Tuesday 30 November 2010

Family roots: Golborne

It has been very cold in the UK these last few days. Apparently it got down to minus seventeen degrees in one part of Wales, which is very cold for this early in the Winter.

We stayed last weekend with Jane's mother who lives in Golborne, near Warrington, fairly close to Manchester. Jane's family have lived in this area for a long time. The place-name Golborne is derived from the Old English word 'golde' meaning "marigold", as in the famous orange/yellow flower, and "burna", the original spelling for a brook, burn or stream. Hence the meaning is probably "The stream where the marigold grows".  Aaaahh!   
The weather conditions there have not been extreme, but have given me some great photo opportunities:-


Deciduous trees at the far end of the "Back Field"

The empty greenhouse illuminated by the rising sun

Frost patterns on the greenhouse window panes

Magnolia buds


Snow on the Fleet Mountain

We had our first snowfall of the year in Fleet today. Here's the evidence...

Snow on the mountain

The plot is covered in a (so far) light dusting of snow

The snow has not so far been very heavy - perhaps a couple of centimetres or so - but it is still falling and the ground is very cold, so it is settling. More of it is forecast for the next few days. Fortunately I am at home today and I don't have to travel anywhere, but for the rest of the week I'm supposed to be commuting to London. Wish me luck!

I wonder how the plants under those fleece covers are faring...

Monday 29 November 2010

My (current) favourite plant

This blogpost has been put together specially for the "Blog Carnival" hosted by Fer of "My Little Garden In Japan". Cheers, Fer -- a great idea. The brief was simply to post about one's favourite plant...

It's hard for most gardeners to say precisely what is their favourite plant. OK, some gardeners do specialise in one type of plant only. I'm not one of these people. I like different things at different times, and I'm forever experimenting with new things. A few years ago I became obsessed with Hardy Geraniums and acquired lots of different varieties, but I went off them, kept only a couple and moved on to other things. Now I am very much in favour of the Cornus (Dogwood) family. If the truth be known though, I'm still primarily a vegetable gardener rather than a flower gardener. I like the idea of being able to eat what I grow, but of course I want the crops to look nice as well.

So what is to be my subject today???

I considered the Endive family. I'm very fond of endives, and they are hard to find in the shops in the UK. They are also massively photogenic.

I considered the Borlotto bean. What other plant has such wonderful-tasting seeds and such striking seed pods?

In the end I decided that my current favourite plant was the Chilli. In the past I've had lots of success with chillis in my garden, and this year was no exception. Indeed, when I started my blog in August (2010) the chillis were doing so well that I adopted the red chilli as my "signature" emblem, as in the header of my blog --

 So here is a little selection of photos of this year's chilli crop. Enjoy!

My Broccoli is sad

Last week I proudly displayed some pictures of my Purple Sprouting Broccoli, looking very healthy and vigorous. Today the PSB is looking sad and droopy -- huddled-up trying (unsuccessfully) to keep warm.

If I didn't know better, I would say that it looked finished, but experience tells me that this plant is very hardy and will survive temperatures much lower than the -5 we are enduring today. It even manages to look nice in its frosty "makeup"...

And how about this for a novel Christmas decoration? I lifted out a piece of ice that had formed in a fold of one of my plastic mini-greenhouses. I thought it looked a little bit like a Christmas tree - or more plausibly a snow-topped mountain!

This is what the top of the coldframe looked like this morning (living up to its name...)

Ice patterns looking like feathery ferns...

Finally, here's a general view of the patch of open ground opposite our drive. I just though it looked "atmospheric" in the morning sunlight...

Sunday 28 November 2010

A Fine Dining experience

This last week I took a couple of days' leave to make a long weekend, and we have been "Oop Norf"...

We spent one night in an hotel near Birmingham --  the Nuthurst Grange, at Hockley Heath -- http://www.nuthurst-grange.co.uk/. This served two purposes for us: firstly it put us pretty close to Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre (NEC) which is hosting a massive Food and Drink exhibition (about which I will probably post separately), so that we could get there early. Secondly, the hotel has a very well-respected restaurant, and we wanted to treat ourselves to a special meal. In respect of the latter the objective was certainly fully met. Our dinner that night turned into a very memorable occasion  - quite possibly one of our best meals ever. This is what we had:-

Canapes (Served in the bar, whilst having a drink and deciding what to eat).
A selection of very special breads, served Melba Toast style, with a dip of whipped garlic butter with a tiny sprinkle of shaved truffle on top. [Because they are so strong truffles can easily overpower a dish, can't they? These didn't.]

"Amuse Bouche" pre-starter (Complimentary)
Lightly smoked Salmon, with a hint of Pernod was it?; Miniature Crab-cake, served on a bed of tiny oriental vegetable sprouts, enoki mushrooms and radish. I refused this, because I don't eat any fish or seafood, but Jane says it was wonderful (especially the crab-cake..."one of the best mouthfuls of food I have ever had".)
Without being asked, the waiter then brought me instead a shot-glassful of celeriac soup with truffle oil , served with a few parsnips crisps - which was exquisite!

Jane had a pressed Guinea Fowl terrine, including leeks and foie gras, with a mustardy mayonnaise.
I had a "breakfast" -- a very clever concoction, mimicking in miniature the Full English Breakfast. A duck's egg cooked sous vide for 63 minutes; bacon; mushrooms (chanterelles); a tiny fried bread crouton; and for me the most skillful bit of the lot: a sort of "croquette" filled with what I can only describe as "Essence of Baked Bean". Much nicer than it sounds!

Jane had a dish involving roast pheasant, with caramelised chestnuts, brussels sprouts, and red carrots, very artistically presented.
I had medallions of roast venison, served in a chocolatey jus, accompanied by red cabbage, puy lentils, baby turnips and salsify (which I had never had before). The texture of the venison was "melt-in-the-mouth tender". Not a potato in sight with either dish!

Chilean Malbec.
(Plus Ty-Nant sparkling water)

Jane had pear parfait, poached pear, sliced banana (was it semi-dried?) with pistachio and olive-oil ice cream, all served up on a plate brushed with chocolate.
I had the cheese. This sounds totally unenterprising, but actually it was probably the best dish of the whole meal. They gave me 5 different types of British and French artisan cheeses. No, I don't know what they were, but one of them was a goat's cheese, and one of them was almost certainly Brillat-Savarin, one of my favourite cheeses of all time! These were accompanied by some really nice crackers, including some made with blue corn; some tiny red grapes, a generous portion of Membrillo (quince jelly), and (star of the show) a mound of tiny celeriac sprouts. Cheeseboards are often served with a stick of celery, but I dislike the texture of celery whilst enjoying the taste, so these sprouts were perfect for me, and something I have never seen before.

Coffee in the lounge, served with home-made Petits Fours, and a glass of Armagnac. A nice touch here too: the glasses were warmed for us. Lovely!

All credit to Adam Bateman, Head Chef, and his team, for a fabulous meal which exceeded even our high expectations. I would recommend this restaurant to anyone!


Quite apart from the restaurant, we were pleased with the overall experience in this hotel, and I thoroughly recommend it. The room we had was spacious and comfortable, as well as being wonderfully quiet. The staff were nice too - very courteous and helpful. The location is also very convenient, just a few minutes drive from Junction 4 of the M42. The hotel has extensive and well-kept gardens (including apparently its own kitchen garden, although we didn't see it). As you will have guessed, I took some photos before we left. It was a very cold morning and all the plants were covered in frost.

Apples set off by a fabulous background of Pampas Grass



Crab Apples

Ornamental pond (No, the herons are not real)

Horse Chestnut (conker) tree

The same tree in close-up...

Grasmere Gingerbread

Following my post yesterday, about our visit to the Lake District, I have been asked to publish a picture showing what the inside of the Grasmere gingerbread looks like, so here goes.

For completeness, I'm showing it in wrapped and unwrapped states... The old-fashioned wrapping is one of the attractions from my point of view. It consists of greaseproof paper neatly folded and secured with a rubber band. None of this modern clingfilm nonsense!

As you can see, it is "biscuity" rather than "bready". The inside is chewy and sticky and "unctuous"... And of course gingery.

Yes, I endorse this product. You should buy some whenever you have the opportunity! You can order it on-line via their website

Saturday 27 November 2010

A visit to the Lake District

This weekend we are in Golborne, near Warrington, in the North-West of England, visiting Jane's mother. Today we decided to make an excursion to Grasmere in the Lake District. The real object of the exercise was to visit the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden, adjacent to Grasmere church, in the graveyard of which is buried the famous poet William Wordsworth. A couple of years ago a memorial garden was created just outside the churchyard, planted with lots and lots of daffodils. A path goes round the garden, and this is constructed of hundreds of  paving stones which are memorials dedicated by family members to a deceased relative -- in a sense acting as a non-religious headstone. Last year we arranged such a memorial for Jane's father, Edward France, who died about 10 years ago. Today's visit was the first time any of us had seen the stone, so it was an emotional moment. We had to scrape the ice and snow off a few stones before we found the right one, but this is what it looks like:

The weather today was perfect for a trip to the Lakes -- cold, but bright and clear, with sunshine and blue sky. There was a thin layer of snow on the ground and the countryside looked absolutely lovely.

Here are some pictures of the Grasmere area...

Grasmere church

Of course for us no trip to Grasmere is complete without a visit to the famous gingerbread shop...

I won't attempt to describe their product to anyone who hasn't experienced it (and the recipe is a closely-guarded secret anyway). Let me just say that it is a bit like a sticky, gingery biscuit. Those of you who HAVE tried it will no doubt support my view that it is a very special confection.