Friday, 31 May 2013


I'm back in the bosom of my family after ten days of skiving off from family life and all associated previous record away from my husband and four children was five days, when I went to the Gold go to a yoga workshop with Bikram Choudhury. This time I've been on a garden odyssey in the UK.

During my brief foray outside the realms of my everyday reality, I've been busy ticking off gardening related activity from my bucket list.

First and foremost, I'm pleased to report that I drank champagne at 'Highgrove'.....yet you'll just have to take my word for it as cameras were strictly forbidden......and then dropped in to visit Prince Charles' second cousin Ashley Hicks at 'The Grove' where we wandered around the garden, in the rain, while he regaled us with amusing anecdotes about his late father, while his mother was tucked up in the house on the sofa under a blanket, knitting:

Sadly, they didn't invite us in for a restorative G&T.

After a turn around the late Rosemary Verey's old house and garden there was a delicious lunch in the village pub just across the road:

Followed by a cream tea a couple of hours later sitting out amongst the topiary in the garden at West Green House:

Which was utterly gorgeous and theatrical:

Look at the stunning chinoiserie chicken coop:

I finally gazed upon Hidcote gardens with my own eyes, after dedicatedly growing the lavender bearing it's name in my own garden, way back in Hobart, for years:

It was glorious.....even though I may have been called something rude by a not very nice man in the cafe, after a stoush for a vacant table in the sunshine. And there I was thinking that flowers and gardens made people happy.

Great Dixter was beautiful too:

Not only was Christopher Lloyd big on creating tapestry effects with the plants in his garden, inside, he also did tapestry of the needlework variety, making cushions to go with his sofa. You've got to love that in a man....after nursing my own tapestry fetish back in my twenties, I've already introduced my eldest daughter to the joy of tapestry.....maybe I should also try to teach my boys.

Last, but not least, I saw Sissinghurst again:

It has been almost ten years since I was there last, yet I still felt my skin prickle with goosebumps when I peered into Vita's room in the's the one place where her presence is still tangible.....probably because it isn't overrun with hordes of people, like the garden is.

Almost the first words uttered by my husband, when I arrived at the airport in Montpellier, were that there was no food in the house and that we were expecting friends in for a drink.....although, luckily, there was still some drink. So I hit the ground running and mercifully, after a momentary scare, my French came back after laying idle while I used my English. Phew. After ten days of cream teas and various roasts accompanied by yorkshire pudding, I ordered the foie gras when we wandered down to the Place aux Herbes for dinner:

....because I wasn't quite ready to cook!


Friday, 24 May 2013


Greetings from London! This morning, very early mind a cunning plan to beat the crowds, I dolled myself up and put a flower on my head and went to the 100th RHS Chelsea Flower Show:

I may have caught a fleeting glimpse of blue sky out of the hotel window, yet took precautions against the English weather by wearing thick, wooly tights, boots and four layers under my dress.....and a jacket. It was still cold. Later, there was rain and hail. There were lots of incredibly beautiful flowers though:

And topiary:


Even though it was just after 8am in the morning, it was still like this is the show gardens:

Yet the displays of garden artistry were very impressive:

Needless to say, I was riddled with gardening angst when I momentarily thought about my own garden back home in Hobart. I took comfort in the anecdote that the bus driver had told me about how his parents had been invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace for their golden wedding anniversary. As keen gardeners they thought that it was all beautiful and very neat.....except for the further reaches, which they accidentally stumbled upon.....which may have been just a little bit messy.


Monday, 20 May 2013


I love French food, don't you? So, I'll admit, here and now, that I've succumbed and have not only reintroduced back into my diet, sugar (after an 8 week hiatus) but also coffee (after a four year break) and white bread (it's been banned for as long as I can remember). And what's not to love about a food culture that socially condones drinking wine at lunch. If you so fancy, you can even go one step further towards alcoholic anihilation and down a pastis in a cafe at 10am and no one will bat an eyelid....don't worry, I can't say that I've been tempted to....yet, but I've seen my husband eyeing it off.

During the week, with three of our children ensconced in their new school, we went out for a celebratory lunch in Nimes. I donned the sparkly new frock that I'd bought in the village:

The husband and I are creatures of habit....since we've been here, he has acquired a road bike and the associated lycra and cycling accoutrement that goes along with it, while I have been adding to my handbag and dress collection.

Anyway, as we hadn't managed to magic up a babysitter, we had to bring the two year old with us. Never mind, we hatched a cunning plan which saw me sit in the back seat of the car for the 20 minute drive into Nimes to induce her to stay that she would fall asleep on cue, just as we arrived at the restaurant. I'm sorry to say that it didn't work....we even ended up doing laps of the old town with the stroller for over an hour to try and lull her to sleep yet her radar was on and she knew something was up and no matter that she was addled with sleep, she wanted to stay awake and be part of it. Say hello to the gooseberry:

We had lunch on the terrace at the Ciel de Nimes, on the third floor of the starkly modern art gallery, the Carre d'Art  which overlooks the ancient Roman temple built in the 1st century BC, the Maison Carre. It is a stunning bird's eye view which reaches out over the rooftops and bell towers of Nimes:

Much more recently, the Carre d'Art was designed by the British architect, Norman Foster....who also worked on designing  le Viaduc de Millau, just up the road on the highway between Montpellier and Paris....I know this salient fact because, while my husband loves cycling, don't be fooled, as he is also just a tad of a petrol head, to the extent that, when we drove over this same bridge....I had to video it. Anyway, the Carre 'Art echoes the rectangular shape of it's Roman neighbour yet is constructed of the very modern materials, glass and steel, and presents a striking juxtaposition between two buildings constructed 2,000 years apart:

I've been having a bit of a cooking holiday and can't say that I've been clocking much time in the kitchen....I've been working more on food assembly with the produce from the market:

Conveniently, the organic corner shop sells glass jars of tofu stuffed ravioli in a tomato and vegetable sauce, which I have been feeding with great regularity to the children. They love it. Don't think I'm not spoiled for cooking inspiration, the shelf in the kitchen is groaning with French inspired cookbooks from Elizabeth David, John Burton Race and Caroline Conran....and I even lugged Shannon Bennett's '28 Days in Provence' over in the suitcase.

However, in my cooking wasteland, I have made from scratch, chicken soup, not once but twice. We ate it for dinner last night and I was reamazed by it's utter deliciousness so thought I'd better share it. Don't just take my word for it, cook it! You will need either a chicken or a chicken carcass, so you can roast a chicken like I did the night before....with butter and slices of proscuitto stuffed under the skin.....or boil the whole thing and then strip off the meat. Boil the bones in a big pot with leeks, carrots, onions, garlic and whatever herbs you have on hand. Conveniently, I had a dried bouquet garni of thyme and bay leaves which was a 'cadeau' from the man at the shop....I even had the wherewithal, in French, to, on the spot, make a feeble joke 'a present...but it's not even Christmas'! Boom, boom. In another pan, sweat chopped carrot, leek and celery in a melange of butter/olive oil until it's soft. This is the step that elevates this soup from the banal into the realms of the superlative, so do not skip it out....I originally found this idea in Matthew Evans' tome 'The Real Food Companion' yet my friend Mary, who knows everything about food, assured me that it's a well recognised technique. Anyway, once you have drained the stock, add shreds of left over roasted or boiled chicken meat, the buttery, oily vegetables and a couple of handfuls of spinach and chopped parsley. Last night, I dressed it up with crumbled chèvre, grated Laguiole cheese and a sprinkle of fleur de sel from the Camargue that the ten year old brought home from his overnight excursion. If you are in Australia you could easily substitute a freshly grated local hard cheese and Murray River salt.

We went to the patisserie this afternoon. It is right next door to Picard....which, to the uninitiated, is an entirely frozen supermarket. Along with the usual suspects...frozen pizza and pain au can also buy snails, macarons, blood fact, you name it and it's probably in their freezer. I couldn't resist these:

Kiss shaped pieces of foie gras and raspberry puree and cream cheese, basil and capsicum jelly. We are about road test them with a we also went to one of the organic vineyards on the outskirts of town and stocked up on wine:

I was sceptical about the frozen shop....yet threw caution to the wind and stocked our freezer up with various bits and pieces....because I'm going to London for ten days on Tuesday and I'm sure that my husband will need all the help that he can get.