“Oh, Lardy, Lardy” in praise of fat

It’s cold. It may not have snowed here in London but when the sun disappears in the late afternoon, the chill ices into your bones. Middle daughter and I suffer from bad circulation that materialises in white fingertips when the temperature drops below 10C and white toes when it hits minus figures. Thawing is mildly painful as the extremities turn bruising blue before returning to pink. Middle daughter doesn’t do hot either. She is a temperate child. The family GP, a pragmatist at the best of times, diagnosed a possible mild form of Raynaud’s syndrome where the arteries spasm and blood flow is reduced. His recommendation is that if I didn’t want surgery to cut the nerves in the back of my neck, then I should wear gloves. I do, regularly. Continue reading ““Oh, Lardy, Lardy” in praise of fat”

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”

Galette des Rois – a French celebration of Epiphany

Adoration of the Magi by Monaco Lorenzo c. 1422. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.
Adoration of the Magi by Monaco Lorenzo c. 1422. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

It’s January 6th and the boulangeries and patisseries here in Albi are full of large round tarts, the famous Galette des Rois, which are traditionally eaten on the 6th January to celebrate Epiphany, the visit of the Three Wise Men. The tart is made of buttery flaky pastry with a filling of frangipane (almond paste) though you can also buy galettes with a chocolate filling and even Nutella. Hidden in the filling is a fève – traditionally, a dried broad bean. In the 19th century, the bean was replaced by a tiny porcelain figurine  but now, they are inevitably plastic! Whoever finds the fève is king or queen for the day and they get to wear a cardboard crown (usually sold with the galette). Continue reading “Galette des Rois – a French celebration of Epiphany”

The Charms of a Not So Perfect Christmas

My father died when I was 12. Christmases were a little less perfect after that. Grandmother did her best to make the holiday special, but her heart wasn’t in it as she watched my mother slide into alcoholism. My brother left home. As soon as school ended I headed for grimy, raw edged London determined to create my own life and Christmases. Continue reading “The Charms of a Not So Perfect Christmas”

Christmas Eve Oysters – the time has come….

Fines Claire No. 2
Fines Claire No. 2

My first memory of oysters comes from a day spent on the beach near Auckland in New Zealand. I was nine years old and happily crouched over a rock pool tickling the fronds of anemones when I noticed my father prise a knobbly shell off a rock. He then split it open with his penknife, tipped his head back, and swallowed the contents. I was amazed. “What was that?” I asked. “It’s an oyster,” he replied. I was none the wiser. “But you ate it just like that… raw?” I was horrified at the idea. “Yes, even better raw,” he replied. “I love it when they wriggle going down my throat.” My response was to scream. Continue reading “Christmas Eve Oysters – the time has come….”

Travels with my Taste

November has slid into December and the barometer has dropped overnight warning of record lows. Snowflakes can be seen on the Met Office forecasts north of the Watford Gap. The High street glitters with red and gold, Ho ho hos and prancing reindeer decorate shop windows whilst sleigh bells tinkle away even in the corner shop. Continue reading “Travels with my Taste”

Wood Hedgehogs and Meadow Mushrooms

Sherry and Mushrooms - a classic combination
Sherry and Mushrooms – a classic combination

Sometimes, the best meals start without a recipe but with a question – what is in season? Four weeks ago this Saturday, the weekly outdoor market in Albi was an autumnal cornucopia: butternut squash, pumpkins, gourds, and plastic ‘barquettes’ filled with pieds de moutons, girolles and ceps. Girolles are two a penny at this time of year, ceps cost a small fortune, but pieds de mouton rarely make an appearance – I was tempted but saw the price. €5 euros for a small barquette. Far too expensive! Continue reading “Wood Hedgehogs and Meadow Mushrooms”

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”

Spicing up an Anglo Dutch War

Great Britain has a long tradition of being at war with the Dutch. From 1652 to 1784 there were four wars and then more conflicts during the later Napoleonic era. As both nations were sea-faring and had economic policies bent on maximizing their global trade and accumulating gold and silver, their policies led to colonization and then to war, mainly with each other. The Dutch/Anglo relationship therefore has had its share of ups and downs but a strong bond was forged during and after the Second World War. Today, however we seem to be heading for another down after the shock result of the Brexit referendum and the UK’s desire to exit out of Europe. Continue reading “Spicing up an Anglo Dutch War”

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”