my first.  The  blazing fire,   turkey with a turkey flavour  from a North Fork organic  farm and the warmth of the Foley family to whose  Long Island Thanksgiving I am invited the next day will  meet all of my expectations and more.  



  With my body clock somewhere after lunch, I wake   rather suddenly   to the crack of  gun shots from the  duck hunters across the lake. ( It is never wise to think the countryside is peaceful)  But it`s tranquil enough, absolutely blissful in fact,  drinking hot coffee on the  porch ,watching  the  melting  pale pink early morning sky  and all around the earthy woodiness  of damp leaves.  I`m at  the white house, the  simple white  wood clad home (and location space) of  Trish Foley the American  queen of white and  natural  decorating. Her first book the Natural Home published in 1995  was  ahead of its time, and is as inspirational today.  



  Trish`s 3rd  pop up shop event for her New General Store takes   place  with soup  cider and cookies over the Thanksgiving weekend. It  features  white and natural home ideas on sale in Trish`s  studio and white cabin tucked amongst the surrounding  winter thin woods.  



  There`s a gang of us  to pull the  last minute threads  together:  stirring the spicy pumpkin soup (cumin, coriander, chilli,  toasted pine nuts and croutons make this a particularly delectable pumpkin idea),  wiping down the thick glassy beads of  overnight dew from the  outdoor  benches and  sweeping leaves off the  huge outdoor  plank table.  The sun feels warm again on my face, a remnant of summer  and as in London, everyone is saying how unseasonable the temperatures are.  



  Matthew Mead sets up his stall in the  White Shop,  and signs copies of Holiday magazine- his  brilliant and  visually  inspiring  take on crafting and making that comes out quarterly.  







    I have my eyes, on white pots filled  with bulbs and moss,  but can`t exactly see getting past airport  security  A narcissus- scented candle will do very nicely instead.  And there is a gorgeous collection of  vintage white Ironstone china,  platters, cups and bowls, that I could also happily pack to take home - if only.  



  We say clothes pegs you say clothes pins.  



  As well as delicious flavoured vinegars and olive oils, there`s  flowery and scented Rugosa Rose jelly  made by The Taste of the North Fork.  I have some  dollops of it  on toast with butter  for breakfast to keep me going.  



 



  I am on duty  signing books in the studio, suffused with the scent of flowering  paper white narcissi, and bathed in the  long low sunlight pouring  through the  south facing wall of glass window panes. It`s  good to meet  the New York/Long Island crowd and find that there`s  common ground - simpler living is as much on the agenda in the economic  downturn as it is at home.  I`m glad that all my favourite things:  parrot tulips,  rhubarb,  roses,  chestnuts and lemon meringue pie seem to be  appreciated across the pond.  The books are a sell out and  so I celebrate with walnut shortbread baked by Michael Jones.  



  The next day I`m 0n the road again, heading to my next signing at Loaves and Fishes, in Bridgehampton.  This is a wonderful treasure trove of a cook shop with the best of its type,  from  coffee making machine and  shellfish picker to sharp knife and dinner plate.  Run by the charming and welcoming Sybille van Kempen  Loaves and Fishes is also noted for its food shop and cookery school and is  as much a  Hamptons  landmark as all the gorgeous beach houses*.  It`s Sunday lunchtime, and so my samples of  chocolate and chestnut cake are a great crowd drawer,  and another of the book`s recipes that seems to travel rather well. *   Ralph Lauren  designer, Ellen O`Neill`s  heavenly red and white house  ( American country house style meets Bloomsbury ) is another Long Island   location shoot`s dream.  



  Time for some  R and R and I head off to the City via the Long Island Rail Road  ( it`s all so American-  the toot tooting  of the train when it passes  the  unmanned barriers reminds me of every cowboy  movie I`ve ever seen)  and Penn Station. The avenues of Manhattan await me and my wheelie bag.

Tags: Christmas, colour, home cooking, scent, Simple, white rooms, winter


A thriller and the garden
30 December 2010





From almost-hysterical queues to silhouettes of trees and church towers against white fields: this contrast from urban shopping frenzy to rural peace has been one of the best things about our Christmas, spent in the depths of Somerset. Charades, a melee of dogs plopped in front of the fire, and Blackadder on the TV are pretty good festive ingredients, too.



There’s a feeling of relief that all the present searching and sorting is over. I am using the post Christmas calm to get stuck in to Before I Go To Sleep With a bizarre form of memory loss as its key theme, the story is a gripping psychological thriller which kept me up all night, because it was too tantalising to close the pages and not get to the clever ending. But enough of the adrenaline. I am thrilled with my copy of Second Nature: A Gardener`s Education by Michael Pollen who brilliantly promotes the garden rather than the wild as the most appropriate place for rethinking our relationship with nature. He says that a garden is the place for being in, rather than looking at. Lawns, for example are not part of Pollen’s landscape: “The more serious about gardening I became, the more dubious lawns seemed” he writes and goes on to say “For however democratic a lawn may be with respect to one’s neighbours, with respect to nature it is authoritarian”. I know what he means, but you do have to tough it with nature too - I’m thinking of the groundelder and lemon balm that engulfs my summer garden, of which I have no qualms at hacking down to maintain order.



With more musing on my unseasonal train of thought I do so miss the summer herby lavender scents of my garden which is looking so spare and flattened now that there is a bit of a thaw in progress. The closest I can seem to get to a summer sensory experience at the moment is the gorgeous Primrose Facial Hydrating Cream with lavender, sage and rosemary from Aesop. I don’t usually find huge words of praise for beauty treatments (having worked as a beauty editor some years ago and tried out products that came with extraordinary claims, even more extraordinary prices and yet didn’t seem to be any better than E45 cream from the chemist) but this cream is delicious in fragrance and good to my frazzled winter skin. Whilst I’m on the subject of beautifying I shall keep you posted with the effects, if any, (who me, sounding a touch cynical?) of my Yuroll which bills itself as a jade facial massager – not unlike a small rolling pin on a long handle – and is supposed to ensure a “lean re-contoured wonderfully unlined face: thoroughly toned and with improved elasticity”. I can’t see anything, apart from a very large dose of Botox improving my ‘laughter’ lines and general wear and tear, much of which occurred when I sunbathed furiously in my teens. But, hey I’m going to give it a go!



We’re all nursing extremely full stomachs, and yearning for something lighter and more fragrant than Christmas turkey fare. My sister in law gave me a jar of her preserved lemons, which I can’t wait to add to a spicy tagine with some fluffy hot couscous. I must also pay a visit to Persepolis our local taste of Persia in Peckham, where there are many aromatic middle eastern delights. After an extremely bracing walk across Hampstead Heath, it won’t be over indulgent in this season of indulgency, to enjoy some ice cream at Marine Ices in Camden, a family tradition that goes back to when my children were small and seemed to disappear behind their two huge scoops of chocolate tottering on wafer cones.

Tags: books, Christmas, colour, flower power, garden, home cooking, homemade, scent, Simple, winter


Hot puddings and warm cardigans
21 December 2010





Tobogganing at great speed in the park (well it seems like it to me as I am given a rather alarming shove to get going) is one way of getting rid of excess adrenalin brought on by the run up to Christmas. It’s Alpine conditions here still in south London and I seem to be permanently dressed in bobble hat and my very thick hand knitted granddad style cardigan from the Brixton branch of Traid, the brilliant charitable organisation set up by Wayne Hemmingway that recycles clothes and textiles. On the subject of all things sub zero it seems rather typically dotty and British if not plain mad that it’s the annual open-air cold water swimming championships at the local lido in a few weeks time. We’re keeping warm too with a spot of mince pie making. There is readymade flaked and short crust pastry in the fridge to get them out in double quick time. And I’ve stocked up on jars of shop bought mincemeat which can be customised with more flaked almonds, orange and lemon zest and slugs of brandy.



There’s absolutely every excuse in our draughty house to make a log fire and sit beside it with a slim volume of Ten Poems about Puddings which arrives by post complete with a lucky sixpence to stuff in the Christmas pudding. If I’m on a lap top it’s always worth a quick visit to see what’s new in interiors on the decor8 blog . My log baskets are Spanish and made from plaited esparto grass, but if I didn’t have these I think I’d go for something English and traditional in woven willow. I prefer the elemental feeling and flickering heat of an open fire but am considering a wood burning stove because they’re a more efficient way of storing heat. We’ll see. War is waging in the garden as the big birds - crows, magpies and fat woodpigeons scare the little birds – robins, sparrow, and bluetits away from the survival rations of seeds and nuts that I have scattered across the garden table. We must try and keep the robins alive, especially as their numbers were depleted in last year’s hard winter. A squirrel has hidden a boiled potato in the rose standard. I know because I went and checked it out this morning, hoping it wasn’t one of the tulip bulbs. The snow shows up the gaps in the lavender planting and I make a mental note to go to my favourite catalogue and order more for the spring.



Slip sliding my way around the West End crush in search of very specific make up requirements for the sixteen year old, I think about the beauty of online shopping. But because mother nature is holding up deliveries during this mad freeze I can see I will be out hunting and gathering right up to the big day. At Liberty there are the most gorgeous Liberty print scarves, investment buys, yes, but brilliant colours in timeless style. And even if it didn’t arrive until after Christmas it would be worth waiting for one of Volga Linen’s lightweight woven shawls in olive or duck egg blue that is half price, and as good to look at thrown across a chair, as it is wrapped around you. If I could have a new set of cutlery for the Christmas feast I would go for the classic sixties stainless steel knives and forks from Robert Welch - really beautiful and streamlined. It would be good too, to fill a large white bowl with the fat juicy oranges that are now in season in the market in Olhao.



Tags: books, Christmas, garden, home cooking, homemade, interiors, winter


 
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