Garden magic

What with one thing and another, I haven’t had much time to attend to the garden.  That hasn’t bothered these tenacious violas, however, which have bloomed the most incredible purply-blue in a crack in the pavement. Triumph in the face of adversity, indeed.

There are also white and pink hellebores, which are home to a really startling number of ladybirds.  In fact, the ladybirds seem to have colonised the entire garden- it’s almost impossible to take a step without coming across one, which means some very careful stepping is required to avoid squashing them.

There aren’t any ladybirds in this one (undoubtedly they’ve all considerately moved to one side so I can take the photo), I just liked the sunlight on the leaves.

Afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason

This Saturday was my lovely friend Emily’s hen party.  The plan was to have afternoon tea and champagne at Fortnum and Masons, an ‘upmarket grocery store’ on Piccadilly with tea rooms on the fourth floor, and then head on somewhere else.

Also this Saturday was a planned protest march through central London campaigning against the government’s cuts to public services.  The route of the march was due to pass Fortnum and Masons so I went along a bit early to cheer everyone on…

and headed upstairs for tea.

Then suddenly there were protesters (different ones to the peaceful protesters) occupying the building, and a police cordon around it stopping anyone going in or out.  Luckily nearly all of the attendees of the hen party managed to convince the police guarding the doors that their pretty dresses meant they weren’t rioters intent on smashing up the place, so they were allowed in for tea!

We were stuck (insofar as sitting around drinking free champagne and tea and eating cakes can really constitute ‘stuck’) inside Fortnums for about three hours while everything carried on outside.

The Guardian has an article about it here.

The management continued to ply us with free champagne until the police said we were allowed to leave the building.  The riot police were a bit surprised to see us all traipsing out of the building and down the road to the tube station…

and the hen, in her sparkly green dress, was certainly the focus of their attention!

Undoubtedly the most eventful cup of tea I have sipped in quite some time.

Pure evil

There is quite a lot of blogging to catch up on, but I must just allow myself to discuss events out of the order in which they occurred to address this:

This is our neighbour’s cat, whose name I have discovered is Lavender.  She is a lovely, sweet, inquisitive little cat who is probably about a year and a half old, and has a sister whose name I don’t know.  And yes, those are very sharp spikes which she is delicately negotiating her way round.

Our other (evil, obviously) neighbour, who owns the overly clinical, high-maintenance architect’s garden next to our flat, has installed spikes along the top of the fence to try and keep these kitties out of his garden, and also put netting over a hole they use to get out of the garden once they’ve jumped down into it.  What the photo doesn’t show is that the walls are very high and that little hole was their only way out.  Now, no one can deny that cats can cause a little bit of mess in a garden, and perhaps everyone doesn’t love cats as much as I do, but his draconian response was really unfair.

So he installed this stuff, and then inevitably the cats got stuck in his garden last night.  He was in the house, with the lights on, while the cats were crying and he refused to open the door to their owner.  Luckily there is a window that leads to the garden which a third set of neighbours were kind enough to let the owner have access to so she could get them out.

It should also be pointed out that this is by no means the first bit of meanness exhibited by evil neighbour.  I therefore humbly request that the universe conjure up and execute a punishment fitting to his horrible, inhumane behaviour, preferably while I am there to witness it.  I’ve thought of quite a few good ones already.

A taste of America- white chicken chili and Betty Crocker cake

Having completely wiped myself out cleaning the flat and lumping furniture about, I felt in need of some yummy comfort food.  Inspired by a recent visit to my friend Gloria’s house while we were in Washington D.C., I had a look for white chicken chili recipes and found one to adapt.  As someone who is not fond of tomato-based sauces or tomatoey food generally (other than fresh tomatoes- weird I know), white chicken chili is a fantastic find, being ‘white’ as opposed to ‘red’ I suppose due to the refreshing absence of the ubiquitous can of chopped tomatoes.

The recipe I based mine on was Cha-Cha’s white chicken chili from allrecipes.com.

Meg and Cha Cha’s white chicken chili

Ingredients:

for the chicken:
750g raw chicken fillets- I used a mixture of breast and thigh fillets
1tbsp ground cumin
1tsp cayenne pepper
1tsp celery salt  (I actually just sprinkled all of these liberally, so the above is just a rough guess)
1tbsp mild olive oil

for the chili mixture:
1tbsp mild olive oil
1 medium white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium-hot chili pepper, finely diced (this was hot enough for me, but add more if you want even clearer sinuses)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon mild paprika (for prettiness)
750ml chicken stock
2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

to serve:
handful of coriander (cilantro, if you’re in the US of A)
shredded cheddar cheese, as much as you want really
1 small ripe avocado, diced
NB the chili makes much more than 2 servings, but the above finishing touches would be for 2 people

Put the tablespoon of olive oil in an ovenproof dish with a lid (or a foil-covered one) and turn the chicken fillets in it, then sprinkle on the spices.  Roast in the oven at 180c (350F) until cooked through- half an hour or a bit longer maybe?  Let cool, then shred into chunks.  It tastes nicer and stays more juicy when shredded rather than diced, I think.

Meanwhile, saute the onion very gently in the other tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat until it’s translucent.  Then add in the garlic, chili pepper, cumin, cayenne and paprika, and let it cook away for a few minutes.  Add the chicken stock, shredded chicken and the cannellini beans and simmer over a low heat for 15 minutes.

Serve over rice, scattering the coriander, cheese and avocado on the top.  Yum yum yum.  Makes absolutely loads, and of course scale up or down as needed.  This fed us dinner one night, and was then Mark’s dinner for a whole week.  And also, if you’ve already got leftover cooked chicken from a roast or whatever, just use that instead of roasting anything.

And then of course I needed pudding, absolutely a non-negotiable element of any comforting for me, and while I wanted to make something tasty I couldn’t be bothered to be a real domestic goddess and make something from scratch despite all of Nigella’s urgings, so I mixed up a Betty Crocker marble cake from a packet and slathered it in Betty Crocker vanilla icing from a tub.  Which I secretly love, although not as much as rainbow chip icing which is sadly (probably fortunately) not available in our local supermarket.

Oh yes, and decorated with maraschino cherries left over from my recent brownie-making adventure.  A moist, squidgy slice of sugary deliciousness.

The camera never lies…

it just conceals certain truths!  After the big bathroom renovation, the cleaning team (me) moved in to scrub up the flat and get it ready to be photographed for our flat advertisement and to be viewed by prospective tenants.  What I’d previously thought was an empty flat turned out to have all kinds of little bits and pieces still floating around.  A pair of scissors, a jar of pens, alarm clocks and bags of tealights and forgotten photo albums and, erm, a Chelsea- themed pottery wall hanging (couldn’t leave THAT behind, heaven forbid)…

But, we got there in the end.  And then I had to take the photos.  There must be an art to these, probably involving an extra-wide angle lens which I helpfully didn’t bring to the flat with me, even though I have a camera with a wide angle lens. Oh well.  Its amazing how a couple of pieces of furniture make the place look cluttered.  So I moved them.  What you can’t see in each photo is chairs, tables, rugs, etc stacked up behind me as I take the shot!

Master bedroom.  After ironing the curtains in the living room, I didn’t really have it in me to iron the sheets as well.  Hopefully no one will notice.

This was bathroom number 1.  Still looks like new, thanks to the lovely travertine tiles and the excellent workmanship, of course 😉

Bedroom 2.

The ‘reception room’ and comfiest sofa in the world… with my special ‘tea shelf’ in the corner which Mark made for me so I would stop balancing mugs of tea on the arm of the sofa.  What a sweetie, and never one to miss an opportunity to drill some holes in the wall.

Bathroom blitz

We have two bathrooms in our flat in London, and Mark completely redid one of them (the shower room) 2 years ago, working in the evenings and weekends, over the course of about six months.  We decided that before we rent the flat out, it would be the other bathroom’s turn for a facelift.  You can see it needs one…

So, over the course of three weeks, it took Mark 10.5 days to go from the above, to the finished product.  The photos speak for themselves, really.

HE says it went more quickly this time because he didn’t have someone (ahem) requesting that he re-plumb the entire bathroom to move the position of the sink.  I can’t imagine what he means…

A crocus surprise

Earlier this week I went for a walk around Upper and Lower Swell, two lovely villages near Stow.  As it has rained quite a bit recently, I mostly encountered mud:

and quite a few horses, none of whom seemed to be particularly interested in passerby.

I climbed a stile, and walked up a hill,

and there at the top of the hill was a carpet of purple crocuses under a tree, joining me in admiring the view.

So, irrefutable evidence that spring has finally sprung.