"Pure style is my way of life... a blueprint for living in the 21st Century"
New year, new plans
15 January 2016
I fly south to Olhao and the glorious vegetable colours and textures of the Saturday market. Beans pods flecked with pink like a painter`s abstract are a joy to look at let alone eat .
More building is in progress at the house to open up the living/ eating space. I am moving a bathroom to what I call the monk`s cell, a poky inner room with a glass brick in the ceiling as the only light source; a not altogether unreasonable Olhao detail, as it is the coolest room in summer and warmest in winter. The new L shaped space has an open hatch to the kitchen. We couldn`t knock all the way through because the giant chimney on the roof above would have no support, and I didn`t want to lose this traditional and distinctive Algarve feature. I am looking forward to the delivery of blue and white floor tiles, in a simple checked pattern that are being made in the traditional way by Artevida near Lisbon.
Against the drab died-back look of winter the last few roses (see here, a John Clare specimen) decorate the garden in defiant shots of frivolous summer pink. I cut some blooms for the table to join candles and a bowl of aromatic clementines in a simple festive still life.
In the season for boxes of delights, I find particular pleasure in unpacking after a year`s rest in the attic irisdescent baubles and a peg doll fairy for the tree. And, there is all the hope and spring potential in the tulip and allium bulbs. Arriving in boxes by mail order, they are tucked amongst newspaper bedding, in net sacks and brown paper bags with special holes to keep the bulbs cool and dry. It is worth noting that most bulbs should be planted at a depth that allows twice their own height of soil above them. Shallower planting is ok but the bulbs are unlikely to perform well after their first year, and there is the added danger of being easier to be scavenged by squirrels. I have just finished planting about 300 pink tulips (including Blue Heron and Recreado) purple giant fluffy alliums (Gladiator and Globemaster). Do hope the rain and sogginess will dry up for spring or I fear the consequent snail plague will be not only a threat to the young foliage but an unwelcome preoccupation.
Hooray, the last bulb is in. Time for a warm up by the fire!
London`s autumn streets swarm with black ant-like crowds dodging and diving from shop to shop as if buying has become as serious as life itself Of course my well over 50 perspective is skewed but no way is my city as rough and exciting around the edges as it was in the 80s` when my dodgy Molton Brown bob and frilly white New Romantic shirt were cool. No Boris bikes to take me to our broken down Georgian wreck in rather grubby Spitalfields . Our youthful optimism and passion for rescuing beautiful architecture also unwittingly prepared the scene for the influx of the current hipster generation; you can hardly move between the foodie pop ups and designer handbag displays. Thankfully Olhao, remains a source of solace and visual inspiration and the Saturday market with its life, understatement, colour and fabulous fresh produce beats any West End/East End foray.
Figs from the flat capped owner`s garden - all shapes and sizes none of which would pass the supermarket test for shape and uniformity
Last month, on a trip to visit my son, I was bowled over by Victorian and Edwardian architecture in South Yarra`s blossom scented streets A kind of Melbourne`s Notting Hill with hipster overtones (plenty of beards and foodie haunts), South Yarra would be a place I would happily do up (quick not many left) a pretty unmodernised weatherboard villa.
Filigree detailing in an Italianate style decorates the balconies and verandas built to provide shade from hot summer sun.
I haven`t seen so much picket fencing since my forays to Long Island in the US.
Simple door furniture detail
Corrugated iron roof: classic and practical Australian style
Victorian bench seating at the Botannical Gardens.
Victorian style beach huts at Dendy Street Beach, Brighton.
As I write the rain spatters on the glassy pavements and the main view from my desk is monotone grey. The horse chestnut across the road is drooping with ever yellowing leaves and the grass on the front lawn is lush iridescent green from late summer downpours. Autumn is here and it is time to unfold the blankets from the cupboard on the landing.
Golden yellow and orange pumpkins are seasonal colours cues for room details.
I aim for colourful and simple eating on hot summer days. For evening drinks or starters at lunch or dinner I pass round smoked mackerel, beetroot and horseradish on pieces of soda bread or a huge plate of raw vegetables and beetroot puree . Carrots, chicory, cucumber, radishes and courgettes are perfect vegetable colours in orange, pink, green, and yellows. Substitute the puree with garlic mayonnaise. These went down a treat at my Pure Colour book launch in June, when the garden was heavy with the scent of rose blooms .
For the book launch we hung garlands of lights which gave a twinkling summer garden party feel to the occasion. Their waterproof qaulity is being tested as we leave them up through the summer cloudbursts to enjoy on warm evenings.
Summer colour in the garden doesn`t stop when the roses are over. I stitch cushions in rose pink cotton velvet, and purple and yellow linen by Manuel Canovas to keep the vibe going.
And there`s cake. Cake is best eaten outside on a winter picnic, or somewhere shady on a hot afternoon. I make a basic Vctoria sponge and smother it with lemon butter cream.
Last week while I was feeling the breeze in Barbados and reconnecting with long lost Bajan Cumberbatches (an extraordinary story of which I will write later ) the garden was busily bursting forth in an explosion of tulip colours. On the plane home, I was yearning for the Bajan sea colours which are of unspeakable beauty: gazing from the verandah each day at a glassy expanse of dark blues on the horizon, then ultramarine, and in the shallows, luminous turquoise flecked with white froth. But after battling against the early morning commuter flow at Clapham Junction and dragging my wheelie bag up and down the hill, my mood lifted as soon as I saw the floral beauty by my very own back door .
I planted the bulbs randomly and so not quite sure what is what, but know that that the varieties include: Lilac Perfection, Violet beauty, Fringed fancy frills, Lily flowering China Pink, Triumph ( the white and beetroot coloured ones) and blue parrot tulips, from Dejager Crocus and Rose Cottage .
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.