Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"TO PRESERVE ONE'S HEALTH BY TOO STRICT A REGIME IS IN ITSELF A TEDIOUS MALADY" Duc de la Rochefoucauld - my view on diets and dieting in a nutshell!


Mark Gimenez is a former Dallas attorney who has just written his first book, The Colour of Law. As you might expect, given his background, it is a legal thriller very much in the John Grisham mould, and it’s a terrific debut. It opens with a bang and keeps up a cracking pace throughout.
The hero is one A.Scott Fenney, a young,
good-looking, and extremely successful lawyer who is partner in one of the top firms in Dallas. Married, with a nine year old daughter on whom he dotes, he is living the good life with a mansion in one of Dallas’s most exclusive (all white) suburbs, drives a Ferrari, and is on trajectory to become president of the State Bar of Texas.
Everything goes horribly wrong when a Federal Judge appoints him as the pro-bono defender of a heroin addicted prostitute who is accused of murder; the victim is the son of a local Senator who is about to run for the US Presidency. Against the wishes of his senior partner, and Senator McCall, Fenney does not refuse to take on the case, even though he actually believes that Shawanda did kill Clark McCall. He discovers that Shawanda has a nine year old daughter of her own who has been left alone whilst her mother is in jail awaiting her trial. Fenney decides to take the little girl, Pajamae, home to live with his own daughter for the duration of proceedings. This act has enormous repercussions, but the two little girls become firm friends; their belief in Fenney’s ability to clear Pajamae’s mother from the crime of which she is accused influences his actions, even though his whole life starts to unravel very rapidly as a result, and he loses just about all the trappings of success which he has worked so hard to achieve.

Gimenez is at his best when he is describing the Dallas law scene, and the methods lawyers use to shore up powerful and wealthy clients. Some aspects of the plot were very unlikely, but none-the-less it had several intriguing twists and turns, and kept me turning the pages even though the final denouement was signalled early on in the book. Gimenez is obviously a huge fan of Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, and refers to it many times and he makes several clumsy attempts to parallel his story with Lee’s seminal work. After Shawanda’s trial for murder is resolved, there is an epilogue telling what subsequently happened to the various characters, and this was schmaltzy and improbable to say the least.

Despite these failings, the book is a more than creditable first novel in this genre, and I suspect we will see further legal thrillers from Mark Gimenez before long.

Rated: 3*


As I may have mentioned previously, the DH* is a Scot (frae Aberdeen to be precise), and ever since he was a wee boy (boys are never small or young in Scotland, they are always wee – don’t ask me why, I’m from Africa) he has worn the kilt, at school, on high days, holidays and to all black-tie events. And with the kilt goes all the other paraphernalia, sporran, skean dhu, kilt pin…… you get the picture. Now he may have a problem.

The “wee pretendy parliament”, as Billy Connelly has dubbed the Scottish Legislature, has taken leave of its senses and passed legislation requiring sporran wearers to have a licence for the fur on their sporrans. I kid you not.

There will be a £5000 fine and six months in prison if you fall foul of the law and the sporran will be seized if no licence is produced when police demand to see it. Jings! What’s going to happen when HM the Queen is up in Scotland, all “her” Scottish regiments who provide guards of honour wear kilts and sporrans – will there be mass arrests? Will Taggart be after Sean Connery and David Steel ?

There is a good Scots word for this new regulation: ‘daft’.

Oh yes, and those who like fishing may have a problem too; the same piece of legislation covers fishing flies if they have been tied with scraps of hair or fur. Honest to god you couldn’t make this up.

What the f***k do these loonies at Holyrood think they are doing – surely there are more important things for them to consider.

*I think I should mention that this picture is NOT of my DH.


Making salad the other evening I had a sudden craving for blue cheese dressing. It is wonderful stuff, and a million times better than anything you can buy in a bottle. With a few croutons thrown in, it elevates the ubiquitous Iceberg lettuce into something rather special, so next time you have the tail end of some blue cheese lurking in your fridge, give it a go.


50g blue cheese, crumbled
2½ tablespoons salad oil (I use sunflower)
2½ tablespoons mayonnaise
1 large clove garlic (or 2 if you like your dressing garlicky)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon English mustard powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1 carton (140ml) sour cream

Crush the garlic through a garlic press into a bowl, and mash it together with the salt. Add the mustard powder, vinegar and lemon juice and mix well together with the oil and the blue cheese. In another bowl mix the mayonnaise and sour cream together then stir them into the cheese dressing mixture. Whisk everything together until the dressing has a creamy consistency.

Sunday, June 24, 2007



When I was a child one of the books I absolutely loved was “A Little Princess” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, of course I read and loved “The Secret Garden” too, but “A Little Princess” was my favourite. It wasn’t till years later that I discovered that FHB was a prolific writer, and not just of children’s books. So it was with some anticipation that I finally got round to buying a copy of “The Making of a Marchioness” and I was not disappointed, it was a real treat.

The story of a well-bred but penniless woman in her thirties, Emily Fox-Seton, who against all the odds manages to win the heart and hand of a wealthy nobleman the Marquess of Walderhurst, could be called a Cinderella story, and to a certain extent so it is; but it is much more than that. It defines the obsession with and importance of class in Victorian England, the role of women in that society, and the status of marriage. Emily is not the brightest of women intellectually, but she is an innocent, a truly good, unpretentious woman, and in a venal world she triumphs because of her innocence.

The book is in two parts, indeed it was originally published as two books, the first book being “The Making of a Marchioness” and the second book being “The Methods of Lady Walderhurst”. The second part is about what happens after she has been married, and is far more melodramatic. Emily is not safe in her role. There is a villain, her husband’s heir-presumptive who has returned from a life of loose living in India, accompanied by his Anglo-Indian wife, full of rage and spite at the thought he may loose his hoped for inheritance should Emily produce a child. Captain Osborne and his wife pose a very real danger to Emily and she has to return to anonymity to protect herself from their murderous plans. The plot is not particularly complex but through the various twists and turns which lead, needless to say, to a satisfactorily happy conclusion, the reader is brought up against some quite strong themes, racism, domestic violence, duty and the Victorian way of death.

In all the books I’ve read by FHB the main character has had to struggle against unfair odds to gain their rightful place in the world, together with all the material trappings which she considered so essential (including an engagement ring with a ruby “the size of a trouser button”!), and that is what makes them so popular I think. They are aspirational fairy-tales.

Apparently this was Nancy Mitford’s all time favourite book, and I can see why. It is about a world she would have understood only too well, and there are echoes of 'The Making of a Marchioness' in her books ‘The Pursuit of Love’ and ‘Love in a Cold Climate’.

The edition I have was published by Persephone Books – one of my favourite independent publishers- and has the benefit of an excellent introduction by Isabel Raphael, and an afterword by Gretchen Gerzina who has written Frances Hodgson Burnett’s biography.

This is very much a feel-good, comfort read, and I do recommend it to you.

Rated: 5*


What an EGGstrordinary EGGregious decision by the BACC that a 50 year-old, black-and-white advertisement for eggs featuring the late lamented comedian Tony Hancock cannot be re-shown on TV.

The advert shows Hancock having a boiled egg for breakfast, and the catch-phrase – written by Fay Weldon, who is now a famous author – was “Go to Work on an Egg”. Succinct wording with a subtle double meaning made it a classic. According to a BACC spokes-idiot the advert must not be screened because:

"The concept of eating eggs every day for breakfast goes against what is now the generally accepted advice of a varied diet and we therefore could not approve the ads for broadcast."

For pity’s sake! We all KNOW that you shouldn’t limit your diet to one single food – and no one in their right mind would subsist on eggs alone. Anyway who would want to?? Eggs every morning could be quite boring. What about those who eat cornflakes every single morning, or drink too much instant coffee – I notice those ads are not banned.

Do these pillocks think we are all stupid ?..


Just to stick two fingers up to the health nazis, I decided to use eggs for supper this evening, LOTS of eggs. I made my own version of a British classic, Omlette Arnold Bennet. Arnold Bennet was a famous author/playwrite who spent a year living at the Savoy Hotel when writing one of his novels. He loved the smoked fish omlette the chef made and demanded it so often that it was named after him; the true original recipe calls for a spoonful of bechamel sauce and a spoonful of hollandaise in addition to the other ingredients, but not having a large hotel kitchen at my disposal I have dispensed with those and made a version which is not quite as rich. The DH loves it, and it makes a filling meal for one, or a starter for two.


125g smoked haddock (about 2 fillets)
1 bayleaf
1½ tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
4 large eggs

2 tablespoons crème fraiche
1 tablespoon double cream
Butter for cooking
Salt and pepper

Put the haddock fillets in a shallow microwaveable dish and pour in just enough milk to cover them, add the bayleaf. Cover dish and cook on high in microwave for 3 minutes.

Remove fish from poaching liquid, and break into large flakes, mix the crème fraiche with the flaked fish and put to one side.

Separate one egg and beat the white to soft peak stage. Add the yolk to the 3 remaining eggs in a bowl, add a splash of water and beat till fluffy. Season with black pepper. Don’t add salt as the smoked haddock is quite salty. Fold the egg white gently into the egg mixture.

Pre-heat the grill.

Heat a small frying pan and melt a knob of butter in it- swirl round so the butter coats the base of the pan and then gently tip the egg into the pan. Use a palette knife to draw the edges of the omelette towards the centre of the pan, and then gently spread the fish mixture over it. When it is almost set pour the double cream over the top and sprinkle the parmesan on top. Place the whole pan under the grill for 3-4 minutes until the omelette is puffed up and golden brown.

Carefully slide it onto a plate without folding it.

Crusty brown bread and butter is wonderful with this.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007



I have just finished a highly praised graphic memoir Epileptic by David B. lent to me by my daughter. It was originally published in
France under the title ‘L’Asension du Haut-Mal’.

Born Pierre-Francois Beauchard, David B. grew up in a small town near Orleans. He was the middle son in a family of three children, and they all had a happy normal childhood until his older brother Jean-Christophe developed epilepsy at the age of eleven. . His brother’s condition had a profound effect on David and his whole family. In fact you could say that they were all suffering from epilepsy. The conventional medical treatments at the time failed to contain his brother’s illness, and desperate for a cure their parents dragged the children round France, from macrobiotic communes to acupuncturists, from Swedenborgian mediums to magnetic therapists. Each new ‘therapy’ was seized on with hope and a determination to follow it to the letter. The drawings are very dark, mysterious and sometimes violent. He depicts his brother’s illness as a Mayan-style dragon/snake which has him in its clutches and which must be fought to the death, and also as a mountain that Jean-Christophe has to climb He explores his family history and the profound effect the death of his grandfather had on himself and his mother. As the years go by and David grows up, he finds he cannot separate himself from his brother and his illness however hard he tries, and he starts really seeing the physical and mental toll that epilepsy has taken on Jean-Christophe, how he is now really intellectually damaged by the condition, bloated from medication, his body and head scarred from the numerous falls when he has seizures.

I found the whole book a disturbing read, and was often tempted to turn two or three pages at a time to avoid some of the images, if this were the first graphic novel I had read, I might well have been discouraged from reading any others as it is very dark and at times depressing. However it did make me think hard about how a whole family suffers when one member has a serious illness, and the way that siblings of a sick child are frequently sidelined by parents who are stretched to breaking point coping with the situation. The book also made me much more aware of the stigmatism of epilepsy, the lack of public awareness or understanding - attitudes which I suspect are much the same now as they were when David B. was growing up.

Critics of the "graphic novel" as a form of literature often imply that they are merely "comic books", a simplistic story with lots of pictures which just illustrate the words. In fact a true graphic novel (and there are many wonderful ones, Maus by Art Spiegelman and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi to name but two) does much more than that. The emotions and ideas of the writer/artist are often expressed visually and not in the text, so everything melds together melds together to provide something that is more complete than either the words or pictures could do on their own.


Salman Rushdie is not my favourite author. He is not even on my top ten list of favourite authors. I have read three of his books, and each time I felt as though I was eating too much very rich fruitcake. The patterns of words got in between me and the story he was telling. Nevertheless, I believe that all authors should be free to write what they want in their fiction however much some people may dislike it, and I think Britain was absolutely correct to protect him against the fatwa issued against him when his book “The Satanic Verses” was published back in 1989. Most of the ‘outraged’ Muslims who indulged in book-burning and frenzied rhetoric at the time had never even read the damn book in the first place.

Now the whole bloody brouhaha has erupted again because Rushdie has been given a knighthood in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours. Pakistan’s politicians and mullahs have been particularly vociferous; the Pakistani parliament passed a unanimous resolution deploring the honour as an insult to Muslims. The religious affairs minister, Mohammad Ejaz-ul-Haq, went even further. He is quoted as saying said: "The West always wonders about the root cause of terrorism. Such actions are the root cause of it. If someone commits suicide bombing to protect the honour of the Prophet Mohammed, his act is justified." What an appalling statement. This is near as dammit an incitement to murder British citizens.

We Britons are giving Pakistan some £480 million in Development Aid over the next 3 years. If their government don’t like us honouring one of our own citizens, and threaten us with terrorist acts, perhaps they would like to send the money back? If not, they should just stop this dangerous posturing, they are biting the hand that feeds them.


Yesterday I was reading something about ancient Rome and it got me thinking about what the Romans ate. After all, this was long before the discovery of the New World with all the fruits and vegetables that have come from there. So, no maize, no tomatoes, no potatoes....therefore no pizza toppings, tomato sauces, potato gnocci and probably no pasta either. What little I know of the Roman diet can be boiled down to half a dozen ingredients - spelt (grain and flour), honey, various herbs (mint being particularly popular), dormice(!!), and garum (a liquid made from fermenting fish heads and innards in water and vinegar).

I had de-frosted some lamb steaks for dinner and decided to experiment and attempt a dish that could have been eaten in Ancient Rome. Not having any garum, I decided that Thai Fish Sauce (Nam Pla) was probably the nearest modern equivalent. It was a great success, so without further ado Ladies and Gentlemen I give you:


4 lamb steaks – or 4 thick meaty lamb chops
2 tablespoons clear honey
2 tablespoons of fresh mint, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
Freshly ground black pepper

Mix the honey, fish sauce and fresh mint together, season with a good grinding of pepper (I did not use any salt as the fish sauce is quite salty enough). Place the steaks side by side in a shallow oven proof dish and brush half the honey mix over them. Turn them over and brush the remainder of the honey mix over the other side. You can now leave the steaks in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

Pre-heat the oven to190°C. put the uncovered dish into the hot oven and cook for 10-15 minutes. Open the oven and turn the steaks then continue to cook for a further 10-15 mins. Remove from oven and serve on hot plates with vegetables of your choice, or with a mixed salad. (Last night we had these with fine green beans mixed with fresh broad beans, and some Jersey Royal new potatoes.)


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Margaret Mead

I'm slowly but steadily reading all the books that were on the Booker Prize shortlist last year, and have just finished Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland.

John Egan is an intense, rather solitary 11 year old boy who firmly believes he is a Human Lie Detector. John is a big lad whose physical development is ahead of his peers, he looks older than he really is which gives him problems; he is on the cusp of adolescence and beginning to have feelings he doesn’t really understand and certainly can’t articulate.

An only child, he lives with his parents in his paternal grandmother’s cottage in the Irish countryside because his father doesn’t have a job, there is some sort of family face-saving belief that his father is studying to get a place at Trinity College in Dublin and the relationship between John’s parents is extremely fragile, his father is prone to bouts of violence and his mother with whom he has a close relationship is sinking into depression. John longs to be special, famous and wealthy and thinks that he will achieve this as a result of his ‘gift’, his goal is to be in The Guinness Book of Records; he spends much of his time analysing what other people say and judges them extremely harshly if he thinks they are lying about something. He has an over developed and simplistic reverence for ‘the truth’ In fact, an insistence on ‘truth’ in all circumstances can be just as corrosive and damaging as lies and John has failed to grasp this. He cannot understand how people, families and societies bend the truth regularly to maintain relationships and social order, partly because he still emotionally very young, and partly because he seems almost Asperger’s-like in his reactions to people and situations. This is particularly evident in the second half of the book when John and his parents return to Dublin and live in a council flat in a high-rise block on a sink estate. Hyland paints a bleak picture of this family, and I felt uneasy about how life would be for someone like John, unwittingly damaged by parents who love him.

Rated: 3*


Risk assessments are all the rage these days. Everyone who is anyone is expected to carry out a risk assessment before they do anything. Teachers, building contractors, car repair mechanics, Scout/Guide leaders, expectant mothers in the workplace, you name it they all have to do them….and the latest batch of people who have to follow these bureaucratic dictats are Churchwardens.

Ruth Kelly’s Department for Communities and Local Government are very concerned that church congregations might be cremated accidentally if there were a conflagration during Evensong. In a new booklet issued by her department which outlines the recently implemented 2005 Fire Safety Order, churches and cathedrals are ordered to carry out a risk assessment and appoint a responsible figure in charge of fire safety. And what exactly is their advice? - it is that Churchwardens should all carry a large whistle (like a football referee) and conduct fire drills during services to time how long it takes to get the congregation to exit the building. Frankly I think this is the last thing that some churches need, they have enough difficulty getting anyone to enter the building to attend services in the first place.

Churchwardens are sensible folk on the whole, and I don’t think they need whistles or government advice when it comes to the best interests and safety of their fellow worshippers.

Maybe Ruth Kelly should re-acquaint herself with Psalm 91: “Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day;” which sums it up nicely.


We've all had those moments when we can't think what to serve for supper, nothing has been prepared in advance, time is short, you're feeling tired and yet there is a hungry family to feed. Today was such a moment for me and so I went for one of my old faithful standby dishes which I call Fridge Frittata. Classic frittatas are usually made with a single type of vegetable but for this dish I use whatever is available in the fridge at the time. Today I had one red pepper, half a celery heart, a cup and a half of frozen petit pois, and some rashers of bacon which I cut into small strips; but I could have used just about any combination of vegetables, I could have added some cheese, or herbs. Whatever takes your fancy really, and a great way of using up left-overs.
Speaking of which, doesn't the term "left-overs" sound horribly unappealing? The French term is "Les Restes" which sounds MUCH more appetising!


2 eggs per person plus 2 for the pan, lightly beaten
Salt & Pepper

Olive oil

Frittata filling:

1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced
2- 3 cups of any vegetable or combination of vegetables- eg: one red pepper, de-seeded and cut into small strips, celery cut into fine slices, cooked broccoli or asparagus cut into pieces, petit pois, a large potato par-boiled and cut into small cubes, finely sliced mushrooms, one or two courgettes, halved and sliced , lardons, left-over ham, chorizo or cooked sausage cut into cubes, Left-over cooked pasta, cubed or coursely grated cheese....what ever you can find in the fridge.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sized frying pan and sauté the onion. If you are using lardons or other uncooked meat such as chorizo, add it to the pan now; when the onion is translucent and beginning to colour add any other raw vegetables and continue cooking for a few minutes till they are tender. If using cooked vegetables, ham or frozen peas add them at this stage. You may need to drizzle a little more olive oil over the vegetables before you pour the beaten eggs over the vegetables in the frying pan. Use a wooden spatula to push the sides of the frittata into the middle. Turn the heat down to medium-low and let the frittata cook for a few minutes until you can see that the edges are cooked but the centre is still runny. Whilst that is happening, pre- heat your oven grill.

Place the whole frying pan under the grill for 4-5 minutes so that the centre cooks right through.

Remove pan from grill. Loosen edges of the frittata with a knife or spatula, and then place a large serving plate upside-down over the frying pan. Holding the plate firmly onto the pan carefully invert it so that the frittata turns out onto the plate.

This is good hot, warm or cold with salad. Left-overs (if there are any) are delicious as a sandwich filling for packed lunch.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


Charlotte Wilton - 1963


About a year ago a friend who lives in France recommended ‘Hunting and Gathering‘ by Anna Gavalda to me, I wrote down the details and promptly lost the piece of paper I’d noted them on. Typical. So it was with whoops of delight that I spotted a copy on another girlfriend’s kitchen table and shamelessly asked to borrow it immediately.

It is a delightful book, tender, wistful, and funny, and concerns the lives of four misfits in French society whose lives become entwined. Camille Fauque is a 26 year old artist who is virtually anorexic, hasn’t drawn or painted for some years and works nights as a cleaner in Parisian office blocks. Philibert Marquet de La Durbellière (aka Philou) is a shy, stuttering aristocrat with obsessive-compulsive tendencies who sells old postcards outside Parisian museums. Franck Lestafier is a feisty working-class chef who feels terrible guilt about his ability to care for his elderly grandmother who he has to put into an old people’s home. Paulette, his grandmother, becomes the fourth member of this unlikely quartet of characters, and eventually all four are living together in a vast ornate Parisian apartment which Philou is caretaking for a family trust.
A simmering sexual tension
develops between Camille and Franck, but the other two seem oblivious to it, even when the two start sleeping together. Philou has to deal with and ignore the scorn of his arrogant father, and find self- confidence in what he does and those he loves. Paulette has to come to terms with the fact that she can no longer live in her beloved house and tend the garden which has meant so much to her, and that she is slowly but steadily coming to the end of her life even though there is still much to be enjoyed on a daily basis.
Gavalda weaves all four characters into a fascinating ensemble, never sentimental or mawkish even when bringing the whole to a satisfying conclusion
In addition to characters who I really found interesting, I felt that I was getting a more realistic picture of modern France, unlike some other, usually British, writers writing about the country.

Allison Anderson has done a wonderful job translating the book into English, the language is so natural and feels so fluent that unlike some other books translated from French I completely forgot it was a translation.

I am not surprised that the book has already been turned into a movie by Claude Berri starring Audrey Tautou.

Rated 4*


I've never given a great deal of thought to the Venice Biennale; that said, I'm not a complete philistine, I draw and paint, visit museums and galleries ,and even got a distinction in History of Art at Matric many moons ago. However the Venice B has always been one of those events I've read about in the papers that has sparked mild interest for about ten seconds.

A day or two ago I read that Tracey Emin ( she of the unmade bed) was this year's British entry into this prestigious (pretentious?) modern art festival . Oh fine, quite interesting, so what.

Today I discovered that we, the British Taxpayers, have paid £250,000 for her work for this show. Hells bells, thats a lot of dosh for stuff that we won't even own at the end of the whole shebang.

According to The Times: "The British taxpayer has paid £250,000 for the show, staged by the British Council. But profits from any works sold, for between £12,000 and £325,000, will go to the artist and her dealer, Jay Jopling, of the White Cube. Having been chosen for the Biennale her prices will rise dramatically."

If we were show-casing unknown artists who required funding to have the honour of representing the country at one of the world's most celebrated art festivals I would probably say "fine, lets go for it". However I'm not so sure I feel fine about funding one of our most financially successful modern artists to do the same, knowing she will make a whole lot of extra money for herself out of it into the bargain - and the British taxpayer gets what?......

oh alright then, obviously I AM a philistine.


Cold soups are not everybody's cup of tea ( if you will excuse a mixed metaphor). Personally I can take 'em or leave 'em - with two honourable exceptions which are so delicious I can never resist - Gazpacho and Vichysoisse. Vichysoisse was the first cold soup I ever tasted; my mother used to make it regularly as a dinner party starter - and in the heat of central Africa it was always a winner. Cool, velvety, palest green with a subtle swirl of cream and a few freshly chopped chives, it was - and is - elegance personified.
I vaguely remember being told by Mum that it was an American soup, but never paid much attention. The name sounds so French that I'm sure many people think it is a classic French recipe. But Mum was correct, it IS an American soup; Louis Diat the Chef at the Ritz Carlton in New York invented it in the 1920s and called it Crème Vichysoisse Glacée. Basically it is a sieved leek and potato soup, thinned down with cream and given a garnish of chives. Diat named it in honour of the spa town in the Auvergne close to his original family home in France.


Serves 6

1 litre chicken stock
4 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and finely sliced

6 spring onions, cleaned, trimmed and finely sliced

500g potatoes, peeled and finely diced (if you can use Jersey Royals, so much the better)

Salt and pepper

280 ml milk

280 ml double cream

Chives for garnish, plus a little extra cream.

Put the leeks, spring onions and chicken stock into a large pan and simmer together for 15-20 minutes; then add the diced potato and salt and pepper. Cook for a further 20 minutes until the potato is soft. Use a hand blender, or liquidiser, and whiz the soup to a puree. Pass the soup through a sieve, add the milk and cream, check the seasoning and re-heat . Sieve the soup for a second time. Pour into a container and chill in the fridge until wanted - at least 4 hours.
Serve in cold bowls with a swirled teaspoon of cream and a garnish of chopped chives. If it is a very hot evening, an ice cube can also be floated in each bowl at the last moment.

This is good served with Melba Toast.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

WHAT A FORTNIGHT I'VE HAD, IT HAS BEEN FULL-ON, HENCE THE LONG DELAY IN BLOG POSTING, FOR WHICH I APOLOGISE. I've had old friends from South Africa staying with me, my DH turned 60 and I held a picnic party for him, and there has been a whole lot of new legislation which has needed training sessions. Not excusing myself - just explaining.


A week or so back I read about the Theakstons Old Peculiar Prize for Crime Novel of the Year, and flicked through the books that had made it on to the longlist. This one, Little Face by Sophie Hannah caught my eye and so I borrowed it from the local library.

Anna Fancourt goes out for a short break, leaving her two-week old daughter Florence at home with her husband. It is the first time she has been apart from her baby and when she returns she is convinced that her baby has been abducted and another baby has been left in her place. Almost hysterical with fear and confusion she insists in calling the police but when a local detective arrives to start investigating her husband is adamant that the infant is their baby and that she is delusional. Given that there is no evidence of a baby missing, and the likelihood of post-natal depression there seems to be no reason to start an investigation, but all changes a few days later when both Anna and the baby vanish. When the police realise that Simon Fancourt’s first wife was violently murdered a few years previously, they take Anna’s disappearance very seriously indeed.

Anna tells her own side of the story and in parallel the police investigation is told as a 3rd person narrative. The plot is complex with many strands and a cast of rather clichéd characters – a controlling mother and her over dependent son with his victimised wife; a police detective who has emotional problems which he sublimates in his work. However as a study of obsessive love with extremely sinister undertones the book carried me along and there is a dramatic twist at the very end which left me rather surprised.

Rated 3.5*


Why is it that folk who believe in the literal truth of the Bible are so desperate for everybody else to believe it too? Is it because they have a deep unconscious fear that their beliefs maybe built on myth so they need to reassure themselves by convincing others of the veracity of their faith?

Personally I couldn’t give a toss what they believe, but I do care when they try to make everyone conform to their way of thinking.

Last week a new museum opened; a museum which has cost $29 million for the building and exhibits. That is a lot of money and it is all to “prove” the truth of the Creation as set out in the book of Genesis, and to “disprove” the Theory of Evolution. The museum is in Tennessee -it just would be, wouldn’t it?

The people behind the development of this museum, which is mainly aimed at kids by the look of it, are an organisation called 'Answers in Genesis' or AiG. And boy do they take it upon themselves to answer some weird questions such as:Are black people the result of a curse on Ham? and Were there dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark?

I’ve some questions for them – if there were Dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark together with fleas, bushbabies, rats, cats and elephants (not to mention all the rest of the myriad of species which populate our world) how did Noah stop them all attacking each other? Who provided the appropriate foodstuffs for such a diversity of creatures ( a few bales of hay wouldn’t cut the mustard). How did Noah and Co deal with the tons of animal poo and urine that must have made the Ark very, very smelly? How did they prevent termites and other wood-boring insects from eating holes in the Ark and sinking it? Did they practice incest in order to repopulate the earth?… get my point.

It’s a lovely folk tale but it ain’t the truth. What a load of misguided fools.


Last Sunday was the DH's 60th birthday, and I decided to hold a picnic lunch on Hampstead Heath to celebrate. Typically, I got a bit carried away, and before I knew it the numbers had escalated to 80 guests - yikes! It was a situation which called for military planning, cooking industrial quantities of food, what seemed like the entire output of a small vineyard to drink plus of course a fleet of cars to transport everything there and back. I decided that the opening icebreaker would be a choice of Bucks Fizz or Bloody Mary, and started looking up proper Bloody Mary recipes in order to calculate quantities . Forgive me if I am teaching grandmothers to suck eggs, but this is what I eventually devised. This may seem a rather odd recipe as most people don't think of heating up the ingredients to make the BM mix, but believe me it makes all the difference. First though, a word of explanation. My husband is a Scot and so the picnic was an alternative Highland Games and everything had a Scottish theme, hence my adaptation of the recipe in order to make :


6-8 servings

2 Litres tomato juice

½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons ready prepared horseradish
2 teaspoons garlic puree
Freshly ground black pepper

Several hefty dashes Worcestershire Sauce
Several hefty dashes Tabasco or similar chilli sauce

2 cups vodka

½ cup whiskey

Put the vodka in the freezer to chill right down (don’t worry, it won’t freeze solid).

Combine everything except the vodka and whiskey in a large saucepan. Heat to simmering point and simmer for 5-6 minutes. Let it cool. Pour into a jug or carafe and chill in the fridge over night.

When ready to serve, add the vodka and whiskey to the BM mixture, stir well, put ice cubes into tall glasses and pour the BMQS into the glasses; garnish with wedges of lemon and a sprig of fresh Basil.

Variations on a Bloody Mary theme are:

Mexican Maria: Use Tequila not vodka and omit the whiskey

Hong Kong Mary: Add ¼ cup soy sauce and 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger and omit the whiskey