16 December 2013

Chorizo and Parmesan Puffs

Every year we have a Christmas drinks party and every year I try to make enough canapes to sink a ship. This year I had my hands fuller than usual so I wanted to do as many things as possible ahead of time and these are incredibly easy to assemble and can sit in a disposable foil tray in the fridge until you are ready to cook them - I also do an anchovy and goats cheese version.

Chorizo and Parmesan Puffs

Makes 16-20 squares

350g pre-rolled puff pastry sheets
6 tbsp grated Parmesan
20 slices chorizo
1 egg, beaten
garlic oil

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. I use disposable foil trays for this so I can throw them out when they are cooked and because they are easy to stack in the fridge.

1. Lay the pastry out in a rectangle (or roll it out into a rectangle if you haven't got the pre-rolled stuff). Brush with beaten egg all around the outside edges.

2. Brush the middle of the pastry rectangle with garlic oil and gently draw a line down the centre of the pastry top to bottom so it looks like an open book.

3. Layer half of the chorizo along one half of the pasty and sprinkle with half the Parmesan. Then do a second layer with the remaining chorizo and sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan.

4. Fold the empty half of the pasty over the top of the chorizo and Parmesan layers (like you are closing a book) and press down the edges.

5. Brush the top with beaten egg - you can either chill or freeze it now - or cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

6. Slice into small bite-sized squares and serve.

9 December 2013

The Cottage - November 2013

One room that has been causing us head and heartache is the downstairs loo. Although I hate the expression, The Cottage was my late mother-in-laws 'baby' and the downstairs loo is completely wallpapered by her in pictures and postcards. Like this...




The first thing all friends and relatives have said to us is 'you're not going to change the downstairs loo are you?' To which we immediately responded 'No'. But the further we got with the building work the more we realised that not only would it look very outdated when the rest of the house was finished but there was a damp problem.

I jokingly suggested I take all the (super-glued) pictures down and put them back... and was taken up on that offer. Yikes. Thankfully my mother-in-laws goddaughter works in film continuity and offered to help. So we spent a very cold but therapeutic Sunday in November doing what we could to preserve as many pictures as possible. We've mapped out where everything was and removed what we could and I'm actually quite looking forward to patching the holes with pictures and postcards myself. This is how we left it...


The rest of the cottage is looking fantastic - the floorboards are beautiful and we're almost ready to start doing the stuff that involves me making a decision - like the kitchen and the bathroom but here's where we are in photos...

The dining room and kitchen

Sitting room through to extension/study

The sitting room from the extension

The new bathroom

As you can see from the last photo we decided to make the bathroom bigger (you can see the previous posts about the bathroom here).

And just in case you wonder why we are doing this Joe climbed up on the scaffolding and took some pictures of our view from the house and then from the seawall back to the cottage (which you can see as its the one with the scaffolding).

At the end of the garden is the seawall... then technically the sea. But this is Norfolk so it's a marsh



2 December 2013

Give a Christmas Gift from John Lewis

I'm an old softy about Christmas, even more so since I've had my son, and I'm hugely aware that while I'm sitting fatly on my sofa with my family in the warm on Christmas Day there will be a lot of people not having such a nice time.

So I was really pleased to see that you can buy presents for children in refuges via John Lewis - I know things are pretty tight money-wise for a lot of people at the moment but I figured that my son wouldn't miss one or two presents that would make another less fortunate child happy. DO IT - it's simple.

  • Go to johnlewis.com/giftlist.com
  • Click on 'Buy a Gift'
  • Type in list number 564013
  • Buy a gift - they start at £5 so it's really not going to break the bank and will make a big different to someones Christmas.  

25 November 2013

The Cottage - October 2013

As soon as I stepped out of the car I realised that from now on I'm going to have to label these posts with their date. It's all moving so fast and so dramatically that you need a timescale to be keeping up with everything.

We'd been on holiday, we'd had work, we have a baby so it took a while but I eventually managed to get up to Norfolk to meet with the builders and to see the progress. And my god what progress - I stepped out of the car and saw this...

Please note lack of roof! I'm now reliably informed (by the builders) that the roof was off for only a couple of days but it was pretty shocking to arrive and see (even though I knew it would be happening at some point).

The builders have not only been moving at a fast pace but their work is AMAZING (they are not reading this) and they pretend not to mind that I can't make a decision about anything.

So... they've gutted the place (as instructed). There is no roof, no plaster in the whole of the upstairs, all the lintels have had to be replaced and we've discovered that the extension is basically not attached to the rest of the house (thanks previous-builders-that-husband-won't-let-me-name). Decision on bathroom layout still to be made but had a great meeting about the kitchen and think we have something decided that will make it a lot more usable but I need to go away and think about it all (obviously).

The back...
The dining room into the hall


The main bedroom with new lintel
View from the third bedroom

Middle bedroom

The kitchen...

To see a layout to help get an idea of where these pictures are then see here for the floorplans.

22 November 2013

Doing New York

When you tell people you are going to New York you get so inundated with suggestions that it's hard to know what you can actually achieve in the time that you've got, especially when there are three of you to make decisions and a 1 year old to consider. I think we did pretty well at deciding what to see and we all loved the city to much I hope we'll return so I wasn't too anxious about missing those bits we didn't make it to.

I would like to say that we found New York to be really baby friendly. Even the places we were told were not baby friendly that we accidentally poled up at, were really lovely and accommodating and mostly had high chairs. I've done a whole separate post on where and what we ate while we were there - I'm still struggling to shift the New York weight.

Manhattan Sky Line from the Circle Line Boat
One thing that was consistently recommended to us and was I think, all of our favourite part of the holiday was the Circle Line Tour which is a trip around the island on Manhattan. Due to the tides we weren't able to go the whole way around Manhattan but the tour guide (David) was so fantastic it really didn't matter at all - we more than got our monies worth. Informative, funny and absolutely stunning this tour not only gets you really involved with the history of New York but helps you get a real grip of the geography. I may live in London but I was really intimidated by the idea of New York and yet it is so manageable and easy to understand once you get to know the layout and this tour really makes you feel like you've seen most parts of a city that would take a long time to see every part of - you could spend a good three months in the Metropolitan Museum of Art alone. If you do one touristy thing while you are in New York let it be the Circle
Line Tour. I hope you get David as your guide.

My lovely friend from school, Vanessa who has lived in New York for the past five years, took us on a walking tour of Midtown, Times Square, Greenwich Village and China Town. We were exhausted and our feet hurt and thought she was a turbo New Yorker - til we saw her two days later when she said every time we weren't looking she wept for her feet (a slight exaggeration I'm sure) and had to wear flip flops into work the next day her blisters were so bad. If you don't have someone to do it for you I really think a walking tour of the city is a great idea - I think you'd be hard pressed to see a lot of areas without a constructed tour by someone who knows what they're doing. What we didn't cover with the walking tour was Central Park which we did a couple of days later although we could only manage a couple of hours (due to our sore feet... thanks Vanessa). Central Park is just beautiful - and without sounding cliched and cheesy it was everything I wanted it to be. Huge swathes of green with skyscrapers in the background. I could spend a lot of time there.

Central Park from the top of the Rockefeller Centre
Probably the most 'touristy' thing we did was go to the top of the Rockefeller Centre - Top of the Rock. Apparently better than the Empire State building the view is phenomenal but there is a big queue to get up to the top and a HUGE queue to get down to the bottom again so be prepared. Central Park, so huge when you are in it, looks like a piece of patchwork. Had I not had a 1 year old I would have spent hours up there (not queueing to get down).

We had a couple of false starts with the shopping. I had a few specific things that I wanted, and failed, to get which I think really set us on the wrong path. Once we got advice (again from the wonderful Vanessa)  we were on a roll - I really recommend Ann Taylor, Loft and White House, Black Market. Joe got some lovely shirts from Loehmann's and if you are in the area it's definitely worth checking it out for discount designer clothes.

We, of course, went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (huge and a lovely cafe for lunch) and my Mumma (and Ned) went to the Museum of Modern Art (she said better to spend more time in the Met) and we all went to the Frick Collection which is just down the road from the Met and definitely worth a visit. There are so many famous pictures and artists in there it's pretty incredible and surprisingly few people have heard of it.

I fell in love with this city. It's intense and expensive but mesmerising and addictive. There is so much to do and see and yet I feel that, for a huge city it is quite an easy place to be. We stayed at the Marriott East and could not have been better placed or looked after - I'd really recommend staying in Midtown if you can as you really are able to get everywhere relatively easily and check out where I recommend eating here.

18 November 2013

The Cottage - Everything Out

My god having said I would be updating you on how our cottage in Norfolk is going I haven't... But I am now and I'm splitting it into two posts rather than one HUGE one.

The whole idea of doing the cottage up was quite difficult to manage. It was Joe's dad's cottage and he was very unwell and not keen on changing anything... at all. Still we made plans and agreed that work could go ahead from the beginning of September 2013. Then sadly on 4th August 2013 Joe's father died which not only stopped us in our tracks but made money issues very murky in terms of probate and our plans for the cottage get a whole lot bigger. When we initially made plans it was to do what was necessary, freshen everything up and yet keep it as close as possible to what it had been so it wasn't too strange for my father-in-law. Now that he has gone we are able to completely re-do everything and ensure that we can bring the cottage up to rental standard.

We were so shell shocked that we only managed to pack half the cottage up before we had to leave it all to movers to do the rest for us. It was very strange - we were there for the funeral, then went away for two weeks and the next time we saw it, it was... well you'll see in the next post what it was like but when we left we hadn't made any decisions. Now, we are decisions a-go-go...
Dining room and kitchen in the process of being emptied




Sitting room
Sitting room into the office extension

12 November 2013

Leftover Cheese Sandwich Pudding

The title of this sounds a bit gross I know and I have to say when my mum first suggested it I thought she had gone nuts but it was totally yummy and has now made me believe that any form of leftover can be made into something delicious. Which is true to a certain extent. I made cheese, ham and cucumber sandwiches for Ned's first birthday party (along with lots of other things) and there were some leftover which I was determined not to throw out. I ate the ham for lunch but really they would have been lovely in this but I was hungry. So there.

This is a hard recipe to write up as the amounts depend on how many sandwiches you have. It would also work well with lots of other kinds of sandwiches - ham, tomato... probably not cucumber... so don't feel restricted by the fact that this recipe is mainly cheese. You can also add whatever you like - my husband doesn't think something is cooking if it doesn't involve an onion. Garlic would be nice too but this is the basics - do with it as you will.

Leftover Cheese Sandwich Pudding

Leftover cheese sandwiches (I had about 20 which were quarter squares on a mix of white and brown bread)
2 eggs
¼ to ½ pint of milk
Cheese (preferably something tasty and melty - cheddar, red Leicester etc)
Parmesan
Salt and Pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas Mark 5 and butter an ovenproof dish that will suit the amount of sandwiches you have - you want at least two layers of sandwiches in the bottom and enough room for this to rise a bit.

1. Layer the leftover sandwiches in the bottom of your buttered dish and squish them in a bit.

2. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the milk. Beat a bit more and season with salt and pepper.

3. Pour the egg/milk mix over the sandwiches and leave to stand for half an hour or so.

4. Grate cheese over the top (I even splodged on some cream cheese that I wanted to use up) and cook for about half and hour or until the cheese is starting to go golden and it has puffed up a bit.

5. Serve with a salad and some chutney. It was delicious.

Leftover Cheese Sandwich Pudding

31 October 2013

Eating New York

I'm back and what a time we had. Firstly I should mention that Ned was a little saint the entire time and basically slept and played his way through both flights with the odd squeak on landing both ways but considering we landed at 6am on Monday 28th during a storm I think that's allowed.

Secondly I wanted to mention Marriott East Side in Manhattan officially the cleanest, politest, nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. They were so helpful providing things we needed for Ned and getting us adjoining rooms so he could charge around our room and his grannies and the amazing Midtown location meant we were never too far away from wherever we wanted to be which was great for minimising the possibility of any baby grumpiness. Highly recommended.

Having been on a diet to get the last of the baby weight off for some time before our trip I was ready for some serious eating when we got there and eat we did. We managed to be quiet varied in what we ate although it did end up being slightly bagel and sushi (not together) heavy. New York also turned out to be incredibly baby friendly and 98% of the restaurants we visited had a high chair even if they had to dig it out from the store cupboard.

Bull and Bear Steakhouse at the Waldorf Astoria
Firstly lets talk about drinks. Only one soft drink really needs a mention (in fact only one soft drink got drunk I think). We had the best milkshakes at Shake Shack in Washington Square park - I had chocolate and Joe had peanut butter. We managed to get there at 11am on a Sunday when there wasn't any queue at all - five minutes later and it practically went round the park. Americans are big on Sunday brunch and big on burgers and (apparently) Shake Shack do fantastic burgers even though we never got to try one, so the queue here is often huge. If you like milkshakes, which I do, this is highly recommended.

The Americans are not like us Brits about drinking and this became fairly obvious as soon as we arrived. We met a cousin of Joe's on the first day for lunch at the Brooklyn Diner on West 57th Street - amazing food, great atmosphere, incredibly American, not too expensive, huge hot dogs, worth a visit - he ordered a coffee, we ordered wine, he changed his order to wine and then drank more than us. The next day we met up with my school friend who has lived in Manhattan for the past five years. She gave us a walking tour of downtown and while we waited for lunch we sat down to feed the baby. She ordered coffee, we ordered wine, she said 'thank god' and changed her order to wine. Then explained to us that it's not really the done thing to order wine without food and she says she gets funny looks for ordering a bottle even if she's with four girl friends all wanting to drink the same wine!

We took this to heart and saturated ourselves for the rest of our time there. I did notice that when we went out in the evening there were more people drinking, even on a Monday night, than I expected, but mostly men in suits. My absolute favourite place to go for a drink (we went twice) was the Waldorf Astoria. If I lived in Manhattan this is where most of my money would go. The Bull and Bear bar is the most atmospheric fun, luxurious and friendly place to have a drink - the first time we turned up we had a baby in a pram and they didn't bat an eyelash though I'm sure that was not really ok. Their martini's (made with Grey Goose if you prefer vodka to gin) are lethal and the St Champagne (my choice - champagne, St. Germain and a lemon twist) is probably my new favourite drink. Definitely worth going to but the bill may be eye watering. The Campbell Apartment looks like nothing special during the day but is great fun at night and apparently has secret holes in the walls from prohibition. My mumma and I had a drink at the Algonquin - famous for housing such literary types as Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward - but it wasn't quite up to the Bull and Bear for us. If you are a fan of the 1920s and 30s which I am then these bars are heaven.


Breakfast at the Rock Centre Cafe watching the skaters
One of the many things New York is famous for are the breakfasts and we tried somewhere new everyday. The award for best bagel (plain with peanut butter) has to go to Milk and Honey which we found randomly on our way to the Circle Line boat tour. My mum had it, Joe and I wished we'd had it - incredibly delicious and highly recommended. (I had been a bit anxious about visiting America as everyone always bangs on about how awful the cheese it, that's as maybe - I didn't really have any - but the cream cheese there is much, much better than the tasteless stuff we get in the UK). I think my favourite breakfast though was on the last day at the Rock Centre Cafe watching the ice skaters and eating mountains of pancakes (my mum), frittata (Joe) and breakfast wrap with bacon on the side (me). If you like crispy bacon then New York is the place for you. Brunch at Hundred Acres  in SoHo was a real high point and well worth the 45 minute wait. They offer really exciting things along the lines of usual breakfast and brunch offerings - goats cheese and sage bread pudding with perfectly poached eggs and lovely smoked trout rillettes with toast.


The boys having lunch at the Oyster Bar and Restaurant
For lunch we usually just wondered around and found somewhere random or had it where we were. One of my two of my favourite non-sushi lunches were the Oyster Bar and Restaurant at Grand Central station - I had a tuna nicoise salad, pretty much my first vegetables all week, Joe had rock shrimp tempura and my mumma had a huge squid salad. There seem to be three areas to the restaurant, we were to the left as you go in, in the main restaurant area, in the middle seems to be more of a cafe place and on the far right is the 'saloon' which looks pretty ghastly. The arches are lit by sort-of fairy lights and it seemed really busy even for a week day lunch (which I take as a good sign). We also had lunch at the Petrie Court Cafe in the Metropolitan Museum. We almost didn't. When I asked where to go to lunch they sent us miles to this grim cafeteria in the basement where they were running out of food and you had to use one of those things you slide your tray along and help yourself to. I put my foot down and dragged everyone back up through the museum until we found Petrie Court cafe which was fantastic. Well the service was a little slow but the food delicious - we had incredible burgers and the best bread rolls I've ever tasted. And possibly a bit too much wine! This is a great place for lunch or a drink if you've been walking in Central Park or if it's been too cold to absorb the park as there are huge windows directly on to it.

The sushi sashimi mirowaise at Tsushima
We had two really amazing sushi meals - one lunch and one just me and my mum for supper. The lunch was at Natsumi, full of Japanese businessmen having Bento boxes for lunch the mixed platters were delicious and the rock shrimp tempura we shared was incredibly tasty and well done. Joe's pudding on banana spring roll was deemed 'unexciting' though. We managed to leave a pair of sunglasses in there and they tracked us down at our hotel to get them back to us which was amazing. My mum and I had a girls night at Tsushima on 47th and Lexington really close to our hotel. Again really great quality tasty sushi with a great wide-range of choice and well presented. 

On the last night Joe and I went on a hot date to Smith and Woollensky where my husband had been 10 years before and where we were served by the same waiter. Now my husband had built this place up and although my eyes watered at the cost of our New Yorker steak it was incredibly delicious, cooked how we'd asked for it and in no need of any starters, sides or puddings. It also had an wonderful buzzy atmosphere and was jam packed on a Thursday.

The bar at Smith and Wollensky
Tsushima on Urbanspoon Smith & Wollensky on Urbanspoon Natsumi on Urbanspoon Hundred Acres on Urbanspoon

12 October 2013

Chicken Noodle Soup

My sister-in-law came to supper last week. I had chicken thighs that needed using and I've only every seen her eat soup - so soup it was. You probably don't need a recipe for this but sometimes I find a recipe a reassuring starting point so here's my incredibly easy recipe for chicken noodle soup - adapt at will.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Serves 4

1 litre good chicken stock
450ml stock cube stock
6 chicken thigh fillets roasted (or leftover roast chicken equivalent), torn into pieces
Oyster or shitake mushrooms
Straight-to-wok Udon noodles
2 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
star anise
coriander
3 baby pak choi, torn into strips and washed

1. Pour the good chicken stock into a large saucepan and gently heat through for about 15 minutes adding the star anise, ginger, soy sauce and sugar.

2. While the stock is heating up, tea the mushrooms into strips, melt some butter in a small frying pan and gently fry the mushroom until golden. Then remove from the heat and put to one side.

3. When the stock is hot add the strips of  chicken, mushroom and pak choi and the noodles.

4. Add stock cube stock to taste (I ususally use most of it) and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

5. Serve in bowls and sprinkle with coriander.

There are sugarsnap peas in this soup.... I wouldn't bother next time

18 September 2013

Pickled Cucumber Salad

In my family there's really nothing (well nearly nothing) we like more than a lunch of 'deli foods'. This does not require a trip to an actual deli, though that is a bonus, but should include some of the following: cheeses, salami, smoked salmon, pate, bread, tomatoes, pickles and chutney. Birthdays are often a good excuse for a deli foods lunch and my mothers birthday last Friday was no exception. However, even though this is the easiest, (though not necessarily the cheapest) option for whoever is hosting the lunch, in this instance me, I always like to have something homemade. More than a salad but not necessarily something as extravagant as Heston Blumenthal's Quiche Lorraine. I was incredibly short on time, thanks to an earlier incident with a much-hated aubergine, and thought now was finally time to try out the Pickled Cucumber Salad recipe I'd written down six years ago and have failed to make ever since. Goes very well with fish.

I know some people are iffy on pickles but I LOVE THEM. So deal with it.

Pickled Cucumbers

Serves 4-6 as part of a picnic

2 medium cucumbers
2 cups white wine vinegar
1/2 cup of sugar
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
3 tbsp finely chopped parlsey

1. Peel the cucumbers and cut into thin slices.

2. Place the slices, with a sprinkling of salt between layers, between two plates with a weight on top (I used a couple of cans) and leave to stand for about an hour.

3. Pour off the juice that has formed and put the slices in a salad bowl.

4. Mix the dressing of vinegar, sugar, pepper and parsley.

5. Pour the dressing over the cucumber and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving.

16 September 2013

Hampton Sun SPF 70 for Kids

Slightly scary photo - still working out my new camera!
We have just been on a much needed holiday in France and, as Ned has inherited my fair skin,  I was really worried that he would get sunburn and so spent some time hunting around for suitable sun creams for children under 12 months. There's a lot to choose from and I took a couple with me but my favourite was definitely Hampton Sun's SPF 70 for Kids. It's not cheap at £33 (but you really can't put a price on your child's health) and the ease of the spray on application and the lovely smell made that rather steep price tag totally worthwhile.  In fact it was so easy to apply he was positively giggly about having it put on which made a nice change from the angry shrieking that usually ensues and it was so much quicker.

I reapplied this at least every 80 minutes when he was outside and we used it on nephew sometimes as well - there was still some left over and no evidence that he'd been in the sun at all (not a nappy tan line in sight). Highly recommended - I'm going to buy a bottle of this at the start of every summer.

12 August 2013

Giveaway Winner - Burts Bees Starter Kit

Finally a winner has been chosen by the completely unbiased Ned... thank you so much for your patience. Katie Skeoch please email me your details and I will send this out asap. Thanks to everyone for entering. I'll try to do another giveaway soon. Thanks to www.biggreensmile.com for the prize.


10 August 2013

There will now be a slight pause...

I'm so sorry, very rude to stop mid-giveaway but I'm afraid my father-in-law died on 4th August so I am just helping arrange the funeral and generally doing family stuff. Once I have a moment the delightful Ned will pick the winner of the Burts Bees giveaway out of a hat and normal service shall resume xx

22 July 2013

Giveaway - Burts Bees Baby Starter Kit

Biggreensmile.com have kindly given me a Burts Bees Baby Bee Getting Started Kit to giveaway. If you would like to win it then leave me a comment and I will chose the winner next week.


16 July 2013

Soy Dressing

Another amazingly easy dressing that is fantastic with noodles and salad to liven up leftovers. Stolen from a pork recipe in Donna Hay's The Instant Cook it is one of my go-to supper cheats now that summer is finally here and it's too hot to do anything that requires heat!

Soy Dressing

¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup lemon juice
1 tsp soft brown sugar

Whisk together and pour over your salad.... told you it was easy.

5 July 2013

New York Baby!

So, a very good friend of Joe's is getting married in Washington D.C. in October and we've decided that we are going to go to New York for a weeks holiday beforehand. Not only will we be taking Mr Ned, one week before his first birthday, but we're also taking my Mumma. I cannot wait but where to stay what must we see? I need your help - suggestions please.

3 July 2013

The Cottage - Bathroom decisions

The first major decision we have to make about the cottage is the bathroom. Although there is a loo and sink downstairs there is only one actual bathroom and it's not very big. We definitely want to put a shower over the bath but apart from that there's not a lot we can do with such a small space. Eventually we may make the downstairs loo a shower room but for now our builder however has come up with a rather clever idea to extend the upstairs bathroom. It seems to be the most sensible option for giving the bathroom more space but would mean losing a bit of the character of the cottage which I'm reluctant to do.

So I need your help. I've put pictures and a diagram of the current layout below and after that is a diagram of the proposed layout. What do you think - should we change it? If you need more in depth floor plans you can see them here). I will post pictures up asap.


Current layout of the bathroom - the blanket box is in a small corridor and has hooks over the top for jackets.
Proposed new layout - incorporate the corridor area and put a sink where the blanket box is

28 June 2013

The Cottage - Floorplans

I thought it would be helpful to put up the floorplans of the cottage should you feel inclined to follow this thread. Having spent a rather wine fueled evening last time we were there making Joe take every measurement in the house and making our own diagrams, the builders then sent us ones that they'd made...

Ground floor - kitchen at the top with aga in the middle, downstairs loo, stairs, drawing room and office




Kitchen with Aga in the middle

First floor - from top - third bedroom, second bedroom, bathroom and master bedroom

7 June 2013

It's that time of year again...

And although the weather is terrible and we're thinking about moving I have seen fit to go and spend money on plants for the garden that I really like and will therefore be sad about leaving or insist on digging up.

Every year since we moved here four years ago I have removed shrubs I've not been keen on, cut things back and weeded. Removed trees, pruned roses, threaded jasmine and clematis and weeded. Except last year, last year I quite quickly got too pregnant to weed and then it looked like I had decided to have some sort of wildflower paddock instead of a garden which was fine but instead of wildflowers they were 5ft weeds. It became apparent that having removed things I then spent a lot of time weeding three particular patches, watching the weeds grow again, weeding etc and could never decide what to plant there. It became this massive decision. What if I planted the wrong thing?

I had to admit that I know what I like but I know nothing of the textures, height differences and colours needed to make a really spectacular garden. Knowing what you like is good - I like peonies in all colours, shapes and sizes and we have a majestic tree peony that flowers at this time every year to fill me with inspiration. I love oriental poppies, lilac, camellias and of course roses. But what of the shrubs that are oh so necessary for texture and variety and for something evergreen during the long winter months.

Luckily for me I have two people close by to help me when I'm struck with indecision and who's knowledge if far greater than mine. My lovely neighbour who's garden is like a haven of colour and calm not only puts up with my constant questions but actually comes to help me in the garden sometimes (most shamingly she had to do some weeding last year when bending over for me was not an option). And my mother, who's garden is my favourite place to be, has similar taste to me, knows what I mean when I try to describe something to her that I think I'd quite like (she had to dissuade me from having cow parsley in the church when i got married 'sad little brown things by the time people arrive darling') but she's not afraid to give me a good kick up the backside when she thinks I'm dithering. And dithering I was.

Having lovingly weeded these bald patches for four years I could not decide what was worthy enough to go in them. Something needed to be done so my mother went with me to the garden center and I got a few things to get me started. Two hellebore's, a foxglove I was too dithery to buy last year, some flax, lobelia and a hebe that I didn't need but fell in love with.

I got back to London and nothing would actually go where I had originally intended but they are in and they've worked and I love it. I think often with gardening although you need to plan and think ahead you also need to go with what you love, a little at a time and build from there. Anyway everything is in and I love it... as usual the pictures don't do it justice
Clematis - planted three years ago, first flower


Peony, Hebe and Hydrangea

Hellebore, clematis, geranium, vinca

4 June 2013

Lemon and Lime Cream Tart

Another recipe that I copied from my mother's copy of The Naked Chef. There wasn't a picture (I don't think) and I was expecting something more like the cold, set lemon tarts I usually make. But it's not, it's cooked and browned on top and completely different. Like the Simple Chocolate Tart I bought the sweet shortcrust pastry base to see if it worked better for this - it went really well with the chocolate tart base - and it was fine but I think if I had more time I probably would hand-make the pastry for this. I'll put a recipe up for this asap. I served this with raspberries but it would work just as well with strawberries.

It was incredibly easy to make and, because I was using the shop-bought base, I had leftover filling which I froze and is apparently spectacular as a sort of ice cream. I didn't get to try any, my husband ate it all. I did use the lime zest as decoration so I zested them, squeezed them into a measuring jug and topped it up with lime juice from a bottle. The 4 limes makes about 100ml.

Lemon and Lime Cream Tart

1 sweet shortcrust pastry tart shell, baked blind.
340g caster sugar
8 large free range eggs
350ml double cream
200ml lime juice
100ml lemon juice
zest of 4 limes (optional)

Egg wash the tart base and pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4

1. In a bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs. When they are well mixed slowly stir in the cream and juices.

2. Put the tart shell onto a baking tray and pour in the filling.

3. Bake for around 40-45 minutes until the filling is set but still semi-wobbly in the middle.

4. Put on a cooling rack and after about an hour the filling will have firmed up.

5. Dust with a little icing sugar (I forgot), sprinkle with the lime zest and serve with raspberries or strawberries.



16 May 2013

Simple Chocolate Tart

I occasionally bite off more than I can chew but I'm becoming so grown-up now that I can now usually resist the urge to try to make three courses, look after the baby, tidy the house and do some writing all in the same day. For lunch yesterday this new regime manifested itself in the form of a shop-bought sweet shortcrust pastry tart base.

I never buy pastry unless it's puff, because I think it's a waste of money. It's not hard to make it and it's incredibly smug-making when you do and it goes really well but lunch with five adults, two toddlers, two babies and three dogs it seemed that maybe lovingly making a tart base was a bit too much. I didn't want to buy a pre-made pudding so I thought just the base was a good compromise. The filling was from The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver which I've never cooked from before but I'd written a couple of recipes down ages ago and anything with the word simple in the title was going to ideal for yesterdays lunch.

I'm not that fussed about puddings but this was really delicious and actually the shop-bought base was perfect because it was drier than home made which went really well with the rich chocolate filling. I have quite a lot of chocolate left-over but I'm going to whip up some cream, stir it in and make some sort of chocolate mousse... I'll let you know how that goes.

Simple Chocolate Tart

1 sweet shortcrust pastry tart shell baked blind
315ml double cream
2 level tbsp caster sugar
the smallest pinch of salt
115g butter, softened
455g best-quality cooking chocolate (half milk half dark works well), broken up
100ml milk
cocoa powder for dusting

1. Place the double cream, sugar and salt into a pan and bring to the boil. As soon as the mixture has boiled remove from the heat add the butter and chocolate and stir until completely melted.

2. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, stirring in the milk until smooth and shiny.

3. Scrape into the pastry shell, shake gently to even it out and allow to cool for 1-2 hours until it is at room tempterature.

4. Dust with cocoa powder.


11 May 2013

E & O

This time last year I was just out the other side of morning sickness but still in the stage where I was awake for five minutes at a time and only then to eat. So for our anniversary we got sushi delivered I had a glass of champagne, felt drunk and nodded off in front of the tele. As Joe said last night he was 'quite dissatisfied as you insisted we watched things saved on the Sky box, not even a movie'. I was perfectly happy but maybe it wasn't the most romantic of anniversaries... I've always loathed the number three anyway.

This year though was four and everybody likes four. I got peonies, my mum babysat and we resisted the urge to go to the trusty gastro pub round the corner and instead went to E & O on Ladbroke Grove - a restaurant I have wanted to go to for the last couple of years due to a colleagues constant ravings and the fact he never ever goes anywhere else.

Now it did have a bit of a head start in that I have barely been out to dinner with my husband in the last year let alone to a properly nice restaurant and I was amazed by the beautiful people having actual fun and drinking cocktails and looking glamerous so the food could have been a bit below par and I probably wouldn't have minded. But the food was absolutely fantastic - the best I can remember having anywhere.

The menu is a mix of dim sum, sashimi, tempura and things from the grill, the portion sizes are just right and everything we had was cooked to perfection and clearly well sourced. I know I'm not an expert but I eat a lot of sushi and I can tell when sashimi is good or not and this was absolutely spot on fresh and delicious.

We had prawn and chive dumplings, chili salt squid and crispy pork belly with black vinegar to start with. The dumplings were the least exciting but still delicious and perfectly cooked, the squid was absolutely perfect, served in a little wrap of newspaper just enough so you felt you got enough but not too much to spoil your appetite for everything else - this and the pork belly were my favourites. The pork was melt-in-the-mouth cooked with beautifully crispy fat and the black vinegar an ideal match.

Next up was the mixed sashimi - incredibly fresh and simple salmon, tuna and mackerel and wild pink shrimp tempura.

I had to stop there - my nil-by-mouth diet has successfully shrunk my stomach and I couldn't fit anything else in but Joe persevered with sesame and soy po choi and chili chicken with pickled cucumber also delicious apparently.

If I had anything to complain about (I always like to find something) the service was slightly slow but ever so slightly and very polite, no one asked me how my food was when I'd had one mouthful and was mid-conversation (I hate that) and the place was heaving so I really can't blame them for being a little on the slow side. All those people can't be wrong - this place is amazing and well worth going to. It's not cheap (the pink shrimp tempura was £18.50) but for a special occasion or if you don't need to worry about such things, it is worth every penny.

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