cardigan bay hols

Kayaking in a sheltered bay, spotting dolphins and scoffing delicious food at the pizza tipi are some of the things I’ll remember from our recent hols.

We stayed in Newport, a lovely laid-back little place on an estuary in North Pembrokeshire. You can cross the estuary at low-tide (as long as you’re happy to paddle up to the waist) to reach a long windswept beach with great waves for jumping and sand dunes to picnic in.

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I loved the arty/foodie/slightly bohemian vibe and the variety of beaches from sheltered coves (great for paddling around in our inflatable kayak) to vast, white sandy expanses perfect for kite-flying.

We stayed in Carreg Las, a gorgeous Georgian house that we all wanted to move into permanently. It had a light-filled kitchen that was perfect for lingering over coffee in the morning, scoffing bara brith from the nearby bakery and playing games in the evening.Carreg lasAnd the simple but stylish decor with slate/stripped wood floors, pale greys and creams and splashes of colour from Welsh textiles or local art was lovely.

Carreg las bunks

It inspired some art of our own – necklaces made with shells with holes and worn with PJs!

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Our first night treat meal at Llys Meddyg, a restaurant with rooms with a passion for foraging and local rooms was delicious – we ate in the very family friendly and relaxed garden restaurant that opens during the summer.

One morning we climbed Carningli, the hill that rises above Newport and grazed on whimberries as we walked. I can’t wait to return!

 

school dresses, jeans & patchwork evenings

Life has been busy lately and my very shoddy patchwork is my way of re-claiming some slow-pace, relaxing time for myself. DSC_4464

I’m using any scraps of material that appeal to my eye and hand-sewing large squares very simply together. Patches of Ruby’s first red gingham school-dress is being added to some sixties style fabric leftover from an apron I made for her; there are scraps from an old dress of mine that had too many holes even for gardening, a stripy apron that even I had to admit was too torn for use but that I’d loved and a few baby dresses. I like mixing the prettiness of some of these fabrics with patches from old worn jeans.

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They’re all sewn together in my very basic style, the idea being that I can mindlessly sew while listening to music or watching TV in the evening. My patchwork is growing very slowly (the busy work stuff again) but I’m hoping that eventually it’ll be big enough for a small throw that I can back with fleece and that Ruby can snuggle under to watch a film or read a book.

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I was prompted to start my patchwork a few months ago after reading an interview with Emma Bridgewater in ‘Country Living’ magazine. I’m very partial to her hand painted mugs and jugs and was inspired to read about the quilt that she’d made for her daughter, Margaret. Made out of much-loved bits of fabric collected over the shirts from scraps of her late mother’s purple sarong to old shirts from Provence belonging to her husband, Matthew Rice, the quilt had a similar homely charm to Emma’s lovely earthenware.

emma bridgewater patchwork

But what I really loved about Emma’s quilt was the memories entwined in it. Emma said that she’d sat sewing the quilt, which is finished with the words, “Keep very cosy, darling Margaret,” while watching favourite films over the years. When she looks at it she can hear the soundtracks from those films as well as treasuring the memories of her loved ones wearing those clothes.

Hoping that one day Ruby will be kept cosy by a mixture of her first school dresses and my old aprons. Sewn together by her shoddy but enthusiastic Mum using the pin cushion made from an old yoghurt pot that Ruby made for me at Rainbows for Mother’s day.

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Thanks to Chava again for pics taken when she visited (all apart from the pic of Emma Bridgewater from Country Living feature). My camera has recently completely given up. I’m hoping to buy a new one very soon – so my amateur pics will be back shortly!

 

 

 

 

 

primrose, wood-stores & wild cherry buds

“After the sugar snow had gone, spring came. Birds sang in the leafing hazel bushes along the crooked rail fence. The grass grew again and the woods were full of wild flowers. Buttercups and violets, thimble flowers and tiny starry grassflowers were everywhere. As soon as the days were warm, Laura and May begged to be allowed to run barefoot. At first they might only run out around the woodpile and back, in their bare feet. Next day they could run farther, and soon their shoes were oiled and put away and they ran barefoot all day long.”

I’ve been reading ‘Little House in the Big Woods’ by Laura Ingalls Wilder with Ruby, loving this simply but beautifully told tale of family life interwoven so closely with the seasons in a log house in Wisconsin. While I relish the descriptions of preserving food, collecting maple sap and dancing to celebrate sugar snow, Ruby loves the exciting stories (there are wolves and bears and huge wild cats in the Big Woods and the family travel by sleigh) that always end cosily.

Now that our own days are suddenly warm, pale yellow primroses have made a pretty appearance next to the slender pink rhubarb in the garden and the kitchen table is full of cheery blooms.

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The hammock has made its first appearance this year. We may not be exactly barefoot, but abandoning thick socks and boots in favour of easily slipped on crocs and shoes and having the kitchen doors wide open for most of the weekend has given me a similar feeling of freedom. The very welcome sunshine also seems to have urged us into lots of activity. Guy has been chopping a large oak tree that was a casualty of the recent gales. Unfortunate (and we’re keen to plant more trees) but it’s adding considerably to the wood-pile and will keep us very warm next winter. The recent sun means it’s been possible to get the trailer into the water-logged field to bring the wood home ready for splitting and stacking.

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A large extension to the very full wood-store is planned too. Funny how just as we’re welcoming Spring we’re thinking of future winters. The Oak tree has also supplied some splendid, rustic chairs for the tree-house, which has been the scene of much al fresco eating over the last week. It also became a washing house yesterday. Ruby turned into Dame Washalot (from Enid Blyton’s ‘Magic Faraway Tree’) once more, and enlisted the help of a friend in her tree-house laundry.

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Old rags that we use for cleaning were ‘washed’ in buckets of luke-warm water. Yes, I need to gather them and stick them in the washing machine asap as they MAY not be scrupulously clean, but the girls were happy dangling them over the tree and pegging them out for ages.   Ruby was also busy making a rabbit bike-helmet out of a shell and some old ribbon – well, someone has to be safety conscious as that bunny is partial to speed.

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Meanwhile, the Spring sunshine had me enthusiastically tackling the garden, weeding and digging and planting seeds. In between making rhubarb custards to follow slow-cooked pulled pork (one of the last of the joints from our Berkshire pigs, marinated over-night in smoked paprika, garlic, beer, brown sugar) which I could forget about while I gardened. I dug parsnips from the garden to roast, picked purple sprouting and we shared it with friends, washed  down with our own cider, now really quite palatable and with a very pleasing sparkle.

Amidst all our Spring activity, I had a very indulgent start to Sunday morning. Knowing that this is the only morning of the week (now that swimming lessons mean an early start to Saturdays) that there’s any chance of a lie-in I nonetheless woke to chattering birds and a promising sun and was eager to start the day. So was Ruby. While I got tea and milk, she suggested we go outside. We headed out in our PJs through the dewy, still cool garden. I strung up the hammock and we snuggled under a blanket, gazing up at the blue sky. The wild cherry tree that the hammock hangs beneath was full of buds that I hadn’t noticed before. A visiting bee obviously had though, heading purposefully on a foraging trip. The more we looked, the more life we spotted in fact. Then we sipped our tea and milk and savoured the last chapter of ‘Little House in the Big Woods.’

“…Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the firelight gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, ‘This is now.’ ”

It seemed so apt reading this while enjoying the unexpected delight of a cuddle with my daughter and a part of the day outside that we normally miss. Even though I could spy tender little nettles destined either for a Wild Greens Pie or the compost heap, I decided that all the Spring activity and planning for future seasons could wait a little while.

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Very grateful to Diana Henry by the way, for leading me to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books through her very well-chosen quotations in the wonderful Roast Figs, Sugar Snow: Food to Warm the Soul.

glittery cheese & a happy new year

I’ve obviously been busier using up leftover turkey and beetroot-cured gravlax lately than experimenting with cheese-making. More focused on important tasks such as bashing and melting boiled sweets for the windows of a gingerbread house with Ruby.

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Just before Christmas I did have a go at making an easy semi-hard cheese that matures in weeks rather than months though. I rubbed olive oil and coarse sea salt around the little cheeses (very little actually, attempting cheese-making has made me realise quite how much milk goes into producing a tiny amount of cheese and given me even more of an appreciation for bought artisan cheese) and put them in the cold room upstairs in a sealed container with a damp cloth for humidity.  When I say ‘cold room’ don’t misguidedly think I have some room purpose made for hanging hams and letting cheese mature. It’s a very bare, un-plastered room that we’ve been meaning to turn into our bedroom ever since we moved here.

Lack of time and money have meant the bedroom has been a little delayed. As ever, I’m optimistic that this year may be the year we move out of the spare room. In the meantime the unheated bare room is proving very useful. The dark bit behind the door is rapidly becoming pickle corner.

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With a house full of family over Christmas, the fridge was bulging and leftover veggies destined for bubble and squeak were sent up to the cold room. Actually we so enjoyed the Boxing Day leftovers that Guy came up with a suggestion. Next year, we cook Christmas lunch on Christmas Eve, then without eating any of it,  immediately take it up to the cold room ready for leftovers!

Obviously too many days of Bird Bingo, muddy walks across the fields and wondering whether piccalilli or Middle Eastern pickled turnips is the correct pickle for that days’ leftovers has gone to our heads. The festive period has also had a disturbing effect on my cheese. Last time I had a peep at the cheeses ripening in the cold room, I couldn’t spot any mould forming (or much of a rind either) but there was definitely something unique about them. Some artisan cheese-makers may use nettles, even ash to add a distinct look and flavour to their products. I detected something else adorning the rustic exterior of my carefully made cheeses. Something with a definite flavour of my December kitchen. Yes, glitter.

It obviously says a lot about my optimism then that one of my plans for the new year is to have a go at making mozzarella. Yes, I know I’ll end up with strings of cheese everywhere but I’d like to try it. I’m chuffed that the feta has worked out, it’s very salty but good used sparingly, crumbled into flatbreads with leftover lamb – I cooked a leg of lamb slowly over potatoes using a recipe from The Fabulous Baker Brothers book as an easy way of feeding everybody the day after Boxing Day. Will write about how I made the feta soon.

After being inspired by the medieval bread baked at The Hearth in Lewes, would love to experiment more with bread this year too. Using interesting flour, a home-made sourdough and a long prove.

But with the glittery cheese a reminder of the results of my multi-tasking I’m trying to keep my resolutions and plans for the new year simple. While I’m still harvesting parsnips, swede, chard and beetroot from the garden, can’t help but have lots of plans for the new things I want to grow though. And the size of the ewes in the field next to us is reminding me of the delights of Spring already. Lovely to think that it’s not long after Christmas until there are new lambs in the fields and broad beans to be planted. Which makes me look forward to these sort of pleasures…..

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Hope you have lots to look forward to in 2014 too. Happy New Year!

mandarin lip balm & a home-made christmas

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Little pots of lip balm, scented with a festive citrus essential oil and maybe including a tincture made from flowers from the garden, are surprisingly easy to make. The first time I made lip balm with Ruby I decided they were such a simple thing for her to get involved in, I must remember to revisit for Christmas gifts.

When I suggested making lip balm a week ago, my daughter was enthusiastic. Partly as she wanted to make some for herself, dismissing the herbal lip balm I keep handing to her for her chapped lips as “smelly.” She also swiftly added that they should be “glittery.” As it is Christmas and I remembered there was some edible gold glitter in the cake decorating drawer, I agreed that some of them could be glittery. Realizing that perhaps not everybody is partial to lips with sticky gold shimmer, I’ve left this out of the recipe below.

mandarin & calendula lip balm

1 teaspoon beeswax

70g cocoa butter

1 teaspoon coconut oil

5 drops calendula tincture (not essential if you don’t have any, I’ve made without this too)

12 drops mandarin essential oil

Melt the beeswax, cocoa butter and coconut oil in a bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Add the tinctures and then the essential oil. Pour into little pots before the mixture begins to harden. I used pots that I’d saved, but you can buy inexpensive lip balm pots from The Handmade Company: they also sell ingredients such as cocoa butter, dried flower petals and have some lovely home-made aprons for children.

If you don’t have the ingredients for lip balm, I can also recommend bath bombs, which I made here last Christmas as a very easy gift to make with children.

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I’m a big fan of adding a homemade touch to Christmas, whether to decorations, handmade gifts or the food and drink that you offer family and friends. Besides, I’d far rather be pottering around in the warmth of the kitchen, baking spiced gingerbread and gathering greenery from the garden than getting hassled in a packed shopping centre.

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 I love it that my daughter is as enthusiastic as I am about making home-made gifts. She started young, plopping bits of vegetables into my biggest saucepan for Christmas Chutney when she was a toddler. With a little input from her, I labelled them up as ‘Ruby’s Christmas Chutney’; we often bring out paint, glitter and our Christmas stamps to add Christmas sparkle to frugal luggage labels. We painted a cardboard box together and glued on letters spelling ‘Ruby’s home-made goodies’ and filled it with our preserves. Ruby delved into it on Christmas day, handing out very rustic but home-made/home-grown chutney to her Aunties, Uncles and Grandparents.

The box remains, a little battered, but still in use and Ruby is still keen to get involved in our home-made Christmas. Aged 6, she does have stronger ideas about what she would like to make, however, often featuring modelling clay, you know the stuff that dries and hardens overnight. The sort that is often found lurking under the table/behind chairs in this house. Her ideas are often a tad ambitious; last year it was, “I know, let’s make cups and saucers.”

Little jars of Dukkah, an earthy Egyptian blend of nuts and spices are another favourite home-made gift of mine and I like the way they suggest a Three Kings Eastern exoticsm meets traditional English Christmas (in my mind anyway!). Nuts and spices were rightly celebrated in Elizabethan times as treats worthy of Christmas feasting and as Dukkah stores well, it can be made ahead of the festivities, when hopefully all is still calm in the kitchen.

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The pestle and mortar pounding is good fun but straightforward for little helpers and it’s worth saving a jar for yourself to eat with Christmas leftovers; added to olive oil and dried mint if you have it, Dukkah makes a great dip. I also have membrillo centred plans for the last few Quince, still scenting the room with their wonderful aroma. 

Much as the pairing of sweetly fragrant quince jelly and salty Spanish cheese feels like a contemporary food fashion, I think it fits well with a traditional Christmas. After all, quinces, along with fruits, nuts and spices would’ve featured in an Elizabethan Christmas feast. Edible decorations and greenery brought in as garlands would’ve been a key part too of course and, inspired by Anne of Life in Mud Spattered Boots’ lovely rustic wreaths I have weekend plans for transforming hedgerow bounty.

Before I get carried away though, I must remember that I still have work deadlines to meet, a very scruffy house to get ready for family visitors and we’re nearly into the last lovely but very busy week of carols, school nativity and parties. As usual no doubt lots of my plans will be abandoned as I try to enjoy it all rather than race around getting frazzled. But trying a few new home-made things each year along with making the old favourites such as spiced biscuits for the tree, and involving Ruby as much as possible, does feel to me like it’s properly Christmas. Even if we do end up with a very messy, sticky, glittery house along the way! 

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lucknowi siege lamb and cotswolds indian food feasting

Last weekend spicy food lured us down our hill two nights running. We were fed and entertained in sumptuous style at the Great Indian Food Feast and followed our noses to the wonderful spicy smells of Indian street food the following night. All in Chipping Campden, a great little Cotswolds town for eating and cooking, but perhaps better know for cream teas and roast lamb than Indian feasting.

Thanks to award-winning chef Indunil Sanchi and self-styled Urban Rajah, Ivor Peters, there was still excellent local lamb, but this time it was marinated in 24 spices and slow -cooked to produce a wonderfully tender, tongue-tingling dish. And the sweet treat involved an entertaining pancake master-class with honey coconut, sticky toffee ice-cream and caramel sauce.

indy curry nights

At the Indian Food Feast we were greeted with an Amuse Bouche of tasty little steamed lentil cakes before sitting down to a fabulous array of curries, pakoras and patties that ranged from Punjab street food to fabulous dishes fit for a Maharani. In between eating, we were taken on a foodie adventure around the Indian Sub Continent by Ivor Peters.

Chappli Kebabs

BITE Curry Nights 31

Imaginative chef, author of Curry Memoirs and pop-up restaurateur, Ivor is also a self-confessed dandy and a great entertainer.  Splendid in orange velvet jacket and with his signature perfectly groomed moustache, Ivor treated us to tales that leapt from Indian sieges to the chapatti shuffle in his grandparent’s kitchen. He described childhood feasts of vividly spiced food, with big family groups sitting picnic style on luridly coloured sheets (this was the 1970s) and niftily skipped back to Victorian banquets. Encouraging us to chat about spices and get our own “curry clinic” going while we feasted on Spiced Red Lentil & Chicken Patties from Andra Pradesh and Masala Crusted Whitebait from the Malabar Coast.

Masala Crusted Whitebait

Listening and eating, it felt like a celebration of all the imaginatively spiced  regional dishes that are so far removed from the dumbed down versions so many of us have experienced from takeaways or in jars.

I wrote a few months ago about Indunil’s wonderful Black Lamb Curry that he cooks regularly at the Noel Arms. Now I’m hankering after his Cashew Nut and Green Pea curry, a dish that Indy ate as a child in Sri Lanka. Ivor told us that Indy soaks the cashew nuts before cooking to recreate the creamy texture of fresh cashews that he remembers from childhood.

My other favourite dish from the evening was Lucknowi Siege Lamb, so I was very excited when Ivor and Indunil were happy to share the recipe. They use mutton, which I’d like to try, but in the meantime I’ve been using lamb shanks in curries, cooking them on a really low heat for hours so that the lamb falls off the bone resulting in tasty, tender lamb. Also remembering Alex from Dale Cottage diaries reminder of the nutrition value of cooking meat on the bone slowly in dishes. The list of ingredients may seem a little scary but the curry powder and garam masala can obviously be made in decent quantities and stored in jars for future curries.

Lucknowi Siege Lamb

Serves 4–6

  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1kg boneless mutton, diced
  • 6 green cardamom pods
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds, pounded into powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • 2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp curry powder
  • 8 cloves
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 2 tsp ginger and garlic paste
  • 400g natural yoghurt
  • 5 green chillies
  • 250g tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 500ml water
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 12 saffron strands
  • 1 tsp kewra (aka screwpine water) or rosewater
  • Coriander leaves, chopped

 

Garam Masala

  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • ¾ tsp crushed bay leaves
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 4–5 green cardamom pods (or ½ tsp seeds)
  • 4 cloves
  • 4 large black cardamom pods (or ¾ tsp seeds)
  • 1 cinnamon quill
  • 1 piece of cassia bark
  • ½ tsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 6 juniper berries
  • ½ tsp ground mace
  • 1/3 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 star anise pod

 Heat a frying pan on a medium heat, then add all the spices. Dry-roast for 2 minutes until they brown and start to scent the room. DON’T burn them. Leave to cool. Peel the cardamom pods and release the seeds into the other spices, tip into a pestle and mortar (or blender) and blast them.

 

Curry Powder

 

4 ½ tsp ground coriander

2 tsp turmeric

6 bay leaves

1 ½ tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp whole black peppercorn

½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes

½ tsp cardamom seeds

½ inch cinnamon stick

¼ tsp whole cloves

¼ tsp ground ginger

 

Pop everything in a blender and blitz for a couple of minutes

 

Fry up the onions in the oil until crispy and golden, then set them aside on kitchen towel to dry out. Keep the oil. In the same pan, using the onion oil, brown off the mutton, adding the cardamom, fennel, coriander, paprika and chilli powder. When the mutton is browned, drop in the cloves, peppercorns and salt and cook over a low heat for around 30 minutes, until the meat has started to cook in its own juices and the mix is looking darker. Blend the yoghurt, chillies, reserved fried onions, curry powder and tomatoes, turning it into a paste. Add the paste into the pan and swish the ingredients around until everything is coated. Turn up the heat to medium, tip in the garam masala, curry leaves and cook for a further 1½ hours, making sure you stir frequently. To stop the ingredients drying out and sticking to the bottom of the pan, add the water at intervals. The curry shouldn’t be too runny. Just before serving, add a teaspoon of kewra or rosewater.

Serve with rotis or rice and garnish with chopped coriander. Recipe from Ivor Peters.

Lucknowi Siege Lamb

The night after our feast, thanks to the Bite Food Festival, there were reindeers, carols, a Christmas market and street food in Campden. Ivor was cooking tandoori chicken, lamb kebabs and masala paneer on an open grill to eat in wraps and we obviously couldn’t resist a double-bill of spice.

Very exciting that there’ll be Indian Food Feasting in Chipping Campden in February too as part of the week long Bite Food Festival. The Festival will run from Saturday 1st Feb to Sunday 9th Feb 2014 and will include all sorts of breakfasts, brunches, lunches teas and dinners, pop-up restaurants, master-classes, talks by celebrity chefs and food writers and artisan food markets.

I’m particularly excited by the idea of more Indian Street Food, a Peruvian pop-up restaurant,  of Elisabeth Luard visiting Campden (I’m a big fan of her books that celebrate wonderful rustic European cooking) and the fact that the festival includes lots for children. There’s a Chipping Campden school cooking competition for 11-18 year olds and a Mad Hatters Tea Party run by the very stylish Burford Garden Company.

I love the fact that at the Mad Hatters Tea Party, which will be an edible rabbit-hole of wizardry, dancing, riddles and fancy dress, audience participation is optional but hats are essential. A full programme of events is here.

With thanks to Indunil and Ivor for spicing up the Cotswolds and for the great recipe  and to Bite for inviting me to the wonderful Indian Food Feast.

 

 

 

 

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