Golden days on windswept beaches

No words this week, just Cornwall honeymooning lovely-ness.

Actually I will add some words, as follows:

Eating and Cooking: An array of small plates at Prawn on the Lawn in Padstow including deep-fried oysters with garlic creme fraiche, and a lovely glass of Prosecco (am not normally keen). Plus over the course of the week also worked our way through two crabs, a steak and oyster pie (home-made), Buttermilk fudge, mussels at The Beach Hut at Watergate Bay, crab sandwiches and a pasty at the National Trust Cafe at Bedruthan, and a return visit for a cream tea, plus chips, more pasties, really good bread and a memorable viennese finger from the bakery in Polperro.

Reading: The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, a favourite holiday read, plus Inviting Silence by Grunella Norris. Ordered a load of cookbooks to reinvigorate my home cooking, including PoTL Fish and Shellfish to Share, River Cottage Family Cookbook and Jamie Oliver’s Superfood Family Classics. Also ordered Real Gardens by Adam Frost, for some outdoorsing inspiration.

Heligan in March

In the space of a week we’ve gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. Last weekend saw the temperature inside our house dip to 8c (I know this because I am obsessed with keeping thermometers in pretty much every room). The Beast from the East and Storm Emma conspired to dump a foot of snow outside the front door, and I took to putting the baby to bed with a woolly cardigan and two blankets. A week later, I’m in sunglasses basking in Cornish warmth.

Birmingham on Saturday 5 March…

…and Watergate Bay, Cornwall, on Saturday 10 March

It’s not hot here by any stretch, and the wind is strong, but it at least feels like spring is finally getting a look-in. The road verges are dotted with primroses and daffodils, and the sun – when not hidden by rain clouds – has some strength behind it now. (I fear that the return home will take us back to the Mordor of concrete skies and frozen toes.) As ever, despite best intentions, our holiday has been marred by the calls of work (will we ever just get a proper worry-free week off ever again?!) but when the emails finally stop, it’s wonderful to take in that sea view.

Harry’s ready for his first trip to the beach

A trip to Cornwall demands a garden visit, despite being so early in the season. The last time we went to the Lost Gardens of Heligan it was in June and the kitchen gardens were full of abundance. This time was an opportunity to see the bare-bones of the place: with just the tiniest green shoots in evidence, I could appreciate the importance of having a great hard structure and landscaping within which to plant. Of course they’re weeks ahead of us down here – cropping daffodils when ours are still frozen over – and so good timing for some allotmenting inspiration.

The walled garden in Heligan is already cropping daffodils. Notice the weed-free forked-over expanse of ground!

The cutting garden shows the benefit of strong landscaping: box hedges ready for roses, and rows of annuals and perennials are offset by the neat edging

Green shoots coming through in the cutting garden

I love the architecture of the espalier apple

I don’t use our greenhouse during the winter as it’s such a faff to get down to the allotment, especially with a baby in tow. One day I’ll have one at the back of my house and when I do, it will be white-washed, inspired by Victorian design, and full of peashoots and seedlings. Perhaps.

Pea shoots kept cosy in the lean-to greenhouse

Cold frames full of winter salad leaves

Over-wintering pelargonium and geranium provide a colourful taste of the Med

First blossoms in the peach house

Down in the Jungle, the ferns and exotic plants gave a false sense of being in the tropics. It may have still been scarf-and-hat weather but for a few hours, we had the promise of warmer days ahead.

The Jungle looking like a tropical lagoon in the early spring sun…

…but bobble hats (or bear outfit) were the order of the day

Cooking: Porthilly mussels with cava, smoked bacon and watercress; Mutton biriani
Eating: Fudge, pasties, fish and chips, crab linguine, beer, cream tea. Obviously. Marking Harry’s 6 month birthday at The Beach Hut at Watergate Bay.
Also: Dropping the late night feed and moving Harry onto solid food. He’s loving mango, strawberries and plums, but not so keen on squash or peas. Thanks to Faith Toogood for a brilliant session on weaning:





Newlyn Mussels

In what has become a holiday tradition, we took the hour-long drive down to Newlyn to buy shellfish from the harbour wall. The Newlyn fishmongers are the real deal; there is no fuss, just glistening fresh north Atlantic fish presented on slabs of ice. Turbot, sole, whiting, mackerel, monkfish, scallops, mussels, crabs (spider and brown), little tiny prawns, lobster, dab… I would have happily taken home the lot. Even better, the prices are cheaper than in Brum, which I suppose is what you’d expect given that the fishing boats land 100m away.

We bought a kilo of mussels, filthy with seaweed. They needed a good soak and a lengthy pick with a small knife to loosen off the beards and general detritus. But cleaned up, these were the king of mussels, fat and full.

I steamed them open in white wine, garlic and shallots, then finished the sauce with a handful of parsley and a dollop of clotted cream. We mopped up the sauce with crusty sourdough, bought from a tiny deli near Newlyn Art Gallery. To finish, new season cherries and strawberries.

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Newlyn mussels

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New season strawberries and cherries

Newlyn Mussels


Olive oil

1 kilo mussels, thoroughly cleaned

1 shallot, sliced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

Dry white wine, about a wine-glass full

Clotted cream, about a tablespoon

Flat-leaf parsley, a good handful

In a wide-lidded frying pan or saucepan, melt a knob of butter with the olive oil on a medium heat. When frothing, add the shallot and soften for a minute or two. Add the garlic and cook until the scent rises – about 20 seconds. Toss in the mussels with the white wine, give the pan a shake, then cover and leave to cook. The mussels will open in the steam, it usually takes about 3 or 4 minutes. When nearly done, dollop in the cream and the parsley and shake to combine. Cook for a minute more, then serve. Good crusty bread is essential to mop up the juices.

Food bingo

As I write, the waves are rolling onto an inlet beach, the sun reflecting onto thousands of flecks of silver. Every two minutes the view changes as the tide ventures in, clouds change form, the light angles in new ways. I’m still working – that bit always seems a constant – but doing it with a new view. It makes a difference.

Cornwall means three things to me: wild landscape, art and food. Food bingo to be precise.

But first, the art. We visited the Barbara Hepworth Museum yesterday in St Ives, her studio and garden left pretty much as it was when she died in the 1970s. This woman raised four children (including triplets) whilst creating a new language in sculpture. The official Tate biography doesn’t give any insight into how on earth that was managed. How did she have the space, the mental space, to work? A mystery. Official keepers of art, in my experience, love talking about language and form but rarely give an insight into the personal, the everyday life lived. For years this side of things was written off as ‘domestic’ and ‘female’. But how can you truly understand someone’s work without getting under the skin of their daily domestic experience?


Hepworth carvings, work in progress, never finished


The studio


The garden


Despite not being an artist I’ve always longed for a studio. A place to read and think and create. And where better to have one than in southern Cornwall, enclosed by this wild and Pagan landscape and the feeling of being somewhere slightly ‘other’.

Plus there is no chance of ever going hungry here. And so we move to food bingo. Currently there are ten things to tick off:

1. Pasty

2. Cream tea

3. Ice cream

4. Fudge

5. Beer

6. Steak

7. Crab / seafood

8. Fish and chips

9. Pork wrapped in pastry (that’s Matt’s not mine)

10. Fizz

Thus far we’ve crossed off pasty, chips, cream tea, beer. Though I cheated on my pasty and had a – gasp – vegetarian one. Made with ricotta. Outrageous (I couldn’t fault it though).

Cornwall Food Bingo is a long upward struggle. I am at a disadvantage, my capacity for eating at a seriously lower level than Matt’s. But I’ll give it a go. Four down, six to go.