Tuesday, May 22, 2007


(African Proverb)


After months, nay, years on my “want to read” list, I finally got hold of a copy of Minaret by Leila Aboulela. I am intrigued by the new genre of fiction that seems to have sprung up, all rreflecting young Muslim, Sikh, or Hindu lives in modern Britain; and this, Aboulela’s 2nd novel,
falls squarely into that category.

Minaret is the story of Najwa, twin daughter of a senior government official in Sudan. Her home life is luxurious in the extreme, however there is some dubiety about her father’s business dealings and his relationship with the corrupt post colonial government. Whilst studying at Khartoum university in the 1970s she meets a very wild and radical young socialist, Anwar, and feels a definite spark of interest grow between them.

Without any warning signs to the politically naïve Najwa, there is a coup d’etat in Sudan; and she, her twin brother Omar, and their mother flee the country and end up in London. Her father is tried and then executed by the new regime. London, instead of being a temporary place of refuge, becomes all in all to Leila and her family. Omar, her twin, and an incredibly spoilt young man, continues to indulge his drug habit and ends up jailed for four years on a charge of drug dealing; and then her mother falls ill and dies. Out of the blue Anwar appears in London, he too is now a political refugee. Leila helps him with money, clothing, a computer, and more importantly by editing his political articles and translating them into good English. She and Anwar start having an affair as she fully believes they will soon be married, and so she is devastated when he discards her and embarks on an arranged marriage with a very conventional Muslim girl. Desperate to get out of the house, Najwar takes a job with the wife of an old family friend; then, when that friend moves to the coast, she finds a position working for a young Arab couple primarily as the nanny/ maid where she starts to fall in love with the younger brother of her employer who is considerably. Alone again, and now with her capital severely diminished Najwa is slowly sliding down the socio-economic scale. From loneliness, and from a genuine interest in her own religion, she joins a women’s group at the Regent’s Park mosque, and adopts the hijab and style of dress of a devout Muslim woman.

This complex book has a delicate, almost dreamlike quality and, and Najwa’s yearning for a sense of who she is follows a journey from prosperity and pride to humility and eventually a sense of peace.


Oh hell. I’ve been tagged. And after months of avoiding such things. The evil tagger is aberdeenquinie whose blog Chez Teuchter is always worth reading. What I have to do now is list 8 random facts about myself that you may not know. How boring is that??
Well, sez she grumpily, I better get it over with:

1. I don’t like avocado pears – this dislike sprang from being served them mashed up between two slices of commercial white bread as sandwiches at boarding school. Yuck.

2. I broke my right ankle twice in the past four years – don’t ask, it was a long and sorry story, but I managed not to spill a drop of my G&T the first time, and the second time I drove home very, very slowly and only using the handbrake, letting out a scream every time I had to put my foot down. The orthopaedic surgeon was not amused.

3. I have the same colour and style of hair as my Cairn terrier, ie dirty blonde; only mine is from a bottle.

4. My husband is from Aberdeen, need I say more?

5. I love Country & Western music, the cheesier the better (my family call it Cry & Die music).

6. I hate emptying the dishwasher – I don’t mind stacking it though.

7. I prefer wearing trousers to skirts – in fact I haven’t worn a skirt for about 6 years. Note to self: do I HAVE any skirts now?? Must check wardrobe.

8. I have had a driving license for nearly 40 years, and until I did 48mph on a 40mph stretch of the A40 which is 3 lanes wide, I’d never had any points on it; now I have 3, boo hoo. Bloody speed cameras.

Riiight, here is where I get my own back, I tag ash, and Around My Kitchen Table


It's May; like the swallows, the first visitors from Southern Africa appear (in our spare bedroom). In this case it is one who shall henceforth be known as BFCT (my Best Friend in Cape Town) and who I am absolutely thrilled to see. Today we went to the Chelsea Flower Show, and tomorrow we will sit around doing a great deal of chatting and drinking white wine spritzers. To ensure we are not completely legless, I am getting up early to make something that can be dipped into whilst we put the world to rights. It is from somewhere in the Middle East,(I believe at least 3 countries lay claim to it) and is utterly delicious. My recipe comes from a small book of recipes by Claudia Roden the famous writer on Middle Eastern cooking; the book is one of a series produced for Sainsbury's in the 1980s. What can I say, this recipe is foolproof. Give it a go, you won't regret it!


Serves 4

1 large aubergine
Juice of 2 lemons
3 Tablespns tahini
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 Tablespns cold water

A few sprigs of parsley, chopped finely, to garnish.

Roast the aubergine under the grill, turning it a few times until the skin is black and blistered and the flesh feels very soft when you press it. Peel the aubergine, and using your hands (which you have washed!!) squeeze out the juice. Place the flesh in a blender or food processor with the lemon juice, tahini, garlic, salt to taste and the 2 tablespns of water and purée until smooth.

Put the Baba Ghanoush into a small, shallow dish and sprinkle with the parsley.

Serve with hot pitta bread or vegetable crudités.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

MOOCHING ABOUT IN THE BLOGOSPHERE EARLY THIS MORNING I stumbled across this wonderful newish website called TwitterLit. It is just what every voracious reader will enjoy, and a terrible time waster, but on the other hand, as a result of reading the first lines I have added six books to my "Must Read" list. Try it out, you'll love it too....


Yesterday I fancied reading something undemanding, and picked up Joanna Trollope's latest book ‘Second Honeymoon’. Actually it sounds rather disparaging to call it ‘undemanding’ as although it was not a difficult read it was by no means the sort of book that some critics refer to patronisingly as “women’s fiction”.

Edie, the fifty-plus protagonist is an actress and mother of three grown-up children, the youngest of whom, Ben, has just left home aged 22 to live with his girlfriend. Edie feels totally bereft by his departure and desparately wants him to come back, whereas her husband Russell is looking forward to having her to himself again after so many years. Whilst struggling to come to terms with this new stage of her life, Edie auditions for one of the main roles in an avante-garde production of a play by Ibsen, and to her surprise gets the part. She starts “mothering“ Lazlo the young unknown actor who is playing the part of her son, and as he is in need of somewhere to live, she invites him to lodge with her and Russell. At the same time, her eldest son Matthew breaks up with his financially successful and ambitious girlfriend Ruth, and returns to live at home for a while; no sooner has that happened than her daughter Rosa loses her job, and after a few weeks living with Edie’s sister, she too returns home. Finally Ben her youngest moves back, but as the house is full he has to doss on the sofa. Edie has got what she wanted, her children back under her roof, but it is nothing like she expected to be. They are all adults now, with lives of their own; she becomes increasingly frustrated and exhausted trying to manage her own life in the theatre, and keep the household running with some semblance of order. Slowly she comes to realise that she actually wants to let them go.

Trollope is particularly good at the nuances of family relationships and I really empathised with Edie; being of the same age, having one adult child who left home and then after some years has come back to live with us just at the moment when my DH and I were planning to move to a smaller home, I could feel how emotionally torn she was.Two of the most interesting minor characters in the book are Ruth, Matthew’s high flying girlfriend, and Rosa’s best friend Kate who has just had a baby. Trollope cleverly juxtaposes the alpha and omega of motherhood, from the beginning when a baby requires constant mothering, to the stage where the day-to-day care of a mother is no longer needed or wanted, and how hard it is for women to adjust to both stages.

A much grittier, more complex book than earlier books by Joanna Trollope, and not an Aga in sight.


Holy Smoke! Can you believe it - this Nanny state has legislated that
Churches and Cathedrals should display a big notice on their doors to say that smoking is forbidden in the said Church or Cathedral. Oh, and by the way, this crazy piece of legislation also applies to Synagogues, Hindu Temples, Mosques and other places of religious worship.

Why? When did you last see anyone light up a ciggie in church?(or synagogue, temple, mosque etc) Yes, you are correct, you have NEVER seen anyone smoking in church. So why do they need the signs?
Jobsworth at the various Local Authorities I asked said " it will be against the law, and so people must be informed" and those responsible for places of religious worship have been told they will be prosecuted if they don't put such signs up.
What a weird world Nu Labour has inflicted on us; signs on the doors of churches
(cathedrals, temples,, synagogues, mosques etc) telling people that they may not smoke within, WHEN NOBODY EVER DID SO WITHIN LIVING MEMORY.

Hang on a minute - murder is against the law and the churches (cathedrals, temples, syn...oh for heavens sake you know the places) do not have big signs on their doors banning murder on the premises. Nor do they have signs listing all the other legal prohibitions that may not take place on the premises; there would be very, very long lists pinned to church doors if they applied the same logic as they have done to the smoking ban.

Call me a cynical old bat if you like (but not to my face please), but I sense a job-creation scheme going on; this will create a whole new tier of local council employees all self-righteously checking out that the notices are in place and getting paid for so doing , paid with OUR money.

I should just add, that I don't smoke, I don't like being in smoky places, and I hardly ever go to church - but I just think this whole nonsense is symtomatic of a society that is being overly regulated ; and I wish I had shares in some of the companies making mega-bucks from producing all these bloody signs.


I have never understood people who use packet cake mixes - so if you are one of them forgive me if I seem rude, but What Is the Point??? I have a girlfriend who always used a pack of Betty Crocker when making her children's birthday cakes, for some reason I was too polite to ask her why she didn't just make a cake in the normal way. A "real" homemade cake takes as little time to make as a packet mix, by the time you've added all the things the manufacturers ask for; and the actual success or failure of the cake will be determined by the oven temperature, timing etc. The chocolate cake recipe below is tried and tested. I must have made it 30-40 times and it is consistantly good. It takes less than 20 minutes to make (not including baking time). So an hour after you have a yen for a choccy cake you can have one, freshly made and iced, how difficult is that?

I have made this cake over and over again, for school fetes, for birthdays, anniversaries, sales-of-work, charity sales etc, etc; so when new neighbours moved into the house next door at the weekend, what could be a more perfect welcome presentation than a chocolate cake and a bottle of champers!


Grease and base line 2 x 18cm sponge tins
Pre-heat oven to 180°C

115g caster sugar
115g soft margarine

115g self-raising flour
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder

3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules

4 tablespoons hot water

Put the flour, sugar, margarine, both eggs and the baking powder together in a mixing bowl.
In a cup mix together the cocoa, coffee and hot water so they become a sloppy paste.
Add the cocoa mix to the other ingredients in the mixing bowl.
Beat all together with an electric mixer for a minute or so until they are well mixed and of a soft dropping consistency.
Divide the cake mix evenly between the two prepared tins, spreading it out so the edges are slightly higher than the centre.
Rap each tin on the work surface to remove any large air bubbles, and then bake on the centre shelf of the preheated oven for between 18 -25 minutes until the cakes are shrinking from the sides of the tins, and the centre is firm and slightly springy to touch.
Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack whilst making the icing.


85g icing sugar 30g cocoa powder
55g caster sugar 45g soft margarine 2 tablespoons water

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder together into a bowl.
Put the caster sugar, margarine and water together into a small saucepan, and heat until the sugar is dissolved and the margarine is melted, then bring to a boil, boil for a minute and remove from the heat.
Pour the margarine, sugar, water mixture onto the icing sugar and stir together and then beat hard until smooth and beginning to thicken.

Place one of the cakes on a serving plate (upper side downward) and spread icing over it. Cover with the second cake, and spread the remaining icing evenly over the top. If the icing is firming up too rapidly, dip a knife in hot water and use that to spread it smoothly. Decorate as wished.

Saturday, May 12, 2007



“I’m promiscuous when it comes to bookstores.” is the first sentence of one chapter of The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee, and that sentence describes me, and no doubt thousands of other incurable readers. This is a wonderful little book, a memoir of Buzbee’s life as a reader, and of his career in the independent book trade; and a fascinating history of bookshops, publishing and the book itself, from ancient times up to the present day with online book selling and downloadable e-books.

It is beautifully produced, a small hardback, printed on good paper in a comfortable-to-read typeface (something that matters more and more to me as I get older and my eyes take the strain). It is full of snippets of information one of which is that if you start reading a book a week from the age of five, and continue doing so until you are 80, you will only have read a total of 3900 books. As there are close to 200,000 new books published each year in the UK alone, even a voracious reader will be scarcely scratching the surface.

When he writes about browsing bookstores on holidays, on business trips, in airports and anywhere else he goes, I kept thinking “ but that’s me! that’s me!”. My daughter used to dread going on shopping trips with me, as if we passed a bookshop I would gravitate towards it as though pulled by a magnet whilst she tried to tug me away; and if I crossed the threshold the rest of the shopping trip would be lost.

One of the quotes Buzbee gives in the book is from Italo Calvino’s book “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller” which perfectly sums up how many books there are for the committed reader to choose from in a good bookshop:

Books You Haven’t Read…the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made for Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written…the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered…the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too.

This is a book that all bibliomaniacs would enjoy; and I can't think of a better gift to give a book loving friend.

Rated 4.5*

In theory the United Nations is a good idea, in practice it just lurches from one failing initiative to another. A talking shop that has achieved very little over the years, it has soaked up squillions of dollars from all the member countries and acted as a soap-box for tin-pot dictators of banana republics to strut their stuff.

Today I learnt that the UN Committee on Sustainable Development is to be chaired by Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister Francis Nheme.
Says everything there is to say about what is wrong with the UN doesn’t it?

Zimbabwe! god in heaven, what is the UN thinking of? Certainly not sustainable development. Zimbabwe is now in such a parlous state that it has started rationing electricity, inflation is over 2000% and people are starving. What do they know of sustainable development ?? – nothing, zip, zero; what the Zimbabwean government (aka Robert Mugabe and henchmen) do know is how to bring a wealthy country with everything going for it to its knees. Maybe that is the message the new Chairperson of the UN Committee is keen to promulgate. The UN is now a complete joke. Let’s stop supporting it until it grows up and gets its head straight.


Of all the recipes I have been asked for over the years, this one has been consistantly in the top five. Strange really as it is for a "side" dish to accompany other things, and it is a vegetable that is not always popular. However even very, very picky four year olds who normally refuse to let anything green cross their lips have been known to eat second helpings of this. It freezes well, which is also a bonus. To turn it into a quick supper or lunch dish, take a shallow gratin dish of this puree, heat it in the oven or microwave, and then make a couple of depressions in it with a spoon, break an egg into each depression before returning the dish to the oven and bake until the egg is cooked.


Serves 6

1 kg broccoli (approx 4 ‘heads’), trimmed and cut into florets, including stems.
¾ cup crème fraiche
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan
A generous grating of nutmeg – equal to ½ teaspoon
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste

Prepare the broccoli, and then drop into a large pan of boiling salted water. Cook until just tender, approx 8 minutes. Drain well.
Transfer the broccoli to a food processor. Add the crème fraiche, and pureè thoroughly.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C.

Transfer the broccoli pureè into a bowl and stir in the Parmesan, nutmeg, pepper and salt to taste. Mix well.
Mound the pureè in an ovenproof serving dish, dot with butter and bake in the pre-heated oven for 25 minutes until steaming hot.

You can prepare this all in advance until the point where it goes in the oven, then you can either freeze it, or just cover with cling-film and pop it in the fridge until you are ready to bake it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007



When 'The Year of Magical Thinking' by Joan Didion was chosen for this month's bookgroup reading I must admit my heart sank. All I knew about the book was that it was about the year following the sudden death of her husband, and about how she coped with the grief - not, you will admit, the subject most likely to cheer a reader. So I decided to grit my teeth and get it over with, borrowed the book from Highgate Lit & Sci, and started reading....and I am SO pleased it was selected. I can't think of when I last read a book which was so rewarding . Joan Didion is an author with considerable reputation in the USA and reading this book one can understand why. Beautifully written, her prose is simple and elegant, and conveys her thoughts and emotions with incredible clarity. The book is NOT a "downer" at all, in fact it is remarkably life-affirming.
On the evening of December 30th 2003 , Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne (to whom she had been married for over 40 years) returned to their New York apartment after spending time at the ICU of the hospital where their only daughter was gravely ill and in a coma. Whilst Joan was preparing their supper her husband had a massive heart attack and died. As she says at the beginning of the book: "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends."
For a year after his death, and whilst dealing with the ongoing anxiety of her daughter's situation, she struggles to understand what death is, how we deal with it, how she grieved, how society deals with the bereaved, and how what she refers to as the "vortex" of memory keeps making her react in ways she hadn't expected. In effect, she thinks that grief makes one slightly deranged, one's judgement and thought processes twisted into strange shapes.
At the same time, the book is the portrait of a marriage; a long, close marriage, which she had not expected to end so suddenly. Not just a married couple, she and her husband had been colleagues and collaborators working from their home, often on joint projects, bouncing ideas off one another, seeking advice and approval from each other for their work. At one point she says she entered their apartment and wanted to ask his opinion on what she should do about his death, a curious moebus loop of thinking. As she suffers from the "unending absence" of her husband she realises how other people see her as getting old, whereas he never did, he always saw her as the person she was when they married, and that kept her feeling young.
The book has made me consider how I have been when with friends who have been bereaved, and I think I must approach things rather differently than I have done.
I have now bought my own copy of the book, and another two copies which I have given to friends. This is a book that all adults should read - we are certain of few things in this world, but death is the one thing that is certain, deaths of family and friends as well as our own
deaths, and we need to consider how we perceive it more carefully, Joan Didion has helped me do that.
Rated 5*

As soon as some bright spark in this bloody government gets an idea in their pea-sized brain they rush to have it implemented.
Today, we are the recipients of just such a hasty, ill-considered act.
Today we have a new ministry - The Ministry for Justice.
This new ministry has come into being without any Parliamentary debate, and with what seems very inadequate consultation with the various interested parties. The Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer (who is Blair's ex-flatmate and legal chum) told the Constitutional Committee of the House of Lords that in principle it was constitutionally acceptable.
if you say so,that's alright then.
Just deciding within a couple of months to make major changes to one of the great departments of State, without any democratic scrutiny, and without various serious questions of implementation having been resolved is both worrying and yet typical of this government. What will be the relationship between this new ministry and the courts ? how will bugeting
for the costs of the court systems be kept separate from the political idiology of the government? where are the checks and balances which will keep the judiciary independent of the politicians?
I am but a humble little plankton in the choppy waters of the ocean that is our criminal justice system, but I knew my anxieties about the speed with which this new Ministry has come into being were justified when no less a dignitary than the Lord Chief Justice of
England and Wales, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers said:
"The Ministry of Justice has come into being today. The judiciary consider that the creation of a new Ministry of Justice raises important issues of principle; these have been communicated repeatedly to the Lord Chancellor since January 2007 and are summarised in the judicial position paper of 29 March 2007. A working group composed of senior judges and senior Government officials has been meeting since 21 March 2007 to discuss the issues with the aim of putting in place constitutional safeguards to protect the independence of the judiciary and the proper administration of justice. " and continued to say:
"We have not yet reached agreement on a way forward. We will continue with our discussions with the Government in our attempt to resolve the important issues of principle that remain."
Troubled times lie ahead.


Cape Town has an enviable and unique culinary history, many of the dishes that define South Africa are from the Cape Malay repertoire particularly bobotie, sosaties, koeksusters, smoorsnoek, and of course bredies.

A bredie (bredie is pronounced “bree-dee” not “bread – ee”) is basically lamb and a single variety of vegetable stewed very slowly together, but that doesn’t really describe it at all. The famous South African gastronome Louis Leipoldt wrote the most perfect definition of a bredie: “….a combination of meat and vegetables so intimately stewed that the flesh is thoroughly impregnated with the vegetable flavour while the vegetables have benefited from the meat fluids…neither dominates but both combine to make a delectable whole that is a triumph of co-operative achievement.”

You can make bredies with most vegetables but the most common are Tomato Bredie, Waterbloometje Bredie, Green-bean Bredie and Pumpkin Bredie. Bredies are always served with rice, and are always better eaten the day after you have made them. They are a wonderfully homely and ideal for feeding a large family relatively inexpensively.

Cass (Cashifa) Abrahams is the doyenne of Cape Malay cooking, and runs a famous restaurant at a very larny hotel in Constantia. I adapted this bredie recipe from one she gives in her book ‘The Culture & Cuisine of the Cape Malays’ but have used butternut squash rather than pumpkin as I prefer it. I have also included some dry white wine which of course no Muslim cook would ever do, so you can just use plain water if you prefer.


Serves 6

2 large onions, roughly chopped
1 cup water
3 Tablespoons cooking oil (not olive oil)
6 whole Allspice berries
2 large Cinnamon sticks
8 cloves
A piece of green ginger the size of your thumb, peeled and crushed
5 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 large red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
2 Kg Butternut, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 Kg lamb or mutton cut into large chunks
½ glass dry white wine
Salt and Pepper

Chopped fresh coriander leaves to garnish

Put the chopped onion, cinnamon sticks, allspice and cloves into a big flameproof casserole. Add the cup of water, bring to the boil and simmer, stirring regularly, until virtually all the water has been absorbed by the onion and spices. Then add the oil, and cook gently until the onion is golden; add the lamb, garlic, ginger, chilli and turn the heat up to medium to brown it a little, when the meat is almost cooked add the white wine and butternut, cover with a tight fitting lid and continue to cook on a very, very low heat until the lamb and butternut are almost melting together, the meat practically falling apart and the butternut soft and mushy; stir from time to time to prevent the bredie from catching on the bottom of the casserole. Season to taste.

Remove from heat and leave to re-heat the following day, garnished with chopped coriander. Serve with boiled rice.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

CAST NE'ER A CLOUT TIL MAY BE OUT so the old saying has it - well the hawthorn blossom has been well and truly out for ages, in fact those Darling Buds of May have bloomed and gone, along with my Irises, and some of my roses too....what will be left to bloom come the summer?


I’m a huge fan of Anne Tyler, so when a friend lent me a copy of her latest (her 17th) novel: Digging to America, it didn’t join the teetering pile of books waiting to be read, I dived in straight away. I wasn’t disappointed.

In 1997 two very different families meet at Baltimore airport. The Donaldsons are very much the quintessential middle American couple, and the Yazdans are Iranian-Americans. Both families are at the airport to receive their newly adopted baby daughters who are arriving from South Korea, and from this unlikely start, a strong friendship begins between them. Bitsy Donaldson is the earth mother type, a former yoga teacher and weaver, she is very sure of herself and how to bring up her new daughter. She and her husband retain the child’s Korean name Jin-Ho, dress her in Korean clothes on high days and holidays, read her Korean folk tales, Bitsy is determined to be culturally sensitive at all costs. Sami and Ziba Yazdan on the other hand are first generation born Iranian-Americans, they instantly change their daughter’s name to Susan, and do all they can to get her to be assimilated as a true American.

On the first anniversary of the babies’ arrival Bitsy throws an “Arrival Party” complete with a cake iced to look like the Stars and Stripes, a video of the scene at the airport, and a jolly anthem. The Yazdans are of course invited to the party as Jin Ho and Susan arrived on the same plane. The following year it is the Yazdans who hold the “Arrival Party” with the same video and song and a vast buffet of Iranian food. From then on, the two families host the party on alternate years as the girls grow up, and the description of the parties serves to point out how the Yazdan’s are becoming more and more American even as Bitsy is trying to keep her daughter culturally separate. As the book progresses, the main character emerges almost from the sidelines, Maryam Yazdan, the mother of Sami and adopted grandmother to Susan. Even after 35 years as an American citizen she feels herself to be an outsider, and stands aloof observing the cultural dislocation of the Iranians, and both admiring and being repelled by contemporary American life.

Lighter in tone than some of Tyler’s previous novels, it is a wonderful dissection of identity, both national and personal, and an often hilarious take on suburban middle America.

It was only after finishing the book that I discovered that Anne Tyler’s late husband was Iranian, and from him and his family she must have gained the insight into the yawning gaps that lie between the two cultures, just waiting to trip the unwary.

Rated 4.5*


What do all these pictures have in common? And why would the dreaded gauleiters of Dorset County Council's Trading Standards Department be on the case of one of them? No idea? Here's a clue. There are NO Shepherds used in the making of Shepherd's Pie.
There are NO 'dicks' - spotted or otherwise - used in the making of Spotted Dick.
There are NO toads used in the making of Toad-in-the-Hole.
We are all used to funny peculiar names for certain foods, they are part of our culinary tradition and we don't expect the name of the food to be an exact list of the actual
ingredients. We are not fools. Recently Val Temple who has run the Sgt Bub Bakery in Weymouth for almost 30 years was paid a visit by the local Trading Standards Inspectors who said that "someone" had made a complaint that the names of the cakes didn't relate to what was in them. What, you mean they had really thought that the Robin tarts, the Pig Tarts, (just like her Froggie tart pictured here) contained Robin and pork and that the Paradise Slice came from Paradise? Oh what baloney, I don't believe anyone complained at all, I think this was just some under-employed, thick as pig-shit, meddlesome little jobsworth in the Trading Standards department causing trouble.
Ivan Hancock, the county's trading standards manager, said: "The fact is that food needs to be properly described so that the consumer can tell what it is."
Oh, that's consumers from Outer Mongolia or Mars is it? the rest of us know fine well that when we buy a little jam sponge tart iced with the picture of a robin redabreast and called - logically - Robin Tart, that it has no real robins in it. Presumably if it DID have robins in it the Trading Standards w***kers would be satisfied, but then the Royal Society for the Protection
of Birds would be breathing down Mrs Temples neck before she could sing "Rockin' robin, tweet, tweet."
Don't these people (paid for by the great British public by the way) have better things to do, like sort out dodgy car dealers, Nigerian scamsters, and crooks selling counterfeit perfume? Renaming cakes at reputable local bakery is just ludicrous.
I bet they'll be round at the local Indian take-away having words about Bombay Duck in a day or two.


At this time of year the strawberries which are piled up in the supermarkets are all from abroad, and don't have the flavour that makes you want to eat them unadorned, however
they are ideal with other ingredients.
I had 10 for dinner last Saturday, and having seen some rather large Spanish strawberries (which were reduced in price) and the tail end of the fresh rhubarb, I decided to combine them in these individual tarts. Strawberries and rhubarb are a combination made in heaven; when I was first married, my late M-i-L told me her tip of adding a couple of tablespoons of strawberry jam to rhubarb when stewing it or making crumble - deeelish!
I originally spotted this recipe in an execellent food blog called Joy of Baking, and tried it out on the family who gave it the thumbs-up.


Makes 8 individual tarts

400g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 rounded tablespoon caster sugar
230g chilled butter cut into pieces
60ml cold water

500g rhubarb (only use the really pink/red sticks of rhubarb)
500g strawberries
50g plain flour
200g granulated sugar

Pulse the flour, salt and butter together in a food processor until it looks like white breadcrumbs (this only takes seconds, don’t overdo it). Add the sugar and whiz together briefly. With machine running add the water and process until it forms a smooth ball of pastry. Wrap in greaseproof paper and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. If you want, you can make the pastry the previous day to save time.

Wipe the sticks of rhubarb and cut off the green ends of the sticks; then cut into 2cm pieces. Hull the strawberries and if they are large cut them up so they are similar in size to the rhubarb. Mix together the flour and sugar. In a large bowl mix the rhubarb and strawberry pieces and then the flour+sugar mix; make sure all the pieces of fruit are well coated.

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C

Take the chilled pastry and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece out to form a circle approx 18cms in diameter. Trim the edges. Line two baking trays with baking parchement. One by one place the pastry circles on the baking trays, filling each one with about ½ cup of the fruit mix which you spread out to within 4-5 cms of the edge and then fold the pastry up around the filling, pleating and pinching it together but leaving the central part of the tart open.
Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown and the filling is soft and bubbling.
Remove from the oven onto a wire rack. Serve at room temperature or very slightly warm, with either some crème fraiche or a scoop of vanilla icecream.