Sweet Paprika and Sweet Memories – Family Recipes

My mother in her kitchen - probably her favourite room!
My mother in her kitchen – probably her favourite room!

After many years of travelling – Germany, Kenya, Suffolk, New Zealand, Kent – we finally settled in Buckinghamshire in 1968 when my parents bought an old ramshackle farmhouse, the first ever house they had ever owned.

Looking back, I realise we only just scraped by on my father’s teaching salary whilst my mother juggled raising the three of us, working part-time as a school secretary, growing most of our vegetables and fruit, and making all our clothes. But I never had the impression that we lacked for anything. Continue reading “Sweet Paprika and Sweet Memories – Family Recipes”

Easter and an Extravaganza of Eggs

Polish babka cake
Polish babka cake

My mother was very parsimonious when it came to cooking with eggs. Clearly, her wartime childhood had affected her. The WWII ration allowance was one fresh egg per week, supplemented with dried egg powder from the USA – which she hated. But old habits die hard; even in her eighties, she would use only one egg to make herself an omelette. If I had ever had the chance to bake her this traditional Polish babka cake for Easter, which uses twelve egg yolks, she would have had a veritable heart attack! Continue reading “Easter and an Extravaganza of Eggs”

A Bit of a Porker

I am not a great pork fan. It used to work itself into my diet on only three occasions. A twice a year or so roast for Sunday lunch (where for me the crackling was always the main attraction), weekend bacon butties, and sausages – proper British sausages, 40% or so of minced pork and a fair amount of fat, mixed with bread or rusk, herbs and seasoning. I find it difficult to like their meatier denser European cousins, French saucisson or German bratwurst, encased as they are in a thicker skin that sometimes require boiling. Continue reading “A Bit of a Porker”

Not Mincing my Words about Chilli

To write this now in the 21st century feels like the start of a Victorian novel; to say that I was given an allowance by my first husband, for housekeeping and my own personal expenditure. But it was so. I managed to work in Ghana, our first posting abroad, but by the time we reached Zambia, two years later, their government had brought in a moratorium on accompanying expatriate wives working. Like many before me, bored with few other options, I got pregnant, learnt to cook and got to grips with how to stretch a small budget. My financial acumen was virtually nonexistent, despite having been the first female management trainee with an international bank, so was my knowledge about choosing cheap cuts of meat and what to do with them. Continue reading “Not Mincing my Words about Chilli”

Do Not Trifle with a Truffle

Ingredients for an 'Omelette au Truffes'
Ingredients for an ‘Omelette au Truffes’

I am a truffle virgin.

The closest I’ve got to cooking with truffles was a recipe for Cauliflower Soup by John Burton-Race which demanded – or rather, insisted – on a swirl of truffle oil in the soup just before serving. He swore this made all the difference, so I splashed out on a very expensive small bottle of truffle oil. He was right. That ribbon of golden perfumed oil whisked through the creamy cauliflower soup worked magic. My  guests asked me what had I done to make the soup taste so delicious?

But experimenting with truffle oil was as far as I ever got back in the UK – truffles aren’t exactly two a penny on the Welsh Borders. So last week, when I came across some truffle sellers in Albi Market promoting a Fete des Truffes at the nearby village of Villeneuve-sur-Vere the following Sunday, I knew I had to go. Continue reading “Do Not Trifle with a Truffle”

Emergency Rations

As an eternal optimist I’m not risk adverse, but more of a calculated risk taker. In the late 90s I was offered a year’s assignment in Northern California. I jumped at the chance. It was America, what could be risky about that?  There was much muttering from my two younger daughters because they were being uprooted from friends and family, but the muttering didn’t last long as they soon adapted to the world of yellow school buses, western saddle riding and friends living on ranches. It wasn’t until the day before we left London that the husband of a friend professed his shock on hearing that I was planning to take the children to live on the San Andreas fault line. First, I had heard about it. The wooden deck house in Portola Valley we were renting was cute, airy and situated in a beautiful valley with ten other houses.  Sour grapes, I thought, until my children started to return home from school with stories of regular earthquake drills and the fact that other parents kept store cupboards stocked with emergency rations. The 1989 earthquake that had rocketed the Bay Area had been a lesson in preparedness for all. Continue reading “Emergency Rations”

Tales of Blood Sausage, Civil War, and Refugees – a Spanish winter stew

The village of Gualchos, Andalucia in Spain
The village of Gualchos, Andalucia in Spain

Thirty-three years ago this month I had clocked up five years working for the BBC on a ‘rolling’ annual contract as a researcher and director when my boss decided he would offer me a permanent contract. My reaction surprised us both – I promptly handed in my resignation! The very thought of a ‘job for life’ made me feel panicked and claustrophobic. I needed ‘time out’. Having saved some money, I headed south to Andalucía in Spain, with enough funds to survive for three months and the vague idea of writing a novel. Continue reading “Tales of Blood Sausage, Civil War, and Refugees – a Spanish winter stew”

The Spice of Life

An attraction to the exotic started early in my childhood. At primary school, the pink territories of the British Empire covered the world map on the classroom wall. The adventures of Sinbad the Sailor and Gulliver’s Travels inspired our imaginations of other more colourful worlds. Continue reading “The Spice of Life”

A Sikh Presentation

My love affair with everything Indian started more than four decades ago. At seventeen, straight from the confines of a Wiltshire market town, I moved to London, to the safety of a Knightsbridge based YWCA hostel. Here, girls under the age of 21 could live in shared rooms for just under five pounds a week, which at the time was just under half of my weekly wage packet. Continue reading “A Sikh Presentation”

Worth his Weight in Sea Salt

As children, we spent many a school holiday in the tiny hamlet of West Portholland in south west Cornwall. My parents had taken a long-term rent on a two bedroom cottage which stood above the bay, backed against a damp cliff covered in ivy and protected from most of the wild winds which would strike the coast during the Christmas and Easter holidays. Continue reading “Worth his Weight in Sea Salt”