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Sunday, 30 May 2010

Where have all my flowers gone?

I was hoping for a display of tulips like this....

Instead, all I've got is this - five weeks after planting 30 bulbs chosen from the displays at Amsterdam's flower market, just one lonely shoot of a Triumph White has emerged.

When I bought them, I knew it was late in the season, but was told the bulbs had been chilled to hold back flowering, and would bloom six weeks after planting.

I should have known better.

So, unless a miracle happens, I will have to cross my fingers, wait for next spring, and hope that in the meantime the squirrels don't acquire a taste for Dutch delicacies.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Perfect broccoli....

I’ve been inspired by cookery writer and presenter Sophie Grigson to buy some broccoli seeds, in the hope of a bumper crop to experiment with. When I met her at a lunch the other week, we were talking about the importance of fresh food, simply cooked, and she shared her favourite broccoli recipe - a hit with her teenage children. (She says she originally got it from fellow chef Heston Blumenthal.)

It goes something like this:
Wash the broccoli, separate the head into small pieces and thinly slice the stems. Heat some olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan, put the broccoli in and cover with a lid. Cook for 2 minutes, shaking occasionally, remove the lid and season with salt and pepper, add a lump of butter, shake it again, then cook, covered, for another two minutes. Test to see if it’s tender enough, and if not, cook for another minute or so. Don’t worry if it’s brown in places – it all adds to the flavour and texture.

Sophie has recently been exploring the varied cuisines of the Far East - see the results of this in her new TV series, Sophie Grigson in the Orient, on the Travel Channel at 9pm from Tuesday, May 18.

Here's Sophie with Hong Kong chef Sam Ip.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Elephants on Parade

Venture into central London over the next few weeks and you may find yourself face to face with a brightly-painted baby elephant. More than 250 lifesized models have been installed throughout town as part of the Elephant Parade, which aims to highlight the plight of Asian Elephants. Each is decorated by an artist or fashion designer, including Lulu Guinness (seen here with her creation), Tommy Hilfiger, Matthew Williamson, Diane von Furstenberg, John Rocha and Jack Vettriano. One herd is in Trafalgar Square, others can be found in Notting Hill, the South Bank, Greenwich Market, around St Paul's, and in other tourist hot-spots.

Come July, the models will be auctioned off to raise money for the conservation of flesh-and-blood Asian elephants. Over the past 100 years, their population has shrunk by 90%, and if nothing is done to preserve their habitat, in 30 years they could vanish altogether.

Artist Benjamin Shine has transformed his elephant into a taxi, powered by a solar cell so that a sign lights up at night and its eyes turn into headlamps. It’s by the Royal Exchange.