Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Billboard seen in America.


I’ve just finished reading Storyteller – the many lives of Laurens van der Post by J.D.F. Jones, and it has given me much food for thought.

When I was a child growing up in central Africa we spent several months living in Nyasaland (now Malawi) and it was there that I first heard the name Laurens van der Post. It seemed that who ever he was he had done something that made the grown ups very cross with him. When at school in Cape Town we had to read his book Venture to the Interior, I discovered what it was that had made everyone so angry, as my parents told me that he had twisted the truth about someone and exaggerated things he had done in Nyasaland when he wrote the book. I thought no more about it. In the intervening years, Laurens van der Post’s public profile grew and grew as he became internationally famous, as an expert on the Bushmen, friend of Maggie Thatcher and Prince Charles, knighted by the Queen, and then in old age, one of Prince William’s godfathers.

A conversation about LvdP that I had with a friend in South Africa earlier this year spurred me into getting hold of a copy of the only authorised biography of the man, and reading it has left me aghast. LvdP was the 12th child in an Afrikaans family and grew up in a small rural town in the Orange Free State. He started working as a reporter on a newspaper in South Africa, a job which amongst other things gave him the opportunity to visit Japan for two weeks or so. Eventually he left South Africa for England. During WW2 he was captured by the Japanese and was a prisoner of war on the island of Java for several years. He wrote extensively about the experience when the war was over, and was considered to be a real hero. Then in the early ‘50s he wrote Venture to the Interior which brought him fame and fortune, and this was followed by books about the Bushmen in the Kalahari, and other subjects. It would be tedious to recount his entire life here, suffice to say that it was a long life, and certainly an interesting one.

Most of the books he wrote were non-fiction and supposedly autobiographical and it is through his books that he came to be revered as an exceptional man, a teacher of moral and spiritual values, a great thinker who was a Jungian in his concepts of life. What is truly shocking to the reader of this biography is that, after extensive research and detailed analysis of all the letters, diaries, memories and official papers he could lay his hands on, the biographer has to tell us that at best Laurens was a fantasist and at worst a down-right liar about every aspect of his life. He twisted and embellished everything to make himself the hero, often at the expense of other people’s reputations. His supposed first hand knowledge of the Bushmen and their myths and legends was gathered in substantial part from the work of anthropologists who had published books about them towards the end of the 19th century, so a little plagiarism didn’t worry him too much either.

It seems LvdP also had a very cavalier attitude to women, and when married to his second wife he had a long term mistress to whom he was also being unfaithful with other women. What I found truly horrendous was that, when he was 46 years old he was travelling by sea from Cape Town to UK and friends of his asked if he would act in loco parentis to their 14 year old daughter who was going to ballet school in London. He agrees to do so, but on the voyage he seduced the girl and got her pregnant. Once he realised she was to have a child he sent her packing straight back to South Africa, and refused to acknowledge her child when it was born. Subsequent to his death, the whole sorry story came out, and has been admitted by his surviving family.

It is not uncommon for writers to re-invent their own histories, Patrick O’Brian did so, as did Laurie Lee, Bruce Chatwin and Richard Llewellyn, not to mention Jeffrey Archer, but they never set themselves up as moral guardians, what they wrote was fiction or fictionalised and they did not promote it as literal fact for their own aggrandisement.

What amazes me is that LvdP managed to get away with all this deception. A combination of luck and charm I guess, and the fact that he compartmentalised his friends and acquaintances. As many of the people who were interviewed for the biography said, he was the most charming man they ever met. Africa and the Bushmen were far away from most people, and most of his friends, readers and followers knew nothing of them anyway so would not be able to judge whether what he said was true or not. Every so often someone would challenge him on one point or another, but he would respond so angrily and threateningly that they would back away.

As a reader what do I expect from an author? Not necessarily truth, but I do not like deliberate deception which is quite another thing. Does it matter that LvdP's books contain so much fantasy about himself? It does to me, because in his writings he sets himself up as some sort of moral authority - and lying and moral authority are mutually exclusive.

I have also asked myself what I expect from a biographer. I expect to know a bit about the life of the subject when I have finished reading the biography, I expect the information they have gathered is true, whatever interpretation they then place on such information, and that they have not ducked thorny issues in the life of the subject.

J.D.F Jones has ducked nothing, in fact he has been almost boringly relentless in his determination to uncover every aspect of LvdPs life, and parts of the book are almost tedious in their detail, I suppose he felt that debunking such a "great" man meant he must be super careful to give chapter and verse; none the less, it is a fascinating read, especially for anyone from South Africa who has grown up on the legend of the man.

Rated 4*


I’m sure that all the psychics and fortune tellers had foretold this new piece of Consumer Protection Legislation, but the rest of us probably didn’t. Most of us think that being protected from dodgy financial advisors is a good thing, but being protected from the lady who asks you to cross her palm with silver at the local fun-fair is hardly high up the list of my major anxieties. Since last Monday, under the new legislation, all fortune tellers, psychics, mediums and spiritualist healers have now got to publish or display a disclaimer stating that their services are for “entertainment purposes only”. Well whoopee doo… we all thought that Madame Arcarti’s musings would accurately chart the rest of our lives.

Until now such practitioners have been regulated by the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951, and in the last 20 years there have only been one or two cases where someone has been prosecuted.

Do the Government not have better things to do than to criminalise ladies with multi-coloured scarves round their heads, who sit in draughty tents on fair grounds burbling on about tall dark strangers and crossing water to find our destinies?

One of my grandmothers, a respectable teacher of Latin and Greek, was much in demand at local fêtes where she read tea leaves for all and sundry and helped raise fund for various worthy causes. Most of the people who visited her to have their fortunes told were local and knew damned well she was making it up as she went along. Those that didn’t know her and believed what she had to say were naïve to say the least, and no harm was done by whatever she predicted.

I know that mediums cannot prove that what they say will come to pass, but neither can any of the established religions prove that heaven or hell actually exist, let alone whether we will go there.

We are not fools, the government doesn’t need to protect us from imagined futures.


Way back in March I joined a blog challenge called 'Soups On'. The idea is that you choose five cookbooks and write a review of each one, having made one of the recipes from the book, and then publish it on your own blog. So here goes with my first choice.
OTTOLENGHI THE COOKBOOK is very recently published here in the UK by Ebury Press, and is written by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. I'm mad about this book, the recipes are wonderful, and here is one which I have already made three times, to great acclaim. It is great for a cold buffet, but last week I served it with roast duck breast and new potatoes and it complemented them perfectly.


Serves 6

400g French beans
400g mangetout
70g unskinned hazelnuts

1 orange
20g chives, roughly chopped
3 Tablespns olive oil
2 Tablespns hazelnut oil
Coarse sea salt & freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat oven to 180°C

Trim the stalk ends of the french beans and the mangetouts, but keep the two vegetables separate.

Bring a large pot of unsalted water to boil. When boiling blanch the French beans in the water for 4 minutes, then drain into a colander and run them under plenty of tap water until cold. Leave to drain and dry.

Repeat with the mangetouts, but only blanch them for 1 minute.

Whilst the beans are cooking, scatter the hazelnuts over a baking tray and roast in the oven for about 10 minutes. Leave until cool enough to handle, then place them in a clean tea-towel and gently rub them to get rid of most of the skin. Chop the nuts with a sharp knife. They should be quite rough, some can even stay whole.

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the orange in strips, being careful to avoid the bitter white pith. Slice each piece of zest into very thin strips (if you have a citrus zester you could do the whole job with that).

To assemble the dish, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, toss gently, then taste and adjust the seasoning/

Serve at room temperature.


I'm off to a wedding in Morocco tomorrow and won't be back for a week or two, so there may be a blogging hiatus. Toodle pip folks!


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"But who is to guard the guards themselves?" is the translation, but I think the modern interpretation is "Who is watching Big Brother?"


Every year in June or July, the Books sections of our newspapers publish lists of books that various literary pundits have recommended for summer reading. Well this year I have stolen a march on them and am going to suggest you add Beneath the Bleeding by Val McDermid to your personal holiday reading list.

Val McDermid is one of the best known British crime writers; indeed it was from her books that the very popular TV series Wire in The Blood was created. When you pick up anything by her you know you are in for a gripping tale, you can hardly bear to put the book down as you just HAVE to see what will happen next. Beneath the Bleeding delivers all that and more. The main characters are Dr Tony Hill, a psychological profiler who works closely with DCI Carol Jordan of the Bradfield Police. This duo have featured in many of McDermid’s books, and their complex relationship is always part of the story. Having said that, it is not necessary to have read any of the previous books in which they feature in order to enjoy this one, as it does stand on its own.

The book opens with an incident which results in Dr Hill being confined to hospital for the greater part of the tale, in the same hospital an internationally famous footballer, star of the local team is gravely ill. It turns out that the footballer has been poisoned. DCI Jordan has to find out who would poison him, how, and why. Hill takes his mind off his physical problems by trying to work with what little information they have in order to get a picture of the likely poisoner. When others start being poisoned too, it becomes a major investigation and time is of the essence.

Then, if that weren’t enough to be going on with, there is an explosion at the city’s football stadium, and dozens of people are killed and injured. Carol and her team are first on the scene and immediately begin the investigation, until the Counter Terrorism Command people arrive and take over. The twists and turns of what may be a terrorist attack, or may be something else, are intricately plotted, and McDermid uses the tensions between the local police force and the CTC to good effect, she has obviously drawn on the information divulged at various recent terrorist trials to describe bomb making techniques. The book also highlights just how fast racial tensions can be exposed when an incident like this occurs.

As always the police procedural aspect of the book is fascinating – McDermid emphasises just how much IT specialists are used within the police force to search hard drives and other nooks and crannies of the computer world in the solving of crime.

The ending left me slightly sceptical, but a friend who also enjoyed the book thought it was very plausible – I wonder what you would make of it.

A great beach read, a great anytime read.

Rated 4.5*


Since 1997 we have been at the mercy of the most controlling, power hungry bunch of politicians we have ever had the misfortune to be governed by. I thought the last Tory lot were bad, but they were merely sleazy, the Blair/Brown regime are far worse and far more dangerous.

Britain is being turned into a nightmarish totalitarian state, and we are so supine we are letting it happen. We are to be spied on in every aspect of our lives. We already have more CCTV cameras than ANY other country in the world – we are watched on just about every road, every street, in every railway station, every shopping centre, public swimming bath – the list seems endless. This, say the police, government and local councils is for our own good, to prevent crime and to solve crimes. Does it do that? Does it hell. Has crime been prevented – no, it has risen, but never mind, the cameras have enabled jobsworths to snoop on us from dawn to dusk.

Then, when the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was placed on the statute book, the Government said it was for the prevention of terrorism. They use that as the reason for everything they do these days. And what has RIPA done to save us all from terrorism so far? Not a sausage, but the borough council in Poole used it to permit the surveillance of a family who they suspected (wrongly) of applying to send their four year old daughter to a school in another cachement area. Scary stuff eh? lucky they watched them don't you think? On the other hand Gosport District Council used RIPA to justify their surveillance of people who were under suspicion of committing serious crime (this is a necessary criteria under the regulation of the Act) – and this REALLY serious crime was…..dog fouling in a local park. Wow - you really need to have a specially draconian Act of Parliament to put a stop to that.

This misuse of legislation is what is known as Function Creep. A piece of legislation intended for one thing ends up being used for another thing entirely. And so, bit by bit, our liberty and our privacy is whittled away.

The latest lunacy proposed by the Government, is that the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) should supply them with ALL our emails, plus all our mobile phone calls and text messages. The Government would keep all this information on a huge database for 12 months so they can access any email, call or text sent or received by anyone in the UK. Whaaat! Are we to be allowed no privacy at all? Why not steam open my birthday card from Aunty Marise as well, just to check she isn’t planning the destruction of the western world as we know it?

Apart from the fact that the Home Office’s track record of keeping data secure is laughable (don’t get me started on that…), function creep would soon set in, and who knows who would end up reading our emails. It is a nauseating thought.

I'm off to join a protest group - want to come too?


Its a pity that when most people think of Guacamole, what they think of is the bland, preservative packed, artificially green mush sold in a plastic tub in a supermarket, when the real thing is easy peasy lemon squeezy to make, and tastes so fresh and delicious. I will confess that I am not an avocado fan in the normal way of things, but I do enjoy a dollop of guacamole on a crispbread. This is a dish which originated in Mexico, and the name comes from a corruption of the Mayan words 'ahuactl' which means avocado, and 'malli' which means sauce. But I suppose all you clever clogs knew that already.


3 ripe avocados
½ red onion, very finely chopped
2 large ripe plum tomatoes, skinned, cored and de-seeded
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
1 large red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 bunch fresh coriander leaves/stalks, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Halve the avocados, remove the stones, and scoop the flesh into a bowl (make sure you get all the very green flesh which is just under the skin).

Use a fork to roughly mash the avocado, don’t turn it into a pulp, some texture is good.

Add the finely chopped onion and chilli, the finely diced tomato, the chopped coriander and the lime/lemon juice. Gently mix everything together and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Store in the fridge with a piece of clingfilm pressed down on the surface of the Guacamole to prevent air getting to it and making it go brown.

Serve with pita bread, savoury crackers, grissini or spread it on dry toasted slices of baguette as a crostini.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008



Last month a Canadian cousin of mine mentioned that she’d just finished Lullabies for Little Criminals by Canadian author Heather O’Neill and that she’d found it heart-wrenching. Always on the lookout for something new I got hold of a copy and it jumped straight to the top of my reading pile.

Baby – which she takes pains to explain is her real name – is the narrator, and is twelve years old when the book begins. She lives with her heroin addict father Jules in the red light district of Montreal. Jules was only 15 when Baby was born, and has taken sole care of her since her mother died when Baby was an infant. They lead a ramshackle life, moving from one crummy apartment to another whenever lack of money or Jules’ drug induced paranoia determines it. Dressed in a motley assortment of clothing from thrift shops, and items found in dumpsters, often dirty and smelly and underfed, Baby still manages to get to school every day, despite the chaotic life she and Jules lead. Every so often Baby comes to the attention of the social services, and she is taken into either foster care or sent to juvenile detention for a few months. These placements should offer her some respite from life with Jules, but they have their dangers too, both physical and emotional.

Baby has always told herself stories about things, her sharp intelligence and self-awareness have given her some advantages when it comes to grasping fleeting moments of happiness in a horrid life. Above all, Baby – like all children – just wants to be loved and looked after. This makes her vulnerable to anyone who shows her affection and understanding, and when Alphonse, a local pimp, sets his sights on her she has no realisation that he is grooming her for his own uses. She moves into an “adult” world even though her thoughts and emotions are still those of a child. Eventually Baby finds that she needs to escape from the mess in which she is living, and her feckless father manages to help her to find a way to make her way towards a new life.

There is a phrase you often hear quoted about someone’s childhood, “because of so-and-so happening, they grew up quickly”, but I am not sure that is ever true, children may appear to be grown up and behave as adults but in their heads they still think very much as children, and approach life from a child’s perspective.

In Family Court here in Britain I have come across cases of parents like Jules, and children not dissimilar to Baby, they are always difficult cases to resolve, and I often felt frustration at having to implement the least bad option rather than any positive option

Baby is such a strong character, and so real that there were moments when all I wanted to do was hug her and take her home with me. At other moments, as an adult, I could see what was coming and desperately wanted to warn her not to do certain things, or fend off some of the appalling people who treat her so badly.

I realise that this may not sound the most appealing book to read. It is certainly not warm and fuzzy. However I do recommend it very strongly, O’Neill’s imagery is beautiful and her writing often lifts the subject matter to poetic levels.

Rated 4.5*


Who would spend hard earned money on a tell-all memoir by Jordan, Britain’s most famous topless model? Not me that’s for sure. But neither will I be rushing out to buy a copy of the memoirs of Cherie Blair, Lord Levy or John Prescott. As far as I am concerned they are just as ghastly in concept as anything ghosted for Jordan.

These three individuals stood, for different reasons, close to the heart of government in Britain for several years: Cherie Blair as a celebrated QC and wife of the Prime Minister, Lord ‘Cashpoint’ Levy as a so-called ‘eminence gris’ and major fund-raiser for the Labour party in general and the Blairs in particular, and John ‘Two-Jags’ Prescott, the belligerent and bumbling Deputy Prime Minister.

In the past month all three have produced memoirs, extracts from which have been published, with much trumpeting, in the broadsheet papers.

And nasty, spiteful, self-serving stuff it has been too.

To be honest I have not read it all, but some of the things they’ve said in their books have been impossible to avoid as the media has seized on them with glee and reported and re-reported each one. So I have heard about Prezzer’s referral to Gordon Brown as a “little shit” and his bulimia…did I want or need to know this? Levy’s fury at being used to raise money and then dropped in the mire by Blair and the rest of the Labour party when things got smelly smacks of one long whine, and that never makes for enjoyable reading.

But the gold medal for bitchy score settling must go to Cherie Blair whose memoir leaves no personal detail untold. For a woman who ostentatiously guarded her family’s privacy to now give us the gory details of her contraceptive arrangements, her miscarriage and how her husband used it to deflect speculation about the situation in Iraq, her rows with Alistair Campbell and others, is breathtaking in it’s hypocrisy.
This is the kind of stuff that should be aired in a ranting blog, and not in a supposedly serious book.

We need politicians whether we like them or not, and this kind of back-biting, mud-slinging stuff damages the public perception of them, and increases the view that they are all absolute rotters to the core. It makes me shudder, thank god that I am not now, and nor have I ever been a member of the Labour party.


This past 10 days the weather in London has been absolutely divine - hot and sunny, and we have been able to eat outside almost every evening. We've also been entertaining quite a bit, and as ever I like to prep as much as possible well before hand so I can sit and enjoy a drink with our guests before the meal. I love granadillas - or as the Brits call them 'passion fruit'; when I was a child in Africa I often ate one like a boiled egg, with the top cut off and a teaspoon. Combined with mangoes they make the most delicious mousse, and this is a really good dessert which can be made in advance.


Serves 6-8

2 large ripe mangoes
5 granadillas (passion fruit)
3 egg whites
240ml double or whipping cream
1 sachet (10g) powdered gelatine
10ml tropical fruit juice (lemon or orange juice will do as well)
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Sprigs of mint for garnish

Put the fruit juice into a small non-metal bowl and sprinkle the gelatine over it, leave for 5 minutes to become spongy.

Place the bowl in the microwave and heat for 1½ minutes until the gelatine has all dissolved (do not let it boil). Allow it to cool while you prepare the fruit.

Peel the mangoes and cut the flesh into chunks, retaining as much juice as you can.

Spoon the pulp (including pips) from 4 of the granadillas into a blender, add the mango chunks and caster sugar. Whiz everything into a purée.

Add the cool gelatine liquid to the puree, stir to mix together.

Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks.

In a large bowl, whip the cream until very thick, and then add the mango puree and mix together gently.

Carefully fold the beaten egg whites into the mango/cream mixture.

Spoon into individual serving glasses or one large glass bowl and chill in the fridge for 3-4 hours.

Before serving, spoon a little of the pulp from the remaining granadilla on top of each mousse, and garnish with a sprig of mint.

Friday, May 02, 2008

...AND SO, LADIES & GENTLEMEN, AS THE FLORIST OF TIME TAKES A DAFFODIL OUT OF HER VASE, AND THE GREENGROCER OF FATE TAKES A LEEK OUT OF HIS WINDOW... we say farewell to Humphrey Lyttelton who died a few days ago, he will be greatly missed.


Today I thought I should write about a couple of blooks I’ve read recently. What is a blook I hear you ask – well, a blook is a book that has come from a blog, and there seem to be a lot of them about. As a blogger myself I was intrigued as to why/how some blogs were turned into books and did some snuffling about on the web to find out. There is a whole new industry it seems with publishers approaching popular bloggers to get them into print. One fascinating blog I have read for several years is Random Acts of Reality by Tom Reynolds who works in the London Ambulance Service; his blog has been turned into a book called Blood Sweat &Tea, and it has sold very well – as I read his blog I haven’t bought the book. There is also Wife in the North, and the blogs that seem to feature the sex industry which have become blooks, such as Belle de Jour,or the sex life/fantasies of the blogger, Girl with a One Track Mind.
All very steamy I’m sure, but not for me.

The first blook I read was Julie & Julia: my year of cooking dangerously, by Julie Powell. This book came to my notice ages ago, and loving both reading and cooking I made a mental note to get a copy. At that point I had no idea that it had developed from a blog. Julie Powell, a young Texan living with her husband in New York, felt trapped in a job she did not enjoy, and challenged herself to cook all the recipes in Julia Child’s legendary cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. So The Project was born, 524 recipes to be cooked in 365 days with Julie documenting her progress in a blog. The book which has sprung from this blog is sometimes very funny, sometimes very irritating, sometimes endearing, but it will not teach anyone how to cook that’s for sure. I enjoyed the book far less than I had expected – I suspect I am the wrong age for it; I wanted to tell Julie to stop being so disorganised and to clear up properly in her kitchen! (doesn’t say much about my character does it?). Never the less it is a light, amusing read, and it gave me my favourite saying of the moment “Man up, dude”!

The second blook I read was Anonymous Lawyer by Jeremy Blachman. This one was different in that it is a novel, but a novel that began (and continues) as a blog. Anonymous Lawyer is hiring partner at a large global law firm based in Los Angeles and he has just started a blog. On it he vents his spleen about his colleagues ‘The Jerk’. ‘The Tax Nut’, ‘The Fat Guy’ et al, and dreams up ways of torturing paralegals, junior associates, and the crop of legal students who join the firm each summer for work experience.
He moans about Anonymous Wife and her spending habits, and worries about Anonymous Son and Daughter. As far as he is concerned the whole blog is just a secret bit of fun, but one day
he gets an email from someone in his firm who knows he is the writer of the blog, and his job is suddenly in jeopardy.
This book is written as a series of blog posts interspersed with email exchanges, and although it is interesting in the way it shows the ruthless work practices within big corporate law firms in the USA, it is quite hard work reading it as it never seems to go anywhere, there is no inherent structure to the story. In fact it would be better if read intermittently as a blog, rather than all strung together. The whole thing is a fiction as Jeremy Blachman is not a partner –nor anything else- at any big law firm, he went to Harvard Law School, and started the blog almost as soon as he graduated. Read the blog by all means, borrow the book from a library if you must, but don’t spend money buying it.


I am getting fed up to the back teeth with every single-issue group using Global Warming as an excuse to try to force us to live life the way they think best. The latest group to do this is the vegetarian/vegan posse who now say that eating meat, eggs and dairy produce is worse than driving a 4x4 on unleaded petrol 24 hrs a day, and all the industrial emissions in the world rolled into one.

Oh yeah, says who? Two scientists in Chicago apparently – both of whom are vegetarians, surprise, surprise. TWO scientists in the whole international science world.

Paul McCartney has become the celebrity spokesperson for this group (not too surprising as his late wife established a successful factory-produced line of chilled and frozen veggie foods). He gave an interview to PeTA, (which stands for People for Ethical Treatment of Animals), saying that we must all go vegetarian to save the world.

Well he and PeTA can fuck off, I am NOT going to start eating Quorn; hands off my Osso Bucco, my roast leg of lamb, my steak and chips, pork chops with caramelised apples, Brie, Stilton, scrambled eggs, liver and bacon, and Cheddar, not to mention the Christmas Turkey. I take great care over the food I buy, cook and eat, meat is only a small part of my family’s diet, but it is a vital part, and much enjoyed. I don’t think some of these people have ever thought about the taste of food, or why we have evolved over thousands of years with our dental structure specifically designed to eat meat, and I am very, very dubious about the links with global warming.

This could force me to the barricades to defend my right to remain an occasional carnivore.


It is a Bank Holiday weekend here in Britain (and in South Africa), and I want do some gardening over the next three days, so meals must be minimum effort. This is an all-in-one dish, it can be prepped in advance, adapts easily for larger numbers and is ridiculously good given how simple it is. I cut the recipe from a magazine over twenty years ago and still make it regularly. Over the years many friends have asked for the recipe, so it has spread far and wide across the globe. Now you can make it too. Start it the day before, or in the morning ready for the evening meal.


Serves 6

5 Tablespoons lemon juice ( juice from approx 2 lemons)
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs or Herbes de Provençe (if you like you can use a mixture of Basil, Oreganum and Thyme)
Salt + Freshly ground black pepper
12 Chicken thighs, bone in, skin on; or 6 chicken breasts with bone and skin.
1 medium/large onion, roughly chopped – not too fine
150g sliced mushrooms
1 red or yellow pepper, de-seeded and chopped (or half red, half yellow for more colour!)
50g of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped
18 small black pitted olives
250g Basmati rice
850 ml of boiling chicken stock

In a large bowl combine the lemon juice with the garlic, dried herbs, pepper and salt. Add the chicken pieces and toss well to coat.

Cover the bowl with cling-film and marinate for 2 hours at room temp or 24 hours in the fridge, tossing the meat occasionally. (You can put the chicken, garlic, lemon juice and herbs in a large plastic bag to marinate, gives more room in the fridge, but make sure it is tightly sealed.)

Grease a large, shallow, oven-proof dish and scatter the chopped onion over the bottom. Cover this with the sliced mushrooms, chopped pepper, tomatoes and olives, and then the rice. (You can do all this hours in advance)

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.

Remove the chicken from the marinade.

Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up, in a single layer over the rice. Pour over any remaining marinade and then the boiling chicken stock.

Place, uncovered, in the oven and leave undisturbed for about 1 hour or until the chicken is cooked and all the stock has been absorbed by the rice.

Serve with a mixed salad.