Sunday, 29 June 2014

How to make red clover tea

Red clover flowers are fully mature now and we have just a few days left before the flowers will fade completely and the farmers will come along and turn all the meadows where the clover thrives into hay. The grasses have seeded and the dry weather has resulted in crops ripening somewhat faster than normal. Believe me, a long spell of dry weather is a bit like being a little bit pregnant-an oxymoron in wet and windy Britain- but when we do have warm, dry weather, even nature can be fooled to thinking this is the Mediterranean.

Red clover makes a delightful tea or infusion, if you prefer. The pale pink flowers (they're not really red at all) can be harvested now- always gather herbs, flowers and fruit on a dry day and preferably in the morning as the dew has evaporated and before it becomes too warm. Place the flowers in a warm and airy place to dry naturally- an airing cupboard is best. Lay the flowers on parchment paper in a single layer with plenty of room between each flower. After three or four weeks, the flowers will have dried sufficiently to be bottled or stored in an airtight jar.

To make the tea/infusion you can use either fresh or dried flowers. Place three or four flowers in a mug and cover with boiling water. Leave to steep for four or five minutes. The resulting brew is fortifying and with a perfume reminiscent of cucumbers- and equally as fresh-tasting.

Photo copyright SvD.

Friday, 27 June 2014

The sweet and sour pork conundrum

After many, many years of making this, my alltime favourite pork dish, I have finally understood how to keep the pork crispy despite being slathered with the sweet and sour sauce. And here, dear readers, is the secret:

Marinate the pork, cut into bite-sized cubes, in a mixture of soy sauce and one whole egg. Obviously if you're using a whole pig, you'll need more than one egg but an egg will suffice for up to 400 grams of pork.

Cover the pork and leave to marinate for up to one hour. Heat a heavy bottomed pan with enough oil to cover the base of the pan up to one inch in depth. When ready to fry the pork, drain off any excess liquid and add at least one third of a cup of cornflour. Toss the pork in the cornflour until evenly coated.  Fry the pork in the oil- start by placing the pieces of pork in a single layer in the pan (do not overcrowd the pan), leave for at least three minutes before turning.  Continue turning the pork at intervals of three minutes until browned on all sides. Remove the pork from the pan with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen towels and keep warm in an uncovered bowl. Once all the pork has been cooked, add to the sweet and sour sauce just as you are about to eat. Do not leave the pork in the sauce unless you are sat at the table and ready to tuck in. If the pork sits around in the sauce it will lose its crunchy, crispiness.

And there is the answer to a riddle that has driven me mildly insane for around twenty five years.

Photo copyright SvD.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 84

The colour purple:
For those of you following this blog, you may recall that the seasons each have their colours as can be seen in wildflowers; early spring is yellow, the start of summer is lilac/purple and mauve. Here are a few examples:

Photos copyright SvD.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 83

Bramble flowers. In 6 to 8 weeks, these will turn to delectable, ripe blackberries....There is a secret place in the woods where serious jam makers gather every year at dawn to pluck the ripe berries. They are waiting patiently...

The summer started on 21st June but look at this horse chestnut leaf, it has already begun preparing for the Autumn. There is an inherent cycle in nature that is in spite of everything else. The process of decay has begun and this tree is preparing to shed its leaves.

And finally, a pretty symmetrical yellow flower, smiling cheerily at the world.

Photos copyright SvD.

Friday, 20 June 2014

London Souffle endorsed by Mumsnet

I'm thrilled to report that London Souffle has been endorsed and accredited by Mumsnet, one of the world's leading websites for parents by parents. Mumsnet is the UK's largest network for parents, with 4.8 million monthly unique visitors and 60 million monthly page views.
"The country's most popular meeting point for parents" The Times
You may have noticed that the mumsnet logo has pride of place on our leading page. 

Thrilled and delighted indeed!


Calling all professional artists

Hi there!

If you look me up on google it seems I'm easy to find. I've done many things in my life- corporate career, manager for various industries and then started my own business, published author, artist and sold my oil paintings over the years, radio presenter and weekly columnist at The Huffington Post since August 2013.

I've assiduously grown my twitter following the old fashioned way- and I can say that it works! I'm happy to represent artists on condition that they're professional and their work is of a high standard. You might not have along list of qualifications after your name but if you can demonstrate to me that you've sold your art in the last couple of years, I'd like to talk to you. I have access to buyers ready to invest in your art.

Even better if you're available to be interviewed on my weekly radio show at MeridianFM, a station which reaches an audience of monied buyers in one of the wealthiest parts of the South East..And there's this blog and my column in The Huff Post....what are you waiting for?

I don't charge 40%+ commission like the art galleries so you get to keep more of the proceeds of the sale of your artwork.

Selling art is changing at such a pace! I recently met with an Editor at the BBC who told me that Twitter and Social Media have more impact than TV these days because they're on the pulse faster than the traditional media.

Sure you could have an exhibition but unless that exhibition is promoted relentlessly, you may not sell anything! I've spoken to artists who complain that they lose money organising exhibitions because the sales are so poor and they never recoup their money. So why not try approaching buyers directly with your art? That's what I do. I also make sure that everyone in my little black book knows about you and on all relevant social media. Consider this: my articles on the Huffington Post are permanently displayed and to 54 million readers per month.

If you'd like to talk unofficially but just to get an idea of how I can help you, please email me: You should know that I do charge a fee plus a commission on any sold artwork.

The Kiss, oil on canvas, copyright S. van Dalen

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 82

 A roe deer. We communed for ages together, just staring. The (sick) hound lay quietly at my feet.

Photo copyright SvD.

A feather most certainly from a chick of a jay. Look closely, all atheists. Photo copyright SvD.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Things I saw in the woods today, part 81

Silver studded blue (part of the hairstreaks, coppers and blues family of butterflies- this is a blue):

A vista of hidden places deep within the morning clouds:

 The sky seen through a canopy of leaves:

Photos copyright SvD.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

How to make herb liqueur

I have a long history of making alcohol-based liqueurs and infusions made with fruit or herbs. A fond memory is my beloved papa, a chemical engineer, teaching me how to saturate alcohol with sugar in order to make liqueur. I am the sort who requires a digestif after supper- this seems perfectly normal. And why buy the expensive brands when they are just as easy to make? We are in the final days of Spring; the herbs are ripe and ready to be picked- remember timing is everything. Pick mature herbs on a dry day and always after the morning dew has evaporated. The jar or bottle you use for the maceration is just as important- metal imparts an acidic taste. Ceramic might chip, (fired) pottery or wood is best. You can use brandy but pure alcohol at 60 or 70% and which is sold as alcohol for fruits in French supermarkets will produce a more authentic liqueur.

I believe that natures provides. This recipe is for a herb liqueur that I devised by pure chance- all the herbs were literally flourishing in my garden. And so I made use of them! I omit the sugar as I prefer the strong taste of the herbs only- but if you wish for a sweeter, smoother liqueur, do add the sugar as follows: once the herbs have macerated for several weeks in the alcohol, strain, discard the herbs and add granulated sugar (one cup sugar to one liter of liquid). Re-bottle and cork. Leave to mature in a dark, cool place for up to six more weeks before drinking.

Dandelions- leaves and flowers
Yarrow- leaves and flowers
Chicory- leaves and flowers
Borage- leaves and flowers
Nettle- leaves
Wild strawberry- leaves, flowers
Sage - leaves
Rosemary - leaves
Thyme - leaves
Lemon balm - leaves
Rocket - leaves
Oregano - leaves and flowers
Marjoram - leaves
Apple mint - leaves
The resulting liqueur helps digestion and detoxifies the liver. This is why digestifs were consumed traditionally after rich meals.

Gather the leaves and flowers. Do not wash  the herbs but rather pick off any spiders or bugs. These can be returned to the garden rather than obliterated as is the wont of urban cooks. Place the herbs and flowers in a ceramic crock, preferably. Cover with alcohol at least 4 centimeters above the herbs. Cover the crock with a tight fitting lid. Leave in a cool, dark place for at least six weeks. Strain the contents of the crock, discard the herbs. Bottle the liqueur and store for six weeks more before consuming. One small glass per night before bedtime works wonders!
 Photo and painting (oil on canvas) copyright SvD.