Wednesday, 30 December 2009


To begin completely irrelevantly, I can't quite bear to listen to Radio 2 just at the moment while still grieving over the loss of Terry, so I have - against all my better judgement - put the TV on while getting dressed (Can I just say at this juncture, I would listen to Radio 4 but this morning they were talking about UEFA Cup management (I think) for an extraordinarily long time and life is too short). Up came the ads in between GMTV and lo and behold, there's this - the newest product on the slimming market - Celebrity Slim. I swear to God, that's what it's called. It gets better - the tag line screams 'It won't make you a celebrity but it can make you thin.' I gaped in awe at the screen - Could there be a more depressing realisation of all the Noughties has stood for for women, aspiration, ambition, desire...

I am now going into the garden to eat worms. And anything else I can find, including the incredible amount of fox shit, if it make me less related to any species that might even contemplate buying into such bollocks.

PS: I blogged on this topic at length on Sugarvine. Go and have a look - let loose your howls of anger...

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

What now....?

Right, that's Christmas over with. I shan't bore you with the details of yet another Christmas meal, but suffice to say, it was fabulous. MCD and I went up to my parents in Warwickshire where their snow made the garden look festive as you please. The lunch - or dinner this year as we got all rebellious and defiantly had the Meal in the evening - was perfection as always. We got our bird from Adlington Turkeys - highly recommended: free-ranging birds practically sung to sleep - you can tell they are cosseted from the large sign that reminds you as you drive up to turn off your headlights so as not to disturb them. I wish I had a sign like that for MCD's 6:30am starts.

I have also been introduced to the wonders of freshly ground coffee. One of the things I wanted this year was a year's subscription to Union Roasted Coffee. I opened up the parcel and was most dismayed to find that MCD had purchased the coffee as beans - and we don't have a grinder. But then, silly me, of course he'd added a Cuisinart coffee grinder to the pile and I have been grinding beans like gangbusters. Top tip: They recommend quite a coarse grind for cafetieres, but I found it was so coarse it didn't brew, so I make mine nearly as fine as for an espresso and it works perfectly.

It's now tipping it down - they promise more snow for New Year's which seems just the thing to round the year off. I shall leave you with the above picture of Sam, my parents' last baby. I have to say, I don't usually hold with dressing dogs in clothes (having said that, we've often put past dogs in their Christmas ribbons and even shocking pink Hair Flair wigs on occasions and I remember Sage, our only girl flatcoat, put on a star turn as Bullseye for the Dickens evening in the village some years ago, but then maybe it's just that Flatcoats look so dashing). Anyway, Sam received both a set of legwarmers and a set of Churchillian collar and cuffs and a squeaky cigar which he perfected the angle of holding incredibly quickly. Of course we had to put them all on at the same time.

Monday, 21 December 2009

How to Drink

No, I wouldn't have thought any of us really required instructions on how to tip more alcohol down our ever more lubricated gullets at this time of year, but there is a small book that's been sat on my shelves for a few months that is worth a read.

A few days ago I was mooching round the various book repositories in the house trying to find something stimulating and light to read with breakfast - I had in mind a light, zabaglione-style read to counter-act the serious, weighty steamed pudding that is the never-ending 2666 by Roberto Bolano.

Ok strange choice for breakfast but go with me here. Victoria Moore's How to Drink was serialised in the Guardian during the summer, so you may have seen some extracts. It completely gripped my imagination. Funnily enough, she's not actually a heavy drinker - she doesn't even like drinking during the day, so my first thought of a meeting of minds with a female Hemingway was pretty sharply blown away. (I must just add in here, my incredulity at her stance on daytime drinking extends only to this time of year or perhaps a serious lunch... I don't actually sit here sipping vodka out of bone china cups all day long).

How to Drink is a light, refreshing guide on all things quaffable, both alcoholic and virgin, if you will. She doesn't aim to reel off reams of off-puttingly - ironically - dry information on terroirs, chateaux, peat bogs and potatoes, but you sense her learning is worn lightly throughout chapters on Breakfast & Brunch; Spring; Summer; Autumn; Winter; and Year-round show-stoppers - an eminently sensible format, I feel, as you know exactly where to turn for inspiration on what it is exactly you feel like drinking at any given time of year.

Some of it is a little counter-intuitive; for example, she does extol the virtues of rosé in winter for a cheery pick-me-up, providing you look for something with 'a bit more red in its cheeks.' For my part, I was completely smitten after the Christmas lunch. Picture the scene: we have feasted the whole day long and drunk like said Hemingway on a mission with a croissant and a glass of Bucks Fizz (which I have to confess I still don't like) at breakfast; canapés in the form of tiny hot sausage rolls and drunken devils on horseback at 12:30 with a bottle of Louis Roederer, then the afore-mentioned smidge of dessert wine and a bottle of 1998 Pauillac with the meal and another smidge of a light Spanish dessert wine with the pudding. We are grossly sated, sitting on the sofa, sipping water and waiting for Strictly... I can barely contemplate more of anything but around 7:30, once everything had gone down a bit, I felt like a bit of a pick-me-up, something cold and light. And then I read this:

'Kir, and why it's far superior to kir royale

[...] Kir is the real thing; a cool glass of white wine which might be a little astringent on its own, but to whose limpid acidity the liqueur adds a lick of heat, and the relief of some sweetness. Taking a sip should feel like standing on a frozen lake on a clear day so raw the wine stings your cheekbones and having someone put a blackcurrant pastille in your mouth.'

Just the very thing, I thought. Bracing is just what is required. So I made two with a splash of cassis and a sauvignon blanc and just 1 ice cube and it was so exactly, inspirationally right after the rich, heavy meal. Genius.
Can't recommend it highly enough.
PS: Utterly unrelated but I have just seen my first feral green parakeet, emerald green against the snow. What's even more extraordinary as how every other bird, even our fat wood pigeons, scarpered beforehand. I prefer the robins.

The Actual Christmas Feast

I promise not to re-hash the previous post too much but, at the risk of repeating myself, how good was our Christmas lunch....? I simply have to pass on the recipe for our chestnut veloute starter, so incredibly festive and rich and luxurious and simple was it.

Adapted from Pascal Aussignac's recipe, for 2 people I simmered 200ml full fat milk (it doesn't sound a lot, but you don't want a lot of this and I served it in white coffee cups) with half a pack of vac-packed chestnuts - about 100g - for 5 minutes or so. I blitzed it up with a hand blender till smooth, then whisked in about 50-75 ml chicken stock and a tsp of Marigold vegetable bouillon powder and brought back to a simmer. This is simple to multiply up as you just want 1 part stock to 4 parts milk. Check the seasoning.

In a dry hot pan, I seared 2 small slices of foie gras till just softened then scooped them into the bottom of the warmed cups (just swill them out with hot water to take the chill off). I blitzed the chestnut soup once more with the blender to make it frothy then poured over the top of the foie gras. I did, I confess, go the whole hog and top with the merest smidge of black truffle sauce, but hey-ho what credit crunch? The foie gras melted into the warmth of the soup and provided the silkiest of textures.

Rich, warming, incredibly luxurious even without the bling ingredients. Next time I might top with a couple of large prawns for a take on surf and turf but equally, I think you could try seared scallops. Think texture as well as taste. With it we had a tiny smidge of a muscat, just to offset the sweetness.
Oh - and the panettone pudding... toppest of top tips: I followed a suggestion of Nigella's to make the custard with half milk, half warmed dessert wine before pouring over the panettone and baking. Well dear reader, it was a triumph. Nowhere near as heavy as the traditional B&B pudding, boozy and light like a sabayon and reheats like a dream. Next stop with brioche.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Christmas Lunch

I am bored bored bored - I am a Border Collie; I am Carole Borderman, to quote Gavin and Stacey - of people fretting about Christmas lunch. The ingredients, the veggie option, how to cook it, when to cook it, what to drink, when to drink it.... Ack - it's a ROAST DINNER with cranberry sauce. Get over it.

In our house we don't exactly follow tradition. For one thing, Christmas is generally spent with a set of parents so MCD and I don't get a Christmas Day of our own. So what do we do? We disregard entirely the birth of baby Jesus (I mean really...) and have our Christmas Day the weekend before. And when I say Christmas Day, it's got everything. Champagne, crackers, presents, loud christmas music, a huge meal, chocolate, films (Shaun of the Dead is a must), MCD slumped on the sofa with a cocked paper hat on (he is very insistent. 'It is tradition' he cries when I demur. Last year he ended up wearing 4 in his pissed yet doggedly persistent state. There is photographic evidence), me in a pinny drifting floatily round in a haze of breakfast Baileys and elevenses Champagne. And because it's not actually Christmas Day (you poor sad schmucks - what does tradition get you but endless repeats and the Guns of sodding Navarone) the telly is still brilliant. And because it's not actually Christmas Day, we get another Christmas Day a week later. With more food and wine and presents. Clever, no?

(I sincerely love Christmas and I am not ashamed to admit, I love the presents. As a kid, I used to save - save - some presents for Boxing Day to make the festivities stretch further; my sister used to rail against my self-control, declaring me unnatural. On Boxing Day I would smugly and slowly open my remaining gifts in front of her. savouring the sound of her jealous weeping. I might even have saved one till tea-time. This is just another way of spreading the joy of Christmas.)

Aaanyway... because there's only two of us, we now forego the traditional turkey. I did it one year, then we went to the parents-in-law for Christmas proper and came home 4 days later to find the time in the fridge had improved its sorry carcass not at all and the whole thing went in the bin. I look for restaurant-style dishes that indicate we are in for a sumptuous feast. Venison with fig tarts, last year's beef with stewed oxtail stuffed in a marrowbone with a marrow risotto and roast root vegetables and so on. This year, my fatted friends, we have goose. I can make a cassoulet the next day out of the leftovers.

Starter is to be a foie gras and chestnut veloute, courtesy of Pascal Aussignac of Club Gascon. It should also include lobster, but given I am allergic, you can forget that. Then roast goose with Nigella's panettone and Italian sausage stuffing, roast potatoes, maple-roast parsnips, shredded cavolo nero, cranberry sauce and gravy. And then - because what else can you do with it - panettone pudding, made with a bottle of dessert wine in the custard. Hardly Elizabeth David's omelette and a glass of Champagne but, then, we like to feast and know about it afterwards as we roll like weebles back into the lounge.

I shall post photos of my gorgeous dining room when I've laid the table for lunch, but before MCD gets his sweaty mitts on the shiny crackers.

It's not what I expected...

Working in the bookshop is a constant education. As I mentioned in my last post, I am accompanied by a near-constant sense of panic when I look at all these books and how did I ever let myself get so out of touch. Although, when The Bookseller said portentously 'We've sold Bleach', it is a mark of the steep curve of my education that the first thought in my mind was not in fact Domestos.

There are other highlights: The Actor who comes in to give helpful hints on how to start a riot at the Crystal Palace cinema campaign; The Sci-Fi Drunk who farted loudly and wetly during the umpteenth discussion on whether we would take his (non-existent?) water-damaged collection (ummm... no.); The bizarre quantity of books we stock by the local rock 'n' roll, band-playing author-vicar; the discount on good coffee at La Bruschetta next door; the mysterious and sometimes frankly weird music we play (I got most excited yesterday that I recognised the songs playing for a whole 43 minutes - it was Crowded House. Customers ask me 'What's the music?' I reply 'No idea - it's on the IPod' as if this is a proper answer.)

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

An epiphany or two - Warning: A very long post

So here I am in the New World of freelancing, hopping here and there between jobs and tasks. I have just been granted membership to The Guild of Food Writers which is an enormous step forward both for me and my job prospects, and them for starting to embrace the alien concept that is online food writing.

Having been off formal work for nearly 2 weeks now, I have, in the manner of one who perhaps has a tad too much time on her hands (but only a tad), had a few startled revelations; namely:

1. How in the world does anyone with a full-time job get anything done? I used to be that person, struggling womanfully on, doing all the household chores on a Saturday morning (or even on a Friday night if MCD was out - I know how to have a good time), shopping on a Sunday, cooking every night, working all day with a 3-hour commute to boot - how - how - did I fit it all in? And now it's this present-buying, list-making, freaking-panicking time of the year, it's even more of a conundrum.

These days I seem to be set to a go-slow option, where jobs and tasks and chores are achieved unaccompanied by the mild panic that it must be done and ticked off the list - it's made me realise just how stressed and screwed tight I was; just like every other working woman, I was juggling 14000 different things and surviving - not thriving. That's not to say there aren't hour-long moments of panic about just where my money is going to come from, or whether I'm spending my time fruitfully and in an applied and efficient manner, or whether my brain is simply going to wither away without external stimulation - just that life at a slightly slower pace is a life slightly better lived.

2. Working in the bookshop in Crystal Palace has started off a slightly peculiar train of thought. Back in the heady days of my youth, when I dreamt of being married to a poet and heading my own literary group and living in Paris or Cadiz (don't ask) wearing black polonecks and sipping brandy (probably not suited for both Paris and Cadiz, but you get the picture), Literature was my thing. I knew the new hot titles, the out-of-prints, the rare wanted-but-never-to-be-seen-again titles, books others would love; then I moved into the world of food and my broad love of writing narrowed to the subject in hand. In the last 7 or 8 years, my general literature range reduced as I read more and more about food and got lazy with other genres, stuck with tried and trusted favourite authors, only experimenting with new books when I went on holiday. I became someone I thought I never could be - a restricted reader (the horror). It's nice to know I have a specialised field, but nowadays I am left a little panicky about my lack of knowledge of literature generally.

Now in the shop I stand there behind the counter and think 'I used to know this stuff and now I don't.' This makes me slightly stressed - can I ever learn all this again? Where did all that knowledge go? Why am I so stupid? (As I said, a tad too much time on my hands...) I want to be erudite again. And at the moment, that feels decidedly not the case.

3. Being unemployed - or at least going from the 9-5 to the whatever-whenever - means that your mindset has to change completely and that can leave you out of step with the person you live with. When you're both working full-time, you have something in common, be it the stresses of the commute, the same lack of time, the decisions of whether to spend the evening out with friends in order to catch up or in with your partner to catch up; either way someone is left out. But all the same, it is a common bond and one that means you are running, albeit slightly frenetically, on parallel tracks.

Once one of you loses your job/steps aways from the rat race, that common bond is dissolved. I experienced it myself this year when MCD got made redundant and was out of work for quite some time over the summer. I caught myself feeling a near-constant low-level simmer of resentment that he was off work throughout the summer and I couldn't have a holiday, or that I still somehow had to fit in at least half the housework and all of the shopping (Bless him, he did his bit but why must men require a detailed list of chores after nearly 6 years of living together?) When he went back to work, it was a relief because then we understood each other again.

Now I am at home, I can see the other side of the story, albeit with a slight twist. I am not an ambitious workaholic - the thought of it makes me feel a little ill - so working from home with its flexible time suits me down to the ground. I enjoy pottering and the structure working in the bookshop brings for a few hours at a time, I enjoy household chores and doing bits and pieces here and there. But the common working bond has gone again. The working partner will never quite believe you haven't been sitting on your arse all day (see Point 1), but in your own head you've achieved an incredible amount and you're quite satisfied. I am getting my rest, you think.

I - and I accept this is purely our relationship dynamic - am still, in my head, responsible for making home life as wonderful and pleasant as possible for the disgruntled worker which entails using a certain amount of headspace and mental effort, effort which I rather need for myself right now looking for projects and work. That need to keep each other's spirits up is part of being in a relationship, but sometimes you need to step back for a second and take stock. Life is going to be very different from now on and we both need to adjust and maybe that means recognising that our former work bond must be replaced by something else, hopefully something a lot healthier and less mutually stressful.

Life is tricky, rushed, stressy enough. With a little effort it needn't be demoralising too.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A little rant about Farmers Markets

My piece in Crystal Palace Transmitter magazine - P9 Death of a Farmers Market

Turkey Time...

Check out my blog on - how much are you prepared to spend on the Christmas feast this year?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Eating Notes

So still at home, still cooking... a few more ideas that I've played around with...

A splendid, adaptable, winter soup:

Sweat a chopped onion and sliced leeks in butter until meltingly soft. Add a quarter of a cauliflower, divided into florets and a good couple of handfuls of scrubbed Jerusalem artichokes. (Quantities are very much up to you, but this was what was in the fridge). Pour over a litre of vegetable or chicken stock (I used Marigold for the savouriness), add a couple of bay leaves and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until everything is completely tender.

Blitz until smooth (removing the bay leaves first) and check the seasoning. I've eaten this in a couple of ways so far - try it with crumbled crisp fried streaky bacon; plain with a drizzle of extra virgin; topped with chopped parsley and grated Parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. You might try adding in crumbled chestnuts (Merchant Gourmet do vac-packed ones that are indispensable) with the bacon, or use Parma ham.

A literary breakfast:

Not entirely sure why, but anyway I tossed cod's roes in a very little flour seasoned with a little paprika, mustard powder, salt and pepper and fried them in some butter. I added a couple of tablespoons of cream, a squeeze of lemon and adjusted the seasoning for a 'devilled' effect, then tipped the lot over a slice of home-made buttered granary toast. One for a cold morning.

A bloody mystery, frankly:

Tonight - depending on what the lump of defrosting red meat is (when, when will I learn to label freezer bags?) - we will be having either Nigel's recipe for lamb chops, where the onions are fried off with the meat, deglazed with some red wine and grain mustard and served with a chickpea mash; or steak stroganoff with cannellini beans and a pile of greens on t'side for our health.

PS: Contrary to all expectations, my own included, I made lamb stroganoff with cannelli bean mash and kale. It probably goes against all the rules, but lamb goes so well with the smoky notes of paprika and meatiness of the mushrooms that it worked. Just remember to keep the lamb pink-ish.

A Fantasy Christmas Wish List

Nicole Diver's shopping list in Tender is the Night always springs to mind around this time of year, if only for the sheer out-there unlikeliness of receiving any of it: the lovebirds, the scarves, the rubber alligator (why?), the travelling gold and ivory chess set....

But there are still a few objets de desire that one might wish for this Christmas, to make the heart beat a little faster. Oh and can I recommend that for divine inspiration and the perfect start to the Christmas wish list, no matter who you're shopping for, visit India Knight's Posterous.

1. A bottle of Julian Temperley's Alchemy - his own Somerset cider brandy

2. Any of the gorgeous new Penguin bound editions of the classics

3. A box set of Katharine Hepburn films (now one can indulge on a winter afternoon)

4. Some luxurious new pyjamas

5. A Lartigue photograph (I did mention this was fantasy, right?)

6. Or indeed a Cecil Beaton photograph, perhaps of the Jungman sisters

7. Or maybe Brassai in his French phase

8. A winter rose bush

9. A beautifully bound copy of T S Eliot's poems

10. A jewel ring

And I wouldn't say no to Sacla's tiny jar of anchovies and white truffles, which when melted and gently heated in butter, then swirled with a little Prosecco, make the most incredible sauce for tagliatelle.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Recipe ideas to occupy the fridge-loving unemployed

Now that I find myself temporarily unemployed and home-bound, my main problem is staying out of the fridge. With time on my hands and constant flavour combinations suggesting themselves to me in my head, I find myself heading fridge-wards a little too often. The fridge and I - as my family will corroborate - have a long and symbiotic relationship; it's not so much that I pick out something to eat each time I pass by, but I find myself quite often opening the door just to check what's in there and spend a few minutes musing on what to have for the next meal, or the one after that, or even tomorrow. I spend a lot of time communing with my fridge. But it's also a tic of boredom and that way, as musings transpire into ever-more complex meal creations, fully-inflated dinghy-shape lies.
So what to do? I have found the best way to retain even a modicum of slenderness (I'm 5ft so really I do need to watch it) is a good 20 mins of walking a day, easily accomplished in my old life by walking to the station every morning and watching the carbs (not obsessively and madly, but being aware of my intake). Now there's no need to march to the station every morning and I don't think clocking up the yards to the kitchen is really any substitute.
For inspiration I dug out India & Nerys' Idiot-Proof recipe book which - co-written as it is with food writer Bee Rawlinson - is full of really good recipe ideas that are filling and interesting without containing carbohydrates. My main problem is breakfast. I love my muesli with yoghurt, but after 5 mornings a week it starts to pall and I find myself craving croissants, sausage sandwiches and bacon rolls - all of which are delicious, but not good on a daily basis. With a little more time on my hands, I can get a bit more creative and save the fry-ups for the weekend where they belong.
Idea no.1: Bearing in mind my recent lizard/piglet-ness and the fact that the weather seems to be sharpening its claws, I'm upping my good fat intake, This morning, I fried 2 strips of streaky bacon and a chopped tomato in a little olive oil. I then halved an avocado and spooned the tomato and bacon into the well and topped with a little Gorgonzola. It went into the oven for a few minutes to soften the cheese and breakfast was done. Tomorrow morning, I shall do something similar but without the bacon.
(BTW - for all of you remarking on the fat content - cheese, bacon, oil - I followed India and Nerys' diet a few years back when I was getting decidedly portly and found that for me , it worked. It is based on the Atkins diet, but what is ingenious is how you re-introduce sensible carbs. I found my energy levels higher, my mood dramatically changed and embedded deep within myself the concept of moderation (hence the continuation of my Sunday morning sausage sandwich).)
Idea no. 2: Similar but use large flat field mushrooms as a base for anything. Yesterday's lunch was the mushrooms baked in the oven with a little butter and garlic, topped with a round of goats cheese and then sat on a bed of watercress with a mustard-y dressing.
Idea no.3: Their idea for a faux-mash made with cauliflower may strike a hint of fear into many, but actually it's amazing and incredibly versatile. The basic premise is to steam cauli florets until tender, then whix them up with a little butter and double cream (or creme fraiche), seasoning and perhaps some nutmeg. Get the consistency right and it's lovely for spooning over shepherd's pie or moussaka; you can add cheese of any description to add bulk and in the recipe book, they suggest adding an egg yolk, whisking the egg white and folding it in and then topping a baked field mushroom, before baking until risen and golden, which sounds an elegant lunch.
One of their most striking points is that breakfast needn't be sweet. As someone utterly without a sweet tooth, I have never found the problem to be pastries and muffins and so on (I even find the fruit in my muesli too much), but rather the ingredients of a fry-up. They go on to suggest that you could pretend you've woken up in Bavaria and feast on meats and cheeses, smoked fish and vegetable-fruits such as tomatoes and avocados, which is an idea I'm rather taken by. Guten Appetit.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A girl must get her greens...

Last night I was in need of rest, recuperation and vitamins - both inside and out. My face has been reacting badly to the ever-changing weather and a cold and - please God no - red wine and I felt toxic and as if there was no health in me. Moreover I resembled a boiled piglet with severe eczema (attractive, no?).

Operation Vitamins Part 1: So - melt some anchovies in quite a bit of olive oil (I used 4, but then I wanted the heavy saltiness against the bitter greens), then add a finely sliced leek and sweat/saute until softened. I then added some chopped up purple sprouting broccoli, popped the lid on and steamed for a couple of minutes. Then I added a load of chopped up, de-stalked kale, some chopped chilli and chopped garlic and put the lid back on again for a couple of minutes. Finally, a handful of spinach, a good squeeze or 3 of lemon juice and stir until the spinach has wilted down. Top the lot with grated Parmesan and shovel in, feeling unbelievably virtuous.

Operation Vitamins Part 2: Follow with a 15 minute Liz Earle face mask (oh the sheer bliss of LE. Fab products, not super-expensive and all-natural) while listening with eyes closed to Joe and Kim on I'm a Celebrity doing a challenge quite unfathomable without actually watching it. God knows what they were doing, but definitely more entertaining only absorbed aurally. Slather face - not TV - with LE moisturiser for dry/sensitive skin (only for extreme emergencies) and marvel at lack of lizard-like, boiled-piglet skin.

Friday, 20 November 2009

In which we enter a brave new world...

What with one thing and another, I haven't managed to post anything much very foodie recently. I shall try to make amends with telling you what I plan to cook at some point this weekend but in the meantime, a brief diversion:

So - I am going freelance. Not for me the 9-5, the Clapham omnibus (or rather, the no.52 bus from Victoria up to Ladbroke Grove), the 6.42am starts; I am braving the world of the solitary home-worker. Actually it's all looking rather good - I am soon to be a Kitchen Queen, a prospect that thrills me as someone who lives to cook and also has a worrisome interest in the layout other people's houses. Simply put I teach people to cook in their own homes. I will be an Educator. Although - as MCD pointed out - as someone who might live to cook, but also can barely step foot into the kitchen without having some kind of accident or another, it might be best practice to allow them to handle the sharp objects.

I am also going back to my roots and working in the much-loved local bookshop for a couple of days a week. I used to work in Ottakars before it was bought out by big, bad Waterstone's wolf and I started my London life working in a psychoanalytic bookshop on Gloucester Road, so I have form. And I can embrace my creeping inclination to be Ash from Don't Ask Me Why.

I'm also pushing the food writing - I'm officially a hack for hire, so if anyone out there's looking for a food writer (or indeed any other sort) rather well-versed in SEO and websites, email me. Self-interested promotion now over.

But back to the point of the piece, which was my thoughts on what to eat this weekend. I shall roast some butternut squash, cut into cubes, then toss with sliced, seared pigeon breast and chicken livers, spinach leaves and cherry tomatoes. The pan I use to cook the meat in will be deglazed with a little sherry vinegar and finely chopped garlic and a little walnut oil, then I shall pour the dressing over the other ingredients. Then (I feel like a magician) I shall top the whole with a version of pangrattato - those crisp fried breadcrumbs mixed with some very finely chopped rosemary and some orange zest.

In my head, it's a visual and oral wowser. I shall let you know what reality is like. If I can make it look pretty, I might even treat you to a photo.

PS: There's an idea I came across recently for butternut squash I'll pass on. You make a stock sugar syrup (water and sugar) and infuse with rosemary. You roast butternut squash in the oven until tender, then pour over the syrup for the last 10 minutes or so. The result should be deeply golden caramelised butternut squash. I will give it a go at some point, but if anyone gets there first, let me know what happens.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Fish & Grill, Croydon

I've been meaning to blog about our fish feast in Fish&Grill for a couple of weeks but events have rather overtaken me and I haven't had a minute to properly sit and write something meaningful, so here goes.

Fish&Grill in South End, Croydon is nearly brilliant. Nearly. Croydon's South End is a curious place, full of rather nicer places to eat than you might think, including Le Cassoulet (I blogged about this earlier), Albert's Table, The Treehouse and others. We made it to Fish&Grill one Thursday lunchtime; it was a bit of a blow-out early Christmas lunch/first day of a few days off celebration so you must forgive the seemingly orgiastic description that follows.

The focus is - duh - fish and seafood, although there is a nod to the die-hard-beef-eaters with burgers, chicken and so on, but you might as well stick to the fishies; they do it so well. I was tempted by everything from fresh oysters to boulliabaisse, MCD by bisques and scallops. We finally agreed on the platter of fruits de mer to start with - a portion for 2, we thought, followed by a light snackerel of lobster and chips for MCD and fish and chips for me. The sweet waitress, however, was quite firm - a portion for one would suffice. When we actually pointed out we were (snigger and a nod to India Knight) Big Pigs and could take anything she cared to bring us, she stood her ground.

Thank Christ. The platter was e-normous. Clams, razor clams, langoustines, half a crab, mussels, oysters, whelks - the only thing missing was winkles, so they threw on some (incredibly scarily over-sized and not altogether attractive) whelks. All daisy-fresh and a perfect portion for 2 for a good-sized lunch. But for us, no, we soldier manfully on....

MCD was introduced to the lobster first; they seemed to get on so Lobster got poached and served with some addictive skinny skin-on chips and plenty of mayonnaise. My fish and chips - halibut in a beer batter - was good, although arguably the oil should have been hotter to fry the fish. As it was the batter was a touch on the soggy side. Not a disaster as I quite like soggy batter with ketchup, but it is a basic request. The accompanying minted pea puree was refreshing and well-judged. A side order of leek gratin was a molten pot of bubbling cheese and leeks, mopped up with the chips. But why wasn't there Sarson's available - and, no, white wine vinegar is not the same thing at all.

We aren't done yet. MCD found a little corner for a monster portion of sticky toffee pudding; I found I could muster enthusiasm for a wedge of lemon meringue pie. Unfortunately it was a whole pie, nicely contrasting lemon and sweet meringue, although I think the lemon filling could have been more set. And I have to admit it beat me.

The whole, with Kir Royales, a bottle of Gavi, 2 dessert wines and an espresso (in an attempt to make it look less like a debauched drunken lunch and more like we quite seriously intended to do something afterwards than just roll on the carpet clutching our stomachs) came to around £150 - not bad for a real lunchtime blow out, but try the set lunches at £12 for 2 courses.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

News just in for Sarah Waters fans...

I attended a Q&A with Sarah Waters at Norwood library last night, which was fascinating. She's a lovely, fluent talker who fielded questions with tact and intelligence and gave some real insights into her working process. I must go back and re-read if only for the delicious spookiness of the brown smudges. Interestingly, she found out the electrical procedure used to treat Roderick's leg is known as 'Faradism'; apparently the coincidence (the narrator being Dr Faraday) was too much for her to be able to put that in the book, but spooky, no?
(I might add the evening was only slightly marred by the terribly officious librarians, who needed to clearly demonstrate who was in charge by pointedly asking each and every person 'Have you booked?' If the answer was yes, you were shown through with a smile; should you say - as I did - 'No and was I meant to as it doesn't say anywhere that you had to', you got told to line up for the 'yes' people to contemplate their 'There-but-for-the-grace-of-god' fate as they ambled past. I wouldn't have minded if it weren't for the fact that there were at least 5 seats near me going spare once they'd assessed status and ushered everyone in. Not to dwell, but really, if libraries are in such strife - and I am a staunch supporter - isn't it even a little incumbent upon them to act graciously and hostingly and make everyone welcome so they come back and join...? Just a thought.)

Anyway, sorry, hot news is her next book is taking a leap back 10-20 years and she'll be exploring the 20s and 30s. The bad news is she's a really slow writer, so could be 2011. Relish, absorb and memorise The Little Stranger in the meantime... Oh and apparently she has laid cunning clues throughout so that the ending is not such a mystery.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

In which I go pro....

I've been doing the London round-up for for a few years now, but recently they've had a complete revamp and now I'm enlisted as the official Food Issues Blogger... It's my first one, go have a look and be gentle - we're working on formatting and it's all a bit suck-it-and-see but hopefully, this is a goer...

India Knight's thoughtful article on blogging

India Knight's article in The Sunday Times Magazine this weekend was wonderful, thoughtful and perfectly summed up what an entire cyber-nation of women bloggers are feeling and thinking right now; ie, that the internet - rather than being the preserve of some teccy-minded, binary-talking dudes in California - can be harnessed for good as well as evil. That blogging has lent a veritable megaphone to those who feel like they're stumbling about the wilderness toute seule, with no-one listening to what they've got to say.

She also makes the point that people aren't just using blogs for banality and moribund thoughts from the morass, but rather these are intelligent, thoughtful, blogs revealing - rather, I like to think, in the manner of Jane Austen -the small, intimate details of lives well- or not-so-well lived. To continue the thought, it's surely this ability of many, many brilliant bloggers - and check the blog roll on the right for current favourites - to paint a portrait of everyday life in such a way that makes your heart ache (A Life Reclaimed-sad, brave and uplifting), snort out loud with laughter (wonderful Emma of Belgian Waffling manages to do both with every post), think more closely about an alien subject (Tania Kindersley's ability to make American politics sound like a must-know) or even share the seemingly mundane and innately female - recipes, childcare tips and so on.

The thing is, I think we all feel we're a bit on our own in this dog-eat-bitch-eat-dog world and the connection of blogging simply enables us to feel less alone; that we're not simply howling into the darkness

Friday, 30 October 2009

In which we bathe in a little reflected bygone glamour...

As has probably become evident by now, one of my great loves is the Roaring Twenties period and its shining, to-hell-with-it-all-and-damn-the-consequences mood. Currently dear old BBC4 are running a 1920s/30s series of programmes with one of the stars in the firmament being Glamour's Golden Age, shown on Monday and repeated on Thursday nights. Do watch - last week's, about the architecture and building from Art Deco to Modernism was fascinating; this week's instalment, covering the brief bursts of light that were Stephen Tennant, Elizabeth Ponsonby, Cecil Beaton, the Jungman sisters et al was a wonderful introduction to the period with good commentary from Lucy Moore and David Taylor, whose books on the subject are equally riveting and illuminating.
I have to admit my knowledge is deeper on the Left Bank and its literary stars of the age, who seem to have a little more purpose and gravitas to their lives, but the above-mentioned are good fun when we all could do with a little sparkle nowadays.

Just a little olden light to bathe in as the nights get darker.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

It's all in the seasoning...

Life's a careful, fragile balance, I think we can say. Work-life, love-friends, priorities-commitments - it's all about how many balls and how few hands. Mostly, it carries on just straight as you like, but every now and then, you get thrown a curve ball. Just how you're meant to catch it when you're intent on juggling all the others is anybody's guess, but field it you do and (mixed metaphor fast approaching) what turns out to be on first sight an overdose of searingly hot and unpleasant chilli can turn out to be the very pep it all needed to help it whoosh along like gangbusters, perhaps albeit at a tangent to the original.

All of which is a ramblingly musing way of saying that we could learn a lot from Vietnamese cuisine. No, really. Bear with me. It seems to me they've got it down - that blend of sweet, sour, salty, fresh and every now and then a zing of chilli to waken the tastebuds. This was made crystal-clear to me at last night's feast at Mien Tay, Clapham Junction's newly-opened sister branch to the one in Shoreditch.

Brace yourselves, it's an orgy of food. So much so, for the first time, I actually understood the invention and appeal of the Roman vomitarium. We started with a fresh salad of thinly sliced beef with coriander and lime, the beef perhaps poached in a little stock or similar so that it was meltingly tender and just cooked.

Followed by a platter of goodies: quail roasted and then sprinkled as desired with a salt-sugar-white pepper mixture and lime; deep-fried soft shell crab looking more than a little 'en crapaud' as the invading French might say; beef wrapped in betel leaves which you eat in the same chopstick-grab as a rice paper-wrapped vermicelli roll and dipped in a delicate chilli sauce; rice-paper spring rolls, crisp as a winter day, filled with minced chicken and prawns and - just as a palate freshener - lightly pickled carrots for crunch and lift.

Followed by beef cooked in coco-juice (guess coconut water, not milk) and wine vinegar in a little pot on a gas burner - DIY fondue Vietnamese-style. Ravishing, the beef swirled in the juices until opaque, then tipped over a vermicelli/salad bowl with a little of the juices and chilli sauce; Goat (who knew?) with galangal, strong-tasting and slightly curried; monster prawns in egg-yolk and garlic sauce (blee, egg, left this one for my fellow trooper); side dishes of morning glory and pak choi with garlic; pho with beef brisket and beef balls, the broth stomach-settling in its crystal-clear, somehow soothing intensity. There could have been more, but at this point my brain was starting to reject the notion of yet more. There should/could have been stir-fried eel and another spicy goat dish - we certainly wanted them - but I couldn't tell you with any certainty we had them, as it all started to blur...

Rainbow seaweed drink - of course - with actual kidney beans lurking in its murky opalescent depths wasn't for me, but the Vietnamese coffee, as rhapsodized over by a certain M. Bourdain, was excellent. They drip strong bitter coffee (gorgeous just as it was) onto a - how can I put this without the imagery seeming off-putting - bottom-floater of condensed milk. Then you stir and drink - sweet and strong and surprisingly addictive for this dedicated non-milk drinker.

There isn't a wine list as such - house wine seems to be whatever they've got on hand, but I noticed tables operating on a BYO, which seems ultimately sensible. Main courses range around the £6 which is an indescribable bargain, considering the quantity of food in each dish - we shared each one comfortably between two.

Despite each dish having its own distinct, hardly faint-hearted flavours, the overwhelming impression was one of levity, of each component working in harmony with the others on the plate, everything there for a purpose, the seasoning minutely adjusted to enhance the main ingredient rather than overwhelm.

Oh, there you go - we're back to balance again. Told you Vietnamese had all the answers.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Happy Birthday... Evelyn Waugh

I'm not obssessed, I swear, but it's his birthday today. Celebrate by reading Mad World by Paula Byrne or even just dip back into Decline & Fall or Brideshead. Go on, treat yourself.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Humming bears and other animals

Humming bears is a delightful image. Durrell describes this in his books with the most wonderful description of himself and a bear at Whipsnade when he worked as a keeper singing along together, Durrell providing the lyrics, the bear the background hum while sucking his paw, apparently utterly content.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Death of a Farmers Market; or do some research first

Sad news, Palace residents. Penge Farmers Market is no more. After a 6 month trial the organisers have discovered that Penge - try as it might - is not actually home to 'AB1' residents (what - just what - is that supposed to mean? Does anyone apart from weird marketeers use this term to describe human beings?), unlike Dulwich where they also have a market going, and so the good honest hard-working people of Penge will not - and cannot - support a farmers market. To be honest, Penge isn't that short of reasonable shops - they have a great butchers and there's a very large Sainsburys at the end of the high street, so realistically speaking, they're not going to want to pay upwards of £7 for 2 loaves of fancy-schmancy bread and £4 for a bottle of apple juice. Frankly, not many people would.
So what does it take for a farmers market to work? According to the market organiser when I spoke to him earlier in the year, Penge was a plum spot for a market, lacking as it does independent grocers, a fishmongers, bakery etc and being (apparently although not in actuality) the habitat of relatively high earners. According to Murray Bros, the butchers, a market was never going to work for the reasons mentioned above - people in the locality simply don't have that money to throw around. They don't necessarily seek out higher-welfare meat and organic veg - it's not their priority; cost, on the other hand, is. That's why the supermarket and its BOGOF deals thrives.
So surely the demographic research was at fault. Or maybe people get too stuck in their ways. Yes, I could go and buy some gorgeous chicken liver pate and some nice heritage potatoes, but if you can't pick up everything for your weekly shop, and have to go elsewhere, it starts to make little sense.
I maintain Crystal Palace, which is marginally better-off as an area, and which really doesn't have a single independent food retailer to its name 9and a bloody Sainsburys to boot) really could sustain a farmers market. If it can sustain the French market that trundles along once every 3 weeks, the least it could do is host a market twice a month. But I could be being hopelessly romantic and idealistic and living-in-the-clouds. Maybe the reason there are no food shops in Palace is because we're all lazy shoppers who prefer to just trudge around the supermarket of a weekend, rather than care about where our food comes from; maybe Palace isn't as rich as I think it is. But then, the restaurant scene in Palace not only survives but positively thrives, so clearly there's interest in good food...
Meanwhile, while I live in unquenchable hope, I visited Brixton Farmers Market, newly opened in September. And there's another apparent contradiction: Brixton sure as hell ain't rich and it has an enormous Saturday market. Yet, Sunday morning the market - a large one by LFM standards - was buzzing and people were clearly buying, a fact backed up by the fact that when I went back just before closing, I was struggling to get the produce I'd eyed up on the way in. So how does that work? While I struggle to fathom this mystery, I shall now be visiting Brixton every Sunday - never say I'm not dedicated.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

In which we make a new discovery

Check out this Ume Plum Seasoning from Clearspring - you can find it in the supermarket, often in the specialist section. It's a vinegar seasoning from umeboshi plums, those fabulous salty-sour pickled Japanese plums, which are addictive as a nibble.

Last night I wok-fried (wokked?) diced aubergines and courgettes with a little sesame oil. Then I added ginger, garlic and chilli to the wok and some squid rings, cooked until opaque and tender. I then deglazed the pan with Chinese cooking wine (I know Japanese... Chinese are not the same thing but I wanted the sweetness of the wine) and a few dashes of the Ume seasoning and knapped the lot over the squid and veggies. This works because the salty-sourness of the Ume plum seasoning is tempered by the sweetness of the wine and then given fire with ginger and chillies. I even ended up adding more seasoning fresh on top. Pak choi steamed with garlic and oyster sauce on the side for a tres healthy dinner.

A Fine Day Out

The South African Garden

Last Sunday was one of those gorgeous crisp autumnal days where, as Bill Bryson once said, you might feel as if 'you could ping the air like a wine glass.' In honour of the last of the good weather, we went en famille on a little day trip to the Horniman Museum, which - despite living ooh 10 mins away - we've never yet managed to get to.

Well, what a find.... The gardens are stunning at this time of year, all glorious golden auburn colours and the views on a clear day show St Paul's and beyond...

This is the beautiful conservatory:

Inside the Horniman museum, it's perhaps not as beautiful, but it's utterly fascinating. As far as I understand, Horniman was a local gent fond of collecting stuffed animals. We're not talking teddies here (imagine my disappointment) but actual stuffed animals, some of which I'm fairly sure wouldn't be allowed to be stuffed today.

Anyway, his collection became too large for his house so he bequeathed it to a museum in his name and it's a slightly creepy but absolutely interest-worthy exhibit. Apes and monkeys, birds of every colour and size, dog heads (! not keen on that bit), otters, reptiles - the list goes on and on - in fact, I can't imagine there's much not stuffed apart from the larger lions, tigers and bears. Upstairs there are fossils and sea life. If you've got small children, they'd love it (or it would give them nightmares but life's hard....) and there's various exhibits on such as a tribal exhibition, robot zoo, etc.

Why does the Government insist on screwing everyone?

If the reportage in this article in The Telegraph is true, and I am sure it is, the Government's new 'hoof tax' is devastating news for every horse owner. Every horse and pony in the country is now liable for a new tax - trainers and breeders must pay £10.50 for every horse they own. This apparently will generate nearly £7 million a year which will go towards yet another quango (why can't they become extinct?) which allegedly will research the way animal disease-outbreaks are handled in the country - ie incompetently and financially disastrously for everyone unfortunate enough to be afflicted.

There appears to be some campaign to be launched - please sign - i'll post it when I can find it. This doesn't just affect those who fall into Labour's supposed categoryof every horse owner as landed gentry, but those who sacrifice and scrimp and save for a much beloved family pet.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

A blow-out at the pop-up; or Pierre Koffman's genius revealed

I haven't been able to even give a hint of what was to happen last Saturday, as it was all a surprise for my sister's birthday and she does - she says - read this blog. So for actual whole weeks - and it has felt like a decade - I have had to keep schtum over one of the most exciting restaurant events of the year... And now, dear reader, I can tell you that we spend Saturday night en famille at Pierre Koffman's pop-up restaurant on the roof of Selfridges. And it was everything you might have dreamed.

(A small background note: if you're not quite getting all the adulation and foodie-groupie-screaming about his 'return', know this: Tante Claire was the seminal restaurant in London until Pierre Koffman, genius 3-Michelin-starred chef closed it, turning the space over to big Sweary Gord - tant pis. He progenated the chef world with chef babies including Eric Chavot, Tom Kitchin, Bruno Loubet and Tom Aikens. He has been absent for some time; and now he has returned...). The great joke is his proteges are joining him in the kitchen - on the night we visited, we were treated to Bruno on carrot-peeling and Eric on potato-pureeing.

The entrance to the restaurant is one for the exclusivity-lovers. A dedicated -guarded - lift, a quick ascendancy into a simple white corridor. Simple but stunningly decorated with minimalist objets - the ghost-girl with her veil is gorgeous. There's a small bar area but with the American Embassy setting off fireworks just next door, they sweetly moved us to our table in front of the glass wall so we could watch with a glass of wine and the bread basket - choices included bacon & onion, tomato, brown or white.

Then we're in with an amuse bouche of two discs of boudin blanc and noir atop a tiny refreshingly crisp tangle of lightly pickled red cabbage It's a palate-teaser echoing his earthy Gascon roots and it's an indication of the meat-centric food to follow. Veggies beware - this is not for you.

The menu is adventurous for something that's only around for a matter of weeks. Starters: lobster cocktail with avocado and lemon jelly; scallops in a laguna of squid ink; a special of langoustine bisque with accompanying raviolo; snails and wild mushrooms with bone marrow; foie gras with potato galette; game pithivier with a sticky jus corsé... I had the scallops - 3 perfectly seared and cooked sweet, soft pillows of shellfish surrounded by sticky, intense squid ink. I tried some of the snails - I'm still not keen texturally but the flavour was dark, woodsy - a clever pairing of fungi and gastropod. The langoustine bisque was silky-rich but not too sweet.

But, you know, starters, schmarters.... I'm almost tempted to write about nothing other than Pierre's signature main dish of pigs trotters, stuffed with sweetbreads and creamed morels, served with a cloud of potato puree so ethereally light and buttery you could bury your face in it. It came with two translucent discs of pork crackling - a textural foil for the rich sweet creamy unctuousness of the trotter. The sauce was a concentrated but not too sticky veal stock reduction, but fluid enough to coat the potato rather than glue to it. There are other mains available.

Oh all right then... Challans duck with herbs and spices, perfectly roasted; a pave of wild sea bass with artichoke barigoule was saved from being too summery by the woodsy artichokes. I'm told the Hare Royale is autumn on a plate. Or choose from a roast veal cutlet or cod with ceps, but why would you when there's Pierre's pigs trotter...!!??

Desserts - not my favourite thing - are startlingly good. My only criticism of the pistachio souffle - that I heinously had without the accompanying ice cream because the combination does nothing for me - was that it was too big. But then I only eat half a chocolate at a time so what do I know? The Toscano chocolate mousse with muscovado ice cream was another silky confection and saved from over-bitterness and over-sweetness by the orange compote. I'm assured the Gascon apple pie is what Eve should have fallen with, being the absolute apotheosis of orchard fruit.

And there we have it. Some quite stunning petits fours, good coffee and a few bottles of wine - FYI an Italian white called Kerner that I had never heard of and a big French Segla which was a tad too cool, but hey, you can't have everything.

I wonder if a taste of being back in this kind of environment would be enough to persuare PK back behind the stove. But I suspect the fun is in the temporariness - take advantage while you can.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

TS Eliot...

... is officially the best poet in the world ever.... made my day. Have just finished reading Humphrey Carpenter's Being Geniuses (sic) Together where TS made a couple of surprising appearances on the Left Bank. I wasn't aware he'd got as far as 'the lost generation' and he doesn't seem to have been much impressed by them either, but having them all at least on nodding terms is bliss.

Also - in a complete left swerve - never had quite grasped that the inspiration for Brett Ashley in Sun Also Rises was Duff Twysden - must find out more about her. How autobiographical that book is is quite extraordinary - it all happened just as Hem describes, with just a little name-changing and a little play about with actual happenings (!). Dear old Hem - succumbed to outrageous jealousy even in his own writings and even when it was Harold Loeb and not him being tossed around on the horns of a bull in Pamplona...

Monday, 5 October 2009

In which we 're-plump' the ageing process

Just a small rant... I'm not ever sucked in by adverts (see all that subliminal messaging waste of time...! and yet...) - particularly those dealing with beauty products (I'm wedded to my Liz Earle collection and LilyLolo mineral foundation and after that I'm fair game) and hair products. Frankly - as MCD notes, who calls it as he sees it - do I really want bamboo in my shampoo? What on earth can it add? A certain ability to snap and fray...?

We're now both quite baffled and amused by the torturous language the dear old advert copywriters use to get their product USP across, most of which seems to be how to defy the ageing process and get back that silky smooth skin of lost youth (Did anyone really have that - didn't we all have spots and over-enthusiastic sebaceous glands and eczema and god knows what? What skin memory are we trying to recover here?). Anyway, the sheer terror of ageing and wrinkles and bags and sunspots, ad nauseam has sent the copywriters quite into overdrive and panic has caused them commit such semantically outrageous sins as to make you want to clap your hands over your ears in horror.

Consider if you will my personal favourite 're-perfect'; as in 'this serum can re-perfect your skin texture, making it as smoothly oleaginous as a baby's nappy-rash-ridden backside.' Dreadful, no?

Or how about - last night's discovery - 'reversalist'; as in 'our reversalist moisturiser can now make you look like the pre-foetus collection of cells your lack of brain resembles.'

Or 're-support'; scaffolding for those bags.

Or 're-nutrition'; I'm starting to lose the will to live.

Or 'de-wrinkle'; you sad sack-eyed chump

Or the scary 're-plump'; ew. and aaargh....

Any others, put them down. It's not language, it's a crime.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Not The Great Gatsby

I'm a sincere devotee of Marina Hyde's Lost in Showbiz and I've posted links to her blog before, but this one: Simon Cowell seeing himself as an [ersatz] Jay Gatsby is a stonker.

PS: Today is Graham Greene's birthday.

Monday, 28 September 2009

In which we go a little tomato crazy....

A few ideas on what to do with a glut of tomatoes, be they cherry, small like Sweet Million, or larger like Shirley or Gardener's Delight...

1. A light tomato soup. I was reluctant to make this, as I'm not a massive soup fan and even less of a tomato soup fan. However, it ended up quite well, as I was basing this on a Bloody Mary mix, (it sounded fun to me) even if I say so myself. Roast a roasting tin's worth of tomatoes in the oven until blackened. Meanwhile, sweat a diced onion, a couple of cloves of garlic, crushed and maybe 2-3 sticks of chopped celery in a little olive oil. (NB peel your celery otherwise the stringy bits are horrible). Add some basil stalks and leaves, then tip in your roasted tomatoes and 500ml chicken stock. I cooked it up a bit (I sound like Katharine Hepburn 'we gotta cook it up George') then stirred in a tbsp-ish of horseradish and some Tabasco and some chopped celery leaves. I then whizzed it up with a hand-blender and seasoned. You might want a squeeze of lemon juice or more spice - taste as you go. I then dolloped in creme fraiche for thickening it a little before serving.

This is by no means a thick soup, (and it occurs to me that it would be gorgeous chilled with or without creme fraiche), and you might want some bread - or better perhaps - a toasted cheese sandwich with it....

2. Ketchup. reduce 3kg of tomatoes down to 3 bottles... I am the anti-Jesus. I'm not going to copy it out here, but suffice to say, having perused a few recipes in the collection and ummed and err-ed between Hugh and Jamie, I went for Jamie's recipe in Jamie at Home (which is a good book), but left out the ginger as I felt it wasn't a flavour I wanted in my ketchup. Also, it's worth bearing in mind, although I did double the recipe, it took (and I know this because it was my birthday and this is how I spent it - god damn my dedication) near on 5 hours to make in total. Admittedly, the work involved is pretty minor as you're mostly reducing it down to concentrate flavours, but still it's a pot that needs watching.

3. Pasta sauce. I've given up - for the time being - sweating them in a pan with garlic and oil, as I got bored of the flavour. I now just roast them with lots of seasoning and rosemary and a drizzle of red wine vinegar, then when done to a turn, tipping them over the pasta as they are and drizzling with oil. I notice Nigel last week on t'telly did his with (aargh tinned) black olives and capers - I also like chopped melted anchovies, roasted garlic, lots of basil, etc, etc. Gently torn apart buffalo mozzarella goes well.

4. Roasting them around anything else - tonight grey mullet with cockles, tomatoes, garlic - sort of bouillabaisse flavours....
PS: roasting cockles in a tin like this with everything else makes them more savoury and punchier than you ever might expect. Not one for the faint of heart, but good.

5. Tomato salad - any which way you like, but a sprinkling of chilli flakes does wonders.
6. Green tomatoes - slice thickly, coat in cornmeal/polenta and fry till crisp. What about for breakfast with bacon?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Fact of the Day...

Did you know that Charles Martell, beloved inventor of Stinking Bishop cheese, has no sense of smell. Bless the man.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Le Cassoulet

See these - perfect lovely scallops. As part of a perfect (pretty much), lovely meal last Friday at Le Cassoulet in Croydon.

Now you might not think Croydon a foodie mecca, but once you head down the high street towards South End, you start to hit a small lacuna of restaurants that are worth more than a quick eyeball through the window and a scurry past. We intend to visit them all, including Albert's Table, highly recommended by your Bookseller, and Fish and Grill, run by Malcolm John, part of a small chain that owns Chiswick's Le Vacherin and Le Cassoulet.

Back to the matter in hand: Le Cassoulet was almost extravagantly wonderful - and this in spite of MCD running the first day of a horrific cold, and even through his extreme discomfort, he loved it. We were also the youngest in there by a good 20 years, which indicates that the older denizens of Croydon know a good thing when they see it.

So glass of house Champagne to start with and a peruse of the menu. LC bills itself as French and I would say leaning towards Alsace, with the extensive - and mostly judicious - use of Alsace bacon throughout. We quibbled over starters: MCD eventually going with scallops with a black pudding raviolo and a little schmear of apple puree; I chose the octopis carpaccio with fennel, orange and caper salad. The scallops were to die for, the raviolo perfectly delicately thin, filled with a slightly spicy French-style boudin noir. My octopus was very firm in the mouth, but not tough - textured is the word - with the salad sprightly and refreshing in all the right ways.

Main courses were tougher. We both leaned towards the chateaubriand, but then we were going to be having an awful lot of cow over the weekend, so MCD went with slow-cooked lamb shoulder with haricot beans and a pomme puree (we will not go into his peculiar obsession with chips at every meal out...). This was delicious, but the little pot of haricot beans and goodies was odlly devoid of beans.... I nearly, so very nearly, went for the confit pork cheek with choucroute, but couldn't match a red wine I fancied with it, so ended up with the most amazing roast partridge. This, dear reader, was a work of art...

Firstly, I was presented with the whole partridge, very much dead but possessed of a bronzed goldenness hiterto unseen in St Tropez. We made our acquaintance most cordially. It was then returned to me with more accessories than a WAG in aforementioned St Tropez. The sauces - 4, count 'em -comprised a brown butter for pouring on first (a first for me too, but duly noted as an excellent idea), a creamy bread sauce, a rowan jelly and a deep red wine jus to flood the plate. Not mentioning the warm game chips, the watercress and the side of epinards a la creme... All fabulous, accompanied by a red from their Natural selection - a Cotes de Jura Pinot Noir - not too heavy as to send you to sleep, but more than a match for the lamb and the game.

Desserts - we're still going - were a bit of an oddity. MCD fancied the poached peach (in September...?) with honeycomb ice cream, which he loved, but which apparently last week had been poached pear, but was now peach... I mused over the cheese trolley, decided it might be a tad too much and plumped for madeleines which came with English strawberries (in September... again...?), which were fabulous, but wanted a sabayon-style accompaniment to be perfect, I think. Un petit Muscat pour encourager les autres and we were just about done.... The bill was incredibly reasonable - for all this glorious bounty, plus water, plus a glass of vin de pays de Gers white with my octopus + tip came to about £160. Not a cheap meal out, but not outrageous.

It's worth noting they offer steak deals in the week as well as 3-course deals, all of which are almost ridiculously reasonable (steak + accompaniments + good glass of red for less than a tenner...?). Go, go now. Just make sure you book, cos we'll be beating you to it.

PS: Don't tell me we aren't lucky to live where we live.... Check out Time Out - Exhibition Rooms and Fish and Grill in 1st and 2nd post...

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

In which we are violated and the bubble bursts

I have always subscribed to the somewhat hackneyed cliche that an Englishman's home is his castle. I particularly love our own castle and the area in which we live in leafy SE London; I love the big and beautiful houses, the short walk to Crystal Palace and the farmers' market, the green leafiness of it all.

Unfortunately so do potential burglars. I was woken from a solo (MCD was out) semi-slumber at the early hour of 9.50pm (early, but I was knackered from little sleep the night before and trying to ease the sciatica cramp curiously in my leg and foot) by a man apparently of the notion that climbing through my bedroom window would afford him access to all the riches of China. Unfortunately for him, I didn't share the notion and he certainly wasn't expecting a 5ft screaming banshee to shoot out of bed, throw open the window and get in his face yelling 'Get off my fucking roof. I'm calling the police.' Duly alerted to my territorialism, he slid down the roof, back into next door's garden, whence he came and - I have to admit - seemingly sauntered off. At this point I realised I could keep yelling 'I'm calling the police', but it would be more helpful to actually call the police...

I have to say they were amazing. I've never actually seen them swing into action before, but within 10 minutes there were dogs, forensics, welfare officers and a helicopter. They even threw a dog onto the roof to track the scent. They took statements, fed me brandy, waited with me until a very shaken MCD returned, dusted for prints all over. This morning I have had a re-visit to check on me and give me crime prevention tips.

And here's the thing. I have always felt, if not inviolable in the house, at least well-protected. We have great neighbours, we recently installed a fuck-off massive gate and fence at the back and had new security double-glazing. And frankly it makes not the slightest bit of difference if an opportunistic son-of-a-bitch decides that he can pop the neighbour's fence, swing up a tree and in through an open bedroom window (this in itself makes me mad - his presumption that we would be stupid enough to go out for the night, leaving the windows open. Certainly the house was in darkness with only the porch light on, but really - he thought we were that stupid...?).

But now I'm severely shaken. Granted I'm writing this on no sleep, much coffee, races of adrenaline and no breakfast, but now my home doesn't feel quite so safe any more and I hate this man for that. I hate that he has - in part - tarnished a little of the dream of living here. I hate, that by his audacity and lack of morals and downright execrable way of life, he has destroyed my illusion of inviolability, of feeling protected, of making my husband worry about leaving me in the house alone - and making me anxious about it too.

I am obscurely and pervertedly pleased that the police labelled me a 'fighter' not a 'flighter'; that I - in sheer naive and incredulous outrage - stood up and yelled him off my roof (my head refuses to determine all the possiblities for damage and death that may have afforded), but at 4am this morning, patrolling because I couldn't sleep and there were noises, I felt small and afraid and worried.

We're extremely lucky this bastard (I must apologise for the swearing, but I am so mad) just ran off, but it could have been different. So lesson for today is: Install the security lights you've been putting off because of course you always shut your windows when you're out. Install a burglar alarm. Put gripper rods along your fence because they will always find a way in. And I hate that it has come to making our beautiful lovely lovable house a fortress; that we have to actively defend rather than enjoy. But if it stops some madman trying to crawl in through your window in the evening with the express intention of destroying your life, do it.

Monday, 7 September 2009

A touch of retro...

I don't know if I'm not instinctively retro - even the thought of getting a new phone brings me out in hives (all I want is a radio for dear old Terry (oh god can I bear his passing...?) and soon-to-be-even-dearer Radio 4), but then again, I can bang on about good old SEO till the cows come home - and look at me, I'm a blogger - though not yet a tweeter (the time it takes)... But I do wonder where I stand on food.

Were there really good old days in the food world? Yes, yes the government wants to get us all growing potatoes and putting carrots where they really have no business being - and I'm not saying this is a bad thing, devoted as I am to our vegetable plot - but rations weren't all health-a-go-go and bringing a bunny home for the pot. It was hard, hard work to make food that was nutritious and tasted good - it still is - on practically no money and families to feed or else they starve.

Go back even 30 years and the great stampede of convenience food was rearing its plastically-moulded head and we're still living in its apocalyptic shadow even now. But other things have moved on - thank goodness we've gotten away from nouvelle cuisine, or the hideous nightmarish creations of Fanny Cradock or ... or... oh, we've kept everything else, even Smash. We do love our foodie kitsch, it seems.

Restaurants are a shining example of keeping on top of food trends. There's still a chasm in this country I think. Some restaurants take pride in serving good food at decent prices (a relatively recent invention) and their customers recognise it and everyone's a winner; some prefer to serve utter shit and then any money you pay is too much, but they thrive because they are cheap and who bothers complaining... (another can of worms and one for another day). Some restaurants are slowly looking dated - Gordon Ramsay at Claridges, anyone? A genius of his day and probably still a genius chef, but someone change that menu from 1999 to 2009 - and charge the earth, but you're in the hands of a cooking god, don'tcha know? And some places keep steadily doing what they've been doing for 20 or 30 years and because the food is good and well-cooked and sweetly served, because the atmosphere is welcoming and the owner takes care in saying hello and goodbye, they survive even when a glance at the menu makes you wonder why in this racing age of foams and sherberts and clever ideas on cocktail sticks.

All this is a terribly long-winded way of saying Luigi's in Gipsy Hill (no link - there's no website - look at the post-modern retroism) is a rather fabulous place to spend a Friday night. Just on the junction of Gipsy Hill, opposite The Mansion (one to visit - see 1st category), they're quietly going about serving food that wouldn't have been out of place 35 years ago and yet it's still doing a roaring trade. Bruschetta, for the non-cognoscenti, is still described as roast toast. That alone endears it to me. There's even butter curls.

Squid salad came with prawns and mussels and that curiously-texture squid which implies bottled but might not be with a pungent dressing. Mussels with their winey tomato sauce came heaped with garlic roast toast for dipping. Veal osso bucho (sic) was a mammoth piece of cow shin with the marrow still within the bone (more bread please) and a timbale of risotto. Side dishes included carrot batons, hot and crisp deep-fried courgettes, spinach redolent of garlic and turned and impeccably scraped new potatoes. Duck, curiously with lemon and honey, was cooked to a turn, the legs well done but the meat falling from them.

There's a dessert trolley with tiramisu - ask for cheesecake and you'll get what looked distinctly like a quarter of the whole - MCD tried his best, bless him. Espresso is a shot to the heart after the behemoth portions.

And it's the small touches. The fact our chosen wine wasn't available, but a more expensive one recommended but sold at the cheaper price; the flood of Italian from the owner when he thought I knew more than how to order in a restaurant (my graduation cert has a lot to answer for); the fact he dines there, interrupting his dinner to welcome and wave farewell to all the guests - not customers, but guests. The slightly creaking courtesy, the green tiles reminiscent of a Greek taverna - It all made you want to order a Dubonnet and wish the 70s had never left.

But back then it might not have felt half as clever as it does now.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

A dilly of a pickle...

... which happens to be my favourite bon mot at the moment... Anyway, green beans - nightmare - they get out of control running rampant within the confines of their wigwam (so not very out of control at all, in fact), get too long, too twisty, too pale to look any good. So, dear reader, we pickle them.

I've never really been into making jams and pickles and things - never had to deal before with an own-grown glut of things, so this was actually my first attempt. I have been driven for some years, however, to look out for a pickled green bean recipe - when I was in Boston a few years ago we went for the most awesome brunch and my Bloody Mary was served not with a celery stick, but with a pickled green bean. I thought the combination magical and have been on the lookout ever since, but nothing quite hit the mark until this. The base of the recipe comes from Christine McFadden's Farm Shop Cookbook.

So... with my notes...

Makes 4 x 600ml jars (I halved the recipe as I only had 2 jars).

850g green beans, stalks removed (I had as many as I could pick but that seemed to pack into 2 Kilner jars, but I did have to cut them in half to fit them in.)
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
8 sprigs dill
1.25 L distilled (malt) vinegar (careful halving this as you may need more than half. I can't explain that - I failed Physics over and over)
280g sugar
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 tsp dill seeds (in lieu of which I used fennel seeds)

Plunge the beans into boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold running water. I did this as it's supposed to keep their viridian colour, but mucked it up later - see below. Pack vertically - or anyway you can - or layering into the kilner jars with the onion, garlic and dill sprigs.

Heat the vinegar, sugar, salt and dill/fennel seeds in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil briefly, then remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. I recommend cooling almost completely, as pouring it over the beans when hot renders them khaki rather than appetisingly bright green, as you're continuing the cooking somewhat. Ideally the liquid should come to the top. Seal and store in a cool place for at least a week.

I left these 9 days, then cracked a jar open. The beans had retained their crunch, which I had been worried about and tasted fabulous. A little on the short side, perhaps, but then, aren't we all...?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

The Ultimate Burger

You need a few things to make up the perfect burger:
1. The right meat.
Just now I favour chuck, carefully de-sinewed and coarsely minced.
2. The right bun.
Supermarket ones are ridiculous in every sense; I like the idea of brioche buns but haven't yet found one to convince me and an old-fashioned floury bun somehow doesn't hit the right note for a thick own-made rare-cooked piece of beef. Try these - Tortano rolls from The Flour Station.
3. The right topping.
Hmm... tricky one. I dithered for years between the mayo-ketchup combo with fresh sliced tomatoes and a little lettuce, gherkin and melted cheese and blue cheese-mustard-with a tad of onion marmalade occasionally. Both are/were good. The one below's better.
4. Inspiration.
It's not enough to just fancy a burger - for it to be good, you've got to put love, effort, quality into it, otherwise you may as well bugger off to McB King. And occasionally it's enough to read something completely drool-inducingly inspiring - Let me introduce the Bobcat Burger from Helen Graves' Food Stories blog. People, this is our model.

I use about 120g per burger and add simply salt and pepper before rounding it to a thick patty. The reason I like my burgers thicker rather than flatter is that I like them rare and this gives you more margin for error what with the essential resting period.

Cook the burgers preferably in a heavy-based sauteuse, until done to just under your liking. Probably about 2-3 mins per side if rare. Take them out, cover with foil and leave to rest. Then melt a knob of butter in the pan and add a green chilli, sliced and de-seeded (if like me, you want a little heat but more flavour) and about 100ml hot chicken stock. Fry the little chillies in the mixture until the liquid has reduced a bit. Tip in any resting juices from the burgers.

Tip this mixture carefully over the burgers, making sure the chillies perch on the burger, then cover with lots of finely-sliced cheese - I had Jarlsberg, because that's what I could find, but try Gruyere - point is, you want something relatively mild, but that sticks the chillies to the burger. Flash under a hot grill to make the cheese ooze.

Manoeuvre into a split Tortano bun and devour. The buns themselves are very filling so you might not need the handful of home-made potato wedges I made to accompany this. We are simply piggies.

As Helen points out, these come courtesy of The Meat Wagon who tours around, but he's in The States at the mo, learning more on the perfect burger - experiment with this while he's refining his dark arts.

Frank's Cafe & Campari Bar or A Night Out in Peckham

Ok, so it would take a lot to make me go to Peckham, voluntarily, for dinner on a weeknight. A lot. A whole staff outing and someone else paying, is what it would take, more or less... Luckily that was what was on offer last Thursday when we decided to venture to Frank's Cafe and Campari Bar, a pop-up restaurant cunningly situated on the 10th floor of the multi-storey car park.

Finding it is not an issue. It's the car park. Getting to it, you run the gauntlet of the kids on bikes doing death-defying speed stunts around the unsurprisingly empty car park, up and down the ramps, avoiding - but only just - unexpected vehicles that have the temerity to be parked there. In the car park. Anyway, once you're out of the car on the 8th floor and you've made it up the next two up to the roof, your next challenge is to make it across the roof without the winds actually sent from hell blowing you over to a splattery death on the high street below. A second's hesitation and you're just another statistic - albeit rather a novel one and a great foodie-challenge way to go.

Having done so, you can then aim for one of the communal benches; people will be accommodating and shove up if you ask nicely. Once you've clocked your surroundings and ordered a drink - the campari list includes bicyclettes (see below) negronis, etc but look out for a light rose which lends a touch of summer to the blackening skies - you're good to go on ordering.

The menu's great - something for everyone and designed as dishes to share rather than hog, though I recommend if you're ordering the vegetables with anchoiade, order two. If you're ordering the ox heart, it comes salad-style so make it three. You might like the sound of crab on toast, charcuterie platters, salads, more vegetables with hummus, grilled sardines. It's all good, quickly cooked and arriving at will with nothing really overstepping the £5 plate. And you can keep it coming until the food actually runs out. That's my kind of restaurant.

With the darkness really setting in, the skyline does start to look quite beautiful; people milling trendily at the outer walls, drinking sophisticated drinks and smirting - you can see why it's a huge hit. There's nothing quite like it, certainly not in Peckham (hardly Food Central, if it doesn't mind me saying so) and people are packing in.

If you fancy going, make it sharp-ish as it closes from 30 September. And two tips - wrap up warm and for God's sake, whatever you do, take the lift down to the bottom on the right hand side of the building. The shiny silver one that goes up and down like Eeyore's balloon - not the old, crappy one that's liable to send you screaming for the wee-soaked stairwell, which in turn will send you screaming back to the elevator. It was eventful, that's all I'm saying...

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Squid with an autumnal hue

Last night I decided to do something a little different with the 2 squid I had in the freezer. Usually I either griddle or bbq it with chilli and lime, or slice into rings and cook it with a breadcrumbs and lemon pangrattato. Last night, though, Autumn felt decidedly in the air and in my kitchen, so out came whole roasted squid with roasted vegetables and chorizo dressing.

So... for two people, parboil 6 baby leeks for about 3 mins, then leave to steam dry. Add to a roasting tin with quartered radicchio or chicory, courgettes sliced lengthways, quartered fennel - anything you fancy really, but that's what I had and roast until wilted and bronzed.

On the hob, saute chopped chorizo, garlic and rosemary in olive oil until the fat has run. (This recipe is actually a bastardized version of a Jamie at Home, but who follows the rules...?). Then scoop out with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil behind and fry off a good handful of stale breadcrumbs until rusted and crisp. Scoop them out, set aside and add the chorizo mix back into the pan. Add a good squeeze of lemon and 1-2 tbsp of balsamic.

When you're about ready to go, prepare the squid. Mine were whole and - tip from Jamie again - slide a large knife down the middle of the squid, then score concertina-like cuts about 1cm apart along the length of the squid - the inner knife ensures you won't cut through. Add the squid and tentacles to the roasting tin, set the timer for 4-5 mins (depending on size) and gently reheat the dressing.

Take the tin out the oven, arrange the veggies and squid on a plate, pour over the dressing and scatter over a handful of breadcrumbs. Deeply savoury, pleasingly textured and the autumnal hues are spirit-lifting on a dull night.

Monday, 24 August 2009

A Little Local Colour...

Ok, off with the slough of despond and on with life.

I did mention Tandoori roasted chicken and pickled green beans in my last post (not to be eaten together, if you've any sense) and I will post the recipes later this week, promise. In the meantime, I thought I'd start an occasional series on where I live in Crystal Palace in South East London.

Actually, intriguingly enough Crystal Palace doesn't exist as a place. Although it has a train station thus called, the area of Upper Norwood - its rightful title - was simply nicknamed after the Victorian Crystal Palace and the name stuck.

One of the nicest things about Palace is the village feel. There are more diverse restaurants (good ones, thank God) than you can think of, an excellent bookshop, nice cafes for coffee, a little bakery, boutiques and antiques and even a sex shop - no village is complete without one. One of the more contentious battles right now is the war between the community and the church in the hostile takeover of the bingo hall. Originally an art-deco cinema, there are plans to re-open it as such, which would be an enormous boost to the area and it would be nice not to have to go all the way to flipping Croydon for a film. However the church believes that what our ethnically-diverse community needs is yet another place of worship and goodness, they're being sneaky about it. Anyway, the battle rages on: you can sign up to the petition for the cinema here.

Another little-known fact, and one strictly for the Durrell (Gerald or Lawrence) fans, is that before the epic move to Corfu before the war, the Durrells lived in a little flat in the gardens of the Queens Hotel on Church Road and after Corfu they lived briefly again, whereabouts unrecorded, in Norwood before moving more centrally. This may mean little to the rest of you, but for me it's kismet, fate, meant-t0-be.... (MCD is quite aware it's only an accident of fate and birth and timing, goddamnit, that I didn't marry G Durrell first - lucky lucky man, the both of them....)

There are a few things missing in the Palace. A farmers market would be no.1 on my wish list. At the moment I go to Penge, which isn't far at all, but it would be nice to have one in Palace itself. There is a market every 3rd weekend, but it's that terribly tired formula of cynically-expensive French cheeses, olives, bread and salami, which is all well and good but not terribly useful when you're still forced to Sainsburys to complete the weekly shop. Hopefully it will grow and diversify, but the space in Victoria Place is a little limited, so who knows....

Apparently there used to be independent butchers, greengrocers et al, but with the reasonably recent opening of Sainsburys, they've gone. It's hard to believe, but there's not a single retail outlet selling fresh fruit and vegetables apart from Budgens (limited in the extreme) and the supermarket. Again, Penge has a remarkable butchers in Murray Bros, so this combined with the farmers market offers a decent spread. However, the farmers market is struggling slightly with lack of footfall - please, please, please my reader(s), support your local farmers market if you have one. Once it's gone, the council won't bring it back.

For a slice of life at the top of the hill, then, I'll be posting restaurant reviews, thoughts, events, anything going on really, as I get wind of it. Anything I've missed, chuck it over and I'll blog about it.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

An exercise in catharsis

I'm a great believer - if not excellent practitioner - in mood control, ie, bucking yourself up, finding something to smile about, giving yourself a good talking to when all you actually want to do is throw yourself on the floor in a stormy tantrum. Or worse, hide away under the duvet until the clouds have passed - worse because this is sometimes worth giving in to and extremely hard to resists - duvet days were a great invention, but for most of us, unfortunately, a weekend luxury. Life's not that convenient.
In my post last week I talked briefly on feeling blue and shaded in and how I'd 'had a word with myself' as a friend puts it and came back to some sort of equilibrium - a truce with myself that I could feel down for X amount of time, but thereafter, back on with life, hi-ho. And I managed it and the last few days have been fine, but I still feel a little wound up inside, not quite back to sunny normality.
Now, I'm not apologising for this - I believe that in actuality, humans have a licence to feel how they wish as long as they don't inflict their mood on others (and goodness, isn't that a demanding and incredible position to maintain, but we can all aspire), but I do find that during a consistent bout of feeling a bit down (no more no less), my dream-subconscious decides that it might as well get in on the act and give me a good psychological battering just when I really really don't need it - and it's this I want to explore.
One of my most frequent dreams that occurs when I'm feeling low is undoubtedly a Freudian classic (and I'd love to see how Jung or Adler might approach it), and it never fails to leave me feeling the next morning as if I might just give it all up now and go take my black and stormy person off to some wasteland somewhere where I might not poison anyone else.
So what is it? Well, the dream is always along the lines of a scenario being played out (last night it was Christmas Day) and my parents are extremely disappointed, then subsequently angry and dismissive about what they view as my childish point of view/behaviour/feelings in that scenario, and then dismissive of me as a person - it's like I'm wiped from the family unit. I, meanwhile, feel extremely frustrated and angry that I can't get my point across, that I'm being shown up as childish and behaving badly. Always in the dream, my parents end up taking my sister's side and pretty much constantly you can bet that my dream-sister has done something to antagonise the situation, making me furious and look like the bad party. So far, so very consistent...
Last night's was a humdinger though. This time my dream-sister and I didn't actually end up in yet another physical fist-fight, where I want to hit her so hard - and yet somehow can't quite land with the power I want - but she in fact called upon a gang of kids (good grief!) to threaten me with violence, push me around and make sure I was terrified.
The therapy-view is reasonably easy to guess at in these circumstances - it's never my husband in these dreams ever (for which I am endlessly grateful, one less stick for my subconscious to beat me with), but my family, whose opinion I respect and need (I surprise myself in writing that, but it's true) and my sister whose existence I'm sure I did at one point in my toddlerhood deeply resent, but it's all worked out now - but these things run very deep - the people whose love and sympathy I need most are those who are natural objects for the subconscious to use to turn that around. And - hard to believe - I'm not a depressive, although it was touch-and-go for a while there a couple of years back - God bless the old therapy couch.
By writing this down, I wanted to see if it's easy to gain some sort of perspective on the whole. Naturally I don't feel at my most loveable after these dreams and it takes a good couple of hours to bring myself around, talk myself back into a less harsh and judgmental stance on myself and feel a bit sunnier. However, I'm interested in how I'm responding to it writ large in black and white.
I still feel at the bottom of it all an underlying sadness and sense of worthlessness that stems deeply from the dream, that I'm better off on my own (a feeling I have to fight with all my being sometimes, because it's both untrue and ridiculous - no-one is). I find it hard to address these feelings or to talk to my amazing husband about them, because it would feel as if I was admitting an intrinsic failure in myself and an innate unloveable-ness - if I have these dreams, I'm both evil and unworthy and definitely insane, goes the thought process.
I suppose by writing it down, I'm trying to take away, or at least subdue, the power this recurrent dream has over me. It attacks me when I'm already at my lowest, reinforcing all my self-doubts, which I've worked hard to get over anyway, and it takes a while to pick myself up again, emotionally at least.
I now want to write - flippantly - what a nice, self-indulgent post that was and what you're quite supposed to do with it, I'm not sure. What I'm quite supposed to do with it, I'm not sure either. It's an exercise in reducing the power of dreams and taking back a little control - look, no hands - and I'm not sure yet if it's done the trick, but I'll keep you posted.
And tomorrow - just for added light relief - pickling green beans and whole-roasted Tandoori chicken - who says I don't do rounded.