Last night we sat in our friends Riccardo and Alastair’s garden sipping watermelon martinis among the pots of lavender as the sun dipped behind St Mary’s church spire. Barney and Elliot, (the boys’ handsome black-and-white cocker spaniel and Barney’s most beloved friend) tumbled around the terrace. Candles flickered in lanterns and the Noisettes’ Wild Young Hearts drifted through the French windows. It was a perfect summer’s evening.
Then Lady de B’s phone rang. At that time on Saturday evening, it would normally be someone enquiring where the party was. But it wasn’t. It was the police saying the alarm was going off at her house a mile or so away. Sean and Lady de B took off to investigate, leaving the rest of us to finish off the martinis and speculate about what kind of athletic act Lady de B’s cat, Whisky, must have got up to to set off the alarm.
Sean called to say there really had been a break in. Nothing had been taken – the thief panicked when the alarm went off and had broken the large window at the front of the house in his haste to get away. They were waiting for someone to come and board up the window, so the five of us headed off down the Kingsland Road to keep them company.
We set the table and ordered takeaway from the local Thai restaurant, so by the time the boarding up men got there, we were sitting down to a feast of green chicken curry, beef satay and coconut rice. I’ve never been to a better catered crime scene, nor one where the champagne flowed so freely. Lady de B, you are a hostess to your bones and the perfidious fiend who attempted to breach the manoir last night is in for some seriously bad karma. At the very least, a life of sunken soufflés and wrinkled table linen, which I know is your own vision of purgatory.
This morning, I was feeling a bit fragile. I was good only for a long bubble bath with a fat paperback followed by a slightly wobbly attempt at a manicure. By this afternoon I was feeling a little brighter so some restorative baking was in order – a few muffins to snack on and cookies to nibble during the week. When the going gets tough, the tough get baking…
Courgette and Pine Nut Muffins
These were a bit experimental so this mixture makes 17, not a nice, neat dozen. If I were capable of complicated maths at this point, I would have played around with the quantities, but hey, it’s Sunday.
300g plain flour, sieved
40g jumbo oats
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1-2 tsp flaky sea salt, depending on the saltiness of your Parmesan
A few grinds of black pepper
6 big leaves of basil, shredded
375ml whole milk yoghurt
60g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
90g Parmesan, coarsely grated, plus another 20g to sprinkle on the top
270g courgettes, coarsely grated
70g cup pine nuts, toasted
Preheat the oven to 200C/400f/Gas mark 6. Line two muffin tins with 17 paper cases.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt, pepper, basil and Parmesan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, yoghurt and butter. Pour over the dry ingredients and stir with a spatula until roughly combined – don’t overmix. Add the courgettes, pine nuts and sultanas and stir until just evenly distributed.
Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each about ¾ full, and sprinkle over the rest of the Parmesan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean, 16-18 minutes. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for a couple of minutes then turn out onto the rack. Eat them warm or store them, when they’re completely cooled, in an airtight container for up to two days. They freeze well for up to one month.
It’s a miserable sort of day today. When I lived in Scotland, I learned to call this kind of weather ‘dreich’, a word that perfectly describes this wearisome combination of overcast, drizzly and cold. Spice cookies were the order of the day. I based this recipe in one I found in a French baking book. I upped the spice quota a bit and added some espresso and the combination was pretty good.
Makes about 28 cookies
90g unsalted butter
30g light Muscovado sugar
200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp espresso-ground coffee (optional)
A pinch of cloves
A good pinch of salt
For the glaze:
150g icing sugar, sieved
1tbsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas mark 2.
Melt together the butter, sugar and honey in a saucepan and let it cool a little. Tip in the flour, spices, espresso and salt and beat together until you have a smooth batter. Roll the batter into balls of about 1.5cm diameter. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment, a couple of centimetres apart. Bake for about 18 minutes until lightly golden. While they’re cooking, make the glaze by beating together the icing sugar, lemon juice and water. Brush the glaze onto the cookies while they’re still warm and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.