Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Few Refreshments Along The Way

Last week-end was the final opportunity to visit the Artists Open Houses as part of the Brighton and Hove Fringe Festival.  So on Saturday, we once again got on our bikes but this time travelled to the Dyke Road and Preston Park area - we visited 8 more houses and saw the work of over 100 artists and makers.

This was thirsty work and called for refreshments along the way - this year we were spoilt for choice as many of the houses now have their own pop up cafes.

morning coffee

Our first stop was for some freshly brewed coffee and a chocolate and beetroot cupcake in a sunny garden.  Unfortunately the photo doesn't do the cupcake justice and it looks as though a dog might have done something it shouldn't have on the plate, but I can assure you this was not the case and the cup cake was delicious!!

lunchtime Pimms

Two or three houses later our energy levels were starting to flag and we were delighted to be offered a glass of Pimms - another excuse to have a sit down in a lovely courtyard garden.  We were enjoying our Pimms so much we almost forgot to take a photo.....

Moving on towards the final houses, we had to negotiate a hairpin bend on a very steep hill.  There was a whole crowd assembled on the bend and there seemed to be an unofficial skateboarding event in progress - some of those guys had no sense of fear at all (as per usual with photographing steep hills, they never look as steep in the photo as they actually are in real life!)

mad skateboarders

At the final house we visited, we were starting to feel quite weary and after climbing the many stairs to the top of the house, we were delighted to discover that they had turned the loft area into a sunny tearoom.  We found a table with a pair of very relaxing chairs as we sank back and enjoyed some reviving afternoon tea.

afternoon tea in china cups

Mr Cocopopia ordered a home made scone and was particularly pleased to find his all time favourite jam - home-made rhubarb and ginger.  A perfect end to our enjoyable day of cycling art trail!

I haven't forgotten to tell you about the artists themselves - those deserve a separate blog post and I'll be sharing the highlights of those with you next time.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Seville Style Bedroom part one

A few years ago we visited Seville and were blown away by the style, culture and architecture of the city.  There are many influences evident in Seville but the strongest is the Arabic from the time when Seville was taken by the Moors from North Africa.  Colourwise, we also noticed combinations of blues, yellows and white seemed to be everywhere and we decided we wanted to take this style as inspiration for our bedroom back home.  

Moroccan style bedrooms are usually depicted in hot colours of reds, oranges, pinks and purples but we chose a cooler palette as our room is south facing and gets a lot of sunlight, so we wanted to feel more chilled out and relaxed.

We picked up a collection of small but beautiful tiles in a local market and Ade used them as decorative inserts in the wardrobe doors he had constructed for our built in wardrobe system.  The wardrobe doors reach right up to the ceiling and provide us with plenty of wardrobe and cupboard space.  The wardrobe doors have been painted in a light powder blue, the same colour as the walls, which works well as provides continuous colour on all 4 walls.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Staffordshire Oatcakes

My absolute favourite food is the Staffordshire oatcake, I can never have enough of them and they were a regular part of my diet, growing up in North Staffordshire.

A delicacy of "The Potteries" the oatcake is enjoyed particularly in  North Stafforshire and the Stoke-on-Trent area, but if you are lucky, you can also track them down in South Staffordshire and on the Staffs borders such as the Derbyshire moorlands, Cheshire and Shropshire.

Not to be confused with the biscuit-like Scottish oatcake, the Staffs oatcake   could be described as a "hearty" pancake, with the oaty batter being cooked on a flat griddle.

When I was growing up, oatcake shops were as common as fish and chip shops and I have fond memories of standing in the oatcake shop, watching (and smelling) the oatcakes being cooked.  Unfortunately all of the oatcake shops have now disappeared although they are still produced in a larger scale  oatcake bakery and its still fairly common to buy filled oatcakes in local take-aways and cafes (and if staying in the area, B&B's may even serve them up for breakfast if you are lucky!).

oatcakes are a healthy "fast food" and can be grilled, microwaved or cooked in the oven

I normally heat my oatcakes up in the microwave before adding a favourite topping of cheese, tomato and brown sauce before giving it another quick blast to melt the cheese

Then I roll it up into a sausage shape to keep the heat in - and then enjoy.

Usually fillings are one or a combination of cheese, bacon, sausage, tomato, baked beans, mushroom and served with or without brown sauce or ketchup.  However, some people enjoy them with sweet fillings such as jam or syrup.

If you'd like to know more about oatcakes, then visit the Staffordshire Oatcakes website

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Batman and Robin (and Cuckoo and Nightingale)

Yesterday at sunset, we found ourselves wandering around the local nature reserve, armed with torches, woolly hats and bat detectors.  We were attending the local Wildlife Trust's "an evening with bats".

But while it was still light, we had a classroom session to run us through an introduction to bats and to tell us some interesting bat facts (such as there are 18 different species living in the UK and some of them can live for over 20 years).  The smallest is the Pipistrelle which only weighs 4 - 7g, yet despite its tiny size, can eat up to 3,000 tiny insects on a good night! 

We also learnt that there are lots of misconceptions about bats.  For instance, they are clean and sociable animals, they don't intentionally dive bomb people's heads, they are not blind and they don't destroy buildings.

Before we went outside, we had a little peep at 3 little bats who had recently been rescued and are currently convalescing at the "bat hospital"

little bat patient just hanging around

Then we had a quick instruction session on how to use bat detectors before heading off into the nature reserve

The bats tend to come out just after sunset and it wasn't quite sunset, but we were kept entertained by the evening birdsong of a robin, a nightingale and a cuckoo singing a 3 part harmony - what a wonderful sound they made

A robin, a nightingale and a cuckoo were out there somewhere, singing away

At first, the bats were a little slow to appear but then we approached a large pond and the bat monitors started clicking like mad.  We stood at the water's edge and saw flashes of the bats as they flitted around in the moonlight, attracted by the small insects which were also drawn to the pond area.

We came away so impressed by these amazing little creatures - if you are interested in knowing more, then here are a couple of useful links:

 And what about batman?  Well yes, he was there too ....

Batman (aka Mr Cocopopia) - bat detector at the ready...

Monday, 13 May 2013

Backyard Chickens

If you're prepared to sacrifice space in your garden (and also some of your plants, and are not too fussy about a "neat" lawn!) then its great to keep back yard chickens - and you can always fence off your prized plants / veggie patch.

Ok, so they will dig up areas of ground and shred a tasty plant of its foliage in seconds, but they also earn their keep by providing fresh eggs on a daily basis and a plentiful supply of chicken manure which, when composted, produces a rich fertiliser (you don't knee "Miracle Gro" if you've got chickens!!)

Although chickens have only a small brain, they can be surprisingly bright and learn quickly (all part of the survival instinct).  Their personalities can vary greatly, from aloof to wanting to be your best friend and following you everywhere.

Here's a useful link if you are interested in learning more about keeping chickens:

In the meantime, here are some favourite photos of some of my chickens, past and present:  

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Know Your Onions

Spring onions (also sometimes called scallions, green onions, salad onions and various other onions, depending on which country you live in!) are in season now and happen to be my first "crop" ready to harvest his year.

The beauty of these is that they are effortless to grow because I planted some a few years ago and never managed to pull them all out - just left some of them to die down (out of laziness rather than forward planning) but every year, more come up again and every year I never quite get around to using them all, so the cycle gets repeated. 

I'm not too keen on them raw in salads and sandwiches, but they are great for adding flavour to stir fries and chopped up finely and sprinkled on top of a home made pizza (along with a few other ingredients, of course!).  The chickens love them, and can demolish a spring onion in a minute, given the opportunity.

At the moment, I'm picking them fresh from the garden but once they start to lose their green tops, they should probably be picked and they store very well in the fridge in a flat plastic container (like a take-away container) if they are rinsed well, and trimmed at the top and at the roots and stored with the lid on.

They will also store well on the kitchen windowsill if placed in a tall glass and filled with about an inch of water to cover the roots.  Change the water about every couple of days.  I put more water in the glass here as I wanted to take a photo with the bubbles in the water!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Seven venues, Fifty Artists in one day

Yesterday we enjoyed a day of cycling around Brighton and Hove combined with appreciating a variety of art and crafts on show as part of the Brighton Festival.  Here's a small selection of some of the artists/craftspeople whose work I particularly liked and would recommend you taking a look at, should you get the chance:

Otherworldly teapots by Carola Del Mese at the Bungeroosh Gallery

big, bold and colourful acrylic paintings by Romany Mark Bruce at Encounters 
(which won the prize for the best Open House last year)

gorgeous, quirky ceramics by Katherine Morton at Aymer Arts

vintage print cushions from Sublime Vintage, also at Aymer Arts
- find out more about Sublime Vintage here: Sublime Vintage

Beautifully illustrated ceramics by Stacey Manser-Knight, also at Aymer Arts (she also makes some really nice brooches)

We also saw some fantastic photography by Reuters photographer Luke MacGregor at Collective Elements.  Apart from his Reuters work, he also had some fabulous images of single flowers with water droplets, blown up onto a large scale.

The Open Houses are open all week-ends throughout May - we'll be going back for more before the month is out!

Here's a link to the Open Houses online guide:  Artists Open Houses - Brighton and Hove

Monday, 6 May 2013

Bikes, Buses, Art and Sharks

Every May, Brighton holds its annual Festival of music, art, drama, dance, literature, food and all sorts of things inbetween.  The city is always lively but in May it really does come to life.  It also has a Fringe Festival and as part of this, artists and craftspeople gather together and open their houses to put on displays of all sorts of art, design and crafts.  Often accompanied by home made cakes and tea in the garden. 

In fact, many of the houses are now competing with each other as to who can provide the best food (Spanish tapas, Indian snacks, vegetarian, vegan and cakes that would do The Great British Bake Off proud), as this can tempt people to visit and with every visitor comes the opportunity to sell a piece of work.

We got on our bikes yesterday and covered 25 miles to visit a variety of galleries and houses and I'll write about the highlights of these in my next post.

In the meantime, here are a few pictures from our cycle travels:

vintage buses

carrying vintage slogans

We stopped for lunch at the marina as we had some vouchers for Cafe Rouge

Brighton Marina

Catch of the Day

On the way back, we took a short cut through the Pavilion Gardens in Brighton

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The garden springs to life

This morning I wandered around the garden taking a few photos to capture the essence of what is going on at the moment.  I love our garden but I think next door's old ginger cat loves it more as he practically lives in it...

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Easy Jam

Three years ago I planted some baby raspberry bushes in the garden - they were tiny but settled in well. Every year, they produce more and more fruit and as we have both summer and autumn raspberries, we have a constant small but steady supply over about a 5 month period.  They seem to like the cooler summer weather and the warm rain so, after last summer, they did particularly well!  Apart from serving them with yogurt or ice cream, in fruit salads, meringues and muffins (raspberry and white chocolate), there are always plenty left over so I just store them in the freezer.

I wanted to make them into jam but having never made jam before, I was daunted by the thought of boiling up the fruit in a special pan, having to use a jam thermometer, doing the test with a cold saucer and seeing if the test dollop jam went "wrinkly" and other such scary instructions.  And then... I discovered that I could make jam in my breadmaker.  Only 4 ingredients involved - just add them all to the pan, close the lid, push the button and just over an hour and a quarter later ... jam!!

Here is how I made it:-

Just 4 ingredients: (makes 2 jars)

Raspberries - frozen, measured before defrosting     - 2 cups
Baking apple (peeled, cored and chopped)               - 1 cup
Preserving sugar                                                  - 1 cup
Lemon Juice                                                        - 3 tbsp

  • Add all ingredients to the bread pan and use the "Jam" setting
  • Do not be tempted to open the lid during mixing
  • Sterilise the jam jars in the dishwasher or by washing in hot soapy water and drying in a low oven for 10mins 
  • Use tongs to remove paddle before pouring the jam into the warm jars
  • Add lid while jam still hot and twist lid to seal

homemade raspberry and apple jam