Favourite winter supper

Fabulously easy to make and absolutely delicious peasant food. Here's how...

It starts with the butcher. If I had to leave Shropshire I sometimes think I'd miss the butchers most of all! Shropshire is deeply rural and has never lost the connection between careful animal management on local farms and eating delicious, local meat. It also means that appreciating the animal is about making the most of all of it, not just the choice fillets. The great thing about our butchers here is that they know and understand the animals, they are enthusiastic about the breeds and how they are cared for and where they come from. And this isn't just a new fangled notion. I have learnt the importance of how to chose the appropriate cut of meat for the recipe.

This recipe is cooked long and slow and can take one of those undervalued cuts like lamb neck chops. They cook to a wonderfully tender meat, with a gloriously smooth flavoursome juice.

For 2 people take 4 goodsized lamb neck chops, 3 little onions, 3 carrots and 3 biggish potatoes. Slice the onions, putting half on the bottom of a large le creuset casserole, follow with a layer of carrots cut into thickish rounds, place the lamb on top. Sprinkle generously with hot paprika. Put a sprig of rosemary on each chop and a few bay leaves tucked in and amongst. Finish with another layer of onion and the potatoes in slices interleaved on top. Add 1/3 can of tomatoes (Cirios are a good brand and believe me the brands vary enormously) and a cup or 2 of water to come ½ way up the layers. I don’t see any point adding stock as the casserole has already the perfect ingredients for creating a rich stock.
Bring up to boil on the hob, then put in oven at 200 degrees C for 225 mins, then turn down to 125 degrees for 2 hours or more.
You can turn off at this stage if need be and re-heat or if you are just about ready to eat turn on grill for a quick burst to toast the potatoes nicely.
This is a whole meal on a plate (or a shallow bowl as you wish). The great thing is that this is more than generous for 2 so the next day it can be augmented with chunks of a nice smoked Polish sausage or some such, or cannelini beans and lots more paprika for a new installment of good peasant eating. Wearing of brightly coloured headscarf optional.

20 nights at sub-zero temperatures

Each day the ground thaws very slightly, but just under the surface the earth is iron hard. And every night the ground freezes over again. I have a magnificent bruise on my elbow from falling on the ice just as I started my morning run a few days back. Still, everything caught in the frost looks gorgeous.


29th Nov - 1 degree max

Anyone bored of my weather obsession should look away now. It might not quite have reached the 100% humidity that the BBC have forecast, but its not far off - and freezing too. Very atmospheric, looks like something from Dickens, thick, icy fog, it even hurts to breath it in its so cold and damp. But it does look quite wonderful. It seems to be just an air frost, the ground is squidgy, but all above ground level is shrouded in ice crystals. So my Saturday has been spent making intermittent forays up to the workshop decked out in my winter (fake) furry hat that Andrew says makes me look like a rabbit, then dashing back to the wood burner. Won't help my chillblains much (I thought no one suffered from them after the post war austerity years, but not so).

Click on pic. to see the beautiful structure.


Enjoy or endure - the cold

Not my favourite season, but there are things that help. My new discovery, wearing 2 pairs of socks. If you are like me and felt the cold try those little sporty socks with a big pair of (borrowed) fluffy wool ones over the top. Really keeps the chill out.

And cocoa to die for...

Here's how. Forget all memories of weak, milky horrors of childhood. This is only for grown ups. Read quantities carefully - this is a sumptuous, luscious experience. These are quantities per person. First choose a small cup, demi tasse size. This is one I made in porcelain, it's fine and very high fired and consequently the shape is slightly irregular. It's a joy to drink from. In a small saucepan pour 175ml milk, add 1 x heaped desertspoonful cocoa powder, this bit is very important, choose very carefully, our favourite is from Oxfam called Divine and rightly so, it's from the Kuapa KoKoo cooperative and is rich and smooth whereas the Green and Blacks is thin and sour and not worth bothering with. Add 1 x rounded desetspoon (or a little less) sugar. Whisk all the ingredients together and bring to boil, continuing to whisk. Keep doing this for 6 mins, do not be tempted to go away and leave it. It is worth the attention. The cocoa starts to thicken and has a smooth, velvety quality. When is starts to coat the back of a spoon, pour into chosen cup and sip glorious, intense cocoa.


"Sharp as a button" oh dear, senior moments coming thick and fast.

October Cold Snap

The gentle progress of autumn finished somewhat abruptly this week. With a night time temperature of below minus 4 C. and 6mm snow yesterday, I think I can safely say my dahlias have had it. It will give me the chance to sort out my borders now, rather than this slightly hopeless holding on to the last few flowering plants as some desperate connection with summer. I will dig things up, move them around and be happy with cutting down my perennials and looking forward to next year's show.
The hour changed on Sunday and now it's dark at 5. All this whilst our friends Gabi and Vince in Hungary are enjoying temperatures regularly over 20 and bright sunshine.

Still it timed well for a visit last week from Alun Callender for a forthcoming article. We needed shots outdoor, but around my workshop, my top garden and my "commute" to work through the meadow. Walcot has a quirky charm, it's very shambolic and full of unexpected incident and fortunately not "done up". It makes for fascinating images. It's a wonderfully inspiring place to be, not necessarily in the immediate sense of capturing a beautiful tree or view of the lake, of which there are lots. It's more the small incidents or a quality of light, the pattern in a newly sown field, or an unexpected colour combination which happens quite by chance. These things are sometimes so visually stunning I feel they are etched in my mind.

Then earlier in the month was my alter ego's moment in print. No one actually recognises it as me, it was an amazing achievement of the team doing hair, makeup and wardrobe for a magazine piece. It was also a surprisingly enjoyable day. To all who know me that sort of appearance and treatment is pretty far removed from how I normally dress, but for a very short time, with other people doing it it was the most wonderfully indulgent time.



Great apologies, I have been misleading you. Apparently I don't mean Soay (although I am sure they are perfectly nice) I mean Blue Faced Leicesters. This won't mean a thing to you if you are reading the blog from the top of the page. In fact it does bring up an interesting point, its very tiresome that blogs read back to front. Can some clever person invent a better way to compile them?
Anyway, in case anyone is beside themselves with curiosity here is a very fine example of the breed courtesy of the Penrith Bluefaced Leicester Progeny Show 26/07/05. Here

Sneak preview

This is a link to our online catalogue, here. It so clever, you can turn pages and look closely at more details.

Last gasp of sunshine

A sunny Saturday, very surprising. Spent the afternoon whittling away, tidying my borders. Didn't need to make a trip to the compost bins as the sheep just helped themselves when the barrow was in their field. Andrew calls them the 'plug-uglies', which is accurate if not a bit mean. I haven't quite summed up the courage to ask Robin to get prettier ones next time. Suffolks or those Soay (the ones which look like a cross between a rabbit and a deer) would do fine if you're reading this Robin...

Hedghogs for dinner

Last mushroom forage we found these beauties. Some of my favourites, generally we never find enough to make anything of, but this was a surprise. We had them cooked in butter with some scrambled eggs for lunch. Delicious, nutty and sweet.

When they are raw their texture is amazing.


What is it about gardening?

Finally, after grappling with our catalogue, new products and trade shows, a free afternoon coincided with a small patch of sunshine so I spent it dibbling about in the garden. There's something wonderfully rewarding about getting soil under my fingernails and feeling the warmth of the sun on my back. Much as I hate the steady march towards autumn and winter, I do enjoy the process of 'putting my garden to bed'. I suppose it is all to do with looking beyond the scary, dark winter months and relishing the next warm growing season, planning and imagining how things will grow and what it will all look like. Soon I can sort out my borders, move the unsuccessful combinations of plants, and re position things. It is infinitely satisfying. But whilst I am doing it I also take stock of what is happening to me and all around. Last week whilst we were at the trade fair the news broke about Lehmans going under, in itself pretty awful for all involved, but also indicative of how many others will struggle for a considerable time to come. Then set against that is the constant germinating, growing and dying of things in the garden. Whatever is going on, this continues, perhaps that is why we find it compelling.


Long week

Would you believe it, 3 days of pretty good sunshine and I get to spend them inside all day at Olympia doing Top Drawer.


Keep busy

Summer is gone, and it could be a long time before we see real sunshine again. Still it helps keep me focused on work instead of being distracted. End of an exciting week. Our first proper catalogue is back from the printer. It has taken ages to compile it and other than a few obsessive details that I would like changed I'm very pleased with how it looks. New web pages up and together, latest textile samples completed with really nice zippers, so gradually, things that have been in the development stages for months are now coming to fruition.

One last whistful look at my summer garden borders. There you can just spot some of the delphiniums in flower, remembering them in my early blog this year with just 2 tiny leaves.


Garden trophies

Not wanting to gloat, but I can't help feeling quite proud of this chap. It is the first melon I have grown. Might be a bit on the small size, something the size of a tennis ball still I had a great affection for 'Junior'. We ate him for lunch the other day.

Call that a summer??

Here we are on the threshold of Autumn and I wonder when we will next have warm, relaxing days in the sun? Can't help feeling a little disappointed. We are now in a dull limbo, with coolest night time temperatures only 3 or 4 degrees lower than the highest daytime temperature, and in August! Today it reached a heady 19 degrees.

Only pay off is that the mushroom season is starting early. Last week we gathered this lovely mix of ceps, bay boletes and agarics.


Quick change

I thought this holiday section might run and run, so I've made a separate blog for anyone who wants to see more. Its listed under Holiday 08.

Now the holiday seems like it was pure imagination. Since then, weeks and weeks of rain, wearing warm clothing and hoping for that magical phrase "high over the Azores" to happen - its mentioned and then suddenly it disappears from the weather reports. Shouldn't they apologise for that sort of thing?

Still it has kept us focused on work and finally getting to the end of producing our new catalogue... Must just include one lovely shot. We did a photo of our new bag in the seat of a Walcot Morris Minor. It was parked in front of a wall, but Andrew managed to combine it with a beautiful shot at Lake Balaton. Seeing that blue makes me feel so happy.


Sopron fire tower, over the Austrian border into Hungary

First night in Hungary, unfortunately satnav only worked in western Europe, amazing how quickly one's navigating skills are diminished after a couple of days with a tom tom.

First stop Dertingen

Arriving in Germany to warm sunshine, our first night was in Dertingen. Here's its church tower, and fortified town wall.


Guided tours

On our way home we stopped in Limburg to visit a dear friend, Herr Grüber (Horst to his friends) who is professor of Psychiatry at the university there. Here very kindly showed us around the town, explaining the cultural significance of lederhosen.

Should holidays carry a health warning?

We're back home from a fantastic holiday driving to Eastern Europe. Two weeks, two whole weeks!! But what a shock to the system getting back into the swing of life and work. This week has been the mother of all mondays everyday - finally, today I don't feel such a fish out of water. So it does beg the question, the more wonderful the holiday, the more disruptive and painful experience coming back?

Over the next few days I will give highlights of the trip and pics to illustrate, not necessarily in chronological order. It was in a sense a number of smaller holidays all joined up, staying with family and friends en route and ending up in southern Hungary.

Here is Caro and Howie and Andrew on a bench in Wertheim, Howie's home town - obviously something is a great joke, that's even before the weiss bier.



Etoile d'Holland

Shirley and Alan, lovely friends in the village let me take cuttings from their gorgeous climbing rose Etoile d'Holland today. Armed with secateurs and a bucket of water with willow snippings in, I plunged the 8" long pencil diameter stalks in the bucket. Removed all but their upper most leaves attached I pushed the cuttings into a protected bed leaving just a small top section above soil level. Now the wait, but it will be worth it. This rose has the most wonderfully, intense, spicy perfume and their sumptuous crimson colour turns almost to black as they mature.


Birthday weekend

Here's a short film of the Brickett clan just as we pitch into the puddings.

4 Generations get together

Young Finn, (coming on 9 months), Jamie (his Dad), Jude (Jamie's mum), and John (Jude's dad) here for the birthday gathering. Tomorrow John is 80, and very well he's looking.


Buns for tea

Couldn't resist a mention of the weekend bash (or Open Garden) here at Walcot. New fountain in operation and Trina's amazing baking, just a shame we had 15mm rain which started as the gates opened and finished pretty much as they shut.

As the old adage says 'How time...'

Serious neglect of entries to my blog. All the new projects underway are taking my attention. The textiles that we are due to have in our new catalogue and then launch in Autumn are coming on well. But not only is it the design itself and the items to be made but all the incidentals that need decisions. And of course, being a bit of a control freak I hate anything to be left to chance. So, research of zippers - colours, types, and materials, zipper slides, buttons, button loops, woven name ribbon, swing tags, coatings, etc, etc,. But it is very exciting to work with a new material, particularly as it is all printed and made up in England. Here's a little glimpse.


In production, just...

Andrew says it time I do a more work related blog, its all very well getting excited about the particular quality of blue haze over a sea of blue bells, or that the tadpoles in a nearby puddle have had a lucky escape (10mm rain on Saturday after a very dry period), but I do need to mention work every so often.

So here we are, with the Herb bricks, finally in production and jury is out on whether with a new project it has absolutely any effect if you nurse it through all the stages to get it into action or whether you give over a prototype and model and let them get on with it. It might all amount to the same nail biting time of waiting to see if it actually happens.

Evening walks

Wonderful, early summer weather here in Shropshire. Clear fresh days and beautiful serene sunny evenings. All this barely imaginable a week ago. The birds are singing and the air is so very sweet with tree blossom. Here are a few shots from today's walk, then back for a glass of wine in the garden whilst the sun is still warm.


Seasons at a gallop

We seem to have fast-forwarded Spring, and suddenly here we are in May, but its summer. Today max temperature in the shade 25 degrees C. and this is a generally chilly county.

We have just spent a perfect day with Caro and Howie at Wollerton Old Hall, a delightful English garden.

The trees bursting into leaf, showing the promise of a new year in bright green foliage.


Catching the morning sun

Our poultry neighbours enjoy the change in the weather. The log gives a better vantage point and maybe the dewy grass is a bit chilly on their feet.


Where is Spring?

Spring is really dragging its heels this year. Lots of my seedlings are starting to look a bit weedy. They should be outside beefing up in the spring sunshine and having the wind move their leaves. There seems to be a hold on the season, its still beautiful but the low temperature are holding plants and trees back.


Woodland gem

Spotted by Hilary, a carpet of Opposite leaved golden saxifrage. Here it is in the evening sunlight.


Do you care what's in your bread?

Well, the point of including this, other than to share an easy and delicious recipe is to bring up the subject of why shop-bought bread is so awful. There it sits on the supermarket shelves, a tribute to good looks and no content, they get full marks for presentation, but you get it home and cut a piece anticipating breathing in that beautiful fresh bread smell to get nothing, but a sour uninviting disappointment. This is all thanks to the Chorley Wood Process. Don't you find it interesting that that 'Taste the Difference' types with a hefty price premium don't have ingredients listed? Thanks to some studies in Chorleywood in the 60s, it was discovered that including a quantity of soya in bread made it whiter, easier to manage, better for assisting cheap, poor quality wheat, and great for speeding up the process of making bread. The downside being soya in bread tastes pretty foul, so it was recommended that only a certain percentage was used, along with ascorbic acid and suddenly the production costs went down dramatically. How long will it be before supermarkets realise that the reason that bread-makers are so popular is we don't like their bread.
A last note on this subject. I remember recently on the BBC news website seeing a photo of someone making bread in Afghanistan, with the caption, he was choosing his flour according to what gave the best flavoured bread, as though this was a novel concept! We've lost something haven't we?

Real bread

Reminicent of learning to cook as a child, I made flat bread tonight to go with the duck and sour cherries and herb yoghurt dip. V. simple to make, 400g water, 500g Dove's farm plain white flour, a little salt, 1/2 tsp yeast. I kneaded this in the bread machine (but can be done by hand)then cut up into 8 or 9 pieces and poshed them on a floured board till they were flatish. I sprinkled them with thyme and cumin during the poshing. Then put them on the aga hot plate 2 at a time, turning them over after 5 mins.


Most over fed pheasant in Shropshire

Here he is, always on the prowl for the little birds' food, getting fatter by the day. But what amazing feathers, great for showing off to all the girl pheasants.


Is this La Niña??

A week of icy winds and sub-zero temperatures at night. All the magnolias have been nipped by the frost except this one in a sheltered corner.


Still waters run deep, (except this is about 2 feet...)

Jesse and Jo grapple with skulling

This is a short clip from a lovely morning we all spent on East lake at Walcot, with John and Hilary on their beautiful skiff.

Proud auntie shows off her nephews!

Lovely Easter weekend with my brother's (see him on my profile pic) family staying with us. Relaxing, eating, catching up on news, and out for a walk in the perishing cold. Mumsie took us all out to The Bell at Yarpole - definitely worth a visit if you are in the area.

It's great to see how things are progressing for Joe and Sam.

Here are a couple of Sam's photos from his Walcot collection.

Meanwhile listen to Joe's latest demo tracks from his recent recording at Raezor Studios, my particular favourites are Mountain and Hold On.


Starting new photo collection

New products, plans for a new catalogue, so I need to begin with the images. The peacocks might be a pest snipping off the flower heads in the garden, but at least I can benefit from what they left of the hellebores. I grew these from seed in 2002 from the Botanic Gardens in Bristol and this year they have been absolutely stunning. I can't quite work out whether the peacocks see the colour and enjoy it or want to destroy it?

Here they are in the raking light of a spring day, on one of our new dinner plates.


Arthur's Indian Runners

Watching this little movie brightens a stormy, gloomy Monday.


Mad March Hare

Saw another hare again on my morning run. They don't seem to notice if you are directly ahead of them. There it was on the track doing its lazy lollup-run (not a bunny hop) towards me. Then I waited whilst it sat and nibbled at a blade or two of grass and carried on towards me. It looked so like my March Hare drawing for our Easter box labels.


29th Feb 2008

Trip to Stoke to take new Herb Brick model to Stan. We like having the ceramics made here. The opportunity to talk through options, or problems, see how the work is progressing and chat with all the people invoved in the making to see that every stage is going to plan. Our team are brilliant. Here is Stan planning the block and case stage.


More than just a vegetable...

Purple food, not a natural choice, but sometimes it is so very beautiful. We might be in February but there are still a few January Kings. My local market does a fine display of them. And whilst we are on the purple theme, these Blewits were absolutely delicious.


End of week

New things out of kiln. Next stage is the publicity shot in the making.


Bright sun and birdsong

Still cold, down to minus 4 at night, but clear sunny days follow. Wonderful for my morning run. That lovely sound of frost and ice under foot instead of sluing about on muddy tracks.


Days getting longer

Just back from a lightning trip to Stoke. Arriving back as the day light is fading.


Sheep does not like being upstaged by newcomer, so fakes nonchelance.

A new cockerel in our meadow, very dapper despite the icy breeze.

Small Miracle, my delphiniums have reappeared!

They were savagely mown down by a big slug in autumn. I didn't think there was anything left to grow. But here they are, don't they look great?


Steep learning curve

First blog. Will I get the hang of this public diary thing?