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Barbecue entertaining

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The British summer is doing its best to surprise us, with its usual mixture of rain, gales and glorious sunshine all in one day. In many parts of the UK, Coronavirus restrictions are gradually being eased, and we're getting used to socialising outdoors and at a distance. The traditional British barbecue of burgers and hotdogs with a range of unmatched salads and plenty to drink doesn't hold the same attraction in the circumstances. Do not leave your barbie to gather dust, though. There is so much you can cook on it, and our current circumstances provide just the opportunity to experiment.
A barbecue - charcoal or gas - is nothing more than a fire and a wire rack. It's just a heat source. That's it. And anything you would normally cook under a grill, in the oven or even things you'd do on the hob, can be cooked on a barbecue. All the flash gadgetry of a top-of-the-range gas barbecue is designed to make the heat more controllable, but you can achieve great results on …

Writer's block and happy accidents

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Every now and again, my imagination crashes. Just like when your computer does it, it freezes half way through a task and refuses to get going again, no matter what I do to try to re-engage it. It happened to me last week when I wanted to plan this post.Nothing. You may have noticed it, not sitting there at the foot of the page. No "next time..." Usually, by the time I'm posting a piece, I know what I want to write about next time. I might struggle to get the words together in the right order, but I'll have a fairly clear idea of what I want to say. This was different; I didn't have a clue what I wanted to write. I started to feel some solidarity with Old Mother Hubbard, staring into the cavernous void of her nursery-rhyme larder and finding only anxiety about what to do next.
Entertaining can be a bit like that, too. You've invited friends over and you're deciding what to serve, but nothing seems quite right. One thing's a bit heavy for the season, anoth…

Un Chant d'Amour: a love-song to France

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This week, France celebrates its national feast. Bastille Day (usually known simply as le quatorze juillet in French) marks the storming of the hated prison in Paris, a key moment in the beginning of the Revolution. The events of 1789 did not remove the King - that would come later - and France would know more troubles yet, including new tyrants and further revolutions. However, the events of that 14th July capture the imagination and fire a people's love of their country like no other date in its history.
France gets under your skin. The language has a musicality about it; it feels wonderful in the mouth. You can say things a variety of ways, but the elegantly-constructed sentence will always draw praise. Education is prized for its own sake, not just as a means to a job. Manners are greatly appreciated, and formality is valued. The pace of life is different, and that's as true in the big cities as it is in the rural areas. Friends call in on one another in the early evening, …

Summer Wine

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"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

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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

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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

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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…