Tuesday 20 May 2014

How to make potpourri

Are you a little bit blown away by all those beautiful roses growing in your garden right now? Do they smell divine? Would you like to capture a little bit of their summery wonderfulness and store it away in a glass jar for the gloomy, grey days of winter? Well I've got just the trick if that's something you're tempted to do: you could make your very own potpourri. If you've got some aromatic herbs like rosemary, bay or lavender you could add them to the mix as well.

I am a really big fan of the roses. I love them more than anything else that grows in my garden. I love how they look, I love their scent and I love their romance. Everyone from Robbie Burns to Shakespeare has written about them, they're a favourite heraldic device and here in England the lovely rose is, of course, our national flower.

They are remarkably robust plants. You can find one that will grow happily in just about any awkward spot in your garden. Got a dark corner? Got clay soil that sets like concrete in the summertime? No problem: there's a rose out there that will happily flourish in whatever conditions you have to throw at it.  They're great for security: burglars don't like to climb over a thorny, rose-covered wall.

And the modern hybrids are impressive in terms of how disease-resistant they are. The beautiful pink bloom in the bottom right hand frame above is my very favourite rose of all. It's a Sweet Hermione by David Austin. I bought two of them to go on either side of my gate, and they have bloomed faithfully for the past five years producing a profusion of big, opulent flowers that smell like heaven. Every time I go in or out I have to pause, inhale and admire them. I wish I could attach a scratch-card to give you a whiff of how beautifully they smell today.

Sadly the lighter coloured roses tend not to make such great potpourri. The problem is that they go a bit brown and grungy when they dry. You're much better off choosing the deep reds and burgundies, which keep their colour better. Avoid the light pinks, whites and yellows.

What you need to do first is gather as many rose petals as you think you're going to need. Pick them on a dry day when they're free from dew or moisture. Choose the blossoms that make your heart sing: the really perfect ones that don't have any brown leaves or imperfections. It's a good idea to try and keep a few roses whole to dry in one piece. They will add an interesting texture to your mix.

I also gather sprigs of rosemary and some bay leaves.

You need to lay everything out on sheets of newspaper somewhere dark and dry where they won't be disturbed by snuffling pets or football-playing children. Sunlight will fade the colours, and dry them out too quickly. Your attic might be a good spot or a well-aired basement room where there isn't much traffic. You'll need somewhere, where they can be left undisturbed for several weeks with good ventilation so that they won't mildew.

I collect some rose and geranium flowers with everything intact. I also collect some rose and geranium petals. I've got a lovely scented geranium with interesting leaves so I snip a few of those off too for good measure. This year I've spied a lovely deep cerise peony rose, which I'm going to dry as well. I've not used peony petals before, but I'll keep you posted on how they fare.

Everything gets laid out to dry on sheets of newspaper. It's a good idea to take a look at them every few days and stir things around a bit so that it all gets a chance to dry out evenly, although if you have reasonable ventilation that shouldn't be an issue.

The flowers, petals and leaves are ready to use when they're brittle and papery. It will probably take the better part of a couple of months for them to reach this point, although much will depend on the temperature of the room that you're using.

When you're satisfied that your flowers are dry you can move on to the next stage. For this you'll need a very large mixing bowl or a bucket, depending on how much stuff you've got. Please choose one with a lid as you will need to seal it. Maybe a huge biscuit tin or some catering-sized pickle jar would do.

Place all the dried flowers in your mixing bowl and mix them around so that they are evenly distributed. At this stage I plan to add some lavender flowers that I've dried overwinter from last year. If you want to dry your own lavender, just cut long stalks on a warm, dry day. Remove the green leaves, and tie in bunches. Then hang the bunches in a dark, dry room until they dry out. Mine were hung for a few months in my laundry room. They could have stayed there for less time, but to be very honest I forgot about them. When they were totally dried I rubbed off the small buds, and stored them in a huge, catering-sized, glass jar that a local cafe owner very kindly let me take away when it was empty.

Now you need to add some fixative to keep the mixture stable. I use orris root powder, which is made from dried iris roots. You can buy it on-line or from a health food shop. You will need 1 tablespoon of orris root powder for every quart (about 5 cups) of dried flowers that you use. 

I also add 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 tablespoonfuls of green cardamon pods, a dried vanilla pod and 2 tablespoonfuls of dried coriander seeds per quart of dried flowers. If you go to your local Asian grocer you'll get a much better deal on these spices than at the supermarket.

Mix everything so that it's all evenly distributed and then add 3 drops of rose essential oil and 1 drop each of geranium essential oil and lavender essential oil per quart of dried flowers. Give it all a good mix around and seal with your lid.

Leave the mixture to mature for between 4 and 8 weeks in a dry, dark place, giving it an occasional stir, although for the first week I'd advise you to mix it about a bit every day. The longer you leave it in its sealed container, the greater the strength of scent it will have. 

When you're ready to use it just empty it into your favourite dish, taking care to place a few of the prettiest dried roses on top, and ta-dah you've made your very own potpourri! And now you can enjoy those glorious summer roses all through the winter.

All the best,

Bonny x

Monday 19 May 2014

The Blue Anchor, Hammersmith

Wasn't the weather glorious on Sunday? - A perfect English summer day, even though it was only May, and technically still spring.

In the UK we obsess about the weather, and my theory is that all those miserable grey days make us really appreciate how staggeringly beautiful our countryside is when the sun finally manages to put in an appearance. My Spanish family joke about how, after only five minutes of sunshine, half of London will have grabbed their deck chairs, donned their bathers and made it down to the park to soak up the rays.  It's all right for them with their 360 days of blue skies and sunshine every year, but we have to make the most of it when the sun breaks through!

We seized the moment and went for a long walk along the river with our very good friends who'd got rained off the weekend before. The sun beat down, we caught up with one another's news, our children skipped along in front telling their own tall tales and the rowing eights sped past on the water.

Chiswick Eyot, Thames, London

Our walk followed the route of my Boat Race/ Chiswick Tow Path Walk, which you can find here: Boat Race Walk.

Everyone and their dog was out enjoying the rays, and I don't think I've ever seen so little water in the river. It was a super-low tide. In fact it would have been possible to walk across the empty channel to Chiswick Eyot without getting even a smidgen of mud on your shoes if you picked your steps carefully.

Chiswick Eyot, Thames, London

We started from Dukes Meadows on the Middlesex shore, crossed Barnes Bridge and walked along the Surrey shore to cross the river again on Hammersmith Bridge. Walking past the Blue Anchor Pub we spied an empty table on the terrace outside, which we immediately seized upon. It was a little early for lunch, but we reckoned that a bird in the hand was worth more than a long wait further up the river.

Blue Anchor, Hammersmith, London

Being outside seemed like the only option on such a glorious day, and with our children and Maxi, the dog, in tow it felt more comfortable than being inside. Sadly the highish wall along the walkway obscured our views of the river, but as we had plenty to chat about we hardly noticed. Perhaps if we'd gone inside and grabbed a table on the first floor beside an open window we'd have fared better in terms of being able to watch the river go by.

Blue Anchor, Hammersmith, London

The Blue Anchor is a lovely old pub in the very best English tradition. It was first licensed on 9th June, 1722 back in the time of George I, although it had probably been trading for quite a while before they got round to sorting out their paperwork. In fact it may even have had an earlier licence, but, given that the licenses before that time were granted in the publican's name rather than in the name of the premises from which they were trading, it makes it difficult to know exactly what was going on.

Blue Anchor, Hammersmith, London

We had their Sunday roasts, which came with all the trimmings and were HUGE. The children had chicken burgers from the children's menu, which were also on the generous size. Service was speedy and friendly. The food was delicious, and it was a total joy to be outside dining al fresco. Sadly we weren't able to linger over desserts and coffees as we all had other things to do in the afternoon, but I'd definitely recommend this place for a casual, relaxed Sunday lunch by the river. They seemed to have a good choice of wines, although we were teetotal on account of driving and  our later afternoon activities.

If you'd like to check it out, you can find the website here: Blue Anchor

All the best for now,

Bonny x

Friday 16 May 2014

The Countess of Westmorland returns to Osterley Park ...

Isn't she a beauty? A perfect Georgian Rose. Sarah Anne Child was one of the wealthiest heiresses of her day, an eighteenth century Christina Onassis, and she used to live just down the road from me in Osterley Park.

She had it all. She was beautiful, an accomplished musician and the only child of an adoring father, who also happened to be the country's leading banker: Robert Child, principal shareholder of Child & Co. 

Sarah Anne Child, later Countess of Westmorland

This is Osterley Park, her home in West London, just 8 miles from Piccadilly Circus.

Osterley Park

Back then the grand types liked to build their country pads to the west of London as the prevailing winds tended to blow the smog and pollution from the city in the other direction. But of course little Sarah Anne only lived here during the summer months. The rest of the time she divided between the family's town house in fashionable Berkeley Square and Upton, their hunting estate in Northamptonshire.

And she must have had a pretty dreamy time of it out here, wafting around the magnificent house and gardens. Maybe she chipped in with ideas from time to time as her Papa and Mama were busy rebuilding Osterley with the masterful assistance of Robert Adam, whose involvement extended to just about every element of the building, its decor and its furnishings.

We see her image as a pretty little girl of three or four encased in the gilded overmantel in her mother's boudoir. And, yes, that is the original colour of Mrs Child's boudoir. It's not exactly cosy or feminine, but apparently it was all the rage back in the Georgian era ... .

Mrs Child's boudoir, Osterley Park, West London

Here she is, little Sarah Anne, in close up:

Sarah Anne Child, later the Countess of Westmorland

You can just imagine her strolling with her chaperone in the lovely formal gardens that were the great pride of her mother, or perhaps taking a carriage ride around the parkland.
Osterley Park, West London
Whatever the way of it she lived a pretty charmed life. Here she is again with both of her parents. It's such an intimate painting, don't you think? Just look how her father is tenderly taking her hand. Perhaps they're saying good-bye, and he is sad to leave her. It was painted in 1781, and within a few short months their happy family life was to be shattered forever.

Robert Child, Sarah Anne Child and Sarah Child

It all kicked off when an impoverished young aristocrat approached the great banker for a loan. John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, who was a dashing young officer in the Guards, came to Robert Child when he found himself in some pecuniary difficulties that were not entirely unconnected with his passion for gambling. Perhaps the banker, a man of more humble background, felt a flush of pride at having the young aristocrat as his client, or maybe he rolled his eyes having heard a tale that he'd heard a hundred times before from other applicants and thought dark thoughts about the wanton profligacy of the Upper Class.

In any event a loan was extended, which got young Westmorland out of the hole, but also, critically, established a relationship between him and Robert Child that would involve the two men meeting from time to time to review the younger man's finances.

Fate intervened and the Earl chanced upon the banker's very beautiful daughter as he was attending to business with her father. He fell hopelessly in love, and was delighted to learn that his affection was reciprocated. Quietly, gently, behind the scenes when no one was watching, a relationship, blossomed between them. 

Then, finally, the young fellow decided to grasp the nettle and ask the great man for his daughter's hand. Perhaps he even flattered himself to think that his impeccable breeding would pave his way to an advantageous match.

Your blood, my lord, is good, but money is better, came the blunt reply.

Robert Child was far from enthralled by the prospect of his daughter wearing a coronet. He had his sights set on a future son-in-law of more humble background, who would be willing to adopt the Child name, and might prove himself a useful addition to the banking house. 

The young man was no doubt disappointed by this reply, but he wasn't about to throw in the towel. He let the matter drop, and gave every appearance of having taken the rejection with good grace. Then, on another occasion, when he'd returned to see the father in his role as banker their mood turned chatty and the younger man posed a hypothetical question for the older one: what would he do if he fell in love with a beautiful girl whose father was opposed to the match and refused his consent? I don't know what kind of neurological malfunction was going on in Robert Child's brain, but he replied jovially that he'd whisk her off to Gretna Green and marry her anyway. 

And that is exactly what the Earl of Westmorland did with the active connivance of Sarah Anne. Her part in the grand plan involved mixing a sleeping draught into her chaperone's hot chocolate, and then sneaking out to rendezvous with her sweetheart whilst the other woman slumbered upstairs. 

Westmorland had arranged the journey north to the border with military precision. Fresh teams of horses had been booked for each stage of the way. At a place called Shap, where the going got tough, he'd taken the precaution of booking every available horse to be had for miles around so that his pursuers wouldn't be able to change their mounts for the challenging terrain that followed.

Meanwhile, back home in Berkeley Square, a footman had put two and two together and raised the alarm. Robert Child summoned his coach and horses and was quickly off in hot pursuit. No doubt throwing large amounts of money at the logistical challenges of his journey, he managed to overtake the young lovers in High Hesket, where he leapt from his chaise, drew his pistol and shot dead the lead horse drawing their carriage. Westmorland unharnessed the animal and made off with only three horses, but not before one of his servants had cut a leather strap that held the body of Robert Child's coach to its axels. With his vehicle disabled, the father was unable to give further pursuit, and the young couple escaped across the border to be married by an anvil priest in Gretna Green on 20th May, 1782.

It would be fair to say that Robert Child never got over the disappointment of his daughter's disobedience, and he died a few months later. Before his death he changed his will disinheriting Sarah Anne and leaving his estate in trust for her second-born son, or eldest daughter on condition that they assume his surname. He was determined that the Westmorland heir, and hence their prestige as a family should not benefit from the Child estate. 

Here's another portrait from about 1791 of Sarah Anne and her mother. Her father was now dead, and she was the Countess of Westmorland. 

Formerly Sarah Anne Child and her mother Mrs Robert Child

Sarah Anne didn't have a second son so her eldest daughter, Sarah Sophia, born in 1785, inherited the Child fortune and, upon her majority in 1806, became the senior partner of the bank where she exercised her rights personally right through until her death in 1867. Sarah Sophia married George Child Villiers, the 5th Earl of Jersey, who adopted the Child name and passed it on to their children.

Well after that bodice ripper and the passage of a couple of centuries you might be wondering how  the long-dead Sarah Anne has managed to make it back to her childhood home. The answer is easy: her portraits and the portraits of other members of her family have come back to Osterley on a ten year loan from the family trust of the 10th Earl of Jersey.

And I must say they're looking very much at home here in their old ancestral pile. There are a few non-ancestors included in the cache. The oval portrait being given pride of place in the drawing room is a self-portrait by the seventeenth century English painter, William Dobson, court painter to Charles I, and best known for his portraits of Cavaliers from the English Civil War. Sir Francis Child bought it back in 1712 for £20 along with another self-portrait by Anthony Van Dyke for which he paid £60. The two self-portraits were then proudly displayed in matching baroque frames. The Van Dyke has been sold at auction for £8.3 million and the good folk down at the National Portrait Gallery are now trying to raise funds to acquire it for the nation.

Also in the drawing room, enjoying pride of place above the fireplace, is the portrait of Francis Child III painted in 1758 by Allan Ramsey.

The drawing room, Osterley Park

If you'd like to take a trip over to Osterley you can see the paintings dotted around and looking as though they've never been away. It is a fabulous place with a real country house feel, even though it's been surrounded up by the urban sprawl of West London. It stands in an island of some 140 acres of formal gardens, parkland and a home farm, where they have a beautiful herd of Charolais cattle.  

Osterley Park, West London

Does this look like it's 8 miles from hustle and bustle of Piccadilly Circus?

Osterley Park, West London

Maybe the low-flying aircraft landing at Heathrow is a bit of a give-away ... .

Osterley Park, West London

You can find all the details about the house and the park here: Osterley Park


Bonny x

As shared on Friday Finds

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Homage to a rose ...

Wordless Wednesday blog hop ... but it's so hard not to say anything ... playing with my new macro lens ... not totally sure what it can do yet ... and on the way to school just couldn't resist this glorious rose growing outside my front door ...

Have a great Wednesday!

Bonny x

Monday 12 May 2014

Egg-free brownies ... and ancestor-envy ...

We've had a miserable weekend, weather-wise, here in London. We'd planned to go on a wonderful long walk on Sunday followed by a lazy pub-terrace lunch down by the river with some of our very best friends, but everything got rained-off thanks to our doolalley British weather. Memo to the British climate: it's SPRINGTIME, can you please take note and behave accordingly?

So, instead we stayed at home and made a batch of yummy, egg-free Brownies. I should explain: Emi has an egg allergy. Eggs in cakes annoy him, but eggs in pancakes are just fine. Not sure exactly why that should be the case, but it's something I've got to work around in the sweet-things department.

And sweet-things, as we all know, are very important. After school, for instance, a cup of hot chocolate with some little nibble or other is an important part of our daily routine. Life's always better with chocolate in my view, and it certainly helps loosen young Emi's tongue as he enjoys his snack and gives me a blow-by-blow account of his day.

And right now he's in the grip of some serious ancestor-envy. It's like this: one of his friend's fathers thinks that he may be descended from Admiral Lord Nelson. And as a result F, the little chum, has had great fun telling the boys at school, that it's an absolute biological certainty that they share the great seaman's DNA.

They found some of his blood on a rusty sword and it was the exact same as mine, he explained to Emi and their other friend, G when they (enviously) voiced their doubts on the matter.

G, who's a very shrewd little operator, didn't miss a beat and replied that he was, of course, related to the late, great Nelson Mandela, which I strongly suspect is a total porkie pie, but full marks to him for quick thinking.

Emi, on the other hand, had not come prepared to claim an illustrious ancestor and he returned home that afternoon feeling very lacklustre in the DNA department.

Over our customary hot chocolate we had a think about his ancestry.

On my side they were a bunch of Border Reavers from the lowlands of Scotland, who played an exceptionally good hand at cattle rustling across the frontier with England. They enjoyed a certain notoriety for their professional talents, and boasted a flying stirrup as their clan emblem. All of it was very colourful, but not really up there with Admiral Lord Nelson.

On  my husband's side we could do little better. He looks like a man of exotic provenance, and we feel confident that there's a Barbary Pirate or two lurking in the upper branches of his family tree. His mother's family have an appellido JudeoespaƱole, a surname that was often used by Jewish people to hide their semitic origins when they were forced to convert to Catholicism back in the fifteenth century, so we may even have a learned Rabbi or two sitting on a hidden branch safely out of sight of the Spanish Inquisition. But again, there was nothing to compare with Admiral Lord Nelson's star ancestral cachet.

So, having exhausted the supply of actual ancestors, Emi turned his mind to think of whom he might like to have been related to. For reasons which elude adult logic, he decided that it would have been very cool to have owned Harry Houdini as an ancestor. I think he may just have liked the word escapologist: I've noticed that he's been collecting big words recently - possibly to hold in reserve and use defensively when he's feeling the want of an illustrious ancestor or two.

I can just tell everyone that I'm related to Harry Houdini, he mused, slurping the last dregs of his hot coffee through a straw. Using a straw to drink hot chocolate is, I should add, another of his current peccadilloes.

Normally I would not encourage my child to tell fibs, but on the basis that we are all descended from Adam - and, hence, by extension distant cousins - and given that he was by now quite bent out of shape about the Admiral Lord Nelson business I let the matter pass.

The following day he returned triumphant.

Mum, I told them all about my famous ancestor, Harry Hooligan, who discovered the dinosaurs, he announced proudly, having apparently forgotten Houdini's proper name and occupation and, perhaps more importantly, that the whole thing had been a fiction of his own making. 

They were dead impressed even though they didn't know who he was, and then F and I went off to play World War Two.

That's nice, dear. Which parts did you play in World War Two? I asked, happy to see him back on form.

I was Churchill and F was Admiral Lord Nelson, he replied, dabbing the last of the brownie crumbs on his plate with a chocolatey index finger, and popping them in his mouth.

Anyway, if you'd like to make these tongue-loosening brownies to winkle secrets out of your own little people this is how I make them. The trick is to substitute mashed potato in place of eggs as the binding agent. I find that this works well in most other cake recipes when I want to adapt them for Emi.


85g (3 oz) plain flour
40 g ( 1 1/2 oz) instant mashed potato powder
Sufficient hot water to turn the mashed potato powder into normal eating consistency mashed potato
1 tablespoon good quality cocoa powder
a pinch of salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
170 g (6 oz) caster sugar
55 g (2 oz) butter
2 tablespoonfuls water
100g (3 1/2 oz) plain chocolate
1 teaspoonful of vanilla essence


1. Preheat the oven to 180 C (Gas mark 4 or 350 F) and line a 7" x 11" baking tin with baking paper.

2. Sift flour, cocoa powder, salt and baking powder into a bowl.

3. Boil a kettle and mix the mashed potato powder with sufficient hot water to give it a normal eating consistency.

4. Over a Bain Marie, melt the chocolate with the butter and sugar until they are a smooth, even consistency. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla essence and the 2 tablespoonfuls of water and mix so that these last ingredients are evenly incorporated.

5. Pour the chocolate mixture and the mashed potato into the flour mixture, and beat until the combined mixture is smooth. Then pour it into the baking tray, and place in the preheated oven.

6. Cook for about 25 minutes, until the mixture forms a slight crust on top and becomes firm to the touch.

7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for half an hour before cutting into brownies. Store in an air-tight container.

And enjoy with hot chocolate and tall tales of amazing ancestors, real or imagined,

Bonny x
As shared on The Alphabet Project