Forage

plate of wild garlicThe appearance of wild garlic in the woods has signalled the start of this year’s foraging. So far, wild garlic has been shredded into carbonara, strewn in salads and added to omelettes. Yesterday I blitzed the plateful above, to make pesto. pestoI chucked 50g of toasted pine nuts into the blender (having burnt the first 50g because I wasn’t paying attention), with about four large handfuls of wild garlic (all the leaves you see in the top photograph — I have no idea of the weight, I’m afraid). I squeezed half a lemon into the mix, added a handful of grated parmesan and then whizzed it until the leaves had broken down to create a paste. Several large glugs of olive oil, another whirr and it was done. The work of five minutes, and incredibly delicious. We drizzled this into soup last night (minestrone) and one of the girls ate it on bread. At lunch today, I added a teaspoon to some chopped tomatoes as a speedy salad dressing (word of warning, a little goes a long way). Tonight it will be stirred into linguine. I imagine it keeps for about three to five days in the fridge.

Last year was a vintage year for foraging. It began at around this time with the first of the wild garlic and finished with a spectacular haul of quinces. In May and June I prowled  Bristol, secateurs in hand, on the lookout for elderflowers which I used to make gooseberry & elderflower jam and also elderflower & lemon marmalade. Elderflower sprigs were also added to drinks — both V&T and G&T benefitted from a little floral hit. Next came apricot and lavender jam — not strictly a forage, as the ingredients came from my garden and the market respectively, but there was something satisfying about using at least one local and free ingredient. IMG_4096Plums followed, courtesy of my neighbour with whom I share what I make. One batch of plain plum jam and the other with a bit of cinnamon which gave it a warm base note. The before and after shots are above and below. IMG_4098Blackberries were particularly abundant last year — in fact, I still have a couple of tubs of blackberries in the freezer. These were made into simple blackberry jam and also, inspired by Diana Henry, a delicious blackberry and pinot noir number (jam purists out there — just do it, you’ll find you like it!). We had several crumbles too. My foraging went up a gear this year when I started knocking on the doors of  total strangers having spied interesting things in their gardens. The greatest success was a glorious 4 kilo haul of quinces in early October. quince in bowlThe winter months were hard, however. I looked for sloes, but failed, and I completely forgot about rose hips. But I finished on a positive note, gathering Ivy and clematis vitalba (old man’s beard) on a walk along Narroways which I used for my Christmas wreath. wreathThis year, my sights are set on a large patch of nettles and a local medlar tree. And I feel sure that with a little bit of research (and with the weather on my side), I should be able to find something pretty or delicious (or both) each month of the year. I had plans to make rose petal jam again (see here for my first effort). Last year I decided against it as I had to resort to spraying my plants when they were all hit with black spot. Anyway, what do you look forward to foraging each year? And what do you make with what you find?

when life gives you lemons …

IMG_6899It is safe to say that this year has not got off to a particularly auspicious start. We’ve had a bit of a roller coaster ride on various fronts — family, dog and car, in that order, wraps it neatly in a nutshell. But we are fine, if a little frazzled. Life goes on.

Already, the days are longer, the skies a little brighter and, Direct Line Insurance aside, things are looking up.

 

the name of the rose

P1290430Last week, whilst thinking about how to fit more roses into my garden, I dug out these photographs. Way back in June, on the summer solstice no less, we took the girls and Sybil for an early evening game of frisbee in the grounds of Ashton Court.

Frisbee isn’t really my thing, so I wandered off to the rose garden instead.

P1290443There is nothing particularly remarkable about this formal garden: it contains hundreds of roses, all of which are planted either in long borders or circular and crescent shaped beds. A simple metal fence, installed in 2006 to keep the deer out, surrounds the whole. Though unexceptional, I always leave Ashton Court rose garden with a head full of ideas.

P1290444 P1290458Sadly, although I leave inspired, there’s not much I can do about acting on the inspiration.  Unless you know your roses really, really well, you haven’t a hope in hell of identifying anything at Ashton Court. Apparently there are over 160 different cultivars in the rose garden and not one of them is labelled.

P1290456Consequently, tracking down the roses I fall in love with feels virtually impossible — I’ve tried comparing my photos with tiny thumbnail images in catalogues to no avail. Is the one above Teasing Georgia, I wonder? And could the one below that be William Lobb? Looks very like it, but no, the buds are not mossy.

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P1290460As it was all replanted fairly recently the planting plan must surely exist somewhere. Extensive googling has thrown up nothing so far. But I have it on good authority that a plan does exist, and I’ve made it my mission to track it down. Wish me luck.

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read all about it…

P1290493Back in February I mentioned a shoot that James Balston and I were working on in Peckham, South East London. I couldn’t say much about it at the time — beyond sharing a shot, here, of James balanced rather precariously on the edge of the bath — but it’s in today’s Guardian magazine, with a few extra shots here at the Guardian online. But for the full set of photographs (magazines never have room for everything) take a look here.

IMG_2664The house belongs to textile and lighting designer, Rachael Causer (who you can see above, reflected in two mirrors in her bathroom), and her husband Henry Ward, and it is filled with interesting details, many of which are the result of years and years of reconfiguring the spaces as their needs have changed.

It’s exactly the sort of interiors story I love: all about creative lateral thinking rather than an exercise in how to spend vast amounts of money. Do take a look, if you have the chance.

I’m aware that the blog has been a little neglected recently — a combination of lots of work, lots of DIY (will it ever end?) lots of gardening and a lot of jam making, all of which I hope to share in the coming weeks, though it’s all on Instagram to which I have become rather addicted.

 

done!

P1280058A few weeks ago I finished Martha’s quilt. But work, the garden and a lot of DIY have meant that I’ve had no time to blog about it (or anything else, for that matter).

P1280054But here it is. And it was a doddle to make. I say that not as someone who lives to sew, but as someone who is largely ill at ease with a sewing machine. I made it over the course of about three days, working at it as time allowed.

Having all the fabrics washed, ironed and ready to go certainly speeded things up. As did the new approach to cutting …

P1280053thirty minutes with the rotary cutter and the pieces were ready. The random layout took another half an hour and by the end of Sunday afternoon I had finished the central patchwork panel. I added the borders that evening, and the next day I made the back panel and pinned the layers together.

P1280057The actual quilting took an afternoon and evening — I used a long needle in order to load as many stitches as I could — and then the final edging, with the tiny eye-straining stitches was the work of another evening in front of the television.

The finished quilt is a little smaller than a single bed and is the perfect size to wrap around a small child — by which I mean a nine-year-old like Martha, who is not especially tall for her age. She likes to ‘wear’ it to watch telly, and has it on her bed as well.

quiltThe whole thing was a real pleasure to make. Style-wise it’s quite a step away from the rather washed-out vintage fabrics of the first two quilts, and far brighter than the quilt I made at Jane Brocket’s workshop at Ray Stitch.

I feel I’ve come a long way: I really must emphasise that I am not a natural at this. Sewing is NOT my forte. I am confounded by patterns; all fingers and thumbs when cutting and pinning. And so, for all would-be quilters out there, I say in all honesty: if I can make a quilt then you can too. Just don’t kill the fun of it by getting hung up on it being right. And maybe begin by mucking about with a bunch of clothes you are planning to give to charity, that way there’ll be no heartache if it all goes wrong.

super sophie

P1260233There appears to be a bit of an orange theme to my current posts, and today the colour comes to you in the form of maple roasted carrot and ginger soup.

This is the perfect soup for what is proving to be the greyest of Januarys: not only is it completely delicious but it also provides a much needed blast of colour. It’s from Sophie Grigson’s Country Kitchenand is incredibly easy to make.

P1260226The vegetables are roasted in the maple syrup and sunflower oil for about 45 minutes and then blitzed in a blender along with the stock. The ginger gives the soup a subtle kick, though I tend to leave it out if it’s for the children.

It’s a brilliant Saturday morning standby: I sling everything in the oven on a low heat, and then get on with whatever I need to do until the whining about lunch starts up, by which time it’s usually pretty much ready. The soup can be eaten as it is, but also works with all manner of toppings — Sophie Grigson suggests chopped chives or lovage. The girls like it with grated cheddar, I love it with chives, crumbled feta and a sprinkle of smoky paprika. We’ve experimented with garlicky croutons and also greek yoghurt. When we have no maple syrup I’ve substituted honey which has worked well, and I can imagine that adding cumin to the baking tray would make a nice alternative to ginger.

I expect it freezes well, but I’ve haven’t tried as we never have any left over. Though if I had a larger freezer I might be tempted to make it in bulk from time to time.

INGREDIENTS: 1kg/2lb 4oz carrots, cut into chunks; 2 onions cut into eighths; 4cm/1.5 inch chunk of root ginger cut into matchsticks; 4 cloves garlic peeled; 3tbs sunflower oil; 4 tbs maple syrup (Sophie says dark, grade B, but I used what I had in the cupboard); 1.5litres/2.5 pints chicken or vegetable stock; salt and pepper.

METHOD: Pre-heat oven to gas mark 7/ 220 C/ 425 F

Mix all the ingredients in a roasting tray (or two if you are increasing the quantity), making sure that everything is coated with oil and syrup. Best to use your hands for this, and then make sure that everything lies relatively evenly across the pan. Roast for 45 – 60 minutes, checking from time to time and turning the vegetables as they brown up.

Remove the vegetables from the oven and allow them to cool a little before adding them to the liquidiser with half the stock. Depending on the size of your liquidser, you may find that you have to do this in batches. (If using a stick blender, just transfer the vegetables to a large pan and add half the stock and then get blending.)

Once you have a smooth mix of blended vegetables and stock, transfer to a large pan with the remaining stock and heat it up again. This is the moment to check the seasoning. Salt will balance out the sweetness of the carrots and the maple syrup, as will a teaspoon or two of smoky paprika.

And finally, I really must recommend Sophie Grigson’s Country Kitchen. It is filled with excellent recipes which are arranged seasonally, interspersed with little essays on specific ingredients, methods, customs and techniques.

Occasionally I wonder if I could cope with just one cookery book. Is there one book, I ask myself, that could take me through an entire year, providing inspiration for meals for friends as well as straightforward mid-week family suppers? Of course, I’d hate to have to make that decision (I’m very fickle and greedy), but I think Sophie Grigson’s book really does cover all the bases and would probably see us through.

french leave*

P1230169As ever, the end of term was a turbo-charged affair —  Matilda had exams, Bea said farewell to primary school, Martha railed against the class re-jig for next year, Joe and I had various deadlines and bits of the house fell apart.

All in all it was a relief to load up the car and head for France on the very first day of the summer holidays. I’m not sure why, but we have never done this before. I think I always felt that we needed a breather at the end of term, a period of decompression, as it were, before embarking on our holiday.

P1230275But simply closing the door on the house, on work and on school, worked brilliantly. I think we’ll do it again. I never really achieved anything in that limbo week between the end of term and our great escape: the packing was always done in a rage at the last minute, the house was usually a mess and the girls put all their excited energy into bickering.

No time for any of that this year: the girls did their own packing (I bought three small suitcases from Ikea and told the girls to pack whatever they wanted as long as they promised to bring enough underwear, their swimming things and one jumper), and on the 25th July we were up, breakfasted and on the road in record time.

Of course, now we that we are back the circus has started all over again, though it’s a little less manic as no one needs to be up at the crack of dawn and everyone is in a good mood. But still, I seem to spend my days making lists and chasing around after stuff:  Bea needs a uniform, Matilda’s uniform needs upgrading, Martha would like a uniform but doesn’t need one, the garden looks like a jungle and the house is still crumbling (but as the weather is good we can ignore the holes in the roof for a bit). France is a distant memory.

French Leave — An unauthorized or unannounced departure; absence without permission: he seems to have taken French leaveORIGIN mid 18th cent.: said to derive from the French custom of leaving a dinner or ball without saying goodbye to the host or hostess. The phrase was first recorded shortly after the Seven Years’ War (1756–63); the equivalent French expression is filer à l’Anglaise, literally ‘to escape in the style of the English.’