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september blog
15 September 2020

Despite the overall greenness of the garden  exuberant splashes of colour continue to blaze in a mini summer heat wave: sunflowers grown from seed given to me by my eldest daughter`s partner;  pink and white rose blooms : John Clare, St Swithins, Gertrude Jekyll, Winchester Cathedral,  Ice Berg.There are even a few new flowers on north facing white tissue paper coloured Madame Alfred Carriere.
I gather armfuls of apples, that have ripened and swelled in the  two weeks since I departed for ,and have just returned from, Olhao  (Missing new  quarantine by 36 hours).
There is an apple crumble coming on in my cooking thoughts and more apple and ginger puddings. For Emma`s Birthday I tie up  the last zinnias some rose buds, and creamy white dahlias from the pot Jane gave me. I must say this nursery grown plant, has delivered an endless show of blooms since the middle of July... and of course, there  has not been a whiff of  a slug or snail.

Sad to hear of Terence Conran`s death,  a design hero who has  hugely  influenced my love for simple practical design and  the importance of everyday things. Enticingly modern and full of gorgeous ideas the Conran Shop was a magnet for us stylists.   After  Conran  had lost  the business in 1990  I styled and art directed two Habitat catalogues  but the ethos and pieces  I  was given to  work with were diminished compared with the  simple  and appealing elements of early Habitat .  Conran`s influence  also seems a very long way from many  current ideas as in  the surfeit  of Central London  glass tower developments  which feature  showoff  and over sized lumps of furniture, awkard angles,  and,  my personal bugbear, mega kitchen islands some it seems with  the dimensions of  aircraft carrier landing strips.  Timely perhaps to  revisit  Conran`s House Book series.

Even thought the Zinnias are fading some stems   continue to push up a few new vibrant blooms . Just think all of these from a sprinkling of seeds back in early summer.  These and more garden thoughts  are percolating whilst I sit at my desk and   I  also write about autumn for my forthcomng book....Can`t wait to tell you more about it!!!.

  This is what I mean about the overall greenness of the garden on my return from Olhao: such sweet grass scents and the rhubarb is rampant,  both signs of recent rain..The beans are all  over on the plant in the foreground but there are runner beans feasts (steamed with garlic and butter  ) ahead with the scarlet flowers and emerging pods on the specimen in the  background: one of the only two  of 25 seedlings that made it to this stage. Survival of the fittest?

Olhao in early September is hot, still and pleasingly less crowded. The beach on Armona calls and I sit under the umbrella playing with brushes and   acrylics,  trying to make sense of the  coastal textures and colours.

The Saturday market is suffused with oranges and reds: thick pumpkin wedges,  glossy pomegranates and Rosa  tomatoes the size of small footballs.

 31 August   Before my Olhao departure I pick a  colanderof runners, with instructions for younger daughter to enjoy. The verdict was mainly good, although there was some string and toughness..

Auguse  2nd   Our  Puglian  visit  combines  impossibly beautiful scenes of olive groves,  sparkling sea,  gelato  and gelato coloured architecture.  I  inhale heady cologne  scents  wafting from beyond the  thick rope curtain  at the barber`s in Carpagano and get  hooked on  espressino freddo con panna - basically an intense cold coffee kick with cream in a glass. 

Summer dried grasses in the countryside and extraordinary cactus garden in town

Pool at Pasulo by me

Evening light -

It smells heavenly beyond .....

lst August   I say  goodbye to the garden  en route to Puglia at the heel of ( Southern )Italy.  Friends have moved in to dog sit the elderly one who will turn 16 in September.

Zinnias in full bloom: the zinc bucket will later make way for the `thalia`  narcissi bulbs, which have been drying in the shed. Recycle recycle.. is all part of the garden mood and adds to  why gardening feels so productive and nourishing

 21st July    Birthday dahlias from Jane  in a pot... a great way to have cut flowers on tap.

Tags: september, garden, sunflowers, roses, puglia, olhao, painting,

New start
08 January 2019

  Tempus fugit and all that. I  haven`t posted a blog for over two years. Over-scrolling on  Instagram   certainly  competes for head  space, as does  Netflix ,  but  there has been much useful  writing,  photographing and researching ideas for a  couple of books on the boil.  There are also my  efforts at painting and drawing with skills learnt on courses at the  jewel of an adult education centre  Morley College  under the guiding eye of  artist and teacher  Gillian Melling.  There`s something so completely connective and elemental about  dragging a paintbrush loaded with  colour  onto paper, drawing with a stub of grainy  charcoal  making marks that are one`s unique  interpretation of an object, a figure, a landscape or simply the fruit of imagination.

I`m just back  from New Year in  Olhao.  Cycling over the salt marshes  scattered with ponds and flocks of birds,  walking  and  swimming  on  Armona  in crystalline water were  energising.  At the Saturday market, stalls were teetering with deliciousness as usual: bundles of crunchy spring greens, plump lemons and oranges,  fat bulbs of fennel .  I  want to buy it all, but am on  the last plane home to Gatwick. So it`s ingredients for an flight picnic feast:  raspberries; a plump pink knobbly field tomato  a small round  sheeps and goats cheese, and pao d`agua   .

Local clementines complete with leaves

 Earthy textures:  cork bowl and new potatoes
Slices of pumpkin dispensed by  small machete
Lemons looking like real ones rather than the all look the same lemons at the supermarket.

Bundles of wild asparagus - it grows in ditches and grassy banks

Tags: colour, simple-living, olhao, simple-eating,

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.

Tags: winter, olhao, simple, interiors. decoration, pink, tiles

Pure Colour Olhao
19 November 2015

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. 

Glossy olives

Figs from the flat capped  owner`s garden - all shapes and sizes none of which would pass the supermarket test for shape and uniformity

Bees wax from a stall with honey, and honeycombs

Piri piri chillies, hot red and firey.

Sweet potatoes

Garlic in light and shade

Tags: autumn, Olhao, market, simple, colour

Market couture
17 March 2015

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.

Tags: Olhao, spring, market,

Coffee cake and saving Olhao
13 November 2014

My mothers coffee cake was as much a part of childhood as the roast on Sunday.   She died fifteen years ago   and I havent been able to pin down the coffee-flavoured memories and textures  until last weekend when I downloaded   Felicity Cloakes 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.

The cake

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, too.

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.

 The Icing

Mix 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.

Save Olhao
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.

Tags: autumn, homecooking, shed, olhao,

Pure Style out and about
20 June 2014

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  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.

Tags: summer, Olhao, coast, blue, garden,

New colour new year
06 January 2014

 Today I will squeeze into trainers and have a quick jog to the seafront and back.   New year, new promises and fabulous colour in Christmas earrings and new green cotton t shirt.   Small splashes of colour can be as dramatic as an all out colour assault whether it`s in the wardrobe or for decorating a room.

  A trip along the coast. Down cobbled steps fringed by tumbling purple convovulus  and  cactus plants with paddle  shaped limbs  green succulent, and deadly spiked.  Eating springy bread  buns with hunks of sweet  tomato and  goats`s cheese on the  grey  wind and rain  spattered  beach is more  Bognor regis than the Eastern Algarve, but  we are  also feeling  the whirling effects of the UK`s fierce winter storm.

  I am glad to be off major cooking duties for a few days. But it was hugely satsifying over Christmas to produce  Elizabeth David`s, Carbonade Nimoise and La Daube de Boeuf Provencale from  French Provinical Cooking.  Both essentially hearty stews cooked long and slow, the former involves  lamb  and potatoes with a typical southern taste and smell , and the latter  beef with more  rich  southern  juices  flavoured with orange peel and herbs .

At the Saturday market  there are mounds of cabbages and greens -  rich in winter nutrients and fibre for little more than a few centimos. Wish I could carry back furry quinces for membrillo,  but would be at expense of reading matter . No I don`t have a Kindle, but maybe I should for  the
quince`s  sake.

Sunday, and it`s Fuzeta  fleamarket.  No I don`t want a bucket of golf balls or a  bobbled polyester dressing gown,  but I do have my eye on a couple of retro aluminium jugs for olive oil. Five euros each. Not bad I think, but do I really need them?  But do we really need most of the stuff we have.  Buy them,  says the daughter  and dedicated shopper of her generation in my head   I go back and have a another shifty  look. No. I`ll save my money.  In  the car on the way home. Regret. I  should have bought them. So useful and such great shapes.

Anyone for a hammer?

Pots , pans , simple china and utilitarian junk like these mesh filing trays  are what make Fuzeta a rich source of pickings  on a sunny Sunday morning.

Tags: winter, colour, Olhao

Market notebook
22 May 2013

Sunday morning market in Estoi a few miles inland from Olhao.  It`s hot by 11,  I need my hat (a pleasant need it is too)  and the breeze carries a richly textured  smell of churros frying, horse dung and spring flowers, from the sprawling market site on the edge of the village. Everyone is here: gypsies in black waistcoats with black flat caps and thick beards; farmers from little fincas dotted about the countryside; children; dogs; lovers; groups of men in hunt of jamon and beer from one of the many food stands.

In contrast to the  piles of bright kitchen plastics , ribbons and trimmings, and rails of trashy print dresses, the salt cod bachlau and garlic stall is a sea of cool whites and is the one I  head for first of all.  Slabs of creamy fish and bundles of papery white garlic bulbs streaked with purple, are  assessed by customers who will later cook up a rich fish stew with these staples of the Portuguese kitchen.  I like to slice raw salt cod very thinly (after rigorous soaking to get rid of the salt) and serve with thin slices of orange for a simple tapa.


I also gravitate to a  van wreathed in baskets. The stall holder employs her mother and others who still know how to weave in the traditional way  .I imagine quiet industry with bundles of dried grass on tiled floors in village houses where orange blossom scents float over whitewashed walls.  Baskets like these  feature heavily in my house- for storing vegetables in the kitchen , winter bedding on top of the wardrobe in my bedroom, and for accessories stowed away under the bed. I shall be looking out for the baskets and the van at one of the other local  periodic markets - any excuse to top up my basket supply.

And there`s more: trays of vegetable seedlings,  fruit trees,  caged chicks, hens,   even  a sorry  looking pair of swans. The highlight for many- including me  are beakers  of red wine , grilled chicken,  jamon, or  cheese at makeshift  restaurants with dark awnings that give the scene the look of one vast  outdoor Arabic souk.

Tags: Olhao, spring, garlic, market

Clams and wild flowers
15 April 2013

Clumps of grass between the cobbles and pantiles sprouting wild flowers show  winter  in Olhao was as extreme in rainfall as in the chill we endured here.  So releasing to peel off  wool layers and sun bathe under  blue sky spring busy with  swallows, tweeting sparrows  and swooping  nets of silvery homing pigeons . We trundle to the market and load the  Rolly Rolser with armfuls of wild flowers, eggs, asparagus and oranges.

So good to eat with  sun on the  face sea in the air. This demands something celebratory like buying a net of amejoias boa  for  clam and tomato pasta.  I shower and soak the shells in the sink, picking out any  broken ones.  They feel smooth and cool, with a promising weightiness like solid chocolate eggs.

I chop tomatoes, garlic and fry until soft. Some pepper, dregs of white wine from last night, and then the sauce is ready for the clams. Steam under  the saucepan lid, shake frequently and after seven minutes or so the clams  open like buds in a speeded up film to reveal  tender flesh and juices with a  fragrant shellfish taste 

We spoon clams and sauce over bowls piled with tagliatelle, although spaghetti or any other long type will be right.  This is an athletic dish: twirling  strands of dripping pasta around one`s fork, sucking the last bits from the  shells.  It takes me back to being 18 and the spaghetti vongoles of my first Italian summer.

Tags: Olhao, spring, market, homecooking,

Portugal natural
03 March 2012


  Mopping up a trail of the teenager`s  false tan splodges (the new floors really are tough) is my friday night  treat, this,  and finally  putting the house back together again after it`s  paint and brush up. There`s  time to post these shots from my short break to Olhao  a couple of weeks ago. Spring is springing here on the Algarve.  The fizz of candy floss almond blossom, flapping storks and grilled sardine smells are my kind of exotica.  The house is stone cold but a small discomfort  when you can  step out first thing into the street all sunny and blue. My thoughts are ferry and beach  and this is where we head  to sprawl on the sand and,  even swim.  I skip like a child in the shallows. It is bliss, like an icy  rinsing and sloughing-off of winter.  

  We eat one of our   typical Olhao beach picnics: crusty buns  filled with chicken and coriander. Handfuls of dried figs and almonds are also perfect picnic finger food.  

  Waiting by the pier for the ferry home I watch seagulls bob around looking for an opportunity,  and fisherman swill out their boats and grease engines. Their  ropes and nets are organised in artful heaps.  Old ways can  survive in the  age of plastic.  

  The Saturday market   is also a  stylist`s dream,  so vibrant and rich in its everydayness.  See below bunches of herbs tied with string, bundles of wild asparagus,  clementines, and thick wedges of pumpkin laid out like a Melendez still life.  This bustling outdoor visual and edible feast is so much a  part of  Olhao`s heart and soul.  


Tags: flower power, holiday, Olhao, Simple, spring

Sweet mint and oranges
16 April 2011

  I wake to the mass twittering of sparrows and a distant bell. The  air is sea salty, the breeze warm and the sky is bright morning blue.  Olhao.  Were here again for the spring holiday with a case full of books for revision and fabric to make cushions for summer. Breakfast is toast with  soft springy sourdough-like bread which they slice for you from the caf on the corner. I have a jar of orange flower honey from which I spread a thick coating onto a slice  along with curls of  butter. We eat outside in the quintal and  squint at  the sun which is glowing with promise for the day ahead. Oranges are so good and fresh here; so much sweeter and  more intensely orange flavoured because they`re not long picked from a tree. We squeeze juice with the 13 euro  juicer - a definite qualifier for what I think is a `best buy`- and pour it into  small glass tumblers. So much more of an enjoyable experience than opening up a carton.  

  I throw  black jeans,  sweater and thick  socks to  the back of the wardrobe and  feeling expectant for a first of the season session at the beach pull out last summer`s  floaty cotton dress,  sandals in which to brave winter feet,  and straw hat.  Ive been through quite a few hats here, one or two have blown into the sea whilst on a boat of some sort; one was washed away by a rogue wave, and another  met its end with an uncontrolled puppy. The fading terracottas,  yellows, and  greens  of Olhaos crumbling faades  are balm to my tired city eyes. Most luminous are  the  pale cobalt blue  lime washed walls that give the buildings a mediterranean  seaside flavour. My friend Piers mixes blue pigment with white cal (lime) to create this timeless effect.  

  At the Saturday  market the senses are hit with the aromatic smell of mint and the fragant  childhood  summer smell of strawberries. Wrinkled men with flat caps look after stalls  groaning with oranges, pumpkins, broad beans, and peas. Cages with live rabbits and uncomfortable looking hens are clustered by the sea wall.  I  want to take to take it all home, all of this colour, and sensation. We settle for  eggs, a bag of plump  peas shelled by the vendor, a bunch of  radishes with pink roots slashed rather stylishly with white,  more sweet oranges  and a kg of plump and richly coloured  strawberries for the picnic.

Tags: colour, holiday, home cooking, Olhao, scent, spring


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