Kevin Smith's Blog

Day 299 - yum yum

Friday, 24 June 2011

I've known the lovely folk at River Cottage for quite a while - I first worked with them on a series for BBC Gardeners' World Magazine and I've kind of stayed in touch ever since. And why wouldn't I? They're the nicest bunch of people you're ever likely to meet.

It was Lucy Brazier, their rather good PR & Communications Manager, that told me about plans to publish a baby and toddler cookbook and, seeing as I've got a baby/toddler (not sure what she's classified as now), I was very excited.

The book was published earlier this year and the author, Nikki Duffy, has done an absolutely wonderful job. Here's the finished product. And why not pick up a copy here.

Now, I'm not just saying Nikki Duffy has done a wonderful job because I like everyone at River Cottage and because they sent me a free copy of the book. No no, I'm saying it because it's true. And how do I know it's true? Because I've tested some of the recipes on Ida.

If you know Ida, you'll know that she absolutely loves food and eating. However, like most toddlers I guess, she always make a beeline for crisps and carbs over vegetables, and sweets and chocolate over fruit (*1). So last week, with some scepticism, I made Nikki's 'Courgette polpette' (p154) in hope that she'd devour something green. Here's the step-by-step process to prove it:

And guess what? She absolutely loved the it. Who'd have thought it - Ida eating courgette by the bucket load. To prove it, here's a shot of her stuffing the food in so fast she had to close her eyes and wouldn't even look up at the camera:

So, encouraged by the courgette success, I decided to have another go and tried the 'Spinach and onion puff tart' (p151). Again, here's the proof:

And you'll never guess what? Ida loved that, too - totally amazing! Ida eats courgette and spinach. Here she is in full flow again:

So, there we are. If you've got a youngling, and are sometimes stumped by what to feed them, get a copy of the River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook. I've tried it out and think it's bloody ace.

Until next time...

*1 I know that makes it sound like I feed her junk all the time, which I don't. And besides, any parent who says their child never eats bad things is a liar.

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Day 280 - the perfect mix

Sunday, 05 June 2011

As I type this post I've got an extremely pink face and a dull, irritating headache. The pink face was caused by spending Friday at RHS Garden Hyde Hall in scorching sunshine. The headache was caused by drinking too much Pimms in my own garden yesterday afternoon. I'm not moaning though, as the last two days have been two of the lovliest I can remember – for me, regardless of the consequences, gardens, sunshine and a cheeky tipple are the perfect mix.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll remember Ida and me visited Hyde Hall a few weeks ago and totally loved the place (read here). Therefore I couldn't refuse Laura Tibbs' (from the RHS press office) invitation to attend a special 'bloggers event'  at the garden, and found myself there again on Friday. Laura organised the event to bring a few bloggers together and for us all to get a proper tour of the garden led by Garden Manager, Ian Bull. The RHS Great Garden Swap was also taking place and we were encouraged to take something along to swap. Here's the RHS poster advertising the event - it explains the concept much better than any words I can write:

I hunted high and low for something to take along to swap, but unfortunately struggled terribly. I narrowed it down to a greenfly-covered tomato plant which should have been potted on weeks ago (how could I have ignored that?), a cerise busy Lizzie in a terracotta pot (do they even allow bedding plants in RHS gardens?) or an open packet of  sunflower seeds which could have been free with a magazine. In the end I decided not to take anything - better to do that than introduce a greenfly plague to Hyde Hall or be sniggered at by the other bloggers.

When I arrived I found it difficult to track down the group, as I didn't really know what anyone looked like. That's the trouble with us lot , isn't it - many of us only really know each other through cyberspace and we don't all choose to show pictures of ourselves online. Even so, I did find everyone and was quickly very glad that I decided not to bring anything to swap. The group were brandishing bundles of seed (all unopened I might add), beautiful herbaceous plants and lovely books. It was definitely best to leave the busy Lizzie at home.

The assembled group was small, I think a combination of half term and venturing to deep, dark Essex, had put many people off, but it didn't matter. I met Claire of Plantpassion, Malvernmeet of The Plotting Daily and another lady who is quite new to the media game and blogs about growing veg. (*1) Here are a few of the group enjoying the surprisingly beautiful Essex landscape:

Ian Bull's tour of the garden was the highlight of the visit with the Dry Garden being my favourite area he talked to us about. Here it is:

Having just had one of the driest springs on record, the garden has really been put through its paces. It stood up to the challenge of course, looks great and is a great example of how gardening with, and not against, nature can really work.

Ian also told us how Hyde Hall is actually a great deal larger than most people realise, with many of the surrounding fields also belonging to the garden. He talked us through  their extremely impressive plans to develop the garden and blend it into the surrounding landscape. This changes have already started in many areas and will, without doubt, be beautiful when they're complete. I'm particularly excited about plans for an outdoor theatre which will be a delight, especially if a performances also involves a lovely picnic and a glass of wine (there we are, gardens and alcohol again - the perfect mix). Here's one of the most recently developed areas:

All in all, Friday's trip to Hyde Hall was well worth it. I'm so impressed  the RHS  recognise blogging as a valuable part of the gardening media scene, and it was thoroughly enjoyable to meet a few like-minded people. The garden looked great too and, as an Essex boy who lives just down the road (*2), I'll visit often.

So, after spending Friday hard at work (honest, it was work) I decided to spend yesterday relaxing with the family in my own garden. And what fun we had. A triumphant barbecue, several jugs of Pimms and endless sunshine made for delightful day. Ida even had a whirl in her paddling pool, which was the first time this year. Here's me in action at the barbecue and Ida taking a dip:

So, there we are, if you're looking for the perfect tonic just mix gardening, sunshine and a glass of something lovely (*3)

Until next time...

*1 I feel terribly rude not remembering her name, but do remember that she's part of her Parish Council and lives in Kent. Please get in touch so I can give you a proper name-check and lead everyone to your blog.

*2 Westcliff on Sea is just 12 miles from Hyde Hall and it takes me 20 minutes to reach it in the car. Great Wakering, officially the driest place in Great Britain (and referred to by Ian Bull in our tour of the Dry Garden) is a few minutes drive from my house and  where my mother-in-law lives.

*3 Always drink responsibly.

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Kevin Smith | Garden Media Writer and Editor

On 31 August 2010 I quit my full-time job as the Commissioning Editor at Gardeners' World Magazine to be a stay-at-home dad  and to try and scratch a living as a freelance garden journalist. It's often said that a 'life change' is good, but can I cut it with the yummy mummys? Will I manage to get a single shred of work done? Will Ida (she's the gorgeous little girl who's the cause of all this) like gardening as much as me? Who knows, we're going to find out...