When I was catching up with the galleries that sell my prints and cards I was asked if I had any Valentine's Day cards. It got me thinking and and one evening an image popped into my mind – I quickly scribbled it down in my sketch book.
Yesterday afternoon I quickly scanned and sized the image, made a few tweaks to the composition (I wanted a square design) and transferred it onto a piece of lino. The design was only roughly sketched, so each cut was a step into the unknown; by the end of the day I had a finished carved block ready for printing. I very nearly worked late printing the block right away – I was in the zone! But instead Cliff and I sat down at the studio computer and booked a little holiday, something nice to look forward too :-)
I didn't sleep well, my mind was a bit buzzy from the intensiveness of the carving and excitement about a holiday, so I lay awake thinking about colours.
This morning I got the inks out: Crimson and Yellow Ochre
Made a lovely rich red
Rolled the ink out on the glass
Inked the block
And printed a new design for Valentine's Day
The original limited edition unframed prints can be ordered by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org This is a small edition of 20 prints on Japanese Kikuchi Haini Kozo Koban (a beautiful paper made from the fibre of the Paper Mulberry). The image size is 15 x 15cm. Each print is named, signed and numbered in pencil by me. An unframed print costs £48 (including p&p to addresses in the UK mainland).
For me, the vegetable growing year begins when I buy seed potatoes. So many to choose from but only so much space I want to put aside to grow them in!
I had to be rational about this . . . 1) I want an early potato with an excellent flavour 2) I want a potato that I know will do well in my garden 3) I want good salad potatoes through the summer 4) I want to try something different 5) I want to grow some old fashioned potatoes
Here's this year's selection, settled into their egg boxes all ready for chitting.
INTERNATIONAL KIDNEY aka Jersey Royal if it's grown on a cliff-side in Jersey. This always does well in our garden, it survives drought well and the foliage is lush and a lovely shade of green. Good potato flavour and a large crop of medium sized smooth tubers.
RATTE aka Asparges. The French gourmet salad potato, some years it's hard to track down (I substitute with Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple) so I was thrilled to see it available this year. It has a lovely pale yellow flesh with a waxy texture – the flavour is actually best when eaten just warm or cold.
DUKE OF YORK I've grown this before but not in this garden, so it will be interesting to see how it does. It has been on the 'national potato list' since 1891 and has been a popular choice for allotments and back gardens because it's a great all-rounder for the kitchen, with a great flavour.
SHARPE'S EXPRESS This is one of the potatoes I remember from my childhood, I remember dropping the potatoes into the holes my Dad dug. It's named after Charles Sharpe of Sleaford, Lincolnshire who introduced it in 1900. Best boiled whole with the skins left on, I'm hoping for that quintessential 'new potato' flavour.
I bought my seed potatoes from Oakington Garden Centre on the Fen edge just west of Cambridge, where there are 30 varieties to select from – be quick though, they'll sell out pretty fast! If you've read Engleby by Sebastian Faulks, you'll recognise the roads you drive along to get there – and the scenes described in chapter 10 happened hereabouts in the flat muddy fields.
I also bought onion sets: Red Baron and Sturon; shallots: Picasso and Golden Gourmet; and garlic Fokhagyma – a Hungarian variety that has been grown since the 15th century, I'm looking forward to trying this!
Now I really feel the vegetable year is underway and I'm looking forward to sowing seeds, digging the soil and constructing structures to protect and support the crops.
I'm also looking forward to reading a different novel – something to lift me out of the dark fen mists and troubled mind of Engleby. Any suggestions?
I've always loved those medieval 'labours of the months' – tasks that mark the turning year; you know the sort of thing . . .
January - Feasting
February - Sitting by the fire
March - Pruning trees, or digging
April - Planting, enjoying the country or picking flowers
May - Hawking, courtly love
June - Hay harvest
July - wheat harvest
August - wheat threshing
September - Grape harvest
October - ploughing or sowing
November - gathering acorns for pigs
December - killing the pig, baking bread
All illustrated with pictures of stocky peasants toiling on the land and the occasional toff and his lady-love swanning around in a leafy grove. So I thought I'd blog a Labour of the Month through 2011 on PPPs – I may even evolve them into designs for prints or indeed a calendar; let's start with a culinary labour to mark the month of January . . .
After obtaining the prerequisite ingredient: Seville Oranges, I spent some time reading through all the recipes I could lay my hands on to settle upon the 'best' method; in the end I realised that Fiona the Cottage Smallholder had in fact done the groundwork and her recommendation for the best and simplest method was similar to that of my Mum and also St Delia of Norwich City – and that's good enough for me! You can find Fiona's recipe for Easy Seville Orange Marmalade here.
Not only was it easy peasy, it worked and I now have 20 (and a bit) jars of the best marmalade I've ever made!
Oh no it's not! Each egg is different, eggs from the same hen are similar enough to be identifiable as hers; but another hens eggs have their own characteristics. After a winter/moulting break from egg-laying for the hens (and lack of lovely fresh eggs for us) on 4th January Saffron Spice laid her first egg of 2011. Since then (with the odd day off) she's laid an egg every day.
Saffron Spice's eggs are a perfect eggy shape and a subtle shade of pastel teal blue. Then yesterday evening there was a very very special moment . . . we'd been on a long train journey to Liverpool and back and when we returned I went out to secure the hen-house and check the nest-boxes – there were TWO EGGS! Both were pastel blue-green so they had been laid by the Spice Girls, one was obviously Saffron's but which hen had laid the slightly wobbly elongated pale sage-green egg?
The pale sage green egg (bottom of the photo above) couldn't have been laid by Nutmeg Spice, I'd checked her pelvic bones last week and they were close together. That left Ginger Spice – she had laid an egg!!!!! Why am I so eggcited by this? It's worth a silly pun because last summer Ginger wasn't a well hen, her tail drooped, she'd stopped laying and she was obviously pretending to look OK (hens do this!). In July I exchanged emails with Terry of The Hen Cam, and mentioned my worry about Ginger:
" Ginger isn't herself, we noticed when we got home she was withdrawn and today she's off her food - the heat doesn't help. I've been concerned about her for some time as I realised her egg laying is sporadic. There's nothing obviously wrong, except for her tail being at a slightly lower angle and she's not the bright spark she was."
I bought Epsom Salts to dissolve in a little water to give to Ginger; I made sure she was wormed and gave her yogurt and Poultry Spice with her food. Then one day I found a 'lash' under the perches, a 'lash' is the shed lining of the egg-laying tract and looks . . . er well . . . if you don't know what a lash looks like you probably don't want to know! I guessed it was Ginger's and the reason she'd looked so droopy. I tried to find out if hens can lay eggs again after passing a 'lash', there's not much information available – afterall hens that stop laying are usually disposed of. Terry has written an interesting piece about the lack of knowledge about the health of older hens on her blog here.
But, after that Ginger began to look perkier and gradually she's regained her sparkle. She moulted and grew shiny golden new feathers but she hadn't laid an egg since June 2010.
Now she has! And I wanted to celebrate that very special egg. So, here is Ginger Spice's first egg of 2011 on the left with one of Saffron Spice's , poached and served on toast for my breakfast this morning.
A little late, but here goes . . . this is my contribution to Silverpebble's Splash of Colour for January 2011.
On Wednesday morning this week the sun came out and the sky was a beautiful blue; and because the sky had been shades of grey for so long, it took my breath away!
I joined the under-gardeners and the Spice Girls to frolic in the garden in the sunshine. Ginger Spice's feathers shone like burnished gold and polished copper. Look, her new crest is growing, the feathers busting out of the quills.
The sun soon hid behind a cloud, but in the garden Cornus 'Midwinter Fire' continued to glow. This is one of the best shrubs in the garden, once it gets going it never fails to add the 'Wow!' to the winter border. It's now sending up little suckers so I'm planting up new patches to add more fire to the mid-winter garden; and when I prune out half the stems in February I can take even more cuttings – for a firey forest maybe?!
Against the red-brick garden wall the silver variegated Holly still has red berries. Are the birds saving them for later cold snaps or is there just too much choice of berries to feast on?
Tarragon has a spring in his step! He knows the year has turned and his hens are coming back into lay. Time to dance the Pasa Doble with his favourite, Saffron Spice ;-)
This morning a Crescent Sun rose – did you see it?
The partial eclipse was visible from the UK from sunrise until 9.30am, you MUST NOT look directly at the sun without protective goggles (unless you want to risk going blind) so sophisticated astronomical apparatus should be used . . . or a colander, here's how:
Grab a colander from the kitchen cupboard; find a bit of wall that the sun is shining directly onto; hold the colander so the sun shines through it onto the wall and as if by magic (or a scientific optical rule involving angles and projected light and stuff) lots of little Crescent Suns appear on the wall – like this
. . . you can see the Moon's shadow is gradually moving away and the 'bite' out of the Sun is getting smaller . . .
So, there you have it – the Partial Solar Eclipse of 4th January 2011 as recorded by Magic Cochin using two colanders. If you live in the UK and want to do this yourself (or try the 'bowl of water' method as I did on 1st August 2008) you'll have to wait until 15th March 2015, or travel abroad.
There was something else that happened just after sunrise this morning, something that for me eclipsed (sorry) the excitement of the astronomical event – the first egg of 2011!
Did you see in 2011 in style? Did you join the crowds by the Thames to see the fireworks? Or were you tucked up in bed? Cliff and I were at a Murder Mystery Dinner Party and got back very very late . . . this morning I didn't feel very lively! But my green metallic finger nails and blue hair reminded me that we'd had a good time.
There was no time to lounge around, we had an invitation to join The Cottage Smallholder for lunch. We arrived at Fiona and Danny's cottage and were immediately made welcome in the cosy kitchen with the Min Pins. After toasting the New Year with bubbly (or Elderflower cordial for those – me – feeling delicate) we tucked into a sublimely delicious roast chicken and vegies followed by bread and butter pud . . . yummy yummy and there was a lot of laughter – the best therapy ever invented!
Fiona has been busy with her sewing machine and as well as lovely scented lavender hearts she has developed a new product . . . a scented toy for cats. I volunteered the studio assistants to review The Catnip Bird . . .
"we could smell the catnip before we saw it" the ginger one
"the plastic wrapper is difficult to undo without human paws to assist" the ginger one
"the catnip scent gets transferred onto the carpet and is lovely to roll around in and get it on my fur" the tabby one
"the fabric is strong and keeps its shape even after it's been chewed" the tabby one
I think they like it Fiona! Thank you so much for lunch and for making two cats very very happy.
PS: The music is of course "What's new pussycat" by Mr Tom Jones, but you all knew that anyway ;-)