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!