Summer Wine

"Strawberries, cherries and an angel's kiss in spring:
My summer wine is really made from all these things..."

So sang Nancy Sinatra in Lee Hazelwood's magnificently weird tale of seduction and theft. We are indeed in the season of soft fruits and osculation, but I prefer my summer when it tastes of well-tended vines in good soil and sunshine. Call me unadventurous if you must.
Summer leisure is all about sitting out in the sunshine, watching the cricket, tennis or even the boating. It's about picnics, evenings in the garden, open-air theatre and opera; music festivals, barbecues and skinny-dipping. To my mind, the wines we drink need to reflect the colour, the joy and the lightness of the warm months. There are certain wines that just feel right. On the other hand, there are some wines that, however popular, never seem to fit for me. We all have our preferences, and I'd like to share mine. I hope you enjoy my suggestions.
Rosé Wine that matches the colour of the …

Cooking with Rum

Last week I wrote about rum as a drink, and its difficult history. Rum also makes a delicious contribution as an ingredient in your food, too. Whether in sweet or savoury dishes, rum brings the richness of the molasses it is made from. Being a sugar product, it lifts almost any dessert to something special. Because it is often unsweetened, though, it can be used to give depth of flavour to many meat and vegetable dishes. Let's have a look at a few examples.
As a marinade Rum makes a great carrier for sweet and spicy flavours and will get them deep into pork and chicken. You don't need to use a lot of sugar, as the rum itself will taste of molasses, so a rum marinade is perfect for high-temperature cooking on the grill, barbecue or skillet. Try this marinade next time you're cooking chicken thighs, drumsticks or wings:
The freshly-squeezed juice of 2 limes
2 tablespoons dark rum from Barbados or Jamaica 2 tablespoons of Mushroom Ketchup or soy sauce 1 teaspoon brown sugar 2 cloves…

Exploring Rum

I've found it extremely difficult to get started on this post. The history of rum is inextricably tied up with the history of slavery and the UK's part in it. I was educated in one of the cities most involved in that trade and witnessed some of its continuing legacy of poverty, discrimination and oppression. Learning at a university that had been endowed by merchants who had owned slave ships means that I am also a beneficiary of slavery, too. Recent events have made me acutely aware of the risk of causing hurt by what I write, and I hope you will be gentle in correcting me where I have been insensitive.

Portuguese colonists brought sugar cane to Brazil from Madeira. The soil and climate suited sugar well. However, sugar cultivation is labour-intensive and enslaved people were brought to the colony as cheap labour. The Portuguese also brought copper pot-stills, which they used to distill the fermented cane juice. Although sometimes referred to as "Brazilian rum," it…

Life can be a Dream

The Beloved and I became civil partners in 2006. We were amongst the first people to do so, within a few months of the law changing. Because it was such a new thing, there were no established conventions or traditions for what should happen at such a celebration. In many ways, it was nice to build our day from scratch. We kept the invitation list short, just immediate family, and treated everyone to lunch afterwards. Obviously, it was important to us to serve an aperitif before lunch, but what to have? Both sherry and Champagne seemed more formal than the atmosphere we wanted to create for our day. I can't remember which of us first suggested the Dream cocktail, but as soon as it was mentioned we both knew it was the perfect aperitif for us.

We had encountered the Dream cocktail the previous summer, in Salvatore Calabrese's Classic Summer Cocktails, and we fell for it immediately. It combines one of my favourite cocktail ingredients - Dubonnet - with citrus flavours and Champ…

Diana Dors, my Grandma & Me

To people of my generation, the name of Diana Dors conjures up images from 1970s comedies: a buxom, glamorous lady a little past her prime, camping it up as the dictator in a sketch serial from The Two Ronnies' TV programme, or as Adam Ant's fairy godmother in the Prince Charming video. For those a little older, she was the genuinely sexy star of British cinema of the 1950s and 60s, sold as Britain's answer to Marilyn Monroe and equally used and abused by those around her. Readers may remember salacious tales of sex parties and gangland connections, cheap, titillating films, drink and drugs.

She was hardly the kind of person my Grandmother would emulate. Grandma was quiet, domesticated, deeply faithful to her religion and not keen on people drinking. She loved family and loved to bake for us. Every week, we would visit and be provided with scones, custard tart, lemon curd cake, apple pie. You name it, she baked it for us. She once told me I baked a better cake than she di…

A Time to Reflect

This time of quarantine has put paid to entertaining, hospitality and social dining for now, so I've been looking back over my archive of menus and the letters I've written over the years about food. It's been a time to remember influential friends and family and to consider how my culinary heroes have changed me.

I gave my first formal dinner in the last few weeks of my university career, in a flat overlooking the Metropolitan Cathedral in Liverpool. I might cringe a little now at the menu (fish terrine, coq au vin, lime sorbet), but it was rather sophisticated for your average student! The sorbet recipe came from a book I’m still using to this day. A Taste of Excellence (E Lambert Ortiz, 1988) introduced a new wave of young British cooks (including Raymond Blanc) who were just starting to move on from the constraints of Nouvelle Cuisine. (By the way, let nobody mock Nouvelle Cuisine: it taught Brits that food should look good!) When I started work, it was at a large ret…

Staying positive

In these days of social distancing, widespread home-working and self-isolation, there is a real danger that loneliness or boredom will affect us more deeply than we're ready for. We can't always manage our feelings, but what we can do is manage our activities to ensure they affect us as positively as possible. Any number of people are posting some brilliant suggestions to help us. Here are a few from me.

Structure your day
Drifting through an unstructured day is a recipe for boredom and procrastination. So set your alarm clock and get up at a regular time. Establish a few little rituals to mark the passing of the day: a morning walk, time to work, an online chat & coffee with a friend, early evening music. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing, give yourself bursts of that at the same time every day.

Eat well
Start the day with a good breakfast and space your meals out as part of your daily rituals. You will need some treats to keep you going, as well as the healthier stuff, …