Monday, December 23, 2013

My local weekly auction room is usually home to polished fluted mahogany legs, pert copper kettles and the sonorous tock of well oiled grandfather clocks. 
Just before Christmas however the annual poultry sale comes to town and so today I am confronted by a sea of puckered flesh and frigid claws!

As 300-odd locally reared birds compete for best goose, champion turkey and supreme duck, almost as many bidders are gathered to compete for best Christmas dinner!

Unfortunately I’ve already got my turkey, but next year I may well don a flat cap and a barbour jacket and join in the bidding! Happy Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My Country

This time last year we were busy getting our house all Christmassy for a photoshoot for 
‘My Country’ magazine (Japan)

Copyright My Country

Ha, this year I can relax in an armchair with my copy of the magazine,
 in the knowledge that there are boxes of decorations all ready and waiting in the attic.

Only... on a recent mooch around the vast, vintage wonderland that is Rokit, I was rather taken by these shiny pom-poms by artist Karen Hsu. Check out more of her amazing creations hereI can sense I might just have to have a little play around with some cellophane before the festive season is over. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hello Winter

"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see."
Henry David Thoreau

Last week,

Autumn’s jolly tartan waistcoat was completely unravelled by the wind, 
Yellow, gold and ochre ripped from its fraying hemline.

Only the shiny-red rose-hip buttons clung tightly on,

Observed by a pair of ebony crows, 
I came to snip them from their worn out lapels.

Friday, November 22, 2013

This little pig went to market...

It’s been a ‘pig’ week.

Monday, we took Joan and her friends to the abattoir. So meekly did they all climb into the trailer, I’m sure they thought they were setting off on a caravanning holiday.

A ten-minute drive... the country route... no main roads and we were there. Still no squeals. No hanging about, no stress.

No tears. 

Twenty-four hours later we’re discussing ‘heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ with the butcher.

Then Wednesday, I finally got to play with my shiny new mincer....

Monday, November 18, 2013

Colour cuts the mustard

There’s an incredible stillness outside today. Sitting on my favourite bench, looking across the garden, there’s not a whisper of movement. I'm studying an etching, in which even the quivering willow has been abridged to a sketch of finely inked outlines. Splashes of colour hang suspended against a blue sky; autumn has hoisted her bunting aloft.

A bee startles me, his industry almost incongruous in this serenity. He dodges from one flower to the next, enjoying the memory of summer; a souvenir sunflower, big and bold, dahlias and chrysanthemums, clinging to the sun's warmth, rich reds fading to russet, purple bleached to pink, a thousand pointed petals. 

If a bee can interrupt my reverie, even more so the chickens, who have sought me out. Sylvie, so named after a ballerina, looks more like a pantomime dame as she launches into the air to peck at dried poppy heads. The clumsy thud of her landing is applauded by the rattle of tiny castanets as the seeds shake from their pods.

With overnight frost forecast there's a guillotine hanging over the dahlias so I'm off to quick step round the garden myself to gather a final few blooms.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ladies who lunch


With the advance of Autumn, the demarcation between pig and mud is becoming increasingly blurred. 
Wet clay soil and tapering trotters are not empathetic. The latter are as impractical as stilettos on the lawn at a summer wedding! 
As a result, Joan breaks into a comical high-kneed skip to traverse the quagmire, when she sees me coming with the midday slops. 
Today she guzzled the remaining rosehip pulp from my syrup making. At least the vitamin C content should keep her joints well serviced! 

Friday, November 8, 2013


A couple of weeks ago I mislaid Jennie. 
Negligent? Nay, surprisingly easy in a large garden. But today I discovered she was savouring the mild autumn from underneath a lilac bush. Underneath her fluffed up body were a dozen warm eggs.  
She had the radience of any expectant mum. From my studio window I could just catch flashes of amber through the leaves, as the sun burnished her feathers.
Hmm, what do I do now, leave her be and chance the perils of the night? 

My birthday today was well timed. 
Gifts included one mincing sausage attachment for my Kenwood. 
Two pork cook books. 
Three piggy cards... 

Chorizo recipes make gripping bedtime reading... honestly

Booked pig a date at the abattoir.

Bonfire night. For a pig, (unaware that it might be the next sausage at the next bonfire party), that means one thing... leftovers! Viva called round this morning with ‘turnip a la rhubarb avec du pain'. 
It’s not every day Joan gets served from Le Creuset! 

Despite having survived many nights camping wild, this morning Jennie and her eggs had disappeared. I'm feeling horribly guilty that I didn't intervene and provide her with shelter sooner. A couple of bedraggled feathers are all the loose change the fox left behind... 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Flour and Water

If you have ever attempted to make sourdough bread you will understand my disproportionate excitement at having baked this beautiful loaf.
Even golden dome, crisp exterior, nicely aerated interior, moist without being soggy.... and dangerously moreish toasted with jam for breakfast. 

My first attempt at sourdough a few months back was met with bright-eyed, greedy appreciation, and devoured with smacking lips... by Joan the pig! 
With hindsight, I had been a little impatient and approximate in my approach. Slapdash and sourdough do not make good bed-fellows.

So when I spotted the opportunity to join a sourdough workshop, run by Chris Brennan from the fabulous Pump Street Bakery, I’d booked my place before you could say ‘knead’. Chris is a self-taught baker who has spent years perfecting his craft. Who else would take their sourdough starter on holiday with them?  I say workshop, but it was more like a cross between a chemistry lesson and an episode of ‘Supernanny’. Just substitute ‘sourdough starter’ for ‘wilful toddler’. 
For many of the anxious faces present, it was a chance to find out where our parenting skills had gone wrong. By the end of the session we had each fostered a small pot of ‘starter’ and ten pages of instructions.

Just a tip... if you’re planning to make sourdough bread, do book a week off work so you can stick rigidly to the timetable. (....fortunate for those of us work at home).
Initial twenty-four hour feedings at room temperature can easily be accommodated, but then throw in 6 hours here and a ‘fold after 50 mins’ there and you can soon find a whole weekend’s activities having to be rearranged.

By page five I was running round the house with my greenhouse thermometer looking for  a nook that was 28 degrees. Boiler room? on top of the fridge? heated towel rail? No.

Airing cupboard? Perfect. 

Smug, I then realised I didn’t have a ‘bannetone’ to prove the loaf in. 
A basket would have to do; there’s one on the front of my bicycle, or the one the cat sleeps in.... keep looking!
Finally, with my loaf balanced on top of a pile of clean linen in the airing cupboard, 
there was just time to scrub the glass panel in my oven door.... after all there’s nothing like actually watching your loaf cross the finishing line!

So, what’s the big deal about sourdough? 
Come round for breakfast and you’ll see, but just give me plenty of warning! 

Or pick up a loaf at your Farmer’s market and happily pay the price tag in the knowledge that as well as flour and water it might contain blood, sweat and tears! 

Monday, October 21, 2013

I've got that Monday morning feeling

I felt a flicker of resignation this morning, a kind of melancholy as I scuffed through a layer of fallen leaves on the way to let the chickens out. 

The air was damp, oppressive, like a mantle of decay settling over the garden. Banished was the capricious spontaneity of September, when summer temperatures could still be found shuffled, like a grinning joker, into a pack of fresher autumnal days. 

I rescued some dew laden chrysanthemums that were bent to the ground.
They’ve been sat on my desk all day, kindly drawing me into their restorative beauty.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Blue Hill Farm

A few weeks ago I was commissioned by the brilliant Blue Hill Farm 
to paint some tasty vegetables for their innovative range of yogurts..

...yes, VEG!

The stunning designs by Aptone feature my jewel coloured watercolours and hand drawn lettering. 

For the latter, it was a good chance to get out my chinese ink and worn out brushes.

And when you peel the lid off... the yogurts look good enough to paint with too!

Photos courtesy of Cup of Jo... do take a look at Joanna Goddard's blog where she has beautifully captured the flavour of the official yogurt launch!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival... again, it's addictive!

"Aldeburgh may not be the biggest food festival in the world, but it is undoubtedly the most intimate, friendly and warm." Lucas Hollweg

Once again the fabulous Aldeburgh Food and Drink Festival last weekend was favoured with blue skies and bright sunshine. Apart from being a showcase for local food producers, of which the diversity is astounding... shoulder of goat, eccles cake, hedgerow cordial anyone? ...there was a whole programme of lectures and workshops for the unashamed foodie. 

With my own pig fattening up nicely back home, how could I resist trying my hand at sausage making?

The lovely Ian and Sue from Lane Farm got a dozen of us eager novices straight on with the job, from kneading salt and spices into freshly minced pork, to deftly twisting our plump filled casings into garlands of “threes”. 

And didn’t we feel chuffed with the results!

Later on as the coastal breeze tugged at her auburn curls and teased her floral hemline, Vivia the Wild Food Forager took a group on a gentle walk beside the reed beds. She enlightened us as to the edible potential of our surroundings.
Fascinating as it was, I think my family were grateful that I came home with pork sausages for dinner rather than bulrush pollen and mallow seeds.
Cider tasting was undoubtedly the perfect way to round off the day. Henry Chevallier Guild spoke with the eloquence and authority that goes hand in hand with a) precision trimmed sideburns and b) the running of a family firm that has been producing premium cider since 1728. 
Explaining how the making of Aspall Cyder elevates it to the same level as a good glass of wine Henry had the advantage that after we’d tasted half a dozen varities, anything he said would have been utterly believable. The proof of the pudding, however, is that I’m already planning what to cook at the weekend to complement a nice bottle of “Harry Sparrow”.

P.S. And I haven’t even mentioned sourdough... oh no... I'll blog about that when I have assimilated ten pages of detailed instruction!

Friday, September 27, 2013


Painted in a thousand brilliant shades of green

 abundant with seed heads

 complex, delicate,
asking to be gleaned.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tomato Jam

Warm and sweet, bright red, pepped up with fresh chilli and a whisper of some of my favourite spices.

The perfect way, as temperatures in the greenhouse slide and my plants begin to wither, to cram the last few rays of summer sun in a jar, to be savoured throughout the winter. 

Great with cold meats, hot meats, fish, goats cheese... well anything!  A kind of grown up tomato ketchup.

1 kilo tomates, 
(plum tomatoes are especially good, with their dense sweet flesh and scant pips)
140g (1/2 cup) white sugar
1 fresh chilli, finely chopped (optional)
2 cardamom pods, seeds finely ground
3 cloves, finely ground
freshly ground sea salt and black pepper to taste

Roughly chop the tomatoes and mix in a bowl with the sugar. Ideally leave overnight for the sugar to draw out the juice from the tomatoes.

Transfer to a heavy bottomed pan and add the chilli, ground cardamom and cloves, salt and pepper. 

Simmer for about 20-30 minutes over a gentle/medium heat to thicken, stirring regularly.
Leave to cool slightly then pot into warm sterilised jars.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Ideal Home Magazine

As if perfectly timed to go with a wet and blustery weekend, when all I wanted to do was retreat to the kitchen and make courgette soup, bake bread and bottle plums, October’s Ideal Home magazine includes a comfortingly “feel-good” booklet of classic bakes. 

I was commissioned, a while ago, to provide some illustrations for the recipes which had all been sourced from back issues of the magazine. They're classics that may well have you reminiscing about having to be inventive with basics during wartime rationing or remembering the fun of experimenting with exotic ingredients in the flamboyant eighties. 

The project certainly had me digging out my hand-me-down chipped pudding bowls, enamel pans, vintage whisk and 90’s yogurt maker!

Copyright Ideal Home Magazine

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

You're never too old... grow your first aubergine!

“There are few things to be done in a garden which do not require a dexterity in operation, and a nicety in hitting the proper season for doing it”. Loudon 1871

Last year my attempt at growing aubergines was doomed form the start. I bought the seed on a whim when it was already too late in the season to sow them. But sow them I did. They germinated quickly and grew into exotic plants with a profusion of lush, fluted leaves and frilly lilac blossoms. Quite stunning in themselves, but, if you remember the dismal summer we had, there was nowhere near enough warmth to coax anything resembling a fruit from those beautiful flowers.

Sadly I concluded that if it was a purple tinge I was after, I had better stick to stick to native plants like swede, leaving aubergines to our lucky, sunny, southern European neighbours.

This year of course I couldn’t resist the fact I had half a packet of seeds left.... I sowed them at the right time, kept them well watered in the greenhouse and with the bonus of a long hot summer, I now have weary and ragged plants that are weighed down with perfect, glossy, purple fruits!  

adapted from The Painted Garden Cookbook

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Tarting up some old trays!

September and the plums still aren't quite ripe, but there's a promising harvest tugging at the weary boughs so I've been sprucing up some fruit trays in anticipation. 

Here's how in three easy steps.

1. Make friends with your local greengrocer before scouring his rubbish pile for discarded wooden trays.

2. Paint three sides of each tray with a couple of coats of pale grey wood primer.

3. Paint the fourth side matt black...

...and enjoy your harvest!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Bon Appetit

For this month's Bon Appetit magazine I was commissioned to stock the pantry....
....and taught how to pickle, pull and shave!