Showing posts from 2020

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, …

Recipes from our Grandmothers

I have written many times already about a tradition of food hospitality in my family. The Mothers' Day weekend has had me thinking about it again - this time about my grandmothers and the food I remember them cooking.

The daffodils at the head of the page are a reminder of my maternal grandmother. She loved the spring, and Grandad planted large numbers of daffodil bulbs in the borders around their front garden. He would always cut a few for her when they came out, which she would place in a glass to brighten up the house when the dreariness of winter was past. I've inherited her love of them. They are so simple, bright and cheery. I always keep an eye out for the first ones to bloom: I see it as proof that spring has finally arrived. Once or twice, I've bought a bunch and absent-mindedly reached into the cupboard for a glass to put them in. Some habits die hard! This winter and spring have been particularly difficult for us all, so I offer the image of these lovely, simpl…

St Patrick's day thoughts on Irish food & hospitality


Something Ireland has in abundance.

Soft, constant rain.

The Gulf Stream brings warm water up the Atlantic to the west coast of Ireland, ensuring the winters are never truly harsh, but it also ensures that the weather systems making landfall on that coast are well and truly water-laden. Cool air off the mountains condenses the water, which then falls as rain. It’s not great news for tourism, but it makes for fantastic agriculture.

Ireland has always been a producer of good food. The rain makes for rich pasture for beef and dairy cattle alike. Milk, butter and cheeses are sweet and plentiful. Beef is firm and flavoursome. Small-scale farming and crofting mean that sheep farming produces high-quality lamb and mutton that is much sought-after throughout Europe. However, it is the pig that dominates the Irish domestic table. You won’t go long in Ireland before being served pork, bacon or ham. Any country that has known widespread poverty and deprivation will come to depend on the p…

Learning new skills - butchery & charcuterie

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I love the opportunity to try out new dishes and extend my range as a cook. This winter, a bit of quiet time allowed me to learn how to make the famous French charcuterie dish dodine de canard. This is made from a whole duck that has been boned out, stuffed with flavoursome forcemeat and baked whole. The process takes at least two days, as the duck has to be marinated overnight, when raw, then rested a second night when cooked. Only on the third day or after is it ready to be eaten. Served cold with mild pickles and salad, it makes a spectacular starter at dinner or a tasty main course for a cold lunch.

I first saw a dodine prepared on Michel Roux Jr's TV programme some years ago. Although I could never hope to match his talent, I still decided it was something I wanted to try my hand at. I found a blog that reproduced his recipe, and it seemed straightforward enough. Between the recipe and Roux's YouTube channel, I was confident my attempt wo…

Fine food with fine beers

We've been drinking beer with food for centuries, but it's only in the last couple of decades that people have begun to give serious thought to matching food with beer. In the English-speaking world, especially, beer used to be seen as a working man's drink, and therefore unworthy of respectful consideration; wine was the drink of sophisticates. Working men were not expected to have discerning palates and an interest in what makes food taste good. As wine has become more popular, though, so too has to wine-drinkers' interest in food matching. I wouldn't have a blog if that cultural shift hadn't happened. Regardless of cultural class, these days there can be few drinkers unfamiliar with the idea of serving certain drinks with certain foods to enhance the appreciation of both. With the growth of interest in craft ales and micro-brewing, beer, too, has positioned itself as a drink for discerning and sophisticated drinkers, and sophisticated drinkers like to dine …

Simply soup

For all my grand entertaining, one of my chief pleasures is a bowl of soup. Soup is infinitely adaptable, economic to make and cheering to the spirit. As I write, I'm watching snow melting outside; the world is cold, wet and miserable, but I have a bowl of wonderfully flavoursome roasted tomato soup to look forward to. It'll warm me up like a blanket around me or a hug from a well-upholstered relative.

Soups can be made to seem very fancy, or even decadent, if you want to put on a show. (Think how often you've seen contestants on Masterchef presenting the judges with a crystal-clear consommé to show off their skills.) They make a perfect starter for dinner parties, because they can be done hours or even days in advance and simply warmed through on the last minute and finished with a flash of chopped herb or a splodge of cream. I once found a recipe for a soup finished with foie gras and marinated cranberries. Although it was a rich and wonderful opener for my Christmas di…

Smaller Dinners

Although I am known for grand dinner parties like the one I blogged about a few weeks ago (, I also love more intimate dinners. Six or eight people around a table is a nice number, because most recipes are given in quantities for six, and a bottle of wine pours six to nine glasses (depending on the size of your glass). However, there are times when you're hankering for something a little more relaxed, or maybe you need to have a serious or more sensitive conversation, or you just want a quieter night. These are the times when dinner for two or four is wonderful.

There are a number of recipes I can always rely on. These are things I've been cooking for years, recipes I know by heart and can easily play variations on when I'm entertaining. They're brilliant when I'm cooking for ten, as I often do, because I know they can be done in advance, and the recipes are easily scaled-up without loss of qua…

A Night at the Movies

The Beloved and I sat up watching the BAFTAs last evening, and next weekend we can look forward to the glamour and excitement of the Oscar award ceremony. It got me thinking about drinks to celebrate films and film actors. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Kath, is an avid film fan. Avid, as in obsessed and indiscriminate. She seems to know everything there is to know about every obscure film and has an encyclopedic knowledge of Oscar statistics. She’s also a cocktail fan. Over the years, we’ve tried old cocktails together, invented new ones, compared variations and generally done untold damage to a pair of no-longer-young livers. A conversation with Kath gave rise to the following ideas.

It's too easy to name the vodka martini as the film cocktail. However, Bond ordered a variation on the martini in Fleming’s original James Bond novel, Casino Royale, something he would never do on film until Daniel Craig took the role. In his variant, Bond calls for a mixture of vodka with g…