Enigma Open Day (but you can visit any time....)

This is not going to be a techie post, so if that’s what why you’re here, then perhaps you should switch to another blog; I won’t be offended.

You see I’m writing this blog from the perspective of someone who is relatively new to bicycles… but absolutely knows she has found something, that she should have pursued many many years back.  I’d like to blame it on my first ever bicycle, but that might seem rather churlish. (I’d asked for a racing bike, but in the 70’s girls weren’t necessarily encouraged to sit astride a high top tube.. I mean, what are you supposed to wear! Apparently a skirt, and keep your knees together, mind). So instead I’ll just say that my initial burn of enthusiasm was all but extinguished, due to a poorly worded letter to Father Christmas, and a frog-green girl’s Raleigh bicycle.

Now however, I’m am ridiculously passionate about bikes (even frog green ones), to the point where my children are perhaps somewhat bemused at how often I disappear for a ‘quick’ spin. I’ve also become a bit of a gear slut.

During my meteoric rise of fervency for all things bike related my husband, Marc, found out about an English bike manufacturer called Enigma. Willingly pulled in by this mystery (yeah I know) vacuum, he and I went to their small but perfectly formed site based down near Eastbourne. He got measured up, while I walked around chatting to framebuilders and welders, stroking lugs and goggling at high polished cassettes.

The thing about Enigma is this: Like a lot of REALLY good bike manufacturers, they are utterly vocational in their approach to frame building and ultimately bike building.  It is a labour of love and devotion. However, in an industry where perhaps 99% of bicycles are manufactured abroad, they are amongst a mere handful that are still British.

It was founded by Jim Walker, who, with almost 35 years experience in this business, set out to reverse the pitiful decline of the British bike industry, which at one time produced in excess of 2 million bicycles a year.  (2009 saw this industry at an all time low of a mere 20,000 bikes being produced).

In just over 6 years the Engima team has steadily grown, selling frames to customers worldwide, to the point where they have had to move premises, and I, along with my family was lucky enough to be invited to the open day on 4th May.

The weather (yes, being British I’ll have to mention the weather) was abysmal, with grey morose clouds loitering over the new Enigma premises in Hailsham.  It started to spit and then seriously threatened a deluge of potentially humour curdling rain.

Never the less this light, airy, hangar-like place was heaving with enthusiastic, all-weather, hearty cyclists, most of whom were clad in cycle shorts and mud, having arrived by bike from all corners of the county to be here and ogle some extremely beautiful frames.

On chatting with a few of these souls it became very clear that if they weren’t owners of Enigmas already they were there, because like me, there is something so completely intoxicating about being in touching distance from such exquisitely built and finished frames.

To support and add a bit of ‘glamour’, former professional cyclist (and ex head directeur sportif at Team Sky) Sean Yates attended, with a promise to lead a 30 mile ride out for those who felt able.

Sean Yates with young Enigma fan

 A incisive and inspiring speech was made by the High Sheriff of East Sussex, Graham Peters, an active proponent of British industry. He echoed the strong sense of pride and support I think we all feel towards the Engima team. Having not only survived this very tough era Enigma has managed to actually flourish.

After an announcement for the ride out to commence, the High Sheriff whipped out a very glittery sabre and with one well placed slice, cut through a ribbon.

High Sheriff Peter Graham cutting the ribbon

And after fuelling up on a seemingly endless supply of eclectic foods (all mindful of the appropriate ratios of carbs:protein no doubt, “cough, cough”), a stream of Enigmas, led by a motorbike, headed out into the drizzle.

Jim is very clear that the strength of Enigma lies in the team.

“It’s all about the team, and not any individual. I’ve been in the bike business almost 35 years and I realised long ago that a business of this type is only as good as the people it employs, and as far as I’m concerned I have the best team I could have…. all are highly motivated individuals who share my passion for bikes of the highest quality.  I wouldn’t swap a single employee.”

 Jim Walker heading out

We left the open day and returned home…  I walked out to the garage and polished and oiled my Enigma Echo, Love at first (actually, third) bike..


Where do I sign?......

This thing called 30 Days of Biking….

I heard about it last year through twitter, sort of half way in to April, sort of easy to avoid the commitment! But this year in a moment of temerarious enthusiasm I clicked on the ‘pledge’ button.  The very word, pledge (noun – a solemn promise of  undertaking) makes it sound like a daunting prospect. The commitment to cycle EVERY day, regardless of weather, work, kids, obligations, or general lack of zing!

My family thought me brave, but rather daft, given that Spring was rather reluctant to make a show, and so my first two weeks were peppered, nay, hosed with everything Winter had forgotten to throw at us. I thought myself simply daft… and as if to prove me right, the first week of biking was pretty hellish, with sleet, hail, snow, ice; gloved fingers turned white, while my nose – turning turnip purple – dripped like a badly plumbed faucet.

But, powered on in the knowledge that I wasn’t the only one out there mentally and physically ploughing through this slurry of Winter’s doggy bag, I kept going. And then something miraculous happened.  I became addicted.  I found myself ending work, shuffling kids around, putting on the supper and then – almost without thinking – climbing into my bibs, woolly socks, Sidis, and gloves (with integral fluffy nose wipe!), and chirruping “see you later!” with a kind of Tally ho attitude! What?!

From that point onwards it’s been love, not a gooey type of love, but a nurturing, challenging, self determined kind that leaves you grinning wildly at the end. There have been times when I’ve thrown my arms wide and whooped (I am not good at this ‘no hands’  bit, so these were fleeting seconds rather than extended minutes); sung at the top of my voice some 90’s throw back hit.. with no one to hear but the cows and birds. It’s been FABULOUS.

Talking of grinning.. here is the month’s tally:

3 accidental (messy) dismounts, usually user error… hrrm

6 flies caught in teeth through grinning, a further 5 swallowed

3 wolf whistles (possibly aimed at the bike)

1 chicken almost beheaded (it’s a bit of a story)

Just shy of 300 miles covered.

What I’ve gained:

Stamina

A renewed love for the Sussex countryside

A Love of self propelled speeeeeeeeeed

For those who’re counting, £65 from not using the diesel pig

An inch on each thigh.. my jeans don’t fit but who cares, it’s either skirts or cycling shorts from now on… if Summer plays ball

Head space

Freckles.

Huge thanks goes to those great souls who devised this whole mad wonderful thing called 30 Days of Biking. Not once did I feel alone in this pursuit; there was a world-wide family of like minded cyclists who were pedalling ‘with’ me. Thanks goes to all of you for the good company, great photos and the inspiring/amusing words. It’s been so much fun, and I hope to see you all again next year… if not before!

To be honest, I think it wasn’t even that difficult to get ‘addicted’. Once you’ve discovered the thing that can give you so much, you just find yourself returning.  It’s a very precious discovery too. But it’s not one to keep a secret!

You ready?


Boing!

Being so accustomed to the mundanity, the reach-for-your-coat-and-waders routine, I almost forgot to take a second look.  I mean a proper David Bellamy kind of look.

Well I have now, and it appears that elusive Spring has soldiered on, regardless of abmismal conditions. Seedlings have popped their heads above the parapet of soil to  wave infantile arms (“Feed me!”). Vegetable beds that were cleared, are now proudly sporting a new buzz cut of young grass and creeping buttercup. Wood anemones are carpeting dappled, forgotten areas of woodland and roadside ditch. Even forget-me-nots have started quietly illuminating the rise of soil around gated field entrances. I should have guessed that Spring would carry on, regardless. She always does.

Time to get my fork out again..


A Thing About Fish.. how it began

The first ‘real’ fish meal I can recall was Conga pie. By real, I mean it wasn’t preformed to look inoffensive and un-fishlike. (Saying that, I will always love a fish finger sandwich!)

Growing up, our little kitchen was (as is for many) the hub of familial life. Everything that was anything happened there. Various dogs carpeted the under table area, waiting to hoover the inevitable fallout from above. There was usually a chair resting, legs prone, on top of this table, enduring a ‘French Polish’. A sewing box took up a weekly slot, at the other end, disembowelled during a spate of darning and hemming. The sink draining area doubled up as storage for cleaned pans as well a resting place for a half plucked goose or freshly gutted fish (ultimate hygiene always top of the agenda!). The true heart of the kitchen though was the Raeburn. Mottled cream with a black top it sat quietly, always ready to cook or simply give comfort to a cold rear (unless the morning ‘coal swing’ had been forgotten).

I must’ve been about 8 years old. Coming in from a prowl and play around the field I was welcomed by a distinctly different smell hitting my nostrils and throat.  I walked over to the Raeburn and on tip toe peered over the edge of mum’s gargantuan pot that always seemed to be bubbling on the single hob.

The bizarre sight of 4 inch thick slabs of twitching muscle floating in a simmering sea of milk seemed entirely wrong to me.

“Mum! Stop cooking this thing! It’s still alive!”

“Don’t worry darling, it’s really not.”

“What is ‘it’?” I asked, with not just a little misgiving.

“It’s Conga eel (bright, cheery voice), and (firm voice to discourage any possible revolt) it’s going to be a wonderful fish pie”

Not in the least reassured, I vowed that this was one dish that I wouldn’t be eating, no matter how it was ‘disguised’.

Of course I did, and I absolutely loved it. Everything that got put in front of me got eaten, not simply because I had to, but because it usually tasted great.  My dear mother was (and still is) is an extraordinarily inventive cook. One of those who can literally pull something out of the proverbial hat, even when the cupboard or fridge looks decidedly devoid of inspiration.

Living near the coast meant that our diet was rich in fish. It was cheap too. really cheap. There wasn’t a huge cheffy/media push on fish at the time, so not many English cookery books featured them, let alone dedicated a whole book to these odd ‘foreign’ foods. Consequently, mum used to make it up as she went along. We ate a lot of sole, plaice and skate.

One that appeared with great regularity was mackerel, and it was at this point that I started to get ‘hooked’ on the sheer beauty of fish, any fish, even the so called ‘ugly’ ones.

If you click here you can see a few of my favourite fish I’ve illustrated.

The most enduring one for me though remains the mackerel..

I met it properly for the first time at the age of 9, as I hauled it up, flapping and flexing, out of the sea and into a sandcastle bucket. The eye popping colours of a living mackerel are quite the most vivid and hypnotically intoxicating that I’ve ever seen. Sadly though within hours of being caught, like all fish, the colours start to fade.  As an illustrator I work mostly from life and so it is when I draw/paint fish: the real thing perched in front of me.

My current mackerel painting started with a visit to my lovely local fishmongers (click and have a listen).

The chosen ones, with bright fluid eyes, got to pose for some colour ref shots before they faded..

Progress..

And then finally…

And of course to round it off, I should really give you my most favourite mackerel recipe..

1. Go fishing and catch your own, then

2. BBQ it on the beach on which you land.

It will never taste better than at this moment.


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.

“Woah!!”

“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.