Wednesday, 30 May 2012

A Slice of Linley Giveaway

With the most important weekend in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations almost upon us I took a trip to interior designer, furniture and cabinetmaker Linley in Belgravia this week to see the beautiful Limited Edition Diamond Jubilee boxes that have been created by the Queen's nephew to mark this most auspicious event.

The handcrafted Jubilee Boxes are created in walnut with an exquisite lid decorated with the iconic Union Flag portrayed using glossy Bolivar marquetry. Featuring a Sterling silver commemorative plaque on the inner lid along with the Diamond Jubilee and Linley hallmark they can be used as either a jewellery box, a humidor or just for your keepsakes and they have now gone straight to the top of my Jubilee wishlist.
Price: £3900.00 / $6035.00

 A Slice of Linley Giveaway

We have three miniature slices of Linley to give away for fun. Fashioned from Cherry, Elm and Sycamore wood, each of these lovely little Linley engraved cheese doorstops have been lovingly wrapped and come gift boxed by the gorgeous people at Linley who were so nice to me when I visited last week. 

To be in with a chance of winning the giveaway you must be or become a follower of this blog worldwide and post a comment below.
So Join up and join in.
One entry per follower.
Three winners will be picked at random from the comments below on the 11th June 2012. Good luck!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Calling All Moonshiners!

For several weeks I have been eagerly watching a shrub in the field behind my garden, waiting for its flower buds to swell and burst open, not for horticultural appreciation and not for floral display, nor am I waiting to press them in leather bound volumes of classic literature. These buds hold the secret to an elegant summer afternoon spent relaxing even in the midst of austere times with a champagne flute in hand, for these are the buds of the Elderflower.

Flowering begins in late May to early June and that means I can try out a new recipe that I've been holding onto for Elderflower Champagne. Just to make things a little more exciting, the unpredictable Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall Recipe I will be using has a reputation for going bang!

Now, my favourite summer soft drink happens to come in the perfect thick glass bottle in which to store my elderflower champagne. ‘La Mortuacienne’ is the most delightful fizzy pop dubbed the Queen of Lemonades in France. They have been making a variety of flavoured syrups and carbonated drinks since 1921 that have a swing top stopper which makes it easier to release the gas pressure as the champagne ferments.

So as I gather my ingredients and post my progress I encourage you to join me in a champagne making extravaganza so we may sit back on lawns and compare libations. Lets make Elderflower shampoo!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Eat your weeds 2: Wild Garlic Leaf and Cleavers

Continuing with my 'Season of Weeds' showcasing the hidden merits within weeds and wildflowers my attention was drawn to Cleavers this week.

You know them well, slinky little fellows that fan out where they emerge from the soil and clamber up neighbouring plants with velcroesque, hirsute bristles along the stems and leaves which radiate from the square stems and stick to your clothes when you brush past them.

Known under a variety of monikers from Goose grass, Catch weed, Grip Grass, Mutton Chops, Robin Run-In-The-Grass, Sticky-Willy and the rather lovely Scratweed!

They have a multitude of reputed health benefits and are a favourite springtime nibble for many wild animals and are apparently still used in some parts of Sweden traditionally to filter milk which in turn infuses with the plants medicinal properties. So what’s not to love about cleavers?

I wanted to try my hand at making fresh ravioli. I set about creating a simple dish with foraged Cleavers, Wild Garlic and one of my favourite cheeses from La Fromagerie which resulted in.......

Pea, Cleavers and Goats cheese Ravioli with a Wild Garlic leaf and Walnut Pesto.

The results are in and the general consensus was that.......

A- The Cleavers were a bit grass-like with an astringent clean green flavour.
B- My pasta was improving being only my 2nd attempt at homemade and needed extra seasoning.
C- That Wild garlic leaf pesto had a metallic taste and was no substitute for traditional pesto.

I am noticing a pattern as to why the majority of us do not eat these plants but I'm hanging in there with hope that I will discover the most delicious weed ever!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Romance Amongst The Ruins

Last weekend I discovered a hidden treasure in the most romantic setting in the valley of the River Bewl in Kent. 

Please click the images to enlarge

A Rhododendron and Azalea clad valley sweeps down to Scotney Old Castle, a beautiful 14th century medieval ruined manor house surrounded by a stunning moat. The fortified manor house was built c.1378 by Roger Ashburnham. The South Ashburnham Tower is the only complete part of the original building still standing amongst the ruins of various annexes woven together over the centuries.

You get two castles for the price of one. At the top of the valley standing proud is the rather imposing Scotney new castle. A fine example of an English country house built in the Tudor revival style in 1778 by the owner's son Edward Hussey to a design by Anthony Salvin.

The gardens are laid out in the picturesque style which leans toward to a naturalistic effect. Surrounded by cool woodland walks, swaying wildflower meadows, meandering waterways, hidden boathouses and glorious vistas. It is a place steeped in history that certainly deserves a second visit. The romance of the garden is what really shines for me. I can imagine courting couples reciting poetry amongst the ruins and amorous whisperings floating down the waterways on summer afternoons in the shadow of the ancient trees.

And if that is just all too gooey for you then could spend your time looking for Scotney Castle's 'Dripping Ghost'. No self-respecting castle would be seen without a ghost and the tale of our dripping friend is quite a shocker.

During the 18th century Scotney resident Arthur Darrell was outlawed as a smuggler and fled the castle and faked his own death so that he could continue his smuggling operations. The ghost is said to be of a revenue Officer who was hot on the heels of Darrell and discovered his secret. It is alleged that Darrell killed the poor chap and subsequently threw his weighted body into the moat.

Darrell's faked death was proved when they opened his coffin in 1924 to find nothing more than a pile of pebbles. So this part of the story is true. But what of the dripping figure who emerges from the moat only to start hammering on the door of the castle......................................

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Chelsea's Bloomers!

There is a great horticultural buzz around town this week with the Chelsea Flower show being the main event that grabs the headlines but a stones throw from the crowds the 7th annual Chelsea in Bloom event spills out onto the streets surrounding Sloane Square hosting an exceptional array of floral designs at every turn.

This year’s theme reflects the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and English eccentricity. Many of Chelsea's local shops, boutiques and retailers are taking part to compete for the much sought after prize crown. Entrants include Mary Quant, Tiffany, Paule Ka, Jo Malone & Cath Kidston amongst others.

For those that wish to get an insight into the ideas and concepts for each display, guided tours are available during the day every half hour from Sloane Square. We grabbed a delightfully fun rickshaw and braved our lives in the London traffic on a whistle stop tour in the very capable hands of our knowledgable guide Nigel Clarke who whisked us off to see the displays making many pitstops along the way as he explained the stories and secrets behind each design.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Great Bowls of Samphire!

As we approach the months of May and June I like to keep my beady eyes open for the availability of one of my favourite vegetables. Samphire is a salty flavoured native succulent that grows in coastal regions, marshlands, mud flats and on cliffs here in the UK. If I miss the short season when its available in the wild, I can then only find it in selected fishmongers where it is recommended to be eaten alongside seafood.

Regionally known as Sampha, Sampkin, Sea Asparagus and most notably Glasswort as it's ashes were used in 14th century English glassmaking techniques. Historically samphire would be picked by perilously clambering down the cliffs where many fell to their untimely end as mentioned in Shakespeare's King Lear.

'Half-way down hangs one that gathers samphire; dreadful trade!'

Samphire is very simple to prepare. Wash under running water and then drop it into boiling water for a few minutes just long enough to retain its bright green colour.
Rather than steaming I find boiling reduces the very salty flavour a little to suit my palate. A knob of butter and freshly milled pepper is all that's needed to finish.

I served Samphire this afternoon alongside Razor Clams with Wild mushrooms, Seaweeds and a Potato Sea Foam. My amateur adaption of a recipe from Le Champignon Sauvage. Razor clams were a first for me and I'm not sure that I would cook them again, I think I'd prefer scallops to accompany my next samphire dish.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Cloud juice, straight up with a twist.

Thankfully the current weather is providing the perfect beverage for thirsty plants and flowers.
It seems that even during the wettest 'drought' on record in the UK and with hosepipe bans still in force you have to choose your moments carefully to grab some fresh cut flowers from the garden.
In between downpours today I ran out to see what I'd been missing in bloom.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Everyone say cheese!

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and I enjoy my weekend pilgrimage to visit one of the best cheese shops in England to set me up for the day. La Fromagerie's tasting cafe in London's Marylebone is my destination but I'm not here to eat cheese for breakfast but La Fromagerie's divine 'vapourised' egg and soldiers.

No big deal really its just a boiled egg and some toast but I like the nostalgic, simple, cosy feel of the breakfast paired with the stylish, relaxed, friendly ambience and I'm not alone. Walking into the cafe today everyone was eating the same thing! They also serve my favourite Florentine roasted coffee from a lovely retro 1961 Italian Faema espresso machine which I love to guzzle greedily after my breakfast whilst flicking through the newspapers.

The promise of purchasing some fabulous cheese and produce from the store after eating my little breakfast has me counting the days until I get my weekly fix.

On the cheese tasting board from La Fromagerie tonight

Abbaye De Trois Vaux ~ Haut Artois, N. France
A beer-washed supple Cows milk cheese handmade by Nuns from the Abbey alongside Trappiste Monks from the Mont Des Cats Monastery. Beer and nuns, who can resist!

Persille Du Marais ~ Vendée, W. France
An intense blue Goat's milk cheese with a very bittersweet chocolate accent, the goats graze in an area known as the Venice of France with its picturesque meandering canals. Those naughty Goats are famed for leaping into the canals. This is my favourite cheese of all.

St Marcelin Aux Marc De Raisin ~ Rhone Alps, France
A soft, fresh, tangy, 'Drunken' Cows milk cheese that is immersed in vine pressings after wine making to give it a vinous taste.

Banon Feuille ~ Provence
A soft, creamy textured goats cheese dipped in Eau de Vie sprinkled in Pepper and wrapped in chestnut leaves.

Saint Nectaire ~ Auvergne
Soft golden pate Cow's milk cheese with an aroma reminscent of earthy wild mushrooms with a dimpled russet crust with grey velvety moulds matured on straw mats.

Caprini Tartufo ~ Piedmont
The ultimate luxury treat. A fresh zingy handmade Goats cheese topped with shaved truffles.

Camembert Au Calvados ~ Normandy
A traditional farmhouse Cow's Milk cheese which has it's rind removed and is then carefully dipped in a boozy Calvados and Cider mixture then covered in a fine biscuit crumb which gives a fruity apple brandy sweetness.

Cathare ~ Lauregais, Carcassonne
Coffee saucer shaped nutty flavoured Goat's milk cheese covered in ash, emblazoned with the cross of the Cathars (A medieval religous group living in and around Carcassonne in the middle ages)

Fromage Figuettes
Rich goats cheese figs with rind dusted in Paprika and cinders.

After three lets all say cheese.......One, Two, Three!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Eat your weeds 1: Nettles and Dandelions

Sea Bream, Salsify & Garlic Puree with Forced Dandelion, Baked Baby Beetroot
Grilled White Asparagus with a Nettle Sabayon

I am still on my mission to give individual weeds their fifteen minutes of fame before we give them the chop this year. This gave me an oppourtunity to trial weeds and wildflowers that were edible.
So I rolled up my sleeves this week to see what I could rustle up with some simple foraging.

The intention was to keep the flavours as clean as possible. The Dandelions were a little better raw than cooked so they needed no great culinary skills. Cooking or soaking nettles removes the stinging element. Thankfully there were not many witnesses to the big deal I made out of picking and preparing the nettles. Wearing gloves to protect myself I still managed to get stung countless number of times which resulted in lots of hopping around the kitchen uttering words I hadn't heard in years.

With stung hands and aching wrists from hand whisking my sabayon forever I sat down to lunch with my dining companions / guinea pigs. Every plate was finished and the general consensus was that the dandelion leaves were uninterestingly bitter and the nettles were nothing like the spinach flavour promised. Sorry weeds you lost this round. I would recommend Chicory, Radicchio and Spinach as better alternatives.


Monday, 7 May 2012

Daisies, Dandelions and Buttercups, Oh my!

With the recent deluge of spring rains providing the perfect conditions in which to flourish, weeds were popping up in various hard to reach pockets throughout the garden this week. Whilst working my way round plucking them from their hiding places I found myself developing an admiration for the steely determination of these little plants.

With careful evergreen planting, diligent weeding and hoeing, I am rather proud of the minimal amount of weed traffic we get although I have noticed that there are a few that occasionally slip past security.

I don't have any grand designs to cultivate large swathes of Dandelions, long borders of Chickweed or glades of Creeping Buttercup but this year I thought I would pay more attention to the merits associated with these so called invaders in our garden, giving them their 15 minutes in the spotlight, before being vanquished to the compost heap or bin.

Weeds fall into two categories in our garden, those that have me reaching for the nearest trowel and those that I am happy to live with for a while.

Daisies Dandelions and Buttercups are the main visitors to the lawn.

A Daisy (Bellis Perennis) embroidered lawn I can live with. Who can resist sitting on the lawn picking and making daisy chains on a summer afternoon? There aren't many flowers that can cope with being trampled on as we walk across our lawn as much as these fellas do. I discovered this week that the yellow area of the daisy actually consists of a multitude of miniscule yellow flowers and that the young leaves and flowers of Lawn Daisies taste great in salads.

The Dandelions (Taraxacum Officinale) are usually sent straight to the gallows safe in the knowledge they will return to haunt me next year but they are not without merits. I remember my first tasting as a child of the delicious Dandelion & Burdock drink whilst on summer picnics thinking how brave and adventurous I was to be drinking such a strange concoction. Who knew, years later I would be eating Dandelion leaves in Salads!

Creeping Buttercups (Ranunculus repens) get the heave hoe from our lawn. They are very toxic and should not be eaten but as all children know you can hold them under your chin to see if you like butter!

So before you exterminate the weeds in your garden, take the time to look them in the eye, you may not want them to stay but they may be a little prettier than you think.
All we are saying is.........give weeds a chance!

Beaton's Bluebells

One of my earliest memories of my father is of him showing me Bluebells growing wild in the hedgerows but until now I had not seen a woodland bursting with them at the peak of perfection. So this weekend I dug out my wellies to visit the Arlington Bluebell Walk & Farm Trail.

Situated in Beaton's Wood,  East Sussex the ancient woodland covers an area of 23 beautiful acres of coppiced Oak and Hornbeam. The wood is open for 6 weeks during April and May allowing visitors the opportunity to wander along the ancient meandering tracks and marvel at a carpet of wild, native English Bluebells as far as the eye can see and in the process raising funds for local charities.

I hadn't quite imagined the effect of seeing these plants en masse, visually the impact is quite overwhelming and the scent of millions of Bluebells wafting gently over you in waves is an unforgettable experience. Although you could probably walk the route in an hour or so, we were blissfully unaware of time and spent several hours wandering around, even happening upon a woodsman working an old fashioned lathe who made the grave mistake of offering me the chance to turn a chair spindle, which now bears a rather large gauge across it! Oops!