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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Pasta, pasta

I usually eat some type of pasta  two or three times a week. Lasagne, spaghetti parmigiano,  a lovely fusilli with roasted butter nut squash and red onions in autumn, or stuffed conchiglioni.....there's so many delightful variations .

But since this challenge began I've had to cut I decided to try making my own. Granted, the pasta flour doesn't come from Leicestershire or Rutland, but my eggs do....from a couple of miles down the road. 
I tried to roll it out by hand, but I'm no Italian mama who can get sheets of pasta dough into an enviably ,elastic thinness....I needed a pasta machine. Now all the research I did suggests that the Imperia is by far the terms of superiority and longlevity. I priced them out on the internet, but they're not cheap.

But a couple of weeks my friend Laura persuaded me it really was a good idea to get up at the crack of dawn and go to a car boot sale. There ....sitting waiting to be bought was one.Yes, the very same machine, virtually brand new in a box for with instructions for £17. And dear readers, I bought it!

A good friend Anne Marie was coming over that afternoon to see me and have supper.When I say she was coming to see was to see the new puppy Boo! Anyway, I thought I would get out the new machine and we could have a glass of wine and make pasta. So that's what we did.....

 We mixed the pasta flour and eggs -

Well I did..... and in the background you may notice some plastic freezer bags....back in October, I froze what seemed like gallons of a gutsy, garlicy tomato sauce I made from the pounds and pounds of tomatoes I grew. A couple of those bags of sauce were just what I needed's the recipe...

and the lamb mince came from a farm about four miles away.

Then Anne Marie got on with the kneading.....she was good at that....

She was also very good at setting the Imperia up and beginning to roll the dough through the machine

The sheets of pasta became thinner and thinner......this was fun.....

A few glasses of wine  later, we were woofing down a lovely lasagna and salad our hurry to eat it though,  I completely forgot to take a photo of it before we dived in!

I'm so pleased Laura persuaded me to go the car boot, delighted I bought the Imperia, loved the lasagna, aand so chuffed that by making my own pasta, I may just achieve my challenge that eighty per cent of what I eat this year comes from Leicestershire and Rutland.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Day at the Chelsea Flower Show part 2

The Chelsea flower Show is a great British institution and justifiably so. Ideas, creativity, painstaking hard work and sheer beauty are all celebrated here every year, and everything runs like clockwork.

At least it does when you actually manage to get into the show. On Thursday, I got to Victoria to find utter chaos with the District and Circle Lines not running. So hundreds of us were squashed into  a fleet of crowded double decker buses and we all streamed in with a collective air of excitement.
All apart from one lady who was supposed to meeting her son there...and she'd left her mobile phone at home.He wasn't there...and he was the one with the tickets!

When I say it was busy there, it was heaving in the heat...swarms of people wherever I looked, marching purposefully towards the main show gardens. It was difficult to get any decent photos of the main ones..too many people standing in front of them with heads, hats and other appendages making their way into my photos.

Oh look - a head! This was the best photo I could get of one of my favourite gardens...the l'occitane garden designed by Peter Dowle. A real sense of place here, so atmospheric of southern France with its wafts of heady herb scents....and I wanted to get under the pergola and drink a glass of ice cold  rose wine. Either that or get the cheapest and fastest flight down to Nice....

I did like the Laurent Perrier garden by Arne Maynard too
 And I thought the Lands End  A rural Muse garden was delightful. From Rutland designer Adam Frost and inspired by the poet John Clare. it was an oasis of calm and shade. Again, among a throng of people all eagerly photographing and chattering away,  I wanted to push them aside , hop over the rope and force my way to under the green oak framed shelter.

I didn't get a photo of  of the lovely Doris, the caravan at the Caravan Club garden though. Standing on tiptoe,  craning my neck in the crowd to take one, I was rather close to the woman with the strangulated vowels and lots to say in front. I suddenly shot back in horror...on the crown of her head I saw nits. I kid you not. Nits......I wonder if she knew. All I knew was I wasn't going to be the one to tell her. I stepped away pretty smartish!

Talking of smart...look at this....I was rather taken with this stand...loved the huge zinc planters and water feature - perfect for a town garden. Not that I live in a town, but I did love those planters....

When I came to the conservatories and greenhouses, I was in seventh heaven. .... Spent ages in the Allitex conservatory, and even longer in one of the Hartley Botanical Victorian greenhouses. It's so me! I fell in love with it there and then, and the sales advisor did look at me strangely when I asked if I could take a photo of it, and would he mind getting out of the way.

Isn't it just beautiful? I would live in there.....I've already got the same table and chairs....and can just imagine all my plants on the staging.....

And this sculpture by Christopher Lisney rather took my fancy...and made me smile.....

So many things to see, so many tools, plants and a greenhouse to put on the wish list, and all too soon it was time to leave....not before taking a few moments to admire the perfect symmetry of the Chelsea Hospital

and try not to be distracted by more plants on the

Chelsea Flower Show.....I do love you.....

But today's track is  Songs from a secret garden......beautiful, haunting, a perfect soundtrack for a shady garden at dusk I always think....when twilight can be a time of sadness.....

Saturday, 26 May 2012

A day out at the Chelsea Chelsea Flower Show Part 1

There's nothing quite like it is there? Plants, people and passion. What an invigorating, inspirational and beautiful combination.

Chelsea has it all....and as soon as I get in through the entrance my eyes are flashing right and left. This time, instead of meandering through the myriad of of stalls and show gardens willynilly, I am a woman on a mission.

I'm off to see a garden very close close to my's a garden which has triumphed over adversity, a charity garden and one which was created by friends of mine.

Dave Andrews is an old mate ...he presents the longest local radio gardening programme in the country (over forty years).Of course he hasn't been presenting it all of that time, but he's created a really good panel of experts over the years.

Dave is also involved with Rainbows, a hospice for children and young people  in Loughborough.And this year he's brought the two together to create a garden for Chelsea.Very quickly.

And when I say quickly, I mean it. Dave and his team didn't know whether they would be exhibiting until March. Yes, March! So it's been all hands to the pumps for him,  Chris Gutteridge and Ady Dayman.

The brief was to create a tranquil garden for reflection on our daily challenges or to remember a child in happier times.

The designer is Chris Gutteridge of Second Nature Gardens...he's based in leicester and a regular member of the BBC Radio Leicester Down to Earth panel. (he's also the son of a friend of mine, Alex)

And this what he and his team created....

A small garden but one which contains four amelanchier lamarckii trees for height, and a sunken bed of such pretty sweet woodruff divided by stepping stones.

Can you see the acrylic screens- well, they allow light through to create shadows and silhouettes. and there's an interactive element too. A hidden webcam can identify someone's gender and approximate age as they approach the entrance.....and appropriate images are then projected on to the screens.

I love the planting too....

Another integral part of the team  both in this garden , and as a gardening expert on local radio and television is the wonderfully irrepressible Ady Dayman. He and his family have grown all the plants in the garden

And here's Dave Andrews - who had the vision -.and I, in the garden just before nipping off for a well needed glass of Pimms ...well two was hot.

I think what they have all achieved in such a short space of time is remarkable. A garden that 's really fit for purpose , one which will bring enjoymnet for a long too, as the garden in its entirety will be taken back upto Rainbows hospice next week and installed in the hospice grounds for both children and their families to enjoy.

A wonderful visit to a tranquil garden......and it's not just me who loves it - so did the judges. So much so, they awarded the garden a silver medal!

Here's one final photo......

Obviously there was so much more to take in at Chelsea....coming up in the next post, more personal highlights from Chelsea...but in the meantime today's track is Over the Rainbow -impeccable jazz from Ben Webster....

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Arrival day

Well, it's official....Boo is now ours!

We went to pick her up on Thursday night.,and I thought she might cry or whimper as we drove away.Not a bit of it...she snuggled down in my lap, I spoke soothing words to her, she was fine and three miles later we were home....

Here she is ...looking slightly apprehensive though...."Is this where I live now?"

But within five minutes she was off, for  a tour of the garden....."mmmnnn forget me knots...."

And to play on the lawn....

And then it was time for something to eat and a well earned rest ....

And since then my life has not been the same!

I'd forgotten what it's like having a puppy in the house. The kitchen is full of her things....the quick dashes out to the garden  to prevent widdles everywhere,  the joy of seeing our world through her eyes....everything has become an adventure for her, and such fun for me.

Obviously she's not being left alone at the moment, so with a full day at home, I'd planned to make some rhubarb compote, some jam and sow some more vegetable seeds.

What have I managed to do? Well none of the above for starters, but I have been clearing up after Boo, having lots of cuddles with her....and watching her play.

Would you like to see?

Here's Boo with her shoebox of toys.....

To think, two weeks ago, I didn't know Boo existed - now after two days with us, she's family. She's home.

That brings me to today's track, from Zero 7. I love their music...I can remember being in the Languedoc in France, lying on the banks of a river in the hot sun, listening to the album this is taken from. No sun here today though!

The band have an ever changing line up....and luckily when I've seen them, both times Jose Gonsalez was playing.What an incredible musician, and a lovely man. And Tina Dico - she has the most beguiling voice.

Relax and enjoy this song called "Home"

Sunday, 13 May 2012

dog days

I'm a patient sort of person in all areas of life..I'm prepared to wait for something special, and I'm never been one who wants instant gratification.

Just as well really, because I've been waiting for another dog for three years. It's three years since Molly, my last working cocker spaniel died. Now she was a dog and a half. Funny, beautiful, loyal and a joy to be with, she was loved by our whole family.

She arrived as a tiny eight week old puppy and during her time with us she became  a mum and a grandmother. We kept one - Paddy, from her litter of six, and then Paddy gave birth to a solitary pup called Fizz.

It was great having three generations altogether. We hardly had to train Fizz...she was kept in line by the others, and to watch their relationships with each other as a family unit was a privilege.

Some dog owners I know have rushed out to buy and new dog immediately when theirs has died -to cover that awful gaping hole in their lives. My first instinct was to do just that, but Mr thinking of the days didn't agree.He felt we should wait.So we did. Wait and wait. I've said I'm patient, but three years is a very long time. Too long.

It was when I went to Australia back in March  I realised how big that gaping hole still was for me. I stayed with my friends Leigh and Andre  the first nine days in Perth. What lovely, good friends and great  hospitality .And what adorable dogs they have.

Bijou the Bulldog and Turner...

Staying there for nine days..I really relished their company. Bijou is slobbery,as subtle as a brick, and as graceful as a two ton truck. Turner is playful and intelligent., and they're both such affectionate dogs.They both gave me such a welcome every morning when I woke up and when I came back to the house. It felt good, and made me see just how much I did miss having a dog around.

Anyway the upshot is, Mr Thinking of the days has finally come around to the idea of having another canine companion....and on Friday we went to see a litter of puppies about three miles away.They're Patterdale cross border terriers, and there were five of them running around on a farm with their Mum , Dinky. Four girls, one boy , and all taken except for one

 Look, here she is.....I've called her Boo.

Here she is again.....

She's seven weeks old, and quieter than some of her sisters and brother....isn't she cute?

We're going to pick up Boo next Friday, and to say I'm excited is an understatement. Roll on Friday!

So what about a music track? I was thinking of Dog by Damien Rice, but then I remembered seeing this video a while back. I defy you to watch this dry eyed.

The music is courtesy of Queen, and it features videos of dogs welcoming their owners back from military deployment.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

reaping the rewards

This has to be one of the most infuriating growing seasons ever. Rain, wind, and sheer cold has meant that so many vegetables I'm growing are so very far behind.

There's nothing worse in life than those awful heart stopping moments when you're really late for an event or work.It puts me out of kilter for the rest of the day.....playing catch up. It makes me feel anxious.

 And I feel like that this year about my vegetable growing. I'm already worrying that this year won't be a good one produce wise - especially when this year it means so much. I'm taking my food challenge very seriously and am relying on what I grow to help me achieve my target this year -that 80 per cent of what I eat has to come from Leicestershire and Rutland.

The good news is that Leicestershire is now officially out of drought measures. I'm pleased...I  really am, but the lashing down of rain virtually every day in April has put the kibosh on my potato planting schedule down on the allotment.

Digging in claggy, bog like conditions is not high on my list of all time pleasures...and my language! Still,  swearing like a trooper at the rain, the ground and anything within a 100 yard exclusion zone did make me feel better!

So no new potatoes in late June for me....oh no, and the first sowings of peas aren't going to be ready  until at least six weeks after last years. This time last year, a huge crop of Alderman peas were standing tall (six foot high) and proud and almost ready to be picked.

At the moment, they're still sitting snugly in my cold frame along with beans, beans and more beans, plus sweetcorn, pumpkins and next years purple sprouting broccoli in the little plastic greenhouse.

But it's not all doom and gloom. May I introduce the stars of the allotment at the moment which are the pounds  of gorgeous purple sprouting broccoli - I picked two pounds worth today

 and pounds and pounds of rhubarb. Six pounds of the stuff in one picking....

There's something about those first bowls of stewed rhubarb with the addition of star anise, the promise of rhubarb jam next week and perhaps trying a new recipe which I haven't been given yet.It's from a friend of a friend, and allegedly it's the best rhubarb relish/chutney ever.

Can't wait......and can't wait to plant out all those beans.But frost is still being forecast so patience is a virtue.......

How do farmers and commercial growers cope with the vagaries of the English weather? Whoever you are, wherever you are, I take my hat off to you!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Days of mooching about in bookshops

There's something about days off, wet days and bookshops. Don't get me wrong...I just don't go into a bookshop to get out of the rain......but can you think of a better way of spending a satisfying hour or two in a snug little shop surrounded by fascinating new books to look at?

If it's fine, there's always other things to be done...getting the washing out on the line, going for a lovely walk, being on the allotment catching up in a mad frenzy of digging and planting....useful things, busy things.

But I mooch about in bookshops whatever the weather. I adore them,  it's the most wonderful feeling seeing new books, dipping in between the covers, inhaling the intense smell of a shiny new book and whiling away blissful guilt free minutes in other worlds and other times.

And that's exactly what I did last Saturday afternoon as it persisted down relentlessly  -I toddled off to my local ,and one of my favourite ,bookshops.

It's in Kibworth and called....wait for it.....the Bookshop, and I have to say it's the teeniest, tiniest shop you could imagine. About the size of an average size sitting room .But it's so pretty.....and full of books that I want!

I'm not surprised that the Bookshop has been shortlisted in the Independent Bookseller of the Year Award for 2012. The shop has already won the Midlands and Wales title, and now Debbie James who owns the shop, is hoping for great things on 14 May when the main award is given out at a posh dinner.

I first met Debbie the first week she opened the shop...just before Christmas 2009 - the month that Borders...yes...big ,bold Borders closed its doors.

Now at a time when the number of bookshops here in the UK is declining, that's a brave move.From 2006 to 2011 nearly 400 independent bookshops closed  -almost a third of the total number .

You get a friendly welcome when you enter the shop from Debbie who's chatty, knowledgeable and efficient.You could be forgiven for thinking that she's been in the business for years. But she hasn't....this is her very first bookshop although it's always been her dream to own one...and before that she wasn't even in the trade - she was touring around Europe (she's fluent in German) as a sales advisor for Premier Drum.

It was risky even opening the in the New Year I hotfooted back to the shop to interview her for a feature on BBC Radio Leicester  -A new year, a new business. I also interviewed Darren, a local computer consultant who was also venturing into a new career as a builder. Both I'm pleased to say are doing brilliantly.

But back to Debbie. Although she was new to the business,....she's spot on when it's come to building it up. She already runs three bookgroups - the one that takes place monthly in the shop always involves wine and cheese straws, and the other two take place at a local restaurant called Bobolis. I suspect wine makes an appearance there too!

I know how hot she is at customer service from personal experience. Whatever I want, if she hasn't got it ,will be ordered and usually be available to be picked up the next day. But  one day, I rang up to see if she had a paperback...a rather obscure one. Debbie said she would order it as usual. I was at work the following day though and wouldn't be able to get into the shop before closing time. And I needed that book first thing the following day to give a present.

Debbie thought for a few seconds..."What time could you be here by then?" I said I couldn't get there until an hour after she closed.

She beamed....and said she would meet me then in the the village pub. So the following day, I met her in the pub where she was with a friend, picked up my book and ended up staying for a few glasses of wine. That's what I call friendly service!

Luckily there are still  hundreds of other lovely,local , friendly bookshops like this one....
but they do need your support. Without it, and the fact that on line sales of books are rocketing and the rise of ebooks - so many may  disappear.

So go on, support your local bookshop too....and you don't even have to wait until a rainy day either.....

Today's track is "Wrapped up in Books" from the sublime Belle and Sebastian ,I saw them perform at Leicester's  Summer Sundae festival back in 2006. Their clever, catchy songs  delighted ....