Friday, December 12, 2014

Bah, humbug!

"On the motionless branches of some trees, autumn berries hung like clusters of coral beads, 
as in those fabled orchards where the fruits were jewels.." 

Charles Dickens 1812-1870


Amidst the jangling consumerism that has hijacked Christmas I am as content as Mr. and Mrs. Blackbird to simply enjoy the garlands of berries that festoon the view through my studio window.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Popping out for some veg

Recently I heard the inspirational Camila Batmanghelidjh interviewed on the radio.

Peppered in with more serious matters she mentioned that when she meets anyone for the first time she always categorises them in her mind as a vegetable. 

Well, we all have our own eccentricities! 

Don't you think she screams "aubergine"?
(Yes I know it's technically a fruit)

I was on the train home from London last night doodling fellow travellers. As I looked up and down the aisle I could well have been filling my basket at the greengrocers… 

What do you think of my selection?

Monday, December 1, 2014

A nip in the air

This autumn has been so mild, I still have geraniums in flower, salad leaves in the greenhouse, the odd rose determined to bloom and the occasional raspberry to pick.
But last week we had our first overnight frost and that always feels like the beginning of winter.  

The dahlias were blackened, their starry bursts of colour and peppery scent reduced to a memory. The sunflowers suffered shipwreck, although I won’t be cutting them down just yet. They’re still popular with the birds who twizzle round the broken masts pecking every last kernel from their stripy casings.

This weekend it was considerably warmer. Damp hung in the air neither falling nor ceasing, merely shifting the world quite beautifully out of focus. So I put on my boots.

I cut down the dahlias and gave them a good mulch. I squelched up to the veg garden. I put wood ash round the shallots and garlic, picked celery and pulled carrots and rescued some very overgrown beetroot... which would surely still be fine for chutney?  

In its favour the frost has eradicated the caterpillars from my brassicas. Like a gruesome game of pass-the-parcel I was beginning to tire of preparing cabbage only to find ugly forfeits tucked into the outer leaves.  

I’d also had my eye on some rose hips for weeks. There are still plenty in the hedgerows, enough for me and the local wildlife I concluded. 
So after an hour with my secateurs I’m all set to make my secret ingredient... and to contemplate those burly beetroot!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Anyone for a game of Scrabble?

For over one hundred competitors at the World Scrabble tournament in London, that was the perfect way to spend a rainy November weekend. 

For me, in between showers, I stored away my summer squash. 
I’m not sure my letters would have got me very far in the tournament but hey, I do like to have an ‘s’ up my sleeve for plurals! 

Disclaimer - 
No jiggery pokery or photoshop was used to create these contorted fruits, they just grow like that!

Officially a courgette, ‘Tromboncino’ can be eaten small and young, just like any other courgette. What a shame though. Rather, leave them to scramble away until the autumn and you will reap massive, thick skinned fruits with tasty dense flesh and just a smattering of seeds in the bulbous end. 

Stored in the cool and dry my crop will keep us in soup all winter.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


…by A.A. Milne

"I think I am a Muffin Man. I haven't got a bell, 
I haven't got the muffin things that muffin people sell. 

Perhaps I am a Postman. No, I think I am a Tram. 
I'm feeling rather funny and I don't know what I am — "

I think I am a squirrel. I haven’t got a nut
Perhaps I am a butcher with lots of meat to cut.

I have one and a half pigs lying on my kitchen table. Mostly chopped up by a real butcher. Errr, kidney, ears, heart, tongue? Freeze now, worry later. Wot, no snout?

No I think I am a chef.

Deboned a huge ham and minced up great slabs of slippery liver to made lovely garlicky country pate.

I think I am a sous chef, 
Working for the chef.

Put a couple of trotters and that big ham bone (from the pig with a limp) into the biggest stock pot I own and simmered overnight for broth.

Perhaps I am a vet who is visiting for a limp.

Deconstructed the pig’s knee joint as I was straining my stock. 
Aha, found a cluster of bone spurs - little bony growths that inhibit the smooth movement of the joint.
(I would not ordinarily have been so fascinated but I have just illustrated an arthritic knee for a cookery book.)
Froze pots and pots of stock and supped restorative broth for lunch.

No I think I am a seamstress.

Off to the Haberdashers to buy muslin to wrap up an arthritic ham for air drying. 

I’m feeling rather funny and I don’t know what I am!

Friday, November 14, 2014

In my Farmhouse Garden

“The garden is never dead, growth is always going on and growth that can be seen, and seen with delight.” 
Canon H. Ellacombe  (In my Vicarage Garden and Elswhere. 1901)

Flecks of buttery yellow and russet, splashes of crimson and sherbet greens. 
Poised against the grey sky, the sagging bunting is reluctant to loose its grip 
but is already being elbowed out by next spring’s cheeky pink buds.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Easy peas-y soup

Sometimes the sluggard in me triumphs.

I didn’t want to head out into the rain to tug at caterpillar riddled greens or scrub muddy roots.

I just fancied a nice comforting lunch. 

Instead I slunk to the freezer for inspiration and in the frosty depths found the tail end of last year’s pig, 
(no, not literally the tail... bacon stock and gammon) and a bag of peas. 

I whizzed the peas into the stock, threw in a handful of gammon scraps and some fresh thyme. Delicious. 

Only 99% smug though. I really should have grown the peas!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

This and That

This is a tale about a box of grimy, wooden picture frames that I picked up at the local auction two and a half years ago. 
They have been sat under my desk ever since but I always knew they would come in useful some day. 

Sunday was that day. 
It was a grey, dreary, damp day and it was my birthday.

I received three delightful cards from my three children. 
That made me immeasurably happy. 

Time to get out that box.

After a quick dust, a lick of paint, some waxing with a soft cloth and a final polish, 
my cards looked deservedly well dressed. 

And that’s that.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Not for the squeamish!

At exactly the same time that my husband was limping around waiting for a knee replacement operation earlier this year, I was serendipitously commissioned to illustrate a book called “Nourishing Broth” by Sally Fallon Morell, “the definitive cookbook that can help you treat symptoms of autoimmune disorders, infectious diseases, digestive problems and other chronic ailments”.

It made fascinating reading and was definitely a first for me as far as painting gristle is concerned!

“Most people know cartilage as gristle. It’s the blob on the bone of a T-bone steak, the globs on chicken drumsticks”. 

I learnt all about boiling up bones for minerals, which in turn keep our own bones strong, marrow, which is important for stem cell regeneration and gelatin which is obtained from boiling up skin, cartilage, tendons, and ligaments. (Hmm, not your average cookbook ingredients, but worth reading on I assure you).  
I now understand that gelatin provides amino acids that the body needs to make connective tissue, i.e. all the bits that hold the body together. Perfect for an arthritic knee! 

At the risk of sounding like a school text book I even got to draw pretty pictures of glycoproteins and connective tissues.

This is all very pertinent, as the pigs are booked to go to the abattoir on Thursday and I’m busy making important decisions as to how I’d like them butchered and do I want the trotters and heads? 
Well, if only for the sake of a post operative knee I think I should boil up anything and everything!

Friday, October 24, 2014

"Earth laughs in flowers" Ralph Waldo Emerson

In which case, I imagine these sunflowers would be a resounding guffaw, enough to cheer any grey Friday!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

"Happy as a pig in muck"

I don't know who was more content at the weekend. 

Me, weeding the veg patch; pulling up spent cabbage stalks, slaying thistles, dismantling bean poles and picking apples. 

Or the pigs, who got to scoff the tasty leftovers. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Summery Summary

October is a see-saw month, decay and germination going hand in hand. 

Apart from the courgettes, resolutely producing tiny new fruits, summer crops are coming to an exausted end. 
(I am not cross with the courgettes. I know they are an emotive subject but I have honestly enjoyed sneaking them into all my sauces and curries over the summer!)

Contrary to the desire to slacken the pace though, there’s garlic, shallots, beans and winter salads to be sown, at the very least. 
If I dare to sit down for a few minutes and glance at the gardening section of the weekend papers my 'TO DO' list puts on new growth accordingly.

So, sneakily just before the weekend, here’s a snapshot of some of that lovely summer produce. 

And tomorrow I’ll tackle that list!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Dragonfly tea

A few months ago I worked on a new packaging project for Dragonfly tea.

See if you can catch glimpse of iridescent wings hovering in the tea aisle during your weekly shop!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The New Term

A week ago I took my daughter to Uni. 
She’s studying Illustration in sunny Brighton. 
She is sharing a house with six first year art students. 
The upheaval has temporarily taken its toll on my sanity.

Why was I sanding down an old chest of drawers for her the day before departure? 
And why hadn’t her washing been done sooner?

I can still only manage short sentences.
But it has been a learning curve, so here are my tips on what to take and what not to leave behind.

Succulents and potted herbs are fundamental, don’t argue.

Clothes pegs have many uses and have assisted mankind for over 150 years. Don’t let any student tell you they’ve been superceeded by an App.

Empty nutella jars will be very handy for keeping leftovers in the shared fridge. And a house full of art students should have some fancy pens between them for labelling the little snap on lids. 

Don’t worry about seeming to be eccentric... sneak in a tray of home-grown apples, courgettes, carrots, garlic, onions, home-made jam, chutney, fragrant plum sauce and crabapple and chilli jelly. It WILL be appreciated because it’s FREE.

Check the clothes dryer before you set off. 
(Today in a gesture of unconditional love, I have searched for, found, packed up and posted underwear!)

Break your journey at IKEA. It is integral to the rite of passage... even if you only buy another plant, over door hooks and a toilet brush.

If you can, also stop off at the grandparents en route. They will love being involved in this exciting stage of their granddaughter’s life. It also means you can borrow a duvet when your daughter’s own is inexplicably still lying on her bed at home.

And finally, when you arrive at the house, be prepared to do the lion’s share of carrying boxes and A1 portfolios up to the top floor. After all your daughter will need time to get her succulents arranged on the shabby chic chest of drawers!

Thursday, September 25, 2014


"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers" Claude Monet

…and then when their petals have fallen, 
aren't seed heads just as compelling?

Friday, September 12, 2014

London Fashion Week… for Chickens

Hello, I’m Peggy MBE *

To coincide with London Fashion Week I’m proud to unveil my latest plumage. When I arrived at Mary’s coop some weeks ago I’ll admit that after a year of barn life with no direct sunlight I was due for a bit of a makeover.

Hulanicki, (who's a bit of a diva), was only too eager to rise to the challenge of giving me a few styling tips. She's quite a stunner. Passionate about the black and white Op art of the sixties, she can carry off shockingly bold designs with her slim figure and catwalk swagger. 

For me, fortunately, she toned things down a bit. I’m at that stage in life where a 'tunic to cover the tummy' is so much more flattering. Call it real fashion, for real fowl.

So, tah dah... I hope you like my textured layers, topped off with cheeky dip-dyed tail feathers! 

…job well done!

* I am named in memory of a dear friend. Peggy had been awarded an MBE for a lifetime of fundraising for sick children. 
Mine too is for services to the community... an egg a day for as long as I can remember.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

I Love Allotments

Earlier this summer I jumped at the invitation to visit a friend’s community allotment open day.
The sunny slope was like an intricate patchwork quilt. 
Colourful annuals were embroidered between rows of neatly weeded leeks.

Lolling cardoons danced around a chic scarecrow-ess, while abandoned courgettes, with their heavily swollen bellies, eyed the vigour of neighbouring climbing beans.

There were favourite nooks for private thoughts,

blue water butts hugging precious rainfall,

 lots of little sheds full of treasured garden tools,

and contentment written on absolutely everyone’s face!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


How did we so quickly tumble into September? 

Carrots, sweetcorn, lettuce, beans, courgette, cucumber and plums, the succulent currency of August, 
has been exchanged for Autumn’s apples and blackberries. 

 The drone of heavy farm machinery competes with approaching thunderclouds as summer is rolled swiftly away. 

Rural idyll? 

Two buzzards were calling to each other last night; an extraordinary experience and an extraordinary sound, but every thirty-five seconds for two hours?  As I lay awake, I was wondering how I could most accurately describe the hullabaloo they were making. Imagine a terrier chewing on a squeaky toy and you’re somewhere close. 

Sweet dreams!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bin Day

“Happiness is a by-product of absorption”. T E Lawrence

I’ve just been messing around with some ghastly plastic tubs from the recycling bin
 and a few wooden slats from a rotting garden chair. 

I have been very absorbed...

...and my carrots are delighted with their Victoriana makeover.

Who’d have thought so much happiness was lingering in the bin!