29 July 2009

lunch date

Last Friday, we celebrated Rachel's birthday with lunch in the Petersham Nurseries Cafe. While we both visit the Teahouse regularly, a visit to the Cafe is a special treat.

We started with Parma Ham, Torn Flat Peaches, Heritage Tomatoes, and Basil Oil. While completely new to me, flat (donut) peaches are apparently quite trendy now. 

For dessert, Rachel ordered the Chocolate Mousse with Ginger Caramel and Jersey Cream. I ordered the Strawberry Ice Cream, pink scoops piled high in a pale green Moroccan tea glass. Heavenly!

Meanwhile, storm clouds had been gathering outside, and by the time our first dishes arrived, the sky was completely black. Lashings of rain and rumbles of thunder followed, one rumble so intense it shook the flowers from an overhead vine. The waitstaff quickly closed the vents in the glass roof and dashed about in waterproof jackets (there's a small gap between the kitchen and the Cafe), and our dessert dishes arrived spotted with raindrops. All very dramatic!

After lunch, while waiting for the weather to clear, we wandered through the shop, where Rachel discovered a bottle of Hydrangea Colourant. So perhaps I can have purply-blue hydrangeas after all:

A magical and memorable day...

despite, or maybe even partly on account of, this summer's crazy weather!

27 July 2009

daylesford day, part two

Last Wednesday, we drove out to Gloucestershire for our second organic gardening class at Daylesford Organic's Farm School. There was a bit of damp and drizzle, but I was prepared this time with multiple layers and my wellies!

As before, the class was held in the rustic-chic Cotswold Stone kitchen that had been part of Daylesford's Summer Solstice Garden at the 2008 Chelsea Flower Show:

After a fab advice-filled session round the table, we headed out into the fields,

and then into the polytunnels,

where Jez assembled trays of seedlings for us to take home and plant out in our own allotments/gardens:

The heady scent in the herb polytunnel--the last tunnel on our visit--put us in the mood for lunch, which was once again fresh, simple, just perfect. 

We had a very quick buzz round the Farmshop and picked up a few goodies...

before heading home to plant out our seedlings, which do seem to be thriving in all this rain!

20 July 2009

beside the seaside, part two

I usually book our annual seaside holiday for September. Booking off-season seems the sensible thing to do: more reasonable prices, fewer crowds, and often (fingers crossed) lovely weather.

But then in July and August, when it seems everyone else has gone away, I start to feel rather restless. So this year I'm assembling my new Springbok Seashells puzzle...

for a virtual in-season vacation!

18 July 2009

new from old

While in Norfolk at the end of April, we stopped by one of my very favorite shops, Old Town in Holt.

Being so happy with my Bungalow Dress, I was keen to try a Jaywick Smock. It was love at first fitting! So I placed my order with Miss Willey, seen here hard at work with her iron:

All Old Town clothing is made to order, so it was quite a few weeks before my paper-wrapped parcel arrived. But the contents were worth the wait:

Old Town prides itself on producing traditional British workwear, so I envisioned wearing my new smocks for house and garden work...

but now I'm thinking they're just too nice for that!

13 July 2009

more pottering in petersham

The sun finally returned on Sunday, making it a perfect day for pottering in Petersham. G and I walked along the river to the Nurseries, so we were quite peckish by the time we arrived:

Revived by lunch and a slice of super-moist, super-lemony cake, we had a wander through the outdoor displays...

and into the greenhouses, where we saw a real agapanthus just like the silk one in Betty Beetle's bud vase,

hydrangeas in my favorite hydrangea color,

fantastically fuzzy peaches,

and, of course, those fabulous Petersham displays that can make even the oldest shutters...

and most prosaic buckets...

seem oh-so-very desirable!

11 July 2009

one down

Until now, I've been passionately devoted to The New York Times crossword. It's been a non-negotiable part of my morning routine.

When David Sedaris noted he was spending a fortune on the International Herald-Tribune (the global edition of The New York Times) just to get his daily crossword fix in Paris, I completely understood.

But while I was home in America, a new series of crossword books from The New York Sun caught my eye. And I think it's easy to see why:

These aren't foodie puzzles--just ordinary crosswords--but I'm actually (and I know this is sacrilege) enjoying them even more than their NYT counterparts.

They progress in the same way through the week: from super easy Mondays to virtually impossible Fridays. I stick with Tuesday through Thursday...

but maybe someday I'll reach the Holy Grail of Friday...

particularly if a chocolate bread pudding comes as part of the deal!

10 July 2009

gorgeous gooseberry

I was hoping for blue skies for my Gooseberry Ice Cream photo shoot, but we seem to be having nothing but gray lately. Then again, this fantastically tart ice cream could liven up even the grayest day:

This year, I used the recipe from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's The River Cottage Year, which I definitely prefer to the recipe I used last year. It was a bit more work, but completely worth it. The most difficult part was actually picking the gooseberries: those thorns are vicious!

We had quite a big crop this year, so I've also frozen two kilos for later use. After a few hours in the freezer, the gooseberries roll around like big green marbles. Fabulous fun...or perhaps I'm just too easily entertained!

08 July 2009

valentine's day

My favorite cheeky chef, Valentine Warner, is back on BBC Two with another series of What to Eat Now:

I've been eagerly awaiting his return for months now. He's simply scrumptious, even if I'm not so keen on grilled lamb's liver...

06 July 2009

flower power

Finally, a recipe from Waitrose Food Illustrated to get excited about: Elderflower Cakes with Whipped Mascarpone Icing.

The cakes were lovely: light and airy with just the right amount of elderflower flavor. And the whipped mascarpone and elderflower icing was divine.

The recipe only makes eight, but it seems you could increase the quantities to make a dozen. There was definitely more than enough icing. Then again, the icing was so good, it was quite tempting to eat spoonfuls right from the bowl!

05 July 2009

silky skeins

Debbie Bliss' Pure Silk is splendiferous...

and even more so when it's in the John Lewis Clearance!

02 July 2009

daylesford day

Last Friday, we drove to Gloucestershire for a gardening course at Daylesford Organic's new Farm School.

The Daylesford Foundation has just launched a series of courses in cooperation with the Soil Association, covering everything from organic gardening to beekeeping to setting up and managing a full-on smallholding.

The Daylesford Farmshop and Cafe were just as beautiful as you'd expect:

But it wasn't all aesthetics: the course was fantastic. As there were only three of us that day, market gardener Jez Taylor (on the right, with G) tailored the course to our personal requirements. We told him about our allotment, and he provided us with detailed, practical advice and strategies. And his enthusiasm was simply contagious!

The day was cold and wet: an unwelcome break in the heat wave. But we still managed a complete tour of the extensive fields and polytunnels...

where we ran into one of the Daylesford chefs. And indeed, our lunch in the Cafe afterwards was lovely. The offerings were simple, yet so flavorful and beautifully presented, just like everything in the Farmshop:

Jez gave us a tray of salad seedlings and a few cuttings to take home, which we planted in the gaps on our plot. Now looking forward to the July gardening course, and keeping our fingers crossed for sun!

01 July 2009

puzzling parasols

Fewer pieces mean quicker assembly, which means another completed Springbok!

Perhaps I could get used to 500 (rather than 1000-plus) pieces. Particularly as I fear my brain is becoming rather addled by the heat.

In fact, a Japanese umbrella would be quite handy right about now: the perfect sun shade for walking to and from the allotments...