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.
Back to blogging post the M4 migration and university delivery of youngest. And the back to the everythings of September that I would rather not have to deal with, such as the garden which is looking, let`s say, autumnal. But the apples shimmer on laden branches and next post I`ll show you the first of my apple puddings. It`s no chore, too, to revisit the delicious things I came across this summer.
Tags: olives blue summer
In between summer showers I take a comfortable seating option with arms into the garden to read a book in. It sounds middle aged but deckchairs annoy the backs of my legs, and lying flat on the grass invites the dog to drop a constant supply of stones by my face thus getting no further than one or two paragraphs.
The chair here is an Ikea upholstered model that I bought a couple of years ago with the intention of making a simple loose cover to jolly it up. And so, as with many of my bright ideas , it sat in my office unadorned for month upon month.
What I needed was an incentive, which came my way in the autumn with sewing classes run by Tessa Brown. There`s something about working in a group of people that is more fun and less intense than when it is just you and a pair of scissors. The biscuits were delicious, the chat good, and Tessa showed me how to make my very own couture chair cover from scratch.
The fabric is Ian Mankin cotton ticking which I pre washed and pre shrunk. Very useful for dealing with mud paw prints now that the dog and cat are making moves to hijack my comfortable chair.
I`m as besotted with my garden as the bees are sated on sweet nectar from the starry alliums. It feels almost electric with activity: bursting glossy pink roses, voluptuous peonies shedding brilliant carpets of petals and crowds of bees, enough, if there were such a thing for a bee club night. I get up close, eye to bee pollen sack with black and white striped ones, fat yellow ones, small bobbly hairy ones, brown fluffy types as if they`d had a cut and blow dry.
Growing, budding, flowering, seeding on a still warm June afternoon the garden seems more dynamic than the brains in any government think tank. Only joking, but as George Eliot suggested "If we could hear the squirrel`s heartbeat, the sound of the grass growing, we should die of that roar" .
The garden soothes, me with its it`s distractions and needs. What better way than to work off writers block or parking ticket annoyance with the physicality and sense of purpose that an hour`s weeding gives. The fact that nature is ambiguous, that she is neither all good nor all bad, that she gives as well as takes away, also puts life outside the garden into perspective. Contentment with green fly free roses, fury at the bullet headed snails who strafe the rocket, it`s all about the ups and downs and the getting on with what is thrown at you. A dancing in the rain approach., rather than waiting for the storm to pass I suppose.
Packing up for the holsí may be palpitation inducing: thundering down the motorway to take the dog for her summer billet with my sister, racing through a monthís paperwork in the early hours, and making the house ship shape for a magazine Christmas shoot . But boy itís worth it! Exchanging city shorts for beaten up espadrilles and t-shirts is as good for the soul as the summer diet based around grilled sardines and hunks of watermelon. Just scraping under the 20kg limit as usual, my suitcase is stuffed with books for long spells of reading under the beach umbrella. Favourites include The Surprising Life of Constance Spry by Sue Shephard; Outliers Ďthe story of successí by Malcolm Gladwell, and The Algarve Fish Book by Nic Boer and Andrea Sieber. Iím also inspired by Reinventing Letter Press by Charlotte Rivers, a stylish little book with fabulous printing ideas.
Along with the reading matter, thereís just enough room to slot in a few bars of Green and Blacks chocolate bars. It will head straight to the fridge as soon as possible after we meet the sauna temperatures of Olhao in August.
Iíve also tucked in the dolls house sized Indian terracotta pots that the returning traveller produced from her mighty backpack. Perfect for salt, pepper, and chopped herbs, they are also a tangible reminder of just how far my middle born has spread her wings in the last six months.,
1ím counting on the Spanish lodgers to nurture the courgettes and tomatoes all swelling nicely in the warmth and damp. One of them is a specialist ham carver, so I hope his talents for precision extend to the vegetable patch. Theyíre already under instructions to feed and water Miss Bea, the cat who will lord it over the sofas, spreading her black fluff, with the dog safely out of the way.. One last look around the flowerbeds, to enjoy the sweetly scented white nicotiana- another unexpected success from last yearís seeds, which in turn were produced from the previous yearís blooms that i collected. And even the agapanthus managed to defy the winterís ravages and has just put out some glorious blooms. Iíll miss the sweetpeas, too, their delicate soapy fragrance is so much part of an English summer garden. .
Before I snap the case shut I must tell you about three new finds: Feitoria.com.pt sells a cleverly edited collection of Portuguese accessories, such as leather slippers, donkey milk soap,(yes, honestly) and cork ice buckets - so much more inspiring than the usual souvenir stuff. Closer to home ther`re simple Welsh blankets and other celtic home ideas from Blodwen And molly-meg.co.uk sells stylish child sized chairs: a good idea for anyone want ing a nice bit of scaled down Ercol in the nursery.
I have had an action packed summer: six teens and me, in Olhao. ( No time to paint my nails, let alone get a new blog post out) The heat, beach and three meals a day keep them out of trouble. There are a few ups and downs: livid red grazes from a failed mission to rescue a smartphone, another you-learn-by-your-mistakes- episode with drinks in pretty colours, bags with keys and money left at shops, and spectacles washed away whilst frolicking in crashing waves.
The food side of things is more of a challenge Not that the gang are fussy, in fact they lap up everything from crab to clams but the sheer weight of daily supplies is in danger of destroying the Rolly Rolser shopping bag on wheels. This trusty accessory joins the fleet that Olhaons trundle over cobbles to the daily fish and vegetable market. Saturday is best when local farmers bring their own produce and I come home with exquisite olives, sprigs of mint, garlic strings and brilliant zinnias, one euro a bunch. I am keen to get to grips with grilling sardines, and hang around peeling white washed alleys where old ladies and fishermen expertly fuss over their door step bbqs. The story: gray charocoal, not too much of it and a cup of water for damping unruly flames. This ensures light crispy skins, rather than the oily black charred offerings if the charcoal is red hot. As for preparation, the daily catch is so gleaming and rigid with freshness there`s not need to gut them. Salad to go with sardines includes our take on Italian panzanella made with stale bread, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, onion , parsley and a dressing with oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. Then there are lemon quarters to squeeze over the fish and bring out its flavour.
The teen gang leave with the exuberance with which they arrived, in a whirlwind of Kate Moss scent, suntans, tangled salt hair and flip flops. The house settles back into itself again, with the air of post party relief that comes from from sending everyone home in one piece. I have a few delicious mornings in bed with Alan Bennett`s witty and self deprecating memoir Untold Stories . Then it is planning the Room on Top project for which, 8 months on, I finally have planning permission. The very last little bureaucratic hurdle is the 3 month licence, which should be through next week. More finger crossing.
As I pack away t-shirts and cool dresses, I muse that that it`s one thing to have visual records of Olhao`s unmanicured charm, but another to convey the pot pourri of smells: overworked drains, rotting fish, the waft of a honeysuckle in a hidden courtyard; beery fisherman, lingering herb cologne, home cooked stews, the ozone and saltness of the sea air. They`re so evocative, so of the place, it`s hard to conjure them up mentally but London suburbaban street air seems so bland in comparison, even when the foxes have been having a party by the dustbins.
Back at the ranch in Tulse Hill, the house has been earning its keep and host to shoots, including one for SMA baby milk of feature film proportions (apologies to my neighbours) with baby models, back-up baby models, and crates of plastic flowers; the latter draped all over the garden to make it look more colourful. My son says why can`t it always look like that. I give him the look reserved for similar utterances about things not meeting his exacting standards. Actually, the house is looking a bit bashed up after all the babies, cables, and cameras. So I am planning to do a bit of tidy up: repaint floorboards, and renew floor coverings with simple tactile rush matting, the sort we had at home in the sixties`. I am also debating one of Atlanta Bartlett`s white country tables from her new online store Pale and Interesting. The vegetable garden has survived a month of sporadic watering and nurturing from family members who remained to look after the shoots. The lettuces didn`t stand a chance, but the potatoes (Pink Fir Apple) and (International Kidney) are plump; we eat the first earthy diggings, boiled in mint and tossed in butter.
Cherry tomatoes, yellow courgettes, garlic and shallots have all performed far better than I`d dared hope, and I shall plait together a bundle of garlic for my friend`s birthday. Thanks, in part, to Lambeth council: it is their free compost bin that is the receptacle for the nicely rotted contents from the kitchen peelings.
Despite the jolly hard work of nurturing and tending to the nursery of delicate seedlings that started life next my desk, it is pure pleasure to see last year`s bean seeds curling and climbing up the wigwams, heavy with slender green pods.
Even the temperamental basil, that threatened to expire when I brought it outside too early is keeping us in supplies for pesto. The magical notion of producing so much from so little is exquisitely shown by a border of leggy nicotiana plants, whose delicate white flowers release intoxicating scent at nightfall. Weeks of sensual and visual pleasure from a packet of seeds is truly gratifying.
London might not have the laid back charms of a Portuguese fishing town, but there are more than enough autumn shows and exhibitions to divert post holiday blues. I am looking forward to the new ceramics gallery at the V&A , settles and benches by Studioilse on show at Leila`s Cafe, part of the London Design Festival , or booking a table at local home dining room the Salad Club. Don`t miss life on planet fashion in the endearing and irreverent documentary, The September issue which chronicles Vogue editor Anna Wintour`s preparations for the September 07 issue. I am agog because I once worked in an office below the Vogue fashion floor, and was terrified by the svelte things that tended the sample rails upstairs.
It`s the time of year, too, to think about hunkering down with warm blankets and cushions by the fire. I use a mix of calico and cuttings from Liberty floral cottons to make simple patch work covers. See my trusty sewing machine in action on my latest Youtube video which shows you how to make a simple bobbly trimmed tray cloth: an idea that could easily be put in the pipeline for diy christmas presents. And if all you do is go for a walk, take a bag, the trees are heavy with fruit: crab apples, plums, sloes and so on, for a spot of autumnal jam making.
Good news! Elle Decoration, July Issue, has voted my blog as one of the best style blogs on the web: " British style journalist Jane Cumberbatch`s blog is a feast of gorgeous photography and inspiring ideas, on everything from Ercol furniture to making shortbread. Her style is simple, relaxed and recession-friendly". I`m in sartorial male blog company too, from Mr Peacock who offers tips on how to customise an Ikea sofa, to James Andrew a NY designer who dresses as hip as his surroundings and Jonathan Adler who`s mad about blue. It`s sweatingly hot and steamy in the city but at Hampstead Ladies pond , spreading trees shade this North London oasis and swimmers become part of nature as they move between floating water lilies and small fleets of ducks with ducklings. It`s my first ever dip here, and it feels like heaven, so peaceful, and even though the dark water seems eerily bottomless, it is fresh and free from tangled weed. Ben and Jerry`s or Haagen Dazs might be what the teenagers prefer to spoon into their wafer cones, but I live in hope that student budgets or even ennui with the packaged stuff, might nudge them towards making their own ice cream. It`s dead easy. See my latest YouTube for proof.
As all bee experts will testify, the global bee population has recently entered a catastrophic decline, in a syndrome despairingly known as "Colony Collapse Disorder". Thriving bee farms are being turned overnight into ghost towns as workers mysteriously desert their queens and everyone is quoting Albert Einstein to the effect that if the bees go, the human race will perish four years later. Well you wouldn`t think there`s a buzz crisis in Tulse Hill the bees are positively crowding out my pom pom thistles and lavender bushes in their pollinating and honey making efforts. In fact, this year. Nevertheless, I`m going to do my bit and offer up a quiet spot by the shed to host a hive a brilliant initiative for urban beekeepers who need more space.
I`ve been communing with more bees at Das Kransbach spa where you can get stuck into some serious treatments or idle away the day in buzzing and knee tickling Alpine wild flower meadows. The boxy hives passed on the walk home are the source of sticky golden chunks of honeycomb for breakfast. Just as energising for the soul are the sublime rooms designed by Ilse Crawford and the simple back-to-nature saunas, and pools that lull guests into bliss. No spartan spa this is, either, with delicious cakes on trays at teatime.
Gracie says the air smells like a greenhouse after the cloud burst today. The garden steams and drips, soaked in earth, grass, and sweet petal scents. Heads bowed and blousey, in a riot of pinks , the roses are heavenly. The Constance Sprys are doing the best ever: huge pink fluffy musky scented flowers, named after the Fifties` kitchen goddess, whose resourcefulness brought the nation `Coronation chicken` and the mantra that you can be `a millionaire for a few pence` with a packet of seeds. A spirit after my own heart, but thankfully eating habits have come a long way from the curried mainstay of buffets and wedding breakfasts. Talking of resourcefulness, have a look at the latest You Tube video where I have a go at revamping a junk shop dress. Ever since I double rolled the waist of a sensible school skirt to make it look more Mary Quant mini, I have been lopping off hems to give my wardrobe a new lease of life.
I don`t know about you, but I feel an attachment to the flowers and plants in the garden, not as strong as that for my children, or the dog, or the cat even, but an attachment nevertheless. Don`t send for the white coats yet (Prince Charles talks to his plants). I heard a PHD student on radio 4 discussing a series of case studies which examine the emotional bonds that people have with plants. It makes sense to connect with a living thing that you`ve nurtured and laboured over. Then there is the sense of continuity that growing can bring. When my mum died, I dug up some of her peonies, and planted them here in the garden. Each summer the plants are bigger and put out an even more gorgeous show. Increasing natural beauty with nothing but a spade is one of the most satisfying things in life. The frilly drooping lipstick pink blooms remind me of a hot day at home and `ninety nine ` flake cornets from the ding dong ice cream van.
Notes from the vegetable patch: I have resorted to pellets to protect the courgettes from snails` fangs. The rocket is taking off and even the little basil plants are filling well - in pots. The basil planted in the ground was a dead loss. It is a such a tender little thing and I put the seedlings in too early. Shallots, garlic, potatoes, and chard all doing nicely. And I`m just about to plant out the seedlings from last year`s beans - a success rate of maybe 30%. Not so bad, but I will need a few more plants to top up. Pulled some radishes, which looked as if they`d been dipped in a wash of deep water colour - so pretty, but maybe a bit woody. Should have eaten when younger, but delicious enough with sea salt and pepper. Next to be potted is the tray of white nicotiana plants, grown from seed, which promise heady scent later in the summer.
I set myself a deadline of midday to write this, because the sun is now blazing and the glorious Brockwell Park lido beckons, where even the most sensitive creature will want to do a bit of swimming and frolicking in the shimmering blue cool water. How wonderful to be at the `Brixton Beach` where only in February, there were 3metre high snow balls, tobogganists on For Sale signs, and an artist painting in a blizzard!
I can`t believe the slugs and snails did not get their evil way and decimate the beans. But then I did keep an eagle eye on the fledging shoots, crunching any marauders, as they budded and curled skywards up the bean sticks. In the last weeks the flowers have dropped to leave nascent pods which are swelling fast as a result of the downpours we`ve been having. There are even enough fully formed to pick a first batch and eat steamed with melted butter, garlic and lemon juice.
The rocket is also doing well, and the bitter sharp taste transports me to the whitewashed Italian house where as a lily white 18 year old `exchange`, I picked it for the first time from a herb patch outside the back door. I learnt to toss it in golden olive oil for salad that the family ate after the daily plates of pasta and grilled meat. The southern tradition of whole families sitting down to bond and eat proper meals is something that seems to be on the wane in our takeaway culture. But after sitting through the food, family, failure and friction within France`s community of North African emigres in the film Couscous (La Graine Et Le Mulet) I began to think that maybe the odd tv dinner wasn`t so sad after all. I would recommend this film though, for its mouthwatering visuals of the preparations for fish couscous: gorgeous steaming piles of fluffy grains, spicy sauces, firm fleshy mullet and wonderful cooking pots.
A quick but delicious way to eat couscous is to combine the cooked grain with olive oil, chopped mint, parsley, spring onion, and grilled peppers. This is a sublime salad to eat with meat or fish, or on its own. I`m an alfresco girl, even if the weather looks set to be indifferent for a party this weekend. Once I gather a few colourful cushions and fabrics around the table, a string of lanterns, shawls to keep warm and something fizzy to drink, I will imagine the mood to be more Tangier than Tulse Hill.
There`s not much time to write. It`s over 70 degrees, the sun is shining, the sky cloudless and the lido`s cool ripply blue water beckons. The government wants free swimming for all - it`s already part of the primary curriculum - but there aren`t enough outdoor watery oases like the Brockwell Park Lido where swimmers from 0 to 90 plus can get fit and chill out. My season ticket here is worth more than a hundred pairs of Manolos in terms of well being. A few lengths and a dry-off in the sun are guaranteed to remove the jitters or bad humour. Looking at all the blue below and above my breast stroke makes me think of what a brilliantly versatile and natural decorating tool this colour is.
From deep hyacinth to very pale ice, blue comes in a myriad of shades. I think of how blue turns to lavender when mixed with violet, or turquoise when blended with green. Take a cue from the fashion world and look at the soft blues that characterise denim as it is washed and worn. These shades adapt as easily to home furnishings as they do to jeans and jackets. My favourite blue dream-scheme is walls in sludgy grey/blue offset with white painted furniture, blinds in blue and white ticking and bowls of cut herbs. Make your own blue story by adding blue pigment to a white base, like my friend Hermione who repaints her beach house in Portugal, every spring with limewash tinted with blue.
And as it`s the time of year for alfresco feasts, a blue and white checked tablecloth is an important part of my kit, whether it`s to spread out at a picnic on the beach, or to make the table look jolly for an everyday meal. Blue and white checks are prosaic, pragmatic and never look out of place.