Intensely chickeny casserole for a loved one

I invented this recipe the other day. It has to be said you only bother for someone who you feel truly deserves it and will appreciate the effort, as you will see from the recipe it is fiddly. Do not on any account skimp on the ingredients or cut corners, done with the right ingredients the result is intensely delicious, but not in the least heavy. The chicken has to be a good cornfed happy happy bird, the smaller the better, I deeply distrust those big white creatures which are as sad to look at in death as they must have been in life.
Here's how...
In a large casserole put a slurp of olive oil, add ginger, garlic, spring onions and spices. Put over a medium heat to sweat the onion and release spices' flavours. It should not be too high, it is critical not to over toast the garlic.
Prepare the bird - this is the fiddly bit. Use a big sharp knife - if you haven't got one stop now and open a can instead of cooking.
The carcass is crucial for creating the rich stock, and a mediocre bird will never be worth the bother. Add this to the casserole, then as all the other parts are jointed add them to the pot too. Legs should be divided into thigh and drumstick, wings too into 2 parts each. Remove the breast meat from the bone and each breast slice lengthways. These should then be rolled up and tied with string. The principle is that the chicken breasts cook in a different way, so you don't want them to be overcooked and stringy just as the bits with bone are becoming succulent. Turn the chicken pieces over to brown very slightly. Add flour, stir. Add wine and water, stir. So in effect you are making a reduced stock as you cook the chicken. Put in oven at 160 degrees for 45 mins. Set aside the carcass, this has now done it's job. Then remove the chicken place onto a warm plate, cover with foil and put in oven at 100 degrees. Now back to the sauce, test the strength of the flavour and consistency. When this has a good balance, salt added very carefully, dollop in 1 dstsp creme fraiche and whisk carefully. Turn off heat until the meat has had about 30mins in oven, at this point return the sauce almost to the boil, add the chicken pieces momentarily, just to coat them and then divide onto warm plates. The meat should be tender, but not collapsing or woolly and the sauce unctuous and velvety, spicy and chickeny. Serve with something very simple like a perfectly boiled salad potato or two, so the flavour sings out.


Shock and awe

No vote rigging, but how can this possibly be - my blog readers like to eat sprouts??


Andacht zum Kleinen

...Devotion to small things - originally from Paul Klee via William Boyd.


Early bird catches the ...

Rewards of my morning run.

Autumn berries



Imitation and flattery

Less said the better...


Where do weekends go?

My main achievement this weekend was doing some remedial work on an attache case left to me by my father. The leather was desperately dried out and had obviously been much used for many years. Cath from here at Walcot came to the rescue with advice about using Neats Foot oil to replenish its tissues. We both speculated on what it might do with our complexions. So many thanks to you Cath, mission accomplished with the case.

Today we have spent the whole day in a nice warm study grappling with some new designs which I love to do. All the preparation and material was assembled so I didn't have to venture into an icy workshop. I was really excited by the outcome. Can't show anything yet, but I hope things might be ready in spring. I was musing about what it reminded me of. What came to mind was the gardens in 14th C. Italian frescoes of the Annunciation, charming and beautiful flowers in a meadow. Andrew, on the other hand said it reminded him of Fuzzy Felt.


The Joys of small town life in Bishop's Castle

A wet Saturday it might be, and although we live here on the edge of civilization, there is the most wonderful bookshop up the road called Art and Artisan. Here is a link to their website. Run by an inspired daughter and mother team, they have built up an amazing collection of books to do with all aspects of the visual arts. The joy is just being able to trawl through shelves packed full of fascinating and quirky books. Oh for a bit more time and money and I would spend every rainy Saturday in there.


Heat and humidity

We are back from visiting Indonesia, I have always held that a trip to somewhere warm just before winter gets underway can help carry you through the dark cold months ahead. I've never managed it up till now, so I shall see if it has any effect whatsoever. We stopped over in Hong Kong and meet a dear friend who we haven't seen in nearly 10 years. Tina was our guide for a day. We saw the city from Victoria Peak and went to see a teaware museum with a wonderful collection of ceramics.

Now as a complete non-sequiteur I thought I'd include this shot of bananas. It was a great composition, just sitting on the table in a near the flower market.


Just eaten our last runner beans from the garden. The dahlias are all frosted, and my autumn raspberries are putting out their last flurry of fruit. The hour has changed and suddenly I'm looking forward to lighting the wood burner and cosy dinners at home.

Here's a shot my brother Andy took of their recent acquisitions. I like how you can see the reflection of the chicory image in the dark sheen of the plate beneath.


New ceramics range launched

John Lewis has just launched our new range. Probably about a year in the pipeline, very exciting now it's out there and selling. Haven't seen it yet in store although all the development and sample stages are in my kitchen and living room.

This sheet was from the early design stages as to how we imagined it would work together, long before production started.


Bright blue sky

Two weeks of bright sunshine and blue skies give such a boost to the system. Here is a shot I'm sure I will be looking regularly over the next few months to remind me of the wonderful light.

We timed this visit to coincide with the Grape harvest festival, good not only for the wine but also to see lots of the local traditions and the natty costumes.



After a break of a few months since my last blog I have just got to the end of a crazy work time. Lots of really exciting new projects; new ceramics ranges with brilliant store John Lewis about to be launched, card series with Wild Card Company nearly ready, new things with Make International, article in Country Living; plus other things still in the pipeline. Now lots of these are just about put to bed and we are off for a holiday to Hungary tomorrow.

So in the intervening time (it almost feels like a mini lifetime ago) since the last blog I am reassessing all that anticipation of the garden, lots of which drowned in the wet weather, but also discover I have to now admit to liking things like Begonias - only on account of these amazing scented ones, occasional tables - I'm so tired by the end of the day, that reaching the floor for my glass of wine is a trouble, and actually just enjoying the quiet. Do these mean I am suddenly old? Hopefully when I return from my holiday I will be rejuvenated...

Record rain

This week I blythely committed myself to doing product shots for one of our new ranges, when we are in the rainiest month I have recorded ever - and I always like to use sunshine and ideally shoot outside. What was I thinking about? Then amazingly around noon the sky cleared, I dashed out with all the kit and even managed to engage the services of a chicken from the far end of the meadow, so it all came together well.


The Mortgage-Lifter

Have just come across this wonderful story, which I'm sure some of you will enjoy. Whilst researching the best way to pollinate indoor tomatoes (with an electric toothbrush - without the bristly bit, apparently it imitates the frequency of the bumblebees wing-flap) I came upon the story behind the name of a particular tomato. All thanks to wikipedia;
Mortgage lifter is the name given to a cultivar of tomato developed by M.C. Byles, also known as "Radiator Charlie", because he used it to save his house, selling it for a dollar per plant (back in the 1940s, when "a dollar meant something") in order to pay off his mortgage. When his radiator repair business slumped during the Great Depression, he started cross-breeding his four best tomato plants, until he came up with a stable derivation which he felt tasted better and had larger fruit.[1] He promoted it as being able to feed a family of six, therefore getting the sky-high price of one dollar per plant, and paying off his house in just four years.


It's wonderful to reach the ripe old age of 45 and still find you can be surprised by a vegetable. And a turnip no less. I traded some seedlings with my big brother earlier in the year, he got disappointing ranunculus, I got a row of turnips. Last week taking all my courage, I chose 3 the size of large eggs and added them to a stir fry with leek flower stalks and red peppers. It was a great success and now I'm eager to try more. the turnips were sweet, pure white and crunchy, with a bit of a kick to the flavour. A much underestimated beast, and if they are young and home grown, I can thoroughly recommend them.

My flower and vegetable garden are doing very well this year, thanks to my neighbours new puppies who deter the peacocks from grazing here. Last week we had 33mm of rain/hail in the space of about an hour. This is usually a month's worth. Lots of plants with large leaves had them lacerated, as the hail seemed to be sharply faceted rather than spherical, and I lost a number of rose buds to the storm, but nothing horrendous. One of this year's special plants is my lovely white anemone which I sowed about 3 years ago and is really finally into its stride. It glows in the dusk and has beautiful violet undersides to its outer petals, if you click on the photo you can see this in more detail.


Call that an egg?????

Shame on them for having such an pathetic effort on show for sale, but I suspect there are many, many out there of the same age. I know we are very spoilt here for having eggs that are so fresh they are still warm from the hen (!) but these eggs I bought from a conventional shop were positively ancient. We normally buy our eggs from the nice people at Crowsmoor Farm, and the chickens are happily pecking about in the fields, and on the box is noted date of lay. Normal shops, as we all know too well have "use by date" (use is such an inappropriate word to apply to food any how), but why don't we get the proper information that we need to make an assessment of whether it it worth buying or not, and tell us when food of all sorts has been laid, baked, prepared in whatever way?


Small Miracles

It's a very normal process, happens just about everywhere and in completely varied conditions, but some how germination is very wonderful. This week 2 germination surprises happened. It started when I happened to wear a rain coat that I hadn't worn since October last year when we went with Andy and Barbara, my brother and his wife to their place in France. Whilst we were visiting Domfront, in front of the Mairie I noticed a very pretty white flower that I didn't recognise, which rather conveniently also had ripe seed on the plant. I surreptitiously pocketed a few seeds, stuffing them into my coat pocket where they remained forgotten all winter and were only recovered and sown a couple of weeks back. Now here they are their cotyledons showing and hopefully later this year I will have a mature specimen I can enjoy and identify.
The second was a few wizened looking berries, which I have kept for years, actually since the day my Mum left Chester and moved to Ludlow near me. That day I happened to walk through the Grosvenor Park and picked up some of these orange Sorbus berries which had stayed on the tree all winter and had come down in a spring storm. But despite the storing, after spending 2 weeks in my fridge to end the dormany followed by a pep in the propagator, the first seedling is up.
OK I recognise that this is pretty obscure for lots of people, and indeed Andrew's comment was "brilliant photo, I'm sure lots of people will be desperate to hear how the little seedling is growing..." I must say such irony - if I were a sensitive flower I could be cut to the quick. Well perhaps I delete all this very soon anyhow.
But definitely worth a mention is our friend Caro's absolutely amazing Tunisian Citrus Cake, which we had at their's last Sunday.
Tunisian Almond Citrus Cake
1 x 100g pack ground almonds
finely grated zest of 1 orange, 1 lemon and 1 lime
40g dayold bread (I used a granay loaf)
200g castor sugar
One a bit tsp baking powder
7fl.oz veg oil (I used sunflower)
4 medium eggs, beaten
For syrup
60g caster sugar
juice of the orange and lime and half the lemon
5 star anise, 2 small cinnamon sticks
5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed

An 8" square or round cake tin lightly oiled and lined with parchment
Put the bread in a food processor and whiz finely then transfer these to a large mixing bowl and add the almonds, sugar and b.powder. Mix the oil and eggs together and with a wooden spoon stir them into the almond mixutre along with the zests of fruits. Beat well to make a thick batter-like consistency and pour into tin. Place on middle shelf of oven 190 C. 375 F. of gas 5
After 20mins check not getting too brown if so cover with parchment and bake further 30 mins,
Meanwhile make syrup. Combine sugar, juices and all the spices in small pan, set over a low heat for 6 - 8mins until sugar has dissolved, bring to boil then reduce to a simmer for a couple of mins. Set aside, off the heat, then strain the spices and reserve.
When cake is a rick brownm has shrunk very slightly from the edges and a fine skewer comes out clean when poked thru the , remove from oven, let it cool for 5 mins in tin then turn out onto a large serving plate, peeling off the parchment paper as you do.
Next, pierce the cake all over with fine skewer and while its still warm start spooning over the syrup until its all used up. This will take 2-3hrs but it will eventually absorb it all.


Blog police

I'm guilty, I admit it, of a teensy bit of misleading information. Well blogs, like newspaper show a version of the truth. Unfortunately my beloved shows perhaps high moral standards than I have, and he found me out. The picture below was not strictly speaking a photo of my asparagus, but some bought and photographed a previous year from Ludlow market. I absolutely assure all readers I would have used a photo of my own grown ones, had it not been for the fact that we had already eaten them before I could capture them for posterity. I hang my head in shame and promise faithfully never to mislead my blog reading public again regarding any vegetables.


A definite first

Just had our first asparagus for dinner picked from the garden. It all started as seed I won from a gardening neighbour when I lived in Bristol and had an allotment there. Amazingly the seed stayed viable till I sowed it a few years back here in Shropshire, and I have resisted the urge to pick the odd spear in previous years. It was amazingly intense and sweet and pea-ish, maybe the odd spear was a bit wood if I'm being fussy, but a great start and hopefully lots more to come.
It marked the end of one of those MAJOR weeks. Do you know the sort when you feel your capabilities are being test to the full. All very exciting, all the new projects are happening at speed and it's a case of trying to keep all manner of balls in the air at once. Now I feel very slightly dizzy with it all. Still, a bank holiday weekend ahead and I'm hoping to have some good weather to get into the garden to do a bit of planting out and weeding. It is a very steadying exercise, I can thoroughly recommend it, along with the fresh air an vitamin D.


Swallows here

The swallows have arrived. Advance party came last week, now I'm getting used to hearing their chatter again in the air. (I think they sound a bit cross). My plum blossom is out and this year there are more pollenating insects around at the same time. Last year was disasterous for plums as they flowered when we had particularly cold weather pretty much across the country and consequently there were almost no English plums.

This on the other hand is a camellia I photographed this morning on the estate. The mist had almost completely gone and the sun was starting to warm the air a little.



That is what I like about this time of year. It's all to do with expectation and promise of what the year can produce. When it comes to gardening, seeing seedlings emerge, watching them develop their true leaves, the potential for the summer is so very exciting.

Here is my cucurbit collection. Some I will share with my brother Andy this weekend when we go to visit him for Easter. He has promised to trade some of his Costoluto tomato seedlings and given how they are described; "Handsome and exotic looking, even it’s name, Costoluto Genovese, brings to mind tall, well formed, shirtless men with burning and only slightly vapid eyes", this summer could be very good indeed!


8mm total rainfall in March

January we had 81mm so last month's rain is a bit of a contrast. Much as I dislike rain, I'm now wondering if it will adversely affect this year's mushroom crop?? We suspect that this is a key time for the mycelia to get themselves into fruiting mode. Well, time will tell.

Lots of exciting things happening with work, but all a bit secret as yet. It all seems to happen together, so the pressure is on to cover all the necessary ground and free time (and expendible tasks - like housework) tend to go by the board. I just about manage to keep us both in clean underwear.

Spring has sprung

Here we are, just into April, the clocks have changed and suddenly we are experiencing a parady of the "Ladybird Guide to Spring in the Country". Yesterday, driving back from Craven Arms on the top road, which takes a stunning route along hill ridges, I was given the full works, partridges and pheasants in their gorgeous mating plummage, newborn lambs being shepherd(ess)ed into the next field, little bunny rabbits nibbling at lush new grass, primroses just opened and to crown it all a stoat which strangely didn't seem bothered when I stopped the car to have a good look. And no, I'm not going to tell that joke.

Now we also have a little crop of spring lambs in the meadow next to the house as well, here are a couple of them.


"We keep a journal to entrap that collection of selves that forms us..." so says William Boyd's Logan Mountstuart. Can the same be said of a blog? Which self are we consciously or unconsciously choosing to show to the world? Are these the thought's that arise from having 2 hours sleep last night?

Andrew saw 2 Black swans on the East lake today and more surprisingly they were still there when he took me to see them.
2nd Black Swan event, I washed the car.

Had to include this other shot. In contrast to the usual magestic swan image, this is how we see them more often than not.


At long last...

Full marks to Darren Betts of the BBC weather centre for uttering those wonderful words "high pressure across the Azores" and we're still in March. I'm mightily bored of winter's grey rawness and this magical term heralds something better. Let's hope it doesn't mysteriously disappear from the text over the next few days.


Ah, holiday - words to follow (bet you can hardly contain your excitment)

Year's progress

Despite the snow the birds are starting to sing again. After months of quiet, maybe the odd squawk, a few birds are testing out their singing skills. The first always seems to be the Great tit, then a few mornings ago on my run I heard a thrush have a very passable verse of two, then a chaffinch sang in the garden yesterday.

Must share this wonderful image, it's a detail from a beautiful dish made by our good friend Howie. I love the way abstract marks and colour swim across the surface, it's so animated.
This a link to his website to see more of his beautiful ceramics - here


There is a world out there

A day off!
  • Ate gorgeous breakfast of coffee, homemade white toast, drizzled with my favourite olive oil - a habit picked up in Spain.
  • Got to finish a brilliant book, Rosina Lippi's Homestead and contemplated a week of being snowed in.
  • Thought about doing some ironing, but then reconsidered.
  • Booked a short holiday in Norfolk in 3 weeks time - even planned where we will eat on the first night (local sirloin from Holkham estate in nearby pub) yes, my belief in the magical restorative powers of beef.
  • Sat and mused (briefly)
  • Wondered (briefly) about how Spring Fair is going for new mug collection and Soda and Scuba


Top Drawer 09

Just back from latest trade show. We went wondering if it was going to be a complete waste of time, but we heard consistently encouraging news. Despite the negative news through the media, the BBC in particular going in for wailing and wringing of hands over the economic situation, our small independent shops have got through Christmas pretty well. In fact more than one customer described being quite miffed because they had heeded all the scare stories and had ordered very cautiously and had run out of stock and then with production at full spate couldn't then replenish their stock.

We had good responses from our new ranges Scuba (very large platters, square dishes and salad bowls) and Soda a new basic dinner range, all coming in at surprisingly good prices.

We have very busy times ahead now with a number of design projects underway. All deadlines seem to coincide!


Winter continues

Next design push for Spring Fair. Our mug collection to be launched at S.F. has been a very freeing experience, drawing in ideas that have been simmering away in the background but haven't yet found the right place and new notions too. The top 2 are inspired by decorating Judi and Nick's Christmas present. They are due to get a few hens (pets or family members - it remains to be seen) so we found a very nice galvanised feeder, not the easiest present to wrap, but I tried to disguise this by making paper chain cut outs of chickens to wrap round the paper. Then having enjoyed doing this so much I made a design to go round a mug. And in honour of the fox I sometimes meet on my hill run I thought I'd do a pair.

Heart Flower and Folk tree are somehow Hungarian - I wonder why??

The swans seem underwhelmed by all the weather throws at them. Night after night of temperatures below minus 8 and daytime not above freezing, yet they go for a stately wander across the ice and swim in whatever water is unfrozen. The little birds are having a much for difficult time. My beloved sparrow community is very little in evidence at the moment having been frightened off by some particulary bullying tactics of the bluetits.


Minus 4 max minus 7 min

Freezing, but thankfully sunny today. Nice morning spent in Bishops Castle, went to library and came out with a great haul of favourite writers; Rose Tremain, Joseph Roth, William Trevor, Joyce Carol Oates, Amy Tan, plus some untried authors. Perfect for these dark, cold evenings to curl up by the fire (albeit a bit spitty with the ash we're burning).

Had great plans to do a "summing up" blog of the last year, but as usual, I'm behind hand with other pressing stuff so it has got a bit shelved. So probably it will happen in dribs and drabs, things suddenly coming to mind, probably quite insignificant to anyone happening to read this, but to me somehow indicative of the year. For instance growing the most amazing crop of purple sprouting broccoli, its special anyway for being one of the earliest things to crop in the garden, but this was so sweet and tender - looked an eyesore as it was swathed with enviromesh to prevent the peacocks from devouring it, but it was the best I'd ever eaten. 2009 I discovered the writer William Boyd, particularly enjoyed Armadillo, the Blue Afternoon and Fascination. Here's a link to his
site. But most importantly (how do I say this without sounding cliched?) I really dicovered how wonderful it is to have the love and support of family and friends. 2009 turned out to be pretty stressed, not only for myself, but I have felt it for a number of friends who have struggled with difficult things, and what has helped me more than anything else is to share good times with those we love.

And as a complete nonsequiter here's a little movie of my garden in summer to remind us of sunshine and warmth at the darkest times of the year. Enjoy it but don't expect much by way of action or plot. ...


New Year sub zero

Here we are again, with a bright, shiny new year ahead of us, as yet unsullied with use.

For the first time on 31st December the highest day time temperature didn't even reach zero, and the same today 1st Jan. Thankfully we have lots on so can shut myself away to work and try to ignore the chill. Despite it being a bank holiday today we had pressing work to do, but managed to go out for a walk for an hour after lunch. Mist and frost hung about all day.