Flowers Even in the Depths of Winter

Bursts of flowers on stick bare branches

A cold winter day, bare branches, monochrome landscape, the world is dead. As I walked along the blanket of grey was pierced by an intense floral fragrance. Where was it coming from? I looked around, nothing,  then up,  there,  bare stick branches studded with bursts of soft pinkness.

Wonderful fragrance from these pink posies

My urge was to gather these sticks in greedy armfuls and take them back to my friends house, ill, stuck inside, I wanted to brighten his day with wonderful fragrance, a breath of new hope.

So blousy, so generous with their perfume

But that would be unfair, others passing the same spot would be deprived of this wonderful experience. What better than a potted gaggle of hyacinths, their intoxicating perfume generously fills the room.

A cluster of fragrant stars

The fat buds colour up as they get ready to burst open into fragrant stars. Not coy flowers, they are exuberant. Climbing higher up the stem, as the flowers open, the plants raucously throw themselves out over the edge of the pot in a dizzy haze of perfume.

Beautiful

 

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Juniper and Rose Kitchen Garden School

Sourdough bread making with Vanessa Kimbell at Juniper Rose Kichen Garden School

We were at an antiques fair admiring a collection of very beautiful carved wooden breadboards when my friend mused, this would look beautiful with freshly baked bread on it, apparently it’s quite easy to make your own sourdough bread. My murmured reply went, yes it is just takes preparation, starting wild yeast in advance, she continued, I really must get on and get round to making some.

Vanessae teaches bread making at her Juniper Rose Kitchen Garden School

Living in the middle of nowhere with an AGA pumping out the heat I was determined to use it productively bread making. In those days bread making was an esoteric lost skill and workshops hardly existed, so I taught myself from books without pictures, Elizabeth David was inspirational. Luckily for me, my mother in law, a brilliant baker was generous with lots of handy hints. And yes my bread was delicious, as my confidence increased it was incredibly satisfying making and selling bread raising funds for playgroup. Later with an adventurous friend we shared the drama of cultivating our own wild yeast culture. Though I cracked bread making, how much would I have given to share the learning experience with like minded novices.

It’s that time of year for plotting learning new skills that will gently ease me out of my cosy comfort zone. After the conversation with my friend maybe the time’s right to go on a bread making adventure with her? The next question is where? Looking around what’s on offer on the internet I am really taken by the ethos at Juniper Rose Kitchen Garden School run by Vanessa Kimbell. This capable, can do lady knows what she’s doing, she’s baked bread in bakeries, been a chef and uses some of her incredible exuberant energy running a pop up bakery and cookery school from home. Seems like a great alternative to a spa day with the girls.

 

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Margaret Howell Supporting British Manufacturing

Margaret Howell 2013 Calender

How timely to start the new year hanging up the Margaret Howell calendar for 2013. Each month is a meditation on a traditional British clothing manufacturer. Though it highlights clothing that’s been around a while, traditional doesn’t mean stuck in the mud. With the expectation of a lifetime of use, every detail designed with a reason, it’s there for reinvention. Even in our ephemeral world, honest utility design is currently big helped along by the vintage trend.

Harris Tweed out of the land

The beauty of simple functional design

Horn buttons, a wide range of colours

It’s also a celebration of the enduring beauty of natural materials, the color variations found in horn buttons, the warm softness of Harris tweed with it’s incredible natural colours, merino wool for fineness and drape, cool crunchy cotton, leather and mother of pearl buttons.

Enduring design

Soft wool

Magaret Howell gives us a very British celebration.

Be proud of what we’ve got

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Happy New Year to You All, It’s Going to be a Good

Happy New Year

I’m feeling a little nervous about the New Year there’s a need to make changes, some tough challenges lie ahead. I wrap myself in the warm glowing bubble of Christmas Love and float through that door to the world of new experiences. It’s going to be a good year with lots of fun!

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Making Christmas Traditions

A bowl for the nuts

Christmas brings a shift in the house, tidying up, putting up the decorations, making ready for the celebrations, an audit of where I am. Time to welcome back old familiar traditions and there’s space for new as well, it’s fun.

Now stained inside it tells a story

Arranging the table, it’s taxing remembering according to my traditions what goes where. The nuts, what shall I put them in? At my parents Christmas they put them in a bowl I made, a mosaic of motifs taken from my lino cuts, snipped and papermached into a paper bowl. With the traditions memories are stirred up, the house high on a windy Yorkshire hillside, I am the same and ready for new.

The house high on the windy Yorkshire hillside

in a field of beautiful flowers

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Green Olives Marinated with Coriander

Green olives with Coriander

Olives from Spain challenged bloggers to come up with some winning festive olive marinades, to get us into the mood we were sent hampers full of goodies including olives to play with, thank you!

I wanted an olive marinade to sum up Christmas, spicy and fruity without becoming a Terrys chocolate orange. A little clementine zest goes a long way, be cautious with it, to balance it out and give it a bit of a wake up kick I added a few black peppercorns. Warming the oil with the spices speeds up the flavouring process,  so you can eat the olives tonight. They’re great if you need to quickly whizz up a present, put them in a jar add a label, all done!  Include some bread as well for tearing up and dunking in the flavoured oil.  And of course now I have engaged the brain all I can think is olive marinades, so there’ll be more along at some point.

Green Olives Marinated with Coriander

  • 50g stoned green olives in brine
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1cm long strip of Clementine peel
  • 2tsp crushed coriander seeds
  • 0.5tsp crushed black pepper corns
  • 3 bay leaves torn
  • 100ml olive oil
  1. In a pestle and mortar lightly crush the coriander seeds and black peppercorns.
  2. Peel the garlic, cut into large chunks and bruise using the pestle and mortar
  3. Pour oil into a small pan and add the flavourings.
  4. Put the pan on a low heat and warm gently to just above blood temp.
  5. Leave to infuse for about an hour.
  6. Drain the olives from brine, then rinse and drain on kitchen towel.
  7. Tip the drain olives into the flavoured oil and leave to marinate for a couple of hours.
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Award Winning Truffles at Rococo Chocolates!

Lemongrass, basil and coconut truffles

We went through to the kitchen for the chocolate demonstration, leaving the long table in the warehouse covered in an excitement of homemade chocolate offerings. The demonstration was technical with so many helpful tips, in the presence of this great expertise it was humbling to think that anyone would want to try the chocolate ideas I had brought along. While we watched and sampled, back in the warehouse the judges were busy tasting and deciding. And then it was  time for the results of the challenge, there was a hush as Lucas Hollweg announced the winners in reverse order. In third place was candy cane mint bark from Jude at A Trifle Rushed using her own recipe. Second was a White Chocolate, Campari, Cherry and Orange Loaf from Laura at How to Cook Good Food with a Chantal Coady recipe, his description of the sophisticated balance of flavours was intriguing. When he announced the winner, it was me with my Bay Truffles, a novel experience and I couldn’t have been more surprised, it was thrilling realising my creation had been selected!

So many chocolate makes crowd the table

With a chocolate master class as my prize, I am looking forward to starting the new year learning to tame chocolate. And don’t think the excitement stopped there, so we can create more chocolate makes we were all given a selection of Rococo chocolates along with a signed copy of Chantal Coadys book Mastering the Art of Chocolate, a beautifully designed book, with wonderful detail.  Dipping into it I can see there’s a deep seam of thoughtful creativity running through it. More than a catalogue of recipes, filled with insight and anecdotes, it promises to be an engaging read. I want to throw everything up, stop right now and settle down with it in front of the fire to read it cover to cover. But with all this Christmas preparation going on now isn’t the time. I‘ve promised myself, during the holiday break, I will indulge in a long session immersed between its pages, I cant wait.

Rococo Mastering the Art of Chocolate

And of course there was the gift swap, such a treat to come away with homemade chocolate delights. My booty was a chocolate salami from runner up Selina Periampillai and a bag of Warming Spice Cookies from Pigling Bland. The next day, taking them to a friends to share was a delicious way to kick start the Christmas season.

My award winning Bay Truffles

Thank you everyone who made such a lovely afternoon possible, more details herehere and here.

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Bay Truffles at Rococo Chocolates

Bay Truffles in a box of marbled paper

With its sweet shop associations it’s easy to think chocolate’s only there for a quick sugar hit. But there’s much more to it than that, I’m only starting to scratch the surface of understanding the complexities of chocolate. I want to layer it with other flavours, the rich, bitter and salt of olives, for the see sawing taste sensations on the tongue.

Why bay? My sister asks.

A fly trapped in amber. A moment.

Out of the glaring, sun, carefree playing in the bay shrubbery, the leathery leaves rattle as we brush past, crushing dry leaves under our school sandals, the intoxicating smell of bay in the dark, cool.

Bay Truffles

Bay and Coriander Truffles

  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2.5 tsp coriander seeds
  • orange zest, strip 1.5cm long
  • 150ml double cream
  • 100g 70% dark chocolate
  • 15g unsalted butter
  • Cocoa powder
  1. Line a 20cm x 20cm baking tin with non stick bakewell paper.
  2. Crush the coriander seeds in a pestle and mortar. Warm cream and add the bay leaves, coriander and orange zest. Remove from heat and leave to steep for as long as possible, at least a couple of hours.
  3. Break chocolate into pieces then put in a bowl along with the butter. Place bowl over a saucepan of hot water on a low heat. Gently melt butter and chocolate together, watching and stirring making sure it doesn’t get too hot.
  4. When the chocolate has melted take the bowl off the saucepan.
  5. Strain the cream to remove the spices, if the cream has become too thick to strain, heat gently til it’s more liquid then strain and stir into the chocolate.
  6. Pour chocolate mixture into the prepared tin and leave to cool.
  7. When the chocolate is set sift a couple of tablespoons of cocoa into a plastic bag. Remove the chocolate from tin, break into shards. Then pop them into the bag and jumble in the cocoa ‘til they have a light dusting. Remove shards from bag tapping off as much cocoa as possible.

    Bay Truffle Love

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Boutique Choclatier Rococo Hosts Let’s Make Christmas Gift Swap 2012

Who’s up for a chocolate challenge asks Vanessa Kimbell over at Goddess on a Budget. The event is inspired by the new book Mastering the Art of Chocolate by Chantal Coady, chocolate pioneer and alchemist at Rococo Chocolates.

Chantal Coady, Rococo Chocolates

I wonder if I’m brave enough to rise to the challenge of chocolate making, I’ve always thought because I lack the skills I’m happy to leave it to the professionals. Then, hold on, why on earth would I want to turn down a dream afternoon in a chocolate factory learning to make sublime chocolates. And, this isn’t any old chocolate factory it’s Chantal Coadys’ Boutique Chocolatier Rococo. Nothing to loose, yes please!

Walking into the factory the scent of chocolate wraps you, isn’t this how life was meant to be? It might be the chocolate talking but the atmosphere is creative, the space reminds me of the studio at art school, magic happens here. The air is alive with chattering, there’s hot chocolate to sip as we put out the chocolate makes we’ve brought along.

Principal Chocolatier Barry works the chocolate on the marble slab

In the production kitchen Principal Choclatier Barry talks chocolate, he understands it, he can tame it and it does tricks for him. He demonstrates while explaining how to make a perfect silky ganache. Then he tempers chocolate for snap and super thin enrobement. The more he talks about correct temperatures, the more I realise my attempts at creating truffles is woefully scruffy. We sample otherworldly chocolates that he’s demonstrated. A goats cheese ganache, savoury chocolate softness, whispers packed with flavour, lemony, salty, caramelly, a little farmyardy on a thin disc of chocolate and another, with the crunch shell of caramelized nuts breaking to reveal soft whipped truffle.

Goats cheese truffles, so completely different

While Barry has been educating us in the kitchen, next door, a whole lot of judging of our cooking skills has been happening. It’s hard not to feel intimidated by the impressive judges, the Sunday Times cookery journalist Lucas Hollweg with designer and cookery writer Sophie Conran.

Lucas Hollweg and Vanessa Kimbell at Rococo Chocolates

The suspense mounts as we eat darling miniature mince pies with mulled wine. Vanessa talks about her thinking behind Lets make Christmas Gift Swap 2012. Christmas has been about buying rather than giving from the heart and getting creative with gift making can be a real expression of love. Hearts are pounding as she introduces Lucas Hollweg to report on the judging and present the prizes.

But hold on, I can’t tell you about the judging before I’ve even told you which chocolate makes I entered. There’s more to tell, it’ll be here tomorrow.

Bye for now!

Vanessa Kimbell, Let’s Make Christmas 2012

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Let’s Make Christmas 2012 Gift Swap

Luscious red roses

Over on the very dynamic Vanessa Kimbells blog Goodess on a Budget I saw the can do lady is running Let’s make Christmas Gift Swap. As a bit of a maker I thought I’d give it a go, the clincher for me is it’s about chocolate. Way before time started I was carried away by the idea of becoming a chocolatier, as with many pipe dreams it didn’t convert into reality. On the run up to Christmas what’s not to like about spending some time messing about with chocolate, making delicious gifts?

For me it is about the flavours that I can layer with chocolate, the ideas come thick and fast.  These luscious red roses from a friend decided me to make a batch of rose pistachio truffles to help me along while I mull over the ideas bouncing around my head. I haven’t yet decided if I will take these or another recipe along for the swap at the choclatier Rococo. The recipe elevates a bar of chocolate from ordinary to heavenly status and is embarrassingly easy to make. It comes from the branch  of recipes that tolerate less than exact measuring and it doesn’t need any high powered chocolating skills. Finding the rose petal jam might be a stretch, a Turkish or mediterranean store will stock it. Be patient with the chocolate, watch it like a hawk while it melts over hot water, stirring, making sure it’s never in danger of getting too hot.

Rose and pistachio truffles

Rose and Pistachio Truffles

  • 200g 75% dark chocolate
  • 100ml double cream
  • 15g unsalted butter
  • 3tbsp rose petal jam
  • 75g shelled pistachio nuts
  1. First prepare your baking tin ready to pour the chocolate in. I use half a 20cm x 20cm baking tin divided in half by making a wall down the middle with tin foil, then I line it with non stick bakewell paper.
  2. Break chocolate into pieces then put in a bowl along with the butter.
  3. Place bowl over a saucepan of hot water on a low heat. Gently melt them together, stirring and watching so it doesn’t get too hot.
  4. When the chocolate is melted take the bowl off the saucepan and stir in the cream, rose petal jam and pistachios.
  5. Pour into the prepared tin and leave to cool.
  6. When the chocolate is set remove slab of chocolate from tin. Using a bread knife saw the chocolate into 1cm wide sticks, then cut these into shorter lengths.

Rose and pistachio truffles

And finally the wrapping, for me this is the best part,  I love being creative with presentation, take a look here.

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