I've just come across samphire Salicornia europaea, again. I found it in the supermarket, it's unusual but being bandied about a bit by the TV chef brigade. Now I don't know if my memory is tripping me up, it has a habit of doing that, but I remember reading a book when I was a teenager, maybe only 12. It was called When Marnie was There, by Joan G Robinson. I don't remember many books from my childhood, I didn't read that much, preferring to disappear into my imagination only coming out for half a Mars Bar and glass of milk, or to paint. I suppose those that I did read burnt an impression on my memory. Having said that, I don't remember much about this book either other than there was Marnie, a lonely girl visiting Norfolk and she met another girl (who was maybe in her dreams) and they became friends. It was about loneliness, friendship and growing up. It was set at the seaside in Norfolk (which is beautiful and dreamy anyway), there was a long, golden beach and there was samphire. I'd like to read it again.
As I was saying, I discovered some samphire in Morrison's and bought it. It sat in my fridge for a day-what to do with it? Last night, I decided to make samphire, mozzarella and roasted tomato salad. I roasted some cherry tomatoes in the oven with a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a crunch or two of pepper (no salt as samphire tastes of the sea). Toms only take about 15 mins at 180ish and when they were ready I tore up some buffalo mozzarella and threw it in with a couple of handfuls of samphire and another drizzle of olive oil. It only had a few mins in the oven, (3-5) before we took it out and shared it between us-mopping up the juice with crusty bread. Lovely, the salty slightly crunchy samphire with the rich squishy tomatoes and melting cheese tasted good.
Afterwards I tried to find When Marnie was There on the internet, ala,s it is out of print. I was disappointed until I discovered my original copy tucked away on a bookshelf, I said my memory had a habit of tripping me up.
We used to be called a nation of gardeners' and these days with the boom in allotments, grow-your-own, vertical gardening, straw-bale gardening, raised beds and oh, the list goes on, you would think we still are. I hope so.
Around here, there are only a few keen gardeners, l despair when a neighbour digs up his front garden and replaces it with piles of dry stone. I may slip out one night and throw some seeds around...maybe Verbena bonariensis, then later in the year or maybe the next, a frothy, purple cloud covered in butterflies will drift across our neighbourhood. I can dream.
We are on the edge of a small town surrounded by beautiful countryside but I still love to see insects and wildlife in my garden. When we moved here the emptiness of our new plot was a shock to me. Coming from a garden teaming with life, only one lonely blackbird visited us and was welcomed with open arms. He visited loyally for a few years, we knew it was the same boy as he sported one white feather on his right wing. One year he didn't come back.
I plant my garden with delicacies to treat the palette of bees, birds and flutterbies. At this time of year in early spring they love pulmonaria, although I have the pretty Pulmonaria 'Opal' with ice blue flowers, it is slow to spread and bees seem to prefer Pulmonaria officinalis, or Lungwort. Each year I dig up a few pieces and spread them round the garden. When I sit outside on a warm, spring day, I listen to the lazy drone of honey bees feasting on it's nectar.
I refuse to spray, preferring to indulge aphids, who munch on newly emerging shoots; I hope that a hungry ladybird will breakfast on them. I even resist the temptation of putting down slug bait, despite a preponderance of the slimey creatures. It has paid dividends, these days I can see tits pecking at tiny flies in the thicket of my roses; even long-tailed tits, my favourite, who I hope are friends from my old garden. I listen to the cacophony of young blackbird's squawking rudely in anticipation of their next hit of wormy delights. My soil if full worms, each spade-full of rich claggy, clay unearths a small handful of the wriggly critters, all good signs of healthy earth.
But I feel that my garden is a café, a motorway service station, on a long journey across a concrete and stone jungle for tiny, hungry birds and industrious bees. I hope at least I am worth the stop, Marks and Spencers I hope? Not Macdonalds.
From my magazine days, I remember how much people like to have clear instructions about how to do something. Whether its a tricky manoeuvre
on Photoshop to taking a cutting of a plant, a bit of hand holding does wonders for confidence and success. In fact, although I love to voyage through life taking wrong turns and finding myself in little adventures I still like the occasional leg-up from someone who probably knows more than I do.
Now, I'm no expert in the field of oil painting, so this is not an expert tuition, but more a joint hand holding expedition. If you want to paint in oils then you can follow my haphazard mark making and forays into colour mixing- and if it gives you the confidence to give it a go (like me) then this entry has been worthwhile.
I would love to hear your comments too.
I photographed these daisies (actually Anemone blanda which pop up like little stars in the spring garden) in an enamel jug the other day and decided to move it inside to paint it. Here's how I went about it...
I mixed a tiny dob of French Ultramarine(I use Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour) with water. You can use a special oil but I like water. Of course, if you are using conventional oils then you need to use linseed oil. I'm going to sketch the pot with this.
I'm going to start with the teapot. It's a lovely soft yellow. I used Lemon Yellow, white and a tiny touch of Indian red. I'm mixing with a palette knife. I love this bit.
I roughly paint in the teapot and then mix some white with a tiny bit of Indian Red to make the base colour of the cloth. It's still fairly rough at this stage. Now there is a very good tip I heard but seem to forget when I am painting and it is....
Paint dark to light
Once you have white on the canvas/paper/board and try to darken it you will end up with a muddy mess. Start with dark colours and add lighter ones. I like the colours to stay clean. With watercolours you don't use white, so white is a bit of a revelation to me...it's certainly proving tricky.
Now I'm going to mix the violet/blue colour of the petals. I'm going to use French Ultramarine with a touch of Permanent Rose
I roughly pick out the petals of the flowers. Then use the same colour with some Burnt Umber added to make it more grey. I will use this colour to paint the background adding white. I'm using a palette knife to paint the background and as the light is falling across the flowers from the right I use much more white here. I'm pretty much mixing the paint directly onto the oil paper. I add tiny dobs of lemon yellow to make it feel that the light is bright. The leaves are roughly drawn in with a palette knife using Cerulean Blue and Lemon Yellow, I love the green you get when you mix these 2 colours its very clean and perfect for spring. But the leaves are quite dark so there is a touch of Prussian Blue to darken it down.
The lines of the table cloth were roughly drawn in with a mix of Cadmium red and Indian red.
The teapot has some dark shading and white where the light is reflecting off it. Next I paint in neat Lemon Yellow for the petal's stamens and highlight the petals with white.
Now it's time to sign. When I sign off a painting I don't go back and fiddle. Its easy to fiddle but it usually ends up being over-worked.
After I had finished I took a couple more photos of it with my phone, as a photographer I was itching to get a different composition, more of a photographer's composition. I will have to explore this as I don't understand why I didn't paint it like this in the beginning?
1 Keep it simple The simpler the message the more saleable the image.
2 Chase the light Early morning, late afternoon/evening are winners (if it's not cloudy) some people call it the golden hour. Soft, cloud-filtered light can work well with some subjects (see the chive shot above). But, don't be afraid to experiment, sometimes you can make great shots at the time of day when some photographers are having a nap. Light, it makes the difference between a picture that sells and one that doesn't.
3 Frame your image in camera-don't just snap away
Unless you have lots and lots of time to waste! If you can't see the image in the viewfinder in the first few seconds, then you probably don't have one. Try a different angle, or just move on and shoot something else. Just because digi is 'cheap' doesn't mean it's free! Time is valuable. Time is the one thing you can't buy, especially when you are chasing the light (see 2). So save time at the editing stage by having a good set of shots in the first place.
4 If in doubt, chuck it out This is my mantra. So edit, edit, edit. Don't store away pictures just because 'you think it may be ok'. If you're not sure then it probably isn't good enough. An editor is not going to wade through lots of shots just to find one decent one-they don't have the time and crucially, good photographers are good editors too.
The DELETE button is your friend
5 Research and practice You can't do enough of this. Look at magazines, books the internet, anywhere and see how the pro's do it. Look at they angles they choose, how they frame their shots and try to work out what camera settings they use. Then give it a go. One professional portrait photographer once told me,
'Taking photographs is like riding a bike, you get better the more you practice'.
I got in contact with an old friend this week when I was feeling a bit glum. We've known each other for years and they reminded me of who I am, or at least the person they saw, which is different from how we sometimes feel in the bleak moments that overtake us. They only said a few words, shared some kind thoughts and happy memories, complimented me on one of my paintings and said this,
'Life is a long game friends mean a lot'
They certainly do, cherish the good ones.
I spent a very enjoyable day, yesterday photographing Toby Buckland building a keyhole garden at his new nursery in the walled garden at Powderham Castle. The team at Send a Cow (@tweetacow) and Amateur Gardening magazine set the whole day up. It began as a very murky day and stayed that way, but it didn't matter as the everyone's enthusiasm made up for it. Anyway, if it had been any hotter they would have expired as it was hard work, shifting barrow loads of soil up a bumpy hill avoiding two very inquisitive pigs.
Keyhole gardens are a way of efficiently growing crops in a relatively small space. The charity promote them in Africa where water is scarce and run a schools project to educate kids and get them growing too.
In the centre, is a hollow which is filled with compost. Bricks or stones are used to make a low wall at the base which holds soil to create a volcano-like shape. Compostable waste can be continually added to the centre and 'grey' (waste) water can be added here too. The mound of soil is fed and watered by this central spout of compost. The central spout is reached by an indent in the soil mound-forming a keyhole shape when viewed from above. It can be planted all year round and is continually fed by the composting waste. Ingenious.
If you want to find out more, or make a very worthwhile donation to this or one of their other great projects, you can visit Send a Cow.
I don't like ready meals. If I were to put anything in Room 101 it would be ready meals. With one exception, baked beans. Baked beans are food brilliance, they're nutritious, good for breakfast, lunch and tea (when desperate). I lived on baked beans and toast as a student.
But, I prefer to know what I'm eating so I usually prepare a meal from raw ingredients, it doesn't need to be time consuming or expensive. As a family, one of our all time favourites is soup. You can't go wrong, tasty, healthy, nutritious, easy.
Top of my list is my own take on tomato soup. Now I love tomatoes, I'm glad we can call them a fruit because without doubt, I would rather eat a punnet of tomatoes than anything else. Not, the horrid tasteless ones you get in the supermarket, but the nuggets of juicy sweetness that you can't often buy but have to grow yourself, like; 'Ailsa Craig' an old, reliable variety dead easy to get hold of and my dad swore by it, or; ' Mortgage Lifter' according to Simpson's seeds, 'famous for flavour'; or how about 'Flamme' as recommended to me by the folks at Westdean Gardens.
Here is my recipe, let's call it Keddie's easy Tomato Soup watch out for the surprise.
Keddie's easy Tomato Soup,
Found photographing in rain or shine for magazines and the like.
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