Feeling better now!

Large green guinea pig with house attached

We've just bought a little house, finally after trying for years. The idea was to do it when we moved to Shropshire, well it has taken a little longer than expected - 8 years! We are so pleased that we can stay in this area which we have come to know and love. We have made some very good friends since moving here who we would hate to part from, not to mention our favourite butcher.
But as the old saying goes "death, divorce and moving house" the 3 big ones for stress, fortunately we're just dealing with the last one.
Mum is here to lunch tomorrow, poor lamb, we'll bore her silly with house photos. As a small compensation I've made Conran's dark chocolate mousse for pud.


Just Teeze Me - Louis Armstrong & Duke Ellington

The past couple of years I've been trying to work on stress management with greater or lesser degree of success. Then recently listening to The Great Summit Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington I thought this particular track was a good antidote those brain fevers and tummy churnings.

Dark days of November

Looking over last year's weather records I realised by the end of Nov. 2010 we had already had snow lying for a month and temperatures at night hovering around minus 11 (centigrade). All pretty unusual for our temperate, small island. This year how different it is, mild and it has to be said, very grey. Here however is a much treasured sight. I call it John's rose. A number of years ago I took a cutting from my (would be) father-in-law's climber, and it has produced a sturdy, healthy specimen here in our garden, which even in dark November is producing exquisite, intensely scented flowers. Yesterday I cut a few for the table when John came to have lunch with us. There was a poignant moment as we looked at it and remembered former times.


Pickle jar label

At the top of the meadow against the brick garden wall, stands an old pear tree. The chickens like to bask in the sun around its base. The tree now only produces small fruit, but they are sweet and perfect when lightly pickled. We like these with a little cheese or sometimes smoked ham.
Prepared at the beginning of November 2011 they should be eaten between December &Easter 2012.

Golden fruits - saved for the dark winter days

On an intensely sunny autumn day last weekend, I gathered some small Rocha pears to pickle. Now in dank November the sunshine seems captured in the jar of fruit.


Not a thing of beauty, but still...

These are not small rats but a small gardening discovery. This year I grew cylindrical beetroots, these are the very last - sort of the runt of the litter. The joy of them was that despite the record dry conditions for this part of England, they produced a very fine specimen, always sweet, not too earthy tasting and even at the very end of the season they never got to that woody, starchy stage that can happen with the beet.


Autumn bliss

Autumn raspberries never fail to amaze me. Every couple of days from the start of September sometimes till November we pick large bowls of them. When everything else is slowing down and stopping production they just keep cropping. Intensely flavoured and sweet, a real treat.

Summer back again

Amazing weather, out walking on the Mynd in summer togs, for the first time in 7 years.
Just spent week on new leaflet for our next John Lewis range. If the weather hadn't been so good I don't think we would have been able to do any of this photography. Also due to be launched in South Korea too, very exciting. Click on image for larger size.


Bitter sweet

Dark before 8 o'clock, wood smoke on the chill air, and the bitter sweet song of the robin, who resolutely sings through the dark, cold months.
Still there are the lighter moments, visiting the growing duck family in the meadow behind the house. Father duck is an Indian Runner, mother a squat white one and babies looking very sweet, if a bit dim.

Hurrah for the hoverfly!

My small but heartfelt tribute to one of the undeservedly underestimated insects. The adults sip delicately at nectar from our garden flowers and their larvae eat aphids and other sap sucking nasties. They come in many and various forms, but all (I think) do their very clever hovering mid air for a period of time, then whizz off at great speed to return to just about the same spot with no apparent visual markers to guide them, really quite amazing to watch.
Click on image for a closer look.


Autumn is here. The swallows and house martins are gathering in great numbers to leave us, dahlias are looking lovely in the garden and the plums (Marjorie Seedling of course) are ripening very nicely.
But I am so sad that summer is over, and much as I convince myself that the trees turn beautiful colours and the mushrooms are delicious I'd like more sun and heat.
This summer though was good and we managed to eat our way through our broad bean and pea crop plus most of the salads and an astounding quantity of Cambridge Favourite strawberries before our holiday, which was very satisfying. Now the runners are going great guns and the autumn raspberries are looking hopeful.


Field Grafting June update

This is the latest development in the apple grafting. Last night I untied the plastic binding joining the root stock and the scion and miraculously the new graft grows on the old stock.

And here is the position looking out towards the Long Mynd.

Latest prize

This is the sort of thing that makes gardening worthwhile, despite the disappointments, seeds that don't germinate, numerous pests reaching beloved plants first, poor summers etc etc. when the broad bean season arrives it is all wonderful.
This meal is only really possible if you grow them yourself, a great dish full of small and the tenderest beans, still raw, along with chopped up home-grown green peppers (with a pep to them), purple spring onions, cherry tomatoes, fresh thyme and chervil added with the dressing. Later I added the Feta cheese, a perfect balance with the beans (not in photo as I knew we couldn't wait to eat it all up.)


A thing of beauty!

More in the series of strange purple foods. This year, willing it to be a scorcher, I decided to grow aubergines, (poor deluded fool I am) but also, more sensibly for our climate here, I sowed some kohlrabi seeds too. Now I've nestled them into the asparagus bed, which I realise is a no no, but space is short.
Here is a picture of them to inspire great wonder.


Eat, eat, eat

We are what we eat - so make sure it's good.

This is rare cooked roast Belted Galloway rolled sirloin. The most crucial bit of kit is our meat thermometer as cooking time varies enormously from joint to joint. This time we cooked this piece (about 1.2kg) for 35 mins.
Today we had it with peppy rocket leaves from the garden in a horseradishy mayonnaise. I rarely get round to digging our horseradish up so am a great believer in the English Provender (80%) Hot Horseradish, not those scary jars with 20% HD in (and the rest made up with titanium dioxide to make it white. Titanium is fine in emulsion paint, but I don't really recommend eating the stuff.


Heaven on a plate

4th June, warm sunny day spent planting things out in the garden and rearranging spring flowers now gone over and replacing them with dahlia seedlings and Rudbeckias.

Then picked a wonderful mix of asparagus and our first sugar snap peas and the last of the leek spears. This is a secret which, for some reason, passes many people by. Don't compost your leeks when the flower spikes are forming, but eat them, they are tender and sweet and have a delicate flavour. I steam them with the asparagus for about 6 mins (testing for done-ness) 2 mins before they are ready add the sugar snap peas. Have a little butter melting on warmed plates, pitch the vegetables in a yummy heap into the butter (carefully counting out each to avoid a row). Savour just like that.


Spring at a gallop

The swifts are here. The last of that group to arrive. Swallows are already having great fun using the front yard as a flight training path and our car in particular for target practice.
Bluebells in full swing and leaves of the huge ancient oaks and sweet chestnuts are unfurling beautifully. I love to see the light shine through them, starkly cut out against their dark trunks.


Twig inspiration

Having spend a happily creative afternoon making "the Patent Pheasant Keeper-Outer" I decided I wanted a similar structure on a larger scale as an arch to frame the garden path and to grow my sweet peas up. Having acquired a wonderful collection of contorted twigage from the Actinidia prunings I set about fashioning them into an elegant arch. And imagine my delight when since I built it I have watched the garden birds flit in and out and perch on its upper most curlicues.


They've arrived...

As we sat after dinner tonight we spotted what we thought must be the first swallows arriving. Then a few more flew over the house, and we could clearly see their very characteristic forked tails, and the final confirmation was when we heard their squabbly call. I don't remember them ever reaching these parts in March before (OK it is the 31st). Today we had an especially strong southerly wind, did that help carry them along quickly?


Seedlings coming on a pace

As varied as the seeds that they emerge from, seedlings come in a wonderful array of forms, and never fail to delight. After a week of mild day time temperatures and quite a lot of sun, I watch their daily progress with eager anticipation. Broad beans are now planted out and the first sugarsnap peas too. Salads which are hardy I can transplant shortly, then we can look forward to having this year's lettuces in May.


What a gaff!

My dear friend Hilary, very discreetly pointed out (but far more subtly than that really) that I had made a bloomer. Toads and newts, of course aren't reptiles at all, but Amphibians - I hold my head in shame, at my erroneous scientific classification.


Our new gift wrap in action

Soon all manner of new things will be on our website, but now its slow and steady to develop it ... patience is a virtue, or so i am told.


Has Spring sprung?

Well I certainly think it has, even here in deepst darkest Shropshire it would seem so. The blackbirds have started to sing, and they are generally very tardy, saw some primroses flowering today (- they have such a beautiful pale lemony colour), and the reptile population is definitely making up for time lost hibernating. Last night I when I went out to tuck up my seedlings for the night I had to step very carefully to avoid all the little newts. Most people thing the common newt is no longer common, well here it still is.
I must say I have a particular fondness for small reptiles, newts especially, which is just as well as anything that has been stored through winter, for instance my favourite dahlia bulbs or garden pots now has a resident newt underneath, and now they are getting quite frisky. Then this morning there were 3 toads sitting on my back door step...and now they are seranading - how romantic.



This is a wonderful time of year when I plan my garden for the coming season. At the weekend I re-arranged my borders, shifting my Pacific Giant delphiniums to the back so the don't loom. It was such a nice feeling being out there again after winter seeing the first shoots appearing from the cold earth, and sensing the promise of the coming year ahead. Then back into the conservatory to sow some seeds. I am fascinated by the different forms that seeds come in. This is a small collection of some of my favourites. Click on the image and see them in greater detail.


Those magic words - so long coming, "high over the Azores". It has been a long winter and although by now the days are perceptibly longer, the little dark month (February in Welsh) is a tough one. One tends to be run down by months of cold and dark and the promise of spring can't come soon enough. So when, this morning I read this on a weather report i felt positively euphoric.


A New Skill

I managed to persuade the head gardener here at Walcot to show me how to graft fruit trees. After a crash course this week I was let loose on a row of MM 106 apple rootstocks to practice field grafting using whip and tongue technique. For those of you experts out there, please don't flinch at my beginner's technique. I am acutely aware there is a long way to go with this, but I must admit I'm already hooked and spend most of the afternoon out in a bitter wind on a raw February day working away to improve and only the hens with me to pass judgement.
I gathered scions from a Russet and Winter Gem in my garden as material to graft on. This is what I began with in the top pictures, then taking a razor sharp "Tina" knife I cut the 2 sections, one on each piece to marry up the Cambium layer as best I could - here you see I've got to do a bit more practice! I made the "tongue" incision to correspond on the opposing sides, then wedged the 2 parts together, leaving the characteristic "church window" arch exposed above the rootstock.
The last stage was binding up the grafted sections, and onto the next one till I had just about completed a row and they stood like like plastic bristles in the meadow. Now it's just patience to wait and see which have "taken".
Then home as dusk came, not much darker than at noon today. And later thoughts of supper, Roasted Pout and River Cobbler with a spiced tomato sauce...


Almost forget

Exciting news came today. Nice Mr. John Lewis sent an email to say what was new in store for Spring Summer 2011, browsing through I saw that our new range of tableware is there ahead of schedule (how often can I say that?!). here is a shot I took of one of our prototypes, please excuse lack of handle, the proper ones come with one.
Here they are and also there's our new kitchen textiles too.

A few brave flowers

Milder days, the birds are starting to sing, today I heard chaffinches on my run and there was a thrush that sat at the top of a tree and sang its clearly warbly song. It must mean we are over the worst of the cold and dark. I even managed a day without wearing thermals. Alan and Shirley came for dinner with an exquisite posy of flowers from their garden, intensely coloured Iris reticulata, fragrant snow drops and a clutch of cyclamen and jasmine, now just a few stems of these survive on my window ledge.


Gales lash the house but we can hunker down and savour a delicious dinner

Beef to die for;

You can read accounts of people whilst under extreme privations; seige of St Petersburg having to eat wallpaper for any scrap of nuitrition or Terry Waite in solitary confinment for how many years and how remembering and reminising about extraordinary meals that mentally sustained them in the most difficult of human struggles. We have just eaten the beef that could do just that.
Interestingly it wasn't the most expensive cut or in a swanky restaurant, but something simple and pretty cheap. I have to admit we are blessed with a butcher made in heaven and his beef is supremely good. We have chatted about whether it's the breed or conditions that make it special. His take is that it is all about how the animal has lived which makes it extra special. In fact on our recent trip to Korea we discussed this matter with very nice Mr and Mrs SS Kim who described they had heard that some beef cattle were given massages to keep them happy. Anyway, I digress, we have just eated Pot Roasted flat rib of beef. And owing to me having to attend to a critical ceramics firing it wasn't given much attention at all. The absolutely key thing with cooking any meat I believe (although many very well thought of top chefs neglect this)is to know the cut and understand the manner and treatment that suits that muscle (or muscle group). I have no time for recipes which use for example "stewing steak". That just means its bits and bobs from who knows which bit of the animal in a heap - and how are you supposed to know what each muscle requires for cooking?? So do the choosing yourself and don't get unrecognisable parts that are so hit or miss. Flat rib is from a part which has done a fair amount of of work and exercise, and from between the flank and the foreribs. So its best for a long slowish roasting.
Today I put two goodly chunks in a pot, very loosely covered with foil and scattered liberally with dried thyme. I roasted it like this at 200 degrees for 20 mins. Then I added 2 x quartered carrots (pointy ones best, but that's another story) 1 x halved onion and 4 charlotte pots. This was all a nice cosy fit in pot. Poured on probably no more than 1/3 glass of red wine and sealed up in foil and put it back at 180 degrees for an hour whilst I dashed up to the workshop. Then lowered it to 130 degrees for another hour and a half. At which time I turned it off to rest and we ate a cucumber salad. Then the beef followed, as simple a meal as you could wish, so deeply satisfyingly beefy, succulent, rich flavoured without any heaviness and with the vegetables from the pot and a little mix of horseradish, creme fraiche and black pepper along side. Memorable, delicious and deeply satisfying. Sorry no photos!

Last Year

It was a year of extremes.

Most recently it is the weather which comes to mind. Plummetting temperatures and being snowed in.

Work Highs and lows. This year we had a Steep Learning Curve as much about our expectations of others... I think we have finally realised with our work, that good as promises from others seem, we must not let it knock us off course, and actually it is far and above more satifying (and successful) when we do the decision making for ourselves.

Garden Achieving a long held desire to plant an orchard for ourselves.

Travelling among other trips we went to South Korea which was a real high spot. It was quite unlike any trips we have done before. This time we were shown around,taken care of, driven everywhere with a chauffeur, we even had a "minder" to make sure we didn't get lost or kidnapped.

So now for 2011. Dare I make any resolutions or predictions?

Yes, Lighten up! Be intrepid, Try new ideas without fretting over imminent disaster. And then let's see what I'll be writing in another year's time.