Truth compels us to assert our conviction of the superior wholesomeness of bread made in our own homes - Eliza Acton

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Friday 18th August


An incredibly simple recipe - because with fruit this vibrant, why would you faff about? Nigel Slater recommends biscuit bases for the summer when it's too hot to make pastry. I don't have 'pastry hands' at any time of year, but I agree that this is particularly wonderful on a warm day.

Summer berry tart - fits a tart dish of around 22cm

100g butter
375g crumbly biscuits - I used a mixture of plain digestives and some orange and vanilla ones from M & S

Melt the butter, bash the biscuits to smithereens and mix. Press into the base and up the sides of a tart dish. Chill for half an hour.

2 eggs
2 tbsp sugar
500g mascarpone

Some options here. You could take the easy way, which is to mix all the above up well and spoon into shell. You could add a teaspoon of vanilla essence, or liqueur (cointreau would be nice), or orange zest. If you like a lighter filling (in texture rather than actual calories, of course) you could separate the eggs and whisk the whites until stiff before folding them in to the other ingredients. It now needs to chill for another half hour, which can be before or after you add the fruit.

700g mixed red fruit: I had red currants, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries. You could also use cherries, strawberries, blackcurrants and whitecurrants. Prepare them as necessary (there must be no stones, no stalks, no hulls, barely a pip to interrupt each voluptuous mouthful). Scatter them over the top in a carefully random fashion.


Tuesday 15th August


I've spent a bit of time in Suffolk recently, and I thought it might be useful to collect together the best bits, food-wise.

Potted shrimp at The Lighthouse in Aldeburgh: the restaurant is owned by Sara Fox, who also runs the cookery school across the road with Thane Prince. The menu is very slightly disappointing in a way I can't quite put my finger on - besides the fish, it doesn't quite seem to reflect the wonderful fresh produce of this area and this season. Still, stick to the fish and you'll have a fantastic meal.

Fish and chips from Mark's, on Southwold High Street. Absolutely perfect battered haddock with big squashy chips - exactly what you want to eat when you can see, hear and smell the sea.

Follow that with a pint of Pimms at the Lord Nelson down the road. Others swear by the Adnams beers but on a sunny day a cold glass of Pimms with plenty of salad in it (apples, cucumber, mint and borage are all possibilities) suits me nicely.

Fresh sea bream at the White Horse in Sibton - a funny little country pub, with hardly a village around it, and as different as can be from the 'pubs' (var. gastro) I eat in in London, but none the worse for that. Friendly staff who knew the menu, which was set daily according to what came in from the fishmongers. Big portions of that still spanking-fresh fish more than made up for the pub salad and bizarre balsamic potatoes on the side, and the summer pudding was absolutely text-book.

Air-dried beef and the most delicious fennel-marinated olives from Emmetts of Peasenhall, a wonderful delicatessen in one of those mysterious towns where everyone has clearly either inherited a lovely pile or retired from the City in their thirties. Hence a shop that would struggle in Cambridge and have lots of competition in West London manages to thrive on a ratio of roughly one flavour of olives per resident. The shopkeeper is as evangelical as deli owners always are: 'eat this!' was closely followed by a paper-thin slice of cecina de leon (that air-dried beef, from Northern Spain) wrapped around a soft slice of creamy sheep's cheese and dribbled with garlicky, fennelly oil from the olives. Heaven.

Frying bacon from Emmetts in the teeny kitchen of the mediaeval cottage we were renting from the Landmark Trust for the weekend. Dry, crisp, and piggy-tasting: with poached eggs, toast and coffee, there is no better way to face the day.

And taking it home: another trip to Emmetts, or the Orford smokery, or the Friday Street farm shop. Lord of the Hundreds cheese, oak smoked trout, beef, bacon, ham... or just-picked strawberries, to be eaten before you even get home.


Thursday 10th August


Yay, my Euro Blogging By Post parcel arrived! This is a fun one. It's from Daniel at Szindbadek which, yes, is written in Hungarian. Luckily Daniel has sent me an explanatory note in English, so from the contents of his parcel I can begin to work out a little about him and about Hungarian food. The first thing I spotted when I opened his parcel was familiar: paprika! Of course, fantastic. Apparently this paprika comes from Daniel's home town, which is a nice touch. Daniel also included an organic plum jam, Szilvalekvár - one hundred per cent pure szilva, or plums, which sounds delicious. Then something very interesting, 'Vegeta': a mixed flavouring of vegetables and herbs which Daniel says can be used instead of salt - originally from Croatia but very popular all over eastern Europe. Then a jar of organic acacia honey, and two jars of sauce, a hot pepper one and a beautiful yellow aubergine one. Finally I can wash all that down with a glass of Tokaji Aszú, as Wikipedia puts it, "the wine which made Tokaj world famous and is proudly cited in the Hungarian national anthem." I shall look forward to cracking that open - from what I have read, I think it will go beautifully with the plum jam, so I have a few ideas to mull over involving plums, cinnamon, hazelnuts... Thank you, Daniel: köszönöm szépen!


Tuesday 1st August

There's a restaurant in Soho called Arbutus which I must recommend to you. It's quite new and so has been reviewed everywhere in the last few months, so we toddled along to treat ourselves before going on to the theatre the other week. And what a treat it was - a cool, calm dining room, which they have achieved by dividing the space right down the middle so that the tables are completely screened off from the entrance and bar, but still have a window onto the street. It's all very glossy and brown, in an expensive, veneered way.

The food is wonderful, as interesting and ceremonial as you'd expect. Gazpacho was presented in two parts: a hillock of crisp, minutely diced salad in the centre of the bowl, with the soup in a pitcher which kept cool for you to top up as often as you liked. My rabbit terrine was juicier than that lean meat can usually achieve on its own, but thoroughly bunny, and balanced with gooseberry chutney (the acceptable face of sweet and sour). For the mains it was C's turn to get the carnivorous hit, from a luscious lump of pork belly. I had a salad, with wild salmon cooked to the temperature and consistency of melting butter, with capers and cornichons and sorrel. Just wonderful.

Of course, there are many, many restaurants in London - and in the West End in particular - which are glossy, and hushed, and truly lovely places to spend a few hours on a warm evening. Many of them have superb food. But there are two things about Arbutus which put it head and shoulders above the crowd. Firstly, all the wine is available in a carafe. That's a third of a bottle - or in other words, just the exact amount I want to drink. Heavier drinkers than me can have one wine with their starter and another with their main, without having to match their choice to anyone's food but their own. I'm a tiny bit worried about whether the second and third people to order a carafe of a particular wine are going to get the remains of the bottle ordered by the first person, but I assume they have some high-tech way of keeping it fresh that hasn't yet reached my fridge?

The second thing? The price. 13.50 for two courses, pre-theatre (from a two-choice set menu): and it's really only a minute from the theatres. 15 for three courses, if you have time. Add those carafes and the whole business is unusually affordable. I understand that restaurants sometimes keep prices low for the first few months they are open, while they settle down and get reviewed, so I really hope this doesn't suddenly shoot up into the 'really special occasions' bracket. I like it a lot too much for that. And I'm not alone: Jill Dupleix and Terry Durack, about as alpha a foodie couple as we have in this town, were there too! Starry.