Wednesday, 1 June 2022

View from the Breakfast Table, this morning...


Three of the Spice Boys, enjoying the morning sunshine against a background of trachelospermum in full bloom. The smell is intoxicating! (Also, with a guest appearance in the bottom left corner of the frame, of a puppy - now seven months old...)

Tonight's Dinner:

Turkish scrambled eggs (with feta, red pepper, chilli, onion, garlic, tomato, and a sprinkling of parsley)

Squid Ink Risotto

Apricot Tart, with apricots fresh from the tree, picked after breakfast, this morning (puppy currently in deep disgrace, as she snaffled a quarter of the tart before it was served - it had been left negligently too close to the edge of the kitchen counter. It's a learning curve...)

Friday, 18 March 2022


 ...or, to give its penny-plain monicker, 'egg-custard tart'. Which can either be the workaday version, using vanilla essence, or it can be raised to ambrosial levels by the use of a proper vanilla pod. 

This is - or, by now, was, at any rate at the time several months ago when this precise recipe was lifted from the pages of Le Monde - all the rage in France, when at least Le Tout Paris was apparently chowing down on little else.  Served with a raspberry coulis (1 cup of raspberries, liquidised, and sieved, and then sweetened to-taste, and a tbs of brandy added, to give the flavour some depth), it is quite splendid.

Serves six.

Ingredients: 1x 8 inch shortcrust tart shell; 265 ml milk; 90 ml single cream; 1 vanilla pod; 2 medium eggs (needs to measure 75g ); 90g sugar; 30g cornflour.


1. Blind bake the tart shell, to the biscuit stage

2. Combine the milk and cream; into this, scrape the contents of the vanilla pod, and heat in the top part of a double boiler.

3. Whisk the egg with the sugar, and mix in the cornflour. 

4. Add the cream/milk mixture to the egg mixture, and mix well, before returnng the combined mixtures to the double boiler, and continue to cook over gentle heat for five minutes.

5. Carefully pour the mixture into the pastry shell, and cook at 180 degrees C for forty minutes or so, until the custard is just set.

Allow to cool (best) before serving.

Tuesday, 8 February 2022



I confess, for the past few years I've been lazy, and I've used shop-bought mincemeat. Seduced in part by the interesting-sounding additions advertised on the labels, no doubt. And I did the same again, this year, last time we were in London, before Christmas. Except that the security gremlins at the airport intervened, and my jars of whisky-laced mincemeat were all seized as being a security risk. Apparently because it is 'spreadable', and anything 'spreadable' constitutes a terrorist threat. Go figure...

Even more debatable, though, was their reaction when I suggested that the security cohort might enjoy digging into the stuff, now it was safely in their possession. "Oh, no," I was told. "It all gets sent to the local food-bank - we don't keep it." risks blowing up a 737...but, it seems that it's fine to feed it to the poor? (Or, could it be, maybe, that they recognise that it represents no risk to security whatsoever, and that it's a question of just slavishly and witlessly following rules which even the security mavens know have no practical application? Yet another reason to despair...)

Anyway. I'd promised a batch of mince pies, as usual, for a seasonal gift, and so I had to get on and make some. To the following recipe:


750g mixed dried fruit and peel

175g suet

zest of 1 lemon, juice of half lemon

250g brown sugar

half tsp nutmeg

2 medium apples (peeled and grated)

100 ml (plus a bit more, if the mixture can take it) brandy


Mix everything together. Pack into sterilised jars, and keep at least for a week before using it.

Doing the sights...


Can be exhausting...

Tonight's dinner:

Salad of Beetroot, Feta, and chickpeas

Poached salmon; buttered spinach

Apple-Vanilla- Calvados Tarts

Saturday, 11 December 2021

Traveling light...

 Heathrow, Terminal Two, 6.40 a.m...

On the train between Zurich Flughaven and Zurich Hauptbahn, 12.30...

On the train between Milan and Florence, 18.00...
(It's been a long day...)

 On the same train...later
(Are we there yet?
Nope....another train after this one, and then a taxi.)

Finally. Home!

Tonight's dinner

Ravioli Gnudi

Salsiccia with buttered spinach

Apple & Blackberry Crumble (it's winter...time for cold-weather  food)

Friday, 26 November 2021

More Cuff...


Important people have lots of names: King-Emperor; Lord of the Isles; Baron Hows-your-father; Chief Poo-Bah. Well, on that basis, Cuff was a very, very important personage, since he had more different names than you could shake a stick at, and all of them were used over and over and over, and always as terms of endearment. They emerged and were hatched unprompted, over time – where they actually came from is anybody’s guess.  He was:

Cuff (for polite and everyday use); Cuffkin (sometimes pronounced ‘Huff-hin’); Boo; Cuffkin-chaiki; Cuffkin-chaiki-moodle-poo (as a puppy, he liked that one), which was also sometimes Mr Cuffkin-chaiki-moodle-poo (of the Chaiki-moodle-poos of Nitsbridge, and of Pisa); Doodle-Boo (sometimes Doodle) ; Smirt-wurble;  Squibble-dim; occasionally, Frurble (or Wurble). And very often, whichever short-form was being used was prefaced by ‘Mr’, so he became Mr Cuff, Mr Boo, Mr Smirt, and so on. And he wore them all with an air that they were appropriate and that they belonged to him

And, although it wasn’t a name, but was more something to be intoned, he was often scooped up, and told, whilst holding his gaze from six inches away, that he was Best-dog-in-the-Word-type-dog-type-thing-type-Cuff.  Following brief consideration of which, he would generally lunge forward to give his signature version of a kiss, which was just to press his snout briefly against my nose, and then just as quickly to withdraw again. 

I suddenly remembered, this morning, the game that he made up, which was, while we were having dinner,  to balance a tennis ball on the narrow bar that runs beneath the dining table, and then to wait for it to be discovered, and for it to be thrown for him, through the doorway and across to the far end of the kitchen, for him to chase, retrieve, and return. I think we were supposed not to know that the ball had been placed there by him,  as he would never balance it there if he knew he was being watched; and so, I never actually saw him do it. Which is a shame, as it must have required a lot of dexterity, since the bar is narrow, and to balance a ball on it requires skill. Not only that, but the ball would always be placed exactly at the mid-point along the length of the bar. Once placed, he would then position himself, either sitting stage-left, or else sitting just through the doorway into the kitchen, as though he would attempt a goalie-save as the tennis ball sailed past. Which, sometimes, he managed. But mostly, it was a question of chasing the ball across the kitchen, and of trying to stop it before it reached the far end of the room. If it bounced and it landed in a chair, then he couldn’t get it, since moving the furniture was Strictly Forbidden. And, if it went into the corner, behind the lamp flex that snaked across the floor behind the chair there, then he couldn’t get it either, since flexes Could Not Be Crossed. Ever. (I think he must have managed to get caught in one once, early in life, and he’d pulled a laptop or some other appliance down onto his head, and so flexes were ever afterwards to be avoided). If either of those things happened, then he would stop, and stare fiercely at the ball, from a distance, and let out an occasional whimper of excited distress, until one of us would go and retrieve the ball for him from wherever it was, and the game would carry on from there.

Until he got bored with it. Which could take a very long time. 

Often, a visitor taking coffee might find Cuff positioned in front of them, alert, and regarding them with an expectant gaze, which they wouldn’t understand. ‘He wants you to throw his ball for him’, they’d be told. And in response to them saying that they didn’t have his ball, they’d be informed that if he had that expression, then they almost certainly did. And a search would always reveal a tennis ball which had been quietly placed on their chair, which they wouldn’t have noticed, and it had often been pushed between their leg and the edge of their seat. 

Cuff was very understanding of human deficiencies. 

And the most complicated version of the game was when we used to have dinner, in summer, out in the courtyard, and the ball would be thrown up onto the decking terrace, upstairs. It took him a while to work it out, but eventually, he understood that to retrieve it he had to run into the house, through the pantry, and through the scullery, and into the kitchen and then go up the stairs, and go through the salone, and through another small room, and then out onto the terrace, where he would find the ball. And his face would then appear, peering triumphantly down at us, over the edge the terrace, ball in his mouth. Success! And on those occasions, sometimes he stayed up there for a while, savouring his victory, before he retraced his steps and he relinquished the ball once more. For a repeat. 

And, we’re having to deal with the fact that all the repeats are now finished. And that there will be no more. Which is hard.

 We’ve done the only thing which anybody can do in the circumstances, which is to go and look for a Puppy. It isn’t a replacement; it could never be that. It’s a Different. And, if we’re lucky, it will be a Comparable.

And, I think we’ve found the one. 

She’ll be coming home with us two weeks from now.

And, on an appropriate level, I think that Chief Poo-Bah, Lord of the Isles, the King-Emperor himself would understand.

Tonight's Dinner:

Gnocchi of Ricotta and Spinach

Pasta, with garlic and pepper sauce

Apple and Vanilla Tarts




Saturday, 20 November 2021

Images of Autumn...


Tonight's dinner:

Courgette fritters with Tzatziki

Coq au vin; braised salsify

Budino alla Toscana