Travel to Chiang Mai

This is my fourth visit to Thailand and my third to the northern city of Chiang Mai.  Each time I’ve taken a different airline.  This was my first time with Oman Air.  The flight out of Heathrow was delayed by about 45 minutes due to the crew not turning up.  Apparently they were stuck in a traffic jam outside their hotel.  It seems that whilst they insist that we mere passengers turn up with three hours to go, the flight crew cut it rather finer.

The change of planes at Muscat was therefore a hurried affair and I was concerned that whilst I had made it with a few minutes to spare, my luggage may not have done.  After a second flight of four and a bit hours we arrived at the beautiful Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok and by the time I had cleared visa control there was my bag going round on the carousel.  Feeling a little jaded by then I lugged it up to the fourth floor and checked it in again for my connecting flight to Chiang Mai.  Bangkok Air have the wonderfully enlightened practice of opening their lounge to economy passengers, providing free snacks and WiFi.  I passed the two hour wait there.  The flight was uneventful and I love the way that at Chiang Mai airport the pilot just taxis up to the building and parks the aircraft.  Passengers disembark, and just walk into the building.  No fuss with buses or sky-bridges here.

It was gone 11pm local time by the time I arrived so rather then try to find a tuk-tuk I just grabbed a taxi.  You can arrange it all whilst waiting for your luggage and then just go outside and find your driver.  About 15 minutes later I was walking up the narrow lane to the Chiang Mai White House, where the night watchman was expecting me.  Whilst he was copying details out of my passport I grabbed water and beer from the fridge and wrote it in the honesty book.  Total time from leaving home to arriving in my room here: 26 hours.  I was ready for bed!

I’d like to give a shout out to Steve, one of my longest standing massage clients.  He gave me this hang-up wash bag for Christmas and it works perfectly.  Being away for three weeks one needs full size containers of things like shower and shave gels and toothpaste.  This was just the right size for everything I needed on that front.  Bathrooms in guest houses very often don’t have much by way of shelving, although the one here does have a small shelf.  But this wash-bag hangs perfectly on the towel rail.  As the showers here are generally wet rooms everything in the bathroom can get wet if one isn’t careful.  However, the towel rail is usually in the place that’s likely to stay driest.  Another related feature of Thai bathrooms is that one usually keeps the toilet paper out of the bathroom to avoid soaking the whole roll.  In any cases Thai toilets come with a ‘bum shower’ so that you can wash rather then wipe after using the toilet.  The toilet paper is used to dry oneself.

So my first full day has been spent getting over the jet lag and getting used to the heat.  I walked to the massage clinic  where I’ll be studying from Monday, had a siesta, went to the nearby temple for a massage, walked around the little local market getting a few bits and pieces and called in at another temple on the way home.  Chiang Mai is full of temples.

Posted in Thai Massage, Thailand | 1 Comment

Leek and Potato Soup


Happy New Year everyone.  We’ve had several meals this week using up leftovers from the festive season, often combining them with provender from the allotment.  Last night I diced the remainder of a gammon joint and put it into a black bean stew made with the Cherokee Veil of Tears beans.  Today lunch was home made bread with Leek and Potato soup using chicken stock from the weekend’s roast.  Both the leeks and potatoes came from the allotment.  The leeks are the first I’ve pulled from a row which are looking quite handsome at the moment.  The potatoes are Charlotte, so ideal as salad potatoes.  However they are getting a bit green and starting to sprout in the bag now so we have been peeling them well and using them up.  They’re delicious.

Meanwhile the seed catalogue is already laying about on the sofa and I’m starting to make a list of what we would like for the coming season.  I’ll get the seed box out at the end of the week and see what I have already.  I’ve saved a few sweet potatoes to grow slips from.  It’s tempting to chit the Charlottes from the bag, but one is supposed to start with disease-free seed potatoes each year so I think I’ll be a good boy and do that.

Anyway, here’s the recipe for the soup:

160g leeks (just the pale parts)
160g potato
100g onion
25g butter
1 level tsp dried mixed herbs
1/4 tsp powdered fenugreek
1/4 tsp salt
450ml approx, chicken stock
a little milk
100ml single cream

All of those were weighed after preparation and this made three large or four smaller portions of thick soup.  Fry the onion gently in butter until it starts to go transparent, then add in the leeks and continue to fry until they are also transparent.  If you have a good layer of fat on the stock you could use that to fry in.  Add in the potato and herbs and fenugreek and fry a little longer.  This will take about 10 mins in total.

Add enough chicken stock to cover.  If your stock is very salty you might not need to add salt, or be cautious and adjust at the end.  Bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer until the potato is very soft.  About half an hour.  Allow to cool a little before liquidising.  If the result is too stiff to churn over in the liquidiser add a little milk.  Return the soup to the pan, add the cream and heat whilst stirring to keep it from sticking to the pan.  Adjust salt at this stage if necessary.

You could garnish with chives. I didn’t have any, but the flat leaf parsley is still holding on, sheltering under a seat on the patio so I used a few leaves of that.


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Butternut Thai Red Curry

No posts for a while.  Several were intended but nothing quite made it to the Publish button.  Tonight I’m supposed to be out dancing at an Argentine Tango masked ball with live music, but I’ve had a cold this past week.  Partly I don’t have the energy for a late night and also it seems horribly unfair to dance cheek to cheek with someone and possibly give them a virus for their trouble.  (Although that’s probably how I got it, dancing at the Rivoli Ballroom last Saturday.)  Anyway the upshot of all that is that you get a post on what we had for dinner last night.  Riveting right?

My lovely allotment neighbour gave me a spare butternut squash seedling last spring.  I already had most of my squash and pumpkin planted out so I tucked it in next to the yacon I’d just planted.  It fruited late, as I understand is normal with butternut, and produced four stumpy fruit.  I have a recipe for a Thai red curry using butternut and tofu.  I’ve done it using Crown Prince pumpkin and tofu, but we found the tofu a bit of a let-down.  I have lots of white Spanga Bianco (Bianca?) beans this year so I decided to substitute those.


Quantities for two servings:

100g dried white beans (you could substitute a can of butter beans)
1 tbs oil
1 level tbs Thai red curry paste – or more to taste, all depends on the type you use
450g butternut or other orange squash, this came out at 350g once the skin and seeds were removed.  Cut into cubes.
50g solid creamed coconut
half a veg stock cube in 0.5pt/300ml water
6 kafir lime leaves (I used frozen)
handful of frozen peas

I soaked the beans overnight in water, threw that water away, rinsed them and boiled them in some fresh water until soft whilst I was making lunch earlier in the day.  Keep the water the beans are boiled in as it will act as a thickening agent and can be used to make the vegetable stock for the recipe.  I prepared double the amount of beans I wanted so that I have some in the fridge ready to go for something else in the week.

You can use a tin of coconut milk but a normal size tin will be too much and you would have to reduce the amount of water used to make the stock a little.  The thing I like about the creamed coconut in a box is that it keeps forever in the fridge and you can just cut off as much as you want and include it in your recipe.  Frozen Kafir lime leaves can be found at an Asian supermarket or spice shop.  You get quite a lot so divide the pack into useful quantities and re-freeze in individual sandwich bags.

This is all pretty simple.  Put the oil and the curry paste in a frying pan with a lid or a wok.  Mash it all together as it heats for a minute and then throw in the squash, turn the heat to moderate and stir fry for a few minutes.  Add the stock, creamed coconut and lime leaves and bring to the boil.  The block of coconut will melt and blend in with a little stirring. Cover and simmer for ten to 15 minutes until the squash is just cooked through but not falling apart.  Meanwhile cook some rice.  If the squash is done before the rice just remove from the heat.

Add the cooked beans and the frozen peas, bring the whole thing back to the boil and simmer for about two minutes.  Fish out most of the lime leaves before serving as, like bay leaves, they’re not for eating.  If you like a sharper taste you could add the juice of half a lime, and a chopped red bell pepper would add some more colour interest.  Or even a chilli pepper if your curry paste isn’t that strong.  If it needs more salt use soy sauce to taste, or Thai fish sauce (nam pla) if you don’t want to keep it vegetarian. You could garnish with fresh coriander if liked.


We liked this version a lot better than the tofu one.  It’s super-fast in preparation, even when you are feeling miserable with a cold and it was great for clearing the sinuses!  We have plenty of the white beans and plenty of orange squash so it’s going to be repeated several times this winter.

If you have any other recipe suggestions for those things please do let me have them.

Posted in Allotment, Food and Cooking | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

On Pots and Beans


Here’s a quick update on the ‘Fire Station’ pots finished with the gold lustre on the neck, which are currently on display at ArtSpring Gallery in Tonbridge.

They’ve raised quite a bit of interest and, encouragingly, a sale too.  They are a real departure for me in terms of colour and finish but now that I’ve had a play in that direction I’m tempted to try to re-create the colours that appear on some of the leaves in the garden as they turn red and yellow.

As anyone who grows veg will know – now is the time to be planning the planting of garlic.  It should apparently be in the ground by the shortest day of the year.  I’m not sure whether I’ll grow any this year but there is a good crop almost ready in the pottery.  I’m planning to fire these in preparation for the re-hang of the gallery at the start of next week.  If you’re available why not come along to the gallery on Thursday evening to see the new show?  The gallery is open late on the first Thursday of the month, until 8pm.  This is an initiative led by the gallery (Times of Tonbridge article here) and a number of other nearby retailers are joining in.

dozengarlicsThe Garlic storage jars are the only things I currently make in earthenware, so that they remain breathable.  They’ve been very popular over the years I’ve made them.

Meanwhile on the real veg growing front we have been harvesting the last of the drying beans.  The white Spangna Bianca beans have done particularly well.  I hope to get to the allotment next week and take the bean canes down.  No doubt I’ll find a few pods which haven’t dried yet, but I’ll pick them anyway and use the beans fresh.  I feel another post coming on with a recipe for a warming bean casserole, stew or soup.  I have a few but new recommendations are always welcome.

Posted in Allotment, Pottery and Art | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cherokee Trail of Tears

Last Autumn local artist in handmade paper Julie Taylor gave me about a dozen beans of “Cherokee Trail of Tears.”  The name refers to the forced relocation of the Cherokee nation from their native lands in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Alabama to the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) between 1836 and 1839. Naturally enough the incoming settlers wanted their valuable farming land, and also the gold thought to be present there.

The story goes that these beans were carried in pockets during the forced march, and planted in their new home.  Whether or not this is a romanticised tale the continued growing of this heirloom variety is a reminder of the shallow commercial values that actually drive politics, and how that rides rough-shod over ordinary people.  This alone would be reason enough to grow it.  However this climbing bean turns out to be a vigorous grower and prolific cropper.

The beans can be eaten green although they are a inclined to have a bit of a string which modern varieties have lost.  If left to mature on the plant the pods turn the most attractive maroon colour and once they start to dry they have beautiful black beans.


I had also planted “Cobra” which provided more than enough green beans for us to eat and freeze so after a few pickings I left the rest of the Trail of Tears to mature for drying.  I’ve picked the first bagful and shelled them.  I’ll let them dry on newspaper for a few weeks before putting them in a jar ready for a black bean stew.  This bowlful came from only a few handfuls of the pods so I’m sure I’ll have a large jarful for the winter.  I also have a white drying bean “Spanga Bianco” and Borlotto “Lingue di Fuoco” to harvest so we should be looking forward to a regular bean feast.

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Firestation Pots

Finally some new work from the pottery.  Back in the Spring Tonbridge Old Fire Station was being renovated and the doors were sanded back.  I was on my way to the allotment when the resulting patterns and texture caught my eye.  I’ve been working on how to get that effect on a pot ever since.

Developing a new style is a long process.  I wouldn’t fire the kiln for one test piece so tests have to be co-ordinated in firings with other work.  Each attempt provides a few more clues as to what to try next.  This morning I opened the kiln to find something which suggests I may just about have cracked it.

FireStationBottle1Not the best photo as taken on my phone in poor light this evening and this isn’t quite the finished thing.  The neck of the bottle may eventually be gold lustre.  That requires another firing.  I like the squared-off bottle form.  I think there is a little more experimenting to be done with the balance of colours.  I like the semi-matt glaze, but it would be nice if the edges of the colours blurred just a little bit more.

ArtSpring gallery is having an official opening in September, with a re-hang of the display.  Hopefully I’ll have a small collection of this work to show by then.

In other news – I was on the radio this afternoon!  It is apparently Patrick Swayze’s birthday so they were looking for things connected to him.  Every time I do a pottery demonstration someone mentions the film “Ghost” in which he starred.  (I’ve never actually seen the film!)  BBC Kent were looking to speak to a real potter, so with absolutely no preparation I ended up chatting to Erika and Steve who were presenting the afternoon show.  For 29 days the programme will be available here:  at about the 1hr 27min mark

So anyway – I have now watched the iconic clip of Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore making out at the potter’s wheel.  I’m not sure they fully thought through the practicalities of making love with hands covered in stoneware clay.  I think I’d rather have Dirty Dancing any day.

Posted in New Work, Pottery and Art | 4 Comments

ArtSpring Gallery

Photo1For the last three years a group of local artists and craftspeople has organised an exhibition at the Tunnel Gallery at Tonbridge School called ArtSpring.  Each time a disparate group of artists would turn up with work, there would be bedlam for a few hours and then a coherent exhibition would begin to emerge. After three editions it felt as though that format might have run its course. In November 2015 we had the opportunity to take a shop on The Pantiles in nearby Tunbridge Wells as a pop-up. The success of that ignited a dream that we might be able to organise something more permanent.

Four of us started meeting and tried to hammer out a plan, with yours truly focussing on the financial aspects.  We knew that in the past few years the demographic of Tonbridge had changed. New apartments and houses had been built, a significant population was relocating from London and the town was starting to support a number of more individual shops. On a trip to scout out possible retail premises there was a chance encounter with the owner of an empty shop.

Photo2The first stage was to find out if enough artists and craftspeople were interested in the concept. Everyone who had been involved in the previous events, and a few more besides were invited to a presentation. Ideas were floated, opinions gathered, and the feedback was generally positive.

Our legal advisor told us that even a group of people sitting round a kitchen table had effectively formed a partnership and that it was best to get it on a formal footing. Incorporation seemed like a big step. On the other hand contracts for property are not set up for loose associations. In the end we formed Tonbridge Art Collective, which is a type of association with a formal constitution. The contract for the premises was signed by three people (including me) who do bear personal responsibility. This was made acceptable by taking a one year licence rather than a lease. This gives us the flexibility to test out the concept by operating for a year.

Whilst we had hoped to make rapid progress, almost inevitably the legal formalities slowed things down. As a result we were not able to meet our original plan of opening in May, and with most of the members also preparing for SEOS we had to delay.  Even so, the contract started on the first of June and the race was on to open in early July.

As the opening approached it was clear that we were cutting it fine. Like any project, complete perfection is unattainable. We had planned a soft opening with a few days to trial our processes before we were officially open. Invitations has been sent out, Prosecco and nibbles ordered and we still didn’t feel quite ready. It took me back to my days as an Implementation Manager for IT projects.  We were down to the last day before the opening weekend and as it happened I was scheduled to be on duty. Whilst we were still polishing the last bit of glass we took a decision that the door would be open and if someone came through it and wanted to buy something then we would sell it to them. Remarkably it happened!

Photo4That evening we had a celebration party with all the members and their partners. We found ourselves surrounded by a high quality display of art in media from glass and ceramic to precious metal, felt, photography, watercolour, acrylic and oil. The next morning we were open for real and trade was brisk. Comments from visitors helped us to stand back and see what we have created through the eyes of others: “Lovely”, “Fantastic”, “Brilliant”, “Just what Tonbridge needs.”

As we settle into business as usual each of us gets to take a turn stewarding, so visitors can always meet an artist in the gallery. New ideas will come and unexpected challenges will arise. So far at least, we are on track financially. Differences have been resolved amicably and it feels as though we are achieving the goals of our collective, which is not only to operate the gallery but to create a mutually supportive network of local artists.

Anyway, do pop in if you’re in town Tuesday to Saturday 10:30 to 17:30 or Sunday 11:00 to 16:00.  (Closed on Mondays.)  More details at


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