Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Of mugs & men...

I'm absolutely terrible when it comes to other people making me tea or coffee. Not in my choices of drink particularly - coffee must be real, but otherwise I'm just black, no sugar please. Tea: Earl Grey or Lapsang, merest splash of soya or skimmed milk, no sugar. Thanks. I don't think that's too difficult. But it's mugs & cups that I'm funny about. My mum actually opens the cupboard at the farm & asks me to choose mine now before she starts! I admit, I'm just very fussy about the mugs I drink from. I can't bear chipped, stained, cheap ones. Logo ones are dodgy too. Ones that are free from petrol stations or at the back of an office cupboard are an absolute no.I'd rather go thirsty! For tea, vintage china cups are the ideal, but failing that Emma Bridgewater will do nicely. And for coffee I really prefer Starbucks limited editions or these beautiful things
from Brissi are perfect. We have them in duck egg blue or charcoal grey and I just adore them. They feel right! So, that's another of my foibles in the open....

Last Saturday we saw Jeff Goldblum & Mercedes Ruehl in Neil Simon's 'The Prisoner of Second Avenue' at the Vaudeville Theatre in London's Strand. We've seen Mr G in another play (like this one, a production from Kevin Spacey's Old Vic company) and he's such a great stage actor. Very physical and animated. This was the perfect vehicle for him....he played a neurotic insomniac who has a nervous breakdown in the Manhattan  summer of '71. Just wonderful - we laughed so much! It's on until September, go if you can.

I've just come back from the Farmer's Market (my monthly stall) and am now off to walk Alice before her energy explodes! Hope everyone's having a wonderful week so far.

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Totleigh Bubble

Lots of catching up to do, I know....I will get there, I promise, so please bear with me....x I've just returned from the most amazing week (the last of my travels for a few months) that will remain with me forever and may even change my life!

I spent 5 days in deepest, most rural Devon at a pre-Domesday manor house set amidst emerald farmland with no noise but the gentle lowing of cows and the unmistakeable laughter of like minded people enjoying each other's company.

Totleigh Barton is one of the writing houses owned by The Arvon Foundation which is a charitable organisation that runs residential courses to encourage and facilitate writers of every type and background. I took the food writing course....I felt that I needed a bit of direction where my bakery cookbook was concerned (actually I wanted to find out whether I should continue with it at all.)

Part of the reason that I signed up for this particular course was the calibre of the tutors....who just happened to be two of my most admired chefs and writers : Yotam Ottolenghi & Peter Gordon as well as a midweek special guest: Lulu Grimes, the food editor of Olive & BBC Good Food magazines.

The format is very simple: a beautiful setting, clean, comfortable but basic bedrooms

most with shared bathrooms, wonderful ancient kitchen stuffed with every fresh food for do-it-yourself breakfasts, lunches of salads, dips & breads ranged on the scrubbed wooden table at 1pm, evening meals cooked in turn for the whole group by course members in friendly teams of 4...and, most importantly, tuition & discussion in the Grade 1 listed barn morning and afternoon followed by writing, reading, writing and more writing! I can't believe how much work I completed (especially as I made so many new friends and seemed to spend a lot of time talking and laughing with them!)

There are places to write dotted everywhere within the house and grounds.....the desk in your room, windowseats (wide & cool), comfy sofas in the barn, summer houses & deckchairs in the garden...inspiration and quiet calm was everywhere. The small group of 18 - together with wonderful course directors, our hosts, Oliver & Claire  - quickly became close. Plenty of strong personalities, but no one overpowering to 'hijack' the group.

There was no TV, music or cellphone coverage to break the dreamlike state....except most mornings when several of us would take the slanting, sloping walk up the long private driveway to find some phone signal and connect with the outside world...

worth it for the views and exercise alone....although I found that I actually lost weight during the week - an added benefit of 3 good nutritional meals a day with no in between eating and plenty of brainwork.

I learnt so much on the week....mainly from the wonderful teachers, but also from my fellow attendees, some of whom I hope and believe will remain friends for a long time. There's something really special about spending time with people who love food and words as much as I do. It's been quite hard to come back down to earth, wonderful as it was to see Paul & Alice arriving in the driveway on Saturday morning. I'd so recommend an Arvon or similar course to anyone who loves to write. I feel refreshed, encouraged, inspired by my week. I hope to carry those feelings through and into my writing. One thing's now certain - there WILL be a book. I know now that I have the tools and knowledge to succeed....the rest is really up to me!

Happy Monday - it's good to be back xo