Archive | April, 2012

Audley End House

23 Apr

The weather’s been grey recently but yesterday morning the sun was shining so I decided to go to Audley End House – an English Heritage property near Saffron Walden. I was nearly thwarted by tube disruption and then staff at Liverpool Street telling me you can’t get there on the Stansted Express (you can; you just change at Harlow Town and it’s a lot quicker than the stopping train they told me to get!)

A rabbit in the sunIt’s a walk of just over a mile from the station to Audley End House but most of it is along country lanes (with rabbits off to the side) so it’s a pleasant enough walk and I arrived to see the house looking splendid in the sun.

I spent the firsst hour or so just exploring the grounds; there’s a mix of formal garden, open space with lakes and a huge kitchen garden which has been restored and is being run as it would have been in Victorian times. There used to be a huge variety of apples available in the UK but in the recent past most of these have pretty much vanished – if you go to many shops you’ll be lucky if you see even half a dozen different varieties but at Audley End they have dozens of them. It’s much too early to see the apples growing but the trees are all in blossom and look very pretty. My completely unscientific sampling suggests that pear blossom is always white but apple blossoms are mostly pink and white. I can’t find any evidence for this but the colours are very pretty.

Near the vegetable garden are the stables – they’re now mostly used for exhibits but there were 2 horses there yesterday eating their hay energetically!

Before I got to the house I noticed a large number of plants for sale. The plants were similar to those you could buy in any garden centre but the really interesting thing was the pots – they were hairy! The Hairy Pot Plant Company uses coir to make pots which can simply be planted directly into the ground. The pot is fibrous so roots grow through the gaps and eventually the pot just bio-degrades. It’s a brilliant idea – you can buy directly from the web site and there’s also a list of stockists.

The house is absolutely spectacular but what you actually see is a tiny fraction of what was once there – lack of money to maintain the house meant that about three quarters of the building was demolished several centuries ago but it’s still an enormous building. The English Heritage website has lots of information about it (including several virtual room tours to whet your appetite). The guided tour takes a good hour and if all the guides are as good as the one we had then you will learn an amazing amount about the place.

This is the second time I’ve been to Audley End (I’m a member of English Heritage). Here are the photos from my 2008 visit and the photos from 2012.

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Places I’ve been

17 Apr

Tripadvisor allows you to tag places you’ve visited – the map below will show the places I’ve been over the past 20 years or so and I” try and keep it up to date (but I’m well aware that although I started writing about my trip to Cairo I never got round to finishing it – maybe later!

Winter soups

3 Apr

Last week the weather was warm – summer was definitely on the way. This week the temperature has dropped and Scotland has had significant snow fall! With weather like this, soup is the food to eat!

I like making soup, it’s pretty easy to do, you can make huge batches and freeze it giving a quick meal when you’re in a hurry and it’s quite filling while also being low in calories.

I’ve made Carrot and French Onion soups many times before but this time I tried out the slow cooker. I peeled carrots (about 2kg) and then sliced them in the food processor. They went in the slow cooker with some stock for about 8 hours. At the end of this I just wizzed them up with a stick blender and the soup was pretty good. I also added coriander at the end for more flavour and chopped in an orange for a bit of interest!

To make the onion soup I peeled 2kg of onions (lots of tears) and then put them in the slow cooker with a dollop of margarine and some salt and pepper. They stayed in their on the low setting for about 10 hours; at the end of this they were amazingly caramelized and tasted fantastic. I then added stock and cooked for a further 8 hours. I think this is one of the best soups I’ve made and I’ll definitely do it again.

At the same time as making these, I wanted to use up some other veg so I roasted a tray of tomatoes to make tomato soup and about a dozen parsnips to make roast parsnip soup. Add cumin seeds to this to give a really nice flavour.