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, (substack@deborarobertson.com 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 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.


Stoke Newington Literary Festival

Next weekend, 3-5 June, Stoke Newington comes alive with writers and all manner of creative types for the seventh Stoke Newington Literary festival. If you’re the hungry or thirsty sort, which of course you are, do come to any and all of the events I’m helping to run in St. Paul’s West Hackney.

We kick off with A Taste of Honey on Saturday, with Hattie Ellis, Hannah Rhodes and Paul Webb, then Sabrina Ghayour joins us to talk about her delicious new book Sirocco, the follow up to her smash hit bestseller, Persiana.  We round off Saturday afternoon with chocolate brought to us by Cocoa Runners and philosopher Julian Baggini.

On Sunday, Rachel McCormack hosts her popular Gastro Salon, with cocktail queen Kay Plunkett-Hogge, Hackney food writer Yasmin Khan and local resident and former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls, and then on Sunday afternoon Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer join us to talk about running their deliciously successful restaurant, Honey & Co.

Do come! It would be wonderful to see you.

A Taste of Honey.
Saturday 4th June, 11:00 – £6.00

Have you ever thought about becoming a bee keeper? Fancy having your own hives or simply mad about honey? Then join us as we talk all things honey with Hattie Ellis, author of Spoonfuls of Honey, Hannah Rhodes, founder of Hiver Beer, and urban beekeeper Paul Webb.

Fabulous Flavours from the East with Sabrina Ghayour Saturday 4th June, 15:00 – £6.00
Join Sabrina Ghayour, the award-winning author of the bestselling Persiana, as she talks food, cooking and her eagerly anticipated new book Sirocco. Discover what fuels Sabrina’s passion for food, the inspiration behind her new book and the key ingredients that are always in her shopping basket. There will be samples of one of the dishes from the book.
Saturday 4th June, 17:00 – £6.00

Philosopher Julian Baggini’s essay, an epilogue to the acclaimed The Virtues of the Table, extends his thoughts on our relationship with food to cover one of the greatest food groups of all, chocolate. The essay was exclusively written for Cocoa Runners, a chocolate club who are passionate about the chocolate they source and how it is produced. Both Julian and the Cocoa Runners team will be joining us for chocolate, discussions on chocolate, and more chocolate.

Chocolate will be provided…
Sunday 5th June, 13:00 – £6.00

Host Rachel McCormack (BBC Radio 4’s Kitchen Cabinet) talks to former model booker, cocktail queen and food writer Kay Plunkett-Hogge (Heat: Cooking With Chillies), Hackney-based author Yasmin Khan (The Saffron Tales) and former Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer and self-confessed foodie Ed Balls (Sport Relief Bake Off) about road trips. They dish up stories of the best – and worst – food they’ve eaten whilst travelling.

 

Sunday 5th June, 15:00 – £6.00

Since it first opened its doors in 2012, Honey & Co has attracted an intensely loyal following who pack the tiny restaurant every day. At the heart of this success are owners Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer – partners in business and life. Join them as they talk about how they got started, what inspires them in the kitchen, and how they navigate a delicious path in work and life. 

There will be samples of cake from their baking book.

 

The full Literary Festival programme can be found here, or downloaded in pdf format here.

Debora and Louise Invite You to a Dog’s Dinner…

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Every fancied making healthy treats for your dog? Want to learn how best to use them in dog training? Join food writer Debora Robertson and dog behaviourist and trainer Louise Glazebrook in Debora’s pretty Stoke Newington kitchen for a lively afternoon of dog chat, tea and cake.
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Watch Debora demonstrate how to make easy snacks such as dog breath bones, dried sweet potato chews, and liver treats. Then Louise will discuss how to make the best use of treats during training, share her thoughts on good nutrition for your pet and answer any questions you may have.
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Woof!
INCLUDES: Tea and coffee, cakes and biscuits; a doggy bag which will include a recipe sheet, dog treats and other goodies for you and your dog.
WHEN: March 22, 2pm-5pmCOSTS: £30

Here, Have A Cookie

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So a nice thing happened which I quite forgot to tell you about, what with all of the garden talks and bake sale hoopla. It’s a really nice thing, a skip-around-the-room-and-pour-yourself-a-margarita sort of thing.

My blog has been nominated for the Guild of Food Writers’ Food Blog of the Year Award , alongside Kerstin Rodgers’ The English Can Cook  and Emma Gardner’s Poires au Chocolat . The chichi là là party is on May 29. Not long to wait. In the meantime, do join me in a celebratory Friday afternoon cookie.

MochaButta Cookies

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I’ve been at my desk since seven o’clock this morning, taptaptapping away. By tea time, I was desperate for something sweet and there was nothing but oranges in the kitchen. Now I love an orange, but I needed the You-Lift-Me-Up transformative powers of butter and sugar. So I came up with these cookies using what I have in the cupboards, and they’re pretty good. Dark, nutty, not too sweet, quite grown up in fact. I’m eating one now. It’s still warm and I’m thinking how good it would be with vanilla ice cream.

I was going to make them with half caster- and half light muscovado sugar, but I’m out of light muscovado so I did a 8:2 blend of caster- and dark muscovado sugar. I also wanted to use up some caramelised cocoa nibs I was sent so I threw those in. Chocolate chips would be good if you’re all out of caramelised cocoa nibs.

Makes about 20 cookies.

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75g plain flour
25g cocoa powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
50g unsalted butter, softened
80g caster sugar
20g dark muscovado sugar
200g crunchy peanut butter
1 egg, room temperature
2 tbsp instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tbsp boiling water
1 tsp vanilla extract
70g caramelised cocoa nibs or chocolate chips

Sift the first four ingredients into a bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer or with an electric hand mixer – or certainly by hand if your desire is to have perfectly toned upper arms to rival Michelle Obama’s – beat together the butter and sugars until well combined. Beat in the peanut butter, then the egg, coffee and vanilla. Slowly but thoroughly beat in the sieved dry ingredients then fold in the cocoa nibs or chocolate chips. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Line two cookie sheets with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 170C.

Roll the cookies into balls roughly the size of a walnut. Place them on the prepared sheets about 4cm apart. Flatten them slightly with the bottom of a glass then press a criss-cross pattern into the surface with the tines of a fork.

Bake for 10 minutes. Leave on the tray for two minutes to firm up slightly, then drag the baking parchment onto wire cooling rack and let the cookies cool completely.