Thursday, 23 October 2014

Bedding down for the winter

I have joined the wonderful Manneskjur's 'how does your garden grown?' twice before and it the most friendly linky I have ever enjoyed. Last time, alas, it coincided with my first ever pre-launch event for my new creative venture (which is treading water until my Dino boy goes to school) so I could not lavish the comment love as I wanted, to due to trying to avoid a nervous breakdown, something I plan to put right this time!

This time of year in the garden I am picking the last of the veg and tidying up; recovering lost socks from the potting shed (how does a little boy manage to scatter his socks so liberally I can never be sure) and picking errant toys from potential leafy graves.

Last weekend we picked the past of the Pickle's potatoes from her personal veg area and planted 75 tulip bulbs. I love my Jan Reus tulips and albums along the fence line, but there were additional bulbs positioned in the veg patch. Yes, I have come over Sarah Raven and planted a mini cuttings garden with the hope of cheery bouquets come eat spring.

I really recommend I visit to the home of my inspiration.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Croque Ms muffins

Is it proof that I am an irredeemable domesticated wannabe yummy mummy? I am prepared to own up to watching cookery programmes on Iplayer while making hats and beading. It started with catching up with TGBBO but I have graduated onto Nigel Slater and Rachel Khoo. While indulging in this unsavoury pastime I came across this recipe, thanks to Ms Khoo. There is nothing like a good french croque so I was very tempted by the idea. The next day one of my fave cafes in Reading, Picnic, were serving their own version (but attributed to Ottolengi) having replaced the Gruyere with Camembert. Having completed the trial I can't say that the muffins replace the need for a conventional croque but you certainly get more generous filling to bread ratio, and you can get away Mother's Pride rather than mortgaging your soul for a decent pain Poilaine besides as left overs they are a very indulgent treat in a hurry.

B├ęchamel sauce
1 tbsp butter or rape seed oil (why I use oil when this still a cholesterol fiesta I am not sure)
1 tbsp plain flour
About 200ml milk
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
A large handful of cheese - I use the traditional Gruyere - about 75g (leaving some to sprinkle on top)

6 - 8 slices of white bread
6 - 8 small eggs
melted butter or oil

Base layer* - ham / spinach / red pepper

Make a cheese sauce: whisk the flour into the melted butter or oil and cook it over a medium heat (ensuring that you don't brown it). Let it cool just a few mins before you start adding a little milk. Keep adding milk little by little whisking away as you go. At some point add the nutmeg and mustard. You are aiming for a lovely smooth gloop! The invention of silicone whisks and non stick pans made life sooo much easier for me.

Next cut of the crusts from the bread and roll them flat before brushing them with the melted butter or oil. It is a little tricky getting them into the muffin tray but a small glass or jar will squish them flat against the sides

Add the bad layer* if you are using one, then add the eggs. If you add the eggs carefully you can see if the bread cup is getting too full and save the last bit of egg white.

Dollop on the cheese sauce, a couple of spoons on each then season and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake for around 20 mins. The bigger the egg the more time you need, but check to make sure that they are done to your liking. You may want to take half out at just before 20 mins to eat immediately with lovely runny yokes and then leave the others in the oven for about 5 mins longer so that the yolks firm to a mild quiver and they will be perfect for a indulgent breakfast in a hurry.

I served mine with loads of salad. The score card read Hubster 4 (and a coronary warning), me 2 and the munchkins one each.

*base layer - traditionally a croque Monsieur has a layer of ham, but I try to minimise my meat consumption but red peppers would add crunch and spinach would make it more of a croque Signora (well a bit florentine) or you could do without.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Meet Kerry and other flowers

About ten years ago Kerry sought sanctuary with us at Christmas time. Never hampered by convention Kerry was full of surprises, including my present: a muddy bag of soil and bulbs. Many years later and this autumn they brighten my life again. Kerry has long since succumbed to cancer; she is gone but never forgotten.

One memory segues into another, and this time it is my Grandmother. I would be escorted around her garden; 'meet Vera' she would say, or 'this one is Alice'. Granny would have put Miss Marple to shame, the contrast between the amiably batty exterior and the scalpel sharp brain. Her garden was receptacle for memories, each plant given to her by a friend was a lasting memorial to happier times and ideas. So, in her honour, having introduced you to Kerry meet a few more friends.

Don't you love a friend who turns up weeks after you have moved into a new home with gifts? In Nikki's case it was a sack of horse dung, a Handel rose and a chicken house complete with chooks. The chicken house has long ago been rebuilt, but the rose goes from strength to strength.

finally, for today, here is Sarah. One morning she turned up at the gallery where we worked with a gift: a tip of a sedum plant, liberated from a random garden somewhere in North London. That cutting has been the Daddy (or Mummy) of many more.

These photos are some of the first steps with my new, old camera. I hope to explain why soon. first I must complete my first collection of beautiful things...

Inspired by the amazing Annie at Manneskjur - I recommend you take a peek

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


We found this potters wheel in a charity shop for £1. The Hubster rewired it, i reconstituted the dried out clay so the Pickle could get really creative. She did not finish a pot, but she had loads of fun and had some practice.

Now as this is part of a photography linky, I was decided to compare my new camera (above) with my old (below). Notice a difference?

I can't think creativity without mentioning my own. I am having the time of my life, but burning at both ends as I have my first show/sale next Monday and o am racing to get a collection together.

Click on the icon to the right to see all the other lovely posts. Thanks Tara for kicking my butt, I love a linky to force me to revisit my blog.

Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A crooked pot kiln

(Photo: the post lunch waddle)

We have been meaning to go to the Crooked Billet in in Stoke Row since before I had grey hair. This anniversary a trip was planned, and we were finally set to go. Five minutes to blast off and I hear 'It was the Pot Kiln wasn't it?' So the Crooked Billet will have to wait.

From the moment that you see the veg patch as you walk to the pub you know you are onto a winner. We have been here a few times, normally with dog for a pub lunch then a walk. It is set in beautiful countryside and there are some rewarding walks, whether you want to go for a stroll or a two hour march.

This time we were went for the full dining experience. An anniversary lunch for five! Forget linen tablecloths or matching chairs, this is a place with no pretence - it does not need to be feign airs and graced. A simple seasonal menu with a few specials, and a children's menu too. The chief is renowned for his game cookery, so that does feature large on the menu, but there seems to be something for everyone.

I went for the full game experience. I had wood pigeon with celeriac and black pudding to start, a rather ballsy intro but a gamble that paid off. It was earthy yet refined and manageable. Home cured gravaldax and the ubiquitous goats' cheese may not have scored on the originality stakes, but the Pot Kiln has that Jessica Alba vibe - you know the gentle deceit of pretending to be the approachable girl next door while in reality being way out of your league. So, the basic eighties menu staples can cushion you from the challenge 'roe liver and foie gras parfait with muntjac lollipops'.

I was tempted to see if anyone could render the bullets also known as grouse edible, but good sense - or prejudice - prevailled and I went for partridge, a local speciality with chard and farcement potatoes (the humble spud with bacon and plums with calories injected in under pressure). Partridge is a favourite subtle flavour (or game for wimps) but whichever way it was cooked to perfection. The family had a roast rump joint, which they happily suggested would feed not just the recommended two adults but two children too. No fillet steak here, but a meaty cut with all the flavour and the flavour packed a punch.

It would have been sensible to have stopped there but greed tempted us on. The Valrhona chocolate and raspberry pudding looked like a door stop but miraculous it disappeared. Okay, I regret it now as a write like a beached whale, but at the time it seemed entirely logical to trough the lot: lightness offset the rich, and the sour balanced the sweet.

Reading the wine list there was little remarkable, many options that see interesting at around £34, but i bowed to my Dad's rationale that if a good restaurant can't do a decent house wine then they miss the point. Starters were around £7.50 and mains high teens. A special treat, but I am happy to save up for a repeat trip. I am so pleased the Hubster cocked up and we ended up here again, and I still have the Crocked Billet to look forward to, one of these years....maybe.

I waddled out like a beached whale. We did not for our regular stomp across the fields, but a crawl up to St.Frideswide Well. I took a deep slurp hoping that it's medicinal qualities will help my memories survive longer than my enhance spare tyre.

Ps should I have taken some pics of the food? Do you live in the moment and saveur, or snap for posterity.

Pps as you may have guessed - this is in no way sponsored :)