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.