A methi business

Cooking simply doesn't have to be cooking boringly. A fresh piece of wild fish or some high-season asparagus doesn't need much doing to it. Meals like this are quite often the best, in terms of flavour, sustainability and time. Vegetables at their freshest and most seasonal take almost no time to cook and with something like a flavoured butter or herb oil to complement them you are going to eat very well.

You can make many of these things in advance, butter freezes well to use as and when you like; spice mixes; freshly toasted and ground, will keep well in a jar in the cupboard for a couple of weeks to sprinkle over a finished dish. Try this gunpowder recipe for roast squash or this za'atar one to add to stems of tender broccoli or to sprinkle over.

Flavoured butters are one of my favourite way to add flavour and excitement to a dish and -- contrary to the advice given by the idiots in charge of dietary 'guidelines'-- it is good for you. Why on earth you would substitute a natural and delicious ingredient for an industrially produced trans-fat laden 'spread' which is one step away from plastic is beyond me.

Last week I made a batch with wild garlic as well as a harissa-laden one. I used them liberally to cook salmon, melt into a butter bean and chorizo stew and pour over fried eggs. This version, using a bunch of fresh fenugreek leaves (I threw the stalks into the blender too) is an elegant pale jade colour. Its maiden voyage is going to be with cauliflower, the florets first boiled until just starting to soften, next a coating of turmeric powder and mustard seeds, then caramelised in a pan and poached in the butter until ready.

250g softened unsalted butter (homemade from pasture-raised cows milk would be best, but failing that, Yeo Valley butter is a good supermarket one, if you must use those vile warehouses of sugar, food-type products and palm oil)
5g Maldon salt
1 bunch of fenugreek, well chopped
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Melt 25g of the butter with the olive oil and add the salt. Throw in the fenugreek and stir well. Cook for about five minutes, until everything is well wilted then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for half an hour.
If at the end of the infusion the butter has started to solidify again, gently heat it.
Strain the mixture through a sieve into a large bowl, discarding the leaves then add the remaining butter and whisk well until it all comes together.
Pour into a jar or dish and chill until firm.

Wild garlic butter

We sat down to supper, the children just having gone to bed. They were supposed to be asleep, yet by the volume of giggling wafting downstairs were still wide awake. Perhaps we could finish our meal in peace before resorting to investigation followed by threats.

I'd spent about half an hour in the afternoon making wild garlic butter from scratch. About 600ml of double cream into the churning jar was enough for a large pat and the buttermilk left over will go very well in some scones or to marinate some chicken.

A few handfuls of the garlic leaves and flowers, dug from the garden and cleaned of soil were wilted in a pan and squeezed dry. Salt and a pinch of turmeric went in to the blender with the butter until it became a vivid green, then I poured it, still fairly liquid, into a dish in the fridge to firm.

Making your own butter means you can choose cream that you know comes from well looked after cows. Grass-fed and allowed to live as they should: on pasture and well treated, contributing to and being part of the wider healthy biosphere. There is also a freshness to homemade, as well as a the excitement of seeing the simple magic of separating whey from fat. And once you've rinsed and squeezed it through muslin you can flavour it as you like.

When the children help, we wrap and label theirs with their names so they have personalised butter pats. They usually stick to plain butter, but you could spice it with garam masala or a tablespoon of harissa, rosemary or tarragon. You could even go sweet with ground cinnamon and sugar.

When you make a batch, roll each into a cylinder and wrap well in paper. You can freeze for later use or keep in the fridge for about a week if salted.

I used the wild garlic butter last night with chorizo scrambled eggs. The spices from the meat mingling with the deep green butter as the cubes sizzled and crisped. On the side were garlic-laden sautéed courgettes and a green salad lightly dressed with a punchy mustard vinaigrette. As if it wasn't rich enough, I had some very creamy goats cheese on my eggs. Maybe I'm calcium deficient at the moment and my body is trying to tell me something. If that meal was the result of subliminal dairy messaging, then I'm all ears.

Rouille of fortune

It's a rare occasion that sees me pass a merguez sausage without buying it. Many a night, in the back streets of Toulouse after a hard day at Art college followed by the necessary 'unwinding', I could be found loitering by one of the many 'merguez-frites' vans. The meat may have been dubious, but if you add enough spices to something (and by those spices I also include everything that went in the sangria at Le Chat d'oc) it tastes amazing.

These days, I neither spice myself nor eat dubious things from vans. No matter that eating from a van or a skip is the height of fashion, and far be it from me to not appear as a man about town, full of a la mode encounters, I prefer to have a cosy night in knowing that what I'm eating is of du bon provenance, as it were. And besides, the idea of eating on a cold London street is frankly quite beyond the pale for a man of my age.

The newly opened butcher's shop down the road from us knows each farm that supplies their meat, if not each animal they slice up in the brightly lit back of the shop in the village. If things aren't up to scratch, they don't stock them. This gives me confidence in them, they really seem to care.

A large vitrine looks into the chilly fridge as you walk in the front door, framing the animal version of a gruesome Mafia scene and a pale red neon glow gives a rather voyeuristic feel to the whole set up. I ask for some bones for the dog, stock up on chicken and beef then spot the merguez. Ben, the tatooed and bearded man with the cleaver hands me the bag of body parts meat and I slowly, smilingly, back out of the shop and drive home through the leafy sun-dappled streets of Dulwich.

Back home, the dried butter beans(*) go into a bowl, covered with boiling water and soak for an hour before cooking. And I cook them in chicken stock made from Fosse Meadow farm birds until soft and velvety. Stirring through a good handful of parsley and a large pinch of dried mint I then pour in a lot of olive oil and leave the beans to quietly cool in a corner of the kitchen.

Later I will grill the merguez until oozing red oil comes out and the skin starts to crisp. The egg yolk(**) I've kept back from the stock clarifying is perfect for the rouille to go on top. All it takes is some toasted cumin seeds(***), ground to a powder with some saffron(*****), a couple of small garlic cloves(*****) and some salt(******). The olive oil(******) goes in a thin stream into the mortar as the egg yolk breaks golden into the spices. Thickening slowly it will add a hit of flavour to bring the sausage and beans together like a sun-tanned priest at a wedding.

*From Madagascar, apparently. For some reason or other I'm sure.
**From a nice farm in the Cotswolds.
***Packed in the UK, apparently. What a weaselly thing to say.
****From La Mancha. Saffron Panza de la Mancha. A quixotic strand.
*****French. I think.
******This, of course, is from Maldon.
*******La bella Liguria. This is really all over the place isn't it?

Turmeric latte. And a lot of people.

Life is full of surprises. Take me for example, I'm not as young as I look. And that's all down to the restorative elixir made from Nature's wonder: turmeric. Yes, that's right, for only a few pence a day, you too can look and feel like me. And you will have the guaranteed extra benefit of living forever.*

Try as I might these days to shop and eat food from sources I know and trust, it's not always possible if I want to continue with the occasional exoticism. We have been trading spices for years as a nation (not always necessarily in a morally legitimate way) so I accept that my cupboards are full of fragrant wonders of the world I thoughtlessly spice up our meals with.

The turmeric in this drink came from Peru and I have no idea of what the lives of the farmers and workers is like. The almond milk supposedly came from organic small growers and co-operatives, but we all know that a lot of almond farming is on environmentally shaky ground and the cost of growing is huge.

The pepper came from Telicherry, Kerala, meant to be the finest pepper in the world. As I stir it into the drink, savouring its fruity aroma, what's the picker doing after a day's work? And the saffron, cardamon and coconut oil that goes into it too? Could I not just be happy with a fresh mint tea, made from the herbs growing in my garden? But then I think if there was no demand for all of this, there would be no point in growing it and no economic benefit. Is a pathetic wage really an economic benefit at all?

I love this drink though. It's comforting, healthy, tasty and nourishing. But as with everything we ravishingly consume it's worth stopping to think a little about where it comes from and the people who have been involved in its journey. From the earth to the farmers who grew it; the pickers and packers; the delivery drivers who collect and transport it; the shipyard workers and the ship's crew; the distribution workers here and the people you hand your money over to before you bring it home. All for a moment's pleasure and the guarantee of eternal life.**

*not a guaranteed benefit.
**not a guarantee.

I make a paste from about five tablespoons of turmeric powder (dried is best for this, it is more concentrated so you get more of the curcumin) and add a fair amount of water until it's the texture of houmous.
This is all done in a small pan on a gentle heat, so when I add a tablespoon of coconut oil, it melts easily in and is quickly absorbed.

A good twist of pepper, some ground cardamon (about a teaspoon's-worth), a pinch of chilli flakes or cayenne pepper and sometimes a touch of ground cloves go in.

Finally, a pinch of saffron if I'm feeling the urge, maybe some ground ginger or cinnamon and then I transfer it to a glass jar, kept in the fridge to use over the course of the week.

To make it up, put a heaped tablespoon of the paste in a small milk pan and top up with a tumbler-full of almond milk. You can, if you prefer use cow's milk, coconut milk, soy milk, rice milk, whatever.

Stir well and serve warm.

Farm from the Madding Crowd

The roads winding through the countryside, some tree-sheltered and some opening onto wide rolling fields belie how close we are to London and the grey January concrete I've just left behind.

Although the weather is downcast and gloomy, the skies heavy with cloud and light drizzle, the journey out of my corner of South East London quickly and always surprisingly opens out into fresh air and the wide landcapes of West, then East Sussex.

Most of the fields I pass are brown, the work happening underground. The quiet surface appears asleep with no visible sign of life. Most of the winter produce is cropped now and all that remains is either stumpy and scrubby or muddy and lumpy.

I wonder if this is the best time to visit a fruit farm. But I wanted to see where the work of growing began. Normally all you see in your fruit bowl is the gloriously ephemeral end result. You give it little thought as the juice from the berries runs down your arm and chin, but here, on a cold and muddy morning, you can see the long journey from it's soily and unglamorous beginnings.

Brambletye biodynamic fruit farm near the small town of Forest Row, is down a long and bumpy road that after a few twists and turns becomes little more than two muddy ruts. I drove past the ruins of the 17th century Brambletye manor, of which there are only separated halves of the facade remaining, and knocked on the door of what I took to be the farm house. Two large dogs (I'm not good with breed names) galloped around me, and the lady of the house, aproned and with flour covered hands like the country version of a seaside postcard told me I was in the wrong place. A great shame, as the smells from the kitchen wafted out the door like siren song.

A few minutes later and slightly further along the road, I stepped from the car into the mud of the farm then got immediately back in and changed out of my towny white trainers into wellies.

Greeting me were Ellie and her two year old daughter who was well wrapped up with a wooly hat pulled down over her ears, and coat and scarf drawn up around her, but not quite able to prevent a little cold red nose poking out.

Crates of bottled apple juice were stacked high all around ready to be sent out, and the big barn behind was being swept out by Stein Leenders, clad in dark blue overalls and dusty boots. He and Ellie have been farming on this land for 10 years now after he moved over from Holland along with 15,000 apple trees to what was then a rented field.

The first thing Ellie took me to see were the mushrooms, growing in an old shipping container. Rows of plastic barrel-like sacks, packed tightly with mushroom spores and wood chippings from the hazel trees in the neighbouring woods were sat neatly on shelves. The damp air and low hum of the artificial lights casting a Bladerunner like glow gave the impression of a strange tunnel, lined with embryonic alien life. Here and there, out of the plastic where holes had appeared, sprouted little mushrooms. Pink, yellow, and blue winter oyster mushrooms were vivid in the half-light, slowly growing larger until harvesting. Growing this way recreates the exact conditions all year round as if they were growing in the forest. This was very different to the mushroom farm's long stacked beds I spent weekend mornings picking in as a teenager to earn money to buy the latest A-ha album.

A few minutes walk from the mushrooms and we were on the crest of a hill, the highest point of the farm overlooking the sweeping High Weald. Rows of stunted apple trees, Evita, Santana and Red Topaz varieties, lined the field, sounding like a musical revue. Leafless and jagged, it seemed as if a fierce wind had blown through, stripping everything. On this exposed hillside, it probably had.

Chickens, lots of them, run freely and curiously among the slim tree trunks, the grass growing happily under their feet. "You don't see this very often," says Ellie, picking up her daughter, who was starting to get cold and a little hungry, as was I. She tells me the chickens are owned by a neighbouring farmer and share, and therefore fertilise, the land. We walk along to their coop, a long, movable shed where in the porch-like entrance is a window through which a conveyor belt's end pokes through. One egg sits proudly on it.

Behind this, through another door is the main room where the chickens can sleep, lay eggs and hang out, possibly watching telly, or whatever it is chickens do on their days off. Fifteen or so are clucking around happily and when we step out the door we are greeted by a large crowd of them, gathered like fans at the stage door of the Palladium.

We head back toward the main apple shed, past rows of gooseberry bushes, the green and the sweeter purple types. Past cherry trees, blackberry bushes and then the pear trees, of which there are a few varieties such as Wildeman and Concorde. Every tenth pear tree is a pollinator, that is to say, a different variety. They are grafted onto quince roots and you can see the quince trying to fight it's way up through the soil around the base of the trees.

Red and blackcurrant bushes are being pruned and a few cabbages, kale, cavolo nero remain, the end of the season approaching. As spring arrives, so will 'the hungry gap', the space between the hardy winter root vegetables and brassicas growing and the fruit season starting. This is when the farm maintenance and planting happens.

The longer storing varieties of apples, held back for this lull -- some in low oxygen storage -- can be pressed for juice, ensuring a constant year round supply. Vats of cider vinegar are in the background too; the raw, unpasteurised stuff, full of good bacteria and culture, just like my French family. These are sold along with the juices, purées and fruit and veg at the farmers markets and shops the farm supply.

The apple pulp and waste gets fed to the two pigs, which, as it comes out of the pigs, feeds the land on which the apples grow, just like with the chickens eating the plants in the orchard.

It's an inspiring sight to see, and the work and dedication they put into their farm is uplifting in these strange times. I tentatively ask about what 'Brexit' may mean to them, and Ellie tells me they use mainly local pickers in season, and plenty of restaurants and suppliers have already been in touch to see what they can use on a local produce level. So perhaps, if there is anything good to come out of this whole farce, it may be that we become much more connected to the seasons and to shopping locally rather than relying on imports.

Ellie and Stein care about their farm, the land and their products and we as consumers should be grateful for such dedication. We are able to get real food grown with care and respect and not covered with 'Roundup' or picked before being ripe and cold-transported thousands of miles. Perhaps it's time we toned down our sense of entitlement to all year round asparagus and enjoyed things as they appear from the land before us. It certainly leaves a better taste in the mouth.

Brambletye Fruit Farm, East Sussex
London Farmers Markets
Orchard eggs

Raw, unpasteurised cider vinegar, as produced on Brambletye farm has many supposed health benefits, not least I suppose because it's all natural. It's not just something to make a salad dressing or vin d'alho with, either. People have been drinking it for centuries. There are so many varieties, but if you taste proper vinegar you'll never go back. As well as apple, there are many raspberry vinegars, parsnip ones, red and white wine, obviously, Banyuls vinegar, which is like having a glass of port, aged vinegars, young ones, all kinds.

I use the cider vinegar to make 'switchel,' a centuries old drink that deserves a revival. It's refreshing and interesting and you can make it as sweet or sharp as you like. I prefer sharp to add some zing, there are already to many sweet drinks around. For a non-drinker it's something that tastes a little more grown up than the seemingly thoughtless offerings of children's fizzy squash packaged in adult designs and it's not based around sugar.
It's important to also use raw honey here to get the full healthiness.

Make a bottle, keep it in the fridge and swig merrily away, knowing it's all pure.

1tbsp raw honey
Juice and zest of a lime
4tbsp raw cider vinegar
A thumb of ginger, grated
Water to top up (or leave it neat and dilute with sparkling water)

Dissolve the honey in a few tablespoons of hot water then top up with the lime juice, vinegar and grated ginger. Funnel into a 500ml sterilised glass bottle and add fresh, filtered water to the top. Seal and leave to infuse for a day.
Keep in the fridge, serve with ice or just straight in short glasses.

Look at my mussels

It changes your attitude, somewhat, to the fish you're eating when you know the name of the fisherman who caught it. Joe caught my bass, out on the stormy seas while I was pottering around my warm kitchen with a cup of tea that didn't throw itself across the room every ten seconds as the house hit a wave That adds a whole new level of respect as I place the fish in the hot pan.

The crew of the day boat 'Le Belhara', owned by Chris Veasey, fish out of Eastbourne, and the catch makes its way to Veasey and Sons Fishmonger, in Forest Row, East Sussex, about 30 miles from the coast. Chris opened the shop, housed in a former butcher's, with son-in-law Dan Howes eight years ago after success at the East Grinstead Farmers' Market.

While the day boat sails from Eastbourne, Dan and his colleagues staff the bright, yet cosy feeling shop on the narrow road that leads out of the village to Hartfield. An elderly man and lady whom I assume to be his wife by the way they argue, looks at me standing over the mussels and says "We're very fortunate to have this fishmongers in the village." I nod back and mumble something about my good luck that they are at the market every Saturday where I live.

I first discovered them when they started their crushed ice-laden fish stall at the Crystal Palace food market four years ago and finally got round to visiting them last week. They now have ten market stalls every week as well as the shop and are spreading their passion for quality fish wherever they go.

It's a privilege to be able to buy such good fresh fish minutes from my house in London on a Saturday morning. One of my great disappointments in life is how much of our amazing seafood gets exported. But that's because The Europeans seem to respect fish more, it's more part of their daily diet than here, where we stretch mainly to cod and chips on a Friday or fish fingers for the children. Fish and chips is all very well, but the chips must be hot, salty and spiky with vinegar, the sea should be no more than 15 metres away while you eat them and the weather should be blustery.

But it's more a state of mind than a meal. In reality that state of mind often becomes a state of disappointment, apart from the very occasional highlight at places such as Lewis' fish shop in very fishy town of Newlyn where it was so good we went a few times on our summer holidays last year.

Sadly, the price of fish is often serious injury or lives lost at sea, Dan explains as he shows me an x-ray from one of the fishermen's hands after an accident with a winch. Bones crushed and crunched out of shape, finger joints at right-angles, like a particularly gruesome skeleton pianist from a travelling horror show.

The cod is particularly good at the moment, Dan tells me as I eye what to buy. Bass, sitting firm on it's bed of sparkling ice crystals as if in a giant jewellery box has to come home with me, it looks too good to resist. I also take a meaty cod loin which a day later is shared with the family in a fish molee, rich with coconut sauce, onion and the hint of cinnamon, cardamon and clove. I'm generous like that. Home made fish cakes also fall into my bag, a quick supper for when we've been out all day.

And last, I also ask for a bag of mussels, which, coincidentally, was the nickname I always wanted. A few large handfuls go in, they clack and knock together as they slip into the bag, looking like shiny black pebbles on the beach as the waves ebb away.

The bass will be dusted in flour and cooked in darkening butter. A squeeze of lemon may be enough, but I'm always a fan of salsa verde or a herb-laced olive oil. One of the best things about fish is that you can have supper on the table in about ten minutes if you get yourself together. The molee I made was ready in the time it took for the rice to cook, and the mussels, which I had for lunch today were ready in less than five. You can't even get fast food that fast. Just remember where it came from as you enjoy it.

Mussels with miso and n'duja broth
Ingredients for two people
A bag of spanking fresh mussels (these keep in the fridge for up to a week if looked after)
2tbsp white miso paste
2tbsp n'duja
500ml hot water
1 shallot or small onion, very finely diced
1 clove of garlic, grated or crushed
A large splash of verjus to steam the mussels (white wine or water as an alternative; I prefer verjus which keeps better and is more interesting than the leftovers of some bad supermarket wine)
Olive oil
Salt to season

Heat a heavy, lidded saucepan and add the verjus followed by the mussels. Put the lid on and steam until they have opened, this should only take a couple of minutes. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, sauté the shallots and garlic in a little olive oil until soft, season well. Add the miso and n'duja and a splash of hot water and mix well to a creamy paste. Add the rest of the water, mix well and bring to just below the boil. Remove from the heat and pour into the mussel pan. Stir gently and serve straight away. Possibly with some crusty baguette if you fancy.

Beetroot soup with licorice

There is a frost outside, covering everything in a faint white. The school run has to begin a little earlier on these mornings and the only way for that to happen is with threats. I should get up a little earlier, but no-one wants to get out of bed when it's this cold. Especially when it means having to go outside in a dressing gown to let the dog --who still smells like a tart's boudoir after his trip to the groomer-- out.

So on days like this after you've spent the morning trying to warm up through to bone level, soup is just the thing for lunch. For us, soup must have lots of things in it, more a meal in a bowl than a hot drink. And this beetroot, bacon and cabbage one has plenty going for it. A good homemade chicken stock, a pinch of licorice root powder giving a hint of spicy interest and bacon and buttery cabbage so it's not just an odd, hot smoothie.

Peel and cube two or three medium-large beetroot and sauté them in a little olive oil in a covered pan or roast it in foil until soft. Add a litre or so of stock, a pinch of licorice powder (some people don't like licorice or beetroot, in which case this whole thing may sound like a nightmare), salt and pepper, some dill seeds and bring to the boil. Simmer for about ten minutes then blitz in the blender. Don't forget to attach the lid properly. 

Meanwhile, sauté the bacon and shred half a Savoy cabbage. Add that to the bacon with a little butter and cook for a few minutes until it starts to soften. 

Serve the soup with the bacon and cabbage and a pinch of chilli flakes for added warmth. 

Quincey, pudding examiner

It's cold outside, bleak, wintry. The pile of quinces on the kitchen counter hasn't moved for a week and some of them are on the turn.
Unlike the pumpkins still on the windowsill these needed to be used quickly. 
A version of a Tarte Tatin seemed the solution, as it could well be for many of life's problems.

Peel and core the quince, (about six or so went into this).
I used the peelings and cores to make a syrup: sugar, water, a cinnamon stick, a pinch of saffron-- then poach them in water for about 15 minutes, until tender, but still firm to the touch. I then mixed them in about 4 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar left over from the 'skillingsboller' Maya and I made on Sunday which Noah then ate most of.

Then, proceed in the way you would if making an apple Tatin, that is to say melt and caramelise some sugar in a heavy, wide, oven-proof pan or tatin dish and layer the quince down. Cook for a few minutes before covering with the puff pastry* and gently tucking it in around the edges as if putting it to bed (you can also use shortcrust if you prefer, but you will be wrong).

Cook in a fairly hot oven (200c) for about 25 minutes, or until the pastry is puffed and golden. Leave to cool for a while before turning out onto a plate, sprinkling over the hazelnuts and giving a drizzle of syrup if you have any. Serve with creme fraiche.

*Some frozen puff pastry (homemade is obviously better, but I didn't fancy it today, and I had a roll to use up) defrosted and rolled a little thinner is fine for this and makes the whole thing a really quick yet impressive pudding.

Roasting, fires, dark nights

Beetroot, roasted slowly with coriander stems

I had my first mince pie(s) of the year yesterday. Hallowe'en and bonfire night have gone and now it's open season on the festive fun. So many films to watch, so little time. 

We are most definitely into the cosier meals. The slow roasting and the richer sauces, the gradual disappearance of lettuce and delicately vibrant greens. We had a chilli last weekend, simmering slowly, full of spices and a hint of chocolate. Sunday afternoons are less guiltily filled with chocolate cake or toasted crumpets, the fire crackling and a general air of sloth.

I've been roasting things a lot, too. Red peppers with shallots and garlic, sweetening and softly caramelising in the dish. These beetroot, wrapped in foil, laying on a bunch of slightly past its best coriander stems and remaining leaves were sloshed with olive oil and salt and left for about and hour and a half in a medium-hot oven until tender. The oven trays have their chance to shine with 'sheet-pan' dinners a regular thing.

Perhaps the beetroot will be served warm in wedges with gunpowder spices or a generous dusting of ground cumin and mixed through with the remaining peppers. I may cube them and serve warm with coriander creme fraiche and lemon oil, or maybe cut into large chunks and used in a Sri Lankan beetroot curry while we watch the cricket in Galle on the telly.

It's these things, usually seen as a sideshow which really bring dishes alive so make sure to treat them with care and you'll always have good food. Most of the work is just done by time and heat leaving you free with the Griswolds or Fozziewig's Christmas party.

Let baigans be baigans

Rasedar Baigan (Hindi for saucy aubergine)The more I cook, perhaps the older I get (or is it tireder), the fewer ingredients I want to use in a dish. And the simpler the food I'm making, the more delicious it seems to be.This week it's been a case of taking a vegetable and using that as the starting point for a meal. A little more thinking has had to be applied rather than thoughtlessly going with the usual starchy suspects you reach for on a rapidly darkening Tuesday evening.As if dealing with the sad acceptance that we don't live in an endless Swallows and Amazons summer wasn't enough, now we have to start eating properly again. No more cream teas and cake for the evening meal. Out has gone the pasta, rice and potatoes that form so many daily meals, and in, the sad acceptance that we are no longer inhabiting our 20 year old bodies.But it need not be dull as we slip headlong into turnip season. We are still heavy with aubergines, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes and sweetcorn among other things. The salads are fading, but my appetite is growing. And as we lose nearly two hours of daylight over September's delicate and gentle colour change, we can start to get bolder and deeper with flavours.This recipe is based on the gloriously named Pushpesh Pant's 'curried aubergine in coconut sauce', which he says is from India's 'coastal region'. So just a small area then. I've added saffron, almond flakes, green chillies and coriander to mine to pep things up a little.Rich and exciting, it's texture is indecently silky, as if Liberty's had opened a dodgy Soho alleyway silk scarf shop. We had it twice this week, the juices mopped up with spiced chickpea flatbreads. I've still got one more aubergine in the fridge from the veg box, so we haven't seen the last of this in our house.Ingredients1 medium-sized aubergine1tsp asafoetida1tsp chilli powder1/2tsp turmeric powder200-240ml coconut milkA sprinkle of flaked almondsA pinch of saffronA small green chilli, sliced thinlyCoriander leaves to garnishSalt and pepper to seasonGroundnut, rapeseed or vegetable oil to fry. And plenty of itMethodMix the spices together in a little dish or ramekin with enough water to make a fairly thick paste.Trim and slice the aubergine into discs roughly 1/2cm thickHeat the oil in a large sauté pan and fry the aubergine in a couple of batches until golden on each side, having seasoned with a generous hand. Set each batch aside on a plate until you have finished.Add the spice paste to the pan and fry for a second or two, stirring well so it breaks up a little. Add the coconut milk and mix well until the spices dissolve into it, giving it a golden amber colour and releasing its aromas.Gently add the aubergines back to the pan and simmer for a few minutes until heated through. Don't cook them for too long or they will collapse.Sprinkle with the green chilli, nuts, saffron and coriander, give a good twist of pepper and serve hot.

Summer’s almost gone

It's a crisp blue morning, a slight fresh chill to the air. The car windscreen, condensation covered, needed time to clear. This is how autumn begins, bright skies and the day gradually warming a little to remind us summer isn't quite over.The leisurely feeling of holiday, nothing more pressing than deciding what is for lunch or whether or not we can fit afternoon tea in as well as lying around reading, has passed.Gradually we are getting back into the swing of a routine. The children — I'd finally accepted having them around all day every day, a kind of Stockholm syndrome — bless them, have gone back to school giving me a break from Noah's non-stop cricket statistics and ball by ball descriptions and Maya's constant demand for paint supplies or sellotape.Autumn is when food starts to get more serious. No longer will a mimsy salad be enough. It's time to start breaking out the swedes and turnips. The long stews and rich sauces. "Out of the way you pathetic leaf", shouts the butternut.As we are still on the cusp of seasons ("ooh, yes, a cold, that'll be the change of weather") it's not yet time to quite let go. There is still sweet corn on the cob, boiled and drenched in butter, salt and pepper to eat messily and deliciously.Occasionally, lime zest with chilli flakes and melting, grated cheddar will appear on top of it. Maybe there will be a final opportunity for a barbecue, the cobs still in their husks, smoky and ineffably summery.So until the clocks change there will still be a hint of summer in our kitchen. The slow cooker can wait a few more weeks.

I found my thrill

Pickled BlueberriesThe height of a very hot and unusually consistent summer means cooking has ground to a halt in this house. Almost. The sheer willpower needed to move takes away any enthusiasm we have for eating, let alone heating pans. A cold drink and perhaps a Cornetto seems about the limit of my ability.But life is dull without good food, so the simplest things are on the table. Prawns, quickly fried and doused in garlic butter is enough, as was a little spinach and ricotta tortellini in some chicken and vegetable stock for last night's supper. On the side, a pear, Gorgonzola and walnut salad, simply dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.We had friends round on the weekend, so I did have to grudgingly cook for them, the freeloaders. But a few chickens, jointed, browned and then chucked in the oven to slowly cook with tomatoes, bay leaves and cinnamon and left to cool to room temperature made an easy lunch with some flatbreads and salad. And pudding was a few caramelised bananas shoved under some ready-made puff pastry. A banana tatin with minimum effort. That was served with some cheap vanillia ice cream, which sometimes, is just the thing.So there is no need to miss out on meals when the the grass is scorched brown and the riverbeds are cracked drier than a Ryvita with no butter. Light and simple is the way to go and these blueberries are excellent on a plate with some anchovies or a little albacore tuna, gently cooked and preserved in olive oil the Italian way. Don't use cheap rubbish or it will taste like it. Throw a couple of rocket leaves or lamb's lettuce over the top and that should do it.Why you may ask, am I pickling soft fruit at the height of its season when everything should be simple and easy? Well, this is simple and easy, and a little jar of this in the fridge goes a long way. The effort is minimal, and besides which, have you seen what happens to soft fruit in this weather? It lasts about ten seconds. And besides, a little sharpness can be just the tonic in this heat.Ingredients400g blueberries120ml cider vinegar200g golden caster sugar1 long cinnamon stick1tsp cardamon seedsA pinch of chilli flakesA pinch of saffronMethodSlowly heat the vinegar, sugar, cinnamon, cardamon, chilli and saffron in a saucepan until the sugar is dissolved, stirring occasionally. Bring to the boil and add the blueberries.Wait for a bit to let the heat come back and cook for 30 seconds. Remove to a plate or tray with a slotted spoon and let the pickling liquid cool and thicken.Put the cooled blueberries and liquid into a clean jar, seal and leave in the fridge for at least a day.This weekReadDipping in and out of Vasari's 'Lives of the Artists'. Reading it now, rather than back at Art College before we had the internet is such a different experience. Being able to see reproductions on the screen as you read illuminates the text in ways the author probably couldn't imagine. Although there is something to be said about a book that describes paintings, you tend to imagine what they look like from your perspective with all its experiences, influence and scars.WatchedSacred Games on Netflix. Indian cop drama set in Mumbai. Thoroughly engaging if a little lacking in living up to its potential, but there are supposedly more series to come so I'll give it the benefit of the doubt. The baddy is so charasmatic and good looking and the good cop has enormous humanity and presence. It's gripping for those two alone.EatIce creamListened'The Sporkful', a food podcast by Dan Pashman is always a good listen. Apart from that, I had Tanita Tikaram's album 'Ancient Heart' on for the first time in years. That was a good blast from the past. (1988 if you were wondering. Cripes, it's 30 years old!)