Category Archives: Summer

Elderflowers & Bicycles

Homemade Elderflower Cordial

Homemade Elderflower Cordial


I think it is fair to say that I am not good at taking compliments.  I don’t think I am very different from most women, but I do seem to have a particular knack of brushing them off, belittling or ignoring them.  When your confidence has taken a bash or two, it is hard to remember that the things you are good at, never really leave you.  You are still the person that did the things that you used to, you just haven’t done them for a while.  But blogging is not a bicycle.  You can’t just jump on again. Can you?

Three years have gone by since I made my last confession. A lot has happened. To start with, we no longer live in Seattle, but in London. We have moved continents, countries, homes and schools at least once over the last several months and the toll of starting afresh has weighed us down.  We said goodbye to people and places we loved.  I kissed farewell to my teaching kitchen and business, and we moved back ‘home’ to a place that felt very different to the one we left almost a decade ago. Finding our feet in a furiously busy city made us realise how accustomed to sedate Seattle life we had become. Living on top of each other in a teensy rental with one bathroom for 18 months would be a test of the best of marriages. Ours only just scraped by, thanks to a husband with a sense of humour that is particularly tickled by all things toilet.


Freshly Picked Elderflowers and Sorrento Lemons

Freshly Picked Elderflowers and Sorrento Lemons


We built a house in Kensal Rise, that took two years to nearly complete (we still have a list of ‘to do’ items).  And I got sick. My family had to muddle through while I tried to get better, and then I got sick again.  It has been a long road, but I am finally able to say that I will be well again.  I know it in my bones, even though my head does not always feel it.  Meningitis is jealous guest, refusing to share its host with others, and never entirely leaving.  The ‘hangover’ as I have taken to refer to it, waxes and wanes to its own rythm.  An unrelenting fog that occasionally lifts enough to give me a glimpse of what is around the corner, but more often than not, it settles in for weeks at a time. The anxious vulnerability that comes with an illness that leaves you distrusting your fickle memory and vacillating strength can become crippling. It becomes impossible to make plans, when you don’t trust that the good days will stay. Anyone familiar with a migraine will wince at the memory of what I am hinting at.

I don’t like to talk about it though, because I feel that to do so, gives it oxygen.  It has taken up enough of my families’ time over the last year and a half, and any additional discussion simply gives it further attention, that is wholly undeserved. My undivided efforts are to be better. To stay better. And to finally get back to what I do best.  To what I love. To cook.

The journey has been a winding one, with much to learn along the way.  Foods that harm and foods that heal are a constant topic of thought and discussion.  Getting back to basics, to old ways, and simpler things has always been what Heirlooms & Wooden Spoons was about.  Sharing learning, skills and my kitchen have always brought me joy. I may be a little bruised, but I know more today than I ever did, and I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will teach me. With the unrelenting support of my husband and little family, I intend to gently build back up my fledgeling enterprise. Starting here.

The fragile and fleeting Elderflower seemed an appropriate topic for my first post in a while. In the most surprising corners of this throbbing city, tiny delicate white flowers can be found bursting into the sunshine.  Each head lasts little more than a day and must be picked and cooked when it has just flowered. The heady aroma as it steeps in syrup fills my kitchen with the scent of a promise of things to come.

Perhaps, one day, a Teaching Kitchen in London? Hmmm …  Cooking Classes in Kensal Rise anyone?

Elderflower Cordial

2 litres water

2.5 kg organic sugar

250g elderflowers; rinsed, shaken out, stalks removed (approx 25 heads)

3 lemons; remove zest with peeler in strips. Remove pith and use only flesh and zest

85g citric acid


Summer in a Bottle

Summer in a Bottle


Bring sugar and water to the boil, stirring occasionally to stop it from catching. once boiling, turn it off and throw in elderflowers, lemon and acid. Cover and leave to cool for 48 hours, then bottle. Quintessential England, in a bottle.

It can be kept it in the fridge for about five weeks, you can freeze it or jar it and use a water bath ‘canning’ method to store it at ambient temperature for longer.

Use in cakes, over icecreams, in cocktails or simply serve with sparkling water on a hot day.


Filed under Everything!, Spring Recipes, Summer, Sweet

Smug Gardening and Dirty Olives

The Pea Thief

The Pea Thief


At this time of year I like to take my time in my kitchen. Actually … scratch that. I like to spend as little time as possible inside my kitchen, and as much time as possible outside in my garden and at the grill on our deck. Thanks to my long-suffering husband, a ridiculously large gas grill, and a table or two; I am now the proud owner of a pretty much fully functioning makeshift kitchen in my back yard. I am about to complete it with an equally makeshift sink connected to my garden hose in order to wash veggies and muddy little hands without ever having to step inside. Cooking and composing a meal from ingredients grown feet away from my back door adds a layer of contended accomplishment to every mouthful.

dot and joshua in pea patchThe joy I glean from watching my two little people cram secret baby salad leaves or wild strawberries into their mouths (especially when they think I am not watching) is immeasurable. J eats Sorrel plucked from his own patch; paired with cream cheese and crispy prosciutto slammed together between slices of Sourdough for lunch (his own invention). If he wasn’t my own child the nauseatingly pretentious precociousness of it all would be unbearable. But he is mine.

And instead, I am smug.


D breaks all the pea vines trying to reach the fattest ones hiding at the back, that the rest of us have missed. It turns out that only skimming three feet in height has its’ advantages. I don’t care that she was too full to even contemplate a proper supper. Her clandestine foraging fills me with pride.

And so I have come to the comfortable conclusion that I am two things:

1. Ridiculously spoiled. 2. Becoming middle aged.

I know that to have a kitchen in your garden or back yard is an incrsecret strawberriesedible luxury. To have produce grow in that garden, that
can then be prepared on the spot, is even more so. It is also a lot of hard work, and one that until a couple of years ago I did not have the inclination (that I can only conclude comes with age) to even attempt to grow food to actually eat myself. I have absolutely no idea what I am doing, which to the trained eye I am sure can easily be spotted. However, perhaps my naivete is a blessing; and I am easily pleased with the results.

peasAny success I put down to happy accident, and the peas in particular seem to taste all the sweeter as I genuinely didn’t believe I would actually be able to grow any! I can highly recommend growing even just herbs with your kids. I defy you to find a fruit or vegetable that they won’t eat if you get them to grow it, prepare it and cook it with you. It is empowering. Confidence building. An adventure in your very own backyard (or even window box). Who knows, perhaps J’s sandwich, or your own 7 year olds’ crazy combo will become the next big thing?

Let’s hope so … someone is going to have to support my new found (officially middle aged) obsession with Seattle Tilth!

Dirty Olives

In case you don’t have the shared inclination or space for a veggie patch, I thought I would share this summer standby that is a bit of a permanent fixture in our family. Anyone that has had dinner more than once in my kitchen will undoubtedly have been subjected to these at one time or another. If you have managed to grow some herbs this is a great way to showcase them, and one that the kids can easily help with making – a great way to bash out the days’ frustrations if you have a decent pestle and mortar too!


dirty olives in copper pot

A good thing to fend off the hoards while you work out what to cook them for dinner!


Buy the best, greenest olives you can afford. Castelvetrano are great. I have used a mixture of Castelvetrano and some cured farmers’ market olives here, for added variety.

 You will need:

2 cups of olives

1 lemon; use a peeler to make a few strips of the peel (about half), zest the other half and then juice it, setting aside 1 TBSP for this recipe

1 clove garlic

2 bay leaves

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

½ tsp pepper corns

½ tsp sea salt

2 TBSPs olive oil

a handful of fresh coriander (or cilantro) and/or fresh flat leaf or Italian Parsley to finish

 How To:

Pound the garlic, seeds, pepper and salt and lemon zest until you create a paste in a pestle and mortar. Slowly add the lemon juice, continuing to smash and stir until as you go, and then whisk in the olive oil with a fork.

Massage the marinade into the olives with your hands, gently bruising the flesh to allow the aromatics to penetrate, then add the slivers of peel and bay leaves. Place in a Ziploc bag or jar in the fridge overnight and then allow to come to room temperature before serving. Throw in some finely sliced fresh herbs such as parsley or cilantro, and serve with hot bread and a cold white … or better still … icy beer.



The best lemon squeezer you own … bare hands! You can catch the pips, get into the trickiest of corners and don’t have to wash up the reamer.           C’mon . . . get your hands on your food.










Filed under Everything!, Fun to do with little people..., Recipes, Summer