Monday, December 31, 2012

Working with children and animals

A couple of weeks ago we were frantically busy making the house all christmassy, in preparation for a Japanese magazine photo shoot. I can’t reveal the end result yet but what I can say, is that that while both children and cats love to be where the action is, the former were properly helpful but the latter opted to merely monitor proceedings!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


Blank skies black boughs
the final coloured shards of autumn
flicker and fall.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Last week I had a wisdom tooth extracted. Topical, because I’m sure the grappling irons lounging in the dentist’s instrument tray were not that dissimilar to those I have been using to make my reindeer.

Short of suitable muzzle for Rudolf I popped to the supermarket in search of a little square tin. My heart skipped a beat when I spotted “Princes Corned Beef” on the shelf.

What child of the 60’s didn’t while away fantastical hours twiddling that little key between their fingers... unlocking a thousand fairy castles and unleashing mischievous monkeys from their zoo cage! 

Maybe, I pondered, the world of make-believe has never really left me, as I fashioned spent cardoon stalks into a pair of antlers!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Feeling festive

I’m having a lovely time getting our house ready for a Christmas photoshoot. Think handmade decorations, flickering candlelight and a kitchen full of delicious aromas. 

This week I was in London for my agent’s Christmas Party which was perfect opportunity to glean some inspiration. It seems like Rudolph is a recurring theme in the bright lights of the capital this year, and even the reindeer hat my daughter made five years ago is experiencing a comeback.

When I got up the following morning, Suffolk was shimmering with it’s own dusting of festivity, and wherever I looked I somehow saw antlers framed against the cold morning light.

Even Gareth (the ram), glimpsed at a distance, could just about pass as a reindeer. (Incidentally he deigns to give me no more than a civil nod now that he hangs out with a group of girls that are more his type.)

So, anyway, all that’s got me thinking.... give me a moment and I’ll get my tin snips and secateurs out and see what I can come up with!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Swedes... but not the blonde ones!

As November draws its final dew laden breath today, Country Living Magazine champions an unsung stalwart of the season... the humble swede.

Now I had never really thought of growing swede until now. Probably like most people, I’d characterised them as backstage boys rather than look-at-me divas but apparently they are an easy veg for a moisture retentive, fertile soil, like mine, and just now I’d rather like to be digging up some heavy roots, cloaked in a fringe of deep purple, tapering to gold, with hints of shocking lime. 

And here’s what I’d cook.

Very Vegetable Soup 
(from The Painted Garden Cookbook)

Serves 4
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
2 thick slices bacon, finely chopped
2 waxy potatoes, cut into 1cm cubes
120g sweetcorn kernels (fresh or frozen)
200g swede chopped into 1cm cubes
1 apple, chopped
600ml vegetable stock
4 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped 
4 cavolo nero leaves (or 2 savoy cabbage leaves) ribs removed, sliced thinly
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Warm the oil in a large, heavy pan over a low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 5 minutes, until soft but not browned. 
Add the bacon and cook for a minute before adding the paoatoes, sweetcorn, swede and apple.
Stir well, then add the stock and the sage.
Cover and simmer very gently for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add the cavolo nero and simmer, covered, for a further 5 minutes, until the cavolo nero is cooked but not soggy.
Taste for seasoning; the bacon may provide enough salt, but do add a twist of black pepper before serving with chunks of warm brown bread.

P.S. As I’m sadly bereft of swede, I’ll be using celery as my understudy. There’s a verdant forest out there that needs eating before the slugs beat us to it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Secret Ingredient

Packed full of vitamins, (twenty times that of oranges... so they say) I always slosh an amber spoonful of rosehip syrup into my winter gravies and stews; it adds a lovely rounded fruitiness.

Some recipes advise picking after the first frost, which concentrates the sugars in the hips. The hips will also have softened and picking them turns into very sticky activity and anyway, I can't be organising my diary around a frost! So I opt for the artificial chill and simply pop the hips in the freezer overnight, having washed them first.

Here goes......

Strain through a jelly bag. Set the juice aside and repeat the process with the rosehip pulp. 
Combine your two lots of juice and boil fast to reduce by half.
Measure the juice and add 350 grams of sugar for every 600 ml of juice.
Boil hard for about 5 mins then pour into small sterilised bottles. 
Either freeze or store in a cool dark place.
Refrigerate and use within two weeks once opened.

Not restricted to gravy however.... try diluted with sparkling water, or hot water for a healthy tea or drizzled over ice cream or pancakes!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Another special delivery

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” Marcel Proust

A charming gardener came to my birthday party on Saturday night. Over a glass of bubbly Henrietta demurely revealed that she had potted up a few bulbs for me and left them outside in the cool, by the front door. 
What a thoughtful gift; I’ll get a string of little surprises all spring. 

What touched me even more, was the surprise that greeted me when I ventured to the doorstep the following morning in the bright autumnal sunshine... the bulbs were so beautifully giftwrapped they quite took my breath away... and that’s before they’ve even flowered. Thank you Henrietta.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New names for the register

Monday morning only really gets going once I’ve brewed some coffee and opened the post. This week a special delivery put an extra skip in my step... four appropriately packaged, lovingly reared, but surplus to requirement chickens.... live! 

I felt rather like a headmistress welcomimg the new boarders to the coop and showing them the ropes.
As nervous new girls, the four stick firmly together. Current head boy “Johns Junior” has been parading his best strut and prefect “Jenny” enjoys stamping her authority with a sharp peck. 

Reproved, “Nifty” the white one darts across the orchard at a spirited pace. Definitely one for the hockey team. While “Fifty” the largest of the brown trio keeps a sisterly eye on the smaller “Binky” and “Alex”, aware that they have been nudged out of the dinner queue... again. 
By nightfall however the dorm is quiet, with no absentees, so I think we’re all going to get on fine.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


There's something about turning 50 that compels one to sit down and make impossibly long lists....
Appropriately, my birthday was a perfectly sparkling autumnal day. So list in one hand, champagne in the other, I embarked on a feverish mission to pick seasonal blooms, rake fallen leaves, weed the parterre, harvest chillies and make a start on the marrow chutney....


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Singing for my supper...

Grow the veg, pick the veg, paint the veg... and a few weeks later my supper is sitting on the supermarket shelf!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Typical man....

Mmmm, October, there’s a definite nip in the air that accompanies my early morning walk up to the orchard to let the chickens out. 
There’s also a huge lone ram in the adjacent field, who fixes his gaze on me. His black horizontal pupils observe my gait with an intensity that suggests I’m the only female he has seen for weeks. He looks a bit of a brute. 
Slowly, however, we have made friends and I’ve discovered his softer side. Give him a good rub on the head and he’ll twitch his spotted nose, close his eyes with a flutter and ever so gently begin to snore. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Great Day Out

Well, the bluest and sunniest of skies coaxed every man and his dog out to the Food and Drink Festival this weekend.

I met some fascinating artisans, sampled oils, vinegars, coffees, hams, jams and cordials, and much like the symbiosis between dog-owner and dog, without fail, the love between the producer and their product was clear.

A retired fishmonger dressed Cromer crabs with the ease that only a lifetime of commitment can impart. She had nimble fingers and two curls of dark hair that curved like protective crab claws about her cheeks.

There was a lady selling cheese, made from the creamy milk of her doe-eyed Jersey herd. She had the same kind eyes, gentle manner and strawberry blonde hair associated with the breed. Her cheese was delicious too. 

Over all, it was jamboree of superlatives. Tastiest, most aromatic, healthiest, juiciest...

                    ...and happiest!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival

Over here in Suffolk we’re getting very animated about the Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival. The weekend promises to be one mammoth harvest festival, followed by two weeks of fringe events throughout East Suffolk.  
There's talks, workshops, cookery demos.... and I'm thrilled to be showing my latest foodie paintings in the Gallery. 

With over ninety exhibitors presenting the best and freshest produce Suffolk has to offer I’m salivating thinking about it.... and very excited at the prospect of gathering some tasty inspiration for new paintings.

......I’d better go and clear the toppling bottles and jars from my desk in preparation!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Seven years ago today, we moved to the country

When you buy a house in the country, “fixtures and fittings” are more likely to include an intractable goose, rather than a nice pair of interlined curtains. 
We inherited a lodger called Andrew. My husband is also called Andrew. 
Fortunately the lodger was a horse (silly name for a horse?) and was confined to the paddock. He is long gone.

Now when you move in September, the anticipated tranquil charm of country life is temporarily obscured. It’s the busiest month of the year. A passing flurry of gargantuan farm vehicles are catching the tail end of harvest before spreading malodorous muck. Ploughing begins. And apple orchards, by which we are surrounded, are ready for picking. Even a calming of cup of tea is accompanied by the tortuous buzz of cluster flies migrating to warmth of the kitchen, and to cap it all at night-fall there’s a bat looking to roost in the bedrooms.

Seven years on we are much more tuned in to the rhythms of country life.
September means the hedgerows are full of blackberries and rosehips, there are big red skies at night and we’re happily busy with our own harvests.

Andrew lives contentedly around the corner, but wild horses couldn’t drag us away.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Raspberry Vinegar

Vinegar has long been a valuable household cleaner... it will remove a scummy ring from the bath, red wine from the carpet and will blast through the blackened base of a burnt saucepan with ease.

As a child the first tickle of a sore throat was warded off with a hot mug of my mother’s raspberry vinegar. Not only did I love this steaming, fruity concoction, but I’m sure it had the bacteria in my throat reeling too.

Fruit vinegars are also a delicious base for salad dressings, so I’m off to gather a load of raspberries whilst the sun is out.

Raspberry vinegar

Makes about 4 pints
900g (2lb) raspberries
950ml (2 pints) distilled vinegar
Granulated sugar

Leave the raspberries to steep in the vinegar for 2-3 days.
Strain through a jelly bag (where is it when you need it? A new, rinsed kitchen cloth will do)

Measure the liquid and put into a large pan with 225g (11/4 cups) per 500ml (2cups) water.

Over a medium heat, gently stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then boil for 10 minutes until it becomes slightly syrupy.
Pour into warm sterilised bottles and seal. Dilute to taste, will keep for ages!

Adapted from The Painted Garden Cookbook, Running Press

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


"We returned home last night. At this time of year how a week or ten days changes the growth in one's garden! I must confess that sometimes, coming home after dark, I have taken a hand-candle to inspect some special favourite." 
Pot-Pourri from a Surrey Garden, C.W. Earle 1887  

We too returned home, very late, last night from Mallorca. Having resisted the temptation to inspect the garden by moonlight, this morning I was rewarded with finding the larder fully stocked... and bathed in sunshine. 
What I couldn't resist though, was picking up a chorizo from the deli on the school run!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Top Tip for the Big Top

My top recommendation so far this summer... has to be Giffords Circus. 
What an explosive miscellany of mad brilliance!

The usherettes are a flock of eccentric ostriches

and the music is as quirky as its vintage clad instrumentalists.

There's a saucer-eyed, opera-singing goddess with her white doves...

Tweedy the diminutive clown with his diminutive pony...

and a Parisian wirewalker who plays a deft crescendo on the trombone when his feet are back on solid ground.
All this punctuated by appearances from Brian the goose and Myrtle the bear in the intimate atmosphere of a handpainted arena.

Go and see for yourself! 

And me, I'm off on holiday with Nell Gifford's autobiography!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fruit and veg

"I value my garden more for being full of blackbirds than of cherries, and very frankly give them fruit for their songs." Joseph Addison 1672-1719

For the past couple of weeks I have had my head down in the studio painting lots of lovely fresh veggies for a packaging project. I can’t reveal them yet but they’ll be coming to a “soup”ermarket near you soon!!

And what with trying to keep up with the Olympics too, my own garden has been sorely neglected, so today I’ll be sprinting up to the orchard and hurdling over the fruit cage to see what's left of the redcurrants and raspberries.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chelsea Physic Garden

By happy chance I found myself with time on my hands in Chelsea last week. I weighed up my options carefully. Coffee and croissant of course. Then a morning flexing the curiosity of my retail antennae along the Kings Road.

But, best of all, in the afternoon sunlight, I ducked under the trailing greenery that all but obscures the modest gateway to the Chelsea Physic Garden. I had been meaning to visit this garden for years, and as soon as I felt the yielding curve of the worn stone threshold under my feet I knew I was in for a treat. Ancient red brick walls shield an extaordinary oasis that for over three hundred years has been tended by deft fingers and scuffed by diligent gardeners’ boots. You can literally taste history here.

The garden was founded in 1673 by the Society of Apothecaries of London as a learning ground for their apprentices, so they could grow medicinal plants, collect new species and study their uses. 
Dr Hans Sloane took over the freehold of the garden in 1712 and still keeps a watchful eye from his central pedestal. His heirs continue to collect the £5 per annum rent, from the charity that now runs the garden.

I couldn’t help but envy the precisely cut edges of the multiple weed free, well labelled borders... and even more, the army of gardeners moving quietly up and down with their clippers.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Eye Country Market

I honestly didn’t mean to get distracted yesterday.... but after a fruitless search in my veg patch for a beetroot big and beautiful enough to paint, I suddenly realised that if I grabbed my shopping basket and stepped on the accelerator I could just make the couple of miles down the lane in time for the weekly “Eye Country Market”.

As I swung into the car park on the dot of ten I could sense the purposeful, migratory gait of the town’s more senior residents, anxious to secure their weekly cottage pie.

This is a truly local affair. Allotment holders are chuffed to be the first to offer firm and glossy courgettes... and grateful to get shot of a glut of broad beans. Ladies in regulation checked aprons preside over an array of freshly baked scones and quiches and delicious jams and chutneys. And the green fingered offer a great selection of plants for the garden, or a bunch of country cottage blooms for the kitchen table.

Alas, no beetroot this week, but my consolation prize was a pot of local honey and some Verbena seedlings, and a cup of tea with a ginger nut before the doors closed at eleven sharp!