Sunday, 23 September 2012

The Vegetable Olympics

It's been two years since we entered anything into the local Autumn Show in the next village. Our last experience of this Very Important Event had been heady and we had set the bar high. We weren't daunted though, in fact, after poring over the categories we decided that FIVE entries were going to be made from the Mitchell household this year. The pressure was on. We needed to limber up.

I was playing it safe and had plumped for the posy (good previous form) and mixed herb categories but eldest was ambitious and was charting new territory: miniature garden and decorated egg. Littlest was keen to reprise her success with vegetable animals. The Mr was disgruntled. His 2010 tomatoes had won Best in Show in a blaze of glory, but a disastrous 2012 tomato season meant that he had to settle for being Littlest's creative assistant. 

Eldest's miniature garden plans were inspired by our own. She wanted a shed. She hacked at a biscuit box and broke out the lollysticks. She eyed a pot of houseleeks for possible miniature cabbage lookalikes. We distracted the Sylvanian families whilst she raided their flower stall for accessories. Littlest muses are usually porcine. She decided to express this inspiration using the medium of potatoes and tomatoes and carrots (with broccoli grass). 

As ever, on the morning of the show a hush descended on the house, broken only by cross exclamations when a tomato leg fell off or a miniature shed roof wobbled. 

It was time to take our entries to the village hall. This is always nerve-wracking. We had taken it to the wire and there was only 10 minutes left until the show closed for judging - no time to nip home for extra cosmos or miniature plastic carrots. The die was cast. After gaining special permission to take a photograph of the secret judging process (jams and preserves) we went home for lunch.

We returned to the village hall with trepidation, only to find (small drum roll) that we'd won four out of five golds (& one bronze)! Truly, we were thrilled beyond words. Not only that, our gold medals were made of chocolate, a bouncy castle had been inflated during the lunchbreak and all the entrants and their families stayed on for afternoon tea. To top it all there was an auction of the entries and despite fierce bidding I won a bottle of damson gin and a jar of lemon curd (both gold medal-winning, both beyond delicious). At the very end of the day a centurys-old and slightly unseasonal game of egg tossing (2 person team version) was played. It wasn't pretty (egg on Liberty print is not a good look) but the Mr and I came second. 

The Swaffham Prior Vegetable Olympics 2012 are over. It was as exciting to us as that other medal-winning business happening sixty or so miles away.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Renegade Craft Fair

I'm just popping (actually more like rushing with pliers and wire stuck in my hair) by to say that I'm having a stall at the fabulous Renegade Craft Fair at the Old Truman Brewery in London this weekend. I'll be in booth 33. It would be WONDERFUL to see you there. If you drop by my stall to say hello I promise I will do waving.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Foraging for wild plums

A few years ago I had never eaten any wild food. Then I realised that there were wild plums growing literally yards from my front door. I have written a blogpost about foraging for and baking with wild plums over at Garlic and Sapphire, the Sarah Raven blog. If you'd like to read more then pop over here.

Monday, 3 September 2012


Nearly fourteen years ago the Mr and I began 'stepping out', as my Gran used to say. Before one of our earliest dates we broke out a map of East Anglia, peered at the coast, chose a town that we'd never visited before and drove there. It was Southwold. 

The seaside itself is lovely enough, regardless of the surroundings, but good grief! We realised that quite by accident we had hit the seaside jackpot.

This town is wonderful. It has one of the finest breweries known to humankind, a truly lovely beach, a high street filled with independent shops and cafes, and, deep breath, rows and rows of beach huts.

In 1998 I had never seen a beach hut before. It took me a while to get my head around the concept: a prettily painted shed, sitting on a promenade a stone's throw from the beach, usually filled with buckets and spades, sometimes with jauntily striped curtains and a teapot. Oh.

Video postcard from our holiday 2009

This was an attack of the wanties the like of which I had never experienced. 

Fast forward eight years to 2006 and Eldest was six months old. I had hatched a plan. We would make our own beach hut in the garden. It would be the Mr's 'working at home' shed. It would have broadband and I would put pebbles in front of it. I could visit him with cups of tea and pretend I was at the seaside. 

We ordered it from Lugarde. I remember the day the flatpack was delivered. I had a baby on my hip and very scary hair. Something went awry with a fork lift truck and a hole appeared in the front lawn, but there it was: a shed, with potential. Somewhere at the back of my mind I thought I might claim a corner for myself to make things in.

Sometimes the Mr worked in the hut but mostly he didn't. He liked to work in the cottage. In 2008 I had left my scientific career to keep a closer eye on eldest and her tendency to have very high fevers (and sometimes febrile fits). I'd begun to make jewellery in earnest, started a blog and had a second baby. The thought that I might use the shed grew stronger. In April 2009 the beach hut appeared on my blog for the first time, a day or two after eldest had been in hospital (see above). In the autumn of that year I finally plucked up the courage to apply to participate in Cambridge Open Studios, having visited them since I was a student. I was absolutely thrilled when I was accepted and decided to turn the shed into a tiny exhibition and workspace.

Eldest's drawing 

Our shed is, I suppose, a kind of shrine to a Southwold beach hut. Despite this I had never been inside one. This year we had decided to hire a hut as a treat but quite by chance we bumped into a friend down the pub and she offered us the chance to borrow hers. Oh my giddy aunt.

Spookily, the beach hut we borrowed was decorated in a very similar style to ours, with pebble collections and beautiful handmade cushions. It was lovely. Rather foolishly I forgot my camera card, so snapped the view using my iPhone. Much as I love the pea wigwams, raspberry bushes and snoozing dog visible from my studio, this view was hard to beat. The little ones wanted to draw it, so they did, and then set about making sandcastles. 

Littlest's drawing

At one point I sat in the hut reading 'All my eggs in one basket' and eating flapjack whilst the girls pottered on the sand. To be truthful, if I'd been given the choice between sitting there reading and looking out at the beach or sitting in Tuscany (my other favourite place) with a vase of Chianti and pile of delicious pasta, there  would have been no contest (even if there had been fireflies as part of the deal). I couldn't have been more thrilled if Colin Firth himself had walked into my kitchen. Sitting in the real thing was, as I had imagined it would be, absolute bliss.