Thursday 16 December 2010


I hope I never tire of Christmas. My readiness for it and my expectation of it change slightly each year but I love it. I hope I always will.

It's the build up, the lights, the Christmas specials on TV, the carols being played by the Salvation Army. It's waking up and going downstairs to see Mum hauling a turkey into a roasting dish while singing along to 'I Saw Three Ships' on the radio. It's children telling me what Father Christmas brought for them and showing me their favourite gift so far, a pretend plastic watch that cost 50p, while my sister looks on in agony muttering about rollerblades. It's the crackers with their rubbish jokes, and playing games after dinner...

We got our tree this week and once it was decorated with coloured lights, glass baubles and silver bells I carried on with operation make Christmas presents. I'm not making them all (I'm not that skilled or that organised), there will be bright nail polish and stripy socks for my niece and Lego for my nephew. A certain one year old will be getting a small pull along dachshund (I couldn't resist, after all I want a real one so badly myself). And for the rest? For the rest there are parcels to be wrapped and, finally, and the point of all this, there are jars waiting for brown paper covers and string and labels. There is chutney maturing and dried fruit absorbing Pedro Ximenez. I made chilli jelly last night and there will be last minute cookies and festive granola.

Then there is onion marmalade.

On Sunday I peeled and processed 2kg of onions. I cooked them down and added redcurrant jelly and demerara sugar. I added cider vinegar and balsamic. I raised the heat and it bubbled until I could decant it into jars. Eight of them. Then I ran out of the door to meet seven girls for lunch worried that I smelled like onions. That evening I didn't need much to eat so I opened one of those jars and ate onion marmalade on toast with Gruyere. Four people will be getting a jar of onion marmalade for Christmas, the rest are for us and that makes me very happy indeed.

Wednesday 24 November 2010


In 2004 I spent a fairly miserable year working in London and living in Sussex. I commuted for almost four hours a day and was permanently exhausted and frequently tearful. When the chance came to get back to Edinburgh I jumped at it.

It was three and a half years before London would tempt me again.

In 2004 my niece was four and my nephew had just been born and, in between the commuting and the tears, I managed to see a lot of them.

Then I moved.

Suddenly I was someone who lived a long way away and who they saw a few times a year. I saw more of them in the last couple of years but only a little more, the occasional weekend at Mum's with nine of us for Sunday lunch, Christmas, birthdays. Now, at eleven and seven, my niece is more stylish than I ever was as a child and my nephew is happy as long as he has a rugby ball in his hands.

We're going to Midhurst for Christmas this year and I can't wait, I can't wait for that moment when excited children show up and we unwrap presents and all sit around the table, I can't wait for my nephew to tell me excitedly what Father Christmas brought while he tries not to fall asleep before lunch because he was awake at 4am.

But, the point of all this...

In all the talking and deciding to move we debated pros and cons. Constantly. Fresh air in Edinburgh, good food in London, walking everywhere in Edinburgh, so much to do in London, friends in Edinburgh, friends in London. And the newest smallest member of our family in Edinburgh. We wanted this tiny girl to know us, we didn't want to be the Uncle and Aunt who live far away and who she would greet shyly, each time trying to remember who we were and trying to reconcile our appearance with tales of Uncle Chris and Aunty Gemma.

So we came back. There were a few shy greetings in the first week as she sized us up, tried to work out where we fitted in to her life but now, now she smiles, now she knows us and it makes us very happy. It was her first birthday last week. She practiced with her new walker and played with the other children and, when the time came, we sang Happy Birthday followed by Joyeux Anniversaire as is the custom in this half French family, and we cut the cake.

A proper birthday cake for a first birthday. A lemony sponge cut into a giant 1, lemon buttercream and lots of jelly tots.

I think she liked it.

Sunday 14 November 2010


After almost four months away from this place I wasn't quite sure where to begin.

I considered the new stationery option, fresh start, fresh blog but I couldn't. It seemed wrong. This place reflects the ups and downs of the last few years including many that I haven't mentioned, brushes with tough decision making, the difficulties of the current economy, trying and failing to switch off and stop thinking about London, Edinburgh, London, Edinburgh, London...

So let me just say this. We're here, in Edinburgh, in a new flat with room to cook and a table where we can feed people. We have walls where we can finally put things up, a bay window and wooden floors, we even have a pantry which makes me very very happy. We have been sitting at the table looking out at the life on the street below and during the day we can, through the buildings in front, see just a glimpse of the sea and Fife in the background.

And I have a job. I start tomorrow and am both excited and nervous. It's a change for me, no more publishing for now. I may tell you more about it someday but for now let me just say that I'm looking forward to getting back to it, I'm looking forward to normality resuming, and now I can finally look forward to the end of the year and Christmas.

But for now I am cooking again. There have been big salads and soups, shepherd's pie and spaghetti bolognese, lemon cake and granola. There is an entire bookshelf in the kitchen just for cookery books. It's slightly terrifying but clearly not terrifying enough to stop me from buying yet more. Recent purchases include 'Kitchenella' which I adore and not only because the cover is my very favourite colour, 'Tender: Volume II', 'How I Cook', and, of course, 'Kitchen'.

Have you seen the old Nigel Slater series Real Food? It's pretty cringeworthy stuff but the highlight is seeing Nigella before she became the Domestic Goddess. It reminds me of why How to Eat was and is such a fabulous book, just Nigella at her original best.

But while 'Kitchen' isn't my favourite, How to Eat and Feast are and are likely to remain so, it is readable and filled with recipes that I want to cook and when I settle into a new kitchen and back into some semblance of normality one of the first things my thoughts turn to is baking. Having eaten a loaf of delicious caraway seed bread last week the caraway seed cake seemed like the perfect way to road test the oven. It is marzipanny from the ground almonds with the sour undercurrent that comes from caraway. It was good on the first day but on days two, three and four it had settled into something better, a cake to keep in the kitchen during the week, a cake to take slices of in a lunchbox, a cake to whip up when something plain but not boring is called for.

Wednesday 21 July 2010


We're moving back to Edinburgh.

That's all.

For now anyway.

My brain can't take much more activity than that right now. It's all finishing work, packing boxes, the logistics of moving and planning the things we have to do before we leave which seem to all revolve around places we want to eat. So far St John, Moro, and Trullo are definite. There will be more.

Food shopping seems to have suffered.

My suggestions for dinner tonight were pasta with tomato sauce or chickpea curry.

Then I remembered that I used the chickpeas on Sunday.


Sunday 27 June 2010


What do you do on the hottest day of the year so far?

Do you find a nice shady spot outside to sit with a cool drink and read your book?

Do you find some water to paddle or swim?

Do you meet friends for a picnic in the park or a pint in a beer garden?

Or do you spend the afternoon watching football?

Do you put the oven on to make your already warm flat even hotter?

Do you question your sanity?

I don't think I need to go into how I spent my afternoon?

But this morning?

This morning I went to the market and found strawberries and fresh peas, tiny baby carrots and little bitty beetroots.

And the oven part isn't really all that crazy because what else am I supposed to do when I have been thinking about basil biscuits all week and imagining them with strawberries and maybe a smear of loosely whipped cream?

They had to be made, they just had to be.

And, after watching the football the need for something sweet and crunchy giving way to soft richness and fresh red ripeness was even more apparent. Thankfully the making part took just a few minutes, the baking part about 12 and the eating part?

Lets just say, that didn't take too long either.

BASIL BISCUITS (from Jekka's Herb Cookbook by Jekka McVicar)
Makes 15-20

100g butter
50g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
100g plain flour
1 heaped tablespoon of chopped basil leaves

Preheat the oven to 180C (gas mark 4).

Cream together the butter and sugar and add the ground almonds then the flour. Knead together on a lightly floured surface to form a dough. Roll the dough in the chopped basil leaves until the leaves are well mixed into the dough and then roll it out into a 5cm diameter sausage. Slice into 1 cm thick slices.

Place the slices on a well greased baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden. Remove at once and cool on a wire rack.

Eat on their own or with a dollop of lightly whipped cream and some strawberries.

Thursday 24 June 2010


I think it might be Summer.

I got home to the smell of barbecue in N16.

But that's not the start. Not the start of Summer. Not the start of the sunshine. Not the start of the story...

Last Friday we left a rainy London. We sat on the train and arrived in Chester.

On Saturday morning we left the hotel without jumpers and questioned the decision. We saw a little bit of the town crier competition and walked a short stretch of the walls. We headed back to the hotel to get ready for Nana's 90th birthday party, the entire point of the trip.

Eccleston village has houses with twisty curly chimneys. It's surrounded by green and bordered by the River Dee. And, on that particular Saturday, it had a village hall filled with my family.

Mum is one of nine so a party with all of the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, not too mention a few friends, was never going to be small. I saw cousins who seem to have gone from five to fifteen in the blink of an eye, I saw some I had never ever even seen before. Chris met them all, I think, mostly for the first time. We tried and tried to stay outside but that wind was still a little too cold. If only the sun had just stayed in place.

On Sunday the sun was shining and we drove to North Wales.

To the Lleyn Peninsula where my Grandparents used to live.

To where we spent our summers.

To where we waited out those frequent rainy days with games of Upwords and books. To where we played bedknobs and broomsticks on the old brass bed. To where we hid in the caravan at the bottom of the garden.

To where we befriended the local farmer who taught us to count to ten in Welsh and sat a very small me on top of a very big cow.

To where my sister found a sixpence on the lane and where I was jealous until I found a £20 note on the beach.

To where we would go through kissing gates and cross fields and insist that the calves were actually bulls but that we couldn't shouldn't run or they would get us.

To where we will always smile when we think of it. Of those idyllic summer days of sandy picnics, rock pools, cold cold water, and an equal mix of sunshine and rain.

We spent Sunday on the beach at Morfa Nefyn. Walking along the sand to Porth Dinllaen, sitting outside Ty Coch with a cold beer and a view of the sea. We persuaded the children into the sea even though we were too warm in the sun to brave it ourselves.

The sun went down on midsummer's eve.

Monday came and we went to Nefyn and found an almost deserted beach.

Where our feet sank into the soft sand and we dreamed about hiring a holiday cottage right on the beach and waking up to the vast emptiness.

We walked to the beach hut where we used to sit and play, met the man who bought it from my Grandfather ten years ago.

We played in the rock pools and realised that some things never change. We would have stayed there all Summer pointing out tiny hermit crabs, looking for sea urchins.

We picnicked back at Morfa Nefyn with sausage sandwiches and welshcakes. We paddled but none of us swam.

We dragged ourselves away and back to Chester to say goodbye and travel back to London and since then, since those two perfect days of Summer on the beach that weather, that sunshine, has stayed.

I leave the house with bare legs and arms and stay that way all day. We sit with all of the windows and the balcony door open. We wallow in the luxury of warmth.

And now it is Thursday and with Thursday came a quiet night at home for me. A quiet night with the smell of grilling meat in the air but a plan already formed. A quiet night of uploading photos, feeling the warm air around me, making a new dish. A Summer dish. Fusilli with zucchini and butter, it should possibly be butter and zucchini instead, it is buttery buttery goodness. Perfect for this day when Summer seems to have finally settled, at least for now.

FUSILLI WITH ZUCCHINI AND BUTTER (from The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers)
Serves 4

250g zucchini
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut into slivers
150g butter
320g fusilli
50g grated parmesan

Wash and dry the zucchini. Trim off the ends and slice into 1cm rounds.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan that will hold all of the zucchini in a single layer. Add the garlic and allow it to soften before adding the sliced zucchini. Season with salt and pepper and stir until the zucchini is just starting to brown. Add half of the butter, lower the heat and stir and cook until the zucchini is soft and buttery adding a little water if needed to loosen any bits stuck to the pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining butter.

Cook the fusilli in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, keeping back a little of the cooking water to stir into the zucchini.

Mix the fusilli with the zucchini and serve with grated parmesan.

Tuesday 8 June 2010


After my last post I think you know that I really really like Plenty?

I love the surprising combinations of ingredients. Wild rice, basmati rice, quinoa, sweet potato, feta.

I love the heavy, but well-judged, hand with fresh herbs. Oregano, sage, mint.

I love the way that a hearty salad is given a lightening tough. Sumac, lemon juice, spring onion.

I love that I can link to recipes to my heart's content because they are all on The Guardian website (but will someone please tell me how I missed all these recipes the first time round? I buy The Guardian every single Saturday. Just idiocy I suppose).

Most of all I love how the food in this book tastes.

Satisfying. Healthy. Filling my mouth with flavours that I just want to keep going and going and going...

So, I suppose it goes without saying that I enjoyed the salad I made for dinner? The recipe is here. It isn't a particularly quick dish. It needs some shopping, some chopping, some juggling of pans and timings but when it is done, and you sit down with a bowl and a G&T and it all comes together into one great bit melange of yum, that post-work slicing and timing is worth it. So worth it.

Which is good because I have just made a recipe suitable for six people when I am the only one at home.

At least I won't have to think about what to have for lunch tomorrow.

On the other hand I will have to think about what to do with the dried limes I bought for this recipe which, I belatedly realised, needed to be ground with a coffee or a spice grinder.

I don't own a coffee or a spice grinder.

I used sumac.

Wednesday 2 June 2010


Those are the words you want to hear after making a new recipe for dinner.

Those are the words you want to hear when that new recipe comes from a new book.

Those are the words you want to hear when that recipe comes together simply, quickly, cheaply.

Carrots, caraway seeds, spinach, chickpeas, mint, coriander, lemon, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, Greek yoghurt.

It's warming and deeply satisfying. We thought we could eat double but turns out this recipe was just right as dinner for two.

The flavours are soft, rounded, mellow but all present, herbal, swoon.

Try it. That's all.

The recipe is here. I used spinach instead of chard which doesn't need to be blanched so I just started at the carrot and caraway part.

Enjoy x

Tuesday 1 June 2010


Dinner tonight didn't quite go to plan so I'll eradicate that memory with a better one of feet in cold cold seawater.

This tomorrow.

Monday 31 May 2010


After a long and fun weekend of birthday celebrations involving swimming in the sea (not a wise decision considering the water temperature), eating the towering lemon cake (recipe from Romantic Cakes by Peggy Porschen), and drinking lots of prosecco we were ready for a quiet week.

Unfortunately the quiet week of our dreams turned into a busy work week but, thankfully, that busy work week culminated in a three day weekend.

Following a rained off picnic on Saturday and a Sunday burger and beers, I was happy to spend Monday reading and resting, baking and cooking.

I think I've mentioned before that I'm susceptible to recommendations. So, when a lot of my favourite bloggers started cooking from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain I knew I had to get a copy. Never having baked with whole-grain flours before I wanted to start gently, ease myself in, and when I read the recipe for a spelt olive oil cake with chocolate and rosemary I knew where to begin. The cake was a doddle to make and the taste, well, the spelt adds a biscuity flavour and crumble, the rosemary is aromatically present but not overpowering, and the chocolate, well, I'm sure I don't need to sell you on nubs of dark chocolate in a cake?

The recipe is here so now there is nothing to do but add my voice to the clamour of recommendations. This is a great book. Original, mouthwatering, interesting.

Now, what next?

Figgy buckwheat scones, granola bars, quinoa and beet pancakes, sweet potato muffins...

Tuesday 25 May 2010





Happy Birthday Mum x

Monday 17 May 2010


I've been fantasising lately.

About dining tables.

About kitchens with bookshelves.

About the sun shining.

About sitting out and enjoying it with scotch eggs to eat and elderflower cordial to drink.

About restaurants to revisit.

About new ones to discover.

About books to buy, jewellery to admire, and walls that one day may be adorned with this, and this, and this, and this, and this.

About holidays.

About holidays.

About holidays.

About holidays.

But until then, when Monday comes, I will go to work.

I will make dinner plans (tonight - pork, mustard seed and herb sausages with mashed sweet potato to be eaten alongside Glee and Australia's Next Top Model, making me happy and Chris, well, not so much).

I will go out.

I will look forward to a long weekend or two.

I will make plans for the months to come.

I will read new books.

I will listen to favourite songs.

I will continue to fantasise, continue to dream, continue to imagine.

Saturday 15 May 2010


A friend at work had her leaving drinks last night. Cue too many vodka tonics and not enough, or any, food. Surprisingly I woke up sleepy but otherwise unaffected and more than ready for a quiet day of doing very little at all. Last week felt long. But it's over now and I can sit and relax and read and eat and finally, because I felt rude reading but not participating, join Twitter. Yes, I have succumbed and, so far, I like it.

I'm here.

And after succumbing to the lure of the tweet I took my new Makr bag for its first outing to the market. It coped admirably well with new season carrots, spring garlic, dried mushrooms, parsley, asparagus, lamb mince, sausages, prosecco, elderflower cordial, The Guardian, Bon Appetit, and Elle.

From there to home and to a lunchtime frittata thanks to Shauna. Asparagus, eggs, spring garlic, semi-hard goats cheese, paprika. A glass of elderflower cordial. A smile.

And now?

Now I have important birthday business to be getting on with. My Mum turns 60 next week and at the weekend we will be heading to Sussex to have a small party in the garden, weather permitting, with good food, prosecco, and cake. That's my part. I know I'm making the cake but, so far, don't know what it will be.

I'm thinking a lemon layer cake with soft yellow buttercream and lemon curd. I might buy some sugar daisies to decorate the top. That's the easy part. First I have to read my baking books. Narrow down the choices. Find a recipe.

Any suggestions?

ASPARAGUS FRITTATA (with thanks to Shauna)
Serve 1 for lunch on its own or 2 with salad and bread on the side

1 bunch of asparagus
1 stalk of spring garlic
1 teaspoon of butter or olive oil
3 eggs
About 20g of grated semi hard goats cheese (or parmesan)
sea salt and black pepper
a pinch of smoked paprika

Snap the woody ends off your asparagus, just bend and it will break at the natural point. Chop the asparagus into one inch pieces. Slice the pale end of your stalk of spring garlic finely.

Now beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper and turn on the oven to around 180° C, if you're using a pan with an ovenproof handle, or the grill to medium, if, like me, you aren't.

Heat the butter or oil in a small frying pan and when it is hot add the asparagus and garlic. Move them about in the pan until the asparagus turns bright green and then pour over the eggs. As the eggs start to set around the edges lift the side of the frittata using a spatula to let the uncooked egg run underneath to set. When the top of the frittata is no longer runny sprinkle with the cheese and paprika and place either in the oven or under the grill for five minutes until the frittata is firm and cooked through.

Tip onto a plate and serve, either on its own as a meal for one or with salad and bread on the side so that you can split it between two.

Tuesday 4 May 2010


Edwin Morgan turned 90 last week so I'll just leave you with this for now...


There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air
in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you

let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

(from New Selected Poems, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2000)

Thursday 29 April 2010


As I write this I am licking my lips. I am drinking a glass of wine and watching the American Idol results show instead of the final leaders debate because, on a Thursday evening, I would much rather wonder once again just what Ellen is bringing to the panel or how American Idol could possibly carry on without Simon or, how, how, Siobhan could have been the one to leave this week.

But I digress, smacking my lips...

I was on my own for dinner tonight. Chris is out. I knew I wanted to make something nice but I couldn't decide what.

I have been tossing around the idea of a quinoa salad for a few days but want to make that when we can both enjoy it.

Then I thought back a few years, to solitary evenings in Edinburgh. If Chris was out I would indulge my love of steak, dinner would be decided on with no more thought than a lunchtime trip to Crombie's. I may have told you this before but I am definitely the red meat eater in our flat. Chris enjoys it but he doesn't crave it and he is unlikely to be tempted by steak frites on a menu in the way that I, with apparent wearying predictability, am. And when I order that steak frites and he orders, say, fish it comes to the table and the plate with the fish hovers over my place while the steak hovers over his.

So, steak then.

And, in the meantime, I had been thinking about asparagus on toast with an egg on top and couldn't quite abandon that idea either. And, if I'm mentioning influences, I should really say that I've been rereading the 'wichcraft book that I bought in New York last June.

What to do? All of it apparently. Steak, asparagus, bread (I thought the egg would be overkill but I would be lying if I said I didn't consider it). I might change the bread if I make it again. The Poliane loaf was delicious but a little too dense to properly absorb all of the juices. Maybe ciabatta so that all the salty juices pool in the generous hollows. Other than that all I have to say is yes. And now to resume the lip licking.

Serves 1

One steak (I used sirloin because there was a beautiful marbled piece at the butcher's counter)
Asparagus, quite thin stalks, as much as you like (I used about 10 pieces and ate a couple before they reached the sandwich)
Leaves (Lamb's lettuce here but use spinach, rocket, watercress, whatever)
Dijon mustard
Good mayonnaise
Olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and put your asparagus onto a small tray. Drizzle with a little olive oil and use your hands to smear it all over the asparagus. When the oven is hot put the asparagus into the oven to roast for about 10 minutes.

Once your asparagus is in, heat a frying pan on a medium-hot hob and, while it is heating, rub a little olive oil into your meat and season lightly with salt and pepper on both sides.

When it is hot place the steak in the pan and cook for around 3-4 minutes per side (for medium) turning just once when the first side has had its allotted time.

When the steak is cooked the asparagus should be ready so just take it out of the oven and put the steak on top of the asparagus to rest.

As it rests slice some bread and, if you want, soak up the pan juices from the steak with the sides that will be on the inside of the sandwich. Spread one side of the bread with dijon mustard, slice the steak and place on the bread, add leaves, then asparagus. Drizzle over any juices remaining in the asparagus dish. Finally spread the second slice of bread with mayonnaise and seal your sandwich.

Now just try to eat without the whole thing disintegrating...

Sunday 25 April 2010


This isn't the the cake that I was trying to make last week. It isn't made with semolina, it isn't heavy with syrup, you wouldn't buy it from a Turkish or North African bakery. It isn't the type of cake that would be served with sweet mint tea and you don't need to eat it tiny square by tiny square.

But it is a cake that I have been meaning to make for some time.

A cake I would read about on blog after blog and think, yes, that sounds like my kind of cake, must make soon. And then time after time I would forget until the next blog rolled around. But this time, when I read about it for the, oh, millionth time, I was in the mood to bake. I read the recipe and I thought I want that cake but I want it with olive oil and lemons and pistachios and I thought yes, tonight, finally. So I got home from work and I made some dinner and I stirred some ingredients together in a bowl, this is a low effort high reward kind of a cake, I baked the cake, left it to cool, and have been enjoying slice after slice after slice since.

My top tip for the day? Don't wait.

Lemon and pistachio yoghurt cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1 cup plain yogurt (I used 2% Greek yogurt because it's what I keep in the fridge for breakfast)
1/3 cup olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1 cup caster sugar
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 eggs
1 2/3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup pistachios, chopped roughly

Preheat the oven to 170ºC (350ºF). Grease the sides of a 20cm (9 inch) springform pan or cake tin with oil. If you aren't using a springform pan line the base of your cake tin with baking parchment.

Whisk the yogurt, oil, sugar, lemon zest and juice together in a large bowl and then add the eggs one by one, whisking well after each one. Sieve the flour, baking powder, soda and salt together, into the batter. Stir with a spoon until it is just combined and then gently stir in the pistachios.

Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a knife or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let stand for 10 minutes in the tin. Then remove the cake from the tin and leave to cool on the rack. Serve slightly warm or once it has cooled. I prefer it cool but try both.

This cake will last happily for a few days. I made this one on Thursday and it is still good today, Sunday.

Wednesday 21 April 2010


So after the asparagus and after the sun and after the mint tea and after the cake came the evening, came a gin and tonic, came nightfall, came roast chicken with olive oil, sumac and lemon, came a pilav so green, so fresh, so vital that we could have eaten it for dinner on its own quite happily.

Give Chris a bowl of rice and he is happy, mix that rice with lots of spinach and herbs and he is happier still. For me the crunch and nutty sweetness of the pistachios was unequivocally a good thing for Chris they were nice but unnecessary. I'll leave them in.

We sat at the table and spooned out the pilav and carved the chicken and poured prosecco and after we were done we sat some more and listened to Trembling Bells. Have you heard them? I'll warn you now you might cry as I did and then you'll have to say stop, play something happy, stop making me cry with beautiful music.

And when we were done with the pilav and the chicken and the prosecco and the music I wrapped up the leftovers and decided that the best, the only way, to use them up would be to do it all over again.

Pistachio pilav with spinach and herbs (from Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf
Serves 4-6

200g long-grain or basmati rice
400ml chicken stock or water
80g butter
1 onion, finely diced
550g spinach leaves, washed and shredded
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
80g unsalted shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
½ cup shredded mint leaves
½ cup shredded flat-leaf parsley leaves
½ cup chopped dill

Put the rice into a large bowl and rinse well under cold running water, working your fingers through it to loosen the starch. Drain off the milky water and repeat until the water runs clear. Cover the rice with cold water and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Drain the rice and rinse a final time.

Bring the stock to the boil, then lower the heat and keep at a simmer.

Melt half the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add the onion and saute over a low-medium heat, stirring continuously until it starts to soften. Increase the heat, then add the spinach and stir well until any moisture has evaporated. Add the rice to the pan, then season with salt and pepper and pour in the simmering stock. Return to the boil, stir briefly, then cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook over a very low heat for 12 minutes.

In a small saucepan, melt the remaining butter. Add the pistachios and saute over a medium heat, stirring continuously until the butter foams and the nuts start to colour. Tip the browned nuts into the pan of rice with the herbs. Don't stir! Replace the lid and return the pan to a very low heat for 5 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and use a fork to fluff up the grains and stir through the herbs and nuts. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Cover the pan with a clean, folded tea towel, then replace the lid and leave it to stand for 15-20 minutes. To serve, tip the rice onto a serving platter and fluff the grains up with a fork.

Sunday 18 April 2010


When we moved to our flat just over a year ago there were a few things that we were very clear on.

The kitchen is small.

Five flights of stairs is a lot.

The view is incredible.

And, a biggie, we would have a balcony all to ourselves.

Our balcony isn't a pretty balcony with railings and patio furniture. It looks robust, functional, like somewhere to hang your washing rather than dream away hours. But, and it is a big but, it has that view.

When we moved in we sat and looked at the view and drank a beer in the sunshine. We did that a lot last Summer.

On New Year's Eve we watched fireworks go off across London. We saw them exploding around the Eye, we saw the entire spectacle that people had waited for hours to see on the banks of the Thames. Closer to home, we saw paper lanterns with candles inside. And then, as if fireworks and paper lanterns were not enough, we saw snow. It was magical.

But normally Winter is not balcony time.

It is not the time to appreciate that view with Canary Wharf to the left, then the City, St Paul's, the Eye, the BT Tower, and, finally, the close up spire of a church. The church is one of my favourite parts of that view. I'm not religious, at all, but the rest of the view vanishes as if it never was when we sit down on the sofas or at the table and the only part that remains is that towering spire that is lit up at night. It is something to gaze at against the sky.

Yesterday, after eating my plate of asparagus, after realising that Spring was here at last, I took the paper and I took my book and I sat. I sat and I read and I forgot that the sun in April can be hot. I got a pink nose but I drank it all in, the sun, the view, the warmth. And from my vantage point I could hear the music blaring out of cars, Don't Blame it on the Boogie, the unfamiliar strains of a Turkish singer, Empire State of Mind, I could hear people who had decided to celebrate the sun with all day drinking, I could hear gatherings in gardens for the first barbecues of the summer, I could hear birdsong.

And when I got too hot I went inside and I made a cake. I made a semolina cake scented with lemon zest and rose petals. I poured over orange blossom water flavoured sugar syrup. I went back outside and I pretended I was in the garden of the Paris mosque where you can drink a small glass of mint tea and eat baklava and semolina sponges and watch tiny birds fly about amongst the tiles before they eventually alight on your table to steal a few crumbs. My fantsy was slightly compromised by the big mug instead of the dainty glass and the recipe that was undeniably tasty but not quite what I had envisaged. Not quite there on the texture of the crumb, not quite drenched enough in the sweet fragrant syrup, not quite there enough for sharing with you but there enough for me to enjoy.

I'll let you know when it's there.

Saturday 17 April 2010


I had planned my day so neatly.

I would drink my coffee and chat to my Mum.

I would get ready and go out to buy ingredients for a semolina cake and tonight's dinner.

I would come back to the flat and make a slice of toast topped with a smear of soft goats' cheese, leeks, a fried egg.

I would bake a cake and sit in the sun. I would enjoy the strange but lovely sight of the London skyline with not a plane in sight and no vapour trails hanging above. I would try, but find it hard, to reconcile the images of a big swirling cloud of ash with today's lovely reality of clear blue sky and warm sun.

I would eat a slice of cake and drink some mint tea.

I would make dinner and we would drink prosecco.

But then something happened.

I spoke to my Mum and went shopping. I bought big bunches of mint, parsley and dill. I went to buy milk and some yoghurt and that's when I stopped in my tracks.

Asparagus. Lots and lots of asparagus.

In less time than it takes to say 'first asparagus of the season' my lunch plans had changed and a bunch of asparagus was in my basket.

Goodbye toast, goodbye leeks, goodbye cheese, goodbye fried eggs. Hello plate full of asparagus with melted butter.

Spring, you are properly here at last.

Wednesday 14 April 2010


A few simple things have been cheering me up in the morning this week...

A new mug and bowl from here

A dollop of Total 2% Greek yoghurt

A very good granola recipe from here

A final topping of dried fruit

I really really recommend the granola recipe. I left out the coconut, used mixed seeds, almonds, and a mix of maple syrup and honey. So good. So making it again.

p.s I'm going to this in May and will be at Food Bloggers Connect in June. Anyone else?

Tuesday 6 April 2010


And as quickly as it deserted me the urge to blog is back.

Maybe it's the occasional sunny day, or a post Easter mental Spring clean, or the need to eat something other than pasta with leeks and bacon or soup with bread and cheese, or maybe it is just the natural rise and fall and ebb and flow of the year...

I'm going with Winter being rubbish and my energy levels rising in direct proportion to the temperature and the hours of daylight.

What a surprise.

This morning I walked to work in my new pair of white converse (confidence to wear white converse and hope they won't be rain sodden grey converse within five minutes is surely up there with crocuses and daffodils as a sign of Spring) and caught up with podcasts and reminded myself to do it on as many mornings as the sun shines.

Gosh I love Spring.

After all that you would think it would be salad for dinner wouldn't you?

But for now it is soup, again, but with good reason.

One of Chris's colleagues has parents who own a Cantonese restaurant in Sheffield. Her Dad visted her and she very sweetly gave us three of his homemade pork buns so we are steaming those tonight. And, as they don't quite make a meal we will follow them with soup, bread, and cheese. Or, to be more specific, potato, leek, carrot and parsnip soup, Cropwell Bishop white stilton, and Sussex Yeoman hard goat's cheese. It may not be the most balanced meal in the world flavourwise but I'm looking forward to tucking in.

And, as a final aside, have you seen this?

You should.

Russell mentioned Fire & Knives to me when we were in Edinburgh a few weeks ago and I promptly ordered the first two issues. I may be too susceptible to suggestion (particularly those of the book/magazine/bag variety) but I don't see that changing and sometimes it is a very good thing. I'll wait for the next issue to pop up and then I'll be subscribing.

Here's to reading the printed word.

Sunday 14 February 2010


Two girls with boyfriends working on Valentine's day, Molly's blueberry oatmeal pancakes, Coco Before Chanel.

I hope you had all had a good Sunday wherever you spent it and whoever you spent it with.

Tuesday 2 February 2010


Can you really blame me? I'm fond of the aubergine too but when it comes to the gold pea pod I think I'm in love and I think I want to wear it this spring.

(Photo from Alex Monroe)

Monday 18 January 2010


I had planned for the weekend's weather. I had been looking and seeing that rain on Saturday, that sun on Sunday and in planning for that day of rain I had been reading and I had been deciding.

I would leave the house briefly for a quick walk to the shops, I would watch the first two episodes of American Idol (I can't resist it, it's hopeless), and then, I would do something that I haven't done since moving to London, I would bake bread.

I made a resolution to make more bread for 2010, turns out it was one of the easiest resolutions I have ever made.

One loaf and I am done.

One loaf and I remember why this feels good, the moment of concern that it won't rise, the growing delight when you see that yes it will and yes it has, the fun of punching it down and forming the loaf, watching it bake, tapping the base to see if it is done and listening to the hollow affirming answer, the first slice spread with butter, the toast...

I think you get the gist?

This recipe came from one of my first book purchases of 2010, Warm Bread and Honey Cake by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra. It combines sweet and savoury baked treats from around the world with baklava, paratha, pide, sachertorte, moon cakes and, the one I am most excited about, engadiner nusstorte.

But I'll save that for another day.

In the meantime...

FRUIT LOAF (from Warm Bread and Honey Cake. The glaze is just a little extra something suggested in one of the River Cottage books.)

350g / 12oz / 2 1/3 cups strong white (bread) flour
1 1/4 tsp easy-blend (active dry) yeast
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cardamom or zest of 1/2 lemon
55g / 2oz / 1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg, beaten
about 150m/5fl oz/2/3 cup milk, warmed
100g/ 3 1/2oz / 2/3 cup currants
55g / 2oz / 1/3cup sultanas (golden raisins)
2tbsp dried cranberries
1 tbsp candied orange peel

Optional glaze
2 tbsp water
1 tbsp granulated sugar

Place all the ingredients except the fruit in a large bowl. Mix to moisten the dry ingredients and knead thoroughly until smooth and supple. This may be done by hand or using a mixer fitted with a dough hook, to make a soft dough. Bring the dough together in a ball, then cover the bowl with clingfilm (plastic wrap) or a damp dish towel, and set aside in a warm, draught-free place until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, rinse the currants and sultanas in hot water. Drain the fruit, then pat dry with paper towels and leave in a warm place with the cranberries and orange peel until needed.

Knock back the risen dough and transfer to a lightly floured surface. Knead the fruit thoroughly into the dough. Roll or flatten the dough into a rectangle that is as wide as your tin is long, and about 1cm/1.2in thick. Roll up the dough, starting at a short side, and pinch the seam to seal.

Grease a 450g/1lb loaf tin. Place the dough roll seam-side down in the tin and remove any loose fruit from the surface, or it will burn while baking. Cover the loaf loosely with lightly oiled clingfilm and leave in a warm, draught-free place until almost doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas Mark 6.

Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. To test, remove the loaf from the tin. Tap sharply on the top and bottom; it should sound hollow. Cool on a wire rack.

If you would like to add a sugary glaze just heat the water and sugar in a small saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Bring it to simmering point briefly and then brush the glaze over the top and sides of the loaf while it cools.

Thursday 14 January 2010


I spend an awful lot of time thinking about things I might like. Writing lists, browsing websites, thinking, dreaming. I don't buy I suppose it is just virtual window shopping.

I thought it might be nice to share some of these things.

I thought it might be nice to have a second blog.

But then I had another thought and I remembered something.

I remembered that I have a bad enough track record at updating one blog and that I probably shouldn't willingly double the number of things that I feel bad about not updating.

So, a compromise. Occasionally I'll tell you about something that I have fallen a little bit in love with. You'll ooh and aah (I hope) and then we can all go back to thinking about food. Deal?

Have you seen these birds? They were posted onto a few blogs and I was desperate to buy one for Chris for Christmas but they were all sold out. I didn't mention them to him and then, last week, I looked and saw that there were a few for sale. I chose this little round fat bird and he sits perfectly in the hand. He lives on a shelf alongside a small ceramic owl and two Rob Ryan tiles. That shelf makes me smile a lot.

(Photo by DHPainter)

Monday 11 January 2010


I know that this blog is already heavily weighted towards all things banana bread and I know that I really should be expanding my cake repertoire but I knew I wanted to bake, I knew it was too cold to go shopping for ingredients, I knew I had all of the ingredients to try Dorie Greenspan's banana bundt. That was all the motivation I needed to choose it over the blueberry cake that was coming in a close second.


I promise my next cake will not involve bananas. I can't promise that it won't be another bundt however, that shiny tin hasn't yet lost its appeal.

Oh, and the bundt? It was good. I'm not sure it tops my standard Nigella banana bread recipe but I'm already looking forward to taking a post lunch slice to work every day this week, there's nothing like a slice of bundt (or any home made cake for that matter) to brighten up a January week at work.

CLASSIC BANANA BUNDT CAKE (from Baking: From My Home to Yours)

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
About 4 very ripe bananas, mashed (you should have 1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cups)
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Generously butter a 9- to 10-inch (12 cup) Bundt pan. (If you use a silicone Bundt pan there’s no need to butter it.) Don’t place the pan on a baking sheet - you want the oven’s heat to circulate through the Bundt’s inner tube.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each egg goes in. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the bananas. Finally, mix in half the dry ingredients (don’t be disturbed when the batter curdles), all the sour cream and then the rest of the flour mixture. Scrape the batter into the pan, rap the pan on the counter to debubble the batter and smooth the top.

Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Check the cake after about 30 minutes - if it is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool to room temperature.

If you've got the time, wrap the cooled cake in plastic and allow it to sit on the counter overnight before serving - it's better the next day.

Optional Lemony White Icing:
Sift 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar into a bowl and squeeze in enough fresh lemon juice (start with 2 teaspoons and add more by drops) to make an icing thin enough to drizzle down the Bundt's curves.

Half batch for muffins:
If you want 1/2 the recipe and make muffins, Dorie Greenspan wrote it up herself on Serious Eats: Banana Cake Big and Small.

Sunday 3 January 2010


I want to hate resolutions, I really do, but every year I find myself with a new moleskine diary writing a list of things to do, books to read, items I must get around to buying (the last tends to be the easiest to keep, the wrist worms have been ordered already).

Why fight it?

In the spirit of a new decade I offer you the following:

1) To never refer to this decade as the teenies. I can't imagine that I need to explain why?

2) To take more photos.

3) To bake more bread.

4) To take lunch to work more often.

5) To take the advice of Grace Coddington in The September Issue... 'always keep your eyes open, never go to sleep in the car, keep watching because whatever you see out of the window, or wherever, it can inspire you.'