We found ourselves in the garden centre again the other day. A weekday and all. We passed through aisles of green and shelves trailing leaves and branches like lazy octopi.I bought a tarragon plant and a gooseberry bush, spurred on by the constant disappointment on the supermarkets shelves. I'll leave the tarragon a while to get established, unlike the parsley which I have had to plant a few extra pots of. We seem to use a lot in this house and the poor little things can't keep up.As for the gooseberries, those furry little fruits that seemed to be a permanent fixture of my late childhood summers, I shall, with hope and care, now have my own supply. And each year, when the season dawns, I'll be able to have the simple joy of having grown my own sour little bombs of flavour. They are so good turned into a sauce with mackerel.It dawned on me, as I eyed the cakes and considered a nice sit down and a cup of tea, that perhaps I'm not freelance, I'm retired. It'll be a tartan shopping trolley in the supermarket, grey slip-ons and annoying everyone by travelling to leisure activities at peak time on the commuter trains next.Or not. Life, after all, is about balance. And the joys of the garden, especially this time of year, when every day brings a surprising new burst of colour somewhere, have given me a new pastime. One that appeals to my inate talent of 'pottering' about. A place of calm in the morning before a busy day, or a place of contemplation and unwinding after one, as you walk around with a drink in one hand and the hose in the other. However, I can see the amount of greenfly attacking the rosebuds may lead to swearing in a quiet corner, out of earshot of the children.And talking of Ying and yang, there is the heavenly balance when startlingly sour meets incredibly sweet: a sweet spot. Just the hint of something on the edge of tartness, almost mouth puckering but not quite. Rhubarb is the king of this. Perhaps it's just me, but that feeling of being just on the edge, when chillies in a curry are almost unbearable, when bitterness is almost too much in a sour cherry tangfastic, when lemon juice or vinegar just hits the acidic edge in a vinaigrette is where the flavour is at its best. It's almost thrilling to be there.But this is only a drink, so we'll stop with all that. There comes a point in life when you have bought too much rhubarb and you have to hold back. And you can't -- although Noah would vehemently oppose this heretical idea -- have crumble every day. So to use the remaining spears, I've made this rhubarbade. It's delicious and makes a refreshing change from the lime and mint I love, or the cider vinegar and honey tonic I make. This vivid pink rhubarb at the height of its season is a real highlight of the year so get it while you can, and get it into as much as you can.Ingredients500g rhubarb500ml water50g maple syrup50g grated ginger (this helps bring out the flavour of the rhubarb, not that it needs help)1tsp citric acidJuice of a lemonMethodBring the ingredients to a boil in a saucepan and reduce to a simmer for about ten minutes. Leave to cool completely then strain into a bottle and chill.Dilute with sparkling water to serve, adding a sprig or two of mint if you like.
The sky was yellow, a Saharan dust covering London. A strange light and a weak red sun poking through. Perhaps this was a new and rather full-on marketing push for the new Bladerunner film, or maybe we are hurtling toward apocalypse now. I met a friend for supper that evening and the gloom meant we all scuttled indoors a little quicker than usual. We eat steak tartare, prepared tableside by a crisp black and white linen-ed and desiccated waiter then hurried back to our homes.Summer is now well on it's way to the other side of the world and autumn has properly pulled the duvet over us. Soon, the woolly hats and gloves will be on and we can be justified in not leaving the house until March.It's a strange feeling, the desire to go to bed at six in the evening and the sure mistake of the alarm going off at what seems like the middle of the night. The clocks will soon change, giving us a little more light in the early morning for about a week before we sink ankle deep into winter. I hope the farmers are grateful as we all finish our afternoons with night vision goggles on, stepping over the bodies of run-over school children.There are still some green leaves clinging desperately onto the branches of the tree today as I look outside the sitting room window. Most of the other branches around are bare and I swear I just saw a pigeon with a scarf on. But as civilisation comes to an end around us and turnips are the only thing that will still grow, I still insist on serving a green salad at almost every meal. The children have a bowl of it tossed with mustardy vinaigrette to eat before I give them their supper. We don't live in an American restaurant, it just keeps them quiet for a bit and they wolf it down. I should stop wearing a frilly apron and serving them bottomless mugs of coffee though.This week saw me grate half a clove of garlic into my usual dressing. This is what is passing for excitement in our house at the moment. We are all pretty tired now, and half term hasn't come soon enough. The children need a rest and we are grateful for the change of pace it brings. Although we now find ourselves, with unbelievable inconvenience, having to feed them three meals a day plus occasional snacks and seek out entertainment.This Sunday morning though, the children let us sleep until quarter to nine before waking us up to complain of hunger. They then retired to their room to tidy their drawers for two hours, as if possessed by Mary Poppins. Ours was not to reason why, so I read the paper alone in peace while Bee read her book in bed drinking tea. Unsettling.But by the time evenings come around and the children are in bed, supper sometimes seems a huge effort. It's more often than not something I can throw into one pan and leave to do it's thing, such as the hearty haricot and chorizo stew we had early in the week. or a tray of chipped sweet potato, sprinkled liberally with garam masala and chilli flakes, roasted in the oven with a couple of bream, olive oil, fat garlic cloves and cherry tomatoes that had started to explode in the heat.One night, I found a bag of figs, now perfectly ripe (one overly so and destined for the bin), some very ripe Rocamadour goat's cheese that you could smell from France and some slices of a sourdough loaf. A little honey, olive oil, salt and pepper and a pinch of fresh parsley was enough to satisfy the evening hunger. Simple, good ingredients made something far more than the some of their parts and figs, well they are practically the flavour of Christmas aren't they?This week:Watched: Finally getting around to Fargo season three. Perfectly wintery, and the Minnesota accent is so great.Read: Still reading Middlemarch. And I fear I shall be for some time yet. Lincoln in the Bardo sits on my bedside table and the pile of books I want to read is growing longer than there are years left to read them.Listened to: The Omen on Radio 4 iPlayer. A perfect example of an epic child's tantrum.Eat: Steak Tartare in 1980s Toremolinos, or rather La Barca, Lower Marsh. Methi chicken at Lahore Karahi in Tooting. Pakistani canteen food better than most, quick, friendly and a great place to top up the spice levels. They promise a "genuine spicy taste", so you'd hope they deliver. And they do.
There are some days when I am rather overambitious in bringing home more food than I really know what to do with. I've got better over the years, and now, if I am spending a day working on aubergine recipes, for example, I no longer end up with a grocer's shops-worth of them. I give them to my neighbours instead.And this was the case yesterday, as I returned from a shoot with rather more soft fruits than a person could need, even a person with a Maya in their family who probably would raze a raspberry field to the ground like a plague of sweet toothed locusts.Today, as the boxes of raspberries sat gently pooling into juice on the kitchen bench I decided to do as any 1950's housewife would and make jam. That way, I could keep the abundance of fruit in jars taking up exactly the same amount of space, but not rotting and then being thrown away. We really do need a bigger kitchen. Or a food storeroom.This is quick and easy - it took about ten minutes to make, then a good few hours cooling and setting - a great success for jam novices. Sterilise two jam jars just beforehand. It's best to put the hot jam into hot jars. That way you won't be smashing glass with thermal shock and putting the whole lot in the bin.Ingredients300g raspberries50g blueberries100g jam sugarMethodPut the fruit in a heavy-based pan with the sugar on top. Boil the fruit until soft then mash up a little, stirring in the sugar which will have warmed up quite a lot on top of the fruit.Bring back to the boil and using a pastry brush dipped in hot water brush around the inside of the pan where the sugar is sticking. This will stop the jam crystallising and being grainy.Boil gently for about ten minutes and try to resist stirring too much.If you have a sugar thermometer, it should reach about 104c. That's when it's ready. If not, put a plate in the fridge and after ten minutes, put a blob of jam on the plate and see if it sets. If it does, it's ready. If it doesn't, it's not.Pour into the jam jars and put the lids on. Leave to cool. They should keep for about a month.
The drive south took four hours. We didn't say a word during the journey. Mile after mile of flat, treeless landscape passed by the windows of the van as the cold evening light turned to black.Bridgette and I practically grew up together, which is why, all those years later, it made it hard to have to kill her.I've finally finished reading two very long books (I highly recommend A Little Life if you fancy 800 pages of amazingly written bleak misery) so have returned to the world of trashy thrillers for a while to have a breather. It's a rather like the home kitchen, sometimes I can be found cooking long and involved dished that take time and concentration, and sometimes a dish as simple as this does for a quick meal. They are just as satisfying in different ways and now the weather, warming and sunnier, makes a light meal seem less of a diet and more a choice.That's not to say something rich and deep is banished until autumn, last night we eat a hearty venison carbonade, cooked long and slow and full of flavour. But soon, these will be put aside until the days shorten again.This isn't even really a recipe, more a combination of things. I've used gorgonzola as I find Roquefort, even though a favourite of mine, to be a little, well, slimy, for this. There's no reason you couldn't use a blue stilton or similar, but it should be a little more on the crumbly side than the wet.Tossed through with some ripe pears, peppery roquette, some crumbled walnuts and dressed with a little excellent olive oil, thick balsamic and a pinch of salt and pepper, this really is five minutes work between you and deliciousness. Thrilling.IngredientsOne pear per person, ripe but not falling apart cored and cut into chunksGorgonzola, a few lumps here and there, crumbled and tossed throughA handful of walnuts, lightly choppedA handful of roquette eachGood olive oil and balsamicSalt and pepper to seasonMix it all together and serve. It's nice with some crusty, toasted sourdough too.
There is no competition for me when it comes to tarts. If I had to choose one, even over tart au citron, tart tatin, tarte aux poires and chocolate tart, it would be the little glazed strawberry tarts with creme patissiere you get in Parisian bakeries. Unbeatable. However, I'm not in Paris as often as I'd like so they remain an occasional piece of heaven.Most tarts take a little effort though, and that's fine. But not this one. Today's recipe is a really quick shortbread tart with a simple chocolate ganache topped with fruit, herbs, chia seeds, honey and strawberry powder (you can use cocoa if you prefer).The base is the standard shortbread 1:2:3 recipe (sugar, butter, flour) but I've used coconut sugar and coconut flour instead. You can use caster and wheat if you prefer, the recipe is the same. This way gives a lovely coconutiness to the base which goes very well with the chocolate and is also gluten free for those of you who are gluten intolerant.You'll have some shortbread mix left over as well for bonus biscuits which you could use for this recipe or just plain with a cup of Earl Grey tea. Use your favourite soft fruits and plenty of honey. Pretend it's one of your 'five a day'.IngredientsFor the shortbread100g cold butter200g coconut sugar300g coconut flourFor the filling250ml double cream250g dark chocolate (70% cacao), smashed upBlueberries, raspberries, strawberries and kiwiA sprinkle of chia seeds1 tbsp raw honeyA few basil and thyme leaves1tbsp strawberry powderMethodMix together the butter flour and sugar in a bowl by hand until well combined and breadcrumb-like.Press evenly into a fluted 20cm (9") tart tin and bake at 170c for about ten minutes, or until golden brown. Make sure it's evenly cooked.Leave to cool while you make the filling.Bring the cream to just below the boil then pour onto the chocolate and stir well until melted, glossy and smooth. Pour into the tart case then top with the fruit, chia seeds and herbs and leave somewhere cool to set.Drizzle with honey, add the herbs and dust the strawberry powder over to serve.
No matter how worthy your diet, how well one can live on hemp and lentils, even hippies want a sweet snack every now and then.We've got a few 'nakd' bars in the cupboard for snacks but of late these have been relegated to the back for emergency use only. I've started to make my own in the Nutribullet and they're easy as well as being customisable to whatever ingredients, shape and size you can reasonably buy and make.These are quite addictive and it's easy to demolish the whole thing in one go, but while they're pure and healthy, it's probably not a good idea to do so. I have no idea what that many dates will do to your system in one go.If you don't have a Nutribullet, use a food processor or blender. Failing that, chop everything by hand. It's probably better to use a knife though.Ingredients (for one large bar)Equal amounts of:whole skin-on almondspitted datesraisinsapricots (the dark, sun-dried type, not the bright orange ones if possible)2tbsp raw cacao nibs1tbsp sunflower seeds1tbsp supergreens powder (I use Bioglan)1tbsp bee pollenA handful of dessicated coconutMethodBlitz half the almonds to a powder then add half of the remaining ingredients and pulse until well combined. You may need to stop and shake it up a bit.Empty the container into a large bowl and repeat with the remaining ingredients.Tip this into the same bowl and mix everything well by hand. Shape into one or two bars, squares or balls as you prefer and wrap well in clingfilm or put in an airtight container.Put in the fridge to firm. I keep them in there anyway, I like them better slightly chilled.You can vary the ingredients as you like, cashew nuts work well as does adding orange zest, vanilla seeds, fennel seeds for suprise and even chilli flakes. I'm tempted by the thought of covering them in melted chocolate, but that will have to wait a while.
As a supposed grown-up, I feel I can eat whatever I want, whenever. Cold pizza for breakfast and such.While I try and promote a healthy diet to the children, that doesn't mean we can't have fun. And while I wouldn't really condone ice-cream for breakfast, I don’t see the harm in it every now and then. Say once a year.This recipe, however, is the best of both worlds. Healthy fruit and yoghurt, but disguised as a seemingly illicit ice-lolly. It’s a great way to get some fruit into the children if they’re not that keen, and it’s something they can enjoy making with you. Of course, you don’t have to serve them at breakfast, but they’re pretty exciting to wake up to when you’re five years old…Ingredients4 ice-lolly moulds and sticks4 tbsp ‘Coyo’ coconut yoghurtA handful of: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants (feel free to add or replace as you like)1 kiwi, peeled and slicedWater to fill the moulds (you can add a little fruit juice if you like, but I prefer to avoid it)MethodLine up your moulds and distribute the berries between them. Slide a few kiwi slices down the side of each and half fill with water. Use the end of a spoon to slightly squidge some of the berries to release a little juice.Mix the coconut yoghurt with a little water to loosen it and top up the moulds. You can just top them up with water if preferred. Stand them securely upright in the freezer and after an hour or so, push in the sticks so they’re nice and central. Freeze for another 3-4 hours, or overnight because I imagine you wouldn’t be getting up at 3am to make these…
I tend to start every morning with a Nutribullet smoothie. I was never a great breakfast eater, but this has proven an easy way for me to get the day off to a good start. Some combinations have been less successful than others, but one thing I find is using frozen fruit makes even the greenest vegetable drink taste delicious. Just blitz all the ingredients together and drink immediately.This morning's ingredients:1 bananaA handful of kale1tbsp goji berries1 tsp vanilla extract3 tbsp porridge oats2 tbsp sunflower seeds2 tbsp chia seeds1tbsp raw cocoa nibs1 tbsp turmeric powderA large handful of frozen mango, melon and pineapple piecesAlmond milk