Sunday, 23 November 2014


There is something magical about watching popcorn being made. I remember it happening in the kitchen with the cork floor and the stable doors at our house in South London. A saucepan with the lid on so you could not see what was going on, followed by the first pop followed by a cacophony. It is the way those unpromising hard brown pellets turn, under the saucepan lid,  into something soft, white and fluffy. Yet still they retain a remnant of shell that betrays their origin. Salty or sweet? I rather approve of Julia's trick in the cinema foyer. Using her scoop, she created layers of salty and sweet so each mouthful was a surprise.

Saturday, 22 November 2014


I have been thinking about what factors make recipes more or less difficult to follow. What, to put it a little more pretentiously, are the dynamics of dishes? Here are some thoughts:

Unusual/rarely used equipment
Physically demanding
Delicacy of touch
Careful timing/measuring/temperature

I may add to this list.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Wonderful Soup Stone

"I swear you could taste
The Chicken and Tomato
And the Noodle and the Marrow bone.
But it really wasn't nothing
But some water and potatoes
And the wonderful, wonderful soup stone."

A song I recall from my childhood, by Dr Hook: simple, evocative and telling a story. The song goes on to reminisce about the singer's own childhood ("back in the hard time days") and his mama and, "whenever things got tight", production of the magical soup stone:

"Mama boiled up some water, put in the stone and said "Let's have some soup tonight!""

It is a somewhat less cynical version of the "Stone Soup" fairy tale which I also first read as a child. It concerns a wanderer who arrives at the hut of a man who, rather ungraciously, agrees to offer the traveller lodging for the night. The traveller has seen through a window that the hut owner has a larder full of food. But all he is offered is some dry bread. So he offers to make soup with his magic "soup stone". Delighted at the prospect of a free dinner, the man agrees and the traveller begins cooking. Presently, he suggests that some potatoes would be a good addition; and how about some chicken; and if the man happens to have any herbs, that really would make it not just a good soup but a superb soup. Eagerly, the man empties his cupboard and the soup is made. The following day, the traveller reluctantly agrees to sell his stone to the man in return for his gold hoard. There is another version of the story called "Nail broth".

Sunday, 16 November 2014


Both exotic (the one piece of fruit in the fruit bowl no one touches without permission) and as ordinary as tinned fruit (pineapple chunks or pineapple rings) it is my favourite of all tropical fruit. And it can be so variable.

I used to have one blue packet of pineapple juice with a crude yellow and green shape delivered at school on Monday mornings for about five years. On reflection, it tasted a little woody.

One year, I was living in lodgings within the cathedral precincts but some distance away from where my juice was delivered. Having collected it, I had taken it up to the library and left it with my other stuff while I chose some books.

When I returned, Anthony Michael, a curly headed Greek boy, had pierced a hole in its side and drunk about half its contents. He admitted his guilt with a wink. Exasperated as much at the thought of having to carry a leaking carton of juice through the cathedral precincts as at the naked theft, I picked up the carton and squirted pineapple juice over the essay he had been writing. 

Revenge was sweet but it led to cold fury. "Would you like to step outside?" in dangerous tones. I remained in the library, my sanctuary. He did not forget my crime, complaining how I had ruined his work, forcing him to rewrite it. A few days later, I felt a kick from behind.  One of the girls in the same French set admonished me for failing to retaliate.

Simple roast chicken

I love chicken with all the trimmings - and at some point I must find out why the word "trimmings" is used to refer collectively to things like bread sauce, sage stuffing and pigs in blankets. But the apparent effort of producing these extra things, delicious though they are, I think puts us off having roast chicken on a week night.

Here, then, are my views about three essential ingredients to add to your plump raw chicken: plenty of salt rubbed into the skin; butter ditto; and a lemon stuffed inside. If I were allowed a fourth ingredient, it would be twigs of thyme, tarragon or rosemary, tucked all over the bird. (I am wondering while I write this whether an onion could also be fitted inside, and black pepper ground over the skin: enough!)

After five minutes' preparation, the chicken can then be put in the oven. Mashed potato and green peas to accompany the bird. A quick gravy can be made from the buttery, lemony juices.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Egyptian food

What would you say to roast meat and roast chicken, peppered rice, sausage and stuffed marrow, stuffed lamb and stuffed ribs, kunafah swimming in bees' honey, fritters and almond cakes?

Monday, 10 November 2014

French onion soup

I have heard that this soup is also known as "Soupe de Paris". Certainly it is referred to in a book by Judith Kerr about a Jewish family fleeing Hitler's Germany as a dish that everyone in Paris tucks into in the early hours of the morning after a night spent on the town. Patrick Leigh Fermor writes somewhere about doing the same thing in "Les Halles".

What is it that makes this soup so special? I even go for the crouton topped with melted cheese soaked in the soup. Stringy. The whole dish should be blisteringly hot. Intensely savoury. The liquid slightly fatty but not greasy. The lines of onions, pale, bland and soft, camouflaged by the liquid. A soup to eat while it is too hot.

Sunday, 9 November 2014


Butter is a good word. Does its sound resemble its meaning: a smack of the lips, the tongue bouncing off the teeth? Or is that, as my English teacher used to write in red ink at the bottom of some of my essays, "a little fanciful"?

I like my butter fridge-cold, solid enough for a knife to struggle to break through; brittle enough to break. Or in melted form, sizzling, bubbling, foaming,  on the point of burning. Clear yellow liquid and white residue. Never "spreadable" or "mixed with vegetable oil" or "slightly soft".  In a restaurant, like the salt or the pepper on the table, the butter is an early test.

At nursery school, we made butter. In a jar containing cream and two shiny screws. We all took turns to shake the jar. We ended up with a white solid. The headmistress, Mrs Hancock, added a little salt (unnecessary) and we all tasted some on bread at lunchtime. Delicious.