Thursday, 30 December 2010

Keeping it simple… Part III

Ideas for leftovers are everywhere – how best to resurrect the beast (Our beast was half a crown cooked with goose fat – counter-intuitive I know, but utterly delicious) whilst making it seem joyously fresh and exciting and tempting to everyone’s somewhat jaded palates. I rather take the line with Jay Rayner and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that there is very little unimproved by frying in hot butter and I would apply it to turkey too. I’m really not that keen on cold meat, apart from rare beef, so it’s a practice I’ve taken to with enthusiasm.

Frankly, the best bit – of course – is the turkey sandwiches afterwards. There must absolutely be stuffing: even Paxo’s rather bullying sage & onion has its place here and I reheat my turkey (look away now if this makes the more salmonella-paranoid of you squirm) either in a good knob of butter in the frying pan or cut into thin slices and covered with a little chicken stock/leftover gravy and some knobs of butter in a dish in the oven. Make sure it’s piping hot, though. I also used to adore – God, it sounds revolting, but I truly loved it and so pass it on now – sandwiches made with hot turkey and stuffing and a good squirt of salad cream. Makes a change from mayo which is really only useful to lubricate the bread rather than add much in the way of flavour.

Boxing Day isn’t Boxing Day proper without bubble & squeak with Worcestershire sauce and however many types of chutneys and pickles you can fit on the plate. However, this year, having gorged on my mother’s B & S on Boxing Day, we still had our leftover veg waiting for us, as well as quarter of a can of chestnut puree from the stuffing. Reader, I made a Bubble & squeak soup, nicked from a recipe I saw from dear old Nigel Slater and adapted and it was luscious.Use whatever veg you have to hand.

Chop an onion and some celery and sweat in butter, then add a sliced leek. Toss in your leftover cooked veg and add stock to cover, then stir in the chestnut puree. Simmer until it tastes mingled – maybe 20 minutes – and throw in a handful of greens, leftover or fresh – for the sprouty taste – and cook for a further 5 minutes or so. Blend until smooth – or at least not lumpy and ladle into deep bowls. I had some stuffing and did as he suggests, cubed it and added to the soup before serving. 

You might also consider making a Keema – a curry made with a base of sliced onion and garlic, garam masala, ginger and cumin with the chopped meat, peas, spinach, a can of tomatoes and a little water and left to simmer until thickened and shiny.

And don’t forget the pasta sauces made with the leftover cream (why do we insist on buying those mountainous pots of cream – what do we use it for?), turkey, bacon and mushrooms – ridiculously rich but comforting if the weather’s a bit dreich and drear.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Keeping it simple… Part II

Last night was wild mushroom risotto. Now, I have to admit to a certain amount of seasonal wanton profligacy with this, due to a timely visit to Costco and the bulk buying of 500g wild mushrooms for less than a tenner, which has led to me throwing them with gay abandon into everything. And I also have to acknowledge that not everyone will find a half-eaten jar of Sacla anchovies with white truffles in the cupboard to also throw in with wilful wantonness, so feel free to edit these elements somewhat… If you wanted that savoury richness and had only ordinary anchovies, add them in with the onion at the beginning so they melt and form a backbone of flavour.

So: I soaked a good handful of mushrooms in some chicken stock while I sweated a chopped onion and 2 cloves garlic in some butter. I scooped out the mushrooms and added them to the pan, then added in around 160g arborio rice (carnaroli is my preferred choice, but we’re talking cupboard love here). Add a good slug of vermouth (or white wine) and allow the rice to soak it up, then proceed as normal, adding in the stock a little at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid and stir, stir, stir. About halfway through, I added the anchovies which melted into the risotto as it cooked. You’ll notice the risotto is taking on a rather brown hue, due to the mushroom liquid, but think of it as autumnal woods and move on…  When the rice is cooked,season and leave to stand for a couple of minutes while you add the incredibly important knob of butter and – for even more richness – a big handful of grated gruyere cheese. Warm your plates, then spoon the risotto onto them, adding a grating of Parmesan and a sprinkling of parsley. Heaven in a bowl.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Keeping it simple… Part I

Pre-Christmas I find I crave meat less and less as the Big Day approaches: something I suspect to do with the surfeit looming. Particularly in this weather – and with MCD Jr having had his very first cold and cough – I’m paranoid about keeping up our vegetable intake and a lot of the meals tend towards the vegetarian, in a strange simulacrum of Puritan-like fasting before the main event.

Monday’s soup was the usual throw-unfeasibly-large-amounts-of-vegetables-in-a-pot-and-cook-with-stock-and-blend variety but the combination this time was particularly worthy of note. Half a pumpkin, laboriously peeled and cubed, a handful of Jerusalem artichokes simply scrubbed, a lone peeled potato found floating in the drawer and an apple for sweetness – all softened with a base of sweated onion and garlic. Simmer with enough vegetable stock to cover until thoroughly soft and then blend. The genius is in the velvety texture from the artichokes and the sweet combo of pumpkin and apple. Last night I just topped with a handful of toasted croutons (always mindful of Simon Hopkinson’s note that they ‘do something nice to the inside of your mouth’). This lunchtime I had the leftovers alongside a roll stuffed with grilled chorizo sausage in a riff on the old pea and ham soup-and-sandwich combo.

Edouard Pomiane, a warm and lovely presence in the food writing world, had a lovely way with cooked tomatoes, luxurious and warming without being cloyingly rich. Cut tomatoes in half and prick the skin side a few times with the point of a knife. Place cut-side down in a frying pan with a knob of butter and fry until coloured. Turn oven and cook – and this is his crucial injunction – until the juices run out. Pour in a dollop of cream, season well and scoop over hot toast. It’ll do for breakfast with a pot of hot coffee.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Haggis - it's never too early...

The freezer needs some serious consideration if I am to fit all the Christmas goodies in that I intend to for the two of us (And I know there's now three, but if you're not on solids, you don't count on this particular occasion). I found - stashed in the back from last January when I optimistically bought it for Burns Night - a haggis. Being pregnant at the time, it was the first Burns Night in a few years I had gone without my customary haggis fill, but I need the space in the freezer now and it seemed the perfect solution for a warming supper toute seule.

Wrapped in foil and bunged in the oven for 90 minutes, half of it was comfortingly savoury with chips (of course...) and some - oh the shame - Bisto roast onion gravy which I almost never use but can get you out of a culinary hole when time is tight and only thick gravy will do. The other half - well, all I can say is if you haven't tried a haggis sandwich, you haven't eaten the best this can offer. I fried some mushrooms in a pan with some butter, added the remaining haggis and cooked through until completely hot. I spread a little redcurrant jelly (I know but work with me) on a slice of white (home-made!) bread, then tipped the contents of the pan over said slice, topped with another and applied to face. It strikes me now it would have been less messy to eat in a bun of some kind, but it was a very Scottish take on a Sloppy Joe, a deconstructed burger dish of which I am inordinately fond.

Naturally, come January I shall be going down the traditional route once more, but as MCD isn't that keen, I might have half on Burns Night and save the other half for sandwiches again. Who knew...?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Two quick suppers and a lazy one…

The soup:

Sweat one sliced onion in some olive oil, then add a clove or two of chopped garlic and half a pumpkin (depending on quantity desired), deseeded, but not necessarily peeled. I should add that if you use a butternut squash you might want to peel that because the skin can be a bit tougher. Cook the vegetables for 10 minutes or so, allowing the pumpkin to soften a bit, then tip in a can of tomatoes and around 400-500ml vegetable or chicken stock. Season with some salt, pepper and chilli flakes until the pumpkin is completely tender. Whizz with a hand-held blender or similar until smooth. At this point you may want to let it down a bit with some more stock as it can thicken up withe pumpkin. Tip in a can of cannellini beans and reheat, then serve in deep bowls, marvelling at the bonfire glow of your supper.

The pasta:

Sweat one onion in a pan with some chopped garlic. (All winter recipes seem to start like this, I find). Add a chopped aubergine and a tsp of dried oregano, put on a lid and allow to sweat/fry until the aubergine is tender. Stir in around 400g pork mince and stir until cooked through then add a can of tomatoes, some chilli flakes and seasoning and a tbsp of tomato puree and simmer until the sauce is thickened to your liking. Add more oregano if you want then tip over penne pasta or even spaghetti and sprinkle with Parmesan.

The Sunday supper:

Disclaimer: This one does not involve a can of tomatoes.

Finely chop some rosemary leaves with salt and press into the skin of two duck legs. In a large casserole, brown the duck legs, allowing the fat to render out, until crisp and bronze of skin rather like some 70’s ST Tropez goddess. Add a chopped leek and soften in the duck fat, then some chopped pumpkin and some halved waxy potatoes. Throw in a glass of red wine, put the lid on and simmer very gently for around 45 minutes, but keep checking it. The pumpkin should soften into the sauce and the potatoes should be completely tender. Check the seasoning and serve with some sautéed greens, cavolo nero for preference.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Westow House, Crystal Palace–The return…

It’s not traditionally somewhere you might take your 6 week-old son. Westow House at the junction of Anerley Hill and Westow Hill is locally known as The Meat Market: weekend nights are out of bounds unless you’re under 25 and of a certain persuasion and so far I’ve only been there twice, both times after about three vodka, soda and limes too many… and that was enough. It’s a shame because the interior was built for lingering weekend afternoons on the sofas, perhaps someone daringly tickling the ivories in the corner (as opposed to something more animate…)

But… but… Westow House has now been taken over by Antic Pubs, who also run Jam Circus in Brockley amongst others, and d’you know, it’s quite a change of pace. There’s now a menu of classic British pub grub-ness – think burgers, fish & chips, Ploughman’s and so on – and the vibe, particularly during the day, is one of calm and cosiness. Weird.

We’ve now been en famille twice in a week. Yes, twice. It was that good. Given that men have gone to the moon in spaceships with less technology than the pram we are toting, we’re always on the lookout for somewhere a little more spacious and you cannot get into Domali for love nor money on a weekday lunch for other buggy-toting mothers. We’d heard rumours of a sea-change at The Westow and ambled over for a gander.

Of course, being a Tuesday lunch, it was deserted apart from a man in the corner reading a paper, but he didn’t look as if he was going to start a riot so we settled ourselves in with a pint of rather good cider and perused the menu.

At £10 for a choice of four dishes from what they’re ludicrously calling the Tapas Menu, it was a bargain. NB: if they’re not Spanish dishes, let’s call them something else. Starters, maybe, or Small Plates, or Grazing or Snacking something-or-other but for the love of all that’s holy let’s leave the tapas nomenclature where it belongs. Anyway. Breathe… So we shared a wedge of a good meaty pork pie with personality-full piccalilli; a dish of tiny little sausages with a grape mustard and apple sauce combo; a bowl of hand-cut skin-on chips; and a thick slice of properly-made Welsh Rarebit that was so delicious I claimed a good three-quarters of it and let MCD have my chips. It was perfect – filling, good value and most importantly, it all tasted great.

So on Friday, we actually eschewed a pizza at Mediterranea (and that took some effort) and went again, this time going the main course route. MCD’s pollock and chips were bigger and better than the comparable dish at The Mansion in Gipsy Hill and I would say the same about my burger with Stilton, the only downside being they didn’t ask how I wanted it cooked. And just while I think about it, why fashion burgers so thick you can’t fit them in your mouth? Why not use the same weight of meat for a thinner patty that you don’t have to cut with a knife and fork, feeling like a poncy lemon as you do so? Just a thought…

We even had puddings. MCD’s choice of treacle tart with creme fraiche and blackberries was good, if not quite solid enough for my taste. The Green & Black’s chocolate fondant was perfectly cooked and would have been even better had it come with the advertised rum & raisin ice cream rather than vanilla. But again, we finished them both, rather at a trot as MCD Junior was showing signs of waking.

It’s a true revelation. Something approaching a gastropub in Crystal Palace and I can honestly say it’s all the better for it. Now all we need is to find out what’s going up instead of the Talon Salon…

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Green tomato ketchup–a reprise, and other stories

Ok, I’m back. A slightly longer absence than planned and much to write about. In fact, I’ve been putting off posting for a couple of weeks, having come over all shy. And then I thought ‘Bugger it’ and so here it is – a random post to get things moving and then normal service will be resumed…

So: green tomato ketchup. I did indeed get it made and I did forego the 350ml water and added the vinegar/sugar mixture straight in with the tomatoes. It made sod all difference to the end product as I simply reduced it down (within a magical 40 mins if I remember rightly) and whizzed it up. So clearly Jamie’s editors have made a slight recipe typo with that one. More importantly it need not take you 4 hours to make a jar of condiment.

Pumpkin cannelloni: I had a craving on Halloween for something using of the rubescent squash sitting on my work surface. Now that I can face pumpkin, squash, sweet potato and chorizo again (pregnancy hormones are strange bedfellows), I’ve gone a little squash crazy and the occasion seemed appropriate.

I roasted the wedges of squash with garlic and rosemary and a chopped up sweet potato for about 40 mins until caramelized and sticky. NB DO NOT add your garlic in at the beginning; it will just burn, so stick it in 20 mins before the end. Allow to cool then scrape the flesh from the skins into a food processor and whizz up with the roasted garlic, a good tbsp of ricotta, a handful of whatever herb takes your fancy (I used rosemary) and some lemon zest. Filling done.

I then pre-soaked some fresh lasagne sheets for a couple of minutes in boiling water to make them pliable. Remove from the water and brush with a little oil to stop them sticking. (Can I add at this point I was going to make the pasta sheets myself – got the machine out and everything – only to discover my pasta flour had weevils in it. Oh. My. God. And it went out of date 18 months ago, so I had to give that up. But I was going to.) Spoon balls of the pumpkin mixture along one edge of the sheet and roll up into tubes and place in a baking dish. I then spooned over a roasted tomato and chilli sauce before baking for 25-30 minutes and topping with Parmesan. I think a creamy sauce would be too rich, but conversely some ripped-up mozzarella or even Taleggio would be divine.

I’ve also dabbled with beef en croute (Note to self – cook AFTER feeding the baby, as if they hang around too long the beef will completely over-cook. A simply mistake, one I’m normally careful to avoid, but I’m still on a learning curve with the baby/cooking/timing issues…) which I served with a fabulous Madeira sauce. I added depth by stirring in the remaining tbsp of mushroom duxelles – the rest of which was lining the inside of the pastry – and the resting juices from the beef after it had been seared before wrapping in the pastry.

In surprise news, MCD has made a luscious chocolate mousse. There is a clear division in the kitchen: I’m not a pudding cook, although I will if pushed, but something about the precise mathematical nature appeals to MCD and his mousse was extraordinary. He substituted the suggested flavouring of Earl Grey tea with peppermint (given I can’t stand tea) and it was just a subtle wash rather than in-your-face After Eight madness. There may be more to come – we’ll see.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Excuse this short intermission while I go and have a baby...

... although I am right at this very moment (while quietly and stoically contracting) making a green tomato ketchup as promised for comparison with the one I made the other week; I'll be back with notes on how it goes. The ketchup, not the birth. It's not that kind of blog.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Plum sauce

There’s a Nigel Slater recipe from Kitchen Diaries that I’ve tried three or four times now and never quite managed to crack. The one where he roasts Fragola grapes around the pork for the entire roasting time and somehow ends up with sweet grape-scented jus instead of shrivelled black raisins. I’ve tried a number of different methods, including cooking on a lower temperature and covering the tin with foil, chucking the grapes in later in the process, hiding them under the meat and so on, but have always ended up simply chucking out the burnt debris, carefully deglazing the pan and throwing in more fresh grapes as I do so and squishing them down. It always ends up delicious, but I’m damned if I can see how he does it his way.

I bought a piece of bone-in pork shoulder from the butcher at the weekend and had in mind the same kind of fruity accompaniment, although, instead of grapes, I had some under-ripe plums which needed encouragement of some kind. I also enjoyed the grape-based sauce from the other week, but wanted something with a more Chinese-y aspect. It was a bit of experimentation, but here you go.

Sweat a chopped onion and carrot in a pan in some butter until translucent and soft. Stir in 1-2 tsp flour and let it cook out. Add a good wine glass of red wine, stir in and allow to thicken then add around 300ml chicken stock. I then added a couple of star anise, a merest hint of cinnamon and reduced it by half. I stoned a good handful of plums, halved them and added them to the sauce with a little fresh ginger. Simmer the sauce until the plums collapse, then press through a sieve, scraping the underside with a wooden spoon to collect all the plum flesh. Pour back into the pan and adjust the seasoning – you may even need to add a little sugar, depending on the ripeness (or not) of the plums. You’re aiming for a rich deep flavour with a subtle spice in the background from the star anise.

We had some of the sauce with the roast pork and roast potatoes and some sauteed kale, but it was even better the next day reheated and poured over diced leftover pork stir-fried with green beans and aubergine and tossed with noodles. When you reheat the sauce for this, you might want to increase the Chinese spices and add a little chilli.

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Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Oh Delia…

Have you seen the new Waitrose/Delia advert? The one for Braised meatballs in goulasch sauce? We-ell, I don’t mean to be picky and I do try to avoid a bandwagon when I see one rumbling along, but – I have some issues… Because I am by nature a thorough and inquisitive being on your behalf, I made this recipe the other night – just from watching the ad on the TV (and, I have to admit, using a smattering of common sense), then I compared it to the written recipe online.

The balance between television and reality is a tricky one. You have to make the recipe sound and look easy, accessible, quick, yet still shove in all the salient factors such as prime ingredients, cooking time and so on. Obviously in the written recipe – available of course online – you can go into much more detail – y’know, those tricky details that enable you to get the dish right. It’s the disparity between the two that does my head in.

Point number 1: Delia rolls the ready-made meatballs in a tbsp seasoned flour, partly, I would suggest for a good crust on them during the browning process and partly because the flour stuck to the meatballs will also help thicken the sauce later on. All sound kitchen science so far. So why, then, does the advert and recipe then have her brushing in (what looks like considerably more than) the remaining tbsp seasoned flour into the pot for the sauce? The end result would be actual glue – particularly as the only other liquid added is from the 400g can of tomatoes. Which brings me to Point number 2:

Point number 2: (You see – consistency and logic right there – why am I not on Waitrose ads? I do exactly what I say…) No stock, no water – that’s it. Just a can of chopped tomatoes fighting for its liquid life against a tbsp (or more) of flour and an hour and a half’s cooking time…

When I made this, I chucked in my tomatoes after browning the meatballs and it isn’t very much liquid at all, particularly after you’ve braised the meatballs until completely cooked through. You would end up, not forgetting the thickening effects of the flour, with a very dry dish. Like meatballs with some tomato paste smeared around them. Because smeary tomato paste isn’t my thing, I added 250ml or so beef stock and then simmered the lot on the hob with a lid semi-covering the pan for around 35 mins.

Let’s think about this: the meatballs, whether you cook them very slowly on the hob with a lid semi-covering the pot like I did, or in a 140C oven like Delia, are going to cook very slowly and the sauce will reduce and thicken, such is the magical alchemy of cookery. That’s what you’re trying to achieve through the low temperature – so what’s the bloody flour doing in there as a thickener?? And how can there be enough liquid for 3-4 people from one 400g can? I used one can and the stock for just two of us and after a shorter simmering time I had a perfectly reduced but only just adequate amount of sauce to coat the meatballs and the pasta to accompany. Whatever way I look at this, the combination of unnecessary flour and not enough liquid is making my head hurt, so let’s move on.

Point number 3: The peppers. Again, I suspect this is more to do with the televisual aspect of it all, but if I’m watching the recipe on the TV and it shows Delia chucking in sodding great quartered lumps of green peppers, I’m going to be inclined to think that’s what’s got to be done. Never mind that there isn’t enough liquid (I know, I know – I can’t leave it alone) to cook such enormous pieces to succulent tenderness properly, why – aesthetically speaking – would you want them so large and not, say, chopped much smaller? Check the online recipe and they’re to be cut into 2.5cm dice: not quite the same, I think you’ll agree. Um – and I’d be surprised if they’d cook to tenderness in just half an hour in a 140C oven, but I’m prepared to be proved wrong.

Just for the record, I actually threw in some chopped field mushrooms in with the onions at the beginning of the recipe for depth of flavour. Really good addition. And I also didn’t have any green peppers to hand, but you’ll have to trust me on this one.

Point number 4: The half-fat crème fraiche addition at the end really annoys me. First, if it’s a goulasch sauce why wouldn’t you just advocate sour cream which is more traditional? Second, why the half-fat? It’s a healthy recipe – why the fuss over the calories in a mere swirl of dairy at the end? All that implies is that the main body of the recipe is unhealthily full of fat and there needs to be calorie-cutting to counteract it? It doesn’t make sense.

Point number 5: This is an eternal bugbear of mine, this anointing the cooked pasta with olive oil after it’s cooked. Please please don’t do this unless you have to hold the pasta for more than a minute before serving. All the addition of oil achieves is separating the pasta ribbons and prevents them sticking to each other, which is absolutely desirable if you’ve got to keep them hanging around. But if you’re saucing straight onto the pasta because – let’s face it - you’re reasonably intelligent and the meatballs are done and just begging to be spooned over the pasta, oiling them beforehand just means the sauce slides off the pasta instead of coating it. So the end result is oily Teflon pasta and a sauce that will have nothing to do with it, no matter how hard you twirl your fork of pasta in the bottom of the bowl. You may argue it’s to stick the poppy seeds to the pasta, but then I would argue back that you could just as easily sprinkle the poppy seeds over the top of the dish and avoid unpleasantly gritty pasta. Your call.

I notice that the online recipe is ‘adapted’ from Delia’s Winter Collection. I know Delia claims every single one of her recipes is tested by single-cell amoeba to ensure that even the dullest amongst us could not get it wrong but, personally speaking as someone who worked for a long time on professional recipe writing, I think this is lazy recipe writing of the worst kind: no logic, no common sense and no examination of the whys and wherefores. Just an assumption that, because it’s Delia, it has to be right. And just sometimes, it’s not.

PS: Just while we're on the topic of lazy, rubbish recipe writing on t'telly I managed to catch the edition of Jamie's Kitchen where he makes the ketchup. Well - there's no mention of 350ml water and he just chucks everything in at the beginning and then reduces like buggery until the consistency is right. My question is: what do you do? Do you faithfully follow the book or do you go with the flow off the TV programme. Readers, in the spirit of self-sacrifice I shall cook a green tomato ketchup with the latter instructions and let you know. It's enough to try the patience, etc etc...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Cooked out

Yesterday was one of those days of almost surreal completion.

9am: Breakfast was a sausage sandwich and a near-perfect cafetière of freshly-ground coffee. This may not sound exceptional, but the bread was home-made, the sausages were pretty good and I savour my coffee when I actually have it these days. It’s my favourite breakfast and one I find actually very difficult to beat. So a gustatorily (?) perfect start.

11.15am I went on to BBC iPlayer to find the BBC4 documentary In Other Words that I missed last month, only to find it’s no longer available (why – why – do they do this? Why can’t they just bloody archive everything?) Instead I found a really rather fascinating documentary narrated by Dr Andrew Hussey on the culinary history of France, from Louis IV right up to present day. I was hooked throughout.

12.30pm  I made ketchup from the pounds of tomatoes now decorating my kitchen windowsill in a spectrum of colour. I did this last year, following the recipe in Jamie’s Kitchen as the combination of herbs, spices and vegetables works really well. What I had utterly and completely forgotten was that a) last year I doubled the recipe to two kg of tomatoes, which made at least 3-4 jars of ketchup – this year I made it with just 1kg and it boiled down to just the one jar and b) it takes all bloody afternoon to reduce so 5 hours of kitchen time were diligently spent on the one sodding jar of admittedly delicious sauce. A somewhat disproportionate result but one we shall treasure, I’m sure.

NB: I really do recommend the recipe, but he does make the classic mistake of not mentioning how very long both reductions take - I suspect in the interests of not putting your average servantless domestic cook off making it. So you might as well factor it in for a rainy afternoon and be patient with it: the first reduction can take 2 hours, the second at least an hour.

1.30pm It’s not really a lunch worth writing home about but I enjoyed it: Take one slice of bread and toast. Sauté/steam some purple sprouting broccoli and when nearly done, chuck in some olives and halved cherry tomatoes. Pile onto the bread, tear up some mozzarella and melt in the oven. Drizzle over some extra virgin and some chilli flakes if you like. Lovely.

3.30pm Watched Julie & Julia on DVD and found myself wishing fervently they could have just made the whole film about Julia Child with Meryl Streep and forgotten the vapid, whinging Julie Powell story which added nothing and detracted much. She’s not a human being that comes across as worth knowing (and you might note I made mention of the same after reading the follow-up Cleaving). But it did make me long to go back to Paris and to cook. Luckily the latter scenario was still in hand by the time the film finished.

7.30pm A Goan chicken curry, rich with coconut and tamarind. I threw in some pineapple in a rebellious pro-Empire gesture and didn’t regret it. But I would draw the line at sultanas.

9pm: Another food doc on BBC4 with Andrew Hussey, this time on the food of the North West. As in lobscouse, chips, pies, tripe and so on. Striding around Blackpool like some Scouse Charles Campion, he’s a good presenter, but his background as a cultural historian could have given more insights into the consequences of the Industrial Revolution on our culinary heritage. The highlight was  the World Pie Eating Champion – an old guy probably called Stan who dutifully followed Hussey round Wigan, clearly having been promised more pies. He got them in the end – he seemed to have a lower jaw that just unhinged to swallow said pie. Extraordinary.

Today I’m going to actually get out of the house. Out and about in society, nice and easy, that’s the way.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

You mean you have to watch and read at the same time…

Took myself off to Brixton’s Ritzy cinema yesterday for the second instalment of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. As per last time, right up until the opening sequence rolled, it was just me and my choice of Swedish-themed snack alone in the room (last time it was smoked mackerel and cucumber pickle on rye bread; this time chilled cucumber and yoghurt soup – I must post the recipe). However, the discerning South London public trickled in – a father and son, a mother and perhaps her son (I hadn’t had it down as a family movie but perhaps they’d already seen Scott Pilgrim vs The World) and two teenage girls, whose presence  both a tad surprised but also somewhat reassured me that the youth of today would choose the Swedish version over the soon-to-be-rubbish American version.

Hey-ho: the film started rolling and it was only when it was perhaps a good five minutes in that it dawned on any of us that we hadn’t magically been converted to fluent Swedish speakers by a secret mind-boring laser projected from the screen, but in fact they had inserted the Swedish-only version of the film without the subtitles. I have to say at this point, I was quite happy trying to deduce what was going on using body language cues, the odd glimmer of recognition when the Swedish was similar to German and leaving the rest to a mixture of memory and imagination. I’m not sure it wouldn’t have gotten a little wearing after a while but as a cerebral experiment I was prepared to give it a go.

Anyway, up gets the older man and turns to the back of the room and yells up ‘This is what they did last time – used the wrong film without the subtitles. Oy – change the film.’ (Just take a moment to ponder the size of the Swedish-speaking demographic in Brixton that would result in the cinema managers actually deciding it would be good to hold a copy of an unsubtitled version. Just in case…)

There’s much British murmuring at this – agreement combined with a certain wariness at his forthrightness at demanding what may be a more satisfactory outcome for the paying customer – and then one of the teenage girls had a lightbulb moment: ‘Hang on’, she said ‘Do you mean there’s meant to be, like, language, up on screen and stuff?’

The guy looks at her (in my head it’s a gimlet stare) and replies ‘Unless you speak Swedish.’ I chimed in (because I do like to contribute) ‘Because we’re all fluent…’ She looks unsure. You can sense she’s struggling with some fundamental flaw in our argument. ‘But, like, d’you mean you have to, like, watch and read at the same time?’ Again with the gimlet stare. ‘Yes that’s the general idea of subtitles.’ Huge sigh. ‘But I might as well just read the books.’

At this point I realise that all of us are struggling with the desire to turn around and goggle at them for one or all of the following reasons: there are actually two people in the world who have not read the books (myself speaking as a former bookseller); who don’t have a clue what the films are about; or that they are not yet released in English. (And at this point I’d like to give you another point to ponder – these two girls have wandered into a Swedish language film, the second of a trilogy, of their own volition and pocket but clearly without any idea of what they were seeing, despite the publicity surrounding both the books and the films.)

There’s much whispered discussion amongst them both. Clearly to ‘watch and read’ might be a multi-task too far. I silently gave them five minutes of re-booted film before they walked, blighting my initial favourable impression. They lasted three. But the film was jolly good.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The language of Guugu Yimithirr


Never say you don’t learn anything on this blog. Read and marvel at the language of Guugu Yimithirr from North Queensland

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's Café

Recipe for Happiness in Karbaraovsk or anyplace

One good boulevard with trees
with one grand café in sun
with strong black coffee in very small cups

One not necessarily very beautiful
man or woman who loves you

One fine day
- 1972

PS: The tomates are ripening like gangbusters at last - all is right with the world

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

A curious but seriously brilliant sauce for pork

I have brought home seemingly half a hog from The Sister’s engagement party and we have now – nearly – had our fill of hot pork and apple sauce sandwiches (with mayo of course). So what to do with the rest of it? I mentally flicked between a Thai-inspired curry with some not-very-tasty melon I found in the fridge and a ragu-style sauce for pasta but found neither particularly epicurean-ly satisfying. Then I hit upon the idea of something quite salty-savoury (oven-roasted cubes of potatoes with plenty of seasoning) against a backdrop of fruity-sweet. This is what I came up with.

Fry a chopped onion in a little butter and oil until golden and caramelised and deeply sweet. Stir in a mere tsp of flour as a thickener, cook out for a couple of minutes then pour in about 250ml red wine. (I’m trying to give precise amounts but mostly I just do this by eye). Add in a sprig or two of rosemary and reduce the wine to almost a syrupy consistency. Then pour in around 250-300ml chicken stock and reduce again until the sauce is the consistency and flavour you like. At this point I then threw in a good handful of halved seedless black grapes and – and I realise this is a curio but it was a blinding move – a tbsp of mulberry vinegar. Lacking that particular vinegar, I’d experiment with a fruity balsamic perhaps – anything with a sweet-sharp edge. Let the grapes soften and then season the sauce. Lay your slices of hog in to re-heat.

I served with those salty little potatoes and the first cavalo nero of the season (gulp) sweated in a little butter and garlic.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Um… I don’t think so…

Taken from Dr Miriam Stoppard’s Conception, Pregnancy and Birth (1993)

Childbirth Classes: Techniques to get you through labour

‘Systematic desensitization: You gradually become more tolerant of pain. (Oh, what miracle drug/pain relief system is this, I hear you cry). An example used in many classes is your coach pinching your leg very hard (eh?) to illustrate how painful a contraction will be. (Really? You’re equating childbirth with leg-pinching? This should be a blast. Oh wait, we’re not done). This pinching is repeated every time you attend an ante-natal class (riiight…), and by the end of the course you will be able to tolerate harder squeezing for longer periods.’

I long to find out how many classes you were supposed to attend and how long were you pinched for?; didn’t this take up valuable time on other factors of childbirth or was there a special ‘pincher’ midwife?; were you supposed to form an orderly queue to be pinched or did she just get you at random to demonstrate the random nature of contractions?; how many people simply – in a Pavlovian fashion – elected not to attend an ante-natal class where pinching was de rigeur and opted for drugs instead?

So systematic assault from your potential midwife should generate a greater pain threshold than say, having an epidural. But it all saves money, right? Has anyone got Andrew Lansley’s email?

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The flora and the vegetables…

Things we have grown successfully in the garden include:

This stunning velvety chocolate cosmos








A dwarf sunflower at the very peak of perfection


A startlingly pink zinnia


Things that are not looking so hot right now:


An entire wall of non-ripening tomatoes. My only question is Why?

Monday, 26 July 2010

A roast chicken dinner to die for

So one must face the sad truth: I have killed the cucumber. I don’t think it will survive such severe mutilation and to cap it all, the few bottom leaves left now show distinct signs of powdery mildew. God, the frustration, especially as Pa informs me he could go out and pick oooh about 50 or so right now if he wanted. Once more I am reliant on Ma for her cucumber pickle.

Anyway in other garden news things are much more fruitful. French beans, broad beans, potatoes, salads, chard are all ripe for the picking – and freezing if this bounty continues – and even the surprisingly recalcitrant tomatoes are beginning to redden. So to celebrate – and to buffer against the sudden leaden dullness of the weather – I threw together the simplest, most fabulous roast chicken supper.

First, as the legend has it, unwrap your chicken. I then smeared it thickly in goose fat and added an extra tbsp to the bottom of the tin. Season generously and roast according to your own rules.

Cut floury or waxy potatoes into chip-like shapes and par-boil for 5 minutes then drain and steam for a couple of minutes to help them dry out. Then tip them around the roasting chicken and roast for a good 30 minutes before turning. Because the potatoes will need an extra bit of time to crisp while the chicken rests, I tend to give the chicken 20 mins at 210C, then turn the oven down to 190C and chuck in the potatoes. As it was a small chicken, I gave that 40 mins or so before lifting it out of the tin and leaving it on one side to rest. Then spread the potatoes evenly over the bottom of the tin, whack the oven temp up to 210C again and give the chips another 15 mins or so to really crisp up.

Meanwhile, I quickly boiled a mixture of runner and French beans for 4 mins or so in salted water, drained then added a couple of tbsp double cream, a handful of parsley, a squeeze of lemon and some seasoning. I also tossed together a mixture of lettuce leaves and sorrel in a light dressing of olive oil and white wine vinegar.

Plate up: the trick is to put the salad underneath the creamy beans and/or the chicken so that it slightly wilts in the heat and gets coated in creamy, chicken-y juices. Don’t forget to really season the chips. It did much to salve a soul’s guilt.

PS: Any broad beans you have that are getting a bit too large, simply boil them quickly for 5 mins or so then whiz them – grey pods and all – in a blender with olive oil, lemon juice and mint for an instant green hummus. Play around with garlic and parsley too.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Gazpacho for lunch – and a sad tale of thwarted cucumbers

Yesterday being another glorious sunny one, it was time for a little light gardening. I planted a particularly pink zinnia, phlox and finally got my hands on some chocolate cosmos, which I shall duly photograph and blog as they promise to be stunning. Along with the aesthetics I carefully questioned Roger in The Secret Garden about the best thing for a cucumber’s powdery mildew. We agreed on a light fungicidal treatment to be applied once every two weeks – nothing too arduous and given the cucumber was, in all other respects, completely healthy and fruiting, I was hopeful it was just a minor blip. (We also discussed how to get your courgettes fruiting when there seems to be masses of flowers and no actual baby courgettes: cut off the male flower (make sure it has a stalk and not a small budding courgette attaching it to the plant) and thrust it gently but firmly, in a seductive manner, perhaps all the while humming a little Barry White, into the heart of a female flower. Yeah – good luck with that.)

Anyway back to the powdery mildew. The fungicide was apparently quite strong and you only need a tiny bit so I diluted it into a watering can and tipped it over the worst affected leaves. Then I remembered seeing somewhere you were supposed to cut off the worst of it, which made sense, so I applied the secateurs to a particularly thick stem attaching the most mildewed leaves. It took a bit of strength to cut through; that may have been because it was actually the main stem of the plant and within maybe 10 minutes – and despite some emergency first aid involving much swearing and some masking tape – the top 5 ft of the plant wilted and died. On the plus side though, I may have invented the first dwarf cucumber and there is no more powdery mildew.

Feeling much annoyed with myself I stomped back into the kitchen for lunch. Given the heat I wanted something refreshing but more substantial than a salad – gazpacho seemed just the thing. Here’s my version – using the first and perhaps the last of our home-grown cucumbers. It was a sentimental affair.

This makes 2 portions.Whizz up in a blender the following: 4 large tomatoes, skinned and cored; 1/2 a cucumber, peeled; 1/2 an onion, chopped, 1 clove garlic, chopped; basil leaves – as many as you like; 1 slice of stale bread, crusts cut off; 1 tbsp really good red wine vinegar; a good slurp of extra virgin olive oil; up to 500ml water – but go easy with this, adding a little at a time otherwise you may just end up with a lot of water – I only used about 300ml in the end.Once smooth, check the seasoning and you may want to add more oil or basil or vinegar and then chill until needed.

You can of course add peppers – I just didn’t have any – and top with anything like croutons, hard-boiled egg, chopped ham, olives, more basil, whatever you like. Serve very cold in searing heat and really savour the cucumber taste because it may be the last one you get.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A Small Distinction


I damn near fell off my chair on Tuesday morning when I was skipping my way through Tania Kindersley’s blog and found she’d nominated me for a Beautiful Blogger Award. I should say at this point – cue much weeping and Oscar-style histrionics -  that I am an avid fan of Tania’s books and had been searching the web for news of anything she might have written in the last few years when I happened across her blog last spring. I immediately slid on a pair of virtual shades and trenchcoat and in the manner of a lunatic cyber-stalker, bombarded her with messages, including one on her old Facebook page which I’m pretty sure she hasn’t seen, given she’s not a Facebook fan (and I’m hoping that still holds true) and thankfully she hasn’t blocked me yet. Better still she reads this blog (oh shit) which gives me enormous and grateful pleasure. Anyway, it was T who introduced me to this whole blogging malarkey and you can blame her.

I am supremely touched and grateful and determined to do the right thing and pass this on to those whose blogs I treasure.

As Tania and LLG both pointed out the expected 10-15 blogs you’re supposed to pass it on to seems a little daunting, so I shall also stick with six. Also Tania has already awarded it to a couple of blogs I also adore – namely Mrs Trefusis Takes a Taxi for her elegant, concise, considered writing and Miss Whistle for her stunning pictures which never fail to make my morning – I’ve had to think quite carefully, so it’s actually eight in total.

Firstly A Life Reclaimed for her extraordinary bravery and stoicism about a nasty divorce and her absolute truthfulness without distortion. Up The Women, I say.

Life Happens Between Books by Lucy Fishwife whose blogs make me laugh and with whose sentiment I agree absolutely.

Jacob Wrestling – although infrequent – is always worth dipping into for the quirky random nature of her thoughts.

Hollow Legs – A food blog with good pictures and a wealth of information on just the sort of food I love.

Helena Halme – for her fascinating accounts of How I came to be in England and her takes on life in England and Finland.

Food Stories – Helen’s a well-known professional food blogger and with good reason – stonking recipes from a foodie about town.

And now – seven things you may not know. God, the trauma…

1. My life’s dream (hopefully to become reality in two years time in accordance with The Great Plan) is to move to Dorset. This people know. What they may not know (and T – feel free to call the anti-stalking cyber police now) is that the whole reason for this move to a part of the world I have never ever been to is because I read Tania’s Don’t Ask Me Why when I was 18 and was so entranced with her character Virge and her parent's’ house on The Isle of Purbeck that I immediately made the decision that was where I was going to spend my life. Luckily my husband agrees with me, although he too has never been.

2. My other life dream was to marry Gerald Durrell but unfortunately he died before I could fly to Jersey without parental supervision. I have managed to scratch the itch by accidentally contriving to live in Norwood where he lived both pre- and post- Corfu. Incidentally, it also gives me no end of pleasure that my favourite Dickens novel – David Copperfield – also features Norwood, albeit it’s where wet Dora lives.

3. This might actually be obvious but I have a great passion for anything from the glorious, roaring 1920s and actually the Mitford sisters. Nazi sympathies notwithstanding.

4. I spent many of the weekends of my formative years watching Tom Cruise films as Pa and I loved them. I can quote Top Gun verbatim. I’m not sure this isn’t a rather dubious life skill. And that goes for Pretty Woman too – in fact, every time Pa and I are out to dinner somewhere and I have to go to the loo, he says ‘Shall I order for you?’ and I reply ‘Um, yeah. Yes Please do so’. Again, not completely useful but entertaining even after 23 years.

5. I wooed MCD by playing to his Star Wars fixation with a plastic lightsaber from Hamleys. I bought it and left it outside the door of this flat in Elephant and Castle before going all the way back to my own flat in Finsbury Park. If it wasn’t for this, I’m not sure we would have ever got married.  Although he claims this was his wooing technique – getting me to do the work…

6. If I can find an author that makes me heave with laughter, I’m a devotee forever. I just read Emma Kennedy’s The Tent, The Bucket and Me on Whitstable Beach and I had to get up and walk around to relieve my stomach muscles. That goes for people too.

7. I have synaesthesia. So for me time is a very visual concept (I can ‘see’ all the centuries laid out at once in a distinct pattern, as are days of the week and letters of the alphabet are in definite colours. And – call it 7a – I have no sense of smell, so Ma describes smells and perfumes to me in colours and shapes which makes perfect sense. It’s a little schmear of colour in an occasionally black and white world.

There you go. Have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

A Trip to the Seaside

First things first: I must say an enormous Thank You to Tania Kindersley at Backwards in High Heels who has nominated me for a Beautiful Blogger Award. I am deeply grateful and quite shy-makingly overwhelmed and I shall give due thought and consideration to this in my next post, once I’ve mulled over my own nominations etc.

Ok, onwards (she mutters, wiping a tear from her eye). We spent the weekend in Whitstable. I should explain it’s one of the things we do – a weekend at the seaside each year, in a spirit of both holidaying at home and satisfying the deep inner need in me to spend some time near the sea each year. I know not where it comes from (actually I might proffer a guess that growing up in the very very middle of England – as far from the sea as you can be might have had something to do with it), but suffice to say our two-year-plan is to move ourselves to Dorset where I can be within a drive of the coast at all times.  It’s my only brief. That and space for a dog or three. I should also point out that due to the fact we stupidly left the camera at home, I couldn’t take any pictures. I tried with my mobile, but the sun was so fearsome everything came out completely bleached, so in lieu of our own and to put the below in context, see here for imagery – keep it up in a separate browser window for ultimate effect.

So, Whitstable. We spent the weekend not doing much more than walking, sitting on the shingle beach (shingle beach is a much more pleasing concept than pebble beach, no? Perhaps something to do with the onomatopeic qualities…), eating and talking – we even bought raffia mats, although MCD drew the line at a shrimping net and bucket and spade, as he does every year, the meaner. The Whitstable Oyster Co is right on the beach and does a mean pint of local cider. Right next door is The Pearson’s Arms, a gastropub by any other name, but here in Whitstable, it’s just a really nice pub serving some excellent food. Try the lamb-ham – cured leg I would guess, which came with fresh raw podded peas (which made me feel like a kid again), pearlescent slices of pickled turnip and spiky notes of radish and watercress. MCD’s potted crab with thick sourdough was singingly fresh, although I personally would have liked a little chilli. Roast turbot came in portions not usually affordable in London with samphire, clams and brown butter. Day-boat cod was coated in a crisp brown batter accompanied by the largest chips I have ever seen. I think they might have just cut King Edwards in half and deep-fried them, but they were indeed cooked through. We could manage no more than a shared portion of elderflower sorbet with some strawberries afterwards and had to aid the digestion of that with a stroll after dinner. Truly lovely.

Make sure you take time to wander the fish market on the harbour. A fillet of hot smoked mackerel in a bun with a schmear of chilli sauce followed by a punnet of cockles or whelks should see you through to 4pm and an ice cream from Sundae Sundae on Harbour Street.

You might have heard of Wheeler’s – it’s a micro-model of Richard Corrigan’s Bentley’s in London, if that’s not offensive to either party. At the front is a cold fish and oyster bar where you can perch and order at will. I’d booked a table for an early dinner – last orders at 7pm – and, given its reputation, was expecting, I don’t know, something along the Corrigan line. I’ve never been more surprised. We were shown through from the oyster bar to what looked exactly like someone’s front parlour. Four tables in the dim light with one other couple choosing from the plastic menus. I briefly wondered if I’d got the wrong Wheeler’s. We quickly worked out it was BYO (the clue would be in the lack of wine menu) so MCD was barely to be seen flying out the door in the direction of the wine shop opposite to appear back with a bottle of Touraine rosé which seemed singularly appropriate to the seafood feast we were expecting, but which required a corkscrew to open – a moment of panic while the waitress couldn’t quite find one…

And then the food. Given the simplicity of our surroundings I was expecting it to be reflected in the food. Oysters, fish and chips, steamed puddings. Bring it on, I thought, albeit on one of the hottest days of the year. But no – think brill and crayfish lasagne with a Parmesan cream and asparagus tips; prawn and lobster raviolo with a smoked salmon and lemon cream and a dice of fennel. Mains were no less finessed. Baked hake with sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and crushed potatoes, crisp squid rings and razor clams were a coincidentally Spanish choice and sounded suitably rustic. What I got was three rondels of perfectly cooked hake wrapped in spinach and Serrano ham, a large quenelle of said crushed potatoes with olives et al, two wispily delicate squid rings and a razor clam shell filled with a mirepoix dice of mixed peppers and razor clam meat with a moat of basil oil. MCD’s roast halibut was delicate and I couldn’t begin to tell you what it came with because I wasn’t allowed any, so you’ll have to take his word for it that it was stunning.

We didn’t think we could manage a pudding, but I was persuaded by the cleansing properties of Lemon – three ways. A wee lemon crème brulée with a puddle of lemon sauce at the bottom; a marshmallowy meringue filled with a lemon cream and raspberries and a lemon curd ice cream. MCD just went for the knickerbocker glory – enough said, but it did come crowned with a cherry dipped in caramel. It was cooking of the highest order; by the time we’d finished all four tables were full with customers who were clearly in the know and wanted to keep it secret.

Just as a side alley to the above, rarely have I had the pleasure of meandering up and down such a well-kept, well-served high street; Mary Portas would immediately adopt it as her paragon. I counted no less than three butchers, one fishmonger, three greengrocers all advertising local fruit, various haberdashery and hardware stores, proper cafes, a wee museum as well as the pretty antique and tourist-y shops down Harbour Street. The proliferation of independent shops warms the cockles, indicating as it does a lack of chain-store hyper-malls nearby to drain the life from the high street.

We stayed at Copeland House – a B&B with the most fabulous breakfasts and friendly landlady, Georgina. Go there or rent a holiday cottage (which is our next plan, having been inspired by India Knight’s wedded bliss to the concept) and have an oyster by the sea for me.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Watercress sauce and other matters

A blissful sauce for chicken hot or cold, over a salad or even – as I had the leftovers – knapped over slices of ham and tomatoes on toasted muffins.

Blitz a large handful of watercress in a food processor until a green paste. I also added a small handful of spinach for iron, but you could add rocket or even lettuce. Add a few good dollops of creme fraiche, a squeeze of lemon and season and whizz again until a smooth, green, unctuous sauce. Chill until needed.

This weekend I also had a yen for something smoky sweet and barbecued without the hassle – a take on slow-cooked pork seemed just the thing.

Rub a pork shoulder with the following:

1 tbsp paprika

1 tbsp salt

1 tbsp black pepper

1 tbsp cumin

1tbsp chilli powder

1 good tbsp dark brown sugar.

Drizzle in a little oil and mix to a paste. Taste to see whether you want it spicier, sweeter – whatever. You can leave the marinaded pork as long as you want – I had an hour but it would benefit from a day, then slow-cook it in a 170C oven for about 2 hours. You might want to check it every half hour or so in case the sugar starts to burn and completely ruin your roasting tin; in which case stick some foil over it. After about 2 hours (and it will come to no harm after 3) it should be tender and juicy.

While the pork’s resting, whisk together a tbsp each white wine vinegar and cider vinegar, 1 tbsp sugar, a good sprinkling chilli flakes and seasoning. Carve the pork and toss in the dressing before stuffing into bun of your choice with some coleslaw.

On a roll, I made Nigel Slater’s orange and lemon cheesecake from Kitchen Diaries – try substituting the juice of 1 lime for 1/2 a lemon.

Monday, 28 June 2010

A rose by any other name…

It would seem grossly unfair that I should spend a few days up with Ma and Pa and not come back with feverish pictures from the extravaganza that is their garden at the moment. 


23062010069An unknown briar at the bottom of the garden with one resplendent red poppy; The small pond


I should have gotten closer to these hollyhocks and delphiniums






Looking up through the rose aisle to the ‘bandstand’







The ‘bandstand’ with just a hint of the roses surrounding






The vibrant pink on the left is a Rosamundi, the oldest known rose and brought over by the Romans


23062010067 25062010073

Roses from the ‘bandstand’ with the moat in the background






The rosamundi looking wistfully romantic






Looking down the garden towards the house

And you can’t have shots of the garden without the devil-may-care  handsomeness and obliging nature of Sam





The rockery and waterfall outside the conservatory








More roses because who can get enough of them…

The best football summary ever…

Sitting on the bus on the way to Homebase (me – not them) are two gentlemen, both one hundred and eleventy-twelve if they’re a day. They’re discussing yesterday’s debacle. (I didn’t watch it due to a conviction we wouldn’t win and the summer doesn’t last forever and my time would be more profitably spent with a good book in the garden. Reader, I was not wrong).

First man: “I watched it dahn the pub. They’d laid on some food an’ that but ah left at half-time cos it were no good.”

Second man: “No, they were no good.” (Cue random under-the-breath mutterings, no doubt vitriol directed South Africa-wards)

First man: “Ah knew it. We learnt all about this in the war. The Germans don’t like aerial bombardment.” He smacks the cross-bar on the bus out of frustration. “We should have brought on Peter Crouch.”

Friday, 18 June 2010

It’s not what I expected… Part VI

Wednesday afternoon the Bookseller turns to me and intones, in his inimicable  - and sometimes unfathomable – way “Penguin have dropped a bollock.” I, knowing of old that such a statement will be followed by a hellishly good story, wait with bated breath. He hands me two Penguin versions of Lolita, one part of their brand-spanking new Modern Classics Library imprint featuring Nabokov, the other a standard Penguin issue. I scan the covers for typos but none is apparent and hang on for further enlightenment.

“They’ve only missed out the Foreword, written by Nabokov posing as a certain John Ray, in the new library.” This isn’t good; what makes it ever so slightly more unprofessional and bollock-dropping is that they HAVE included the afterword where it says After doing my impersonation of suave John Ray, the character in Lolita who pens the Foreward ... (sic spelling the Bookseller – I was not around to proof this).

The Bookseller went on to blog this on his world-famous outstanding blog, followed by thousands who, unable to make it to the shop for his pearls of wisdom, follow him adoringly in cyber-space. 

This morning I called in only to be greeted by unusual high spirits from the Bookseller, who showed me this quite unbelievable piece in The Bookseller [the online version]. What is striking is the somewhat churlish attitude of Penguin – um, it’s not ‘just a few pages’, it’s an integral part of the novel. It’s like missing out Chapter One. You’d think they’d be grateful that we’d pointed out the error rather than resenting us for having to pulp their entire stock and start over because someone, somewhere was dumb enough to leave it out and then think no-one would notice.

To crown the matter, just as we’re getting over the heady rush of power of the individual (or the ‘small people’ as BP like to put it), the Bookseller then receives an email from the Guardian asking for an interview on his discovery. Has he actually started a publishing shitstorm? Will we ever be able to order from Penguin again?  Truly, his power knows no bounds. I am in awe – although not always of his spelling.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

In which we get a little nostalgic

Royal Ascot always brings out a touch of nostalgia in me. A few days when ladies ‘are painted to the eyes’, men look rakish in top hats and horses gleam and prance and show off just as much as any coverage-currying 21 year-old.

One of the great rakes of the turf – amongst many other things – was Clement Freud, an infamous gourmand, gambler and journalist. I recently picked up his Freud on Food and it is so headily nostalgic and redolent of a bygone age of food that I felt it ought to be acknowledged in the new world of the blogosphere.

To wit: Repeated throughout the book, clearly from a time when 1/4 bottles of champagne were readily available and in every bon viveur’s fridge, his thoughts on ham: “For the first meal from the ham [which you have cooked], cut medium slices and serve with no other garnish than a tablespoon of champagne.” Can you imagine…?

On weekday breakfast: “If you value your gourmet, here is a gently and abundant breakfast that will send him, and his innards, contentedly to work.

Tea or coffee, freshly made and kept decently hot

Fresh croissants with unsalted butter and black cherry jam

Brown toast, hot buttered, with poached eggs (eggs that are broken into a soup ladle, spilt carefully into boiling water to which a drop of vinegar is added and boiled for 1 minute before they are removed with a tea sieve)

Bradenham ham

Fresh peaches

If only a dozen families living within a half-mile radius of a baker ordered fresh croissants every morning, it would be worth his while to deliver them for breakfast, through the letterbox if you are asleep.”

I find myself rather longing for the days when a baker would a) have fresh croissants on the premises and b) cheerily deliver them each and every morning. And there’s more: mention of Precis, a ready-made roux you could just stir right in to soups; tinned asparagus and peaches; Curacao; tins of turtle soup and Chivers’ raspberries; Bath Oliver biscuits… even a mention of an entire impromptu late-night feast entirely made up of tinned food, including tinned ham (reheated of course in champagne) - and this was just in the well-stocked larder.

He covers children’s parties (involving a lot of booze and not just for the adults), wooing (complete with braised lamb’s heart), winter and summer cooking, Christmas – all splashed with a liberal helping of champagne and curacao (why have we stopped drinking this?) – there is barely an occasion that man did not give gastronomic contemplation to.

And to crown it all, yesterday I ate our first strawberry – with cheesecake for breakfast. It may not have been croissants, ham and peaches, but it was a hellish start to the day.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Miscellany to make up for lost time or In which I got fidgety

I've been sadly neglectful of my poor old blog in the last few weeks. At first it was just frenetic everyday busy-ness getting in the way, then as the days passed, I got a little nervous about posting anything because I felt I didn't have anything in the least remarkable to say. I've been mute on the oil disaster, our new Age of Austerity, the Cumbria tragedy and more besides because I've felt - most peculiarly - it wasn't my place to add anything.

So to get back into the swing of things here's a picture of my startlingly lovely clematis last week.

And here are the violas, going like gangbusters and putting up a brave fight against the encroaching nasturtiums.

I also came up with a rather lovely roasted aubergine dip recipe:

Roast a couple of aubergines in a hot oven until blackened all over. Cut them in half and scrape out the insides into a food processor. Add a tbsp of pomegranate molasses, 1-2 tbsp tahini, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt and pepper and a little olive oil and blitz until smooth. Be careful how much olive oil you add - it can make the dip a bit runny. Check the flavourings - I particularly like the tanginess of the pomegranate, but you may want more tahini and more salt. Scatter with chopped parsley and pine nuts et voila.

Given the lovely weather, I've also been reading like crazy. To prepare myself for Sylvia Beach's letters, recently published in the States, I've gone back to Noel Riley Fitch's biography of this extraordinary, selfless, generous woman who acted as a personal interchange and bank for many of the foremost writers of the earliest 20th century who found themselves on Paris' Left Bank, in particular James Joyce who, without the personal and financial aid, commitment and sacrifice of Sylvia, wouldn't have been published at all. A re-visit to writers such as Hemingway and F Scott is made all the more satisfying for another piece of the jigsaw pushed into place.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Jam Circus, Brockley

If you’re a regular round the Triangle, you may not ever think of venturing as far as the outer wilds of Brockley, but for the uninitiated it’s a revelation. For a start there’s one of my favourite Italian restaurants in the South East – La Querce -  as well as the Rivoli Ballrooms, a couple of decent pubs and a very large and seemingly inexhaustible cemetery.

Last night my foodie reporter friend Ben and I went under cover at Jam Circus, just by said cemetery, for a review for the South London Press. Well, I say under cover, but the whole shebang was blown, not, I hasten to add by my Marlow-esque trench coat and horn-rimmed glasses (although I feel they added a certain je ne sais quoi when required), but by the fact that there was no reservation in the book. Nor, interestingly was there one from 2 weeks ago when we’d had to cancel the original review date. The manager had forgotten to pass on details of our reservation. Twice.

Now this would normally not be such a sticking point, but, you know, a quick hint to PR peeps out there. If you want your restaurant reviewed by a public medium and you particularly go out of your way to stress that there are really only two venues in the entire chain of 20 that are worth eating at (!?), you might want to make sure the potential reviewer’s path to the table of feasting is clear first by informing the staff that are on duty that night of their impending arrival so they don’t have to sit around for 20 minutes while the friendly but clearly confused barman puts in an after-hours call to said lax manager… Okay, point made. On with the food.

Actually at first glance, the menu didn’t excite. It was incredibly short and, for my money, far too many of the mains came with chips, which means they either had to be bloody good or someone in the kitchen was lazy. Even the starters included home-made potato wedges. But look again and there were a couple of real potentials: a whole mackerel with a tomato salad, sardines on toast – we may have a winner. The mackerel was swimmingly fresh and grilled to charred lip-smackability, indeed whole, which seems generous for a starter (a theme we’ll return to) with a rustic chopped tomato garnish and plenty of leaves; the sardines were again grilled to sizzling crispness with a jaunty caper salad. Both were accompanied unnecessarily by gigantic chargrilled tranches of the same bread on offer as a side order. The bread was fantastic, soaked as it was in the oils and dressing, but it made the portions of a size you might reasonably consider enough for a decent lunch.

Mains were no less unstinting. Not fancying anything with chips, I opted for the pork belly with lentils and mustard mash. I cannot describe how gargantuan this was; on second thoughts, I’ll give it a go. Three thick slices of rolled pork belly (if I was picky I might query whether it was shoulder actually…) laid atop a mountain of well-seasoned but distinctly unmustard-y mash and covered with a shingle beach of herby, fabulous Puy lentils, but no crispy crackling alas. The taste was all there, the lentils in particular were more-ish beyond satiety, but the sheer size of it daunted even this trencherwoman. Ben the undercover reporter opted for fish and chips which were off the menu so chose the chickpea and sweet potato curry accompanied by yoghurt and so much rice they probably loaded it on by shovel. A side order of green beans were served perfectly al dente. We could have gone for what looked like a seasonal special of lamb chops with asparagus, but with the scarcity of British lamb these days, I would have been wary of its origins.

Ben managed to fit in a crumble whose topping could have done with another 5 minutes under a hot grill but which benefited from the two scoops of good quality vanilla ice cream. His Earl Grey prosecco – just for fun – came in a bone china tea cup, a whimsical sense of play.

We didn’t have wine, but the list was global and well-priced and there was a list of speciality beers as well as a cute and reasonable cocktail list. Prices for the food were again ungrasping, particularly in the light of the portions: starters around £5-£7, my pork belly amongst the most expensive mains at £10.

For a Monday night it was also busy: couples having a drink, plenty of board games to choose from and a local source tells me their Sunday lunches are excellent both in quality and value. It seems Brockley’s worth braving that 122 bus journey after all.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

A garden on the edge

Ok so again these might be somewhat indulgent but when Ma and Pa’s garden is trembling on the edge of summer, it’s an amazing sight.


The pond


Their daffodils are still going strong



The rockery and waterfall


Sam – just about – having a good roll



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Chickens and dogs…


There has been much distress in the parental homestead this last few weeks. A fox and then a suspected cat has been ravaging their chicken population, causing much consternation both to MCD and Joey, both of whom have an almost untowardly obsession with the eggs sent down on occasion and to Ma and Pa, who took the trouble to ring-fence an entire acre field and provide numerous safehouses for the chickens, only for said chickens to prefer spending the night up a tree perched just on the fence border… let no-one say they don’t live by the seat of their pants.

So this week Pa took himself off to Chicken Market (apparently these still exist and one is going strong in Melton Mowbray) and came back with 5 Rhode Island Red ladies, all of whom are incredibly tame, inordinately fond of bread in a way that suggests  their diet has been a  little too carb-based in a previous life and all in all, most attractive. Now they just have to hope they lay the eggs for which they were bought. 28042010012












And – because he was so completely unperturbed by the new additions and because he is so ravishingly handsome – a couple of entirely gratuitous pictures of Sam