Well, here we all are. Still! Slowly, changes are taking place and elements of normality are returning. Among my friends and acquaintances, I know people who are optimistic about the future, and those who are deeply pessimistic, still predicting Second Waves and staying at home behind closed doors. I suppose I am somewhere in the middle. I feel hopeful that the virus will recede in time if we are all sensible, but I am very sad about the losses we have sustained, families bereaved, businesses wrecked and young people facing uncertain futures, their dreams and plans in tatters. I am very unhappy about our leadership, and the muddle that we are in and sometimes that makes me feel sad, frozen and powerless. On a day to day basis, I try extremely hard to keep things on the level. Freelance journalism is a perilous business to be in at the moment (obviously I am not comparing myself to key workers or anyone on the front line, I just mean in terms of uncertainty about the future), so I’m diversifying and trying new things, just as many other people have had to. I surround myself with all my coping strategies: painting, printing, baking, gardening, up cycling, reading, running, walking, Pilates – and planning! I have been lucky to be able to see my parents at a distance, as they live nearby, my youngest son is home with us, but we’ve only seen my eldest on FaceTime. I am hoping we can meet him soon.
Our small rectangle of a courtyard garden has played a large part in keeping my spirits up. I may not be able to control events in the wider world, but I can hunker down here, queen of my miniature domain. Over the last few months, I have had a few plants delivered and I’ve visited one garden centre, but my seeds continue to grow and I now have French marigolds on the cusp of opening, lots of white cosmos growing strongly in pots, zinnias planted out, and even a large zinc tub of chamomile, which I cannot wait to see and harvest – as I have never grown it before, and certainly never from seed. Growing my own chamomile tea is not something I would have considered before this time.I have expanded the garden into the parking spaces at the back of our house. Now I am growing beans, tomatoes and rainbow chard out here in pots. I spotted a job lot of old terracotta flower pots on Facebook market place a few weeks ago and bought them all. They are only small, so not actually suitable for serious crop growing, but they’re fine for seedlings and they do look wonderful with pelargoniums and daisies inside. Besides, I love arranging them en masse.
I’ve had hours of fun playing around with these on the potting bench!
Our open air market reopened last week and my favourite nursery is back with plants on a stall, so I will probably be buying a few more this week.
Every pot I own has been pressed into service. Holes drilled in the bottom and planted up. This enamel flour bin came from the council tip a few years ago. I can’t believe someone would throw it out!
Until a few days ago, we were enjoying an unbroken spell of glorious weather. This meant breakfast, lunch and dinner outside. And afternoon tea. I have developed a huge scone habit.
Home made apricot and lavender jam to go on top. You can’t beat this combination. After seeing my regular photographs of cakes on my Instagram feed, someone asked me the other day about weight gain in lockdown…and how I avoid it (or not!). I do love baking, and yes, I do it a lot, but if I make a batch of scones like this, or some flatbreads or pitta, we’ll just eat a couple and freeze the rest, so we can enjoy them over a few weeks. In addition, I live with two men who are fanatical about exercise, so they are always hungry and they take care of a lot of my creations. I don’t eat it all single-handed! I have even posted out homemade cookies to relatives and friends over the last month or so.
My family loved this cake. It’s a plain Victoria sponge, filled with whipped marscapone and fresh cream, with peaches, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries in the middle and on top. My husband is currently volunteering at a Food Recycling centre and if there are leftover pieces of over ripe fruit or a glut of veggies, he brings them home and I turn them into something. Usually cake or soup! Today he has come home with a bag full of rhubarb. It won’t keep, but I have plans for it.Something else that I’ve tried making recently is decorated focaccia. This is a lovely thing to make when you have an excess of free time. It has become a social media phenomenon, with increasingly elaborate examples of ‘focaccia art.’ Mine is quite restrained by comparison to some of these. I have used fresh home grown herbs to decorate. I used a basic focaccia recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. After the second proving, I arranged oregano, sage, rosemary, red onion and chives on the bread, before putting it in the oven to bake.
This was the result. It’s amazing to eat it warm, with barbecues and salads.
While my husband and son have been volunteering in our town, I need to keep my distance from people as I am still on the protected species list, so I have chosen to help out with our ‘In Bloom’ scheme. I planted up this bed in our town last Friday. The co ordinator had planned a lovely planting scheme of achillea and foxgloves, and I went along to dig them in for her. A great two hour work out and a lovely project to be involved in. Lots of passers-by stopped to lean on the fence and chat, and it’s clear how much joy plants bring to a wide cross- section of the community.
Painting is featuring strongly in my weeks at the moment, and I’ve been experimenting, painting on cardboard, trying out my oils and aiming for textures and the colours that I love: pinks, greens, greys. I have sold all of them, rather to my surprise. They are just small studies, so I don’t charge much as I’m still learning, but it’s lovely to have the work appreciated, and it genuinely seems to give people a boost.
We have had some glorious cycle rides. One took us into deepest Lincolnshire, along lanes where the verges are designated nature reserves because of the wild flowers that grow there. This honeysuckle was just amazing. Banks and banks of it, twined with dog roses. You can just imagine the scent.
I can’t ever remember seeing so many wild roses. But then, maybe I wasn’t looking!
We kept stumbling across hidden mini-stately homes tucked away in the lanes…my curiosity is always piqued. This one is used as a wedding venue.
Lots of gently rolling fields of wheat and barley…that’s Lincolnshire.
Finally, I’ve been doing a bit of up cycling. My last little project was some old crates, repurposed into mini raised beds. I bought them on Facebook marketplace and they looked like this…
And I turned them into these…
They are lined with recycled liner, and filled with compost. Job done!!
Finally, I have been promising to review books on my blog for a while. I will just leave you with two of my favourites for now. I absolutely love House of Print by Molly Mahon (www.pavilionbooks.com). This is a beautiful blend of practical and decorative. It gives lots of information about block printing, its origins and Molly’s inspiration and her experiences of working with the incredible artisans in Jaipur. But it’s also a complete celebration of colour. I pick it up every day at the moment for a little boost.
I was hoping it might contain some of her tips for potato printing which she demonstrates on Instagram: it didn’t, this is very much about wood block printing. But you will be inspired to have a go, I guarantee it.My second pick is a gardening book: Grow Fruit and Vegetables in Pots by Aaron Bertelson (www.phaidon.com). This is planting advice and recipes from the extraordinary garden at Great Dixter. It starts with a beautiful image of a container kitchen garden. That’s exactly what I am aiming for and I have found this super-helpful for raising crops in pots, as I do in my garden. The author combines practical advice with gorgeous photos and some beautiful recipes. Cannellini beans on toast with crispy kale, Middle Eastern salads, tempura baby courgettes, fig leaf ice cream and baked apricots with bay and honey. Bring it all on! I like the tone of this book, and the superb photos by Andrew Montgomery. My copy is already getting spots on the pages from the kitchen and grains of soil from the garden – a sure sign that it’s both practical and inspirational.
Thanks for reading, back soon!