"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
Tip toe through the tulips
17 April 2015
The week in December that I spent almost double pushing several hundred tulips and alliums far into the ground to prevent squirrel digging was all so worth it. Each morning, coffee in hand, I`m outside inspecting the day`s new blooms. The tulips are first , and I can almost see them growing as vivid pink and raspberry rippled flower cups unfold in the sun on smooth lime green elegant stems .
The Saturday Olhao market is in itself a wondrous gem. Yet amongst the makeshift counters and shady awnings it`s the one-offs ,a simple woven basket of glossy fresh white eggs or a bundle of roughly tied herbs from the seller`s garden that are the most special, at least, for me. A posy of wild flowers, dunked haphazardly in a plastic washing up bowl is everyday, yet artful and intimate, far from the supermarket `mixed seasonal bunch` . The creators of Olhao`s market couture tend to be the beady eyed older ladies whose stock is less plentiful, and bountiful then some others, but they sure know how to make a few oranges rock on a bed of shiny green leaves.
Daisies, and snails.
Buy a bundle of bay leaves - so good for flavouring meat and fish stews.
Petite piri piri peppers are packed with fiery energy. Be prepared. NB And are even more dangerous if you buy them in jars dried and crushed.
I still use the Elna sewing machine my parents gave me for my 21st birthday many moons ago. And now my own daughter is 21, it feels good to run up a birthday cushion. I use remnants of vibrant fuschia pink cotton velvet by Manuel Canovas left over from a shoot. This should make a glamorous shot of colour in Gracie`s attic student house bedroom, I think. My skills at embroidery are wanting, but I can do simple running stitch to make a personalised label. And it`s good to know that I`m passing on the sewing bug because her friends have clubbed together to give her a sewing machine, too.
And as with every birthday in our household there`s chocolate cake . NB 21 Candles were lit and blown out later.
Festive greetings and wishes for a healthy and happy New Year to all my blog readers .
I haven`t forgotten the recipe for the cheesiest biscuits ( in the taste sense )to rustle up over the holiday. Adapted via Prue Leith`s Cookery Bible (every kitchen should have one) the recipe is easy on kitchen skills. If made a couple of days in advance and stored in a tin, it is useful to crisp the biscuits in a warm oven for a few minutes to bring out the flavour . Or chill the biscuit dough in the fridge, ready for rolling out and baking some tasty snacks for a last minute get together.
225g plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper
225 gruyere , pecorino, or strong cheddar, grated
2 tablespoons English mustard
3 teaspoons paprika
Preheat the oven to 190C. Line a couple of baking sheets with greaseproof paper.
Put the flour and into a bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture is like breadcrumbs.
Add the cheese, salt, pepper, mustard, paprika and egg to bind. Make a paste and roll into a ball.
Roll out on a floured board, or, for less mess, between two sheets of greaseproof paper to a 5mm thickness. Cut into squares, ( or rounds, or rectangles or whatever shape you want) and brush the remaining egg.
Bake for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Leave to cool on a wire rack.
Two hours in the seething crowds on Oxford Street and its environs: I`m spent. The frisson of buy- it -now mania has brought on shopper`s block . Gimme a pink rose from the garden and a box of Chocolate Bendicks mints for sanity.
Wake up in Somerset to the first frost whites. Spend a happy half hour at Kimber`s farm shop stocking up with current cheese passion Godminster organic cheddar and a food parcel with local minced lamb for student daughter, who later posts the moussaka she has rustled up. Tres resouceful of her.
An uplifting shoot at the house with beautiful crafted made-in-Britain pieces. I would so very much like to kidnap the ash and chestnut Shake cabinet by Sebastian Cox and keep it in my bedroom for ever.
Thinking about christmas baking which will include the usual chocolate and chestnut cake, and my new favourite savoury: crispy gouda biscuits from a recipe in Prue Leith. I will post a shot next week from an up and coming batch if they haven`t been gobbled up. Chocolate and chestnut cake
400g peeled chestnuts chopped;125g caster sufar; 125g chocolate min 70% cocoa solids; 100g butter
for icing: 125g chocolate as above; 15g butter; 15ml fresh orange juice; 15m; grated orange rind
Process peeled chestnuts and sugar until smooth. Melt chocolate and butter in a saucepan. Add chestnut/sugar paste and mix until smooth. Turn into a greased cake tin and chill in the fridge overnight.
Like unclogging bristle brushes under the tap, a 12 hour deluge flushes the last leaves from the trees. They join a golden tide coursing through the roads and gardens of Tulse Hill. Bulb planting is an unpopular option for the moment and I escape to Emily Carr`s rhythmical brush strokes of the Canadian forest at The Dulwich Picture Gallery. I also visit RIBA and Edwin Smith`s black and white photographs of the beauty in ordinary subjects: a bench overtaken by a nettles or the graphic ridges and furrows of a Norfolk field .
Autumn fashion: the corduroy trousers of childhood with elastic waistbands, and, later on earnest student males in sagging corduroy jackets turned
me off the material for years. I now appreciate its comfortable sensible qualities and find it amusing that my new cords for
autumn are `sexy boyfriend` ones. If only.
More autumn garden things: stray rose blooms; dried spikes of nut brown cardoons; busy robins and blackbirds stabbing at worms, and the country in the city earth rot smells of sopping grass and moulding leaves. .
My mother’s coffee cake was as much a part
of childhood as the roast on Sunday.
died fifteen years ago
and I haven’t
been able to pin down the coffee-flavoured
and textures until last
weekend when I downloaded
Cloake’s Perfect coffee and walnut cake. Apart from my mum`s touch,
I think the light brown sugar element is what was missing in my previous attempts.
Here is the recipe with a few tweaks, and
sans walnuts because I prefer
my coffee cake without .
It was the pudding queen at a family get-together
in my `secret
shed` glowing with candlelight at the bottom of the garden. Basically I dressed up
the garden shed with candles and tea lights in jam jars, spread the table with a white cloth and unwound a cable from the house for a heater. It was snug and good to be semi-outsde on a
dark autumn evening.
Heat oven to 180C and grease and line the
bases of 2x20cm cake tins
Mix the coffee with ltbsp boiling water and
leave to cool.
Beat the butter and sugar together until
light and fluffy. Add the egg mixture. Once incorporated sift in the flour ,
baking powder and salt and fold in with a large metal spoon, adding the coffee,
Divide the batter between the tins, if very
stiff add a little mili. Bake for 25minutes . Cool for 10 minutes in the tins
and put on a wire rack to finish cooling.
2tbsp coffee with ltbsp boiling water and leave to cool.
Beat the butter until soft, sift in the
sugar, salt and add the coffee and cream. Stir until fluffy and smooth.
Spread one cake with
just under half of the icing, and place the other
cake on top. Spread the remaining icing on top.
Olhao council has some grim proposals for `modernisation` including the removal of
calcada cobbles, see below, in favour of shopping mall style smooth grey slabs and seafront lighting all football floodlight bright. It is easy to destroy centuries worth of beautiful detailing when there`re millions in the bank combined with inappropriate architectural plans and ill-informed Council types. I have sent my objections together with everyone in the Olhao community who wishes to keep it`s visual spirit which is what makes this little town so human and special.
I understand how it is easy to fall into a depression after the completion of an intensive project(school exams the exception). It`s all over, what to do next? I delivered my Pure Colour book a few weeks ago and felt stunned for a few days. But as someone who is always keen to curl up with a glass of wine and a good read, or catch up on films and generally reward myself with art, food and natural beauty, I have avoided a pit of despondency. Rather there is a feeling of relief, almost disbelief that I got to the finishing line and everything is in the bag.
The Indian summer autumn this year is as vivid as the hyper-coloured dreams I experienced during the putting together of the book A kind of affirmation that there is brilliance and beauty in the everyday, and how we need look no further than a view from the window to see a spectacular blue sky or trees with fluttering leaves in reds and pinks and golds.
On Halloween I ditched the pumpkins and eerie candlight for a swim at the Lido. Sparkling blue water (tres bracing I must admit) and sunbathing in 21C made it seem more Miami than Brixton beach. Mixed muddly climate change conditions or typical unpredictable English island weather?
got to see Mr Turner, funny, enlightening and as (almost) visually beautiful as the paintings at The late Turner exhibition at the Tate. I also recommend the dancing and rhythms in Northern Soul,
Nature is so much more interesting than reading that the John Lewis Christmas ad is out. This morning it was the first frost and tonight it will be full moon. First thing I pull on a sweater over my nightie and go out into the garden all autumn damp and with an earthy country smell to snap the frosted leaves and jam jar night lights on the table by the shed.
Sorry for the silence but I have been pushing on with my new book and have a deadline for end of September! Yes that`s me out there with camera slung round my neck,. sun hat, glasses (can`t focus through view finder without) ruck sack , notebook, tomato bun . We`ve been all over the place my camera and me , and next week we`re at home in London where I`m painting and shooting more gorgeous colour inspiration. I am moored to the keyboard, but food breaks are not neglected- the only demand is that ideas are simple and easy to prepare.
Peach puree is a favourite: Peel 5 or six large peaches, stone and slice and put in a saucepan with enough water to cover. Add two or three tablespoons of sugar and juice of half a lemon. Simmer for 5 to 10m minutes. Cool, blend and refrigerate until use. Decorate with a scented geranium leaf, or not if you don`t have, and pour over ice cream for a delectable summer pudding.
Have just said good bye to beach style for the season.... home to grey London skies I suspect.
Head down and chasing ideas and making pictures for my new book about
colour. We have a publisher , hooray, and it will be on the shelves next
spring. In between, sensual respite for a few days in Olhao. Soaking up
the sun and splashing in first swim of the year sea . So cool and
invigorating and then to eat and feast on fish. Vegetables
come home in Olhao where the market is spilling over with plump tomatoes
and greens. A plate of roast tomatoes, onions, peppers and courgettes
is my offering for supper with friends.
It is `quinta-feira da espiga` (ear of wheat Thursday or Ascension day) and there are bundles of olive, wheat ,poppies, and daisies piled outside the corner shop. It is is good to see the survival of simple country rituals.
Same but different: the beach at Camber sands the day after friends daughter`s 21st. England is as beautiful as any Algarve coastal retreat. But, and this is a big one I`m not enthused about murky English channel shallows.
View from my room, below. I am booked on late rooms.com at Pontin`s `holiday park` fulfilling a childhood curiosity of what`s behind the wire of a holiday camp. It`s housing estate on sea: slot machines, chips, flimsy walls, and family bbqs. Could offer more quality for the price. And don`t punish your guests Mr Pontins: clean the windows, shoot the seagulls and put in bedside lights.
Sunday morning Long island style at Camber sands, below.
Travelling mentally to more watery paradise with Clare Lloyd`s My Greek Island Home. Australian artist, designer and photographer, Claire left the stresses of city life in London to set up home in a small village on Lesbos. The book is a visual feast in which Claire eloquently describes the simple pleasures of reconnecting with nature and community. I love the feline details.
To Colefax and Fowler on a fabric hunt and to see the new collection. I want to order the linen stripes by the hundred metre rollful but am content with a sweet carrier bag lined with `Bowood` my favourite Colefax print
There`s no place like home and my back garden on a hot day in June.
When the garden is looking as heavenly as it is at the moment I have no huge need to spread my wings in search of new excitement. ( Although I would rather like to go dancing....... ) This week it is our clever lodger Jeffrey`s birthday and there is cake for tea and all the gorgeous purples and greens of early summer to mark the occasion.
Lucky to have the last fading tulip petals (they`re edible!) to decorate a chocolate Victoria sponge using the recipe from my cookbook, and to enjoy it against a garden canvas of alliums and lime green lavender and lemon balm leaves: one of my favourite colour pairings.
See how a purple/green combination works in printed floral cotton: a remnant used to patch one of my chidren`s jeans pocket.
Spring nettle soup, home made granola, blazing fires, chairs to fall back and doze in and gorgeous beds make Ett Hem in Stockholm a luxurious home from home. I am hooked after spending the weekend in this intimate 12 bedroom hotel designed by Ilse Crawford.
Elegant and understated Ett Hem is a carefully curated mix of modern, vintage and bespoke pieces with a Scandinavian feel. I especially like the rustic pottery tableware , above, by Birgitta Watz whose studio is in the city.
One evening after dinner in the conservatory, we wrap up in blankets to sit by the brazier in Ett Hem`s walled garden decorated with twinkling strings of lights, tulips and daffodils. Perfect!
More design inspiration at Svenskt Tenn where I tip toe through Josef frank`s tulip prints.
Rugs the colour of Swedish summer berries and woods by Mart Maas-Fjetterstrom, see below, in the window of a small shop not far from
Ostermalms food hall.
Twentieth century furniture, glass, see below, ceramics and jewellery at Modernity
We don`t make it out to
one of the islands of the archipelago but we do run around the
shimmering canal by the royal park , joining mothers jogging with
strollers and longlimbed Vikings in lycra
The organic garden at
Rosendals is heavenly. The orchard of native apple trees is bursting into leaf, a reminder of how far north we are. I like the pick your-own-tulips, the scented Joseph Frank-like border planting, and delicious biscuits at the cafe.
Stockholm foodie highlights: classic herring plates and crayfish toasts at Lisa Elmquist in Ostermalms food hall
and the snug
Hip Pocket ( check out the simple patterned blue tiles ). We are also elegantly barside at Mathias Dahlgren another Ilse Crawford project, where we feast on modern arrangements of tartare of fallow deer and salted whitefish roe ; grilled Swedish quid and cucumber, and fried white asparagus and black morels. Delicious.
I recommend Skansen outdoor museum, with Swedish houses from every period, see 18C summerhouse below. Disarming to be greeted at the door of the 1930`s house by a woman with shingled hair boiling very smelly potatoes on the stove and bemoaning the price of servants. Living history.
Can`t believe how many kms we`ve covered- at last 15k according to the distance app. Stockholm is a brilliant city for discovering on foot. I`m not sure whether the experience would be so comfortable in winter. We have a taste of it with flurries of snow at Skogskyrkogarden woodland cemetery. The layout is stunning and contemplative: towering pine trees, grass and simple headstones . See one of the chapels below.
Up with the lark. 4.30am actually. Ring at the door bell. Dog barks loudly and wakes me from dream where a shoot is submerging the house in folds of paper. Stagger downstairs and peer through the knobbly glass door panel. Vague outline of man in motorbike helmet. Panic. It`s a smash and grab raid? "Who is it ?". ``Pizza". "Pizza, pizza who? " I say. "It`s paid for " he says, and hands over a box from a thermal bag. " "
It`s 4.30, I didn`t order this, and it`s stone cold" I say, and stagger upstairs. Someone has messed up at pizza HQ.
Wish the `instant` of nocturnal fast food delivery , could be applied to building work. One thing leading to another is what building is all about. The attic bathroom project would have been done and dusted but for this week`s discovery of a wasps` nest, parts missing, and paint colour mixed with the wrong base. Plus the soggy fallout from the unfortunate incident in the downstairs bathroom when X and X removed the lavatory as part of the panelling job, and flooded the ceiling below. `You`ll have to get in your plumber` they try. Hmmmm. "You did say X and X were competent at removing bathroom fittings" I remind the contractor. And on, and on it goes.
Oh well. There`s always the garden. My touchstone of sanity. Spring is at least a month earlier than last year and we are soaking up the scents of bluebells and frothy blossom like parched drinkers. Best job of the week has been raking bag of grave in the relining of the pathways between the parterre beds. They look refreshed, almost like clean linen.
Unsurprisingly, I`m longing for the weekend. I think that spring lamb will be on the menu for our Easter feast. This recipe with roasted artichokes and spring greens is from my book .