Board games

Visiting London is like being on a real life-sized Monopoly board with familiar names and places all about. Euston Road, Fenchurch St and Bond St. There is a pub crawl you can do that takes all day (and most of the night) but not everyone makes it to the end, more like stumbles across the finish line. Last week’s London adventure took me to Regent St, a great curving wall of buildings, shops and crowds.

The fabrics and home wares in Liberty’s are very desirable and the building with all its Tudor features and wooden staircases is delightful but unfortunately they’ve changed their lovely cafe. What once was an upholstered furnished space is now a rather stark and un-welcoming cafe. I was so looking forward to a pot of tea served in silver tea pots with accompanying silver ware including sugar cubes in a sugar pot with silver tongs. Not to be this time.

Walking into Anthropologie on Regent St I immediately thought to myself – Oh Lordy, I’m gonna be in trouble here. After much admiring and making tons of mental notes and sketches I make a very modest purchase and remained quite restrained. But really I wanted to scoop it all up and take it home.

However there was no sign of being restrained at the first time in 10 years clearance sale at Cabbages & Roses held at their boutique on Avery Row in Mayfair. I did go slightly berserk, piling fabrics into my arms like there was no tomorrow. The line snaked out the door as very well-behaved women politely snatched and snapped up fabrics, clothing and home wares. All absolute bargains! I went with a budget in mind and stayed fairly true to it and now I own some beautiful ‘Hatley’ print fabric that I have been lusting after for years. The lovely and charming owner and designer, Christina Strutt was there serving and chatting to customers. She reminisced about visiting Bowral and the Southern Highlands having visited a few years ago and remembered having a smashing hair cut there.

The rain starts up and makes its presence known and that it has settled in for the day. It’s my cue to head back home, but nothing could dampen my buzz.

 

Stitch and bitch

Well it’s reassuring to know the politics are the same in any sewing group. I found a stitch and bitch group near my place and went along last week to see what they’re all about. It was more like needles and natter with doses of huddled gossiping in groups and I seem to be the main topic. Most ladies were friendly and I met the lovely Beryl, Margaret, Jo, Lyn and Theresa amongst many others. A few others quickly introduced themselves over the course of the morning and pointedly dropped in their views and the “rules”. Now I know I look young but I’m pretty sure I know to wash my cup after I use it and pack my things away neatly, but apparently this is not obvious to a few in the group. Hierarchy and pecking order was quickly established and this morning’s session it was put into practice. Yes, I have found myself an enemy.

Obviously this particular lady had been busting all week to tell me off as she launched into it as soon as I arrived. My crime – I put the sewing machine on the wrong shelf in the cupboard. Throughout the course of the morning I made several more errors in her eyes as she watched me beadily from the other side of the room. During pack up time I had to tell her to back off, I was perfectly capable of packing away what I had used thank you very much.

Despite it all I still had a lovely morning and whipped up a few goodies and it’s somewhat comforting to know that things don’t change, no matter where you are. Can’t wait for next week. I’ve got my line ready, borrowed from my old boss James.  “Tell someone who cares”.

Taste of summer

One of the best things about the start of summer is the promise of summer fruits -Nectarines, Peaches, Plums, Cherries and of course the short-lived Apricots. So this Raymond Blanc Apricot Clafoutis recipe quickly got earmarked for baking. He describes it as a simple French family dish/pudding. I hope it’s a dish I can master and add to my trademark desserts.

The evening air is heady with fragrant rose blossoms wafting in through the open doors from the garden and the scent of baking Apricots from the kitchen.  Out of the oven and my Clafoutis is ready to go, the sugar sweet sun blushed Apricots that sing with flavour have turned golden and are nestled in a crunchy sugar crusted eggy Custard with sticky wanna-pick-at toffee edges.

End result – 2 helpings later and I’m feeling a little smug. My thanks to Mr Blanc for a cracking recipe. 

Apricot Clafoutis

By Raymond Blanc 

Prep time: 20 mins. Cooking time:  1hr 10 mins. Serves 4-6 (depends on how generous you feel )

Batter can be prepped one day in advance then chilled.

  • 8 ripe apricots – stoned and halved
  • 5 tbspns caster sugar
  • 10g unsalted butter, melted

Batter:

  • 20g unsalted butter
  • 2 medium eggs, pref free range
  • 3 tbspns caster sugar
  • ½ tspn vanilla extract
  • 20g plain flour
  • 60ml full cream/whole milk
  • 75ml pouring cream/whipping cream

1. Toss the apricots with 3 tbspns of the caster sugar in a bowl and set aside for a few hours.

2. Make a Beurre Noisette for the batter. This gives a wonderful rich, nutty flavour. In a small frypan heat the remaining butter over medium heat until it foams and the solid particles turn brown. Allow to cool.

3. Preheat the oven to 200 oC (180 oC fan forced oven), Gas Mark 6. Brush the inside of a medium-sized oven proof dish/baking dish (approx 5cm’s deep x 20cm’s – A Bundanoon Pottery baking dish will do just the trick!) with the melted butter. With the remaining 2 tbsnps of caster sugar shake into the dish and scatter about to coat, tip out the excess. This helps to give a sugary crust to the pudding.

4. In a large bowl whisk together the eggs, the 3 tbsnps of caster sugar and the vanilla extract. Whisk in the flour. When smooth, slowly incorporate the milk, cream, beurre noisette and a pinch of salt.

5. Add any juices from the apricots and give it one last mix then pour into the baking dish. Plop the apricots on the top, cut side up and arrange evenly.

6. Bake the Clafoutis for 30-35 mins. It is cooked when the surface is slightly convex, if it is still dipped it is undercooked. When ready take out of the oven and sprinkle with a little extra caster sugar then return to the oven for 5 mins. Serve just warm on its own or with crème Fraiche, cream or ice-cream. Tastes fab cold too, just bring to room temperature.

Top 3

My new fav telly show’s cause now I’m a jobless bum. American Pickers is about 2 blokes scouring the American countryside in search of bargains and hidden finds to on-sell. The gems are often dredged up from falling apart sheds and piles upon piles of junk. My dream job!

Springwatch on the BBC is a well established nature show following the beauty of spring in the countryside. Great banter between the hosts and superb footage with live feeds on their website to follow as well. They recently featured Hedgehogs, Fledglings, Barn Owls as well as a segment on Beavers presented by the especially charming host Charlie-Hamilton James. An accomplished wildlife photographer, have a peek at his wonderful series Halcyon River Diaries produced with his wife at their property in the West Country of England.

 Last up is Traffic Cops. This particular episode was filmed on location in Wales in the area that has the highest rate of sickness benefits and people to match. Top viewing following cops Algie, Ferret and Chin as they arrest people like ‘Plodge’ for stealing a car, they catch sight of him and pursue at 20 miles per hour, that’s 2-0; until he crashes it into a telegraph post. It seems he couldn’t drive the stolen car any faster as the steering lock was still on. Smart man. He’s a little woozy so it’s a trip back to the nick with him for a reading on the “Intoxiliser” True words. Quality telly at its best.

No Meringue’s please!

Earlier in the week we visited Down Hall, an exquisite typical English Country House now a boutique hotel and the venue for my cousin’s upcoming wedding. Glass of champers in hand we wander about the wedding expo open night chatting to the exhibitors and happily swill more than our allocated quota of champagne.

My cousin’s wedding plans are shaping up and it’s time to go shopping for the dress. It’s great fun, and we narrow it down to a few stunners. (Although I was expecting more pampering and flowing champagne like you see on the telly) Wedding dresses are really, really heavy, (you’d have great arm tone working in a bridal shop!), and seem to have a life and body of their own. They almost pick you. I was getting dress envy so got to try on a very fancy Bridesmaid dress. I could get used to this. So many pretty dresses, and not a Meringue in sight.

The Secret Garden

                                                                                                                                               Petersham Nurseries at 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richmond, Surrey has been earmarked for a visit for a while now after drooling after it in various magazines. It’s a short stroll alongside the Thames before cutting across Petersham Meadow (complete with grazing cows!) that makes me wonder if we’re still near London?! Once you’re through the gate look for Church Lane. At first we miss the lane and meet a number of other lost looking people searching for the nursery too. It’s found tucked away, down the very tiny and unmarked Church Lane which is like a scene out of “Labyrinth”, I keep expecting the see the worm. ( “Cor!”)

 After a quick browse at the plants and the superb, covetable home wares it’s straight to the matter of food. And what choice! We’re eating in the Teahouse mind you, as we forgot to book the required month in advance and probably can’t afford the Cafe anyway run by talented Aussie chef Skye Gyngell, which has recently been awarded a very coveted Michelin Star for excellence in food.

 The day is warm so a table in one of the many courtyards is a great spot to perch. French Bean, new Potatoes, Hazelnut and Pine Nut Salad is the choice for lunch and a complete winner! The nuts giving the right amount of crunch and texture to the dish which is lip-smackingly perfectly salty and flavoursome with the warmth of fresh red Chilli. Desserts are definitely up next! The Polenta and Rhubarb cake is tangy and crumbly and the Chocolate Brownie has wonderful denseness to it. I can’t resist a pink drink and try a Rose Lemonade. Smells of sweet musky rose petals and fresh ginger bubble up from the sturdy but elegant bottle with a dainty fizz.

This place is magical. I’m in love.

And on Saturday we ate some cake.

Don your party hats cause it’s my tiny cousin Oliver’s 1st birthday party! Screams of delight ring about the room as the little kiddies race about alternately chasing and popping balloons and chasing each other. The table is laden with yummy party food. I’ve brought along some Fairy Bread – slices of fresh white bread lathered in butter and sprinkled with sugary hundreds and thousands, for a little Aussieness which is a hit with the kiddies and the adults. We tuck into a Caterpillar cake and drink from our hungry Caterpillar cups. We’re not such hungry Caterpillars anymore.

 Happy 1st Birthday Oliver Bean!

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