For Karen, with love (and a licked spoon) x


My friend Karen lives in Upstate New York, in the Finger Lakes Region – an area which, because of her, I now think of as the Finger Lickin’ Region.

A couple of years ago, she came to London for the first time and – instantly and rather poetically – came down with the worst cold of her life. Instead of running down Sloane Street, gathering heavy shopping bags until the rope handles cut off the circulation in her fingers; instead of meandering along the Thames by the Houses of Parliament and then strolling up Westminster to see that same view captured in misty, opalescent glory by Monet in the National Gallery; instead of, oh, just having a really lovely time, she spent most of her trip curled up on our fat red sofa covered in my Moroccan blanket, our cats sitting guard, sphinx-like at her feet.

Karen is incredibly gracious. As she reclined there, like a Twenty-First Century Elizabeth Barrett Browning, she made it seem like this was exactly the trip she’d always dreamed of, greeting every cup of tea or bowl of soup as though it were a miraculous thing. One day I made her poached eggs on toast and you’d have thought I’d treated her to the tasting menu at the Fat Duck.

I owe Karen a lot, for her friendship and wisdom, for her bountiful good humour and encouragement, but for our purposes, I owe her credit for the title of my blog. We end our many emails across the ocean with silly, often foodie, good wishes. One day, she signed off ‘Love and a licked spoon, Karen x’. It encapsulates everything that’s important to me – friendship, food, fun. So Karen, this is for you, and anyone else who really, really wants to know how to poach an egg.


I love this Turkish recipe for its simplicity of execution and complexity of flavour. An egg is a miraculous and wonderful thing, so please don’t torture them in one of those hideous egg poacher contraptions. They result in eggs that look like something from a joke shop or, worse, a 1970s boarding house dining room.

Some people add vinegar to the poaching water as it helps keep the white together but, however little I add, I can still taste it so I leave it out and rely on my little whirlpool to keep the shape. Don’t add salt to the water – this will make the white spread out more. Season after cooking. In this case, paprika, chilli and mint should do the trick.

Serves 2

1 small garlic clove
A good pinch of sea salt
About a teacup full of whole milk yoghurt
3 tbsps unsalted butter
½ tsp of sweet, smoked paprika
2 eggs, the fresher the better
A pinch of chilli flakes (I use Isot, the finely crushed chilli flakes from Urfa, but any will do)
A sprinkling of dried mint (optional)

Bring a large pan of water to the boil. As we all know, a watched pot never boils, so make the sauce while you’re waiting. On a board, chop the garlic clove into a paste with the salt. Whisk it into the yoghurt and set aside. Warm the butter in a small frying pan over a medium-low heat until melted. Add the paprika and chilli flakes, stir and remove from the heat.

Gently break the eggs onto two saucers. When you have the water at a good, rolling boil, stir it vigorously with a wooden spoon until you have a swirling vortex. Tip one of the eggs into the middle of the whirlpool and watch as the white folds over the yolk. Cook for two to three minutes depending on their size, until the white is set and the yolk still runny. Remove with a slotted spoon and put onto kitchen paper to drain. Repeat with the second egg.

Spread half of the yoghurt onto each of the plates, top with an egg, trickle over the paprika chilli butter and sprinkle on the dried mint. Eat immediately.




If you want to make this for a brunch and don’t fancy doing poached eggs for a dozen people on a sleepy, Sunday morning, do what chefs do and cook them the day before. Poach as above and plunge them immediately into a bowl of iced water. Refrigerate and then, when you’re ready to serve, warm them through for no more than 30 seconds in boiling water.

I capture the kitchen

I can cook because my mother can’t. Really can’t. To her, the kitchen is hostile territory where pans commit scorching hara-kiri, ovens spontaneously combust and meat comes in two different cuts: stringy or tough. So as kids, if my brother and I wanted to eat something vaguely more thrilling than toast, we made it ourselves.

Don’t pity me – it was wonderful. Mum was always engrossed in a book, either reading one or writing one, so she never cared what we did in the kitchen so long as we were QUIET, there was no BLOOD and any flames were intentional. In a childhood of happily anarchic gastronomy, there was no toy cooker for me – the whole kitchen was my playground. I had no idea it was weird for a 10 year old to spend Sunday afternoon boning a duck or icing petits fours. I spent hours pouring over the pages of the Hamlyn All Colour Cookbook, marvelling at the 70s gorgeousness of the ruby-red maraschino cherries and emerald-green angelica which seemed to adorn every perfectly-iced cake. Marguerite Patten was my heroine.

If I loved cookbooks, I loved my dictionary more. In a world of potato waffles, crispy pancakes and fish fingers, quenelles, purées and gratins were strange poetry indeed. When other girls were arguing about Starsky or Hutch, Donny or Jimmy, I was wondering where in the wilds of County Durham I might be able to find truffles or foie gras.

My parents threw lots of parties, the kind where women sat around in floaty dresses and love beads and bearded men played guitars. And there I was, like a mini Margo Leadbetter, passing around the (tinned) tuna pâté and extolling the virtues of my apple charlotte or gingernut log. Any conversations about gender stereotyping probably took place when I was out of earshot in the kitchen, checking the progress of my devils on horseback.

When others rhapsodise about their Mum’s special shepherd’s pie or apple crumble I have nothing to offer but toast toppers or baked beans (with cheese on a fancy day). But I’m not sorry. In the true spirit of 70s self-reliance, I made my own memories. And then I ate them.