Sunday, 19 April 2015

A Real Cottage Garden

When I lived in the States I attempted to transform my back lawn into a cottage garden.  I planted lots of trees, made wide flower borders, and laid used brick paths.  It was lovely but it wasn't really a cottage garden. To be honest, the phrase 'cottage garden' was indicative of a style. You really can't have an authentic cottage garden when you live in a modern split-foyer house.  That's certainly not the case here in Britain. 

Drive down nearly any country lane in Devon and you will soon find a tiny rural village filled with ancient cottages.  If those cottages have roses growing around the front door you can almost bet there are going to be some great cottage gardens, too.

The first time I saw a real cottage garden I was surprised at how many beautiful flowers were blooming in such a tiny space.

They always look so lush and colourful.  Every available inch is utilised.

When you can't grow out, grow up!  In a few weeks this wall will be covered in wisteria blossoms.

Look closely and you soon see that many of the flowers are grown in pots.  Only the larger trees and shrubs are planted in the soil to form the 'bones' of the garden. 

This is a row of three little attached cottages.  Each 'cottager' has landscaped the area outside their own front door.  Every tiny front garden is individual but there is still a sense of cohesion.  

And if you should have more flowers than space, you can always start a 'cottage industry' ... how about this for clever marketing?

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Vanilla Loaf Cake

I don't know what the weather is like where you are, but it's the perfect spring day here.  The sun is shining and the garden is bursting with blossom. It makes you want to take afternoon tea in the garden.  

Afternoon tea can be a grand affair but as far as I am concerned there are only two things you really need...tea, of course...and CAKE!   

Today's tea cake is Vanilla Loaf Cake a la Nigella, based on a modified version of her 'Mother-In-Law's' Madeira Cake.  

Vanilla Loaf Cake

240 grams baking margarine 
200 grams caster sugar
3 large eggs - room temperature
210 grams self-raising flour
90 grams plain flour
2 or 3 teaspoons good vanilla extract

Begin by buttering a 9x5 inch loaf pan, then line it with baking paper.  Preheat the oven to 170C/325F. 

Using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time and beat well to combine.  Add a spoonful of flour with each egg to keep the batter from splitting.  Mix in the remaining flour and the vanilla.  Do not over- beat or you will make the cake tough.  The batter only needs to be mixed until the dry ingredients are completely incorporated.

Spread the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and sprinkle 2 Tablespoons of caster sugar over the top of the batter.  Bake for about 1 hour or until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs.  

The cake will look something like this with a crunchy sugar crust and a soft moist crumb.  Let the cake cool in the tin before cutting it into thick slices. 

We like it just as it is. You could add a few fresh berries and some cream if you like.... the flowers are, of course, optional!  

Friday, 17 April 2015

Turning a New Leaf

It's that time of year when all the trees begin to show signs of new leaves.  I have a small collection of Acer trees, we used to call them Japanese Maples. There is no two ways about it, they are my favourite kind of tree.

While taking a photo of these infant leaves I suddenly realised something very interesting...well, interesting to me.   These new leaves are exactly the same colour now as they will be when they fall this Autumn.  During the summer they will take on a rich, dark colour then fade to this brilliant crimson red before dropping to the ground.  It made me think of that quote attributed to Mary Queen of Scots, 'In my end is my beginning.'

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday - Mushrooms

There is something magical about mushrooms, and I don't just mean the psychedelic type.  They can be beautiful or deadly or both at the same time.  

Mushrooms make me think of the Caterpillar smoking his hookah pipe in the 'Alice' story.

Sometimes they remind me of enchanted forests where circles of mushrooms and toadstools are called 'fairy rings'.   Rumor has it that is where the fairies have been dancing. 

Mostly, mushrooms make me think of omelettes!  

Sunday, 12 April 2015

The French Market in Exmouth

This weekend has seen the return of the three day French Market in Exmouth. Coming from small town American, a street market seems very exotic to me. We just did not EVER have a market in our little town- NEVER -EVER!  Just the prospect of using a real shopping basket is exciting. 

If you don't have a proper shopping basket, this is the place to purchase one.

There were all kinds of delicious treats to buy, including fancy chocolates for big kids - and sweeties for little kids.

The veg stall had exotic looking 'Artichoc' ....

And glorious, glossy tomatoes.

There were all kinds of cheeses. 

Some were covered in slightly frightening mouldy fur,  some packed in straw, and even a few which looked quite normal but promised to be VERY STRONG.

There were just as many varieties of sausages as cheeses.  Some were being served hot in crusty French rolls.

There were dried sausages made from every kind of meat imaginable.

I even saw a whole Parma Ham, not French but very appropriate for a continental market.

Now you can't have a French Market without a stall selling French soap... it's fabulous stuff!  Each colour is a different scent.  

I haven't mentioned the croissants, olives, crepes, table linens.... well, you get the idea.  I even saw Elvis!  Maybe I should save that for Part II.  

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The Tally Ho Pub at Littlehempston

Today has been one of those almost perfect spring Saturdays.  The sun is bright, the wildflowers are in bloom, and the Devon countryside couldn't look prettier... so we headed out to find a good pub lunch.  

We have fallen in love with the village of Littlehempston and the community owned pub, the Tally Ho.  Pubs have been closing at an alarming rate in Britain. To assure the future of this lovely little pub,  a group of supporters purchased it and have established an investment plan.  You can purchase shares in the Tally Ho, too.   We've decided to support the Tally Ho by eating here as often as possible.

After a delicious and very filling lunch, we decided to take a wander around the pretty little village.   The pub was once a church house, as were the little stone cottages.

And the old Rectory...

Behind the Rectory I spied this lovely little garden.

And a beautifully tended orchard and vegetable patch.

At the end of the orchard is this stone bridge which spans a sparkling stream.

Actually, I suppose technically this is a river.  You can't get into or out of Littlehemston without crossing at least one stone bridge.

This thatched farmhouse can only be accessed by crossing a tiny humpback bridge.  It's all so beautiful!

CLICK HERE to learn more about the Tally Ho Inn. 

If you are ever in the area, do visit Littlehempston.  It is small but ever so perfectly formed.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Almost Wordless Wednesday - CHARD

 My next door neighbour just knocked on the door and handed me a bag full of these jewel-like beauties... CHARD!  

I almost feel guilty about eating them...almost!