Friday, 28 April 2017

Snail snacks

The village and surrounding woodlands are well and truly blooming. We've had a recent cold snap (a tiny frost on the car one morning too), but the warmth of early April brought many flowers with it. I don't think we'll be lighting the fire anytime soon.

The roadsides are flagged by cow parsley and dandelions, the woodland is carpeted in wild garlic and bluebells, and our garden is brimming with gorse, blue and whitebells, and lily of the valley. A plump little red breasted robin sings most days from his perch in the hawthorn, and sparrows dart around our outdoor table eating the bread I put out for them.

There are tiny seedlings popping up, and the vines covering the front of our cottage are unfurling and beginning to bud. These are all signs of new, and as yet unidentified, life. Until they make themselves known, I was going to leave the lily of the valley flowering in the garden so that there would be some pretty things to look at when I pad outside, barefoot, with my cup of tea. In the end I snipped them and brought them inside to sit on my nightstand. A selfless act, actually, because they were being mercilessly munched by snails. I think it would have been an altogether bigger crop of lily of the valley had it not been for the snails. A lot of the new tender leaves were gobbled up and damaged beyond hope earlier in the season.

A small posy was all I got. Still, better me than the snails.

We are eagerly watching and waiting for the wisteria to bloom and cover the village in cascades of purple. It seems very slow to begin flowering here in the south west. London and the east seems to be awash with wisteria hysteria already. I know it will be worth the wait though.

Until then I'll enjoy my tiny posy of lily of the valley with a scent that defies its delicate size.

Kate  x

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Foraged woodland garlic

Before spring really got underway, I had been impatiently anticipating the appearance of woodland garlic, or ramsons. It is not something we have in Australia, but I had seen photos of beautiful and vast carpets of wild garlic in flower in woodland undergrowth. I couldn't wait to see, smell and pick it for myself. The day we moved into the cottage I could smell the subtle scent of garlic on the breeze. It wasn't hard to identify the fresh leaves of wild garlic shooting up from the sodden earth. I crouched down, plucked a leaf and crushed it between my fingers. It is unmistakeable. Our village is surrounded by it, in the woods, by the roadsides and on the banks of the brook. 

Although the leaves have been pushing up for well over a month now, the white flower heads are just beginning to open en masse. It won't be long before that woodland undergrowth is a sea of white.

Wild garlic is vibrant, lush and glossy, and such a welcome sight after the depths of winter. The most wonderful thing about wild garlic though, is that it is an abundant and delicious wild food, perfect for harvesting and using in everyday cooking. I am losing count of the ways I have been incorporating it in our meals. 

I've chopped the leaves up and stirred them through scrambled eggs. I've spiked mayonnaise with it for using in homemade sushi. We've used our food processor to turn pocketfuls of leaves into pesto. That pesto has served as a dip with crackers, has been spooned over jacket potatoes with sour cream, and been stirred through pea risotto. I am yet to have it on pizza or pasta, but I am sure it will happen soon enough. It is really very versatile. Imagination is the only limitation.

I am planning to make a few batches of pesto in the coming weeks. It freezes very well, and I'd like to have a supply of it to use in cooking come the autumn and next winter.

Wild Garlic Pesto

wild garlic leaves
toasted pine nuts
olive oil
parmesan cheese

Use a food processor to mix these ingredients in quantities to suit your taste and achieve your own desired consistency. Be sure that you are harvesting wild garlic though. The leaves are quite similar to those of lily of the valley- which is poisonous to humans.

Kate  x

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Blue eggs and bluebells

Spring is really making its presence felt now. Yesterday we had a top of twenty degrees. I managed to dry a load of washing outside in one afternoon. These 'little' things are still things to rejoice in. I can see the wild woodland garlic beginning to push up their flower heads. There is constant birdsong, even at 9pm. The bluebells have appeared, seemingly overnight. Magnolia trees are aburst. And one or two gangly heron sit next to the brook quite often, soaking up the afternoon sunshine.

Blue eggs seemed appropriate for the new season, and the beginning of all things Easter. I bought a half dozen of blue and a half dozen of white. The blue came in such a beautiful range of hues. Some much more green than blue, and others the perfect shade of 'duck egg blue'.

I know I should leave the bluebells in the garden for the bees. But they are such a wonderful sight for me, being my first English spring and all. I snipped a couple to put on my nightstand. In any case, over the weekend I sowed a box full of mixed 'blue garden' flower seeds for me the bees. I'm hoping for cornflowers and forget-me-nots to pop their heads up come summer time, but it is such a lucky-dip box of seeds, we'll have to wait and see.

Kate  x

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Thoughts on nesting

I am a nester through and through. There's no place I would rather be than at home, pottering, and fluffing my nest. So, after a little over five months of nomadic-like living since moving to England, I am bursting at the seams at the thought of finally moving into a little Cotswold cottage to call home for a while. There's still a week to go, but I can just about hear those keys jangling in the lock. For the months we've been waiting for this lease to start I've had a hard time suppressing a feeling of dread that something, for some reason, would prevent us moving in at the last moment...So far, touch wood, it all seems to be tied up and a 'sure thing'. Even typing out that thought seems like tempting fate.

I read a quote online the other day.

Everyone has,
I think,
In some quiet corner
Of his mind,
An ideal home waiting
To become reality.

-Paige Renee

For me, this cottage is that home. If I could draw to save myself, and someone had asked me to illustrate my ideal home upon moving to England, it would have looked a lot like this place. Almost identical. I might have dreamed it into existence. Right down to the farmhouse kitchen sink.

We didn't realise we would end up living so far west when we arrived, but we've fallen deeply in love with the West Country, the wide, green farmland of Wiltshire, the darling little villages of the Cotswolds that time seems to have forgotten. I am in a real-life rural idyll out here, like I've somehow stumbled into a life befitting Beatrix Potter (albeit a long way south of the Lake District). 

The village that fate has gifted us nestles into a small valley, a brook babbles past the cottages, and the whole settlement is surrounded by ancient beech woodland. There is no shop, no newsagent, or petrol station. Just two village pubs. Some people would baulk at not being able to pop around the corner for milk. Or be unnerved that there is no grocery store to do a thrice weekly shop at within five minutes of home.

I, on the other hand, am relishing the idea that I will have to live more thoughtfully. I will need to have a fully stocked larder, make use of my slow-cooker, bulk cook, and freeze emergency meals. I am hoping this makes me more mindful of the ebb and flow of the seasons, the beginning and the end of each day, to slow down and notice how the light is different from month to month. I will have to exist contentedly in a little village free from modern trappings. No neon lights, no billboards or advertisements of any kind. Not any street lamps (I must buy a torch asap), or even numbers on the houses for the postman. Just the village noticeboard outside the churchyard. 

I know as an Australian (even one raised by English parents, with centuries of British blood in me) I am probably guilty of romanticising the English countryside and village life. The thing is, the line between romance and reality is so thin in this part of the world, I almost doubt its existence. It is very possible to drive through a Cotswold village and be completely convinced you've accidentally stumbled across a film set. Every English cliche is right before you at one time or another; gentlemen in tweed suits, bunting flapping in the breeze, woodland brimming with the latest seasonal offering- snowdrops, wild garlic, bluebells.

My nesting heart is going to be so full and satisfied once we get those keys. It might be a while before I come up for air...

Kate  x

Thursday, 2 March 2017

St David's Day daffs

The first of March means we can now look towards the arrival of spring. 
Early daffodils are here, with their sunny disposition they stand determined, blooming and smiling in the frigid breeze.

Alex came home with ingredients for Shrove Tuesday pancakes last night, with two bunches of daffodils clasped in his hand. I've clearly trained him well.

Their trumpet-like blooms are bursting open and bringing lots of cheer with them. I put them on my new (to me) Edwardian oak plant stand, the first furniture purchase I have made for the cottage we move into next week.

This move can't come soon enough, until then, the daffs are keeping me occupied.

Kate  x

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Parrot tulips

Just when all of the spring flowers started to appear, the weather regressed back to its wintery ways.

These peachy, coral coloured parrot tulips have brought with them some spring cheer in between the gale force winds and the rain lashing down.

The winter revival can't last forever, St David's Day is almost upon us, and right on cue the daffodils are opening at a spring-like rate now.

It's so wonderful how the seasons unfold, time after time, bringing their own bounty with them.

Kate  x

Monday, 20 February 2017

From heat waves to snowdrops

I am back in the UK to very pleasant temperatures of around 11 degrees. That won't sound particularly pleasant to many people, but having just been plunged back into an unbearably hot Australian summer with temperatures hovering around 40 degrees for days on end, I am relishing the late winter/early spring days now that I am back in England.

What I am not relishing is the lingering jet lag. I just can't seem to shake it and get back to a sensible sleeping pattern. It didn't help that I landed at 6am on Friday after 24 hours of near-sleepless travel. I was full of good intentions to stay awake as much as possible and limit myself to a two hour nap...

Nine hours later, I woke at 8.20pm. Disaster. 

So on Saturday we devised a masterplan to get out in the cool, fresh air, admiring snowdrops as they come into their best. Crisp, clean, country air is a cure all. The snowdrops were a very pretty added bonus.

This is Cerney House Gardens in Gloucestershire. The woodland walk here is magical during snowdrop season. Great swaths of their pretty little blooms carpet the undergrowth, spilling down alongside muddy paths, and ring the bottom of ancient beech trees. 

I have great admiration for snowdrops. They defy the freezing overnight temperatures to be the first flower to bloom each year. The thick, sodden, decaying layer of autumn leaf and winter debris on the ground can't hold them back, they push through it all, heralding that spring is surely not too far away 

Just about every churchyard in England is visited by snowdrops at this time of the year. It makes for a lovely atmospheric and poignant scene. The Victorians associated snowdrops with death, owing to the way the little bell-shaped flowers bow their heads just above graves, appearing to mimic mourners in churchyards. 

England, once again, delights as it shifts through the seasons. I thought my first autumn here was beautiful and surely couldn't be beaten. I can't imagine what true spring has in store.

Kate  x

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Visiting home

 A little over two weeks ago we swapped the harsh January frosts for a visit back home to Australia (technically not a holiday as such, Alex had to come back for work and I tagged along- so a holiday for me, I guess). Alex flew off to go snowboarding in Japan on his way back to England, but I stayed down under to soak up some summer sunshine and walk barefoot outdoors as much as I possibly could. The vitamin D hit has been lovely, although the temperatures have been a little extreme at times- 40 degrees is just too much. Too stifling. Too scary. I shudder to think how much higher Australian record temperatures can reach...

Still, many days were conducive to being in the garden, and other people's gardens.

I fly back to England tomorrow. I am more than a little excited to get back. It's currently snowdrop season, and I can't wait to watch as the frosts give way to be replaced with more and more spring bulbs, new life, and new growth.

Kate  x

Friday, 10 February 2017

177 years ago

If you saw my collection of books on the subject of Queen Victoria, you would probably think- Kate, you really couldn't possibly need another book about Vic- and you might be right. But I just received a belated birthday gift, and guess what?

Julia Baird has written a really insightful, fascinating and easy to digest book about my favourite historical figure. I've been devouring it in recent days, and I just realised as I got to the chapters on Victoria's wedding and marriage to Prince Albert that today, February 10th, I am reading about these events on the 177th anniversary of their wedding. That is of course if my maths is correct...

The Anthropologist and History lover in me adores real life stories and facts much more than fiction, so here's some lovely little tid bits I've learnt.

Victoria was steadfast in her decision to leave the word "obey" in her wedding vows. Baird writes, 'It was not, for her, a call to subservience, but a reminder that she could not, or perhaps would not, dominate the man she married, as she did the rest of her household, her Cabinet, and her millions of subjects.'

The pattern for Victoria's wedding gown was promptly destroyed after the wedding so that it could never be copied. In attempt to boost the struggling lace industry, Victoria commissioned a large amount of hand-made Honiton lace.

Victoria's white gown popularised bridal white. She chose white mostly to show off the delicate lace detail of her gown. White was a rare and costly colour (bleaching had not yet been perfected) for brides. Her colour choice reflected her wealth, and was not a symbol of purity. 

So, cheers to Vicky and Bertie. 
And cheers to great books for holiday reading!

Kate  x

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

The Cotswolds blanketed in frost

The frosts have been heavy and widespread recently, but that didn't stop us getting out to new parts of The Cotswolds on the weekend. This time? Bibury to play the tourist at Arlington Row, then on to Burford to warm up in a cafe and poke about browsing the high street. 

Like most Cotswold stone villages, Bibury has its history entwined with the wool industry. The river Coln (and the stream from the Arlington mill) babbles past the most picturesque cottages, all higgledy piggledy and as quaint as they come! 

The cottages of Arlington Row (above and below) were built in 1380 as a wool store and then later converted to weavers cottages in the 17th Century. 

They looked like a magical fairytale land with the frost covering them. 

The swamp-like land adjacent to the cottages is called Rack Isle, it separates the cottages from the mill. It has now been turned over to wildlife preservation. It is seasonally flooded to provide natural habitat for water birds and meadow plants. The name 'Rack Isle' harks back to its industrial past as it was the land used for hanging the wool to dry. If you look hard enough, you might be able to spot some wooly sheep in that patch of lovely midwinter sunshine on the hill behind the cottages.

Although Bibury was frost encrusted, there are signs of spring beginning to emerge. I almost walked straight past these snowdrops pushing through the frozen earth at the doorstep of one of the cottages. I am glad they caught my eye though. I have been eagerly anticipating snowdrops blooming in England. They're a different cultivar to the snowdrops we have back home in Australia. These particular ones are slow to open and keep that perfect elongated 'drop' shape as they defy the frosts and freezing temperatures. They look slightly forlorn, but I find them really enchanting.

I wish I had some on my doorstep.

Kate  x

Thursday, 19 January 2017

January citrus and antique markets

For my birthday I planned a trip to the ICAF antiques fair in Shepton Mallet. One of the things I was most excited about our move to the UK was all the antiques and vintage homewares that I'd be able to buy. So, I eagerly anticipated this particular birthday treat. I had visions of baskets, French dough bowls, milk glass vases, plant stands, kitchenalia and all manner of curiosities coming home with me. In other words I expected to be parted with cash, and be happy about it. After all, I'd heard good things about ICAF fairs HERE and HERE.

Although I did make a purchase- or should I say Alex made the purchase, being the one to haggle the price while I pretended not to know him and look busy on another stall... But, I didn't come away with a car load of beautiful-but-maybe-not-practical wares like I had imagined I would.

My sole purchase was some beautiful Edwardian era transfer ware.  I'm hopeless when it comes to resisting blue and white ceramics. And I have long admired the Asiatic Pheasants design first released in 1862 by Burleigh.

This is a lovely pie dish which I promptly filled with the season's best clemetines.

Accompanying the pie dish is this small platter plate, shown here with my grapefruit breakfast.

They weren't bargains per se (Alex did negotiate 7 pounds off the total) but they make me happy, and I am sure I couldn't have bought them back home in Australia at the same price.

I'll just have to keep looking for more treasures.

Kate  x

Friday, 13 January 2017

Paper whites

Yesterday was my 28th birthday!

Alex sent me a whole lot of paper white narcissi. 220 stems to be exact, although I didn't count them myself. All of my vases are still in storage, so I was desperately trying to find appropriate vessels to plonk them all in before dotting their heavenly scent in different corners of the house.

These are from one of the flower farms on the Isles of Scilly off the coast of Cornwall. I just love that they were hand cut on a farm off the British coast and couriered right to my door.
The Isles of Scilly are well known for their flower farms, at the peak of this industry in the early 20th century, approximately 40 tonnes of flowers were being shipped from the islands to markets in London weekly. The Isles are owned mostly by the Duchy of Cornwall which leases much of the freehold land to the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust. The rent payable? One daffodil per annum. Such a funny and sweet little bit of history.

We've woken up to snow here in Wiltshire today, so right now this is what my day is looking like...

Kate  x

Sunday, 25 December 2016

All was calm

Merry Christmas Eve.

To all, a good night (or day, if you've already woken up and started your merriment).

Kate  x

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Winter Solstice

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

It is the Winter Solstice today, and my gosh am I feeling these short dim days. I swear the sun set at 3.30pm today...

Still, it can't last forever. From here the days will get longer, brighter and the spring blossom and bulbs will arrive.

Kate  x

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

I see red

There is only one time of the year that I willingly embrace red...

Christmas time!

Even so, last week I was at the flower stand picking out my weekly blooms and for some reason I impulse bought red tulips. I must have been feeling especially festive because I don't do red in my decor (not counting our vintage cherry leather chesterfield of course). I think the last time I had red flowers at home was when I was training to be a florist!

I have plonked them in a make shift vase (all our possessions shipped over from Australia are still in storage) on the kitchen bench. As gorgeous as they are, the red still has me conflicted. I love them and their deep, rich colour. But I'm not sure I love them in my decor...

Decor I do love? Christmas at Stonor Park

We visited Stonor when it was opened to the public to celebrate the festive season. Think grand old home filled with priceless art and antiques all jazzed up with a truckload of Christmas greenery. My kind of decor!

I think red touches will continue to be a theme for the next couple of weeks at least.

Kate  x