31 March 2009

gardening bug

If you missed it on Sunday, make time tonight to watch How Britain Got the Gardening Bug on BBC iPlayer.

It documents British gardening from World War II to today: everything from Dig for Victory to garden gnomes. There's fabulous old BBC footage and entertaining commentary from Carol Klein, Nigel Slater, and Germaine Greer, amongst others. And one of the members of the allotment committee at the end looked eerily familiar...

If you're interested in gardening (or indeed social history), this could be the best 90 minutes of your week!

29 March 2009

springtime in scandinavia

G and I celebrated the start of spring at Trina Hahnemann's 'Springtime in Scandinavia' demonstration at Divertimenti.

As it was lunchtime, we had smørrebrød (open sandwiches). My favorite was Chicken and Lovage Salad on Rye Bread:

One of our neighbors on the allotments grows lovage, so I'm now working up the courage to ask for a cutting. The smørrebrød were served with Baked Asparagus Salad, which was very easy (just a few minutes in the oven) and nicely lemony. Luckily we do have our own asparagus crop, so we just need to keep our fingers crossed for a good season...

But my favorite part of the demonstration was, of course, dessert!

Our first dessert was Rhubarb Trifle, which was so delicious one lady actually interrupted the demonstration to ask for seconds! The Barbie-pink rhubarb stalks were baked with sugar, then layered with crumbled homemade almond macaroons and vanilla cream:

And we finished with Cold Buttermilk Lemon Soup with crumbled biscotti:

While I'm not a big fan of hot soups, I adore cold soups, and this one was amazing! Trina serves it not only for dessert but as a light meal or afternoon snack, and apparently it's a great favorite with Danish children (her own included). I'll most definitely be making a batch--probably several--when warmer weather arrives...hopefully soon!

28 March 2009

exhibitionists, part two

This week, G and I visited Hats: An Anthology by Stephen Jones at the Victoria & Albert Museum:

Stephen Jones, a London milliner, began researching the museum's vast hat archives in 2007, and the exhibition he's curated--showcasing hats from the 16th century to today--is nothing short of fabulous.

I'd never considered this before, but because hats are 'unconstrained by the need for fastenings or neck holes, sleeves or soles', milliners have a great deal more freedom than other fashion designers. Jones explores their many sources of inspiration: older hats, architecture and geometry, travel and exoticism, and the natural world.

There were so many amazing historical hats and some wonderfully theatrical modern hats. But keeping my own social calendar in mind, this squashy hessian hat with seed packets stuck in the brim would be perfect for working on the allotment:

image: Belinda Seper wearing her Stephen Jones hat, Sew & Sew from the Handmade in England collection, S/S 2005

And perhaps this number for the allotments' Spring Social:

image: Sarah Jessica Parker wearing her garden-inspired Philip Treacy hat, 2008

Unfortunately I couldn't find a good picture of the beaded Cauliflower Headpiece by Deirdre Hawken, which would be just right for the Seedling Sale. So a perfect excuse to visit the exhibition!

27 March 2009


We haven't stopped going to exhibitions. I've just been very remiss in posting about them.

Back in January, we visited Renaissance Faces: Van Eyck to Titian at The National Gallery, London:

image: Alesso Baldovinetti, Portrait of a Lady, probably 1465, The National Gallery, London

An American travel writer once quipped that visiting a portrait gallery is about as exciting as leafing through someone else's high school yearbook. But I love portraiture exhibitions. A really good portrait, no matter how idealized, always reveals a little something of the subject's personality...

Later in January, my mum and I visited Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture Around the Bay of Naples at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

I particularly enjoyed the section focusing on Pompeian gardens. The gardens in and around the grand bay-side villas featured aviaries, fountains, and impressive sculptures. But even the most modest homes within the town itself often had gardens. If space were particularly tight, plants were painted on the walls, the painted gardens visually expanding the actual ones:

image: fresco from the House of the Golden Bracelet, 1st century BC-1st century AD

Now I've been meaning to repaint the shed...

26 March 2009

big bun

G and I have been enjoying lovely thick slices of raisin toast this week using the Raisin Bread from The River Cottage Family Cookbook:

Hugh and Fizz describe this loaf as 'a large, shiny currant bun'. And that's essentially what it is, only better!

It would be extra-good with a think schmeer of butter from the cookbook's Making Butter at Home project, which we did with the Rainbows a few terms back. There's a sudden and oh-so-satisfying slosh when the lump of butter separates from the liquid. Even the pickiest girls were excited enough to try a bit on their bread. Totally worth doing at least once.

Now having finished our last slice of raisin toast this morning, I'm ready for hot cross buns! Not long to wait...

25 March 2009

a homemade life

I know there’ve been quite a few book posts lately, and I was planning to wait before adding another, but some things simply can’t wait:

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg is the most beautifully written memoir. She chronicles her life and the people in it with such gentle humor, openness, and candor. I quite literally cried, sighed, smiled, and laughed in the space of its 300 pages.

I was heartbroken when I reached the last chapter: I simply didn’t want it to end. But there are still the recipes to make—one at the end of each essay—and the blog (Orangette) to follow, so I guess it's really just the beginning...

24 March 2009


Sunny weather always gets me thinking about holidays and vacations. So I've been assembling a favorite Springbok puzzle featuring vintage American souvenir plates:

I love the old Springboks with their busy collages of objects, and I particularly like the retro kitsch of these plates. There are plates from North Dakota (my grandma's home state), California (my mum's home state), Virginia (my home state), and so many states in between...

But while some are keen on plates, and others are keen on teaspoons, I quite fancy vintage souvenir map towels and have often thought of starting a collection:

image: Martha Stewart Living, June 2001

According to Martha, their heyday lasted from the forties to the sixties--my favorite design decades. She says the easiest map towels to find are those from popular vacation states like California and Florida, so many collectors look out for more obscure states or national parks or monuments. But I must admit I'm less interested in rarity than in quirky designs, cheery colors, and my own happy holiday memories.

So if anyone spots a lovely vintage map towel from New England (apparently Maine is one of the easy states to find!) do let me know. Because while there are cute reproductions out there, a new one just wouldn't be the same...

23 March 2009

baking and buncle

This was meant to be a post about baking, but I couldn't resist mentioning Miss Buncle's Book by D.E. Stevenson (endpaper pictured below), which I finished yesterday afternoon--when I really should have been digging at the allotments!

Miss Buncle, whose dividends are dwindling, writes a novel about her village and its inhabitants to supplement her income. Only she describes her neighbors a bit too well: they soon recognize themselves in her book (a runaway bestseller), are terribly offended, and uproar ensues. Light and easy, yet so wonderfully witty and well-written, it's nearly impossible to put down.

In baking, the rather unseasonable warmth and sunshine last week put me in the mood for lemon. So here are the Lemon Squares from Martha Stewart's Cookies:

A wonderfully rich and incredibly lemony recipe. I only made two small adjustments: extending the baking time slightly and serving the squares without the confectioner's sugar topping to let the lemon really shine. Now if we could just have the sunny skies back!

18 March 2009

mad for maple

While I like nuts in my cookies, I prefer my ice cream unadulterated, so this is David Lebovitz' Maple Walnut Ice Cream without the walnuts:

He suggests using dark amber syrup, which results in a lovely rich yet still delicate flavor. And the texture is so smooth and creamy. It may not look exciting (well, except for the drips here) but it's truly divine: I think I may have a new favorite flavor!

I dream of visiting a sugar shack during the six-week maple sugaring season, between February and April, when the maple sap is distilled into syrup:

It takes about 40 gallons of sap (three trees worth, here dripping from the tap) to make just one gallon of syrup!

Virtually all the maple syrup available in England seems to come from Canada, but being American, I fancy a trip to Vermont or Maine. Indeed, I used to live just over the state line from Vermont--what a missed opportunity!

15 March 2009

out of the ashes

Thank you so much for all your wonderful comments! They've made such a difference, not just to me, but to all the Seed Store Cafe volunteers.

On Sunday, after several last-minute changes of venue, we erected a trestle table on Gaby's plot for the cakes and brewed tea and coffee in her little shed.

So many plotholders stopped by, and everyone was so generous. We sold all our cakes in under two hours, and with extra donations, ended the day with a profit of over £100! 

While we know we'll need far more than this to rebuild, it's a very promising start and will certainly cover the cost of the new mugs, teapots, cafetieres, and other basic supplies.

Thank you again for all your amazing support. And Anita, please send me your email address!

13 March 2009


Our allotments were attacked by vandals overnight. They broke into several sheds before setting fire to the Seed Store Cafe.

Our lovely pistachio-colored cafe is now a charred black heap. Here's where our serving counters used to be:

And here's our sink and other bits salvaged from the building:

There's literally nothing left: everything has been lost, right down to the teaspoons.

We're completely devastated but determined to carry on. We've decided to set up a cake stall in one of the old sheds this Sunday, and Jenny is on her way now to buy disposable cups, etc.

I just don't understand how someone could do this...

12 March 2009

book group

Our local library has an odd approach to book groups. Rather than reading a particular book each month, the library group reads any book by a particular author. This means when it comes time to discuss, each member could have read a different book!

So Darlene and I created our own virtual book group. Our first selection was Consequences by E.M. Delafield: very different from The Diary of a Provincial Lady, but utterly gripping.

Our second book was No Fond Return of Love by Barbara Pym. Since reading Jane and Prudence last year, I've fallen completely in love with Barbara Pym.

This is the new Virago edition, worth seeking out both for its cover and the lovely introduction by Paul Binding:

Barbara Pym chronicles English, middle-class women's lives with such subtle wit, I was giggling, sometimes rather embarrassingly out loud, from beginning to end...and both Darlene and I were quite surprised by the end!

11 March 2009

seed store cafe

Now that spring is in the air, business is picking up at the Royal Paddocks Allotments' Seed Store Cafe, and I'm back on the baking rota.

This Sunday, I made the Lemon Drizzle Traybake from Mary Berry's Simple Cakes, a very easy and reliable recipe:

But next week, I've volunteered to try a new recipe (the Dutch Apple Cake from Rachel Allen's Bake) so wish me luck!

10 March 2009

willow giants

While strolling through the Wisley grounds, we also came upon a few of the 'willow giants' installed by artist Tom Hare last spring: a giant apple cut in half, a six-foot-high pear...

and just outside the Model Fruit and Vegetable Garden, a row of ten-foot-high inverted roots.

Both G and I thought the inverted roots looked like aliens, but then again, root veggies grown on the allotment often do!

09 March 2009

wisley wander

On Saturday, we attended the first day of the RHS Grow Your Own Weekend at Wisley. It was a gorgeous day, and we had a good wander amongst the fields...

and flower beds...

and inside the Glasshouse, which was so lovely and warm, arid in some parts...

and tropical in others:

But the downside to the fabulous weather was that the garden was packed, and we weren't able to squeeze into any of the fruit- or vegetable-growing lectures or demonstrations.

So after collecting our goody bags and having a look round the Fruit Field (how I love espaliered fruit, so neat and tidy) and the Model Fruit and Vegetable Garden, we came home and got back to work on our own plot...perhaps making even better use of the Grow Your Own Weekend...

06 March 2009

not-so-plain vanilla

This is the Vanilla Ice Cream from David Lebovitz' The Perfect Scoop...

...and it's anything but plain. Made with both vanilla extract and a whole vanilla bean, it's very intensely vanilla-y.

The seeds remind me of a favorite family tale of an older relative who threw away a brand-new carton of premium vanilla ice cream, mistaking the black spots for bugs--whoops!

05 March 2009

a feast for the eyes

While I love Waitrose, I'm not so keen on Waitrose Food Illustrated. I collect my free issue every month, but it usually ends up in the recycling toot sweet.

This month, however, the exquisite photography more than made up for the lack of useful recipes.

Here in my favorite color palette...with a palette:

And this one reminds me of our alfresco lunch at Ali's house:

Note the accompanying recipe calls for exactly 24 quail eggs and 30 pink radishes and helpfully directs: 'on your most beautiful platter, arrange the eggs with the radishes.'

So perhaps still more inspirational than practical! But gorgeous nonetheless...