Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas is coming...

....and the goose fox is getting fat! With the sudden disappearance of Gracie this week I am strict about taking the register every night when I shut up the chicken coop- 
Johns Junior
and Raf 
If only the cunning fellow had consulted me before picking off a plump-breasted juvenile. In a gesture befitting the season I would have willingly sacrificed one of the wheezy old pensioners. Happy Christmas Mr. Fox

To do...

Forget the back of an old envelope. This year, the lovely pre-christmas chaos in my kitchen is festooned with these cute little stickies that I was asked to illustrate, for the fabulous store Anthropologie.

Friday, December 9, 2011

After spending a day in sparkly London last week I have now banished all thoughts of spring (apart from taking seed catalogues to bed with me, but that’s another blog).  The urban mix of chats over coffee, favourite shops and my agent’s christmas party has whipped me into a suitably festive frame of mind. 
There was even a whisper of Christmas next morning back home in Suffolk, as a passing angel paused on top of the christmas tree.... 
...and by Monday, like shepherds to Bethlehem, the entire starling population was a-chatter.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Spring is in the Air

I’m so excited to finally see the Blossom range of stationery, that I worked on with the lovely, New York based Galison back in the spring. Perfectly on cue, outside our front door, the pale pink petals of Prunus Okame are blinking in the crisp, sunlit morning. Under the weeping ash there are flashes of white snowdrops, and a lone primrose has been flowering for weeks unable to contain itself until spring.... so I’m not the only one feeling unseasonably giddy!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Gorgeous commute to the studio this morning. The sun was up early and had already pencilled in these lovely sketches along the way. Not bad for sixty-eight paces.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Ghost Of Major Johns

Last week we said a fond Goodbye to Major Johns. The poor gent had become very wobbly on his pins and was struggling to keep up with his harem. We tried the “He’ll either get better.... or worse” theory, and he got worse.
When wringing a cockerel’s neck it’s important to get it right first time, so we sought the help of a friend, Rob, who has a wide repertoire of techniques to deal with all types of fowl.  Some involve broom handles and fan belts.  In this case it was a straightforward snap.
The Major is succeeded by his son Johns Junior; a glossy green and russet teenager with custard yellow legs. His voice is just breaking into a crow and he is clumsy and impetuous with the girls... no doubt maturity will refine him.
Unexpectedly the Major re-visits us every morning as the dew dries on the flagstones, a shadow of his former self, but he still makes me smile.

Monday, November 21, 2011

An early start...

 in the veg patch, with the rising sun, my favourite fork, and mystified looks from next-door..

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Dash at Dusk

Having met up with friends from Helsinki at the weekend I’m feeling even more grateful for every ounce of daylight we get, despite the shortening days.  However, this doesn’t mean that I’m not caught out when I look up from my desk at 5 pm, light fading, and realise I haven’t picked any sprouts for dinner.  I should really take my cue from the chickens. They are already strutting back to their coop, looking mockingly over their shoulders at me as I scamper in their wake, trug and torch in hand, to the veg patch.... in the half-light again. 

Friday, November 4, 2011


“Half the interest of a garden is the constant exercise of the imagination.  I believe that people entirely devoid of imagination can never be really good gardeners.” Mrs C. W. Earle 1897
There’s nothing like the arrival of a big box of tulip bulbs to get the imagination running riot: all that promise of colour and flounce hidden away under papery brown skins.  Planting them is less compelling, but theraputic. Unearthing chips of pretty china in the process turns the whole exercise into a glorious treasure hunt.
Mulling over the limitless possibilities for mosaic, I came across the amazing Rock Garden created by Nek Chand in India, now there’s an imagination really running riot!

photographs © Iain Jackson

Friday, October 28, 2011

Back to the 80's

Half term presents the perfect opportunity for rationalising cupboard space whilst bracing oneself for a mother-daughter shopping trip.  The former activity unearthed some drawings I did 25(!) years ago, the latter left me feeling like the subject of one of those drawings...

ooooh they didn't have park and ride when I was young
was that my ringtone?
is it me or is it hot in here?
I think a latte and some chocolate tiffin would revive me
I'll sit with the bags while you go and try it on

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ten hens... no eggs

Brrrrr... first frosts this week and nobody's feeling it more than my half dressed chickens.  Tiring of bald patches and empty nest boxes I'm hoping a daily dose of Poultry Spice will perk them up. It comprises, among other things, powdered ginger, turmeric, fenugreek and aniseed.  Mmmn... now they sound like the ingredients for a nice warming squash soup that would perk us all up.

Image adapted from my Kitchen Garden range of cards

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Flower Power

If you're a fan of all things floral, check out Rona Wheeldon's gorgeous Flowerona blog where she's currently featuring some of my flower paintings.  I can guarantee that after a good rummage around her site you'll be nipping straight outside to cut a lovely bunch of dahlias. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Going, Going, Gone

Hot on the heels of the fish van, Saturday romps to a crescendo as the hammer falls at Gaze’s weekly auction.  By 10am all the twenty year old Volvos in East Anglia and the occasional dressed down celebrity have converged on Diss to rummage through a kaleidoscope of collectibles. Juggling tape measure and latte, bacon buttie and bidding card the frenzy begins. It's the most exhilarating form of recycling I can think of, one man's bundle of rusty old tools reinvents itself as the subject of my next painting.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday, Fish-day

There’s a frisson of excitement every Friday morning when the Lowestoft fish van comes to town. Steve, whose eyes are as blue as the ocean, offers fish fresh from the ocean and will happily talk gutting and grilling, while weighing out bloater and bream.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spent a happy few hours in the garden this weekend, it’s looking very “on trend”, layers of contrasting textures with accents in jewel tones....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wedding Anniversary

For those  who remember our wedding day, the weather, if nothing else, will have stuck in your minds. Today’s spirited, autumnal bluster is a pale shadow of the scene twenty-one years ago. I could wax lyrical about marriage...... or I could take my brushes outside and capture the day in colour.

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Under the influence of all this loveliness, almost I am persuaded to love autumn best, and forget a lifelong allegiance to the spring-time of the year. Such infidelity could be brought about by nothing less than a month like this, so wondrously, serenely beautiful."
E.V. Boyle, October 1899

Additional images, William Morris

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One thing led to another...

This weekend, no sooner had I tried to snatch ten comatose minutes on the sofa with a glass of wine than I was seduced by an annoyingly chirpy but captivating demonstation of rosewater distillation on television. Perhaps I should get out more often. 

Something had obviously chimed in me, next morning I found myself gathering rose petals and googling marshmallow recipes. Because once you’ve made rosewater you have to use it to make marshmallows don’t you?  And once you’ve made marshmallows you need a bonfire to toast them over.  

I have forbidden bonfires for the past few weeks because several courgette plants, of a wandering habit had self seeded themselves in the bonfire spoil. Gardening doesn’t get easier than that. Their round, yellow fruits are delicious, sautéed in olive oil or whizzed up in soups. The remainder were tucked in the freezer before the fire was lit.

My rosewater was not very fragrant, I have since learned the best is “triple distilled”. The marshmallows were yummy, and while there was a bonfire smouldering it was silly not to take advantage of it’s heat....
Bonfire Beets with Anchovy Dressing
Serves 4
4-5 beets of roughly equal size (about 1 pound or 450 grams)
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed 
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
Coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Anchovy dressing
2 tablespoons Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
Light the bonfire! Alternatively preheat the oven to 375˚F (190˚C)
Wash and dry the beets well, leaving the roots intact and twisting off the leaves while taking care not to damage the skins. Place the beets on a double layer of heavy-duty aluminium foil, large enough to wrap them securely in a package.
Drizzle the beets with the olive oil, and scatter the garlic, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste over them.
Wrap the foil tightly around the beets and pop the package into the hot embers of the bonfire, remembering it’s location!
Leave for about 1½ hours, until the beets are soft when pierced with a sharp knife. Alternatively bake for about an hour in the oven. Remove the foil package and vent to release steam.
For the dressing: Mix together the Greek yogurt and crème-fraîche. Stir in the anchovies.
When cool enough to handle, rub the skins off the beets and chop them into large chunks. Serve warm or at room temperature with the dressing on the side for dipping.

from "The Painted Garden Cookbook" by Mary Woodin (Running Press)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Pictures from my palette

The nooks and crannies of cavolo nero and the magenta splashed pods of borlotti beans are a watercolourist's dream.
"He must have a poor eye for beauty who has not observed how much of it there is in the form and colour which cabbages and other plants of that genus exhibit through the various stages of growth and decay." William Wordsworth

Monday, September 19, 2011

To all you Radio 4 Archers' Fans..... you know who you are!

Well, I for one have been tuned in to the Archers’ for as long as Angela Piper has been playing Jennifer Aldridge (if being rocked in a pram to the signature tune counts!), so I was thrilled when a few months ago, Angela asked me to provide some illustrations for her new cookbook.  
And here it is at last, Jennifer Aldridge’s Archers' Country Kitchen, written by Angela Piper (published by David & Charles), a fascinating scrapbook of recipes and musings gleaned from the many and varied kitchens of Ambridge. 
Take a trip down memory lane with dishes from Doris Archer, Nelson Gabriel and Marjorie Antrobus, try out Clarrie's frugal family fare or pull off an impressive supper that Jennifer might serve with a flourish to out-class the (related only by marriage!) Carters.  
I've already made a start on Jean-Paul’s Green Tomato Jam.  My outdoor tomatoes have stubbornly refused to ripen during our "typical" British summer but thanks to the frenchman's flair they are now well on their way to being transformed into a delicious condiment.  Cinderella shall go to the ball!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Autumn arrived this week in the form of punishing gusts and heavy downpours. It has left the garden teetering towards the horizontal; picking raspberries is now a hands and knees job and a row of bean poles has been completely flattened.

The chickens too are looking disheveled, like battered feathery hats that have been languishing at the bottom of the dressing-up box for too long. Major Johns, the cockerel, is running around half-naked, minus his glossy tail feathers and his fluffy black breeches, accusing me with his beady eye, of having hidden his trousers.

I’m only glad I staked the dahlias well. They’re standing impeccably straight and tall, commanding the flower border like stout matrons in gaily coloured overalls. A big bunch of their starry blooms, purple, deep coral, magenta and party pink accompanies me in the kitchen while clad in my coloured apron I deal with piles of beans, raspberries, cucumbers, plums and crabapples.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

......talking of quick and easy snacks, someone has just snaffled a whole row of lettuce seedlings with impressive stealth and speed.
Who me?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Still wondering what to do with the last of the plum crop?  ...and wondering what to do with the kids in the last few days of the school holidays?  Here's a quick and easy recipe from my Painted Garden Cookbook (Running Press)

Hot Cross Kebabs

The origin of this recipe was a hastily engineered dessert of leftover hot cross buns and a bowl of freshly picked plums. As a rule, anything served on a stick generates an extra level of expectation in our house, and this yummy treat of warm, juicy, spiced plums and toasty currant croutons did not disappoint. 

Serves 4

8 large plums

1/4 cup (60 ml) maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 hot cross buns

1/4 cup (60 ml) sunflower oil

Plain Greek-style yogurt for serving

Preheat the oven 400º F (200º C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Halve the plums to remove the stones, and then quarter the flesh. Combine the plum quarters in a large bowl with the maple syrup and the spices, and stir to coat evenly.
Cut each bun into 8 cubes, then toss the chunks in another large bowl with the sunflower oil. Thread the pieces of plum and bun on 4 metal skewers, alternating between 2 pieces of fruit and 1 piece of bun.
Place the skewers on the prepared baking sheet, drizzle over any remaining spiced maple syrup, and bake for 10 minutes, turning once, until the plums look juicy and the bread is golden-brown. Allow to cool slightly.
Serve the kebabs, scraping every last drop of gooey syrup off the parchment, with a dollop of creamy Greek-style yogurt.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Bank holiday bliss, with my tin snips, margarine tubs and wood primer, fashioning a little bit of shabby garden chic.