Earth to Canvas...

“This is how it works” I say.

And of course it does, as long as the weather and seasons all take to the stage, performing in the right and proper order with ‘feeling’ (darling).

Last year, however, was a drama. It was the year that we now look back on and can honestly pronounce as ‘pants’. I pity anyone who decided to embark on the undeniably rewarding (but proven-out challenging) journey of growing their own produce. I can only hope that they will give it another go (and repeat). I won’t try to catalogue the disastrous and countless upheavals that most veg growers had to contend with, but suffice to say I was incredibly relieved to pull the last stunted runty leek, and untangle the rather pathetic bean plants to dismantle the bamboo frames.  I even toyed with the idea of not bothering this year.  But it’s quite amazing how quickly I forget such disconsolate thoughts on receiving my seed catalogue through the post. Suddenly, EVERYTHING is possible again!

When things do go right though, and the seasons behave, I get to indulge in one of my passions: picking, painting, prepping, cooking, and ultimately eating the vegetables that we grow.

The perfect example of this, is the humble onion. I love to paint/illustrate onions, particularly the red ones, the more cruddy the better. Peeling back the parched and rustling outer skins to reveal the darker, more lush interior is a visual colour bomb. One we grow every year is The Red Baron.  What a name. I mean, it sounds like a hero doesn’t it.  A brave, stalwart, moustached and slightly portly fellow with a penchant for rich beef stew!

So here we go.. from earth to canvas…

 to chopping board…

To pot….

It's all about Tom...



I started baking around the time my husband gave me a book about bread making, knowing that I was very much smitten with the whole ethos, feel, and pleasure of it all.  This book was written by Tom Jaine.  It is now stained, floured, crusted and singed (don’t ask); scars of devotion that every beloved book wears with tired but comfortable honour. I worked my way through the recipes, sampling the evocative flavours of different cultural ‘takes’ on bread.  My absolute favourite was (and still is) the French Hearth Bread (Fougasse), a ladder of soft chewy sweetness with plenty of crust for little hands to hold!

Sourdough, however, remained something of a mystery.  But, thanks to my ‘pet’ Tom the Belcher, I have laughed, cursed, badly timed, flopped and cheered my way through just shy of a year of sourdough baking.  Life with my friend has now become as comfortable and as easy as my well worn oven gloves. A new rhythm has been found that, rather than impinging on our daily family/work routine, it has quietly slipped in, like a backbeat, to create a harmonious and cheerful chorus that chirps up every couple of days.. usually first thing in the morning.  Inevitably, its me slipping down into the kitchen before bird song, to slide a loaf into the oven. It’s a wonderful almost conspiratorial time of quiet mug hugging, while the house begins to stir with the smell of fresh bread creeping beneath doors into slumbering rooms. I am selfish; I’m reluctant to share this quietude with another soul!

Meanwhile, Tom the Belcher has sired offspring, as mentioned in a previous blog, and now has a third child living in Hong Kong!

His journey was lengthy and fraught with sharp corners and violent temperature fluctuations. But he arrived safely, and was delivered into the hands of a lovely family, just before Christmas.  And not only that, the he turned out to be a she!

Her name is Yogurt.

I find I now have a new job as an Agony Aunt, helping the new ‘parents’ of these warm and windy pets. But far from being an expert in sourdough, we laugh, grumble and cheer each flop and success, together. After all that’s what making bread has always been about..


Thanks must go to Tom Jaine for allowing me to reproduce the above recipe, and ultimately inspiring such a pleasurable past time with his book.

Thanks also to Tom Herbert for sharing his little Kilner jar of magic sourdough. Look what you started!!



You'll need a chest freezer and labels that stick ...


I was recently asked to write down the ten most important tips for illustrating food. It’s not something I’ve ever given a lot of thought to… As easily as our terrier edges surreptitiously onto my chair in the studio, I kind of slipped into illustrating, just by following my nose. Rather than training to BE an illustrator, I just chased after what I love doing, and so here I am 20 or so years later.

Here’s a photo of our terrier, Chewy. (We didn’t choose the name. If we had it would’ve been Houdini or Hellion.)

And here’s the article in all it’s glory! Let me know if I’ve missed any salient points!

With many thanks to the ever-inquisitive Qin!




All arms...

Earlier this year, I decided to do something out of my comfort zone.  It’s not unusual for me to do silly stuff, but it usually involves either climbing boots/running shoes or my beloved Sidis.

I decided to create a competition for those who follow me on Twitter. I asked for people to throw me ideas of what they’d like to see on a canvas.  One of these suggestions would be picked out of my hat and I would paint it!

The suggestions made were so varied, ranging from the aesthetically stunning (monkfish, wild garlic, oyster on samphire) to the unusual but visually gripping (a heart in the literal sense), with some suggestions so far out there they may still be orbiting  (egg and bacon in a white bap.. tabasco on the side).

All of these ideas (yes really) went into the hat and I duly picked one out:


Having never illustrated an octopus before, this was new territory for me. I’m very lucky to have a great fishmonger near by.  Great, because whenever I need to come and photograph, examine and marvel at fish they’re incredibly accommodating. Handling this beautiful creature was a genuine revelation; the exquisitely detailed suckers that gather along the length of each outstretched tentacle; the huge sapient eyes, sheathed behind the pretence of a ‘lid’. With every pose I arranged, it lay with such grace and liquid agility.

In between “proper” work, I sketched, painted and became metaphorically entangled with this charming octopus that began to appear on my canvas.  It’s been a challenge to portray it’s fluid form. One that I’ve relished.

Here’s how the work progressed…

During this project it’s been great to get feedback from people. It seems that the octopus resonates with many.. it being quite an enigma about whom folklore and horror stories have fuelled a history of misunderstanding laced with a little dread.  The truth is it’s a beautiful, elegant and shockingly bright creature that deserves many more canvases…

Apparently it tastes good too! *

Now the varnish is drying, and on Monday 26th November I’ll be placing the names of all those who entered into my hat.  The one I pull out wins the canvas..and if they live near enough, I might even deliver it in person!

*I’ve not had the pleasure of anything beyond the rubbery “boing” of sadly overcooked polpo as yet!


The New Pet



This is a blog about the unexpected journey I’ve found myself on, thanks to a chance encounter my husband made in a wet muddy field in Wales!  He was attending and talking at the Do Lectures. Rain reached pretty much the neck and shoulders of every one there but failed to dampen any busy and spirited soul that attended.  Amongst this wonderful group of doers there was one particularly cheerful individual called Tom Herbert.  They got on well, swapped a few stories, kicked back in the mud and drank tea..and my husband returned with a new pet.

As far as pets go, I wasn’t necessarily in need of another. We have 5 spaghetti chewing Warrens.  Then there’s our three dogs, an Australian Cattle Dog, a rather enthusiastic (but dim, should have called her Tim) Labrador and spankingly bright Parsons Terrier. There are also two cats that hover on the edge of our curtilage, waiting for a clear path to their cat flap, salvation (from said terrier) and food. Finally we have three free range children, one of whom decided to spend all her savings on 5 prissy, trousered bantams.  I figured up until now we’ve actually done quite well.  We’ve avoided ponies (my MIL failed to convince us as to the advantages.. “a healthy distraction” ), ducked peoples’ surreptitious efforts to palm off a rabbit/hamster/ferret when we weren’t looking, and don’t have fish languidly orbiting an aquarium in the kitchen.  I even escaped the “perfect pet” corn snake phase.

So, my husband arrived home, still soggy from Wales, but babbling enthusiastically about wonderful new friends, inspiring stories and.. a present for me!  We squeezed into the warm kitchen; he started to steam, independently of the kettle whistling away on the stove. The micro fog parted and there on the kitchen counter, was my new pet.  Contained safely within a kilner jar was a pale semi-liquid little beast of softly bubbling sourdough. “Have a smell” he offered.  Flipping the lid, I stuck my nose into the jar.


“I know it’s amazing isn’t it!  It’s ALIVE!”  Oh good god.

This is not going to be a recipe for the perfect sourdough loaf. One, because I’m still working on it and two, because the perfect sourdough depends on what you were setting out to create. Perfection is a personal viewpoint – it’s all in the mouth of the chewer!

After a quite a few disasters (or ‘flying saucers’ as our son optimistically named them), at last my pet – christened Tom The Belcher – and I have formed an easy alliance, one that I’d like to call symbiotic, but I think that possibly I’m getting more out of this relationship than he is, such is the pleasure he brings to me and my family. Tom The Belcher has even sired offspring!  Balthazar is residing happily in North Cornwall, while – in the true spirit of our pioneering forefathers – another has travelled far, and now lives in a warm kitchen in Seattle. Inspiringly, the new owner named her sourdough Chilkoot2 (a mountain pass in Alaska) in honour of her grandfather who always carried a sourdough starter during the gold rush.

The most wonderful aspect of this journey is the rediscovery of a forgotten pleasure. Kneading. How on earth did the breadmaker ever get accepted as part of our culture?  I’ve never used one, I’m far too selfish to hand over my part in this joyous process. I’ve no doubt it’s encouraged people to be braver in approaching the apparent enigma of bread making. But, this usurper denies people a most precious and rare commodity.. head space to think.  I love the physicality of making bread, the warm and pliable soft belly of dough, the rhythm of kneading that allows for mind-surfing, and then the gathering of these thoughts into embryonic ideas and plans. This undeniable pleasure is born of such the simplest of tasks; one that has been performed for millennium; one that I am passing on to our children.

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t anticipated adding to our numbers, but unlike the prissy, trousered bantams, this pet is very undemanding, burps in hearty appreciation of the simplest of foods (water and flour), and keeps on giving.

Dear Mrs Grigg...

Of all the days to launch my blog I chose Halloween. I can’t write for toffee, even those appallingly jaw dislocating “trick-or-treat” ones my 3 seem to accumulate every year. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to give the impression of eloquence, and in so doing placate the formidable Mrs Grigg my former O level English teacher. I would hate to give her any cause for concern (or have to hand back the end of year prize for “most promising student”)

She was 4 ft 9 inches, her furiously backcombed auburn hair and teetering heels making up the 9 inches. The bit in between was a force of Nature on Red Bull. When we – a slowly shuffling army of somnolent oofs – sat down for our first lesson with Mrs Grigg, she must have been filled with ‘pass me the valium’ trepidation. I was actually somewhat surprised to see her the next day, assuming she would’ve at least put in a request for “gardening duty”.

To my amazement she took us on, shook us up and served up English as we’d never known it. By the end of our time with her we were literally bouncing off our chairs in an effort to be chosen to reinact The Canterbury Tales. Having been through this cathartic and eye-popping journey of Chaucerian design, we’d not only discovered that we weren’t the first to swear, but also that humorists existed before we were born, yes really.

So here I am, Mrs Grigg *stands to attention*. I’ll do my best.