Monday, July 09, 2007

I promise soon to be good but....

Back in the city today and New York summer is in full, sultry effect. God it's hot - didn't realize how lucky we were upstate with the shady trees and cool breezes. Here the concrete and tarmac hold onto the heat and everywhere you got there are air conditioners blasting hot air in your face. You can barely catch your breath.

I didn't realize how bad it was until I left work. I got that my-feet-are-about-to-explode feeling as soon as I stepped out of the office. And no respite in Brooklyn either - I thought it would be cooler than Manahattan but I almost feel like it's worse - with no skyscrapers there's even less shade.

So my guilty admission is that we have the AC on. Not on high, but on. Not quite sure how we'd manage without, not now we've got Dot. She had a sweaty top lip in the car this morning as it was. Wonder if having no AC upstate and doing the lights out thing cancels out the carbon emissions from the journey there and back?

Anyway, at least we had lots of lovely fresh fruit and veg to remind us of the weekend. For those of you interested in my farmer's market exploits, find of the weekend was a punnet of tiny, juicy tart little gooseberries, closely followed by some gorgeous redcurrants. But then Alice's special mix of eight basils (including my favourite thai basil) was pretty amazing, as were her English peas and the first sweet little yellow tomatoes. Oh, and as I was checking out of River Brook Farm on Sunday, Neil came into the barn with a surprise for Alice - a colander full of little red potatoes, fresh out of the ground - the first of the year. I bought a big bagful and we had them with a smudge of mayonnaise on Sunday, the freshest potatoes I've ever eaten. Yum.

Right, time to go because I'm starting to sound like a wannabe Nigel Slater but before I do, one more thing. I spoke at a panel a couple of weeks back. If you want to see some hideous pictures of me (and get a flavour for what i do as my day job), go to

and click on 'watch video'. That harsh lighting is not kind...

Cardboard box fun

The good ship Dot

And that naughty shady crab

Eating sand is quite eco-friendly though...

Friday, July 06, 2007

We are sailing...

So of course I've completely changed my mind about the garden. It was inevitable - I do this about everything, all the time.

Maybe it was the seed of doubt sowed by the brother, or the erstwhile charming weeds starting to look a bit tatty, or the strange triffid-like things that have begun to overtake the entire house and garden, threatening to swallow a family member whole (and which I discovered this evening could be pulled out of the ground with barely a flick of the wrist) or maybe it was the neighbour's perfectly ramshackle country garden overflowing with rustic roses, columbine and these lovely golden foxglove-like things....who knows? But anyway, as the Nigel Slater chicken wings with black pepper crisped up in the oven, I was to be found out the front plucking armfuls of triffids from the ground while dreaming of being able to afford an organic landscape architect (Jamie's suggestion - well let's see, once the porch is done, you never know, J.)

I could also just be a bit obsessed with the garden because me and Dot have spent much of our week together contriving ways to entertain ourselves outside (and as I type I'm in a deckchair on the lawn, feet to the fire, lanterns behind me, creek roaring in the background, fireflies out in force. Clearly she's in bed. Oops, a firefly just landed on me). Our three faves so far:1) careening around the garden on a plastic sledge (me pulling, her careening); 2) captaining the good ship Dot (an old rubber dinghy) into safe harbour using only salad servers as oars, then clambering out onto dry land to test out one's sea legs (the prognosis: wobbly. Well, we are still only just 10 months); and 3) setting up home in Camp Dot, a Manhattan Storage Large cardboard box last used to move one's parents to the country, but much more useful now it has a door and sides the perfect height for pulling oneself up to stand.

The verdict? By far the best week we've had in ages (well, let's be honest, that I've had), and as a reward for mummy we're almost saying 'quack quack quack', might be saying 'dog' and have definitely said 'wow' once.

However I do need to confess that we went to Wal Mart on the 4th - a waste of a holiday perhaps but the rain was torrential. We almost managed to avoid buying any new plastic toys, knowing none would be as fun as the cardboard box, but then we spotted the Shady Crab, a rubber raft with holes for little legs to go through and a sunshade to keep the sun off...

Readers, I know how awful of me this was - it might be PVC, it could have been made in China - but if you could have seen the grin as we launched it and kicked about in the river today...

Oh dear, it's a short and very slippery slope from here to $200 Nike trainers and BMW sports car.

I promise she won't get me that easily next time.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


So, I'm very excited. I've taken the week off and we're up at the house. I've got nothing to do but hang out with the hubby and Dot - bliss. Well, that and search for an eco-friendly fridge to buy, but more of that tomorrow (unless anyone can quickly tell me which one to get - I never was the consumer reports type and energy star searches are practically impossible - i need to get to bed this side of Xmas).

It's hard to know where to start when you haven't posted much in a while (it's also hard to make the time when you've got out of the habit). There are the evenings spent round the barbeque in the back garden (not sure if this is eco-friendly but figure it must be more so than using propane to fire the oven), lit only by candlelight (we've taken to using no electric lights at night, just lanterns lit by candles. Keeps the insects out, saves electricity, is terribly romantic and doesn't wake Dot up when we go to bed. Reminds me of when we used to stay at a beach bungalow with my grandparents when we were kids. There was no electricity so we used gas lamps instead). Then there's my ludicrous over-excitement about the farmers markets and seasonal food going on at the moment (I spend half the journey up here trying to guess what will have come into season this week, buying huge bags of herbs and greens and using them liberally, shelling fresh peas with gay abandon (so much meatier than frozen, I find). Alice's shelves at River Brook farm are finally heaped with produce. This week I found a bowl of tiny black raspberries - then spotted loads more in our own back garden...)

But I have for ages been meaning to write about the garden. So, I will. Our garden is approx 3/4 acre and the rough layout is house, stretch of lawn, barn, little bit of woods with a path through and beyond that a clearing surrounded by trees. On one side is a beautiful old drystone wall and the other a crappy hodgepodge of bits of fence bequeathed us by the previous owner. The wall is home to gophers and chipmunks. Our overgrown beds of wildflowers (read: weeds) attract butterflies, birds and bees. We have evidence that deer pass this way and we've had three snake sightings this summer (sorry, Pen). There are quite a lot of trees so from about 1pm onwards the lawn is in shade - perfect for hanging out with a little Dot on a blanket.

What to do with this garden has been a bit of an ongoing debate. I know nothing about gardening and having rather a lot on my plate already have not found the time to learn. I did spend a couple of weekends last summer frenziedly wrenching weeds and roots from a couple of beds but by the time I got ready to think about plants, the buggers were completly ovegrown with weeds again - it is rather vigorous here - so I gave up.

Then I stumbled on the idea of a wilderness garden ( - sorry, on the hubby's mac again). The idea is that you basically leave your garden wild so it can play host to all sorts of native flora and fauna as - get this - an eco-statement. No pesticides, no artificial fertilizer, no water-guzzling lawn and, the most appealing bit if you ask me, no work beyond mowing a little patch of grass to sit on.

Since this was the first green thing I'd stumbled on in a while which was actually less work than the non-eco alternative I embraced it with both arms and we've been cultivating the meadow look with reasonable success ever since. Admittedly it does look very...rustic and I'd like a bit more colour around the place - some roses, maybe a hydrangea - and I'd LOVE a vegetable patch, but whatever.

My brother and his lovely wife have just been for the weekend and little bro, who's become something of a garden expert in recent years and has a lovely neat one of his own back home in Bromley, wasn't overly impressed with the wilderness garden. He kept making kindly suggestions for things we could do to easily improve it. These ranged from 'you could replant that bed and it'd keep the weeds down naturally' through 'you could easily make a vegetable patch back there you know' and 'could you move the barn?' to 'if you cut the trees behind the barn down you could have a lovely huge lawn area and actually enjoy your garden. There are so many trees round here I hardly think it'd make a difference'. This in between leaping around in the woods extracting dead wood to tend the bonfire with - very eco-friendly and strangely satisfying - and scything weeds with a scythe from a local yard sale.

But the thing is, I don't want a lawn stretching back to there, needing watering and mowing and all that - yes because I'm lazy and oversubscribed but also because it really wouldn't make sense to do either when I'm turning the tap off while brushing my teeth and paying someone else to plant trees in my name whenever I fly. And anyway, the little magical-path-through-the-woods-to-a-tiny-clearing effect is part of what sold the house to me in the first place. Plus he hasn't tried weeding these beds. I have.

Actually, now I come to think about it, my brother is the one person I know who actually does have enough energy to tame a garden like this (80 mile bike rides at dawn, anybody?). Perhaps I could persuade him to give up his career as a high-flying dentist and become my PA gardener!

There'd have to be ground rules of course. No tree-cutting, just tree-hugging.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy July 4th

(This is a bit of a crap post as can't seem to make the hubby's mac play nicely with Blogger, so apologies for that.)

So, of course I didn't find time to do my bag-free-fourth thing. Luckily Sally at Carry-a-bag is on the case and has created a lovely bag for the occasion. Check it out on her blog at

Also, have you signed Al Gore's petition yet? I'm not entirely convinced that these things really work but since that nice Mr. Gore keeps emailing me I figure it'd be rude not to sign his thing for him, so why don't you all do the same?

We're planning a Live Earth party for Saturday. Are you?

And finally, thanks much to everyone who took the time to recommend shampoo. Best so far is Sarah from downstairs's - I think it's called EO. Also recommended: Aveda and Nature's Gate but I must let you all know that those two do contain parabens and those are part of what I'm trying to avoid (see previous post: So cheers, and happy (annoyingly rainy) 4th. xxx