Friday, 30 November 2012


Clockwise from top left: a mango wood bread board, a new bread knife, and some London honeycomb for the breakfast table, a small jug and glasses (and, perhaps, a bottle of red wine to go with), a book and gift card for a favourite restaurant, glass containers for the fridge because they would love to get rid of the plastic, 'Canal House Cooks Every Day', a voucher for a butchery class, a small horn salt bowl and a pot of fleur de sel, a linen tea towel (because sometimes the simple things are the most loved), a little something from Ottolenghi, a candle that smells of Moroccan mint tea, a classic mixing bowl, and a bundt tin for cakes that look impressive but take no effort at all.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Have you made your Christmas cake yet?

Do you make a Christmas cake?

Do you even like Christmas cake?

I didn't. I would pick off the marzipan and the icing, leaving the slice of cake for someone else to pick at (usually my sister who wasn't bothered about the icing, quite handy really). But at some point, it was 2005 or 2006, when we were staying in Edinburgh for the year, heading over to Chris's parents' house for the day, I decided to make the cake from The Kitchen Diaries. When Nigel Slater writes about cooking for Christmas I immediately want to hang fairy lights, curl up and give myself over to the season. His new book has the same effect, the December chapter calling out to me, cementing its position as a book to be given December residency on the worktop. Two Nigels, Nigella, Delia, Sarah, and a few Christmas specials to keep them company. In 2006, or was it 2005, the cake was baked and fed with brandy for a few weeks, marzipanned, and covered with rough snowy icing. I bought holly shaped candles and took (no, lugged, it may only be 20cm but it is H.E.A.V.Y) the cake as my Christmas offering.

The next year I was in Sussex with Nigel's cake and Nigella's chocolate Christmas cake, and, every year since I have taken that same cake, Nigel's that is, loaded with dried figs, apricots, prunes, cranberries, raisins, sultanas, currants, candied peel, glacé cherries, and hazelnuts, to Sussex. To be sliced into at some point, usually on Boxing Day, usually after lunch when we have all eaten turkey sandwiches with bread sauce, cranberry sauce, and stuffing, usually with a cup of tea before flopping onto a sofa to watch a film (or four, as on one memorable Boxing Day where a morning walk was followed by an afternoon and evening, just me and my parents, each of us lying on a sofa, watching film after film, only stirring to make cups of tea or turkey sandwiches, occasionally finding the energy to dip into a tin of Roses).

We're staying in Edinburgh this Christmas and I'm heading to Sussex for a few days the week before. I made the cake last weekend, it's sitting wrapped in baking parchment and foil, ready to be fed with calvados. I'll leave it with Mum but I think I'll make an extra mini cake just for us.

If you haven't made your Christmas cake yet can I suggest Nigel's? Over the years the page has been splashed with brandy, had ticks placed against ingredients, been smeared with sugary, buttery fingers. But isn't that a sign of a truly great recipe?

Friday, 23 November 2012


Clockwise from top left: the memoir of a remarkable woman, a dark green suede pouch, tiny wishbone earrings, softly coloured flannel pyjamas, the salted caramels that she loves, an arrow ring, something to keep on her bedside table, an oversized scarf and new mittens, a plaited cuff, a treatment with her favourite products, pistachio nails and red lips, an agate slice for a coaster, decoration, or just because.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


A few years ago (actually I just looked it up it was over four years ago, when we had only been in London for a couple of months and we were getting use to the flat we had rented in Stoke Newington - it feels simultaneously like way less than four years ago and like a lifetime ago) I found this recipe and we proceeded to make it regularly for a couple of months before it was replaced with some other weeknight staple. Maybe this, or this. I really don't remember. Baked sweet potatoes were forgotten for a while, consigned to the drawer marked 'stuff we used to make for dinner' along with pasta and pesto.

But they recently made a reappearance; baked, split, filled with feta, olive oil, spring onions, and sumac. They have gone right back to being an easy fallback; all of the ingredients available at the tiny terrible supermarket across the road, nothing requiring forward planning, or really any thought at all. Something to eat with mounds of green salad dressed with a tiny bit of olive oil and some sea salt. Easy, reliable, delicious.

On Friday, when Chris was heading out to a friend's to eat hot dogs and drink beers with seven other guys and I had dithered about whether to buy a steak, or fish and chips, or a curry, or make an omelette, before realising that I just couldn't be bothered, I ran across the road, picked up sweet potatoes and feta. Decision made and done. But, when I put those potatoes on the baking sheet (always remember the baking sheet, and something to cover the baking sheet, caramelised sweet potato goo is messy and surprisingly resilient stuff) I decided to bake the whole bag, eat one or two and use the rest to finally make the sweet potato pound cake that I pinned this time last year and that I have been meaning to make since Molly first posted it  over three years ago.

It took me until Monday to actually start baking. On Saturday, after a lunch of croque madame and fries in Leith, we jumped on a  bus into town to meet friends who were up from London. A quick drink turned into we should eat, turned into noodles, turned into one last drink, turned into closing time, turned into a painful Sunday morning leading up to a three year old's birthday party, turned into a pretty pathetic Sunday night (albeit one with a very good soup). Baking was not on the cards. So, on Monday, after yoga, I got home turned the oven on and finally started.

I didn't make the glaze (partly because I didn't have the buttermilk, partly because, with my new habit of sending us to work most days with a slice of cake, I thought that extra hit of butter and sugar may be best avoided) so just left the cake to cool on the rack until the next morning. It's a good one, moist with a pleasurable heft and a hint of spice from the nutmeg. I'll try not to wait so long to make it again.

Friday, 16 November 2012



Clockwise from top left: a candle that smells of afternoons in the library, a book about a little ghost learning to read, a handbound notebook and bookbinding classes, an early edition of a childhood favourite, a Welsh blanket to curl up under, an introduction to Ian Hamilton Finlay with a selection of his writing and a copy of his Nautical Alphabet, a song for anyone wrapped up in books, a voucher and book bag from a favourite shop, a mug and biscuits for sustenance while reading, a shelf for all their favourite books.

And, finally, because I'm sure you all have a few thousand pounds to spend on the book lover in your life...

Thursday, 15 November 2012


'Eleven o'clock and still two hours until lunchtime. Something to keep you steady - nothing finer than a slice of seed cake, washed down by a glass of Madeira. This will see you safely through until lunch.' (Fergus Henderson, Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking: Part II)

On Sunday, there were online errands in the morning, then sandwiches from odds and ends in the fridge at lunchtime (mostly left from making pizzas the night before), a spoonful of pizza sauce, a few slices of prosciutto, the end of a ball of mozzarella. We piled it onto a baguette and topped it with scrambled eggs. That evening, once the cottage pie was in the oven,  I pulled out the second St John book and got to making this week's cake. A simple loaf cake speckled with caraway seeds. We've each been taking a slice to work to eat when we fancy a little something. For me, that's usually late morning or mid-afternoon, sometimes with a cup of mint tea, sometimes not. If only it could be that glass of Madeira that Fergus Henderson recommends...

Monday, 12 November 2012


Have you seen this year's Christmas stamps? 
Would it be excessive if I start putting one on everything I post even though it's still November?

No? Good.

Friday, 9 November 2012


I've decided to dip my toes into the gift guide waters this Christmas. There will, hopefully, be one every Friday until 21st December starting with gifts for the man in your (my) life.

Clockwise from top left: John Fahey's Christmas Album, Fair Isle socks, a wall mounted bottle opener and some of his favourite beer, Kiehl's Facial Fuel (for men who really don't like the feel of products on their face), a Makr wallet to replace the one that was stolen three years ago and is yet to be replaced, enough fried egg sweets to last the year (perhaps), a West German vase to add to the collection on our windowsill.

Monday, 5 November 2012


I can never remember when seasons officially begin and end but I feel like Winter is here. I'm piling on layers and wearing my hat and gloves every day on my way to work and it's getting dark by 5pm. And, predictable as ever, I pulled my Christmas cookery books off the shelf over the weekend and started thinking about things to make in the coming months. Last night we had a roast chicken with mashed swede and carrot and sauteed shredded brussels sprouts for dinner and a bottle of red wine that Sarah and Rob gave us in September. Tonight, after I've been to yoga which will leave me floppy, ready to pull pyjama bottoms on and curl up on the sofa under the blanket, there will be little leftover vegetable cakes with chicken and Nigel Slater talking about sweets. Or maybe eggs on the vegetable cakes and chicken curry tomorrow, or chicken and chips...

I made a vanilla bundt yesterday. After we had been to the supermarket, before we were ready to start making dinner. A cake to sit on the worktop, we'll take a slice each to work for as long as it lasts, a treat from the weekend to see us through the first few days of the week. It has a golden crust with a soft yellow crumb, the raw cake batter tasted like vanilla custard and dropped into the tin in soft ripples, so satisfying.

So, after the shopping, and the baking, and the roasting I just wanted to say this. I think I'm ready for Winter. I could do with a pair of serious boots in case it decides to snow but apart from that I'm ready and looking forward to some, maybe even all, of the below.

Making marshmallows
Cold walks followed by warm meals
Christmas cocktails and meals out with friends
A spiced chocolate cake
A December weekend in Sussex
Quiet afternoons in warm pubs with the papers 
Clementine cake
Wrapping up in a big warm scarf, and, in my dreams, a coat that feels more like a duvet