Don we now our gay apparel. Or not.

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My nephew Angus with Barney Candy Striper.

Last Thursday was one of my favourite days of the year: Stoke Newington dog walkers’ Christmas party. The morning when a few dozen people and dogs gather by the ponds in Clissold Park at our normal dog-walking hour of nine-ish, and – for one day only – our paper cups are filled with mulled wine rather than coffee. Christmas cake and mince pies and biscuits and brownies are scattered across the picnic table in a haphazard selection of foil and Tupperware. I always bring my chorizo sausage rolls. I get up early to make them so they’re still warm. I reckon that should stand me in good stead with Santa and the Baby Jesus.

Barney even had a special outfit. I made it for our Church Street Christmas carols and mulled wine evening last week. There was a Most Festive Dog competition and I hoped dressing him up as a parcel would distract from his eternally-serious terrier face. It didn’t. He was trounced by his pal Roxie, a smiley Staffie who in the summer won Most Regal Dog (headscarf, pearls, tiara) at our Jubilee street party. We now call her Roxie Two Time and she may be the most famous dog in Stoke Newington, possibly the world.

Roxy & Willie

Roxie and Willie, in Jubilee finery.

Roxy 2

Roxie, Most Festive Dog.

So being a thrifty sort who believes firmly in cost per wear, I thought Barney could don his splendid bit of doggy couture for the dog walkers’ party. (Aside: More correctly, haute glueture as it is, I believe, a fine example of all the good things that can happen when you bring together felt, ribbon and glue gun.) He wore it for approximately 30 seconds before I had to admit that given the dripping, sloshing, gushing rain it would only weigh him down in the inevitable flood and he would be swept away to Finsbury Park and beyond. So he went nude, which is his favourite state.

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Pah! Rain.

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Stoicism, N16.

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Dorie and Taz.

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Karen’s homemade chocolates

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I always take a batch of Doggie Breath Bones too.

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Intrepid Lexie.

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Barney, nude.

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Barney, with Nero, a slightly larger dog.

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Composition: Damp leaves, damp dog.

Recipes for Summer Rentals: III

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Not a great beauty, but so delicious.

The slummocking is going very well. A khol eye pencil languishes untouched at the bottom of my makeup bag and the mascara’s chances of remaining in daily rotation are looking increasingly perilous. The Babyliss Big Hair thing has been pushed rudely to the edge of the dressing table to make way for a jam jar of flowers from the garden. I am a breath away from going to the village shop in my slippers.

In London, I often make Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk, or variations of it. Rather like the Tuscan dish, arista al latte, or pork cooked in milk, slowly simmering the bird in milk ensures it’s so tender it’s pull-apart easy to carve.

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My holiday larder is bare of a few of the things in Jamie’s recipe – sage, cinnamon – and even if I climbed the steep hill to the village shop (in my slippers), I doubt they’d have them either so I ditched them. I did add a bay leaf and sauté a sliced onion in the fat before returning the chicken to the pot. The milk curdles into cloudy little lumps, which you can spoon over the chicken, or pass them through a sieve and reduce to make a smooth, thick sauce. I also stirred some chopped chives into the sauce – if you wanted you could use parsley, chervil, tarragon, chives, alone or in combination, whatever you have.

Essentially, for tender, easy, holiday chicken, brown a whole, seasoned bird in butter, pour in enough milk to come about halfway up the pot, add some lemon zest and the seasonings you like. Bring to a gentle simmer, cover tightly and cook either over a very low heat or in the oven at 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5 for an hour and a half, basting if you remember. Leftovers are great in salads and sandwiches the next day.

Today’s pictures from the beach…

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It’s sometimes hard to tell who’s exercising whom.

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Beach bum

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Tiny mussels clinging to the rocks like iron filings.

Today’s holiday reading:

The grocer had been a Socialist all of his life, and his chief pleasure now was for Sarge to come in at tea-time and sit on the empty biscuit tins, chewing a handful of currants, and asking his advice. The young people upstairs were wonderful to him and he would have joined the Communist Party now, at his age (“What, at my age?” he would chuckle, measuring out sago into blue bags) but that he feared Sarge would then stop arguing with him. “My young people upstairs,” he would boast at his daughter-in-law’s, where he lived now his wife was dead. “Of course they walk in and out of the shop when they like. They’ve got their keys, and how else are they to come and go?” Then he would wait for the inevitable expression of doubt, so that he could add proudly: “We are not landlord and tenants. We are Communists and trust one another.”

People were always coming and going up the stairs. He came to know most of them; Chris, for instance, and then Eleanor. It was different from his daughter-in-law’s, where people only came to tea on Sundays and dinner must be early because of it and scones made first and tempers lost.

From At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor, 1945

Recipes for Summer Rentals: II

2012-06-17 09-33-03-917 Applied slummocking

We slip easily into the holiday routine of slummocking around in pyjamas until late*, hasty individual breakfasts foraged from unfamiliar cabinets, large gin-and-tonics before lunch, books and naps after, followed by little excursions to a village, a monument, a garden, a beach or the bright lights of Skibbereen, then the inevitable slouch towards Campari-and-sodas or stouts in the pub and dinner.

One excursion to Union Hall included a trip to the excellent fishmonger, supplied daily by the town’s own small fishing fleet. If you’re nervous about cooking fish, especially for a crowd, especially if the only frying pan at your disposal is a mean and wretched thing, bake it in a roasting tin on top of all of your vegetables.

*DISCLAIMER I need to exclude my father from the slummocking business. A June baby, according to family legend he was born wearing a light-coloured checked shirt and a good sweater.

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Looking over Sandy Cove

2012-06-21 02-36-45-231 A boy, a dog, a bay

2012-06-21 02-40-37-682 A most delicious stick

One-dish white fish

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You can scale this up or down, depending on the size of the oven and roasting tin at your disposal and the number of people around your table. I used whiting, but pollock or any other white fish would work well too. You can add a handful of black or green olives when you add the fish and mussels if you like.

Enough potatoes for 4 people, scrubbed and cut into wedges
3 red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
Olive oil
Juice and pared zest of 2 lemons (use a vegetable peeler to pare the lemons, making sure you scrape off any white pith)
2 red peppers, cored and cut into thin strips
2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into thin strips
4-6 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 fillets of whiting
A couple of handfuls of cleaned mussels
A handful of parsley, tough stalks removed and chopped
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

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Preheat the oven to 190ºC/370ºF/Gas mark 5. Scatter the potatoes and onions in a large roasting tin, pour over a glug or two of oil, the zest and juice of one of the lemons and season well with salt and pepper. Toss everything together with your hands and cover tightly with foil. Bake for about 30-40 minutes and remove the foil. If the potatoes are tender (if not, re-cover them and cook for a bit longer), mix with the peppers and garlic and return, uncovered, to the oven and bake until the peppers are soft and the potatoes start to take on some colour, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir in the parsley, and lay the seasoned fish fillets over the top. Scatter on the mussels, add the remaining lemon zest and juice and cover tightly with a double layer of foil. Return to the oven for about 10 minutes, until the fish is cooked through and the mussels opened. Serve with more lemon wedges on the side.

Today’s holiday reading:

Julia was making flaky pastry. Oliver liked to sit watching her folding in lard, rolling, folding, turning. The quick movements of her strong wrists, powdered with flour, pleased him. Mrs Lippincote’s old mixing-bowl pleased him, too. The creamy glazed earthenware was scribbled over faintly with sepia cracks, and a spiral of indigo wound thickly round it. He was probably the only person who had ever thought it beautiful. Julia stamped out the centres of the vol-au-vent cases and took the baking tray to the oven. She knelt there, sodding and blasting with the heat puffing over her red face, and brought out another tray of pastry. “Risen beautifully,” she told herself. She began to clear up and Oliver returned to his arithmetic book. “Nine and nine is eighteen,” he began to drone. Roddy had said he shouldn’t go to school until the next term, but get his strength up instead, run wild a bit. Oliver simply didn’t know how to run wild, so he sat in the kitchen and watched his mother. And five is twenty-three.

From At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor, 1945

Recipes for Summer Rentals

20120619_140933My nephew Angus reclining on the rocks at Toe Head.

Yesterday I woke to the thrumming of rain against the large hosta beneath our bedroom window. The leaves are as tough as the waxed cloth of an expensive umbrella and almost as broad. It was as loud as someone throwing gravel against the glass and it took me a second to remember where I was.

We’re in West Cork, where the rain can be heavy and insistent enough to wake you one moment, and then, by the time you’ve laid the fire and dressed yourself to face it, it’ll give way to a clear hyacinth blue sky. Which is what happened yesterday morning.

We took our lunch to the beach, a little westward-facing shingle cove a few miles along the coast at Toe Head. We sat in the blustery sunshine watching the dog flirt with the frothy white edges of the tide as we ate lunch. Egg salad sandwiches, crisps, KitKats, orange juice and a thermos of strong tea… I’ve eaten this, or slight variations of this, on beach picnics all my life. It made me think of the things I make every year in the invariably-sparsely-equipped kitchens of houses we’ve rented for the summer. I thought I’d share some of them with you – the kind of dinners I make when I can’t weigh anything or whizz it in a blender, the sort of dishes that don’t mind terribly if you bake them in scratched 70s Pyrex, improvise a lid with tin foil, subject them to a temperamental oven, or let them fend for themselves while you linger over drinks in the pub. These are my recipes for summer rentals, though of course they taste just as good at home too.

Egg salad sandwiches

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I like to use a bought, French-style mayonnaise for these. It has a little mustard in it and tastes pleasingly eggy. But use whatever you prefer. For ‘something green, chopped up’, I use either rocket or chives, though I often hanker for classic egg-and-cress and wonder why I don’t grow cress on blotting paper on a sunny windowsill as I did when I was a kid. It makes me a little sad that we live in an age when cress is almost as difficult to find as blotting paper.

If you’re the kind of family who has a cooked rasher or two of bacon left over from breakfast, chop that up finely and stir it in too. We’re not, so sometimes I cook a couple especially to mix in with the egg. A finely-chopped spring onion is also a good addition.

For four to six people:

5 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
A generous spoonful or two of mayonnaise
Something green, chopped up
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bread, slices or soft rolls

Optional: A couple of cooked rashers of bacon, finely chopped; a spring onion, finely chopped

Gently stir together the eggs, mayonnaise, green thing of choice, bacon and/or spring onion if using, and season well with salt and pepper. Spoon the salad onto white bread or brown, slices or rolls. Avoid sand.

Today’s holiday reading:
‘Liz sat under the mulberry tree. The fruit was scarlet and black among the dark leaves. Outside this circle of shade, the garden burned and blazed with the hot colours of the bean-flowers, of montbretia, golden-rod, geraniums.

“My dear Arthur,” she had written on a piece of paper; but it had blown away across the flower-border, and, too lazy to fetch it, she had begun again on another sheet.’

A Wreath of Roses by Elizabeth Taylor

Lazy tart

Debora's Lazy Tart

When we were here a couple of years ago, I wrote about my rugby-playing nephew Angus who was supposed to eat 4,000 calories a day and seemed keen to derive a fair amount of these from Nutella.

Well – despite a startlingly grown-up beard – he still has a child’s sweet tooth and an enduring affection for the chocolate and hazelnut spread. Last night we needed a quick sweet fix to round off dinner and together we came up with the 5 minute Nutella and peach tart. For a lazy tart, it’s not bad. Not bad at all.

Five minute Nutella and peach tart

Nutella and peach tart

1 circle ready-rolled all-butter puff pastry
A generous amount of Nutella
3-4 ripe peaches, cut into segments
A small handful of hazelnuts, roughly chopped, or flaked almonds (optional)
Some egg wash or milk

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6.

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment (or use the parchment the pastry comes rolled in) and lay the circle of pastry on it. With a small, sharp knife, cut a border about 2cm in from the edge of the pastry disc, being careful not to cut all the way through the pastry. Brush the border with the egg wash or milk.

Using a spatula, spread a generous, even layer of Nutella within the border and arrange the sliced peaches over the top, cramming them quite close together. Scatter the nuts over the top if using and then bake for about 20 minutes, until the pastry if puffed up and golden and the peaches are slightly caramelised around the edges. Serve warm.

Angus John Robertson & Debora's Lazy Tart

Orage-ously good chicken

Orage-ously good chicken

Agde has been hot – the kind of humid heat that interferes with sleep, melts make up, frizzes hair. On the terrace of the Café Plazza, as tinny, consumptive Peter Gabriel or Police wheezed out from the speakers, locals muttered about ‘un orage’ over tiny cups of coffee and breakfast beers.

Well today the orage came, splashing, running, pelting down from the skies, spilling from the gutters, filling the age-smoothed grooves in the basalt terrace like tiny rockpools. It was a day to remain behind the wooden door.

Rain in Agde

Splashing rain in AgdeRain splashing on the basalt terrace.

Almost the very second we were due to leave London, the car rammed to the rafters with towels and straw hats, proper pillows, paperbacks and favourite knives, the postman delivered a parcel, a birthday present from my sister-in-law. It was Dorie Greenspan’s lovely  Around My French Table. It was my companion throughout our 17 hour journey, especially during the boring bits before you get to Clermont Ferrand where France begins to roll downhill to the south.

I gave the book to my nephew Angus to look at and told him we could make what he liked. He’s going to university in the autumn (biochemistry – what the hell?) and wants to learn to cook a bit. His mother’s from a Spanish Basque family so his heart, appetite and genes lead him to Dorie’s Chicken Basquaise, a colourful jumble of peppers, chillies, tomatoes and chicken, a perfectly sunny dish for an extravagantly rainy day.

Dorie Greenspan’s Chicken basquaise

Chicken basquaise in Agde

If you’re keen on French food, you really need to buy Dorie Greenspan’s book. Probably today, if it’s not too much trouble. In her introduction, she says ‘This is elbows-on-the-table food, dishes you don’t need a Grand Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu to make’. ‘Elbows-on-the-table food’ is a pretty good description of the food I love and so many of my favourites are here, a whole banquet of rillettes, gratins, daubes and gougères, but also couscous and tagines, escabeches and ceviches, reflecting France’s more recent influences and passions.

Around My French Table is the kind of book you want to work your way through, devouring every carefully, cheerfully, deliciously constructed recipe. The recipes use American measurements, but you can buy cup measures all over the place now so that’s hardly an obstacle to enjoyment.

Serves four

For the pipérade:

2 big Spanish or Vidalia onions
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 green peppers, peeled if you like
2 red peppers, peeled if you like
3 mild chillies (or another red pepper)
6 tomatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2-4 garlic cloves, to taste, split, green germ removed and minced
2 teaspoons sea salt or more to taste
Pinch of sugar
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
¼ – ½ teaspoon piment d’Esplette or chilli powder
Freshly ground black pepper

For the chicken:

1 large chicken, about 1.8kg, preferably organic, cut into 8 pieces, or 8 chicken thighs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup/190ml dry white wine
White rice, for serving
Minced fresh basil and/or cilantro/coriander, for garnish (optional)

To make the pipérade: Cut the onions in half from top to bottom. Lay each piece flat-side down and cut in half again from top to bottom, stopping just short of the root end: cut each half onion crosswise into thin slices.

Put a Dutch oven or large, high-sided frying pan with a cover over medium heat and pour in 2 tablespoons of oil. Warm the oil for a minute, then toss in the onions and cook, stirring, for 10 minutes, or until softened but not coloured.

Meanwhile, cut the peppers and chillies in half, trim the tops, remove the cores and remove the seeds. Cut the peppers lengthwise into strips about ½ inch/1cm wide. Thinly slice the chillies.

Add the remaining tablespoons of oil to the pot, stir in the peppers and chillies, cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook and stir for another 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are quite soft.

Add the tomatoes, garlic, salt, sugar, thyme, bay leaf, piment d’Esplette or chilli powder, and freshly ground pepper to taste, stir well, cover and cook for 10 minutes more. Remove the cover and let the pipérade simmer for another 15 minutes. You’ll have a fair amount of liquid in the pot, and that’s fine. Remove the thyme and bay leaf. Taste and add more salt, pepper, or piment d’Esplette if you think it needs it.

If you would like to make the pipérade with eggs (see below), use a slotted spoon to transfer 2 cups of the pepper mixture into a bowl. Spoon in a little of the cooking liquid, and refrigerate until needed (you can pack all of the pipérade in an airtight container and keep it refrigerated for up to 4 days).

To make the chicken: Pat the chicken pieces dry. Warm the oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy casserole over a medium-high heat. Add a couple of chicken pieces, skin-side down (don’t crowd the chicken – do this in batches), and cook until the skin is golden, about 5 minutes. Turn the pieces over and cook for another 3 minutes. Transfer the pieces to a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and continue until all of the chicken is browned.

Discard the oil, set the pot over a high heat, pour in the wine, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits that might have stuck to the bottom. Let the wine bubble away until it cooks down to about 2 tablespoons. Return the chicken to the pot, add any juices that have accumulated in the bowl, and spoon in the pipérade. Bring the mixture to the boil, then reduce the heat so that the pipérade just simmers, cover the pot, and simmer gently for 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Taste for salt and pepper and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Serve over white rice, sprinkled with basil and/or cilantro/coriander, if using.

Pipérade and eggs

Pipérade and Eggs in Agde

The traditional way to make pipérade and eggs is to heat the pipérade, stir beaten eggs into the mixture, and cook until the eggs are scrambled. Inevitably and invariably the egs curdle, but no one (at least no one Basque) seems to mind. If you’d like uncurdled eggs, warm 2 cups of pipérade in a saucepan. Meanwhile beat 6 eggs with a little salt and pepper in a bowl. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large, non-stick pan over a medium heat, and when the bubbles subside, pour in the eggs, Cook the eggs, stirring, until they form soft curds. Spoon the pipérade into four shallow soup plates and, with the back of a spoon, make a little well in the centre of each. Fill each well with some scrambled eggs. Drizzle the eggs and pipérade sparingly with olive oil, dust with minced basil or coriander, if you’d like, and serve immediately, with slices of warm toasted country bread rubbed with garlic and moistened with oil.

French fries

All present and correct

Well the sun came out and, in the fickle way of holiday makers everywhere, I’m grateful for the house’s fortress-like basalt walls which keep the rooms shady and cool. Even on the brightest days, inside you need to turn on a light to read.

June is one of the happiest and most delicious of months in Adge. The market is full of peas and peaches, melons, tomatoes and cherries, everything du region. At one of my favourite stalls, a young man was selling courgette flowers. I bought all he had, about twenty or so, and from another stall enough soft goat’s cheese to stuff them.

Stuffed courgette flowers

Golden and ready to eat

Forgive me, TS Eliot, for saying that I measure out my life in measuring spoons. Quarter of a teaspoon, half a teaspoon, a teaspoon; half a tablespoon, a tablespoon. When I’m developing recipes, accuracy is everything. Measure and measure again. So when I’m on holiday, one of the purest of pleasures for me is to scatter, toss, fling ingredients around with a recklessness that would get me fired in my real life. Here, it just gets me fired up. So you need to forgive me, too, for having no proper measurements in this recipe. But hey, you’re a clever sort, you can figure it out.

Courgette flowers
Soft goat’s cheese
A cup of plain flour
Sparkling mineral water, chilled
Salt
An ice cube
Sunflower or groundnut oil for frying

Carefully peel back the petals of the courgette flowers and remove the stamens. Take a bit of soft goat’s cheese (I was going to say about a teaspoonful, but we’re doing this freestyle, no measuring aren’t we?) and tuck it inside each flower, twisting the petals to close around the cheese.

Stuff carefully

Pour about 10cm of oil into a heavy-bottomed, deep pan. It shouldn’t come more than a third of the way up the sides. Heat up the oil until it measures 180˚C on a thermometer, or, as we’re on holiday, a cube of bread turns golden in just less than a minute.

While it’s heating up, make the batter. In a bowl, mix the flour with a good pinch of salt and enough mineral water to give it the consistency of double cream. I like to throw in an ice cube too, to ensure it’s extra cold. When the fat is hot enough, dip the flowers by their stems into the batter and then carefully drop them into the oil. Don’t crowd the pan – in mine, I can cook about four at a time – and cook until golden, about 3-4 minutes. Scoop the cooked flowers out of the oil with tongs or a spider and leave to drain on kitchen paper while you cook the rest. Serve immediately, sprinkled with a little salt.