Thursday, January 25, 2007

"O WAD SOME POWER THE GIFTIE GIE US,to see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us and foolish notion . . ."
'To a Louse' by Robert Burns


A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

I picked this book of a shelf in the library because I was intrigued by the title, and when I glanced at the first page this sentence hooked me, and I had to borrow it: ‘Half our family, the better-looking half, is missing.’

Nomi Nickel is a sixteen year old Canadian Mennonite girl living with her father in a Mennonite community in Manitoba. Three years previously her older sister left the community and some months later so did Nomi’s mother, neither have been heard of since. Told as a quirky first-person narrative the book has echoes of Holden Caulfield in Catcher In the Rye. Nomi is something of a misfit, full of teenage angst compounded by the demands and expectations of the Mennonite community which is lead by her self-righteous uncle who she calls “The Mouth”.

Written as a stream of memories of her mother and sister and of family life before they disappeared, but woven through with her difficulties in day-to-day living, having a boyfriend, school, and a dead end future working in a chicken processing plant, Nomi endeared herself to me with her often hilarious take on life. She, and other Mennonite teens drink and smoke dope illicitly, they listen to pop music (which is banned) and they dance (which is totally forbidden).

At the same time the author has managed to convey the hypocritical religious zealotry which exists in such communities. The
Mennonites are Anabaptists, closely linked to the Amish and the Hutterites, and their chief mantra for life is “in the world but not of the world”. Until I read this book I knew next to nothing about them and how they live, but as you read, you are slowly introduced to their ideas, prejudices and practices. It is a very controlled way of living, everything is predicated on getting to heaven, either by dying a good Mennonite, or being ready for The Rapture – the moment when all humans will be either swept up to heaven simultaneously or left behind to burn in hell. Those who fail to keep to the rules will be Shunned, a form of living excommunication where you continue to live within the community but no-one will look at you, speak to you, touch you, eat with you, sleep with you, even husband to wife, brother to sister, or parent to child. A truly traumatic, psychological, living torture. Nomi is torn between a wanting a normal life, despising the hypocrisy she sees around her, and loving her father who is a good man dedicated to his community. Finally she comes to understand what happened to her sister and mother, and why she too will have to decide where and how to live her life.


I love markets, the hustle and bustle, the noise, the colours, the smells, the people and the variety of goods you get at different markets. People always go on about wonderful markets in France and Italy, and other parts of the world, but we have some excellent markets right here in London. There are two London markets I use regularly, the flower and plant market at Columbia Road in the East End, and Borough Market, which sells fruit, vegetables, meat, breads and all kinds of delicious foods from all over the country, and from all over the world.

For those of you who don’t know it, Borough Market is the oldest market in London, there has been a market on this site selling food and produce to Londoners since the Roman occupation, 2000 years ago. It is a covered market, and recently the whole structure was comprehensively refurbished.

Over the years I have bought food for family meals there, food for Christmas there, food for dinner parties there; I have often taken foreign visitors to spend a morning there, and the market is well known abroad thanks to Jamie Oliver who has featured the market in his cookery series for TV several times. Indeed tour guides and London guide books recommend it as part of the whole London experience.

So I was spitting blood when I heard from my daughter that there are plans afoot for Network Rail to increase their tracks by destroying many of the beautiful old buildings on the edges of the market. Apparently they have already been granted planning permission and are now awaiting funding. 23 market buildings would go, and it would change the ambiance of the market for ever. How could the powers-that-be (ie The Secretary of State) be so bloody stupid and short-sighted; this market should be preserved not threatened with desecration. Any town or city can have rail tracks, few can have a market as excellent and as ancient as Borough. Please, if you feel as strongly as I do, sign the on-line petition to try and prevent this horrible plan going ahead.


Great Chieftan o' the Puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye worthy of a grace

As lang's my arm.
To A Haggis by Robert Burns

Tonight is Burns Night, so we will be having a Haggis. Traditionally it is served with Bashed Neeps and Tatties – which is mashed swede (turnip) and mashed potato, and with it you serve a dram or two of Scotch whiskey which you sip between mouthfuls! I actually prefer another version of neeps and tatties, so I will be serving


700g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
700g swede, peeled and cut into chunks
75g butter
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
Salt and Pepper

Boil the potatoes and the Swedes separately and then mash them. Combine the two mashes and mix together with the butter and the chives. Season well. Put the mixture into a serving dish and keep warm until ready to serve the haggis.

*this is also good as an accompaniment to sausages or grilled chops.

A dessert I often serve on Burns Night is:


2 cups (generous) soft cream cheese (its not very Scottish, but I use Mascarpone)
2 heaped tablespoons Marmalade
2 tablespoons caster sugar
3 tablespoons whiskey
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Put all ingredients into a mixing bowl and whisk together. Spoon into six ramekins and chill in the freezer. Remove from freezer 10 minutes before serving.

A shortbread biscuit goes well with this.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

QUOTE OF THE DAY: " I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shred oranges and scrub the floor. "
D.H. Lawrence

The Second Wife by Elizabeth Buchan is the story of Minty Lloyd, second wife of Nathan Lloyd, and mother of five-year old twin boys. Minty is an intelligent ambitious young woman who worked in magazine/news publishing. Her immediate boss, Rose, and she had been close friends until she embarked on a passionate affair with Rose's husband, culminating in him leaving his wife and marrying Minty.Before the marriage Rose is fired by the company and Minty takes over her job. She has been the ultimate bitch having stolen both her friend's job and husband. Relationships between Minty and her adult step-children are fraught to say the least as she is regarded, with justification as a home-wrecker.

Following the birth of the twins she works part-time, and wishes to work full time, but her husband is against it. She becomes slightly obsessed that he now regrets marrying her, and imagines

he is having an "affair" with his ex-wife. It begins to dawn on her that marriage is a complicated business, and when Nathan dies suddenly of a heart attack she is forced to come to terms with her past behaviour, and with the realities of being a parent. Ironically the person she is most able to share her loss and grief with is her former friend Rose, Nathan's first wife. A light, undemanding read with some nice touches about corporate life and the role of women today, as well as some sharply perceptive insights into marriage, divorce and jealousy.


In our society a handshake does many different things; it can seal an agreement, show respect, welcome a stranger, greet a friend or acquaintance, and convey congratulations. From the highest to the lowest in society the handshake is a commonplace. The Queen probably shakes more hands than anyone else in the country, with the Prime Minister and other members of the Royal Family following closely behind her in the handshaking stakes. But we all do it, all the

One of the proudest days of my life was seeing my daughter get her Masters degree, dignified with a handshake from the Chancellor of her University. Years earlier, I saw my husband being given an award for bravery with an accompanying handshake. When I am introduced to someone I expect to shake their hand in greeting, it is expected, courteous behaviour, and not to do so would be rude.

So what on earth did the young woman who has just joined the British Police think she was doing by her refusal to shake hands with the Metropolitan Commissioner of Police (in effect her boss) during the official passing out ceremony. She refused to do so, saying that as a Muslim she could not shake hands or kiss any man other than her husband or members of her immediate family.

What the f***?? She wasn’t being asked to give him a full snog, she wasn’t even being asked to give him a peck on the cheek, she wasn’t expected to exchange mwah, mwah air kisses. She was just expected to behave like her fellow constables and give a quick formal handshake during an official ceremony. A handshake, in our society, carries no sexual connotations whatsoever.

We are being told by Muslim leaders that we need to understand and approve her behaviour in the context of Muslim culture, and Commissioner Blair is being criticised by them for “failing to understand the Muslim religion.” I think these leaders should be told, politely, that we do understand the Muslim religion, but that in this country there are certain cultural norms that must be met, and in certain situations a handshake is one of them.

We are being told that she would lay hands on a man during an arrest if it were necessary, and even that she would be prepared to give mouth to mouth resuscitation in a life-or-death situation. But are we SURE? Would she put a comforting arm round a young (or old) man who had lost a family member in a car accident?, would she take the hand of a man who was mentally ill, and lead him towards the car taking him to hospital? We should be sure of what our police would or wouldn’t do – like the old saw about the Man on the Clapham Omnibus – we need to be totally confident in our police .
I, for one, am not sure how she would behave in an emergency - so sad to say, I think the police force should ask her to leave their ranks forthwith.


Every January I make marmalade, enough to last the household for a year, and with a few extra jars to give away. Although marmalade can be made with any citrus fruit, I think the best marmalade is made with Seville Oranges - these are bitter oranges which have a very short season and are only available here in January/February. Marmalade making is much easier than people suppose, and is very satisfying. When I survey the shiny labelled jars full of golden orange I have a real sense of connection to women in the past who did not have supermarkets and convenience stores, and had to make their own preserves or do without.


Firstly, make sure you have plenty of jam jars, waxed preserving discs etc, and beg, borrow or buy a heavy bottomed jam pan. Even a largish saucepan will not really be big enough as the mixture boils up very high.

It will be easier to pot your marmalade if you have a jam funnel – if you don’t have one but are likely to make jams and jellies in the future it is worth buying one. Any good kitchen supply shop will stock them, and you can buy them on-line too.

The sugar you use does NOT have to be preserving sugar, but it should be cane sugar not sugar made from sugar beets. I have found that cane sugar gives a clear gel to the marmalade or jam whereas beet sugar can give a cloudy gel. In the UK cane sugar is supplied by Tate & Lyle, whereas all the sugar supplied by Silver Spoon is made from sugar beet.

Sugar dissolves more quickly if it is warm, for that reason I often put the measured amount of sugar into a very low oven for 10 minutes before adding it to the liquid.

A simple method of testing whether a jam or marmalade has reached setting point is to place a few small saucers into the fridge to chill. When you think the marmalade has boiled long enough to be ready to set, switch off the heat, take a teaspoon of the liquid and pour it onto a chilled saucer and return it to the fridge for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes take it out and gently push at the gel in the saucer, if it wrinkles up then you have reached setting point and can pot up. If the gel is still liquid, put the jam pan back on to boil for a further 5-10 minutes, and then do the test again.

Do not put hot marmalade or jam into cold glass jars, they will shatter. Make sure the jars are clean and dry and then warm them in a low oven whilst you are boiling the marmalade.


This makes about 10 jars

1.4 Kg Seville oranges
2.75 Kg granulated sugar
2.25l water


300ml water

Wash all grime and dirt off the oranges, scrub if necessary, and remove the green calyx from the stalk end. Place the cleaned fruit into the jam pan and cover with 2.25 litres cold water. Cover the pan as tightly as possible with aluminium foil to stop evaporation, and bring to the boil. Simmer very gently for 1½ to 2½ hours until the fruit is very soft, remove from the heat. [At this point you can leave the fruit in the liquid overnight or for up to 24 hours.]

Using a slotted spoon, remove the fruit from the liquid in the pan, and place on a chopping board; cut in half and remove the pips and any obvious pieces of membrane into a small saucepan. With a sharp knife cut the peel into fine pieces and put back into the pan with the liquid. Cover the pips and fruit pulp in the small saucepan with 300ml water and bring to the boil, simmer for 15 minutes and then carefully strain the liquid into the jam pan pressing the juice through with a wooden spoon and discard the pips and membranes.

Put the jam pan over low heat, and when the contents are warm, add the sugar. Stir gently until the sugar is all dissolved.

Then boil fiercely for 15 -20 minutes. Test for a set. If the marmalade has reached setting point let it rest, off the heat, for about 10 minutes before potting it up in the clean warm jars. Seal the top of each jar with a waxed disc whilst the marmalade is still hot.

You can easily vary the type of marmalade by varying the citrus you use, as long as the weight ratios remain the same. For Three Fruit Marmalade use a mixture of Seville oranges, lemons and grapefruit; For a lighter sweeter marmalade use half quantities of Seville oranges and ordinary sweet oranges.

For something extra special you can add 2-3 tablespoons of whiskey or Cointreau to marmalade after it has reached setting point, and stir in before potting up.

Monday, January 15, 2007

YOU'VE GOT TO ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, don’t mess with Mister-In-Between!’‘ That's my mantra for the month

I read Arthur and George by Julian Barnes when it first came out in hardback some 18 months ago, but I thought I would put it on my blog, as it was up for discussion at my bookclub this month. Last year it was short listed for the Booker Prize.

It is a rare event for me to buy fiction in hardback, but the publishers, Jonathan Cape, had chosen to bind it in cloth with a most attractive design embossed on it, so I was seduced! It looks very handsome on a bookshelf.

Happily, the novel lives up to the promise of the cover. The eponymous protagonists are Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous author who created Sherlock Holmes, and George Edalji, an unknown solicitor. The first half of the book sets out their respective lives from childhood to becoming adults; Barnes tells the story in alternate sections from their individual viewpoints, a device he uses all through the book.

A long forgotten miscarriage of justice is the point at which their lives cross. The novel is based on real people and events which were evidently well documented in 1903. George Edalji, son of the Vicar of Great Wyrley in Staffordshire, was arrested, tried and found guilty of the mutilation of a number of horses and cows over a two year period. Edalji’s father is a Parsee by birth and came to England from Bombay as a young man. He was ordained into the Anglican Church, married a Scotswoman and had three children, George being the eldest.

George was sentenced to 7 years in gaol for the crimes, however further mutilations of animals continued in the area, so after three years imprisonment he was released – this was before a Court of Appeal existed in English law. Arthur Conan Doyle, by now knighted, respectable, rich and world famous, takes up George’s cause and determines to get him a free pardon and compensation. He tackles the case in the manner of his doppelganger, Sherlock Holmes, and by cunning investigation coupled with stirring up opinion in the newspapers and parliament he partially succeeds

Barnes stunningly evokes Edwardian England where, behind the Imperial façade, changes are afoot, and his brilliant characterisation, bring Arthur and George to life on the page. Arthur is dynamic, romantic, and positive, whereas George is quiet, diffident, and circumspect. The contrast between the two men is never more obvious than in Arthur’s realisation that the whole case against George has been built on flimsy circumstantial evidence based on racial prejudice, and yet George refuses to admit that any racism has been directed towards him. Neither George nor Arthur are “Englishmen” by blood, but both consider themselves to be so for different reasons. Weaving through the main theme Barnes has also wound the story of Arthur’s long-drawn out love with a young woman who becomes his second wife after the resolution of the Edalji case, and their growing belief in spiritualism.
The two passages of the book that I found absolutely marvellous were the chapter on George’s trial, and the meeting between Arthur and Captain Anson the Chief Constable of Staffordshire. Evidence given in a trial may not be interpreted by a judge and jury in the way that seems obvious to an outside observer, and so events can be twisted to appear very different; this is as true today as it was then, and Barnes has managed to convey it so well. The meeting between Arthur and Anson is so brilliantly written that I was apoplectic with anger at Anson’s patronising arrogant racism – I felt as if I were in the room listening to the conversation.

The final part of the book, after Arthur’s death seemed an unnecessary addendum, and I really thought it could have been dropped with no damage to the book as a whole.
All in all, an excellent book and one that will appeal to both male and female readers, I urge you to get hold of a copy, I’m confident you will enjoy it too.


I have just cut my finger - small cut, tip of forefinger, left hand, if you are interested – and like most cuts on the tip of a finger it bled like b*ggery. In one of the kitchen drawers I keep a pack of sticking plasters for just such a situation, it is a newish pack, and this was the first time I’ve had to use one of the plasters. Well lucky it wasn’t a serious cut or I would have bled to death in the attempt. The plasters are individually sealed in clear plastic. To open one of these clear envelopes with two hands is already difficult, but to try and prise it open with only one hand, whilst trying to keep your finger from dripping blood over your white T-shirt is absolutely impossible. By gripping it between my teeth and trying to rip it apart with my free hand, I finally managed to extract the plaster – by now it was looking rather the worse for wear- I then had to (a) wipe the cut finger clean of blood so the plaster would stick to it, and (b) prise off the two backing strips which cover the sticky part of the plaster – yet again using teeth proved the only reliable method. Finally I managed to get the plaster stuck over the cut, and flopped exhausted into a chair.

Manufacturing sticking plasters must be big business, whole factories devoted to nothing else, company profits dependant on their purchase, Chairmen’s bonuses dependant on annual results etc etc. But, do ANY of these manufacturers do any research on what it takes to put a plaster on a wound? Why can’t they design a product that is easy to use? Come on BandAid, Elastoplast, and the rest, you know who I’m ranting about. I suspect they all have sugar plum visions dancing in their heads of little chaps who have grazed a knee having a plaster lovingly applied by a full-time mummy who kisses it all better at the same time. What about those who have to do it alone? Like me, boo hoo…


Last March my DH and I were back in SA and we were privileged to have a week in Mpumalanga just on the eastern borders of the Kruger Park. One of my dearest friends who lives in Jo'burg sent us off with a huge cold box full of food for the first two days - amongst the other goodies- cold roast chicken, lasagne, and fruit salad - was a pack of these Brownies she'd made. DH and I ended up squabbling like 5 year olds over the last one, they are soooooo good. She kindly gave me the recipe. I've just made a batch for my son and nephew - and boy, am I popular - you could be popular too, make some soon and you'll see what I mean.


200gm butter
½ cup cocoa powder

2 cups soft brown sugar
1 teaspn vanilla essence

1 cup plain flour
2 eggs

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Pre-heat oven to 180 C

Grease a 30cm x 20cm baking tin and line base with greaseproof paper.
Melt butter and cocoa powder together in a large pan but don’t boil the mixture.
Add the sugar and vanilla essence – stir really well
Take the pan off the heat, add the flour and mix it in.
Add the eggs – beat them in really well.
Add the chopped nuts and stir them in.
Spread the mixture evenly into the baking tin. Bake at 180
°C for 20-25 mins.
Turn out onto a rack when cooked. Allow to cool.

Ice with any chocolate icing (optional), and cut into squares.

Makes about 16.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

AT LAST I HAVE MANAGED TO PUT SOME OF THE BLOGS I READ and enjoy into the sidebar, and I really will expand the list to include a few more favourites. There are some really terrific bloggers out there. You will have noticed though that I have been completely unable to change my clock in accordance with daylight-saving time, I've tried twice and failed so you'll just have to put up with it being one hour ahead of UK time.

Salaam Brick Lane by Tarquin Hall is one of the four or five books I read over the Christmas/New Year period a
nd I would recommend it very highly indeed. Tarquin Hall is a young British journalist who returned to London after spending 10 years reporting from abroad. Finding the costs of most accommodation in London way beyond what he could afford, and needing to have somewhere that his Indian born, American fiancée can join him, he settles for a place in Brick Lane in London’s East End. At first he is completely stunned by the squalor and noise, the variety of residents in the area: drug dealers, mini-cab drivers, shopkeepers, market traders, prostitutes and of course his own wily slum landlord Mr Ali. He and Anu slowly get to know local people, their neighbour Sadie, the elderly Jewish widow who is one of the few Jews still living in an area that was almost wholly Jewish until the 1950s; a group of Afghani asylum seekers, the sternly righteous Pathan newsagent, and many other fascinating people. Monica Ali’s novel Brick Lane, wrote about the area from a fictionalised Bengali perspective, this book gives the real living breathing Brick Lane. It is a wonderful, funny, and affectionate book, with the history of one of London’s most vibrant areas – the entry point to Britain for immigrants and asylum seekers for nigh on 300 years, an area with a mongrel population which is constantly shifting and moving on and out. When Hall tries to find out who in the vicinity can be considered a real “Cockney” he slowly realises that the nature of Englishness is not as straight forward as many people think - and certainly not as straightforward as the BNP (British National Party) think. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and so would anyone who is at all interested in London.


Last night I was woken in the wee small hours by a high pitched series of shrieks, rapidly followed by hysterical barking from my two terriers.

It’s that time of year again, the breeding season for foxes, and the vixens let all dog foxes in the vicinity know they are available by making this hideous noise. If you are hearing it for the first time you could be forgiven for mistaking it for the sound of a woman screaming, and I have heard of people calling the police at night in the mistaken belief that they were hearing someone being attacked.

Urban foxes are now all over London, and becoming a real nuisance. I have seen a fox loping along Charing Cross Road at 6 am; I have seen a fox trying to get into my kitchen through the dog flap completely undeterred by the lighting and Radio 4 playing loudly. A friend found a fox lurking behind the sofa in her sitting room last year. There have been a number of cases of a fox having a go at a baby in a pram in the garden .

Foxes carry diseases: leptospirosis, toxocara and mange, fortunately they do not as yet carry rabies as they do on the continent; they dig earths, scatter debris, attack cats on their territory, kill pet rabbits; they mark their areas with foul strong smelling faeces and urine. There are approximately 30,000 urban foxes in England and they are thriving. In the UK they have no natural predators apart from man and the golden eagle – and golden eagles are in short supply in London. There is a plentiful supply of food for them, rubbish bins, restaurant garbage left out in black sacks for overnight collection, park litter bins, recycling bins, and general food litter near fast-food restaurants, supermarkets and food stores – in fact the city must seem one huge gourmet fox paradise to them.

Legislation prevents anyone from killing foxes, and local authorities have tried various methods of controlling their numbers. For a while our local authority tried trapping them, having them driven north of London and released (still in a semi-urban area). Ha, ha, cunning Mr Fox just strolled back down the A1 in the dead of night and carried on as before; meanwhile the firm that was doing the trapping on behalf of the Council was making plenty money from a repeat business.

Feral cats are captured and humanely dispatched, Ken Livingston (the Mayor of London) has declared war on the common pigeon, but foxes are left to increase in numbers, soon they will become more than just a nuisance, but become real pests. Now, where’s my pink coat, my horse and some hounds…tantivvy, tantivvy!


This is an old, old English soup recipe which my mother-in-law gave me, she thought it was from the Victorian era, but it could be earlier- I have converted the quantities to metric. I think it is quite delicious.
It is a winter soup because that is when we get Jerusalem artichokes in our greengrocers, and for some reason I always associate it with January. It is particularly appropriate today as it is very windy, and Jerusalem artichokes make you very windy! Now, before any cooks who have strong views on the whole Middle East political situation get hot and bothered about this, I should explain the name of this soup. It has absolutely no political connotations at all. The soup is made from tubers which are called Jerusalem artichokes ( Topinambour in French). They are called this because the tubers, when cooked tasted similar to the heart of a globe artichoke, but they are actually produced by a plant that belongs to the same family as the sunflower. When these tubers first arrived in Europe ( they are native to North America) the Italians called the plant "Girasole" which means "turns to the sun" . The English thought that "girasole" sounded like "Jerusalem" hence Jerusalem artichokes. It was but a small linguistic jump for some cook to name the soup made from these tubers after the area in which Jerusalem was situated - the cook probably thought the tubers came from there; bear in mind that this was a couple of centuries ago, long before Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Iraq or any of the countries in that region were considered as nations.


Serves 6

1kg Jerusalem artichokes
1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
50g butter
litres chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt & Pepper [Strictly speaking you should use white pepper to keep the pale ivory colour of the soup without dark flecks, but I never have any so just use black!]

250ml single cream
2 egg yolks

Chopped toasted hazelnuts &/or chopped parsley for garnishing.

Fill a bowl with cold water and add a splash of wine vinegar or some lemon juice.
Peel the artichokes with a potato peeler, cut into even sized pieces and immediately place them in the acidulated water to prevent them discolouring.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the chopped onion and sauté gently until translucent; drain the artichokes and add them to the onions, stir and cook for a few minutes, do not allow them to brown.
Add the two peeled cloves of garlic, and pour the stock over the vegetables and bring to the boil. Place a lid on the pan, and simmer over a gentle heat until the chokes and garlic are soft – about 15-20mins.
Either place everything in a food processor or use a hand-blender to whiz to a smooth consistency, or push through a sieve; return to the pan. Add salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. At this point you can either refrigerate or freeze the soup until you want to use it.

Just before serving, bring the soup nearly to the boil, beat the cream and egg yolks together and whisk into the hot soup, making sure it is all well blended.

Serve with a scattering of chopped toasted hazelnuts or chopped parsley as a garnish.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I haven't posted on the blog for sooooo long - 16 whole days ...
What can I say, this has been a very busy time, and I am looking forward to long peaceful weeks of nothing much happening! To compensate for the long silence I have decided to
offer, free, gratis and for nothing, an extra R. So today this is not The 3 Rs, it is The 4 Rs.
Reading, RAVING, Ranting and Recipes.


Over the past fortnight my reading has been patchy to say the least, too much going on to really settle down and have a comfortably serious read. But of course I have been reading because I am incapable of not doing so, reading is as important as food and drink to me.
Here is a quick waltz through some of the books I have gobbled up in between visiting friends and family, entertaining and being entertained, and general jollification:

One Stop Short of Barking – uncovering the London Underground by Mecca Ibrahim
This was on my Amazon wish list, so I was really pleased to be given it as a Christmas gift. This little book is both hilarious and informative and should be compulsory reading for all the 3 million people who use the Tube every day.
It is lavishly illustrated – the photo of Tony Blair pole hanging in a carriage while reading a Government White Paper and pretending to be an ordinary bloke is absolutely killing, who thought up that little wheeze I wonder? There is a selection of some of the funniest driver announcements: “ I am the captain of your train and we will be departing shortly. We will be cruising at an altitude of approximately zero feet and our scheduled arrival time in Morden is 3.15pm. The temperature in Morden is approximately 15 degrees Celsius and Morden is in the same time zone as Mill Hill East so there’s no need to adjust your watches.” Listing all the wildlife to be found underground from rats and pigeons to drunks and backpacking tourists, the author also gives details of the rules for buskers and the most popular and frequently busked song titles.

This is a great addition to my growing collection of books about London, and is a great gift for anyone who knows this city – especially for those middle-aged men in your life who are so difficult to buy for!

Nigella Lawson – the unauthorised biography by Gilly Smith
I snatched this off a shelf in the local library just a week before Christmas when you couldn’t
switch on the TV without seeing the Domestic Goddess thrusting her cleavage at you and licking her fingers provocatively whilst she made and fried crab cakes DURING a drinks party – yeah right.

Anyway, the book gives you all the information available as to her family background, her marriage to the late John Diamond and subsequent marriage to Charles Saatchi, and how her career has progressed. The author is not doing a hatchet job on Nigella by any means, but the reader certainly gets a picture of quite a determined woman who will use anything and anyone to achieve what she wants, but –as Kenny Everett would have said – in the nicest possible way. I must admit I found it ironic that a Jewish woman was presenting a television series on how to cook and prepare to celebrate Christmas, which is a Christian festival after all, and using foods and ingredients which are specifically prohibited in the Jewish faith. Would Delia Smith have been allowed to get away with telling viewers how to prepare food for the Passover seder? I doubt it, well not unless she bought herself a crimson satin negligee to wear whilst cooking on screen!

I am in love with the present my DH gave me for Christmas - a Rolser shopping trolly. My son was absolutely horrified with the idea of me being given this..he thought I should have a blue rinse to match it. But this is in another league, it was featured in Vogue (Paris edition) nogal. Three years ago I broke my right ankle, in 2005 by horrible happenstance I broke it again; now I have a limp and I am nervous of falling and breaking it again. Consequently I am slow when I go shopping and have to carry bags full of things I've purchased, I trek back and forth loading stuff into the car which is parked as near as possible. But now my life has been revolutionised, I have my trolley. It holds a huge amount of stuff, library books, all my groceries, a huge pack of things from the chemist's, and 4 loaves of Dunnary bread and 6 Cornish Pasties from one of the best bakers in the entire world, Dunn's of Crouch End.
Now come on, admit you'd love a shopping trolley like mine.


Just before Christmas an undercover journalist from the Guardian posed as a member of the BNP in order to write a tabloid style exposé of this rather nasty little party; when his article was published, he listed some of the people who are paid-up party members, and Simone Clarke, one of the leading dancers with the English National Ballet, was one of them. This started a media frenzy and the dancer, who had never sought to publicise her political views, gave an interview with a rival paper explaining why she had joined the BNP. Many self-righteous folk have been clamouring for the ENB to sack Miss Clarke because of her BNP membership.

I am absolutely appalled at this, indeed I find this kind of witchhunt extremely worrying. It is Macarthyism in reverse. As anyone who knows me will testify, I am an old-fashionedly woolly liberal libitarian – to the point of being moth-eaten – and personally I have nothing but distaste for the BNP and loathe it’s aims and intentions. Never-the-less, it is a bona fide political party and there is absolutely nothing illegal about joining it as a member and Miss Clarke has every right to be aggrieved that she is being painted as some kind of criminal. To suggest she should loose her job because of it is just plain wrong. For the life of me I cannot see how her dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy in the Nutcracker is in anyway affected by her political affiliations. People who say that they wouldn’t be able to stand watching her dance now that they know what she votes are just plain silly. Should every programme come with an attached list giving information about the private lives of members of the cast? So that the public can boycott any performance where the background and views of the performers don’t coincided with their own high moral standards? So-and-so cheats on his wife and has a record for shoplifting, Ms XYZ lies about her age and drives an un-taxed car….for heaven’s sake where would it all end? Let dancers dance, musicians play, actors act and to hell with what stupid ideas they espouse -personally I always thought some of Vanessa Redgrave’s political ravings were quite bonkers, but I also thought she was a fantastic actress and would not have missed seeing her in film or on stage because of them.

We are not some country where the tiny new shoots of democracy have just poked through the soil and require protecting whilst they grow, we are an ancient nation with a long and robust political tradition and we can certainly accommodate dissenting views – even if we consider them repugnant.


After all the rich foods during Christmas and New Year we are back to some rather homely family meals, not to mention some much needed belt-tightening (in both senses). So for Sunday night supper it is to be Cauliflower Cheese with a few additions to gussy it up and make it a little more substantial, and with crusty bread or a baked potato on the side it is an excellent main course.


1 medium-large cauliflower
250g bacon lardons or streaky bacon cut into bits
½ medium onion, finely chopped
1 small can sweetcorn.
1 Tablespoon chopped parsley

For the cheese sauce:

30g butter
30g plain flour
250ml milk + water mixed (use the cauliflower water)
Salt + freshly ground black pepper
125g grated cheese

For topping:
50g grated cheese
50g toasted breadcrumbs

Fry the bacon lardons and when browning add the finely chopped onion and continue cooking until translucent. Set aside.
Trim the cauliflower and break into medium-sized sprigs. Cook in boiling salted water until tender – approx 8 mins. Drain and reserve some of the cooking liquid for the cheese sauce. Arrange the cooked cauliflower sprigs in a well-buttered ovenproof dish and keep warm. Now sprinkle the cooked bacon, onion and sweetcorn over the cauliflower, making sure they are under, over and around every sprig.

Melt the butter for the sauce stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook gently for a minute or so, and then gradually stir in the hot reserved cauliflower liquor and then the milk. Bring up to the boil, stirring all the time to make a smooth sauce. Allow to simmer for 1-2 minutes then season to taste. Add the grated cheese and stir over a low heat until the cheese has melted and amalgamated with the sauce. Stir in the chopped parsley.
Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower, bacon, onion and sweetcorn, making sure it goes round everything.

Sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese.

Put in the oven for 20mins at 180°C or pass under the grill until brown and bubbling.