Saturday 30 January 2016

A Rococo Garden in the Cotswolds - visited 28.01.16

snowdrops en masse 
Rococo was an artistic movement and style developed in the early C18th in Paris. It not only involved the arts and architecture but also gardens. Today's Rococo gardens are mainly to be found in France and Italy - they were exhuberantly created using extravagant pavillions, fountains and stairways. However, the Rococo garden movement also had a fleeting craze here in England, and although not as grand as their European cousins, they sparkled with unrestrained delights which showed off their ostentatious owners often new found wealth. The Rococo Garden in Painswick is a very rare suvivor in England, and at this time of year hosts a special harbinger of Spring - the snowdrop. The garden grows thousands of them including various different cultivars but the principle snowdrop grown is Galanthus atkinsonii which is commonly known as the "big one".  
As a result of the mild winter weather the snowdrops have peaked three weeks early.

This elegant white stucture is called the Exedra, in architectural terms an exedra is a semicircular recess or plinth often crowned by a semi-dome. Used as a folly here in the Rococo garden it makes a striking focal accent which can be seen from many different points in the garden
The Anniversary Maze spells '250 years' and was newly planted at the beginning of the millenium
 Snowdrops have been growing in this Grove for over 250 years. In the C18th the owners of the house traditionally opened their garden to all the local Painswick residents for one Sunday each snowdrop season and invited them to pick themselves a posy of six snowdrops each

A Palladian seating folly which has been given some exhuberant rococo emblishments
The Kitchen Garden prepared and ready for planting - it looks spectacular during the apple blossom season when the cordoned fruit trees flower 

A Plunge Pool accompanied by running spring-water were essential elements in an C18th century garden. Throughout that period there was an interest in following a cold regime, which was claimed to extend life expectancy. This included spending time out of doors, taking plenty of outdoor exercise and bathing in cold water.
The philosopher John Locke wrote in 1703....
"Everyone is now full of the miracles done by cold baths on decayed and weak constitutions, for the recovery of health and strength;"
In the C18th Plunge Pool activities at Painswick were presided over by Jan Van Nost's statue of Pan which has now been repositioned to another more protected location within the garden

Arched walkway
View across the fish pond to the Red House
 The Red House sits at the head of the valley having commanding views of the garden. It is both flambouyant and eccentric, displaying one of the main features of the Rococo period of asymmetry. The doors to the Red House are locked in the open position as it plays host to a colony of Lesser Horsehoe Bats roosting in the roof - an extremely rare bat in England and only found here the southwest of the country
The Red House was put on the English Heritage 'at risk' register in 2007 when it was discovered that there was evidence of structural movement. In the winter of 2009/10 underpinning was carried out, and at the same time the windows were replaced. They are inscribed in Latin with the Songs from Solomon.
As it's name suggests The Eagle House sits at the highest point in the garden and has far reaching views across the garden to the countryside beyond

This fanciful creation sits on the unaffected stump of a Beech Tree which had become diseased.  It will quickly mellow and blend in with the other trees in the glen. The work was completed by a local chainsaw sculptor, Denius Parson literally days ago - it was inspired by Schloss Neuschwanstein in Bavaria
It seems appropriate to conclude the post with a snowdrop

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Kashmiri Kahwa

Flying to Kashmir from Dehli last year we were seated next to a man from Srinagar who urged us to taste their special tea known as Kawah. A small single cup of Kawah is said to lift the spirits, create a sense of wellbeing, energise, and dispel headaches. Kahwa is an anti-oxidant - some Kashmiris consider it to have magical properties.

Our first experience of Kawah was made for us by our lovely houseboy. We imbibed the tea whilst relaxing on our houseboat's veranda, and enjoying the views across Dal Lake towards the snow capped foothills of the Himalayas. It was indeed magical, but whether it was the view or the tea I could not say.
It is possible to make yourself some Kawah, all of the ingredients are readily available. I still have a small stash of Kawah which travelled back home in my suitcase. In Kashmir they obviously use green tea and saffron grown in their mountain valleys, but whatever you have to hand will suffice.
2 teaspoons of green tea leaves
2 cardamon pods slightly crushed
1 inch piece of cinnamon bark slightly crushed,
a little honey or sugar,
two or three threads of saffron, the colour and flavour is dissolved separately in a little water by crushing gently with a teaspoon,
4/5 almonds shredded or ground (optional)  
when in season Kashmiri rose petals are used
Boil 2 cups of water add cinnamon, cardamom and tea, boil for 3 minutes and then allow to infuse over low heat,
strain, then add the saffron liguid together with the threads 
a little sugar or honey
Top with almonds, serve hot 
The result is a delicate, spicey, fragrant flavour.

Saturday 23 January 2016


The University of Glasgow in 1650 - founded in 1451
University of Glasgow today showing the main building designed by the eminent Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott
Scotland became our home when H was offered a research scholarship at the University of Glasgow. We were able to live on my salary whilst his research grant remained untouched and went towards savings for our first home. Times change? it would be impossible for a young couple to do that today.
We shared a flat with Mrs Wren whom we found via a 'rooms to let' notice board in the foyer of Glasgow's St.Enoch's Railway Station. A dignified lady in her mid eighties, very active and smart; her disciplined way of life had a positive influence on us. Although we were young and she was old we all got on surprisingly well. 
Mrs Wren, Jean, was the daughter of an Irish/Glaswegian labourer, one of 9 or 10 children, she was born the beauty of the bunch. As a young girl she was very aware of this, with her flaxen blond hair and tall slim figure. Many were those who wished to court her, but eventually "Mr.Right" came along. He was a very wealthy Glasgow Ship owner, a colleague of Burrell, whose collection of antiques and artworks are now housed in their own gallery in Glasgow - internationally known as "The Burrell Collection". When they married Jean's husband bought a huge house in Langbank by the River Clyde. In 1841 the Glasgow to Greenock railway line had opened and subsequently Langbank became an area where many fine houses were built. The house they owned had a tower, a flag pole atop and even had its own ballroom. 
In the 1930s she had travelled on exotic cruises and still had the wonderful dresses from that era which she would show me. 
She was indulged by her husband who obviously adored her, and showered her with specially commissioned jewels and accessories from the leading Glaswegian designers of the day. When H was away she would get out her boxes of treasures and explore them with me recounting tales and adventures from her past.
However, the 'Good Life' that she had known and shared with her husband came to an abrupt halt when he unexpectedly died, leaving her at the tender age of 40 with a daughter to finish raising. When we first met her she had been living on independent means for 45 years and that was one of the reasons why she was happy to take us into her large Glasgow apartment to help share the expenses.
Every Friday morning she would knock on our door and hand us a big plate full of her baking which she had made hours before we were even awake. She took a huge pride in her baking and the selection she gave us would vary from week to week. Sometimes scones - fruit, cheese, treacle or plain, fruit pies and cakes. At other times shortbread, scotch pancakes, 'tattie' cakes also known as Irish potato farls - it makes my mouth water just thinking about them.
On Saturday mornings, another knock, and she would hand us a big pot of her homemade wholesome Scotch Broth or Ham and Lentil Soup. It was quite a shock and a rude awakening to me when we eventually moved into our own home, and there was no one knocking on the door handing in plates of delicious food anymore.
Sometimes her sister Agnes would come and stay, she had lived a hard life much different to that of her sister. Agnes spoke with a gruff (from smoking) broad Glaswegian accent, and Jean with a much more refined one known locally as "Kelvinside" - Kelvinside being an affluent area of the city. It was very amusing for us to hear the sisters talking to one another, each with a completely different accent and tone to their voice. 
They would go off to the 'Kirk' on a Sunday morning, Agnes in her plant pot hat and rough tweed coat, and Jean in her classic black coat, large black fedora hat elegantly covering her finger waved white hair, and red silk scarf at her neck.
Marcel/Finger Wave hairstyle
They would return home with scandalous Scottish Sunday broadsheet newspapers, and sit in front of the kitchen fire exclaiming to one another about how awful everything they read was. I wonder whatever they would think of the world news today? 
Jean on her 100th birthday - celebrating with a glass of champagne wearing a paper party hat. She lived until she was 105 years old. Sadly this is the only picture I have of her from a newspaper clipping which was sent to me by a friend many years after we had moved away from Scotland. 
We lived with Jean for 3 years, but finally built a bungalow in the countryside several miles outside Glasgow on the way towards Loch Lomand. It was a further eighteen months before H finished his research and eventually graduated from the university by which time our first son had been born.

Thursday 21 January 2016

Hoar Frost

In the valley mother nature's fleeting artistry vanishes in the blink of an eye as the sun rises
Here on the hilltop Jack frost will soon be banished from our garden as the sun creeps in
and the snowdrops acknowledge her arrival with a nod
What's not to love on a day like this, a day that makes my heart sing.   
But why do I find January and February difficult months? 
I know I'm not alone
I want to embrace and appreciate this winter journey and see it's better side - renewal taking place in the garden, longer brighter days, cosy fireside evenings, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee in my favourite mug,
I think I'm beginning to enjoy it more already.

Sunday 17 January 2016


Falafel is a Middle Eastern recipe made using chickpeas which are highly nutritious and cheap to buy - full of protein, complex carbohydrates and fibre. Dried and soaked chickpeas are normally used, but I used pre-soaked ones that come in a sealed packet with water - they are firmer and give a much better result than the tinned ones which are too soft. I used some Indian gram flour to help bind them - gram flour is made from finely milled chickpeas and dried split yellow peas

1 large cup of chickpeas
1 or 2 onions cut in chunks
a large handful of fresh coriander - I use the top part of the stems as well as the leaves
2 large cloves garlic
ground black pepper
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
good pinch of ground cardamon
pinch of salt if you wish
gram flour and egg to bind as necessary

I used cold press rape seed oil for cooking which is ideal to use at high temperatures and doesn't go toxic. I normally cook with olive oil, but I learnt fairly recently that it is not suitable for cooking at high temperatures.   
Put everything apart from the flour and egg into the processor and pulse gently so that it still keeps some texture. You don't want the mixture to be smooth and turn into hummus.

Place in clean bowl adding flour and beaten egg to bind the mixture
If you have a deep fat fryer roll the mixture into traditional balls - I do not, so made patties. Cook in hot oil until golden brown. Mine were finished off in the oven for 30 mins to make sure that they were properly cooked inside
There are many variations you can make to the mixture according to your taste - use fresh parsley or mint; give them a taste of Morocco by adding chopped dried apricots with paprika and cayenne pepper - the choice is yours
Traditionally served inside warm pitta bread with humus and salad
P.S I use gram flour to make pizza bases - it is more nutritious, and  flavoursome. It contains no gluten and is suitable for vegans - it is an Indian/Middle Eastern flour and can be found on ethnic shelves in the supermarkets

Tuesday 12 January 2016

The Russian Orthodox Cemetery, Sainte-Geneviève-des-bois, Paris

If you have more than a few days in Paris or are on a return visit, then there are several cemeteries that are well worth visiting. I did a post here about Père Lachaise Cemetery which would be my first choice. It is like visiting an open-air sculpture gallery where many of the tombs are the work of well known sculptors and made for distinguished artists, writers, performers etc. You can pick up a little guide at the entrance gates showing a plan of the notable tombs. Montmartre Cemetery is also worth visiting as it is the final resting place of many of the famous Impressionist artists who lived and worked in the area, but over the Christmas holiday I visited the Russian Orthodox Cemetery for the first time. It is an easy train or bus ride out of Paris to the southern suburbs.
After the October revolution more than a million Russians left their motherland many settled in Paris

The little white church within the cemetery grounds was built in 1938 and is regarded as an important historic monument.  It is built in the style of Novgorod churches dating from the 15th/16th centuries

Apart from Rudolf Nureyev's dazzling tomb the cemetery holds many other graves and memorials to notable and distinguished Russians 

The Imperial Ballet dancer - Mathilde Kschessinska, who was wooed by Tsar Nicholas II of Russia when she was 17 years old, and became his mistress

The dashing Prince Félix Youssoupov, one of the wealthiest men in the Russian Empire, who along with four others murdered the Mad Monk, Rasputin. 

There are writers, musicians, poets, film makers, the Nobel Prize winner - Ivan Bunin, a memorial to the Cossacks, a family of composers. It's rather overwhelming to see just how many Russian expat tombs and memorials are there. 
Batignolles cemetery in Paris is the final resting place of many Russians. It used to house the tomb of Feodor Chaliapin, Russia's greatest ever Bass Opera singer, who died in Paris in 1938. Just before his death he was visited by Sergei Rachmaninov who was too grief stricken to attend his friend's funeral. Chaliapin's enormous cortège solemnly passed in front of the Paris Opera House before arriving at the burial site. Forty-six years later his remains were exhumed, flown from Paris, and reinterred at Novodevich Cemetery, Moscow. I mention this because in 1984 J and I travelled behind the so called 'iron curtain' to Russia; coincidentally we were visiting Novodevich Convent and witnessed all the pomp and ceremony surrounding Chaliapin's reburial in his homeland.

Chaliapin's portrait by Boris Kustodiev 1921
A poignant little memorial to Princess Vera Obolensky, nicknamed Vicky, who was born in 1911 and died aged 33 years in 1944. She was executed at Plözensee Prison in Berlin - a heroine of the French Resistance from Russia. She was born into Russian 'high society' but her family left to live in Paris during the Civil War in 1920 - the period when the Bolsheviks took control. She worked as a mannequin at the Russian fashion houses in Paris, and married Prince Nicolas Alexandrovich Obolensky, who was also active in the Resistance. He was deported and tortured but escaped with his life and became a Russian Orthodox priest after the war. Vicky was responsible for helping to evacuate many British POWs, and posthumously received the Cross of a Knight of the Legion of Honor and the Crois de Guerre.