Notes From a Small Kitchen Island

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Writing a book is a solitary experience, just you and the chair and the screen. Tap tap tap. Coffee and toast and on and on. My new book, Notes From A Small Kitchen Island: Recipes and Stories From The Heart of The Home is out today. I wrote it mostly in lockdown, in our house in London, and that made the isolation more acute. In those early months, I barely saw anyone. I just wrote and washed the shopping. I think this made my writing more personal, more intimate than I would normally dare, because in those strange times, I lost any sense of other people, of audience, so I wrote directly from my heart. But now here it is, with a beautiful cover created by Holly Ovenden from a picture of my old kitchen and all of Laura Edwards’ enchanting photographs, all of my stories and recipes. For everyone to see. I hope you do. I hope you enjoy them.

The first reviews are in – and they make gratifying reading.

From Nigella’s Cookbook Corner

I love this book so deeply that I feel like a wriggly child with its hand up, desperate to answer a question in class, only for the overexcitement to reduce me to babble when it’s my time to speak. Where do I begin? I want to say everything at once! I know it seems logical when writing about a cookbook to start with the food, but I feel with this particular book, it makes sense to talk about the writing.

This may be Debora Robertson’s first cookbook (for humans, that is: she’s the author of Cooking For Cats and Dogs’ Dinners) but she is a long-serving and distinguished foodwriter, a real cook’s cook, and a delicious stylist. There are many cookbooks I keep for the recipes, but the books that mean the most to me, and that I cherish over the decades, are the ones which come out of a life, and are infused with the author’s very real voice. Of course, it has to be a voice that I respond to, and I adore Debora’s: it’s a wonderful mixture of practicality, warmth, elegant (and never unkind) sharpness, and wit. There’s so much that makes me laugh.

Nigella Lawson, Cookbook Corner

From Tales From Topographic Kitchens

Debora Robertson is a smart and witty writer whose words exude warmth. This doesn’t mean she’s a declawed kitten- far from it. (God help you if you are a twat to her on socials because she’ll demolish you in one sharply funny sentence that’ll have you comfort-licking your own fur until you are as bald as Telly Savalas.) But it has equipped her with an ability to acknowledge and embrace human foibles; she can laugh at herself and look back with fondness at the things she got up to as a young woman. She reminds me of Laurie Colwin in this respect. It’s a really good way of living. Freud did say humour is a mature coping mechanism after all.

Nic Miller

Notes From A Small Kitchen Island: Recipes and Stories From The Heart Of The Home by Debora Robertson, published by Penguin Michael Joseph, £26

Available from Independent bookshops (via, Waterstones and Amazon.

An exciting adventure begins…

In late 2021, I swapped my London life for a less frantic existence on the banks of the Étang de Thau, a salt-water lagoon in the Hérault department of the Languedoc, South West France.

I’m a British journalist, writer and editor specialising in all matters domestic, from food, homes and gardens to modern manners, dogs and decluttering. I write regularly for national newspapers and magazines, including The Daily Telegraph, where I write my French Exchange column each Saturday, and Delicious magazine, where I have a monthly column on what I’m thinking about, and thinking about cooking, each month.

But most of all, I’m a home cook. I grew up in the North East of England, and from the least promising of culinary starts, I built a life and a career around food. I began this new chapter in France almost on a whim, when a house I’d fantasised about and spied on for more than a decade was suddenly on the market. As soon as I walked in the door, I knew that this was my house, improbable and impossible as that seemed at the time. A year later, we hauled our worldly possessions, two dogs and a cat 1,200 kilometres south to begin this new life in this house and village of my heart.

But most of all, I’m a home cook just like you – or you wouldn’t be here, reading this, right now, this second, I guess. I grew up in the North East of England, and from the least promising of culinary starts, I built a life and a career around food. I began this new chapter in France almost on a whim, when a house I’d fantasised about and spied on for more than a decade was suddenly on the market. As soon as I walked in the door, I knew that this was my house, improbable and impossible as that seemed at the time. A year later, we hauled our worldly possesions, two dogs and a cat 1,200 kilometers south to begin this new life in this house and village of my heart.

A newsletter called Substack
I began my Substack because when I started living in France, each Tuesday I posted what I bought at our market on my social media and people responded so enthusiastically, and often wanted to know what I was going to do with what I’d bought. Here is where I share with you my week’s shopping and what I cook with it, not just French recipes, but recipes made with French ingredients which you can replicate wherever you are. I am an instinctive and practical cook. I like easy. I like quick. And sometimes I like to show off, so sometimes there will be more complex recipes too.

Why subscribe?

Free subscribers receive a weekly email on Wednesdays with my latest market haul and a recipe inspired by that day’s ingredients. Coming soon, join me for Ask Me Anything on Mondays, to ask about food, France, local life – or, in fact, anything.

Paid subscribers get an additional recipe each Friday, designed to be the centrepiece of an easy but impressive weekend meal. You have access to the archive of all previous posts and recipes. You’ll also receive occasional house renovation posts – for those who are as fascinated by romantic-if-broken French houses as I am.

If you are an email subscriber to this blog, I have added you as a subscriber to my Substack. If you do not want to receive this, do drop me a line, ( or click here) and I’ll remove your details straight away.

If you follow this blog via WordPress, I hope to see you over in Substack soon.

The easiest fruit tart known to humanity and humidity

We are in France, in the village of my heart where we spend part of each summer. Our friend Lucy (and her new dog, named Whitney Houston by the adoption centre she came from only last week) came to dinner on Monday and I wanted something to end the simple dinner of roast chicken and tomato salad.

This galette was inspired by a recipe I saw in this month’s Elle à Table by Natacha Arnoult. It was part of a feature about new kitchen equipment. The recipe begins with grinding your own wheat and buckwheat into flour. Not only am I not making my own flour, I am not making my own pastry. It is 40˚C. Butter turns to oil before you can unwrap it. Mercifully, French supermarkets carry excellent circles of all-butter pastry in their chiller cabinets (lean the hell in). Essentially, you throw some almonds and sugar on the base, mound up the fruit, varnish with a little egg wash and sugar, bung it in the oven and retreat for a cold drink and a lie down while it bakes. It’s the kind of thing I make all summer long with cherries, apricots, peaches or nectarines, rhubarb, blackberries, or whatever fruity combination I fancy.

I bumped into my friend Laurence in the market this morning, who had seen my picture of the tart on Instagram and was marvelling at my baking fortitude in face of the canicule (heatwave). Please don’t tell him about the cold drink and lying down part.

Summer fruit galette

Serves 4-6

1 circle of shortcrust all-butter pastry, approx 33cm diameter
3 tbsp ground almonds
3 tbsp caster sugar or vanilla sugar
About 600g summer fruits, I used a combination of strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants
A little beaten egg or cream and a sprinkling of sugar, to finish

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/160˚C Fan/Gas 4. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Lay the pastry on the sheet. Mix the ground almonds with 1 tbsp of the sugar and scatter it over the pastry – this helps stop it from becoming soggy from the fruit’s juices. Heap the fruit onto the pastry, leaving a border of 5cm free of fruit all around the edge. Sprinkle the remaining sugar over the fruit – you might need more or less depending on its sweetness. Fold the pastry border back over the fruit, brush with a little beaten egg or cream and sprinkle with a little more sugar. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the pastry is golden and the fruit, bubbling.

Serve it warm or cold, with crème fraîche, ice cream or cold, thick cream.

You should make Chicken Marbella, you know


In my early twenties, I spent a few summers in Texas and this is how I discovered The Silver Palate. Though the New York deli was a thousand miles from my little Houston apartment by the Rothko Chapel, its cookbook was in my kitchen. I don’t know where it came from. It doesn’t seem likely that it belonged to my boyfriend, who liked a good restaurant but didn’t cook much, other than knowing his was around a barbecue grill.

That summer, I read The Silver Palate Cookbook cover to cover, charmed by its line drawings and quotations (“If I can’t have too many truffles, I’ll do without truffles” Colette), its sidebars (The Mustard Maze, Cooking with Herbs, Crudité Combinations) and menus (A Beach Picnic, A Vernal Equinox Supper, Country Weekend Lunch). In its pages, Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins conjured up a life that was smart but not stuffy, filled with people and parties and draining the last drop of delicious from life. I made its mini quiches (it was the 80s) and American Picnic Potato Salad, Crackling Cornbread and Molasses Cookies, Tapenade and Gazpacho, Braised Short Ribs and Blackberry Mousse. I splattered up its pages with pesto and raspberry vinegar, olive oil and mayonnaise. It made me happy.

When I finally made it to New York that first summer, along with trips to MoMA and Bloomingdales, the Carnegie Deli and H&H Bagel (where I saw Dianne Weist, pushing her baby in a stroller, which rounded it out as the quintessential New York Woody Allen experience, back when that was still a good thing), I walked along Columbus Avenue, seeking out the Silver Palate’s blue striped awning. The shop was tiny, perhaps a dozen or so feet square. I bought a bottle of dressing and a tin of coffee, which I brought back to England and kept in my kitchen for months, not using them, cherishing them.

I still have my original Silver Palate book. It’s falling to pieces now, faded Post-It notes clinging to pages, remembrance of dinners past. I still use it, decades after capers, olives, filo and pancetta, once so new to me, have folded into my every day kitchen vernacular.

So when I was flipping through Ina Garten’s latest book, Cook Like a Pro, I was delighted to see Chicken Marbella (recipe in link) in its pages. It was the first main course to be sold at the deli and Ina has tweaked it slightly in her version. In the introduction to the recipe, she says, “Nora Ephron commented that in the 1980s whenever you went to a dinner party in New York City, everyone served Chicken Marbella from The Silver Palate Cookbook…”

This brings together three of my favourite things: my beloved Silver Palate; the peerless Ina (Who Can Do No Wrong); and Nora Ephron, whom I admire so much and whose book Heartburn I read at least once a year. How could I not make it? Seriously?

It marries sweet prunes (I always bring bags and bags of Agen prunes back from France with me), salty capers and the sourness of green olives. It is very simple – throw everything together in the marinade, leave it overnight and then cook it for just less than an hour the next day. Serve it with rice to soak up the delicious juices. In the SP Bible, Rosso and Lukins also say it’s good cold, or as a picnic dish. I hate eating elaborate food outside, but I might make an exception in this case. It’s great for parties as it scales up really well. I am going to be making it a lot. Many years have passed, decades even, since I first made it. Welcome back, old friend.


The new dinner party rules

All nice and neat

The simple request, “You must come to dinner,” once a cheerful indication of intimacy, has become fraught with social dangers. How straightforward it was when all you needed to do was put on your best suit or frock, spend the first half of the evening speaking to the person on your right, the second half to the person on your left, jump into a cab by midnight, scribble a thank you note the next day, and we all got out of there alive.
Our newly casual way of living means we hardly know when we’ve strayed over some mysterious line in the sisal matting. In the latest edition of The Lady magazine, etiquette and modern manners expert, Thomas Blaikie, describes the new dinner party rules, which include leaving by 10.30pm on a weeknight and 11.15pm at weekends, never bringing wine that costs less than a tenner, and, if you’re the host, never making plated starters.
Personally, I’ve thrown so many dinner parties, my dishwasher should be receiving some sort of award for its contribution to community relations. Here are my notes from the dinner party front, to ensure both happy hosts and guests.

Ten dinner party commandments

1. Don’t be on time This is the act of a monster. The only people worse than those who arrive bang on time are those who arrive early, when you’re still in your pinny and haven’t had time to soften your more frazzled edges with your first cocktail. For the very best in civilised behaviour, arrive between 10 to 15 minutes after the appointed time.

2. Bring wine if you must but now it’s highly acceptable, not to say fashionable, to bring craft beer or cider instead. You look terribly cutting edge and no one has to drink it.  

3. Don’t take flowers Because rattling out dinner for eight isn’t soothing enough, let’s add having to find a suitable vase to this evil game of party peril? Send flowers afterwards, or take a potted plant – no cacti though, chances are there are enough pricks at the table as it is.

4. No one cares what you like If you are vegan, vegetarian or have a deadly food allergy, of course you should let your host know beforehand. If you’re just not eating dairy this week, flirting with gluten-free or drearily carb-phobic, do keep it to yourself, there’s a love. There’s honestly nothing more boring than the pick-and-mix culinary peccadillos of others.

5. Do talk politics and religion. It’s so prissy to skirt around the really interesting stuff in favour of what? House prices and minor illnesses? Do also pay close attention when speaking about your children to anyone who is not a blood relative in case of terminal eyeglazeoveritis.

6. Don’t help Of course, do offer, but you can be too casual. Unless invited, don’t start clearing tables or washing up. It’s your job as a guest to sit there and be absolutely fascinating, damn it.

7. Accept that last drink If I’m pouring the hard stuff, or that weird digestif I dragged back from my hols, it’s because I want you to stay. If I suggest tea or coffee, I am mentally calling you a cab. Please don’t expect me to actually make the tea or coffee.

8. What time to leave? Mr Blaikie speaks perfect sense when he says weeknight dinners should be over by 10.30pm. We aren’t 20 anymore and being in (you own) bed by midnight is one of the cornerstones of civilised life. But if anyone left my house at 11.15pm on a Saturday night, I would hang up my hostess apron forever. Do stay. Have another drink. Laugh. Gossip. Drag out the old vinyl and let’s dance around the kitchen. Don’t leave me this way. Not just yet.

9. Do say thank you Of course, a letter is delicious and people will remember your impeccable guestitude forever; a postcard is good and an email is fine. The most dreadful thing you can do is to resist sending an email or making a phone call as you absolutely, positively are going to write that letter. Just as soon as you track down the perfect stationery, buy an ink pen, find a stamp and master calligraphy. And suddenly you’re bumping into your hosts at another event and it’s 10 months later and they’re wondering why they never heard from you again and is it because you hated their cousin Bert or the syllabub, or, in fact, them. Send the bloody email.

10. If you’re the host, don’t show off. You need to make it look – or at least feel – effortless if you want your guests to be relaxed and have a good time. No one cares that you spent the whole weekend watching YouTube videos of how to make swans from choux pastry. Bowls of bought ice cream taste sweeter than any amount of culinary braggadocio.