Location:United Kingdom

An avid tea-drinker who likes nutmeg in her coffee and warm lavender-scented quilts. She knits, crochets and partakes in random acts of craftiness (and kindness). She likes obscure works of literature, philosophy and the idea that her mind exists separately from her body. She enjoys moving furniture around, literary criticism and baking bread. She writes haiku about nettles, would like to swim with seals and become completely self-sufficient. She writes as if her life depends on it, listens to beautiful music, and loves her darling husband Mr. VP.

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Thursday 24 April 2014

Bursting Brightly

In the midst of a lot of upheaval*, we had a quiet Easter weekend which we could spend together as a family recuperating from the whirlwind of events.  We had an Easter Monday dilemma: it is a bank-holiday and we want to avoid touristy-places as much as possible, where shall we go?!  Mr VP came up with a solution: Goltho Gardens just outside of Lincoln.  We managed to avoid most of the traffic (everyone and their plumber was going to Skegness, so the roads were hectic) by going out early.  The sun was shining, the mercury was rising and a sort of haze hung on the horizon.

We hadn’t been to a formal garden for what seems like ages.  I always find myself feeling overwhelmed and excited with ideas for things I could do with my own garden**.  This was no exception: it was filled with all sorts of new varieties of flowers that I hadn’t come across in my time as a gardener.  We were lucky to visit it on such a glorious day as we were able to enjoy the splendid first flush of flowers.  Tulips, apple blossom, cherry blossom, primulas and lamiums were all a riot of colour and vibrance.  The birds were singing, we were all laughing and chatting as we went round and I was busy snapping photos and mentally taking notes of all the things that I would like in my future garden.  I fell in love with tulips all over again, noticing how they were planted here in swathes of one or two colours.  It looked so effective that I think it is something I’ll have to try, this block-colouring.  I fell very much in love with the fruit-salad coloured tulips, the silver-leaved brunnera, the lines of hazel trees and the lamiums, which I had never seen in such a stunning colour.

Once we’d walked through all of the wooded areas, we were met by a swathe of snakeshead fritillaries with their nodding heads and purple chequered colouring.  It was absolute heaven.  Bees were intently seeking pollen and it was everywhere.  The smell of fresh spring, with scents like apple blossom, gorse and slightly niffy pear blossom, all mixing on the air.  In the next post, I’ll show you all of the woodland bits (I took a lot of photos and couldn’t condense it all down!) which were just as magical as the floral bits, if not quite as vibrant.

*Gosh, it’s almost here!
**The garden we will eventually have, when everything works out.

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Among the fields of gold

Whilst Sting wasn’t writing about fields of rapeseed (canola) when he wrote his Fields of Gold, everytime I see these yellow springtime fields, I can’t help but think of that song (and particularly Eva Cassidy’s rendition).  Aren’t they splendid?  I seem to find people complaining about them at every turn, and I agree that those fields which are used for biofuel could be better used growing food for us, but I can’t bring myself to dislike these glorious golden fields.  They stretch out to the horizon and further, wrapping all of our countryside in swathes of bright yellow blossom.  After all, they only last a couple of weeks and mark out the beginning of spring-proper; what’s to dislike?

I have always meant to stop and get close to the fields where these gorgeous plants grow, but usually I pass by whilst I’m in the car and forget to stop and enjoy them on the way home.  However, yesterday gave me the time and opportunity to pull the car off the road and get right into their heady smell (some people don’t like the smell – I love it, it’s just like linseed oil).  It was such a blue sky day, with the temperature rising to 18ºC and full of little buzzing insects, cawing crows and swooping magpies.  A day full of happiness with family.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Easter Garden

Happy Easter!  I hope that it has been a nice day for you all, however you choose to celebrate it.  For us, it was a simple (but very delicious) meal of slow-cooked shoulder of mutton with fresh vegetables.  Delicious.  We decided to forego the traditional Easter eggs, deciding to save our waistlines and feeling them rather unnecessary, so we bought a pack of smaller eggs to share between the three of us.  It was just right.  It seems a bit odd that Easter is so late this year, but it also means that I have been able to spend the weekend revelling in the blossom and blooms in my mother’s garden.  Everything is suddenly blooming from the bright yellow kerria to the heavily-scented wallflowers.  It is a riot of colour, with none of summer’s heat to wilt anything.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Easter Baking: Quiche Lorraine

In my head, in the place that keeps track of yearly cycles and happy memories, I think of Easter being a time for baking.  If you’ve ever had chickens, you will know that they will have returned to laying after the winter’s sporadic efforts.  The daffodils are long gone and instead everything is looking much greener and more lush than it has for a long time.  I find myself wanting egg custard tarts (a brilliant way to enjoy your spring egg glut if you do have hens), lemon cake and light dishes again after a winter of slow-cooker stews and rib-sticking food.

When we went to visit Frenchy’s parents in October 2008, I learned how to make proper quiche Lorraine.  You see, Frenchy’s father used to be a chef in Paris and, in all honesty, if he couldn’t teach me the authentic way to make a quiche Lorraine, no one could.  It is worlds apart from those soggy-bottomed, bacon, limp tomato and Cheddar cheese jobs in supermarkets which adopt the moniker.  It would be as alien to a French person as it would be to, well, an alien.  To most Brits, a quiche has a thick and sometimes tough egg-and-milk custard, which is filled with an array of different fillings, but usually includes a vegetable of some sort (onions, asparagus, spinach or broccoli) a protein (salmon, bacon, ham) and the obligatory Cheddar.  Whilst these, when made well, can be pretty nice (heaven knows, I’ve made quite a few myself), they share very little similarities with their slightly more sophisticated French cousins.

So, what’s different?  For a start, the list of ingredients for the filling is short.  Seriously short.  Eggs, creme fraiche, nutmeg, lardons – that’s all!  In place of the lardons, I used a smoked ham that we’d just cooked. Pepper, a British staple in all things savoury, shouldn’t be used (at all) and is instead replaced with the heady scent of nutmeg.  Likewise, salt is eschewed in favour of the natural saltiness in the ham/lardons.  It shouldn’t be seasoned because, when done well, it seasons itself.  The whole joy of a proper, authentic quiche is that it is the simple, subtle flavours somehow just work perfectly together.  Keeping to the authentic nature of the dish, I made a pâte brisée, the proper French pastry, which is not only a joy to make but rolls out like a dream, thanks to the egg yolks.

I can promise you that once you have made and enjoyed a quiche like this, you probably won’t ever want to eat an old-fashioned quiche again. It really is that good.

Quiche Lorraine
Serves 4

For the pastry:
8oz plain flour
3oz cold butter, cubed
1 egg yolk
Pinch of salt
Cold water to bind.

For the filling:
3 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
200g creme fraiche
Lardons or ham, cubed.


Add the cold butter to your bowl of plain flour and salt.  Using your fingers and thumb, rub the butter and flour together until you have the consistency of fine breadcrumbs.


Once complete, add the egg yolk to to the flour with some of the water and mix until you have a fairly dry dough that comes away from the bowl cleanly.  Chill for an hour or so.

Preheat your oven to 190ºC.  Roll your pastry out, and line a 12-inch fluted dish.  Prick some holes in the base and line the top with baking parchment and weigh down with either baking beans or rice.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Remove the baking beans and bake again for another 10-15 minutes, until the pastry is fully cooked.

In a bowl, combine your eggs, egg yolks, creme fraiche and grated nutmeg.  Whisk it all together until it thickens slightly and there is no sign of the egg left.

Add your cubed lardons or ham to the pastry crust and pour over the unctuous custard.  Grate over some nutmeg and cook in the oven for approximately 20-30 minutes, or until fully-set and ever-so-slightly golden.

Whilst it is in the oven, whip up a light green salad that is lightly dessed in cider vinegar and olive oil.  Technically, you should let the quiche cool as the French eat it at room-temperature rather than warm, however it is good either hot or cold (but never fridge-cold!)  Enjoy.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Where the Wild Primroses Grow

We’ve been doing quite a bit of travelling recently, here and there.  I’m always surprised by the difference in plantlife between the north, the midlands and the south.  It seems odd that by the time Cambridge’s blossoms have finished (about a week ago now), those up north are just beginning to get going.  Where there are just stamens and leaves on those down south, those up north are a riot of milky white blossom.

It was a balmy, heavy day when we went out for a meander in the woods.  It really felt like summer was here.

Possibility and spring was bursting out at every turn.

One of my favourite trees was wearing its usual evergreen coat, which looked splendidly green next to the hazy blue skies.

Around another corner, we saw the year’s first primroses.  What a happy sight!

I am very fond of a paint colour called ‘primrose white’, because it has a slightly creamy warm glow to it.  Just like these primroses did amongst the browns and the greens of the woodland floor.  The primroses are, I think, the first sign of spring-proper.  Daffodils can be out in gardens from late January, when the weather is anything but springlike, often finding themselves blown flat in February’s gales.  As for snowdrops, aconites and celandines, they come in stages from January and lead us in bright yellow hopefulness into February and March.  But primroses, those delicate cream flowers, only come when the air is milder and the threat of the harsher frosts have gone; when everything is well and truly awake and ready to begin doing and being once more.  Standing in the woods, peppered with tumps of creamy petals, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that spring was well and truly here.

I mentioned the toads in my last post and here they are again.  We have been gifted with an abundance of wildlife recently.  Just the other day we saw a hare, not an oft-seen creature these days, darting across a road on its long legs.  For the first time in my life I’ve seen a multitude of toads, in this case, these were the second lot I’d seen in two days.

Did you know, rather than the ‘ribbit’ sound you’d expect them to make, they sound like honking geese?  I find it heartening to know that after not seeing these fairly rare bastions of British wildlife for so long, that they seem to be doing well and thriving.

More primroses… just because.

At the edge of a different pond, I found myself looking for toads, frogspawn and newts, but only found this wonderful reflection.

These flowers (water buttercup?) were such a startling yellow that I couldn’t resist taking a couple of photos.

Monday 14 April 2014

The Glorious End of March

That day was one of the last in March and it was filled with  We came across endless snowy boughs of crab apple blossom and the odd swathe of blackthorn blossom still going.  I long for wallpaper with this very pattern on it.

I realised that I have been very lucky with blossom this year.

March also brought the season’s first butterflies, those dear strong souls that have overwintered and will last longer than their children to come, though their lives in the sunshine is very short indeed.  They were everywhere: brimstones, commas and my first tortoiseshell of the season.

The banks of the canal were growing their coat of nettles after the fallow winter and the water was very still indeed.  There was not a breath of wind around and the air hung thick and heavy.

This sheep, who was as wide as she was tall, seemed to be casting meaningful glances in our direction.  She definitely wanted to be where we were.  If we had been able to get to her, we’d have gone up to say hello, as she looked like she wouldn’t mind having a fuss made of her.

Finally the last late flowers of the blackthorn.

Saturday 12 April 2014

A day with the animals

A few weeks ago, my friend, Mr VP, my Mum and I all went to visit the local wildlife park.  It used to be a falconry centre, but has since obtained a zoo license and expanded greatly.  I don’t think I ever get tired of seeing the animals and birds here.  Whilst I feel sorry for a lot of the animals being behind bars and out of their natural environment, this place has a history of taking in animals in dire need, even going so far as to pay great amounts to save a pair of tigers from imminent euthanasia.

I’ve always wanted to see a capybara in the flesh and I was so chuffed that they’d got one!  Capybaras are essentially giant guineapigs, with the same rounded nose, feet and long rodent teeth.  They are absolutely adorable and love to have their tummy rubbed.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t get close enough to this one to give it a go, but we had a great time photographing it.

Its bed-fellow was a little fawn who was very timid indeed.

These are Hudson Bay wolves and you could tell that they were waiting for their meal of the day.

It wasn’t all exotic wildlife: I managed to capture this little hedge sparrow singing his heart out.

I said that if we ever had ducks, I’d have to have one that was as pretty as this.

One of the highlights of our day (in a day of seeing so many wonderful creatures) was seeing, first-hand, a Choloepus (or two-toed) sloth hanging just a few feet away from our heads.  How marvellous?!  After catching a few episodes of Meet the Sloths, it was exciting to see one in the flesh.  Whilst my favourites are the Bradypus (or three-toed sloth – aren’t they great names?!), it was nice to see any at all as they are usually so well hidden.  They are definitely also comedic creatures, slowly hanging (and often slipping) from their branches.

We also saw our native toads, doing what toads do!  Well, it is spring, after all.

I was fascinated to watch the raccoon hoarding his eggs and counting them, before hiding them away from our prying eyes.

As for the thing that looks like a pile of straw?  It took us a few moments to realise that it wasn’t a pile of straw but was, instead, an emu!

Ahhh, otters!  One of my favourite creatures, they are very intelligent and a joy to watch in the watery world that they inhabit.  Unfortunately, they are now a very rare sight on British waterways, but you can still see them in certain areas around the country.

Meerkats are very comic little things!

This is one of the Steppe eagles, Rosie, who really didn’t want to fly as there was no wind, which made flying much harder for her.

This Caracara from South America loves bringing his mate (and his human handler!) snakes and scorpions.  That’s love for you!

This little peregrine falcon also struggled with the lack of wind on the day, but was quite happy to pose for photos.

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