I wanted to make a feast. I had an insane urge to cook and create and make everything homely and perfect. Why? Probably because I’ve been away more than I’ve been home this past month, and apart from the Auvergne there haven’t been breaks or holidays, long or short. It’s just been a long litany of hectic days away, tennis, business, children, and anything else you can think of. I just haven’t been home. So often have I left the house at 6.00am or 7.00am and returned around 9.00pm. Roddy has held the fort quite perfectly, obviously, usually accompanied by at least one or more of our children. But I’ve been on the road with the others; I have driven more kilometres than I dare to count and let’s just say I am a dab hand at filling up with diesel, again and again and again!
Yesterday, I had a day at home; actually, to be precise, I had two-thirds of a day at home as late in the afternoon I had to take Millie to a tennis tournament and then Gigi to her lesson straight after. But until then, I had an entire morning and part of the afternoon to do something else and it felt like an enormous amount of wonderful time. So, struck by this incredible urge to be homely and to make everything the children could possibly want, I started with thoughts of a wonderful lunch and a need to fill the kitchen with the smell of summer cooking.
I woke early and spent a good couple of hours in the vegetable garden, reacquainting myself with the smell of the earth, plucking weeds and stringing up errant tomato vines. And whilst I worked, in the early morning sun, I helped myself to the freshest of breakfast treats, warm tomatoes that I am quite sure taste purely of the sun. I pulled up some baby carrots, rubbed the earth off against my shorts and bit into them with a satisfying crunch. That’s the beauty of gardening without pesticides; I don’t have to worry about washing and cleaning, as everything is as pure as pure can be.
After a while I was joined by Gigi, who quite unaware of what she was doing found herself drawn to the produce and picking and eating too. Situation normal there, then!
Then we moved on to the first of the grapes, still very slightly tart, but this is actually just the way I love them, when half of the bunches are green, but the purple ones are prime eating material. We’re lucky enough to be able to pick and choose as we pass down the row of vines.
Once we had eaten our fill we collected a trug-load of courgettes, aubergines, carrots, cucumber, lettuce, yet more tomatoes and green beans and headed back up to the house with our summer bounty. Hetty had already been down and collected the eggs and was making her favourite breakfast of scrambled eggs. It felt good to be at home for once.
With my kitchen now overflowing with produce we all set about creating lunch. Once the smell of cooking started wafting through the house everyone slowly appeared and joined in. One wanted ratatouille
and another roasted vegetables. So simple – I literally chop whatever I have, add some onions and garlic, sprinkle with salt and fresh herbs, douse in olive oil and put in the over to roast. Sometimes (as on this occasion) I added a can of chickpeas which go crispy – they are quite irresistible!
Roddy got in on the act and made quiche, two varieties to satisfy everyone! Cheese and bacon, and one with yellow courgette and tomato.
We still have lots of saucisson from our trip to the Auvergne and thinly sliced with some cheese it makes the most delicious appetiser at lunch, along with some freshly cut local charentais melon.
I wracked my brains, I needed a simple dessert and as I look around my eyes caught sight of the lavender in the garden and I knew what I was going to make – lavender shortbread. It’s one of my summer favourites, courtesy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. It couldn’t be easier,
Crumble together in your fingers 160g softened butter, 80g sugar, 240g plain flour and 2 teaspoons of fresh lavender flowers (just make sure you only use flowers that have not had any sprays or pesticides on them).
Press the mixture into a medium sized rectangular tin lined with baking parchment and bake at 170C for 20 to 25 minutes until it turns a very light golden colour. Take out of the oven, allow to cool a little and then sprinkle with a little sugar and cut into fingers.
And be sure to stay in the kitchen whilst it is cooking, the smell of the lavender is quite intoxicating and will scent the entire room!
My mouth is watering, just thinking about all of this again now, a feast for the family, in fact I am sure it is time for lunch once more!
Sometimes I think we need to be cosy and at home with those we love the most. It’s a mother’s instinct to want to provide for her children and to feed them, and the simple task of growing vegetables and then harvesting them with the family is one of life’s great pleasures for me.
We made enough to feed a small army, and why not – we have an abundance of everything and what we don’t eat one day is perfect for lunch the next. Ratatouille never goes to waste; any leftovers are quickly put in tubs in the freezer, perfect for enjoying throughout the winter months.
Feeling utterly relaxed and replete after lunch, we all found things to do. Gigi decided Bentley needed a haircut
and I turned my attention to the floral side of the garden and wandered around with my secateurs cutting a few stems and sprigs of plants here and there.
I am certainly no florist, there is nothing elaborate about my arrangements, they are always the simplest of affairs, arranged very casually, but I cannot be without a vase on the kitchen table and another in the sitting room.
I took some lagerstroemia, (crape myrtle), white buddleia, cosmos, roses, fennel flowers and Russian sage and just played around to fill a couple of vases.
Late in the evening, once we were back home, we took the dogs for a walk, heading in our favourite direction behind the house and out into the country, surrounded by fields of sunflowers and small vineyards. The blackberries are ripening fast and I think it will be another bumper year.
It had been a typical English summer’s day with white clouds scudding across the sky. (I can say that having spent my entire childhood growing up in England!) The sun had been warm enough but without the searing heat we so often experience here. This week our temperatures have been kept well below average for the time of year, the landscape chilled by distinctly cold winds.
All of this has set me thinking about the need to slow down, de-stress and repose and each individual has different ways of achieving this. Do you need to be away at a spa, by the sea, in a hotel or on holiday to totally unwind? Or are you happy to be at home, taking long walks, cooking, gardening, reading? If you have a moment to spare, I’d love to know how you find peace and tranquility.