Friday, 31 August 2007

Recipe books

All that cooking and baking yesterday got me thinking about recipe books. I have so many now that there is no more room in my bookshelves for any more.

My latest purchase, Jo Pratt's In The Mood For Food, doesn't even have a home on my shelves. I'm clearly going to have to buy some more shelves.


My recipe books are an eclectic bunch, and I love them all, but inevitably I have my favourites. Here, in no particular order, are my top ten:

  • Jo Pratt's In The Mood For Food. It is my most recent purchase but doesn't make it onto the list just because it is a shiny new toy. The book is so pretty to look at, and unashamedly written for women - the title and the pink floral patterns say it all really. I am always in the mood for food, so of course I was going to like it!
  • Cupboard Love by Tom Norrington Davis. This is one of the most original recipe books I own, and one that I turn to again and again when I am cooking for friends. One of the chapters is called 'Junk Food' and has recipes for a burger night, a kebab night and pizza night. Of course everything for these evenings will be home made, and the real genius is in the recipes for the relishes and dips and other extras that make junk food night so good. His sweetcorn relish recipe is amazing.
  • Annabel Karmel's Favourite Family Recipes. I own nearly all of the great Annabel's recipe books, and I love them for the fact that without fail her recipes are incredibly easy, very quick, and children love them. She somehow manages to take the drudgery out of feeding small children day in and day out - and put the enthusiasm back in. We ate her tuna bake tonight for tea.
  • Tarts With Tops On by Tamasin Day-Lewis. A brilliant title and delicious pies. Her Cornish Pasty recipe is my favourite...and I've tried a few now.
  • Cooking Like Mummyji by Vicky Bhogal. This is another very recent purchase, but probably my favourite in this whole list. The curries I have made from this book are so simple, and very, very tasty. They are also authentic British Asian recipes - when I cook from this book, my kitchen smells properly East End.
  • Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food. I have all Nigel Slater's books, I read his Observer column most Sundays, and I think he is a genius. But this was the first book of his that I bought, and also the first recipe book I ever owned (aside from a criminal 'student cookbook' that I acquired when I first left home and which did not deserve the title of cookbook in any way) so it is a great favourite of mine. Nigel Slater is one of the few cooks who is a writer first and a cook second.
  • How To Be A Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson. I also have all of Nigella Lawson's books, and love and use them each of them regularly. This book I take to bed and read when I am poorly, it makes me feel so good. There is a whole chapter called 'The Chocolate Cake Hall Of Fame'. Brilliant.
  • Sheila Lukins' USA Cookbook is a book so thick and heavy and rammed with recipes that I don't think I'll ever cook more than a fraction of them. Which is a great shame as the recipes are very good and make me nostalgic for some good American home cooked food. All four coleslaw recipes are worth trying.
  • Hugh F-W's River Cottage Family Cookbook is heavier on pictures and principals than on recipes, but the principals are so close to my own that I can forgive him. Try the spaghetti bolognese, even if you've been cooking it your own way for years. Hugh's way is just better.
  • From Anna's Kitchen by Anna Thomas, is currently out of print I think, but well worth tracking down second hand if you want a really inspired and imaginative vegetarian cookbook. I was vegetarian for more than five years in my twenties (until I craved meat so badly when I fell pregnant with C) and over half the meals I cook now have no meat or fish in them. This is the only book I've found that really celebrates vegetables and doesn't see a lack of meat as an inconvenience or a reason not to enjoy food.

I'm feeling bad about the ones that didn't make it into the top 10 now - I can see that these reflections will lead to some more cooking!


This post is for my friend Anna, who recommended In The Mood For Food so highly and gave me the top tip about Hugh's bolognese. Thank you!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

A fruitful day

Today has been full of fruit. The English fruits at this time of year are my favourites - berries, plums, the first apples. I had planned to go to the local PYO again today, but they have sold out of most of their fruit, so we went to Waitrose instead. I bought two big boxes of Victoria plums (absolutely my favourite fruit in the whole world - when I was a child I would sit in the plum tree eating them until I gave myself stomach ache), two boxes of strawberries and some giant bramley apples. Then we stopped off in Epping Forest on the way home to go blackberrying.

I shouldn't have worn a skirt and sandals, but C did a noble job of bashing down the nettles for me with a very long stick. We picked a nice big punnet of berries, and C & O probably ate as many as they put in the punnet.

So what to do with all my lovely bounty?

My sister had told me that September's BBC Good Food magazine had a delicious plum and pistachio cake recipe, so O and I dashed off one of those:

And I just knew the blackberries and apples needed to be crumbled. Here is Nigel Slater's crumble recipe:

  • 450g bramley apples, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
  • 450g blackberries
  • a little sugar
  • 100g plain flour
  • 175g butter
  • 50g porridge oats
  • 100g demerara sugar

Put the apples in a pan with the little bit of sugar and a tablespoon of water. Over a medium heat, cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly until the apples just start to soften. Throw in the blackberries and transfer to a pie dish.

Rub the butter and flour together with your fingertips until the mixture looks like crumbs. Stir in the oats and brown sugar and scatter over the fruit. Bake at gas 6 for 30 minutes or until crisp on top. Serve with cream.

I made 6 little individual crumbles as they look cuter than one big one. They only take about 20 minutes to cook.

Even the hens got to enjoy some of the fruit - their favourite treat is apple cores. I swear they know when I'm chopping apples. Can they hear the knife on the chopping board? Can they somehow smell them? I'm not sure, but whenever apples are being chopped or eaten the clucking starts and they get more and more vociferous until I run outside and give them the cores. Here are Daisy & Betsy fighting over the last one.


Monday, 27 August 2007


For so many years I have firmly believed that romantic moments were not about the location, or the date. Romance could happen in mundane places, on weekdays, when you were least expecting it...and surely that therefore made the moment even more romantic?

G's birthday is on February 14th, so we never celebrate Valentine's Day; instead it is always a birthday celebration - and one that involves G's wider family as G's brother's birthday is on the same day and his father's is on the day after. We are not married, so don't have a wedding anniversary either. Our first proper date was on 11th January 1997 and that is the date we take as our anniversary - but mid-January is never very romantic because we are always feeling poor and puritanical after the excesses of Christmas.

More romantic have been moments when G has appeared home from work with a book for me that he thinks I would like, or when we spent on our first holiday together walking the Pennine Way and eating endless meals of egg and chips. Little, daily acts of love like bringing me a cup of tea in bed were what I thought romance was based on.

But, my thinking has changed over this past weekend....

This afternoon G and I came back from a weekend that we spent at The Dial House Hotel in Bourton On The Water, in the very heart of The Cotswolds. The hotel is a very old, classically Cotswold building with stunning gardens, a few beautifully designed bedrooms and a fabulous chef. Our room also had its very own, private garden, opening out from french windows at the foot of our bed.

The whole setting was deeply romantic and luxurious. In the main garden of the hotel was a summer house. A little, square wooden house that looked as if it belonged in a child's picture book. Inside, there were low sofas around three of the walls, which were scattered with silk cushions. In the centre of the room was a large, square table with some little candles in the middle. There was even a button to call for service.


On Saturday evening we took our coffee in the summer house after dinner. We brought our iPods and little portable speakers with us, plus some board games. The setting was the most romantic thing I have ever come across. Night fell, the stars came out, and we were in a little, cosy house built for two, with music to match our mood.


Here is a list from my iPod of music for romantic moments:
  • You are always on my mind by Michael Buble
  • Unforgettable by Nat King Cole
  • Crazy by Patsy Cline
  • All You Want by Dido
  • One Love / People Get Ready by Bob Marley
  • Promenade Sentimentale by Vladimir Cosma
  • The Secret Marriage by Sting
  • Don't Know Why by Norah Jones
  • I Put A Spell On You by Nina Simone
  • God Only Knows by The Beach Boys
  • It Must Be Love by Madness
  • Sky Holds The Sun by The Exploding Thumbs

I would like to say that in the spirit of romance and sharing, we didn't just listen to my iPod, but G's favourite Danish ambient glitch-techno band, Trentemoeller, didn't really set the mood....

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Feed me

There are times when children push lovingly prepared food around their plate with a look of undisguised horror on their faces, and there are times when they devour everything you put in front of them and then look put out when there isn't enough for 'fourths'.

Neither C nor O are particularly picky eaters, but I still like knowing that there are some meals that when I cook them will be wolfed down, by everybody, without complaint. Here is my list of meals that always get eaten:
  • oxtail mince and jacket potatoes
  • meatloaf, chips & peas with LOTS of ketchup
  • tuna mayonnaise sandwiches
  • Sloppy Joe
  • quesadillas
  • pasta pesto
  • meatballs with spaghetti

This last one is a particular favourite with O at the moment who has discovered she can use the new gap in her teeth to great effect.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Boots and books

For me, the two most important things I pack to go on holiday are my walking boots and at least one book for every two days I am away. Long stomps through forests or up mountains by day and then evenings lazing on a blanket (if we are camping) or on a sofa reading, are what I like to do best on holiday. The last two weeks in North Yorkshire have seen plenty of boot and book action and have left me feeling very relaxed and peaceful.

I managed to finish one book, read five more and start another while I was away. This is what I read:

  • Theft by Peter Carey. I had started this before I left London, and found it very tough going, but I must have needed the holiday as once I was no longer distracted by everyday chores I enjoyed it. Its a strange book, but satisfying at the end.
  • Further Under The Duvet by Marian Keyes. This book is a collection of articles by Marian Keyes and was a freebie from somewhere which I hadn't particularly expected to enjoy. But it was such an entertaining read after the seriousness of Peter Carey, that I went out and bought one of Keyes' novels to read as well.
  • Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes. A satisfyingly chunky book and well written. Quality chick lit.
  • The Great Stink by Clare Clark. By far the best book I read all holiday. I loved every minute of it and wished I had written it. Its a thriller set in the sewers of Victorian London - original, brilliantly written and very exciting.
  • The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. Many people I know have read this and enjoyed it. I did too. Its an American book, which would always predispose me to like it, but the idea for the plot was fascinating, and the characters were really well thought out.
  • The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. This was, by a long way, the book I enjoyed the least. The writing was clunky and cliched and the much-mentioned huge guilty secret which was revealed at the end was a big disappointment.
  • The Bird Woman by Kerry Hardie. I haven't quite finished this one, but it gets the second place rosette from me. It is original and slightly strange; I am very much enjoying it. Kerry Hardie explores the differences between how people from Northern Ireland and Eire view each other, which is something I've not come across in fiction before.


Because reading and walking is what G and I do on holiday, the children have no choice at the moment but to do that too. I wonder sometimes if this is something they will deeply rebel against when they are older. I must try not to be too disappointed if they choose to go on beach holidays in Spain or villa holidays in France instead.


At the moment, however, I seem to have children who are happy to fall in with my plans (or maybe they're just not old enough to stage an effective rebellion...we shall see).

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Holidays in Britain

I did a great deal of far-flung travelling when I was in my twenties - and loved every bit of it. I spent a year studying at a college in America and six months living in Australia. I went on business trips to Canada, Germany, America and France and holidayed in all sorts of exotic places including Singapore, Malaysia and Greece. This photo of a flag was taken at a quarry I audited in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

When I had my children though, the trips abroad stopped - partly because it was too expensive and but also because it was just too dauntingly difficult. When O was very small, and C a toddler, we went on our first holiday as a family, to stay in a small cottage on a farm on the Lizard peninsula in Cornwall. It was possibly the most memorable holiday I have ever had. We spent our days sitting on near-empty sandy beaches, or walking along paths with breathtaking views over the sea. We ate delicious local food; pasties, scones with jam and clotted cream, cider, bacon and eggs from the farm and blackberries form the hedgerow. Each night we all fell into deep, endless sleeps - exhausted from a surfeit of fresh air, exercise and good food.

When we came back home I was embarrassed that I had not really known that such beautiful, restful places existed in my own country. I felt as though I had spent too much time looking for the perfect tropical beach abroad, and missed all the treasures that were right under my nose.

In a couple of days time, we are heading off with our tent to North Yorkshire for this year's summer holiday. So today's list is all the places I love to visit the most in my own country.

  • Pembrokeshire - rugged cliffs, brilliant blue seas and empty beaches. The perfect place to clear your head.
  • The western part of the Yorkshire Dales - beautiful caves and delicious cheese.
  • The north Norfolk coast - windswept and wild - just the right side of bleak. Best for long walks out of season.
  • Falmouth in Cornwall - feels like another country. Black and white Kernow flags hung from every available building and beautiful boats to admire in the harbour.
  • Snowdonia - the best walks I have found have been here. The mountains are a shock if you normally live somewhere unremarkably flat like London.
  • The Vale of Pickering in North Yorkshire - very pretty chocolate-box villages, the North York Moors National Park and the best pies I have ever eaten.
  • The Cotswolds - there are good reasons why the Cotswolds are such a well-known destination; if you focus on the pubs rather than the tea rooms you will forget that other people are visiting as well. Some villages still feel more medieval that 21st Century.

There are still so many places I want to visit in my own country; there are no destinations in Scotland or Ireland on my list as I haven't been to either of those places as an adult. For now, Britain has more than enough to keep me happy.