Winter Wreaths

So, to well & truly kick myself into the festive season, I slung some vintage Phil Spector's Christmas tunes onto the turntable and got busy with wires, tape & a whole lot of prickly things in the Christmas wreath making department. While Phil thanked us for listening from his amazing wall of sound & the Ronettes sang with gusto of Mummy Kissing Santa Claus, I glued feathers onto wires & speared flowering brussel sprouts with sticks.

Got to say,  apart from the earthy waft of miniature brassicas when you open the front door, I'm really pleased with the results. Plus, I've now got a warm festive glow developing about me, bring on the tree……..


Winter Greens

Thank you to the Kennedy family for the use of their lovely door x


Culinary Christmas

Bay, sage, rosemary, crab apples, even sprouts in this one, no need to run to the shop if you forget a sprig of thyme or two.

Venice - Part 2


Surrender your breath, Venice will take it from you.

Our room with a canal side view booked, comfy footwear polished, pages from the wonderful Polpo cookery & unofficial Venice good food guide book tucked under our arm we ventured forth from Southend Airport in a very un E.M. Forster manner.

Art done & done it was was, there was time a plenty to wander the sestiere in search of recommendations in the epicurean department from Polpo & to uncover a few of our own firsthand.

A decent spritz topped our list of must finds, and find it we did, several times, at Bar Refolo in Castello. Vertiginous stools outside this tiny hole in the wall are always in demand as are the bitter spritz and local wines served by two burly but very friendly bar staff, one of whom is called Elvis! Soft salty goat like cheese & fried aubergine in a small dusty rolls were a great accompaniment to our viewing of the evening stroll by locals & interlopers alike.

After having bought purple artichokes from the floating vegetable stall in the far corner of Campo Santa Margherita, the famous Red Caffe in this bustling square, is also a great place to hang out, late afternoon with a tumbler of, the orange wonder. Good olives too.

Elvis recommended a restaurant for us to try, owned by the wonderful, welcoming Donatello a man who I suspect has seen a thing or two & who was happy to furnish me with the intricacies of the dishes I ate, Il Nuovo Galleon was a sweet treat. In the Polpo book a dish of cuttlefish in its ink was described as looking like 'Darth Vader’s helmet' I had a plate and have to agree that it's a pretty accurate description although the taste, oh the taste, cooked slowly for three hours the day before, accompanied by some soft Polenta it’s a delight, maybe one best savoured in the dark.


Leaving the apartment early one morning we headed straight to the Rialto market area for a bar crawl. Starting at Al Merca. The crowd outside lets you know you’ve arrived. Really good small panini and aubergine polpette signalled the start of our grazing. Coffee from a sweet girl around the corner, not frothy cappuccini but small strong machiato with machismo, much like one of her other customers, the dude in the leather, see pics.

Zucchini flowers paid for, Do Mori, the oldest bacaro in Venice was our next stop. Dark, dingy with cauldrons hanging from the ceiling reminiscent of a Diagon Alley vendor, the counter was heaving with a mouthwatering selection of cicheti (the Venetian spelling, so I'm told), our favourite being a courgette and tiny prawn one  washed down with Prosecco from some very delicate coupes, lovely.

Emerging from Do Mori, our eyes having adjusted to daylight once more, who should we bump into but Venice's most famous, current, resident Francesco Da Mosto, dragging on a fag, of course !

Fortified, for the time being, it was only 10.30 am! We wove our way through and marvelled at the most amazing fish and vegetable stalls of the Rialto. Spiky crabs, spotted tailed langoustine, slippery squid all of the best just from the sea quality made me sad that my nearest fishmonger at home worked at a supermarket wore a ridiculous hat and vacuum packed fish of dubious quality. Can you imagine going to your local big shop and seeing prawns actually still moving instead of wondering when they were indeed last alive?


Anyway, off to Murano for lunch and a mooch, mooching being what we do best. 

A sweet window box full of glass flowers caught my eye (my kind of gardening) and Mark got boat envy on this island of glassmakers across the lagoon. 

Not exactly spoilt for eaterie choices, we headed to Busa Alla Torre. Easy to find, under an ancient bell tower, in the same square as a huge, modern, azure glass sculpture, and depending on what time you’re there slap bang in the middle of the primary school run.

Presided over by a larger than life, nylon track-suited, Ray Winstone lookalike, who when asked by a customer if they might move their umbrella, proceeded to pick up the whole table, steaming bowls of pasta and all and move them to a shadier spot. Leaving the family agog but far cooler in the long run I’m sure. The average food was more than compensated for by the charming staff, people watching and sheer theatre of it all.


Highlights, we had a few. 

Mine being the long lunch we spent propping up the bar at Cantinone Gia Schiavi in Dosoduro. Run by Sandra and her sons, what that woman can’t do with slices of french bread and an assortment of wonderful fresh ingredients. Go here for fantastic cicheti, favourite mouthfuls included zucca with ricotta, ricotta with walnut puree and a pretty egg mixture sprinkled with dried edible flowers.  Choose between big practical looking bottles filled with delicate, light wines of the Veneto or from the mind boggling selection that line the walls. 

Eat inside or canal side either way a more convivial way to spend an hour or two I know not. An ice cream from down the way at the famous Nico ice cream parlour, watching the thumping great cruise liners come to port to deposit their daily quota of rubberneckers, topped it off nicely. Mine, being the creature of habit that I am, was a Cassata and Pistachio, delizioso.

Budget airline travel may restrict the importation of seasonal veg in your hand luggage, mine would otherwise no doubt been filled with an assortment of stripy radicchio, artichokes, ball aubergine, pink borlotti and  a selection of funghi, but as yet there are no restrictions on full pockets.  Winding a way back to Marco Polo airport after one last Spritz at El Refolo (handily situated by the Arsenale vaperretto stop) ours were stuffed full of fantastical memories of a wonderful trip full of art, food, wine and the wonder of Venice itself, beautiful & a little bit bizarre.

Venice - Part 1


And so to Venice, where a birthday treat brings us in search of cicchetti (more another day) and ART. Yes, ART in CAPS, since this is Biennale year when Canaletto steps aside and the modern world takes centre stage. A visit has always been on the ‘to-do list’ and a late autumn arrival ensures that the masses have left the city just as the first mists arrive. 

The main events are housed in the Giardini gardens, opened in 1895, and the atmospheric Venetian shipyards of the Arsenale - although one of the additional beautiful benefits of the Biennale is that art and installations spill out into many of Venice’s secret spaces that would normally be out of bounds.



What of the art? Well it’s almost overwhelming in both size and scope but what makes this such a wonderful experience is firstly the delight of the unknown and secondly (some might say more importantly) the leisurely pace at which it can be consumed, energised by Aperol spritz, autumn sunshine and the inspired free tea bar at the British Pavilion. 

From cavernous warehouse installations to obscure victorian photo albums, each and every space is filled with at least one memorable moment to cherish and inspire. The snaps here do their best to capture some of our favourites but barely scratch the surface of what was a joyous, haunting, enlightening and sometimes over-the-head treat of a trip.

The 56th Biennale arrives in 2015. Who’s coming?




We've gone Chrysanth mad here this week. Out of fashion for so long with the floristry crowd, I'm rather partial to their slightly odd perfume and the way raindrops stay hidden amongst their well organised petals ages after you've bought them indoors. 

Nothing cheerier than a pot of these richly coloured, too long overlooked dazzlers, to brighten a living room in autumn (a roaring fire and steaming hot chocolate also help), so familiar & comforting, like a big hug.

So I say, lets celebrate these old fashioned lovelies with the big personalities, the time has come, big up the humble Mum.

Columbia Road


One of those sun soaked October sundays which seem like a bonus, saw us jostling along to the medley of sights, sounds & smells which make the wonderful Columbia Road. 

This street market specialising in flower & plant sales has been going for donkey's years (there has actually been a market on the site since 1869 apparently!).  

The past decade or so has seen a whole host of lovely eateries & specialist shops springing up, including one owned by our lovely friend Rob Ryan, making this East London cobbled terrace the most splendid place to while away the hours, listening to buskers, nibbling at something delicious and of course procuring some wonderful blooms to liven up your living room, or plants to stuff your window boxes with.

A pit stop at the institution which is the Columbia Cafe for a wake me up coffee & bagel & we're off.

There were swathes of autumnal hydrangeas to be had but some wonderful chocolate scented, velvet petaled, Cosmos had caught my eye. Once these were duly wrapped in a cone of brown paper we negotiated our way toward some deep blue Aconitum that we'd spotted earlier. Couldn't resist a whole ton of other loveliness, so with lots more cones of brown paper we jostled our way back through the crowd, past the heaving Laxeiro Tapas bar and the oh so delicious Lily Vanilli, pockets emptier, hearts fuller.





Love Dahlias, NOT so keen keen on the earwigs that sneak indoors with them. My advice, give them a good shake outside 1st, the blooms not the bugs !

I think these lovelies are the Duet variety, could be wrong, let me know if you know otherwise. 




Blackberry & coconut

Had a bit of an amble out to a nearby hedgerow today, came back with some lovely squishy late summer blackberries. What to do with them……

I love a tray-bake, they remind me of good old fashioned school puds. Squares of white sponge with jam and sprinkles, ginger cake with tangy lemon sauce, yum. This one would, I daresay be banned in modern day primaries these days, coconut probably being seen as a choking hazard & high up on the list of childhood allergens. Anyhew, for those that like a risk, these are worth it. Great with custard on about day 3 if you have any left !



Blackberry & thyme ice cream

Had some blackberries left over & some thyme in the garden, which had gone a bit leggy but had produced lovely delicate lilac flowers. So I steeped the cream, crushed the berries, added honey, egg yolks and churned me a batch of deliciousness. Pretty colour.




Just back from 3 sun drenched days in Paris with the teenager. So much to see so little time. 

A blissful afternoon was spent roaming the cobbled streets & independent shops & cafes of Montmartre. A whole day was spent on the open top hopper bus visiting all of the iconic postcard destinations. With stops off at the breathtaking Louvre, diversions to discover the more unfrequented alley ways, quay sides & parks Paris has to offer & to add a lock to the bridge at Pont de L'Archeveche.

On our wanderings we came across the beautiful shop window of Roses Costes Dani Roses. A peek inside unveiled the most beautiful selection of heavenly scented roses I've ever seen. Linked to the rather Chi Chi hotel Costes, set opposite Chanel & a mere well heeled stroll from Louboutin, it undoubtedly has a clientele that can buy a bouquet or two without the need to sell a vital organ ! 

An unhealthy amount of time was also spent concocting our own wish lists from the shop windows of Rue De St Honore.

Cake was bought and eaten, Sancerre quaffed & a very content duo with very achey feet boarded the Eurostar home, heavier but happier.


El Dorado


If you're the kind that expects bales of white fluffy towels, Bang & Olufsen gadgets and a REN filled bathroom, please don't go here. If however you're like us and prefer  Vintage Parisienne charm please do.

If you like your city bolt hole  to have every corner stuffed with curios, antique lace at your full length french windows, mismatched coloured tiles on the floor,  spacious rooms (rare as hens teeth in Paris in my experience) overlooking courtyard gardens heavily planted with exotic flora, charming staff who can be bothered to engage, then this might be for you.

They also happen to have an incredibly popular bistro.  Arrive after 7o'clock & stand no chance bagging a rickety table in the lovely garden, which would be a shame because whilst sitting under strings of coloured lights, I ate some of the best food I've ever eaten in France.

It's fair to say we had a lovely stay. I can't vouch for every room but we were lucky enough to have room deux in the garden house. Slightly shabby but tres chic.




A lovely neighbour with an equally lovely allotment gifted me these beauties today.

Plum crumble - To turn my lovely windfalls into this taste of late summer, I added star anise & a slurp of ruby port to the fruit & hazelnuts to the rubbly topping.




Another day another bountiful crop. Forget those EU guidelines give me a tomato with character any day. I feel a Gazpacho coming on ………



One rule here, enjoy whilst well chilled, the Gazpacho not yourself, you should be feeling warmed by a glorious summer day. Good luck with that !



Another detour, another foodie recommendation. The Fish shack on the shingles of Dungeness. Past Derek Jarman's captivating house & garden on the left, you'll find it, if you get to the lighthouse you've gone too far. 

This Wonderful fishy oasis had griddled red mullet baps, fish cakes & crab sandwiches among the tasty delights on offer to take away & enjoy on the beach. A quick look around the back unveiled a tiny fish shop of the best kind, the kind where the fish were caught that day within in a few miles & were now being sold by the man who caught them. We had Dabs for our supper that night. Bloomin delicious.

Whilst we were there we also fell in love with this Airstream Van. It's good to have a dream !

Also found a pebble in the shape of a bird, tweet x





Couldn't keep away from this local golden field of loveliness. Sunflowers being one of my favourites. The way their heads turn toward & soak up the sunshine makes me smile. We gathered an armful filled a vase and bought the summer indoors.




Holiday season, hurray. 

Off to Catalunya with a detour via the beautiful, wild, delta Ebro to visit the wonderful rice museum (not your usual tourist attraction but bear with me) Moli de Rafalet, where the intricacies and varieties of spanish rice were explained to us, by the lovely owner Raphael. He used pretty good English I utilised my pretty awful Spanglish.


Armed with our beautiful bomba of locally grown rice a few prawns & other bits bobs we fired up the bbq, oiled our ancient paella pan & 30 minutes later we had a delicious supper, with just the right amount of socarrat ( the crusty bit on the bottom of a good paella) juicy prawns & soft calamari. Accompanied, of course by a lovely bottle of cold red wine from the region & lots of pan con aiolli, perfect.


Summer fruit


Summer is well & truly upon us and as such us lucky Kentish dwellers have the pick of the soft fruit crop. Off to the local farm we went & came back with fingers stained purple & pink, scratches up our arms, stinger rash on our legs, stomachs full of samples! And enough bounty to fill the freezer 'til Christmas.

Using my full proof shortcrust pastry method, the one where you add an egg yolk & icing sugar, I proceeded to make pastry cases for England. 

The end results were lovely, well received & promptly dispatched by my lot, their favourite being a lovely sweetened mascarpone, cream, lemon filled & blueberry topped one. I added a few mint leaves for the grown ups.

The cherries didn't last long. After they were modelled as earrings for a bit they were promptly scoffed & a cherry stone spitting competition commenced, it's a family thing!





So we were out & got a waft of something lovely, lemony & flowery. Elderflowers were in their absolute prime, lacy & fragrant & abundant. We filled a bucket with flowers & set to. The fruits of our labour were a lovely batch of steaming hot EF fritters & bottles & bottles of cordial, which we promptly added to Prosecco, ice cream, gooseberry crumble, Lemon sorbet………

Elderflower Fritters

Sift 100g of plain flour into a basin then add 2 tablespoons of oil and 175ml of sparkling mineral water. Beat to a thick paste, then stir in a tablespoon of sugar, caster's best. Set aside for 30 minutes. 

Just before frying the elderflowers, beat an egg white and fold it into the batter. Thoroughly but gently, rinse your elderflower heads, bugs do nothing to enhance the fritters ! Shake them dry and snip the flower heads into small stems. 

Dunk & cover the flowers with batter & lower carefully into bubbling oil.  Hold them under the oil by pushing down with a wooden spoon. When the batter is pale gold and crisp they're done. Drain on kitchen paper, get busy with a sugar shaker & enjoy.

If you're feeling zesty as we were a squeeze of lemon juice gives a kick. Or for an extra sensation dip into a jar of liquid sunshine, otherwise know as homemade lemon curd, makes your face go funny but it's worth it. Yum