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Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Gelato days - when the Maestri Gelatieri came to town

It may be Autumn, but last weekend I was taken back to Italian summer evenings on the shores of Lake Garda, to afternoons of stifling heat in Florence, and stolen moments outside Leicester Cathedral on warm, sunny lunch breaks.

So what's brought on these memories, I hear you ask. Well, it's the taste of gelato. Not just any gelato, though. I'm talking about the creamy, silky texture, the richness, and the sheer genius of the marriage of flavours which tickle your tongue, slide down your throat, and leave you with a smile on your face.

I've eaten a lot of artisan gelato recently.

We're lucky in Leicester to have Gelato Village, an artisan gelato shop at an oh so handy location just around the corner from where I work. I'm very partial to flavours such as mango, pistachio and lemon and there are many others of course. At the end of October though, a team of ten Maestri Gelatieri came to town from Italy to share their passion and skills .

They were from all over Italy - some of the world's best gelato makers. Seven men and three women, most of whom had successful careers elsewhere before finding what they really wanted to do, which was to make gelato, in the traditional way, with their own hands and producing their own flavours. Now they were over here to share their favourite flavours and new sensations at Gelato Village..

"Come for  a meal" Laura Hadland from Thirst Media had said...."come and meet them all." So I did, over at Sapori in Anstey, a wonderful Italian restaurant which just happened to be Claudio Ranieri's favourite place when he was managing Leicester City Football Club. (I must just say I adored him- what a character, what a manager and oh how many mourned his departure.)

I digress, back to last Friday, and a noisy night with lots of feverish chat about food, wine, and yes, gelato in Italian, English and sign language.  Delicious Italian food too, for me a wild mushroom and goats cheese tartlet with cashew pesto, Italian fennel sausages and rigatoni followed by a sorrento lemon tart with a orange and carrot sorbet. Perfect.

Everyone was looking forward to their weekend organised by Antonio de Vecchi  and Daniele Taverna from Gelato Village and the Compagnia Gelatieri.

left to right Andrea Scarpati the owner of Sapori,  Raffaella Garavelli , Daniele Taverna and Antonio De Vecchi

They had all brought ingredients from their home regions, from Piedmont, the Marche, Milan, Lombardy and Perugia, to use with the non homogenised milk and cream from Red Poll rare breed cattle on the Belvoir Ridge Creamery farm in Leicestershire.

As soon as they arrived from Italy, they began to make, mix, create the most amazing selection of gelato flavours....

There were some big flavours which screamed "Eat me!" From the deeply rich Chocolate & Tuscan Cigar sorbetto to the subtle fig, almond and bay gelato, the stunningly refreshing and tangy quince and Franciacorta sparkling wine sorbetto and the Passito sweet white wine gelato.

Andrea Soban with his Biscotti Zaeti gelato...he studied law before becoming a gelato maker.

Yes, they were here to make, showcase and sell their creations but there were tastings and talks too, about the history of gelato and how they found their inspiration . According to Antonio Luzi pictured below, the gelato business in Italy is a very saturated market.

It was a busy weekend for all of the gelato makers. Some managed to get out to the Belvoir Ridge Creamery to see where the milk came from to make their gelato and that's what they were all very impressed with, the richness and quality of the milk.

Of course they went to Leicester Cathedral to see the tomb of  Richard III, but there wasn't time for them to really explore the city. There was just enough time for me to take Vera Castrovilli, Alessia Torselli and Raffaella Garavelli next door to one of my favourite places in Leicester, The Guildhall which they loved.

Vera and Alessia were both set designers in films and on stage, before fleeing their stressed careers, and Rafaella was in the corporate world flying all over Europe before returning to her home village and opening a gelateria.

Making gelato has made all three of them very happy.

I'm just as happy eating it, and really enjoyed tasting so many new flavours the weekend the Maestri Gelatieri came to town.. I do hope they come back one day......

Just to make your mouths water , here's the full list of the gelato and sorbetto flavours created for the  trip to Leicester

Paolo Brunelli made Crema Brunelli gelato with hazelnut & chocolate, and Ricotta Celeste a Pois gelato, flavoured with honey, coffee & lemon zest

From Matteo Carloni, there was Bacio gelato with hazelnut biscuits sandwiched with dark chocolate, and Malaga, a gelato made with a raisin & sweet wine custard

Vera Castrovilli & Alessia Torselli created Passito Erbaluce di Caluso, a gelato with sweet white wine

Raffaele Del Verme made a fig and chocolate gelato and a fig with almond and bay gelato

Raffaella Garavelli created a quince with Franciacorta sparkling wine sorbetto

From Antonio Luzi, there was a coffee gelato plus a spiced pear sorbetto

Andrea Soban made a Biscotto Zaeti gelato and Torrone, an Italian hazelnut nougat gelato.

Last but not least, Mirko Tognetti created a chocolate and tuscan cigar sorbetto and a Torta della Nonna gelato flavoured with pine nuts and cream.




Tuesday, 31 October 2017

A day of fizz, fizz, glorious fizz

 Merely being asked to judge entries in The Glass of Bubbly Champagne and sparkling wine awards is rather intoxicating in itself.  After all, these are my favourite tipples. I adore champagne, cremant, cava, English sparkling wine, prosecco and sekt....just the sound of the cork popping perks me up a treat!  Without fail, Friday night means fizz night.

So this time last week, I trotted off to London for the second of day of judging being held at the Marriott County Hall hotel in Westminster where I joined the other judges.

We were seated at two tables, ours was rather jolly, before even the tiniest sip of any fizz touched our lips. They included Cecile Bergart from the Champagne region in France who now runs the Hampshire Wine School and Francesco Gabriele, Director of Wine at Chewton Glen in Hampshire.

Others on the table included Richard Bampfield, Master of Wine and Richard Moore, and I was dying for another Richard to join our table, so we could call him Richard III! That was not to be, but other judges were Martin Day, a restauranteur who runs the Pipe of Port  in Southend, Anna Caidon a journalist with Le Sommelier magazine, Govert Deketh the General Manager of the  Marriott County Hall Hotel and Cherry Constable, a freelance wine writer.

So, after hellos and introductions, Christopher Walkley , the founder of Glass of Bubbly , explained our mission.

The previous day, a panel of professional wine experts, which included Masters of Wine, Master of Sommeliers and other enologoists) had decided which wines went through the Round 2 of the judging. So we knew right from the start that these wines were highly commended .

Our job was to select the best in a number of categories.

and although we were judging only three categories, there were rather a lot of bottles to try.

Faster than the speed of sound , our table started sipping and gurgling our way through our first category which was Love or Hate.

 This was an interesting category, and the one which provoked so much discussion. There were some very interesting wines which perhaps didn't fit the brief, and some which we called the marmite wines..some of us loved them, others didn't share the same enthusiasm.

 First Date was another category .and each wine was poured perfectly by Armando Pereira, a writer and sales executive with a Glass of Bubbly. Of  course he had an idea of what was being poured, but gave nothing away as we mused, muttered and marked the wines.

 We sipped , we spat...and talked about  how nervous is everyone is on a first date, and how you wouldn't want to over indulge on alcohol. Getting hammered on a first date would never lead to a second one would it? So we were looking for an easy wine, perhaps lower in alcohol which would go with most dishes.

Cecile and Anna were obviously enjoying themselves,

as was Richard Moore

Our last judging category was Summer Days, and here we were on much safer ground. Bottles of fizz enhance any summer gathering, and we were looking for light, not too expensive, fruity wines. Boy, did we get them....and I was itching to take some of them home. One I was sure was an English sparkling wine, all fresh English morning and a whiff of the hedgerows, but Cherry thought that it couldn't be, bearing in mind the price of English sparklers .

After over three hours of debate, deliberation and dedication, (we took this very seriously) it was time for a glass of bubbly to drink!

from front left to right: Richard Bampfield, Richard Moore, Govert Deketh, me, Cherry Constable, Anna Caidon, Cecile Bergart, Francesco Gabriele and Martin Day.

Christopher and Eve (Editor in Chief of a Glass of Bubbly) thanked us and presented us our judging certificates,
and we all waltzed off in a haze of bonhomie to go home, leaving a mass of empty bottles.

What a wonderful afternoon tasting some excellent wines and enjoying the company of so many knowledgeable wine professionals sharing news and opinions. I can definitely say I've acquired a taste for this and relish further similar opportunities.

I also can't wait to find out which wines win the World's Finest Glass of Bubbly Awards 2017. The results are being announced on November 23rd at the Marriott County Hall hotel in Westminster .


Sunday, 22 October 2017

Days of virginia creepers and giggling....

I love to look out of my bathroom window in the early mornings in autumn, seeing the mist disappear as the sun comes out, and watching the green leaves of the virginia creeper turn redder by the day.

The more sun a virginia creeper gets , the redder the leaves become, and it's wonderful to see fiery reds, russet reds and every shade in between.

So why do I get the giggles every time I see a Virginia Creeper? Whether I'm walking around  our village, admiring my neighbour's houses clothed in their autumnal finery

or out in the city...wherever I am, if I see a virginia creeper, my lips twitch and I'm off again, giggling away.

I blame my mother.

 Mrs Malaprop, ,as I sometimes call her, was a character in Sheridan's play called "The Rivals" written in 1775. Like the very amusing Mrs Malaprop, Mama often uses words which don't have the meaning she intends to, but sound very similar to those that do..For example, calling windscreen wipers  "windowscreamers."

Amusing yes, but then at other times, there are no words to describe what happens after one of her malapropisms. Like the time at my friend's wedding. The vicar sported a very bouffant hairstyle - think Donald Trump with some backcombing. At the reception , Mama and her friends were talking...."Did you SEE his hairstyle?" one asked . "Yes!" replied my mother...."I swear he's had a .....

What she meant to say was a blow wave but what was actually said was something completely different. Of course she had no idea why there was a stunned silence and then people holding onto each other killing themselves laughing. Mama was mystified, then mortified when I had to explain.

What does this story have to do with  a parthenocissus or virginia creeper, you may ask?

Well, it was a glorious September morning when my children were small. We were in North Somerset at my parents' house and the children were playing on the lawn. Jean, Mama's friend and a very talented gardener, wandered into the garden.

"Oh," she exclaimed " the autumnal colours in your borders are lovely this year."

I could see Mama was thrilled, praise indeed . "But turn around Jean, the piece de resistance is my vaginal creeper!"

My father almost choked, Jean's mouth hung open in shock. I got the giggles, and couldn't stop. My sides ached, Jean was howling with laughter, my father's face had turned virtually the same colour as the virgina creeper,but once again, Mama hadn't a clue what she'd said.

So if you see me giggling away to myself during the autumn and I'm near a virginia creeper, now you know why......


Sunday, 8 October 2017

A day at Sulby Gardens


A new garden to explore is always a joy isn't it? A weekend wander around a garden with cake and coffee at the end of a visit is a pleasure for so many of us.
To get a chance for a private visit to a garden with two friends who happen to be gardening experts, and enjoy a ramble around with the owners, is even more of a treat.
That's why I loved going to Sulby Gardens, to record a programme for BBC Radio Leicester's gardening programme, "Down to Earth" doing just that. Derek Cox and Josie Hutchinson , from the programme's panel of experts were with me.
Tucked just inside the Northamptonshire side of the border with Leicestershire, Sulby Gardens consists of twelve acres of formal gardens, kitchen gardens, orchards, a wood and even an ice house.
Alison has lived here since 1976. She and her husband Chris were fired with enthusiasm after reading John Seymour's 'The Complete Book of Self Sufficiency' and were inspired to buy a walled garden and live in the Head Gardener's Cottage there.
There were glasshouses and old storerooms which still bear the pencilled notes on the doors detailing how many fruits and carrots were picked in the early 1900's.
Part of the old apple store is now a conservatory where expertly trained (according to Derek) grapes festoon the ceiling.
There's a rather large glasshouse from 1904, which was the original carnation house.

 A place to sit out of the rain, looking down to part of the kitchen garden

Alison's husband Chris died nine years ago at the age of sixty. However he's left quite a legacy and they both have amassed a wonderful collection of sixty three varieties of apple trees .

There's a certain romance to the names of the old and new varieties of apples grown ...and there's also a dozen varieties of pear trees .We tasted two or three varieties as we munched our way around the kitchen garden and then found ten varieties of plum trees on the verge of ripeness.

Bill Barker has been the Garden Manager here for twenty years or so, and he too has played an important role in the development of the garden, especially since Chris's death. In fact Alison says he's an important reason why she has been able to stay here - she simply couldn't have done it on her own.

On the right hand side of the walled garden, glass houses previously abutted the walls for a couple of hundred yards or so.

And that's why Sulby Gardens is so interesting...because the gardens belonged to a minor stately home built in 1792 and designed by Sir John Sloane. Echoes of its gardening past are all around, but the house itself is no more. It was demolished in the early 1950's .

We winced and shuddered as we heard this - having seen photographs, it was a beautiful building. Yet we were able to admire what remained of the more formal area of gardens

It's ironic, because so many owners of old houses have, over the years, sold parcels of their estates or gardens for housing or development. Alison and Chris did the exact opposite, they managed to buy extra land to increase their garden, to build a wood and seven ponds.

 With the wood, they inherited an ice house. I was dying to see this...Josie walked over it without knowing at first!

This dates from the late eighteenth century and is listed.

 We all trooped down the stairs and inside in single file, the temperature immediately dropping as we did so. No torches, but fortunately I had my trusty iphone to light our way

This was where tons of ice, were hacked from the stream running through  the gardens by the gardeners, and thrown into the hole. Meat, game and fish, butter and other foods were kept here on the ice until needed for the table.

By now, we had spent two hours wandering around the gardens, enjoying the views and the plantings. We'd also admired the way that Alison, Chris and Bill have enhanced the gardens over the years and developed flower meadows and wildlife habitats for mammals, insects and birds.

By now, the drizzle and wind had died down and we were able to relax on a garden bench in the sunshine.

Left to right...Bill Barker, Josie Hutchinson, Derek Cox, me and Alison Lowe

Such a lovely day and such an interesting garden, with so much to see . You can hear the programme we recorded by clicking this link

You can also see the gardens for yourself as they are open on Thursday 12th October from 1 pm to 4pm and again on  Friday 13th October from 11am until 4pm...

Alison and Bill will be around, and you've got the chance to buy some bottles of fresh apple juice too, which is pressed and bottled by Bill, but only sold to garden visitors at open days for the National Garden Scheme. There's plenty of apple cakes to taste too!

Here's just three of the varieties, and Sunset, the bottle I have tasted is absolutely delicious and addictive.

Sulby is worth a visit any time of year though and opens do check with the Northamptonshire branch of the National Garden Scheme to find out next year's dates. You will be so pleased you did!

Friday, 29 September 2017

Days on the road less travelled

I realise I haven't blogged since the beginning of August, and there have been questions asked by some of you. Where have I been and what have been doing? I've even been sent an article on the importance of posting blogs regularly!

No, the dog did not eat my homework, and I haven't got any of the usual excuses. There's been plenty I could write about and there were certain events I will cover,  albeit belatedly, but life has just got in the way.

I did spend ten days away, but I didn't venture far or to somewhere hot....I was down in North Somerset looking after Mama, my Mum, after an operation. At 87, she had been getting very breathless and in pain after walking  - even just after 50 yards or so. There were large blockages in her calf and groin which needed to be sorted out.

At 87 years old, Mama was prepared in case anything went wrong...she had written instructions for her funeral service and other things were discussed, however much I didn't want to talk about them.

Luckily she sailed through the operation, and going to her hospital room, I could see her through the open door before going in. Smiling at the sunshine streaming through the balcony windows, propped up in bed, with full eye make up and rosy lipstick, she looked as if she popped in for a pedicure rather than a big operation!

Being with her as she recovered was a joy, she's such a positive person, and a very patient patient even as I fumbled doing her dressings every day. We laughed, she walked her first steps around her garden, and as I was on chauffeur duty for shopping, to take her to the doctors. I also became her social secretary as an army of her friends rang to speak to her.

 When she rested, I caught up on some reading. I got quite a lot of writing on another project done, the old school way. With a pen and notepad. There was no wifi at Mama's and I don't know about you, but I cannot write blog posts in my i pad or phone even with the Blogger app.
It was also great to catch up with my brother and his family.

When I left to come home, Mama was feeling much better, and so did I,  after a time in the slow lane.

Coming back home, I was at full pelt work wise, both in the newsroom and making history and gardening programmes. Great fun, squeezing the most out of sunny days,  as well as going off to Glee, the last hurrah in the gardening calendar for the trade at the NEC .

More about Glee and the people I met there in another post, but I had a wonderful time there. When I got home that night though, there was a jolt in the form of a white envelope. I had been for a mammogram a few weeks before, now I was being invited to go Leicester's Glenfield Hospital for a recall in three days time.

I won't lie, I was uneasy. I 'd had one before, which involved a quick mammogram, and I was out within minutes with good news at the end of it. This time, things weren't quite so straightforward. I had one mammogram, a long wait, and then on to another machine for two different types of mammograms. Then an ultrasound, and as I walked in to the room, my images were up on the screen, and it was obvious that something wasn't quite right. I could see a lump, bump or nodule or whatever you call it.. My heart sank, but the wonderful staff, after more tests, told me it definitely wasn't cancer.

I didn't take in much of what was said after that. I was so elated, as my husband drove us home. It was grey and drizzly, but to me the sky was blue, and I just wanted to shout to the world how wonderful life is. Oh, and how amazing the staff are and the service is at Glenfield Hospital Breast Care Centre.

Now I'm having some more of my annual leave to look after my husband, who had a back operation at the beginning of last week. A fusion of his spine involving bolts and rods and something (cement?) to shore up his spine, digging out lots of arthritis,  and preventing trapping of nerves in his legs.

All went well for a few days, until he became unwell ...and after a scan, was found to have multiple blood clots in both his lungs. So a delayed discharge from hospital, and he's now on the mend after clot busting injections and medications,he even walked to the end of the lane this morning. He's now having a rest before we're off to another hospital check up.

So there you have's been an interesting few months one way or another.  I have seen more of hospitals than I expected, but I've also seen some incredibly dedicated nurses and doctors . I've also been really valuing the little things and understanding only too well how we can never take life for granted either.


Friday, 4 August 2017

A day of bees and meadows

It's a well known fact that there's been a substantial decline in the numbers of honey bees in recent years.

Here in the UK, we've already lost three of our native species and now there's only twenty four species left. Apparently we've lost a third of our British bee population in the last ten years, and I find that frightening.

The varroa mite caused the deaths of entire bee colonies and climate change hasn't helped. But the disappearance of many of our hedgerows and meadows since the 1930s has meant that there's less food for the bees.

One woman who's passionate about bees is wildlife artist and businesswoman Sharon Jervis who lives here just inside the south Leicestershire border. Her MA was all about bees and since then, they've led her on a mission.

She's been looking after bees at her home for a long time, but two years ago, she decided to transform a couple of her six acres of land at home into meadows to encourage more bees.

"I'd been meaning to develop a meadow for ages, but when my mother died, I realised, you have to get things done before it's too late. Her death was the impetus for what you see now"

It cost about £500 in seeds, but Sharon says it has been worth every penny in attracting huge numbers of bees since and is now making plans to convert another two acres to meadowland.

Mind you she's already made a huge commitment to encouraging wildlife, with the creation of a small lake a number of years ago.

 A pair of very friendly tame swans live there and now there are families of breeding ducks.

But back to the well as painting bees, Sharon runs a  company called Beefayre, selling honey, body butters, diffusers, candles and cards. Three per cent of the profits are donated to bee conservation.

 To hear more about my visit to Sharon's gorgeous garden and meadow, click here....

Friday, 28 July 2017

A visit to David Austin's private garden

I've already written about my Garden Media Guild trip to the David Austin Roses in Shropshire, and I really was delighted by the gardens there and beguiled by certain roses.
But after a delicious lunch and gossip with other guild members (we talk a lot) it was time for another treat.....a look around David Austin's private garden surrounding his home.
There's always something so inviting about a gate ajar and a glimpse through to what lies beyond


From the back of the house your eye alights first on the water and then the statue in the distance draws you deep into the garden.

Like all good gardens, you can't see everything all at once,  you must seek and then you shall find...

While we were walking around , David Austin came into the garden to meet us...

and it was a pleasure to meet him. This after all is the man who has created over 200 English roses and developed  the National Collection of roses here. A man who developed his boyhood  passion to a business with three generations of his family working as world leaders when it comes to rose breeding. What a legacy...

As you would expect there were plenty of roses in his own private garden...and Constance Craig Smith, who organised our trip, was busy photographing just a few of them.

Making my way around the garden towards the front of the house,  I slipped through here

and found this charming piece, sculpted by David's late wife Pat

and then found two peacocks strutting their stuff

 before making my way back to the water lilies

and to wander around the roses one last time.


 A magical afternoon.....