Friday, 22 July 2011

A short walk in the country...

Every Thursday, I deliver desserts to a local pub...it's located in a small, picturesque village a few miles from our town, full of thatched cottages and beautiful gardens. I usually take Alice with me, and after the delivery we go for a walk in the fields behind the village church. Yesterday, it was a little drizzly...but I think it was all the more beautiful for that. I stood at the edge of the meadow above...dark clouds rolled overhead...a different kind of very English summer beauty....


the hedgerows are already heavy with apples...

Alice loved it...she felt invigorated by the cooler air, I think. At one point she was leaping and bounding over the long grass like a (very) small deer!
But then it was time to stop for a snack...

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I love our Thursday walks together...there's never anyone else around and it feels a million miles away from the cars and noise and busyness of the real world.

Just a little melancholy story to finish. A week ago, I left the house on my normal delivery run to The Coffee Tree at 7.30am to find a little crowd of people in the churchyard by the wall. There is a huge, very ancient, twisted beech tree there...one of my very favourite things. In the night, one of the massive branches had broken off and crashed to the ground...

Such a terrible sight. There is disputed ownership of the churchyard trees - some think they belong to the church, others to the local council. This means that they aren't really maintained properly...as appears to be the case here. The branch isn't diseased...it seems to have been the sheer weight of the wood that has caused it to pull away from the main trunk. It now lies there...slowly dying and drying up...because again no one is taking responsibility for it's removal. A sad day for the churchyard and the ancient, silent beauty.
The only good thing is that the tree is so very huge that it hasn't (amazingly) been diminished by the loss. And the little children and baby squirrels are adoring the low branches to play amongst...


Have a wonderful weekend...the chill and rain are due to leave us and we're set for warmth and sunshine again! We'll make the most of it....enjoy! xoxo

Monday, 18 July 2011

The word is abundance....my July garden...

Not many words this month....not many are needed. There is so much beauty....colour....life...




See what I mean?
the scarlet runner beans are almost ready...
the corn is starting to form cobs (so exciting - I've never grown it before!)

blueberries ripening...

Paul's favourite day lily explodes into a new flower every morning...

everything is bending & bowing under the weight of flowers & fruit...






Pots need watering most days...but today it's rained heavily. Luckily I took these pictures earlier...and this one last week when it was so hot...
Alice loves a bath on the deck...she puts both her front legs in and her whole head goes under...it's such a funny sight!
Of course...there's one very important difference in the garden this month - the bee hive! I hope you can see this little film I took. The bees are so happy and active. Paul and our friend Helen inspected the hive last Thursday and there's so much honey already. We estimate that we'll be able to harvest at least 40lbs by the end of August! It's wonderful to watch them busily zooming back and forth - so intent on their mission to bring lots of pollen back to their queen. I have become quite addicted already...popping down to take a look and hear the gentle hum whenever I can. Once the initial 'what's that?' excitement was over, Alice seemed to sense that this was something to be left alone....we're so looking forward to keeping watch and taking care of the swarm through the seasons...

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Hoping that July is beautiful for you, so far...can you believe that we're deep in Summer already?
xoxo

Thursday, 14 July 2011

A Wondrous Weekend...

Last weekend was filled with the most fun & joy I could possibly experience without Paul being there! In fact, I'm only now coming back to earth..
You may remember that a year ago, I took a week long residential food writing course at Totleigh Barton in Devon, run by the Arvon Foundation . The course changed my life in many ways...it gave me the confidence to realise that I could write, and it introduced me to some wonderful new friends who all love food, cooking and writing about it as much as I do! The course was such a special experience that one of us suggested having a reunion weekend...and so, after much juggling of dates and busy schedules and e-mails back & forth, almost everyone who attended the original course met back in Devon last Friday for a weekend of food, talk,food, ping pong, food... & much laughter!
I booked the most beautiful place to stay...Silverton Park Stables, which is owned by the Landmark Trust...an amazing organisation which buys historic buildings (often in terrible, delapidated states) & restores them to their true beauty before renting them out so that everyone can enjoy their magic. I've long wanted to stay in one...and it was every bit as wonderful as I'd hoped.
After stacking the car with as much food, drink and kitchenalia as I could cram in, I headed down the motorway...through torrential rain & the odd hold-up...before arriving at Tiverton Parkway station to pick the lovely Judy up (she'd flown in from Dublin that morning...the efforts that everyone made to be there is testament to how much the reunion meant to all of us!) before winding down the narrow, flower-edged Devon lanes to Silverton.
Barbara was there before us, so we three had the delight of exploring the building first...like unwrapping a huge present with extra surprises in between every layer of wrapping paper!

It really had been the huge stable block to a long-gone stately home...so there was an equine theme to much of the decoration...and it's now been transformed into a beautiful, cosy, luxurious place for 14 people to stay in absolute comfort...




The living areas were so gorgeous that I was a little overcome for a while....

Bedrooms were a mixture of singles, twins, doubles...I shared the huge and elegant room above with my lovely friend Emma...
the stables are set in parkland...laden apple & pear trees were the first things we saw after arriving...and the views from all the rooms were tranquil and green...shutters were fitted to most of the windows (we couldn't help imagining what a fabulous place to spend Christmas or another wintry break...)

I loved the Cecil Aldin coaching pictures in our bathroom...he is one of my favourite artists, especially his wonderful drawings of dogs...

The 3 men on the trip shared this converted tackroom...with so many original features...just lovely!


As we were all obsessive foodies, cooking and eating was a major activity...and the kitchen was very important. Luckily, it was just as perfect as the rest of the house! I loved the view from the window...washing up was a pleasure!


Mealtimes were very special...Holly's birthday was on Friday, so we had a huge chocolate cake and champagne to toast her...

and Huxley, the 8 month old very cute Sprolly, kept us all entertained by luring us to chase him around the courtyard after our shoes, which he'd 'borrowed'! We really didn't have any planned activities...the weekend was all about being together and relaxing...but if you'd like to read more about the food, you can find lots more on my other blog, Baking Brownies for Mozart .
On Sunday, the farmer made hay in the meadow outside our bedroom window...

which sent the scent of mown grass and flowers wafting through the huge open windows...
An idyllic few days...so hard to say our goodbyes as we all went back to our busy lives...

I stripped the beautiful brass bed on Monday morning...

and felt quite sad to leave although it was good to see Paul & Alice. We all had such a good time that we're already planning next year's reunion reunion!

I will remember those few golden days always...filled with sunshine, food, wine, laughter and friendship. Just a few of my very favourite things...

                                                                         xoxo

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Two Men of Influence...

Last Thursday I fulfilled a long-held ambition and took a trip to the home of David Austin and his wonderful rose empire in the Midlands....it lived up to all expectations! Above you see the Alhambra Garden...one of several that were designed to showcase the absolute magnificence and fragrance of the wonderful roses developed and grown by this far-sighted man. His ambition was to return to the old English heavily-scented blowsy heavy-headed traditional flowers from the neat & tidy standards and buttoned up bushes favoured in the 1950's, 60's & 70's...he's succeeded!





It was a beautiful but not-too hot day....peacocks strutted everywhere and I took a peek at the Austin's magnificent farmhouse...

the new William & Catherine rose was on display...a beautiful creamy white...

It was so lovely to be able to see the different types in situ...as they should be seen (& smelt!) Huge swathes and banks of rambling, tumbling beauty. It made me wish that our garden was ten times the size so I could fit more of these delights in. There really isn't much room left! But I think I've identified a couple of spots for two more....
As part of the afternoon, I had a wonderful cream tea in a marquee on the lawns...served on rose patterned china


 with a vase of yellow beauties (The Pilgrim, a sensational climber) in the centre of the table..

A beautiful way to spend an afternoon, if you love gardens as I do. I came home clutching the latest catalogue...dreaming and planning!

Our county was for many years the home of celebrated author Roald Dahl. I even met him once! When I was about 10, Esther & I took part in a village fancy dress competition. Our Mum made our costumes using lots of crepe paper and ingenuity! I was a milkmaid and my sister a daisy...and to our great surprise,(and luckily for our relationship) we won joint first prize! The great Dahl was the judge and presented us with a signed copy of his book Fantastic Mr Fox...which we still have....
There is a children's gallery dedicated to his creations in my town and on most mornings I hear the chatter of schoolchildren walking in 'crocodile' formation through the churchyard on their excited way to visit!

Last Saturday, the town held the annual Roald Dahl Festival....happily the day was a beautiful one as the children so look forward to it, and everyone goes to so much trouble...

The parade starts from the churchyard...so we have lots of excited children getting into fantastic costumes from early morning, eager to be off!




and at 11am, a procession of BFGs, Matildas,Giant Peaches, Charlies and Georges make their way into town accompanied by stiltwalkers & many other amazing characters and creatures.
Dahl died about 20 years ago now...his grave is a huge draw to visitors, who leave chocolate bars on it in tribute to the creator of The Chocolate Factory....and his books continue to give huge pleasure to each new generation of children and encourage them to read.

July has begun...I can hardly believe that we are more than halfway through the year already! I hope that your week has started well...it's raining softly as I write and the cooling air is filled with birdsong and the smell of wet grass from the freshly mown churchyard...it's a little piece of bliss xo