Life is always hectic around here, but our renovations and all the ensuing chaos has resulted in 2018 being even MORE crazy than usual.
I’d forgotten how long it takes to unpack a house-load of boxes (answer: a really, really long time) but we’re getting there, slowly but surely, and the little jigsaw pieces of our lives are slotting back into place.
One of the most exciting changes has been finally getting the kitchen diner of my dreams, but with new equipment comes great responsibility, and I’ve had to up my cooking game. But I haven’t felt obliged – I’ve actually wanted to do more. The open-plan design means I don’t feel cut off from the rest of the family (which I used to resent) so it’s much more enjoyable to cook.
There are still a few things we need to sort out, one being a dining table, but we wanted to let the house settle around us for a while first and figure out how to best use the extra space. Luckily for us, this crazy-gorgeous weather has allowed us to use our outside table in the interim, and we’ve enjoyed some really lovely family meals together.
Which is something we’ve always lacked since the girls were born – our London flat had a tiny kitchen, and while this house had more space, it still wasn’t enough for us to squeeze in a dining table. It wasn’t so much of a big deal when the girls were really young, but now they’re nearly 8 and 10 we want to be able to have meals together, sitting around the table and catching up with each other’s lives, before they get so old that they’re always off with their friends.
So when the fabulous Portmeirion social team got in touch to see if I wanted to celebrate some ‘Portmeirion Moments’ (special moments, shared with loved ones), it couldn’t have come at a better time.
All this year they’re celebrating what would have been the 100th birthday of iconic ceramic designer Susan Williams-Ellis.
If the name sounds familiar, Susan was the daughter of Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, the famous British architect who built his own Riviera-inspired Portmeirion Village, in Gwynned, North Wales (now owned by a charitable trust). Most famous for its candy-coloured buildings, this passion project took 50 years to complete and has become one of the UK’s most eccentric and beloved tourist attractions.
Once in charge of the souvenir shop, Susan saw the potential for something bigger, and in 1960 she opened the Portmeirion pottery, in Stoke-on-Trent. She spent her days commuting between the village and the factory, and in 1963 she put her ceramics, and the village that sold them, on the map when she launched her famous abstract design, Totem.
She quickly became one of Britain’s most highly-regarded ceramic designers. Inspired by her love of nature, Susan began creating an entirely new design and in 1972 Botanic Garden was launched.
This delightfully winsome range was first launched in 1972 and was patterned with flowers that all could have been plucked straight from an English country garden, including foxgloves, hyacinths, pansies, Dogwood roses, daisies and forget-me-nots. Each was exquisitely illustrated and looked as if it had been lifted straight from a botanical encyclopaedia, complete with hovering dragonflies and fluttering butterflies.
What truly set this apart was Susan’s decision to created dinner sets containing a mixture of designs. In a time when everything was perfectly matched, this was quite a revolutionary move and many buyers at the time told her it would be a flop. It’s safe to say Susan had the last laugh, as it’s now 46 years later and the Botanic Garden design remains one of Portmeirion’s most popular and recognised tableware ranges.
We had the pleasure of trying some of the gorgeous designs for our magical Mother’s Day afternoon tea last year, and I’ve been slightly obsessed with the range ever since. So, when I was invited to choose some more products to help create our Portmeirion Moments, I could not wait to have another browse.
A couple of clashing commitments had meant we’d decided to postpone Father’s Day, so it just made sense that our Portmeirion Moment would be a joint celebration of the end-(ish) of our renovations, our belated Daddy’s Day and my newfound enthusiasm for cooking (I mean, let’s face it – I’ve got a LOT of time to make up for!).
One thing I’ve always managed to cook reasonably well is lasagne. I started with that student lifesaver, the Dolmio meal kit, but then got adventurous and started making it from scratch and even adding my own little twists to the original recipe *cough* diced courgette and red peppers *cough*.
It’s now my ‘go-to’ dish and one of OH’s absolute favourites.
I found the perfect LASAGNE BAKING DISH decorated around the outside with Susan’s signature leaf border, and inside with Lathyrus Latifolius (that’s sweet peas to you and me).
I began layering the bolognese with the pasta sheets and bechamel sauce, topping it with mature cheddar and mozzarella and adding the final flourish – cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves. Then I popped the dish straight into the oven to bake for 50 minutes until the cheese was all lovely and bubbly on top.
The other great thing about these dishes (and, in fact, the entire range) is they’re freezer, oven, microwave AND dishwasher safe, so you can literally go from oven to table, and then freeze the leftovers!
Next, I found this SMALL LASAGNE DISH that I planned to use for baking bread (full disclosure – it was a packet bread mix… baby steps, people, baby steps!). I mixed the dough and let it rise, and then popped it in the oven to bake. Sure, it wasn’t 100% homemade, but I served it warm and smeared with butter and it was delicious and perfect for sopping up all those yummy bolognese juices.
Finally, I got my salad ingredients ready. I decided to go for a simple rocket and watercress salad, topped with fresh tomato and almond flakes and dressed with oil and balsamic vinegar. I tossed them all together in this 10-INCH SALAD BOWL, prettily decorated with a floral garland around the inner rim, and inside with lily-flowered azalea, and outside with pansies, daisies, blue primrose and trailing bindweed.
Not only does it look gorgeous but it can also double up as a mixing or bread bowl.
We all sat down outside to enjoy our family meal. OH and Big Sis devoured every bite and even Lil Sis – who sometimes feels like the pickiest eater on the planet – tried some bread and lasagne.
But the best part was just all sitting down together, having a laugh and catching up with each other’s lives. We have so little time with all four of us together, that we cherish every minute and make sure to appreciate every single one our Portmeirion Moments.
How would you like to visit the magical tourist village of Portmeirion?
I’ve teamed up with this delightfully quirky attraction to give you the chance to win one of FOUR family tickets (two adults and up to three children, aged 4-15 years) to Portmeirion Village, which can be redeemed up until the end of August.
What a fab way to spend the school holidays.
Marvel at the Mediterranean feel of the village, explore the stunning sub-tropical grounds and then grab a gelato and wander along the sandy beaches of the Dwyryd Estuary. Don’t forget a visit to the souvenir shop before you leave. Get entering, and good luck!
e: 23.59: 27/7/18 UK and ROI only.
T&Cs: prize is one of a total of 4x family tickets to the Portmeirion Tourist Village, each worth £144. Prize will be fulfilled after completion of the prize promotion; winner will be selected and notified within one month of the end date; promoter’s and winner’s details available on request; your details will not be passed on or used for any other purpose than which is outlined; winner will be selected at random via the Rafflecopter form.