“Cooking is like love, it should be entered into with complete abandon or not at all.”
Harriet Van Horne
Harriet Van Horne
I used to own and run a restaurant and inn. So I know a bit about how to make a place look nice and how to make people feel welcome. I can cook, write a menu, lay a table, clear it and lay it again (and again and again). And I did that many times over the years. But what I loved best about being in hospitality was looking after people. Being front of house you have the chance to make folk feel happy, comfortable and cared for. Looking after people is a privilege; it was never just a job to me.
But working so hard left no time for me to connect with friends in town or in the village where I live. Now that I do have more time, I see that the ebb and flow of life in my rural community means that there is exactly the same need for somewhere to go where you will be greeted by the friendly face of someone who cares. A place to eat cake and share some laughter; a safe haven on a trying day.
So, I am launching the Cosy Cake Club in my home.
It will be a monthly, pop-up club with no ties and no membership, where I do all the baking. In winter we will be inside, sitting on colour washed settles by the open fire. In summer the Cosy Cake Club can move outdoors to the garden and the summerhouse.
The first Cosy Cake Club is on February 25th and opens from 11 a.m -1 p.m Everyone is welcome; it’s not just for the girls. Why not come along and eat cake?
I can’t wait to see you.
When other artists were painting landscapes, portraits and flowers, I was painting vegetables. Big blowsy bunches of Beetroot and gentle bunches of Carrots with feathery fronds. The buyers at my exhibitions bought paintings of strings of garlic, onions and the like and for my private views I wore silver earrings in the shape of carrots.
Or a necklace with enough veg to fill a Sussex trug!
Loving the look of vegetables makes growing them a joy. Each single Carrot is a thing of beauty especially when baby sized and grown in a tub to keep for Winter picking
So here I am, on a drizzly day, in my Sunday-best frock with my wellies on, armed with a fork, digging up my Amsterdam Sweetheart and Resistafly Carrots from the Kitchen Garden. It is all mud and mayhem. Every one of these orange roots has to be given an outdoor shower before they can be taken indoors to be prepared for cooking. And yes, I know that the ones you buy in the supermarket are clean and ready to cook. But these little beauties, so fabulously fresh, so colourful and bright, will make flavoursome soups and purees that money just can’t buy.
Swept up and cast aside by the sparkle of Christmas and washed away by months of rain I slither and slide down the slippery path of the New Year into my waterlogged garden. Seeing all my sad and sodden potted Primulas and Cowslips, I gather them up lovingly and head for the greenhouse. Surely these poor, neglected plants must be wondering why I have allowed so much water to soak them day after day? Inside the pots their roots are tightly bound, their soil cold and wet and their leaves all gone. I settle myself in the greenhouse to re-pot each suffering fragment of sorry plant into dry soil. I swear that I can almost feel their sense of relief and comfort, knowing that rescue is here at last.
Over- wintering plants or autumn sown hardy annuals suit a belt and braces kind of gal like me. I have plants in pots under glass, outside in cold frames, in the open ground, under cloches and under fleece. Every day I check that they are not too dry, too wet, or too cold. I cover them, uncover them, circulate the air around them, prevent slug attacks and try to prevent mildew and them rotting off. Ordinarily, plants like the Cowslips should have been fine outside in pots, but nothing about the excessive amounts of rain we have had this Winter have been ordinary.
So long as I can nurture and protect my plants and my hands can connect with the healing power of the soil, then I am content. But what is a garden-loving gal to do when it just rains and rains? I just can’t wait for the rain to stop and for the sunshine to return to the garden, so that I, just like my flowers, can open up my petals towards the sun. But until then, I have an idea. Yes, I will sew my garden!
This work in progress is appliquéd and every little flower or detail is cut out of vintage fabric and Liberty prints. It is not until each piece is properly stitched on that a more three dimensional look is achieved. It is painstakingly slow work, but work that I love. Lastly, when the picture is complete I will add embroidered stems for each flower and finally turn the fabric picture into a quilt. It will include all the cats I have loved and lost: Sergei, Nina, Grey Cat, Ossie and Otto. Like me, they will be so happy amongst the flowers….. would you like to take a look?
Diminutive, hardworking and the only person I meet on my morning walk whose Chihuahua rides on the back of a horse; Christine is totally devoted to her horse and dogs. So enchanted was I by the bond between this lovely lady and her band of animals and the sparkiness and ease with which her tiny dog would ride, bare-back across the moorland, that I recklessly offered to take some photographs.
Now I have a still-life approach to photography and flowers and vegetables are, on the whole, fairly sedentary. But on the morning we arrange to meet up for our little photo-shoot, Dippy, the horse thought he heard the hounds (hunting for foxes) and immediately became spooked. Because Dippy was upset, Mutley, the Chihuahua did not feel safe and Nirvana the puppy wondered what on earth was going on and looked as though she wanted to go home to her basket! The two Lurchers circled around our feet as Dippy reversed and threatened to jettison any number of small dogs into the air or, worst of all, onto the ground. How could this possibly be a good idea? And surely the photos would be disastrously bad?
But Christine and I talked, soothed and cajoled in each language, Chihuahua, horse and puppy. Christine, for all her small stature, behaved in proper leader of the pack style and did a fair bit of shouting as well. And it seemed to work; because once I printed the photos on some glossy photographic paper they looked ok.
But the real joy, for me, came later when I gave them to Christine, for she LOVED these little mementos of her love for her cherished animal family. I don’t think I have ever done anything before which has ever made someone so happy. And I get such a wonderful feeling inside every time I think of it.
Would you like to take a look?
My pre-breakfast morning walk is a push for power; for a fast-paced, heart-pumping, energizing surge where battling against the wind and weather helps me to reclaim some of the adrenalin driven lifestyle I once had. Yes, I rise when the bats are still following their flight paths home to roost and with a torch strapped to my wrist I meet the day, head-on with music streaming into my unconscious through the headphones of my iPod. I don’t do gentle on this walk, I choose rousing, rhythmic music by the Chemical Brothers, oh, and I walk with David Bowie a lot.
Except today, my iPod won’t work. No sound will come out, nothing. Baffled for a moment as to how I will set my pace without the aid of “Hey girl, hey boy” I try to sing the music in my head. But gradually something else takes over, as my creativity kicks in and shifts and tumbles and multiplies and shifts again as idea after idea comes into my mind. By the time I get home my virtual world has gone into overdrive. In my head I have made a Nasturtium butter, launched a club, designed aprons, pickled nasturtium seeds, made jam, harvested carrots, styled some photos, created a guest list for my Swedish style Little Christmas Eve Party……. the list goes on and on. Trust me; no one day will ever be long enough to achieve all these things. So, here is the question; is being creative a blessing or a curse? Yes, I get lots of things done each day, but there are always so, so many things which remain undone.
One of the lovely things I did get to do was the Nasturtium Butter, it’s quick and easy to make and can be frozen so that you can slice some off when you want to toss some onto some pasta or when you are pan frying chicken. I use an Alice Waters recipe and you can’t really do any better than that, can you? The flavour is subtle, but you get to harvest and preserve the colour and mildly peppery flavour of one of the most lovely, gem-like, prolifically flowering plants; the Nasturtium. The mild Autumn here means that there are still flowers left to pick. Please don’t let them go to waste.
2 teaspoon chopped fresh Thyme
2 teaspoon chopped fresh Italian Parsley
4 tablespoons unsalted butter- soft
The meadow and moors beyond the Cottage Garden are damp and hazy with mist, as the Blackbirds swoop down to peck at fallen apples amongst the piles of rustling autumn leaves. A sudden blustery wind swirls around the house, making the cockerel weather-vane spin, and tugs at the branches of the oak tree, helping it to graciously let go of another flurry of dried, papery leaves. Something about this makes me feel excited and I stand underneath the tree feeling the leaves brush past my face as they fall. The tree is shaking off the old, helping us to prepare for a new season.
It is the time for collecting conkers, for building bonfires and lighting fireworks and firstly, for Halloween. I love styling the house for seasonal events and last weekend I wanted it to feel magical here because I had some really special guests coming around.
Creating décor and working to suit a theme for me is like giving candy to a baby! I had such fun! Then when the guests arrived, we drank Black Velvet cocktails, played old 78’s on my wind-up gramophone and later dined under the toile-like skull lanterns. And my friends loved it!
I so wish that you could have been there. Why not open the door and have a peep inside?
Halloween Supper Menu
An appetiser of Pumpkin soup with Pumpkin oil
An individual tart of caramelised Onions
with Thyme, Olives and Anchovies
Chicken with Charlotte potatoes,
Prunes and Pomegranate molasses
Bread and Butter pudding
The fabulous paper table mats were purchased from a shop called ‘Prey’ in Milsom Place in Bath. The mats come in the form of a tear-off pad and there is a space to write your guests names on them.
And this is no ordinary design. Just take a closer look at the modern twist they have incorporated in their totally original Toile!
Josef the cat is not just for Halloween but is loved and cherished all year round and he only sat on the table when the meal was over (naughty Josef). “No live pumpkins were harmed in the making of this room setting”, although I did use one in the soup 🙂