Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My new twitter account!

Well I had thought that by sneaking off to my studio at 7.30 on Saturday morning I would be guaranteed some peace and quiet to catch up on some deadlines.  It started off well.  Just me and a soulful cello sonata on the radio.
Then the announcer declared it was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch weekend. My studio sits rather like a hide in the middle of our garden and my desk faces the window so I was perfectly placed to join in the survey. I simply had to jot down all the garden birds, on the RSPB list, that I saw in one hour. Easy, I could paint and keep an eye and an ear open at the same time.
As the sun rose two opinionated mallards insisted on settling a noisy and lengthy argument on the pond. Then two hundred chattering fieldfares stopped by on the Dawn Redwood to discuss their day in great detail while a couple of blue tits showed off deft pirouettes on the contorted willow. Chickens didn’t count, but they were zipping back and forth across the lawn desperate to be involved, causing me to look up needlessly from my palette. I heard two collared doves romancing one another in the seclusion of the beech hedge. Quite charming, except that got me singing, I’m embarrassed to say, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”...... four calling birds, three french hens, two turtle doves. Watch out it’s a catchy tune!
Frankly I was quite glad when the hour was up. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A spring in my step

Blue skies, warm sun and the watertight tread of new wellies; what more does a girl need? Perfect conditions under which to acquaint myself with the wonders of winter!  With an approving nod from the snowdrops I set about unscrambling overgrown clematis, exposing brick walls, peeping under cloches, and playing hide and seek with an errant hen. 

Friday, January 20, 2012


“Must grow more winter veg” is my mantra as my head hits the pillow after another late night session with the seed catalogue. It’s all very well picking sprouts, Swiss chard and cavolo nero every day but it wouldn’t it be nice to intersperse our diet with sweet fleshed parsnips and aromatic leeks? 

I'm a bit of a purist where Brussels sprouts are concerned. As long as they are really fresh, I adore them simply steamed. However, I've been picking the best stalks first and those that are left are looking increasingly scruffy. Instead of serving them as an apologetic heap they're better suited to shredding into stir fries, sautéing with a splash of cream, roasted garlic and black pepper or being given the chorizo treatment.....

Serves 4

12oz/300g Brussels sprouts (fluffy ones or sprout tops are ideal)
4oz/100g good quality semi-cured chorizo (casings removed)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper (optional)

Thinly slice the Brussels sprouts. Cut the chorizo into ½ inch chunks.
Set a large skillet over a high heat. Add the chorizo and sauté until the fat starts to render. Add the sliced sprouts and stir well to combine. Cover and reduce the heat to a moderate level, and cook for about 5 minutes. Give the pan a shake now and then to ensure even cooking, and lift the lid to make sure the sprouts are not overcooked. If they are beginning to stick to the pan, add a couple of tablespoons of water. They should be cooked through but not soggy.
The sprouts may not need any further seasoning if the chorizo was good and spicy, but taste, and add salt and pepper if necessary.

From The Painted Garden Cookbook (Running Press)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Once I've rigorously sorted through this lot....

...I guess I'll be whittling down my seed wish-list. On the other hand, it’s always fun to grow something new, especially as we’re planning to double the size of the veg patch this year.

Our “funnest” crop last season was strawberry popcorn, inspired by some tiny bags of gourmet popcorn that Father Christmas found in our local deli. They tucked neatly into the toe of my son's christmas stocking, providing a healthy surprise that no amount of midnight prodding could fathom. The real surprise, however, came when we popped it... soft, creamy, melt in the mouth, utterly delicious, absolutely gourmet.

And beautiful. The tiny strawberry shaped cobs dry to a deep shiny red, each kernel glinting like a droplet of Murano glass. If only I’d grown more we could have used them to decorate the christmas tree too!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Top Secret

One of my favourite commissions this Christmas was to paint a well loved selection of old woodworking tools that had belonged to a friend’s grandfather. Darren fleetingly mentioned back in the summer that I might like to rummage around in the dusty old boxes that were stowed away somewhere at his parent’s house. Now that’s an invitation I can’t pass by! 

However, summer came and went and nothing was mentioned until the autumn when Helen, Darren’s wife, came to me in secret with a brainwave for his Christmas present. She masterminded an undercover mission to retrieve said tools from the in-laws and deliver them to my studio where I could lose myself in the time-worn crevasses of these wonderful characters.

Dream job!! And Darren was pretty chuffed on Christmas day too.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

It's usually with a sigh of relief that we shoo all the Christmas paraphernalia out of the house on the 6th of January, but this year I'm really going to miss the winter wonderland that my scissor happy children created around the fireplace. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year

Just when I thought it was safe to spend a few more evenings by the fire with a pile of seed catalogues, cosily engaged in some armchair gardening, my computer is bombarding me with ambitious suggestions of jobs that could be tackled in the garden in January. I don’t have a blanket of snow as an excuse but fortunately rain is forecast and gale force winds are gathering pace, so, until I have narrowed down my seed choices to a realistic selection, I am content to hunker down and contemplate the emerging winter growth at a distance.

"To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears".
William Wordsworth

Image from The Painted Garden a Year in Words and Watercolours, Running Press