I first published this almost 2 years ago and it is still one of my very favourite ANTW posts
Hunk’s Trunks Sunk by Zebedee Helm
The problem of bikinis slipping off when enjoying a dive into water is not one that is exclusive to women. As a man it happens too, although it is often not a bikini but the male swimming costume (trunks) which come down and expose the white male rump and ding dong. Don’t think you can trick gravity by pulling the drawstring really tight before diving either, it just makes them harder to pull up again. For those of you who are interested in damage limitation and don’t want to frighten the children, the trick is to catch your trunks before they come entirely right off and then try to re-position them when you are still under the water. Of course this isn’t always possible and if you find yourself starting to drown then abandon the manoeuvre, it is not worth dying for. The thing of it is however, that when your trunks do shoot off you are reminded how much nicer it feels to swim without them in the first place.
I’ve just remembered that this is predominantly a fashion blog and so herewith is a description of the trunks that presently encumber my socks, pants and trunks drawer. Don’t worry this won’t take long I only have three pairs, or a pair of pairs and one more pair, whichever is clearer. Pair one (1) are green and baggy and floppy and I bought them in India for 1 Rupee (for those of you unfamiliar with the currency this is very cheap) Unfortunately they smell very strongly of stale sulphur. This is because I went into a hot sulphur spring in Italy and didn’t wash them out afterwards. People grimace if I swoosh past them wearing these ones, so they are for emergencies only now. Pair two are from a little known fashion boutique called Gap which is in Cheltenham. They are red shorts with white piping. Unfortunately the white piping is now incredibly filthy and grey. I don’t know how they got like this as they are only worn in water, which is what you clean things in, and yet they are dirty and it won’t scrub out, which is mysterious as well as annoying. These are my main pair. Pair three are Burberry ones which I bought ironically. They are very tight and not flattering at all, particularly when exiting the water, or lounging about. Also no one apart from me thinks they are funny, so they rarely get worn. To conclude this essay on the male trunks costume, I would recommend wherever possible to dispense with them entirely and if you are nice and thin, go for a skinny dip, and if you are large, a fatty dip.
Editor’s note : If you would like to know more about the wonderful world of Zebedee Helm then you must visit his website HERE. You can also purchase his fabulous cartoons, drawings and paintings and read his brilliant blog.
So here it is, my annual post from France where I go on and on about the beauty of Brocantes and the treasure to be found. I’ll try not to repeat myself too much but this year has been particularly good for bargains and finds. We’ve come away much earlier than we usually do, for one reason and another, and this has meant less crowds, fewer Anglais and remarkably different wares. The children spent the weekend being driven and dragged from village to village seeking out the interesting and unique to take back to Church Cottage. We managed a total of 6 flea markets over 2 days. My husband approaches each one with “I’ve got a good feeling about this” whereas I tend to judge each gathering on the first 2 stalls. If absolutely nothing even remotely catches my eye almost immediately, I switch off. Anything after that is a bonus but generally it’s just not meant to be.
We began our weekend in Sommieres which is our very favourite Vide Grenier. I have found some of my most treasured possessions in this tree covered square and this year was particularly good. Within 2 minutes of arriving I’d found a cut glass salt and pepper holder and a St Raphael small glass ice bucket which makes the perfect indoor plant pot and matches a glass jug we found last year. 4 Euros for both; I had a good feeling about this one. Next I found a painter’s ladder. It hardly fits in the car and I’m told it’s far too tall to go in either upstairs bedroom (as was my plan) but I love it and I will make sure it works, somewhere. I may even use it to stand on and paint something, who knows. Whilst I was busy bartering for my ladder Jay Jay picked up an large enamel cupboard with formica table top for 10 euros. No idea where he’s going to put that either but it’s very pretty and anything made of enamel and functional too, is worth every penny in our world.
My find of the day was a Petit Larousse Illustre from 1934 for which I paid just 1 Euro. It is a beautiful edition, far better than the one I had at school and I have no doubt this will have me speaking fluent French, as well as knowing all kinds of out of date facts, in no time at all. Every single page is illustrated, be it a thumbnail explanatory sketch or a full colour plate map. It is most certainly treasure and one day, when their fingers aren’t covered in something dirty or sticky, I’ll let the boys use it too. For now it will stay safely on a book shelf, cover side out.
There was much more on Sunday (baskets, fabrics, enamel pots, vintage bull fighting posters and an enormous Pneus sign) but I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post.
There are a few clues to recognising when I’ve perhaps spent too much time away from social interaction. The first is the feeling of genuine excitement when I realise I’ve managed to un-knowingly coincide cooking dinner with the beginning of The Archers. The second is just how much the back page of the local “Forest Edge News” makes me laugh. It lands in my postbox just once a month and is “The Newsletter Of The Forest Edge Benefice”. As well as all the news and goings on from the local parishes, the back page never fails to deliver, just below the crossword. Sometimes it’s a short joke with accompanying illustration and sometimes it’s a long and, quite often, hilarious story. This month was particularly good and has made me laugh so many times since – often whilst listening to The Archers – that I thought it good enough to share.
Just a few of my favourite views and nooks from the space on the other side of the wall
Meet Henrietta, Harriet, Chucky and, um, Sarah. All named by my 4 year old. My 2 year old says they’re just called “chickens”, quite obviously.
They’re very charming, remarkably chatty and they poo an awful lot, but they have just given us our very first egg so they can do what they like.
The dog wants to eat them, the cats want to taunt them and I was just relieved they were still here when I woke up this morning.
When you move to the countryside, a lot of your time is spent looking for nice places to visit. Places which will keep the entire family happy including visiting relatives and any sudden influxes of weekend friends. Farm shops, garden centres, playgrounds, pubs, cafes, restaurants, doctors, dentists…..all sorts. Places you can enjoy whilst sitting back smugly (even in the dentist) and saying to yourself “this is why we moved to the countryside”. Because the countryside is FULL of lovely places to visit. Bursting with fresh produce and happy animals and primroses sprouting on every winding corner. Well all of this is true….sort of….but you have to drive around quite a bit to find them and you have to remind yourself on these drives that each and every one of these lovely places to visit completely makes up for the absence of take-aways and deliveries. I don’t know about you but after a long day with work and kids I’d MUCH rather get in the car and seek out a wood fired pizza van in a teeny tiny village than have it delivered to my door. There’s only a hint of sarcasm, a very small, tired, desperate for a delivery hint.
The place though which really does make up for all of this and much more is Worton Organic Garden. It’s just about the nicest, calmest place on earth and it’s only 20 minutes drive from my front door which in countryside terms is basically at the end of my road. It’s run by David and Anneke Blake who I also like very much and am hugely envious of just about everything they’ve created. I like their attitude, their obvious love for what they do and they’re appreciation of what it is to drink cold white wine on a Saturday lunch time for no particular reason at all. It’s in essence a farm shop but attached to this they have the most delicious cafe and restaurant serving all manner of incredible food, all cooked up in the smallest kitchen you can imagine and enjoyed at enamel topped tables in an extension clad in reclaimed wood. In the Summer you can sit outside amongst the millions of tulips and roses and rows of vegetables. It’s a bit Beatrix Potter with the occasional wooden clog and clucking chicken. It’s enchanting and relaxing and the perfect slice of countryside living. And it’s only open Fri – Sun which means I can’t over indulge too much and so it always feels like a treat. Obviously I don’t want anyone reading this to go there. The perfect thing about it is not too many people know about it yet and that’s just how I like it.
I’ve spent the last few days enjoying a rather wet, broadband free holiday in Devon with the boys. We’ve been searching for Pirate treasure, fishing for fingers, spotting Penguins on Stoke Beach (turned out to be a Guillemot) and enjoying lots of cake and scones.
On a trip to Totnes to the outdoor market, I made a small but exciting purchase. A not quite perfect James Keiller & Son Ginger Preserve jar. I made sure to peek inside before parting with my money and saw lots of crumpled newspaper with a note reading “Very sharp pointy shells. TAKE CARE”. I handed over my 50p quickly and quietly and slipped the jar in to my satchel….
So here are the contents, 2 beautiful and perfectly preserved Murex Brandaris shells accompanied by a note from 1968 written on the back of a Christmas Wishes card.
The note reads….
Murex Brandaris : Produces the purple dye Murex much prized by Roman, Greeks and Phoenicians. The latter created new settlement as a result of their searches for new beach of shells”
Now if that isn’t treasure, I don’t know what is.
As my out of season addiction with the Broad Bean continues, I thought I’d try something a little more warming….seeing as Spring seems to be dressed up in Winter clothing for now.
I love risotto. I learned how to make it when I lived in Venice almost 20 years ago. It was actually my American flatmate who taught me and I’ve been in love with the wonderful Arborio grain ever since. You can make risotto with pretty much anything, that’s the beauty of it. Whenever we’re low on things in the fridge but want something delicious and comforting, risotto is the dish to turn to.
When you know the basic formula you don’t really need to use a recipe, but there are always little tips and secrets to pick up if you take the time to look around. This recipe for Broad Bean Risotto with Mint is nothing out of the ordinary but there is something in here which I certainly wouldn’t have thought of had I made it without a bit of research. Taken from The Eagle Cookbook and found on The Guardian website, this is a delicious, easy and very pretty risotto which was a pleasure to both make and eat. I used mint but also some parsley to garnish – it worked.
Risotto with broad beans and mint
You could use fresh, but not frozen, peas instead of broad beans and you could also substitute basil, marjoram or oregano for mint.
Serves 5–6 as a starter
About 3kg/ 6½lb fresh broad beans (400g/14oz podded and shucked weight – see above)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (optional)
About 2 litres / 3½ pints vegetable or chicken stock
150g/5oz unsalted butter
2 onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
300g/11oz arborio rice
A glass of white wine
A bunch of mint, chopped
About 75g/3oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
The first thing I do for this recipe involves a food processor and is entirely optional. I put roughly half the broad beans in a food processor with the olive oil and pulse them roughly for about 20 seconds to make a loose paste. If the paste is too stiff, add a drop of water and pulse again very quickly. This adds a creamy base to the risotto and makes the colour a little more intense.
Put the stock in a pan and bring it to simmering point. Gently heat 100g/4oz of the butter in a separate pan, add the onions and garlic with a little salt and fry gently until tender. Do not let them brown. Turn the heat up high and pour in the rice. Stir it with a wooden spoon for about half a minute, coating it with the butter; do not let it stick to the pan. Add the wine and let it bubble fiercely for about a minute, stirring gently all the time. Quickly stir in the broad bean paste, if using, then reduce the heat and start to add the hot stock in stages as described on pages 92–93. When the rice is done, remove from the heat, add the rest of the butter and cover the pan until it has melted. Stir it in with the broad beans and mint, then add the Parmesan and some seasoning. Serve immediately
It’s been a strange few days. I thought mid week that Spring might actually be here to stay. It was warm, sunny and the house was full to bursting with daffodils. I started thinking about Spring flavoured food to cook and enjoy rather than warming Wintery soups to slurp. I even turned the heating off for a bit and told the children to put jumpers on when they complained of being cold. And now it’s snowing. Big, thick, fluffy flakes of snow have been falling since 7 this morning and all I want is a full roast dinner followed by crumble and custard.
But back to last week. When the sun was shining and the birds were singing, I decided to make Polpo’s Broad Bean, Mint and Ricotta Bruschetta. It was so good that I shall be eating it come rain, snow or shine for the rest of the year. I’ve made it twice since Thursday. I admit to cheating the first time and buying ready podded beans. I was hosting a working lunch “meeting” and had my 2 year old running around and it just wasn’t the right environment for a relaxing hour of podding. The second time however, I popped and podded and the result was even more delicious.
Here’s the recipe and finished dish straight from the pages of Polpo and a picture of my market bought beans pre pod. I tried it the second time with Mozzarella rather than Ricotta – just roughly chop up some good quality Buffalo Mozzarella and mix with some good olive oil and salt and pepper. It made for a much messier Bruschetta but surely that’s half the fun.
Broad Bean, Mint and Ricotta Bruschetta
2 thick slices of sourdough or soda bread
A good handful of podded broad beans
3tbsp fresh ricotta
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ clove of garlic
The zest of one lemon and a little juice
10 mint leaves, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
Place the broad beans into boiling water for 5 minutes, remove and plunge into cold water. Then drain and skin them. Put them in a small bowl and dress them in the olive oil, the zest, a little lemon juice, most of the mint, salt and pepper.
Toast or grill the slices of bread so that they are crunchy on the outside but still have a bit of give when squeezed. Rub one side of each slice with the cut side of the garlic. The clove will melt into the bread’s hot surface.
Spread the fresh ricotta, with salt and pepper added to taste, on to the hot and prepared bread. Top with the broadf beans and garnish with the remaining chopped mint.
And to finish, a little bit of Cotswold snow on a Sunday in March.
The dust is still flying. We were very almost there and then we found some damp. So off came the plaster. Again.
So, while the last remaining walls dry and the floor tiles are left to stick, I’m doing a little bit of set dressing. Its going to look absolutely wonderful when it’s all done and already the extra space has changed my life. I have a utility room. The washing machine and dryer are no longer in the kitchen. I can have them on all day long and I don’t care. And I have a linen cupboard which has made me happier than any inanimate object really should. And, I’ve got Pigeon on my walls which is making me feel very grown up indeed.
What could be cheerier than new walls and a jug of daffodils.