IMG_3834 (1)

The Sir Alfred Munnings Art Museum and Garden Cafe, Dedham

Dedham is a village near where I live. We stumbled upon it a few years ago, when we did a marvellous country walk along its river bank (the Stour). It is an area of outstanding natural beauty that is heavily protected and, historically, always seems to have had residents who care about what happens there. It is Constable country: the artist lived down the road at East Bergholt and all around is the landscape he painted. He went to school in Dedham – you can see where in the square, the Old Grammar School – apparently walking there every morning along the same sort of route we took when we first discovered the village.

Dedham doesn’t have many shops, but it does have probably the best toy shop in the world (more on this another time).

The last time we went, I thought I’d see where we could have some good tea and cake. And this search took me to the Garden Cafe in the Munnings Art Museum (you see how I access culture? Via cake). The art museum wasn’t anything I’d ever seen or come across in Dedham before, and indeed, it is tucked away, nearly a mile’s walk from the village centre and badly signposted once you’re through the park (good playground). At one stage you are in deep Dedham suburbia (I guess this is where the houses that cost less than a million are) and you wonder if you’re in the right place at all. But you are and you keep going and then, there before you is Castle House, where Sir Alfred used to live and where a great part of his paintings are now kept.

(You can drive there, but we walked from Dedham.)

The museum is lovely. I love that children only pay £1 (adults: £6.50). I confess I’d never heard of him. Munnings painted lots of horses, he lost an eye to a bramble bush and went on to become a war artist for the Canadian army. He was controversial, as president of the RA, he made a speech slagging off modernists like Picasso and Matisse, live on BBC radio air. His first wife, Florence, attempted suicide on their wedding night. She killed herself two years later. The film Summer in February, starring him from Downton Abbey and Dominic Cooper, is about this part of his life (I’ve yet to see it, but want to). Florence was expunged from all record of Alfred’s life.

I didn’t come away feeling exactly warm towards him. But nevertheless it was a captivating museum. Although most of the pictures are of horses, my favourite was the bon viveur one above which is called Taggs Island and is displayed above the stairs.

Alfred’s second wife, Violet, had a black pekingese called Black Knight, which she carried everywhere with her. When he died, she had him stuffed and continued to carry him everywhere with her. One of the stewards in the museum remembers her, in the village, asking other customers to hold the stuffed dog, whilst she got money out to complete her transactions. There was even a ‘autobiography’ written by him, Diary of a Freeman (the dog was made a Freeman of the City of London, of course)..Black Knight is still there, stuffed and forever asleep on a cushion, in a glass case in the museum, with a red telephone next to him, presumably so he can order room service, when no-one is looking. My youngest was transfixed by this. Just goes to show that Karl Lagerfeld’s cat, Choupette, isn’t the first pet to chronicle their comings and goings.

The cafe in the garden, next to Alfred’s studio, is lovely. I mean, really first class. The staff were just delightful, the cakes (and you know how I am about cakes) DELICIOUS, all light and airy and even though I didn’t think I wanted them, I managed to eat everything on my plate. We had a coffee and walnut cake and a Victoria sponge, which had just been put out and was giant and multi-layered, the size of one of those pans we have in Italy, to cook pasta for fourteen in.  I didn’t try the food but it looked really good – all sorts of healthy salads and nice looking paninis. I promised the children we’d go back in the autumn to sample lunch, but it was a promise I mostly largely for myself

Do check opening times – of both the museum and the cafe. At the time of writing they were:

“The Café’s opening hours are 10:00am to 5:00pm and the Museum is open 2:00pm to 5:00pm Wednesday – Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays (April to October). Please check in advance if we are open at other times.”

IMG_3788

Pump Street Bakery, Orford

Orford ness is one of our favourite places. We go there at least once a year, for a very long walk, a picnic, and chats. Even my youngest can manage to walk around the red and blue walk (not green though, it’s never been open when we’ve been there, we always time it wrong).

(For those on Fitbit, you can rack up about 15,000 steps, or six miles  walking those routes.)

What we like to do is get up really early and head out without breakfast, fantasising about what we’ll eat from the Pump Street Bakery, when we get there. The fact that such an amazing bakery exists in what is a tiny village in the middle of nowhere astounds and delights me. And makes me very jealous. I wish we had one where I live in Suffolk.

This is a tiny bakery, that is crammed into an old house. There are very few seats. But it is glorious. Please don’t miss it if you venture anywhere near Orford (which is a very pretty village). We’ve sampled the Bear’s Claws, the doughnuts, the brownies, the Eccles cakes and the almond croissants so far. You have to try the Eccles cake to believe that currants can be held in a puff pastry and be a thing of eye-watering beauty.

We have breakfast – cappuccinos (very good) with pastries dipped in them, perched on the benches outside.  I want to try a gibassier next time I’m there. I’m afraid the pastries are so good, I completely forget to photograph them, so the picture above is a photo of my feet on Orford ness beach. Probably my favourite beach in the world.

Not to be missed.

IMG_2979

Swing seats (i dondoli)

On my uncle’s farm in Parma, there was always a swing seat or ‘il dondolo’. We would fight to sit on it and it seemed so much luxurious than a sum of its parts – basically a garden seat which could swing (swang?).

For the first four decades of my life, I never had so much as a scrap of garden. I had a window ledge, on which I could have balanced a plant pot, over the heads of the litigious, but I was not brave enough. In my childhood flat, I did have wide window sills, atop which I would grow pot plants. I was master of my miniature world but somehow this has not translated into my adult life (I know nothing about gardening, it really is like a language I can’t speak).

Anyway. When I got me a garden I went slightly mad with all the things I always wanted, but never had. All manner of garden games, climbing frames, slides, swings. And finally, a swing seat.

I got my first one six years ago. I went for beauty – wooden – with a cream awning. Mistake. Sure I could put cushions on it but it wasn’t really built for comfort, more perching and thinking “isn’t this wooden structure so, wooden?” Then, after a few winters, the cream awning went green and ripped. So when my friend Meg got a swing seat which she talked about with love – how comfy it was, how much it had changed her life etc. I stored this piece of information away in the back of my head.

IMG_2358

Then they sold out.

This year, come April I was in there, at B&Q (from whence it came) to see if it was as comfortable as Meg said.

“Don’t they do it in any other colours?” my partner asked, pained expression on his face. I caught him one day looking up more classy swing seats – they exist but my God do they cost. Anyway, true to what Meg has said, this is so comfy. It sits outside the back door and whenever I have a moment I go and sit or lie on it. Sometimes I work on it, legs outstretched, laptop where it’s meant to be. I’ve also fallen asleep on it. It’s a relatively small thing which has added to the pleasures of life. It augments sunny days and we all sit on it after school’s out. It’s been a really good purchase. I even let my partner sit on it (he did assemble it after all: which took a couple of hours).

(And yeah, I am aware there are wars on. I work in newspapers, this is why I need a swing seat to buy moments of calm and peace.)

Sure you have to take the cushion in if it rains heavily. And in the winter it will need to be striped down (awning and cushions off), but in the meantime, it’s everything you’d want in a swing seat, at a good price. Have I mentioned how comfy it is? And it has a small table upon which you can balance, you know, whatever you want that’s small.

My friend Karen has an Old Rocker – and by gosh they are beautiful and Karen saved up and deserves it – but they cost lots. Too much for me.

But, for the money you can’t beat this one from B&Q. Trust me I’ve looked.

IMG_2394 (1)

The Nutribullet

Ours is not a house short on gadgets. This is due to many things. We cook and bake a lot. My partner and I were fully formed adults when we joined households and we both cook and bake a lot, as I just said, and we had our own homes. So when we threw our lot in together, we discovered we now had four sieves, 12 pans that all did the same thing, 25 wooden spoons etc.

We have a juicer, a blender, a grinder (two actually), two ice cream machines, a food processor, a food mixer, a dehydrator, a stick blender with enough attachments to build a robot man…you get the idea. And we/I use all of them. Regularly.

So did I need a Nutribullet?

Strictly speaking no. There’s lots of talk about how it busts open the cells in your food. Sounds fabulous! But that’s what your teeth do and also, that’s what any good blender will do.

And make no mistake, the Nutribullet is a blender. That’s it.

But this is why it’s good and this is why I’ve used mine every day since I got it at Christmas.

The foot print is tiny (14cm) compared to that of any other blender that I know of. So it sits on the work surface and you’ll use it.

It’s unbelievably simple to clean. You just rinse the blade part under hot water and put it on the draining board and stick the cup part in the dishwasher if you have one, if not that is so easy to clean, too. If you do this immediately after you’ve made your smoothie you don’t need to do anything else. I have a toothbrush I use to clean any bits that get stuck under the blades, occasionally, but that’s it. No seals to take off like on my other blender (a 1000W machine).

And those really are the two reasons why it’s great. It’s easy to use and easy to clean. What more do you want? It comes with another blade – a grinder – which I use to make things like oat flour (just chuck in porridge oats or oatmeal). The Nutribullet comes in two versions, a 600W one, which is what I have, and a 900W one which costs 50% more.

You get two blades and various container ‘cups’  (the large one is the one I use most) in the smaller version, three blades and various other gizmos in the larger version. I’m sure you can decide which one, if either, is right for you. It costs about £100 for the 600W version, £150 for the other one.

I got mine (with my press discount of 20% which I’ve had for 20 years) from Lakeland which offers a life time guarantee on everything (or at least it used to but this now seems to have disappeared from its website so I’ve asked them to clarify) *.

I use it every day to make smoothies of varying degrees of “Gwyneth-ness” and my children have one every morning (God we are so GOOD). If you need some smoothie inspiration see my drop down menu on the right for ‘smoothies’.

*And Lakeland did:

“Thank you for getting in touch to ask about our guarantee.

We’ve recently changed the wording on our guarantee but it’s still the same Lakeland ethos.

Our guarantee states ‘We’re only happy when you’re happy’. So if you’re not delighted with your purchase or our service, please tell us so that we can put it right.

So, if at any time, you feel the product hasn’t given you value for money or develops a fault we’ll be happy to help.”

 

11193301_10153368988027994_3168735761292788874_n

Zingy green smoothie: cucumber, spinach, apple, mint, lime, ginger

I know there are loads of debates about smoothies and how much sugar they contain. I agree that you should consume more vegetables than fruit. But, if you eat the whole fruit – either by actually eating it or blitzing it into a smoothie – then you get lots of fibre (both insoluble and soluble), vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The rise in diabetes isn’t due to people eating too much fruit in its whole, natural form; it’s eating too much refined sugar in sugary drinks and too many refined carbs that busts your pancreas.

Anyway, this smoothie is really zingy and my partner loved it, but my youngest struggled with it – she prefers something that contains banana/berries at its base.

I always put a cube of frozen spinach into my smoothies. Okay, not always, but mostly.

Anyway, for this one you need, for four small glasses:

About 20g frozen spinach (or fresh of course)

Half a thumb size of ginger – be careful, if it’s fresh and good it’ll be quite powerful. I used half a thumb size and it was a bit too much for the children, adults loved it though

The juice of one lime

Half a bunch of mint, you know those bunches you get in the supermarket that cost about 85p (rip off)

Half a small cucumber, washed, not peeled and cut into chunks

One medjool date to bump up the sweetness and fibre a bit but you can leave this out

Apple juice. I get mine from our local farmer’s market, it’s really good but if you can’t get really good apple juice then blend in an apple (not the pips) and some water

Put all the ingredients in a blender/Nutribullet and taste it: because lime sizes vary and the recipe isn’t precise, you may need to add that date, or a bit more apple juice or water or cucumber. The ginger and mint are strong tastes, the cucumber calms it all down, the apple juice adds liquid and sweetness.

i think this would be really good if you had a cold. I can still feel the zingy effects over an hour later.

 

IMG_2164

Farinata and Friday night Tray of Treats

We used to do our main shopping on a Saturday as this is how things naturally fell, and it coincides with market day. And I do love a market. This meant that, come Friday, the fridge was a little bare and, often, my partner would be away on Friday. He is really good at conjuring something out of nothing in the kitchen, a skill my mother also has but not one that I’ve inherited.

I’m not bad at cooking but I need to a) be in my own kitchen b) have ingredients c) have a plan. Thus it was that, often, on a Friday, I would want and need to pull together a dinner for me and the children made out of not very much. And this is where I invented the Tray of Treats.

This is basically a fun and slightly misleading name for leftovers and bits dragged out of the depths of the fridge and cupboards. Although, these days, it’s become such an institution that we do tend to shop specially for Tray of Treats, back in the day it was crudites, bits of cheese, ham, bread sticks and whatever else could be cut up and look small and canape sized.

This is where these farinata come in. (Farinata literally means a ‘flouring’.) They are great as last minute bread, easy to make, gluten free and need almost no prepping. The slathering of extra virgin oil and salt makes them, so don’t skimp on this bit, because that would be to miss the point of them.

I use a 26cm skillet and it makes two big ones, which you slice up into wedges. Chickpea, or gram flour, is high in protein so these are gut-bustingly filling. These are also great little snacks to serve with a drink of an early evening.

150g chickpea flour

Two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling and cooking – use the best you have

half a teaspoon of baking powder

One teaspoon of salt, plus sea salt for sprinkling

Fresh rosemary sprigs, chopped

Pour the flour, the two tablespoons of olive oil, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl and, using a balloon whisk, whisk through 300ml of cold water. I use filtered water. If you use normal water be aware you might get a bit of scum on top of your batter after resting, if so, just skim it off. I never get it, and you may not.

Whisk this up until you get a batter. Now if you want to make the farinata now, rest the batter for ten minutes and heat up the oven to 240C, if not, put it in the fridge for later and just remember to heat up the oven before you start. The batter keeps for a day or so so you can also make one pancake today and one tomorrow (they are delicious with curries).

When ready to cook, put some extra virgin olive oil – about a tablespoon – in a frying pan that can go in the oven. I know it seems wrong to use extra virgin to fry with, and I don’t normally, but it works here trust me. Spread the olive oil around so it coats all of the pan, let it heat up and then pour half the batter in. When the mixture starts to bubble, scatter over the snipped up rosemary leaves and cook until the sides are golden, then transfer to the oven for ten minutes.

You know it’s ready when it’s crisp at the edge and has a soft centre. Flip it out of the pan (it should come out easily) sprinkle with sea salt and drizzle, generously, with the extra virgin olive oil. And marvel, at how few ingredients can make something so delicious.

My lovely Italian friend Sonia, who is a very talented chef, and from Livorno (where farinata originates, although it’s called torta di ceci there and they sometimes have it in between two slices of bread!), contacted me to tell me that the way I make it isn’t authentic: you shouldn’t use rosemary or extra virgin olive oil as it ‘overpowers the delicate taste of the chick peas’. This is apparently how you do it properly (it’s in Italian, sorry). But I love my way so will continue to do it like that, but, you know, authenticity is important so it’s good to know what one is mucking about with…

IMG_2156

Lovely, nutty tasting (but with no nuts) poppy seed oatcakes

These are wonderfully nutty tasting, and you’ll be convinced there are nuts therein. But there are no nuts. They are very frangible, so don’t roll them too thin, and when cooked don’t be too rough with them. Lovely with some cheese, of course, but I also sometimes have them for breakfast with some almond butter and a smidge of apricot jam on top.

Being full of oats ‘n’ seeds, they are particularly good for you, too.

(Note: I’ve put these under gluten free, oats are naturally gluten free but some have gluten in due to the manufacturing process so look at the packet your oats come in.)

These are from Hugh F-W’s Light and Easy book.

150g medium oatmeal

150g porridge oats (not the jumbo variety, if you have those, give them a quick spin in a food processor)

One tablespoon of ground linseeds

One tablespoon of poppy seeds

One tablespoon of sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or half of each

half a teaspoon of salt

75ml of sunflower or other tasteless oil

You will also need 100-150ml of boiled water

Baking parchment

 

Oven to 180C.

Put all the ingredients, save for the oil and water, into a bowl. Make a well in the middle and now add the oil and mix the ingredients around. Add 100ml of just boiled water and mix to a sticky wet dough, if you need to, add up to 50ml more but try not to if possible. This will seem like an unpromising dough and won’t be like a smooth dough, such as you may be used to.

Now you need two sheets of baking parchment to roll the dough out. Not too thin. Cut into squares – just free form with a knife, you don’t need to be madly exact. Hugh recommends cutting the square in two so you get triangles and I like this shape, too.

Don’t be tempted to use a cookie cutter. But do ball up and re-roll any off cuts. I shaped the last one by hand, in a butter-patting style.

Put on baking parchment lined baking tray and cook for 20-25 mins until just coloured. These give out a lot of steam (cos of the water) so be careful when you open the oven. You don’t want them too cook too much and be too dark, but equally they do need to be cooked so if your oven is temperamental, check after 15 minutes. The surface should be dry – no bubbling bits of steam – but not too coloured. Mine took about 22 minutes in a quite fierce oven. You may need to cook in two batches, I did.

This makes about 20-24, depending, on course, on the size.