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Friday, 12 November 2021

A Foodie Friday reviewing and cooking from "Green" by Elly Pear

 There's nothing more annoying than a friend recommending somewhere good to eat, and the cafe closing down before you can visit. 

That's what happened a few years back when I really wanted to visit The Pear Cafe in Bristol, run by Elly Curshen, who is otherwise known as Elly Pear. Sadly, I didn't get the chance to taste her food, but now I can.

I've recently been cooking some of her recipes from this book which was published in 2019 but has only just come on my radar.

Although I do eat some meat, I  love eating and making vegetarian and vegan meals, and am always looking for something new to try. Boy, do I have some new favourites after reading and rereading "Green"

It's set out in two parts...weekday recipes and weekend food, which works out very successfully.

Let's face it, many of us want fresh food, cooked quickly or easily at the end of a weekday, and Elly Pear delivers recipes that can be frozen, or cooked in one pan and some which are ready in 20 minutes.

Rose Harissa Chickpeas with Za'atar baked feta is easy peasy and tastes divine, and so is the baked two cheese, three greens, four herb frittata. I've never cooked a frittata in a cake tin before but this was full of flavour and perfect for supper or lunchtime.  My "Writers what lunch" gang doesn't know it yet, but this is what they're going to have at our December meet up at my house. and it's perfect for cooking in advance.  

Also on the must list to make in the very near future is Elly's recipe for Roasted Beetroot, Horseradish and Amontillado Pearl Barley risotto. What a combination of punchy,  sweet and savoury ingredients ...

The second part of the book features ideal weekend food. Ideas for what to prep for the weekend and brunches, lunches and suppers that hit the sweet spot for a lazy day, alone or with friends. Recipes that ooze freshness and make you feel that they not only taste good but by golly make you feel good too. Spiced Paneer, Spinach and Pea Grain Bowl with mint yoghurt sauce anyone?

These are all arranged seasonally, but even though this cake is suggested for Spring, it's ideal for right now.


140g plain flour

125g ground almonds

2tspn baking powder

Half a tsp salt

225gm salted butter

200gm caster sugar

3 eggs

zest and juice of a lemon

2 tbsp raspberry jam

4 tbsp almond flakes, toasted lightly in a dry pan


1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan/ 200C/400F or gas mark 6

2. Mix together flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt in a bowl. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, then beat in the eggs one at a time, adding a tablespoon of the dry ingredients along with each egg.

3. Fold through the remaining dry ingredients and then mix in the lemon zest and juice.

4. Grease a 25cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Pir the cake mixture into the tin for 25 minutes or until the top of the cake is light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

5. Remove the cake from the oven and leave it  to cool completely in the tin. Only then remove the cake from the tin, spread the jam over the top ad sprinkle with almond flakes and serv

6. Grease a 25cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Put the cake mixture into the tin for 25 minutes or until the top of the cake is light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and leave it to cool completely in the tin. Only then remove the cake from the tin, spread the jam over the top, sprinkle with almond flakes and serve,

* I used my homemade raspberry and gin jam in the recipe (such a good move!) I may also have overdone the amount of flaked almonds ...actually I know I did, so will use more sparingly next time I make this delicious cake.
Elly Pear is right when she says this cake keeps well, even it is very moreish. An absolute winner according to those of us who ate it.

For me "Green is a winner of a book too, and one which I will keep cooking from.

"Green" by Ellie Pear is published by Ebury Press  and costs £22
Her previously published books are "Feast Days and Fast Days" and "Let's Eat"

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

A day of visiting Chatsworth House Gardens , Derbyshire

Why you should visit or revisit Chatsworth House 

As I drove down into the valley past the sheep grazing in the parkland, I caught sight of  Chatsworth. Built of local limestone, honeyed in the September sunshine, with gold tips on the roof glistening, I felt a shiver of excitement. 

I was here to see the biggest garden transformation of Chatsworth for 200 years designed and created by three well known and respected landscape architects and garden designers. 

Dan Pearson, Tom Stuart Smith and James Hitchmough have all worked with  Steve Porter who is Head of Gardens and Landscape at Chatsworth to create an area of 15 acres known as Arcadia, and carry our major changes to a further 10 acres in the rock garden and elsewhere.

First though, a quick visit to the kitchen garden, where fruit, flowers and vegetables are grown. for the house, the cafes and for wedding events.  

As well as being decorative with lovely views, I liked the informative and decorative signage.

From the kitchen garden, you walk, higher to where the old trout stream has been remodelled by Dan Pearson. based on his Chelsea Flower Show design of 2015.

 You follow the stream as it snakes half a mile from herbaceous borders into grass. It's shady, welcome on a hot afternoon as you walk into Arcadia.

Arcadia , a new garden at Chatsworth House

 It's based high on the ridge behind the main house, there was a wilderness that had never been gardened. 200 trees were felled to create light and space, and the area is divided into four glades.

In one there's an impressive sculpture by Laura Ellen Bacon. I've not heard of her before but I do like this "Natural Course" and the way the 100 tons of stone connects so well with the landscape.

The meadow glades delight in shades of dusky pink, cream, white and blue as you wind your way through the pathways. There are huge drifts of perennials, and in the wet glade, over 8,000 camassia, ferns and persicaria have been planted.

your senses are heightened too in this special place.  Birdsong seems louder and scents stronger .....with major plantings of daphne and actea "Pritchard's Giant".which I have decided is a new favourite.

 Pretty arches of white glisten and its heady scent take my breath away.

A quick chat with Tom Stuart Smith

I speak to Tom Stuart Smith who has overseen this project, adores this plant too..., using 50 of them at a time throughout both Arcadia and the rock garden.

More walking through Arcadia, and you enter an area that was cleared of beeches oaks and limes to create a wonderful moment, of seeing how this garden connects with the rest of the formal gardens. There in front of you, newly planted bulbs and perennials line the steps leading you down ....but your eyes are caught by the majestic maze, with green parkland beyond.

Stepping downwards, Tom Stuart Smith leads us to the three-acre Rock Garden which has also been remodelled with the introduction of new paths and heavier planting of perennials than before, some echoing those up on the ridge.

Now, this is one of the earliest and largest rock gardens in the world, designed by none other than Joseph Paxton. So how does it feel to be asked to redesign some areas? Tom smiles and agrees it's a challenge...but you can see by the smile in his eyes and his love of the gardens here, he's happy with what has changed here over the last three years.

Meanwhile, the more formal gardens, designed by gardening greats such as Capability Brown and Joseph Paxton are waiting to be explored. 

The Maze itself and the newly planted entrance are on the foundations of the Great Conservatory designed by Paxton. It took 4 years to build and was the largest glasshouse in the country in 1840 - an elaborate and stunning place to grow plants and to visit. 

According to Steve Porter, the Head of Gardens and Landscape though, after the First World War, it became a huge extravagance and the 9th Duke of Devonshire decided to demolish it. It was blown up, and apparently, it took several attempts to do so. Steve says that even now, his team are still digging up pieces of glass. 

By now, it was time to walk back to the Stables near the House.

 Families were still sitting by the water, entranced by the sight of the Emperor fountain shooting water up to 90 metres high, but it was nearly closing time.

I've spent the last week constantly thinking about my visit to Chatsworth House and the hugely ambitious garden transformation commissioned by the current Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. They wanted an exciting contemporary and sustainable garden.

It takes a leap of faith to radically remodel, and institute change on such an expensive and expansive scale in a much loved and admired garden.

Supported by Gucci, after three years of hard work by the designers, the gardeners and a team of volunteers, and even mucking in themselves to help during the Pandemic, the Duke and Duchess's vision  "Arcadia", a pastoral paradise, in harmony with nature has been realised.

Accessibility information for the Gardens at Chatsworth House

You can download an access map from the Chatsworth House website.

There is free admission for carers (don't book a ticket for one)

A 28 seater trailer which is fully wheelchair accessible,  offers tours of the garden on certain days. Garden buggy tours are also running for visitors to book at a small additional charge. 

I visited Chatsworth House as a member of a press trip with the Garden Media Guild

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Days of harvest and a heatwave

So, September sunshine came at the weekend, bringing almost tropical temperatures.

It meant meals in the garden after watering the tomatoes and sweet pepper plants in the evening. Glasses of wine whilst watching the swallows pirouette, soar and swoop around us until the skies became dark.

No so relaxing though for our local farmers. They’ve been harvesting at full pace when there’s a tight window between having lots of sunshine and the storms forecast. 

Farmers Phil and Mark were hard at work in the field at the end of our garden on Monday. Our dogs Boo and Eric had a grandstand view, following their progress with interest as they circled the field.

After a couple of hours it was time for the hard workers to have a drink and a chat …

Meanwhile on the other side of the village, I stopped to watch as they were working on another field, with a cloud of dust  trailing behind them …..

On the other side of the road, all was safely gathered in as I walked through one of my favourite fields.

As I got closer, I realised just how huge this tower of bales was. It looked so majestic in a commanding position on the ridge, pale gold surrounded by bright blue skies.

I know storms have been appearing already  elsewhere in the country but here in our little village, all is still dry. This  warmth and sunshine have given us a glimpse of the summer we didn’t have. A small bonus as the year marches on and the nights draw in…..

Monday, 6 September 2021

A reading day: Big Veg by Gerald Stratford

Ah, the beginning of September - heralding the beginning of autumn and the big bonanza of newly published books, all shiny new and ready for the Christmas market. 

One of the first books to arrive through the door with a satisfying whack on the mat is Big Veg by Gerald Stratford.

Gerald Stratford has been growing vegetables since he was taught how to as a small boy by his father but had never thought about writing a book about it.

He's a grandfather in his seventies, a retired fisherman and gardener but that's just what he's done.

His book "Big Veg" , it was published last week and I think it's going to sell very well for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Gerald is an internet sensation. Despite not being on social media for long, he has already made his mark, attracting over 308,000 followers on twitter alone.

I'm one of them, and I know all is well in the world when there's a post and video from Gerald.

"Good morning" or "Good evening "he says in his lovely Oxfordshire lilt, and I'm transported to a happy place where there are outsize vegetables to admire which Gerald has grown, and to hear little snippets about his life. Nothing earth-shattering takes place in his videos, they're not slick  there's no fancy, frenetic, over the top presentation either, but they are surprisingly addictive.

So what about his book?
In the words of a famous Ronseal catchphrase from yesteryear "it does what it says on the tin."
It's about the outsize veg he grows in his garden and allotment, and how to grow them in simple, understandable terms.

Split into sections, the book has lots of tips for beginners to both grow and show big vegetables. His advice is encouraging and he understands that when growing veg, anything ..good or bad,  can happen despite your best efforts.

He only grows he likes to eat though, an important commandment really for any grow your own fan. After all, what's the point?

In his chapter on what its like to show your vegetables, Gerald is spot on as he describes the anticipation, the sheer thrill and the fun to be had whether you're exhibiting at your local village show or a more prestigious one. In the world of big veg mind you, size matters and his friendly, inspiring approach will enable you to grow some whoppers.

The last part of the book guides us month by month through Gerald's year of growing vegetables, both for showing and for supplying him and his family with meals in every season.

It's a charming glimpse into a land which is forever England. A gentle land of sheds, greenhouses, allotments and vegetable and flower shows. This book takes into Gerald's likeable world of retirement, family, growing food for his family and above all, humour and contentment.

Mind you, his world is already changing with a book,  even modelling, plus appearing at a literary festival next month, but I suspect that nothing will change Gerald.  

Cheers Gerald!

Big Veg by Gerald Stratford is published by Headline Books and cost £14.99.

My copy was sent for review.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Foodie Friday, - making Nigella’s chilli jam

Earlier this year, I rescued a chilli plant from "death row" at a garden centre.

You know, the few rows of plants which range from the mildly unkempt, the bone dry and drooping or the ones for all hope is lost.

This particular chilli plant was a third of its original price and had possibilities, so I thought it was well worth with a punt. I was right, it blossomed with some tender loving care, so much so, I had a slight surfeit of chillis.

I'd never made any jam from them, so spent a satisfying hour or so rifling through my cookbooks and scanning online to find the perfect recipe.

I found it,  and after making my second batch in less than three weeks (that's how good this chilli jam is) , I can confirm that is absolutely delicious.

It is from Nigella Lawson and is incredibly easy.


Whizzing chillies and red peppers in a food processor is easy peasy. So is throwing some jam sugar and white wine vinegar together (Nigella uses cider vinegar but I hadn't any) and heating in a preserving pan until all the sugar is dissolved.

Adding the flecks of chillis and peppers isn't taxing, and neither is bringing the mixture to a rollicking boil for ten minutes, before pouring into sterilised jam jars.

It's literally that simple and the jam sets beautifully just as Nigella tells you it will. I didn't have to faff around with small plates from the fridge and trying to find out if it would set. It does.

I can't believe I've not found this recipe before. After all, I've adored Nigella's writing since "How to Eat" was published and have other books of hers on my bookshelves. So how did I miss it? I haven't got a copy of Nigella Christmas, that's why.

That will be remedied, after all it's only 120 days until Christmas and it would be good to have some recipes to try. 

Meanwhile, if you want to try making this chilli jam, here's the link to Nigellas's website.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Days of staying at Hever Castle


My latest trip away is all down to a history teacher, who back in 1941, enthused an eleven year girl with tales of the Tudors and a certain castle in Kent. That young girl is now 91 - she's my Mum who's always wanted to see where Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII, was brought up.

So off we went to Kent, to Hever Castle to stay in a castle for the very first time, and immerse ourselves in history and luxury. A treat to ourselves, as for a long time we were apart during lockdowns and missed each other dreadfully.

Of course, we weren't staying in the seven hundred year castle itself, our room was one of 28 in the Tudor style Edwardian wings, just yards from the castle. Arriving mid-afternoon, we were pleased with Bramley, our accessible deluxe twin room on the ground floor, with a large en suite.

Mum made herself a pot of tea before unpacking. There was a selection, from Earl Grey to fruit and peppermint teas and a selection of biscuits. Builders tea and shortbread for her, I downed a bottle of spring water but noticed approvingly there was a cafetiere and real coffee for me in the morning.

We ventured out into the gardens for a brief stroll and to sit and rest in front of the castle. 

It was quiet with only a few couples here and there, other guests who were staying here. All the day visitors had gone, leaving us feeling quite spoilt to have the place to ourselves.

Back indoors, it was time to eat.  We sat and relaxed in the sitting room as we waited for our table....and then it was time to eat in the rather grand dining room, full of guests talking quietly, as we were all served attentively with nothing being too much trouble.

Smoked salmon starters went down well and then chicken and duck as our main courses. Lots of vegetables and we couldn't manage puddings. 

An early night for both us and we were back for breakfast early the next morning. When I say breakfast, this was a feast. Continental pastries, fruit platters, porridge, eggs Benedict, full English breakfast with vegetarian and vegan options too, plus copious refills of coffee, tea and fruit juice.

We virtually staggered to the castle afterwards in time for a private tour for hotel guests before the day visitors arrived. 

The castle is oh so atmospheric with precious treasures belonging to its most famous inhabitant, Anne Boleyn. 

This was Anne’s personal Book of Hours,beautifully illustrated and with colours  still so vivid, but there is also a poignant inscription by Anne herself. "Le temps viendra" - the time will come.

Henry VIII may have married her but he also ordered her execution and later, he gave her family home to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleeves. 

Hever Castle isn't the largest castle in the country but as the saying goes, size isn't everything, and it does have a priest hole, a ghost, a wonderful collection of portraits of Plantagenet and Tudor Kings and so much more. 

It’s at the beginning of the 20th century that Hever Castle and its 125 acres of gardens were transformed by the new owner, William Waldorf Astor. The richest man in America, he spent the equivalent of a billion pounds today in restoring the castle itself, building new wings and completely changing the gardens and grounds.

From the castle you can see our bedroom in the Astor Wing, so close to the original castle  


 The courtyard for hotel guests is a lovely area to sit and read a book in the early afternoon, or drink a gin in the early evening and chat with fellow guests.


As well as creating the extra wings, William Waldorf Astor employed 800 workers to dig and create a lake and create the most spectacular gardens.

These days, there isn't a huge staff to maintain them. We were lucky enough to meet the irrepressible Neil Miller, the Head Gardener who only has a team of eleven gardeners, and some volunteers, yet manages to create, refresh and enhance the acres and acres of ground

Some of the gardens are high maintenance too, such as the rose garden, containing 4000 rose bushes,

the more formal Italianate Garden and the wonderful and very different Pompeian Wall, but we loved them all.

Whether you visit Hever Castle for the day, or for a night or two, there's something for everyone no matter how young or old you are. Mazes, a children's play area, a couple of cafes and you can even go boating on the lake.

A two night stay though was a wonderful experience. We cocooned ourselves in a different world, a world where we felt safe and pampered. A place where we not only felt as if we went back in time, but where we had time to chat, to read and to have drinks with other like-minded people, such as Sam and George who love history, historic houses and gardens. 

For me, the best part of each day was first thing. Walking out into the gardens in the early morning light, breathing in the scented air, and being totally alone. Wandering around the knot garden amongst the herbs, walking over to the lake, sitting there watching the ducks and swans gliding on the water, and totally losing track of time and the outside world.

Meanwhile Mum couldn't get enough of going into the castle itself when it was so empty and she could wander around to her heart's content. There are lots of stairs and she could only use her rollator on the ground floor, but the very helpful guides ensured that she could get everywhere in the castle safely and at her own pace. 

So, we loved our time at Hever Castle. The acid test mind you, is would we go again? For both of us, the answer is an unequivocal yes. I would love to see the tulips in Spring, apparently, there's thousands and thousands of them.

Meanwhile, there are other adventures to plan. Mum has now achieved her childhood dream of visiting Hever, and over the years, we've ticked off her fancy to see Salzburg in the snow and her ambition to cruise down the Nile with a trip to the Valley of the Kings. 

Where though, can I take a gregarious, lively minded, 91 year old on a trip next?

Friday, 18 June 2021

Foodie Friday and lunch at Charnia Kitchen in Quorn

I've just come back from walking the dogs and I'm feeling rather hungry.

That's because I'm thinking of exactly two weeks ago when three of us went to lunch at a place none of us had been to before. Charnia Kitchen in the village of Quorn is a relatively new addition in the north of Leicestershire and we were so pleased we found it. 

Laura and I always have a lovely time when we meet up, there's nearly always food and wine involved, and the only time there's silence is when we are eating. Our third member of the group was Bam Bam, she doesn't talk much and didn't order any lunch, preferring to eat snacks from a copious selection which came with her. and she made it quite clear that I wasn't going to have any of those thank you very much. 

She's Laura's adorable daughter, who has been out to lunch and more press launches than I have in the last year.

So, what was on the menu, and what did we try? 

Wine first, and as it was a rather warm day, we ordered a few glasses of Cantina di Negra from Verona which were just right -  chilled with peachy undertones and very moreish.

The menu is a mixture of light lunches for those for fancying quick bites such as jacket potatoes, avocado on toast, toasties, eggs benedict and that sort of thing. 

There's also a comprehensive list of starters, then mains such as five-spiced duck breast, roast salmon to chateaubriand steaks. 

We decided to try the set lunch menu ...eyeing up what seemed a 1970's inspired selection of dishes.
Laura's eyes lit up when she saw her starter, a prawn cocktail with a Marie Rose sauce, and the oohs of delight as she started eating confirmed that it had hit the spot.

A tomato and mozzarella salad with pesto dressing was my choice,...

So, both starters prettily presented, now it was time to test the mains. Laura loved her seared lambs liver, mashed potato, fried onion and red wine gravy. Bam Bam was being fork fed tiny morsels of everything, and relishing every bite too.

I  was busily devouring the mushroom fricassee with mashed potatoes which I'd ordered. When was the last time you ate a fricassee? I was in France back in the 1990's in Normandy at a Chambre D' Hote on a cider farm. Happy and delicious memories, but I really enjoyed these mushrooms sauteed with onions, enveloped generously in a cream and brandy sauce. 

The mashed potatoes were a perfect foil, alongside the seasonal vegetables. Even so, there was plenty of creamy goodness left, and I was reaching for my dessert spoon to taste every last drop. Yes, I may have been greedy but Martyn Pepper, the General Manager was immediately at the table with a few slices of bread to help mop every last bit of cream. Which I did.

We couldn't manage a pudding too, so decided to go out into the sunshine and finish our drinks. There's a colourful outside space behind the restaurant, full of relaxing chairs and benches and a few groups of people were drifting in for drinks and afternoon teas which have to be booked in advance. 

Such a relaxed feel, and none of the *you've had your lunch and now bugger off" attitude which some restaurants have after a long, lazy lunch. Mind you, Charnia Kitchen is open from 8am for breakfast and stays open until 11pm.

The afternoon tea does look inviting, served imaginatively with copious sandwiches, cakes and what not.  A brief look flashed between Laura and me and I knew we were both thinking the same ...perhaps, lunch, go for a walk and stay for afternoon tea next time? 

There will of course be another visit here, we both agreed on that. Charnia Kitchen serves delicious food, beautifully presented and I like the attention to detail both in the food and service. Gleaming glassware and cutlery, and Martyn Pepper, the General Manager, was friendly and attentive, without being intrusive and looked after all three of us very well. 

We paid  £12 each for our rather retro set lunch which we both thought was an absolute bargain, plus the wine. 

We drove off happily. Bam Bam, who is an absolute delight, was dozing in the back as we discussed the meal and how much we enjoyed it, The only question mark was-  did the menu need a few more summery dishes on it?  Yes, we decided, and we're both very much looking forward to tasting some on our next visit.