Sunday, 29 July 2012

~Strawberry Fields for ... the weekend~

One of my best friends said to me the other week, “I’m sick of spending all my money in Tesco – food, petrol, alcohol, cosmetics ... Krispy Kremes!”  Krispy Kremes aside she does have a point.
When I was growing up, my mum got her fruit and vegetables from the greengrocer, meat from the butcher and our milk was delivered by the milkman each morning.  At the time there was only one large supermarket in town.  As the years went by and more and more supermarkets invaded, the local greengrocers, butchers and milkmen disappeared with people preferring to use the ‘all under one roof’ supermarkets. 

That got me thinking, perhaps I should start to try and shop more locally, more seasonably, more fresh.  I’m in no way preaching (don’t get me wrong, I am guilty of using Tesco to purchase my weekly essentials; it’s convenient) and it’s not a new concept – we’ve all heard it before from various celebrity chefs, but maybe if I did, it would put some fun into buying food, especially as me and Mister Murf both love cooking (he cooks, I bake).  
I started researching local shops and food in and around the City and was surprised at all the things I found, so a few Saturdays ago, we decided to go fruit picking!

I’ve never been fruit picking before, Mister Murf used to go all the time as a child, but I never did, I’ve always wanted to give it a go. 

It felt like a bit of an adventure as we drove just over 10 miles outside of Manchester to Poynton Fruit Farm, a family-run, Pick Your Own (PYO) farm.  For once the weather was beautiful and the sun was shining (fantastic considering the downpours  the day before).  The farm is located on Coppice Road and there are signs on the road to direct you. 

When we arrived, there were quite a few people already there eagerly picking away, from couples to full families. Some of the children made us laugh with their faces and t-shirts full of strawberry juice; you just know that there were more going in their mouths than in their baskets, but there were happy smiles all round and we couldn’t wait to get started. 

Oh decisions, decisions on what to pick” I said to Mister Murf as we donned our wellies.  There were so many fruits and varieties of each to choose from - gooseberries, strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb and currents.   

The fields looked beautiful bathed in the sunshine and all the fruits are well sign posted, so it’s easy for novice pickers like me. 

We decided on strawberries and rhubarb.  Handy little signs explained the different strawberry varieties and their qualities, such a lovely and informative touch.

It was brilliant rummaging through the countless plants in our quest to find the perfectly ripened strawberries.  I think secretly Mister Murf and I were having a little competition on who could pick the biggest, best looking strawberry, we are both quite competitive.  

We took a little detour to visit the chickens and pigs.  Although we didn’t see any pigs, we watched the chickens for a while, some even posing for a photo.  They looked like very happy chickens indeed, free to roam and bask in the sun.

When our baskets were full, all that picking had worked up an appetite, so we decided to relax on the benches and treat ourselves to some of Ruth’s homemade ice cream which is made from fruit from the farm and on sale at the shop.   I am not just saying this, but it was the freshest, most delicious strawberry ice cream I have ever tasted.   
There was an array of other produce from the farm available to buy at the shop, so we also bought some gammon steaks, chicken eggs (from the chickens we had visited), duck eggs and cream.  

What a fantastic and fun way to spend a sunny afternoon and very satisfying knowing you have picked your own fruit.  

I was excited and my mind was full of ideas about what I was going to make with the rhubarb and strawberries.  Stay tuned as it’ll be in my next post!

From what I understand there’s not much longer left of the picking season, so pop in for a visit whilst you can, it’s well worth it

Sunday, 8 July 2012

~ Scarecrows come to Town ~

If you’ve visited Wilmslow over the last couple of weeks, your eyes haven’t been deceiving you, there are indeed scarecrows dotting the streets...  The Scarecrow Festival has come to town. 
This is the second time I’ve seen the festival, now in its third year organised by Wilmslow Dean Rotary Club in partnership with Wilmslow Business Group.  Armed with my camera I took a leisurely stroll around the town (despite the ominous clouds that loomed above - you’ve got to love summertime on the outskirts of Manchester!) to soak up the straw-filled invaders.  

I’ve always felt quite sorry for scarecrows though. 
Scarecrows to me conjure up images of forlorn, weather beaten figures guarding rolling farmer’s field against villainous crows.   I also think back to my childhood and picture two of the most famous scarecrows – the scruffy looking Worzel Gummidge from the classic ITV series (rumour has it that Russell Brand is to star as Worzel Gummidge in a big-screen adaptation to be directed by Peter Jackson)   and of course the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz , who accompanies Dorothy on the yellow brick road to Emerald City in his quest for a brain. 

However the scarecrows in the Wilmslow festival, are not pitiful or shabby or in search of a brain they are happy, bright and fun, some even humorous with a modern twist. They have been skilfully crafted by local business people and stand proudly on display inside and outside their shops. 
This year it was nice to see somewhat of a British theme with several paying homage to the Queen’s Jubilee and the impending London 2012 Olympic Games. 

Others were personal to their creator’s business and some very well thought out.    

Outside a courier shop was a scarecrow based on a Black Rider from the Lord of the Rings.  Riding a motorcycle, he was adorned with a sword and a sign that read “One does not simply walk into Mordor... but we can courier your precious items pretty much anywhere”. Brilliant!   

It was great to see the amount of effort and creativity that went into this little festival,  what a wonderful way to bring a bit of the countryside and community spirit into the town.   

 I’ll look forward to next year’s festival to see what wonderful creations the locals have in store.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

~ Afternoon Tea in NYC ~

I have somewhat of a love affair with afternoon tea, which I suppose began when I was a child.  I know it sounds cliché but I was a little girl with a tea set that played afternoon tea with my dolls. The tea set in question though was not a plastic affair usually reserved for children’s play; it was a fine bone china child’s set which had been passed down the line of girls in my family.  I was only allowed to play with it if I was really careful not to break anything, so I took great pride in it, pretending I was an awfully posh lady sipping imaginary tea whilst my dutiful dolls watched on. Ever since I have loved afternoon tea and enjoy searching out vintage sets (Mister Murf rolls his eyes”another tea set?”) So on a recent trip to New York I couldn’t resist a luxury treat of a five course afternoon tea...

On a leafy street in the heart of the historical neighbourhood of Gramercy Park is Lady Mendl’s Tea Salon.

Located at 56 Irving Place and marked only by a small brass plaque, upon entering the elegant, peaceful townhouse it felt like we were stepping into another world, another more opulent time, whilst the manic streets of Manhattan continued on only blocks away. 

The Tea Salon is elaborately decorated in the style of Victorian grandeur, but it is not overly-done in a chintzy way.  It oozes class and style from a bygone time and evokes feelings old fashioned romance.  I’m actually quite envious of the owners; I would love a place like this.

So who is Lady Mendl after whom this sumptuous tea salon is aptly named?  Lady Mendl is the moniker of Elise de Wolfe an American actress and interior decorator – in fact, it is cited that interior design as a profession was invented by Elise De Wolfe.

In her lifetime, De Wolfe was prominent in New York, Paris and London society, was named the best dressed woman in the world and designed the interiors of many prestigious homes.   She is also famed for being the author of the widely influential  ‘The House in Good Taste’, invented blue hair rinse for greying ladies and wrote that her daily exercise regime at age 70 included yoga, standing on her head and walking on her hands. Quite an extraordinary lady to say the least!

Upon being seated in the beautiful parlour, our host presented us with the tea menu.  With twenty seven different teas to choose from with varieties of Black, Oolong (traditional Chinese), White, Green, Tisane (herbal) and Signature teas, we were initially daunted by the task ahead of us  (although I enjoy tea, me and Mister Murf are by no means tea connoisseurs).  However, we took our time perusing the menu and reading the descriptions of each.

After some pondering, we eventually opted for four different teas – our thinking was a different variety for each.

The first was the Darjeeling 2nd Flush, a black tea, grown in the Darjeeling Hills of India and so named in reference to the four separate picking seasons of the year. 

The second was the Osmanthus Oolong, a tea grown in southeaster China and known locally as Fenhong Dancong.  This felt somewhat of an indulgence with only several hundred pounds of this tea being produced each year. 

The third, an Elder Flower Tisane.
The fourth, Evelyn’s Garden Spice, a Lady Mendl Signature Tea, named after Evelyn Nesbitt.

All the teas were freshly steeped and arrived in beautifully ornate teapots.

Although each of the teas were delicious in their own right, my personal favourite was Evelyn’s Garden Spice - a subtle herbal blend of hibiscus, orange peel, lemon grass and lavender with a punch of clove and liquorice –  lovely!

The crowning grace for me though – the beautiful sugar cubes decorated with a pale pink flower – so cute and such a perfect touch. How does the proverb go ‘little things please little minds’?

Now for the food – my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

The Appetiser Course was a warm Butternut Squash Tart with a parmesan crust, small, but perfectly formed. In hindsight it didn’t need to be any bigger than it was with the other four courses that were to follow, but at the time we were thinking ‘I could eat that again’.

The Second Course was a selection of Tea Sandwiches which included Smoked Salmon with Dill Cream Cheese on Pumpernickel, Cucumber with Mint Crème fraiche on Brioche, Classic Egg Salad on Rye and Smoked Turkey and Cranberry on Seven Grain.  The host came with the sandwiches twice, although I couldn’t manage a second round. My favourite was the smoked turkey.

The Third Course was two scones, one traditional, one cranberry served with Devonshire Clotted Cream and Raspberry Preserve.  The scones were freshly baked and still slightly warm.

The Dessert Course was Lady Mendl’s signature cake.  I have never experienced a cake like it.  It comprised of layers of thin crepes separated by layers of cream.  This was divine!

The Fifth Course and final course was a selection of miniature cakes and plump, chocolate dipped Strawberries served on a glass cake plate. 


After all that delicious food and tea, I thought Mister Murf was going to have to roll me out of the front door, but I somehow managed to get to my feet and leisurely stroll back into Midtown, wishing I could have the experience all over again.

If you’re happen to be in New York and want an afternoon of finery and indulgence in the most beautiful and peaceful of settings, be sure to make a reservation at this hidden gem