Friday, 21 March 2014

Random Friday: 5 random things about my week ...

1. Dinosaur Flowers

My eight year-old son is a bit of a dinosaur-geek. He loves the big lizards, and eats, talks, sleeps, breathes, dreams dinosaurs. Surprisingly, however, this week he's been taking a very keen interest in  .... magnolia trees. As we've walked to school he's pointed them out to me: red magnolia (not quite in blossom), white, single magnolia (in full blossom) and light pink double magnolia (slightly past its best). They've all been duly noted down with an actuarial attention to detail. So what's got into the dinosaur buff? Well, he's learnt from an Alan Titchmarsh documentary that the ancestors of the magnolia were among the first flowering plants to live on our planet, and ... wait for it ... they co-existed with the dinosaurs! I don't think either of us will ever look at the magnolia in the same way again.

Dinosaur flowers a.k.a. magnolia blossoms

2. Daffodils

When I've not been obsessing about magnolias I've been enjoying the daffodils. The North Wind brought winter back to us for a while this week. Yesterday we had the equinox and enjoyed our first official day of spring, but it didn't feel very spring-like. The happy upside of the cold spell is that it has prolonged the lives of these cheerful yellow flowers. This is how Ealing Common looked yesterday when Maxi and I took our first spring promenade:

Ealing Common on the first day of spring

Ealing Common bounded by the Uxbridge Road

The Ealing Common daffodils

3. Maxi's new look

I've got used to Maxi's new look after his doggy makeover last Friday. It was a bit of a shock at first, but now I like it.  He looks like a dog with attitude, which, of course, he is. He's a squeaky little dog with all the come-and-get-me attitude of a great, big, enormous dog!
Still cute? Sure, I'm still cute!

Remind me again: what am I supposed to do with this cushion thing?

4. Bubble Tea

On Wednesday I drank my very first bubble tea. It didn't have any conventional bubbles, but it was very nice all the same. I'll be going back for seconds ... .

5. Grease paint rainbows

Emi, the eight year-old dinosaur-geek, has been starring in his school play this week. He was in a chorus-line of singing monks, who all wore stage make-up for the first time in their little lives. What I have learnt is that stage make-up creates grease-paint rainbows in the bathroom when an eight year-old tries to shower himself clean before bed.

Anyway it's been a fun week. I hope you've had a good one too.

All the best for the weekend,

Bonny x

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The perfect spring cowl to wear with a white shirt

I love a classic white shirt. It looks so clean, so crisp and so effortlessly elegant. Know what I mean? And this morning I'm busy dressing up my white shirts with a new made-for-spring scarf/ cowl.

What do you think?

Or, alternatively, it can be worn short with a round-necked T-shirt like this:

It's pretty versatile really, and super easy to make.

 I used about 60 yards of each colour of some left-over wool that I had from another project. Here are my raw materials. The pink, blue, ivory and yellow are Sublime baby cashermere merino silk in 4 ply and the purple is Sublime extra fine merino in 4 ply. They crochet into a lovely, light-weight scarf that's perfect for spring.

 I used a 3.00 mm (which is just a whisker thinner than American size 3 or D)

If you'd like to make one here's how to do it:

  1. Cast on and chain 150 stitches. 
  2. Join with a slip knot to the first stitch in the chain to make a closed circle.
  3. For the first row: chain 4. Work a double treble (English) or a treble (US) into the next stitch to the slip stitch and into each succeeding stitch until you work your way right around the circle to the chain 4 at the beginning. Join with a slip stitch to the 4th chain of the original chain 4. Cast off.
  4. Cast on with a slip stitch in the next colour and repeat row 3.
  5. Carry on, changing colours as you complete each round until your cowl is as wide as you'd like it to be. I worked mine for 11 rows, so that it had the blue that I'd started with at each edge.
  6. Darn in your ends and - ta-dah!- you're done.

It really is the easiest thing to make.

All the best,

Bonny x

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Bubble tea ... bubbilicious ...

Not being one to miss a trend I've been on the look-out recently for some bubble tea. It's supposed to be the new big thing. Well this morning, as I was racing around, I got to try some.

Here it is:

It was a sort of coldish day, so I chose a hot tea. This is mango green tea with mango pearls - or rather, mango-flavoured tapioca balls - at the bottom. You can't see them because they're the same colour as the drink.

Here's what they looked like when I got to the bottom:

What did I think?

I had expected it to be more ... well,  more bubbly like a glass of Perrier or perhaps more gently bubbly like a glass of Badoit. But this tea had no conventional bubbles at all.  When I slurped up one of the mango pearls through the straw I had a sort of bubble-like sensation as it burst on my tongue.  They were kind of weird, like globules of very taut frogspawn, but it was a good weird. And, just for the record: no, I have never eaten frogspawn (!).

The tea itself was delicious, once I got used to the idea of drinking a hot drink through a straw.

I can imagine how the cold versions would go down a treat on a hot summer's day. I can see my sister-in-law and I ordering them as we gossip and watch our boys play together in the sun.

 Overall I though it was a very refreshing drink, and a welcome change from my usual coffee hit. I'll definitely order another next time I'm passing.

Bonny x

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Best dog walks in West London: Thames Tow Path Chiswick/ Hammersmith/ Barnes

I am a big, big fan of walking along the Thames. I love the history. I love the riverscape. I love watching the rowing eights and the other boats going by. For me it's pretty close to perfection.

My number one, all-time favourite West London walk starts on Church Street, Chiswick, just beside the Hogarth roundabout. The nearest underground station is Turnham Green. If you come by car you could park at the Chiswick House car park, just off the A4/ Great West Road and walk down to Church Street.

And if you do park there, be sure and look in at Hogarth's house as you walk along the A4 towards Church Street. It used to be the great man's country retreat to which he came to escape the hustle and bustle of eighteenth century London. Back then he would have looked out at gently rolling meadows with a sleepy cow track running by. Today, were he to return, he'd think he'd landed in an earthquake zone with the traffic thundering past, and shaking the foundations of his lovely home.

Hogarths' House, Chiswck with his old mulberry tree still standing in the foreground

Pop in if you have a moment and aren't in the company of your pooch (it's not an open-to-dogs venue), and enjoy the atmosphere. It's a timeless sort of place - if you're deaf to the din of the A4/ Great West Road outside.

As you cross the Hogarth Roundabout (there is an underpass so you don't have to risk a kamikaze chicken run) spare a glance for Chiswick Square, the smallest square in London, which consists of two houses on each side and the historic Boston House at the back. All three houses date from the 1680's.

Best dog walks in West London: part 2: Thames Tow Path
Chiswick Square, the smallest square in London

Walk down Church Street towards the river, and you will pass the Old Burlington on your left and the lovely church of Saint Nicholas (on your right) where the great man (Hogarth) is buried. You can read a post I did about the Saint Nicholas churchyard here: Saint Nicholas churchyard

Front Facade of the Church of Saint Nicholas, Chiswick

The Old Burlington is now in private hands. But back in the day it was a well-known public house called the Burlington Arms. The notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin, is said to have celebrated his wedding breakfast here. It still has four front doors, outside one of which is a cupboard in which the drunken and disorderly used to be locked up for the night.

Best dog walks in London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
The Old Burlington, one-time hang-out of Dick Turpin

Best Dog Walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Church Street, Chiswick

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Church of Saint Nicholas

Now carry on down to the river, and take the little path on the right that runs along the side of those newish-looking, red brick houses. It will take you to the Thames tow path that runs along the riverbank.

Look over to the left when you reach the river and you will see the island of Chiswick Eyot (pronounced 'eight' by those in the know). I think you'll have to admit that this is not London as we know it. What a riverscape! Here it is one day at low tide:

Chiswick Eyot, River Thames at low tide

And here it is another, sunnier, day at high tide:

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Chiswick Eyot, River Thames at high tide

Keep on going on the tow path, and it will take you past all the newly-built housing and out into the relative wilds of Duke's Meadows. Ah, this is more like it. Now keep on going, past the bandstand, and on towards Barnes Bridge. You'll see lots of traffic on the river. It's still a busy place.

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Rowers on the Thames

When you get to Barnes Bridge, you need to go up the steps and across the bridge to the Surrey shore.

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Barnes Bridge from the Middlesex shore

Now you want to turn left and follow the elevated pathway that hugs the river and gives you some stonking views of the Middlesex shore. You will see the Bull's Head public house on your right. Carry on to the start of the Leg of Mutton nature reserve, and follow the path to the left through the trees along the riverbank. As you go, watch out for the funky cow that someone has put out to pasture on their upper-storey roof terrace.

Follow on down the tow path, which leads you through the woods and on around the edge of the Leg of Mutton wildlife reserve.

Watch out again for the rowers. There are lots of eights out on the river at all times of the year.

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Girls' rowing eight
Keep on going until you have Hammersmith Bridge in sight.

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Hammersmith Bridge and some recent storm damage
I love the sturdy elegance of Hammersmith Bridge, and the clashing green colours that they use to paint it. I don't know who decide on that combo, but I think it's so wrong that it looks great - if you know what I mean ... .

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Hammersmith Bridge
Now you need to cross the bridge. When you reach the other side turn left into the Lower Mall. There are a few good watering holes on the Mall with riverside terraces where they don't mind the odd canine or two stopping by. Check out the Blue Anchor and the Rutland Arms:

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
The Rutland Arms and the Blue Anchor
Or you could pop into the Dove, a little further along, for a snifter or a bite to eat. The riverside terrace of the Dove is a particular favourite of mine. They have first class tucker, great views and they're wonderfully pet friendly. This is their website if you want to check them out: The Dove, Hammersmith

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
The Dove

Sign above the door of the Dove

Now that you've wet your whistle in one or other or all of the fabulous pubs on offer, carry on along the river, past the colourful little waterborne community.

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path

Take a look, back over your shoulder at the splendid view of Hammersmith Bridge.

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path
Hammersmith Bridge

Now just keep on along the Upper Mall, which leads into Chiswick Mall. The river-side homes along here are to die for: really, really lovely properties. The only snag is that the Mall is prone to flooding. The folk who live here follow tide tables to figure out when it's safe to park their cars outside, and if you take a closer look at most of the front gates you'll notice that they come with high-tech hermetic seals and waterproof screens to keep the river out.

The Chiswick Mall continues on past Chiswick Eyot, the island in the river, and carries on to where we started on Church Street.

Best dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path Chiswick/ Hammersmith/ Barnes
Chiswick Eyot from the Chiswick Mall

If you'd like to do the walk, here's a map to help you find your way. I've marked the route in purple arrows and put a big house in where Hogarth's old digs are.

Best Dog walks in West London: Part 2: Thames Tow Path Chiswick/ Hammersmith/ Barnes

Just a word of caution: if you do this walk on Boat Race day (Sunday 6th April, 2014) it's going to be very, very busy and you'll be really pressed to get a table in any of the lovely waterside pubs. The Boat Race is a top event, and if you want to come to see it, that's great, but if you'd rather enjoy a peaceful walk along a lovely bit of the river, I'd save this one for another date.

All the best and happy hiking,

Bonny x

Monday, 17 March 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day !

The very top of the morning to you all! May Saint Patrick smile upon you, and send his blessings to your door.

My mother says that if it's nice on 17th March, it's because the good saint has interceded with the Big Boss to make sure that his feast day is dry and fine; he's turned the sunny side up, and that's a sign that the rest of the spring will be fine. Well, this morning, I'm happy to report that the weather is pretty glorious here in London.

It's a really big day back home. They have a bank holiday with all sorts of music, parties and parades. But over here in England it's just another day, and I always feel out of step as a result. It's like when you know you really ought to be doing something else, and you can't help but feel uncomfortable because you're not getting on with it. Well, deep down in my DNA, I know that I really should be having a huge, all-day party today, but instead I'm doing the school run and going about my business as normal. Pah! That sucks!

As a B-plan I'm going to have a little supper party tonight for my nearest and dearest. We can't get too exuberant as tomorrow's a school day, but I'm sure we'll make the best of it.

I've bought a side of Irish smoked salmon as a starter. Then we'll have boiled ham with colcannon, and finish off with some old fashioned rice pudding, flavoured with vanilla and a bay leaf or two. It's not very flashy, but it's honest Irish food.

In case you'd like to make something Irish in honour of our patron saint, or just for the fun of it, I'll give you the low-down on how to make Colcannon, the dish that, without a doubt, has kept generations of our ancestors alive. It's the ultimate comfort food, about which songs have been sung and poems have been written over the years:

Did you ever eat colannon
When t'was made with yellow cream
And the kale and praties blended
Like a picture in a dream?
Did you ever scoop a hole on top
To hold the melting lake
of the clover-flavoured butter
Which your mother used to make?

Yes, yes, yes and yes again! Well, ok, my mum didn't actually make the butter, but I can certainly tick all the other boxes.

Recipe for an Irish favourite

Anyway if you'd like to make this potato nectar here's what you need and here's how to do it:

Ingredients for 4 people

3/4 lb/ 350 g kale or Swiss chard (you could use Savoy cabbage, but I prefer the flavour of kale)
1 1/2 lb/ 775g potatoes
50 ml double cream or crème fraîche
(I prefer the flavour of crème fraîche, but it's not very authentically Irish!)
50 ml milk
1 large spring onion chopped finely
1 oz/ 25g butter
200 g bacon lardons


1. Wash and peel the potatoes. Place in boiling water and cook until soft enough to mash.
2. Wash and chop the kale. Steam it for a couple or three of minutes. I usually do this over the saucepan with the potatoes in. When cooked drain off excess moisture on some kitchen paper and set to one side.
3. Fry the bacon lardons, drain of excess fat on some kitchen paper and set to one side.
4. Very, very finely chop the spring onion.
5. Roughly mash the potato, add the chopped spring onion, cream and milk and mash some more until they reach a puree texture. Season to your taste.
6. Add the steamed kale and mix so that it's evenly distributed throughout the potato.
7. Serve with the bacon lardons sprinkled on top.


Bonny x