Everything Stops For Tea…

If you’re British, a cup of tea is seen as the solution to many of life’s problems. Crash your car, discover you’re bankrupt, fall down a flight of steps – what you need is “a nice cup of tea”.

A friend of mine once had the job of keeping the cellars of Buckingham Palace stocked with wine. About a year after the tragic death of Princess Diana, Mark (not his real name), was having dinner with a senior member of the Palace staff and, when this gentleman mentioned he had been the unfortunate person who had answered the Palace phone at four am to be told that the princess had been in a car crash and was fighting for her life, Mark asked, “What did you do?Continue reading “Everything Stops For Tea…”

Straight from the Tables of Disney

Like many of us born in the 50s, my childhood was difficult. People were too traumatised by the war and their losses. It can’t have been easy on any front to return to whatever ‘normality’ was.  Neither of my parents seemed to be able to settle down. They banged around like an out of control bobsleigh on the Cresta run, although not always together. Fortunes went up and down as they careered from job to job and town to town, dragging my grandmother, my brother, and I with them. Continue reading “Straight from the Tables of Disney”

The Legendary Cassoulet

The cassoulet in its cassole
The cassoulet in its cassole

Cassoulet is a legend here in the South West of France. Quite literally. It was supposed to have originated during the Hundred Years War when the English were besieging the nearby town of Castelnaudary in 1355. The story goes that the inhabitants cooked up what was left of their beans, bones, scraps of meat and dried bits of ham, then went out and beat the English!

Like many of my favourite dishes, I suspect it has its real origins in “peasant food”, namely cooking whatever is to hand, but over the centuries, it has become a complex and truly wonderful dish. It takes its name from the large earthenware pot in which it is cooked and served – “le cassole” – hence “Cassoulet”. When it’s cooked for you by my good friend, Philippe Seguier then it is, quite simply, probably the best cassoulet you’ll ever taste. Continue reading “The Legendary Cassoulet”

Keeping Up with the Joneses

The 70s was the era of the dinner party. Never more so than in foreign lands where expatriates clung together, socialising amongst themselves by circulating around each other’s houses, consuming pineapple cubes on sticks, platters of coronation chicken and boeuf Wellington – all washed down with enough alcohol to drown a liver or two.  At eighteen I started my married life as an expatriate wife, set to travel the world, with postings in Ghana, Zambia, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Bahrain, and Haiti. Continue reading “Keeping Up with the Joneses”

New Zealand Chocolate Cake – my mother’s fifty year-old recipe!

My mother's recipe in the Longtown W.I. cookery book and in my own collection of recipes
My mother’s recipe in the Longtown W.I. cookery book and in my own collection of recipes

Last week, I was finally able to unpack one of my boxes of cookery books and I found a copy of the Longtown W.I. Cookery Book to which my mother had contributed her recipe for “New Zealand Chocolate Cake – 1966!”. I also found the small recipe book she gave me as a teenager in which I’ve written up many favourite recipes. Glued in under the cakes section, written in her distinctive hand-writing, I found the same recipe. Continue reading “New Zealand Chocolate Cake – my mother’s fifty year-old recipe!”

Oh Deer, Oh Deer

There is no law, rule, or regulation that says you have to love, like, or even get on with your siblings. As a mother of four, I would be horrified if my children didn’t at least like, rub along with, and support each other. Yes, horrified. Yet my relationship with my brother was far from harmonious… Continue reading “Oh Deer, Oh Deer”

An Ode to Carrots

Some of the ingredients for carrot and cardamom pilaf
Ingredients for carrot and cardamom pilaf

Carrots have been one of my favourite vegetables since way back when. As a child, I was never keen on meat, especially beef. I hated all that chewing and would end up with dry indigestible lumps hidden in my cheeks like a hamster. Muttering that I had finished, I would leave the table and head for the toilet to spit out the offending lumps. So my mother wisely compromised by serving me potatoes and carrots covered with the meaty gravy which I would then mash together. For a four year old, it was my idea of the perfect meal.

In those days, carrots were the inevitable pairing with potatoes – mashed, roasted or boiled – for the traditional ‘meat and two veg’. My grandmother sliced her carrots in roundels and boiled them, as did my mother. Generation after generation of us eating sliced carrots… Continue reading “An Ode to Carrots”

Salt and Pepper – Earth and Fire

Fleurs du sel
Fleurs du sel

Having lived as many decades as I have (six and counting), it’s easy to forget how some of the most basic elements of cooking have changed over my lifetime – and you cannot get more basic than salt and pepper. Continue reading “Salt and Pepper – Earth and Fire”