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September 2002

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Friday 20th September

Late-night fry-up, last night, of a sort: falafels. Which were very nice, and nicer still when C took over the frying - not a particular skill of mine. And of course his North London upbringing exposed him to rather more of these ethnic cuisines than my Home Counties one - not that that is any excuse. But I can't even pronounce the word to his satisfaction, what makes me think I can cook them? I blame the wonderful James Fenton for writing the poem about fellating fellahin - On a Recent Indiscretion by a Certain Fulbright Fellow in Upper Egypt is its title, apparently. Most confusing.

Thursday 19th September

It's starting to feel wintery now. I know, I've got a week in the warmth - if not necessarily the sunshine - of Italy to look forward to (oh, and I am). But last night it really felt as though eating soup was the only way to get warm. I made leek and potato soup with a bit of bacon, chicken stock and crème fraîche. Oh, and we had some toast and pâté - can't break that carnivorous habit. You might like to remind yourself how the French can mythologize the most humble of peasant-food...

Wednesday 18th September

It's true that there are so many authentic Southern cooks on the web that it would just be embarassing to talk about my attempts to cobble together something resembling a jambalaya. So instead C can have the praise due for putting home made mayonnaise on the table when I get home from a hard day at the coalface. He can make mayonnaise, I can't: which is probably nothing to do with my hormones. It was very nice mayonnaise, with dill in it, to go with some hot smoked trout. Yummy. And I'm sure he had better motives really than just the glory of a mention here...

Tuesday 17th September

The Independent had an article at the weekend about a man who has drawn everything he ate for the last year. He of course is a mildly famous artist while I am not. Still, it makes me feel as though I might be on the right track. Last night we had lamb chops, lots of little tiny ones, with a sauce involving roasted peppers, garlic, red wine and so on. I gave in to temptation and sat them on polenta, though I am trying to steer clear of Italian food this week in honour of the feast to come.

Monday 16th September

No problem knowing what to write about this morning: the Doctor can have his mention. He deserves it for his dedication to the noble art of bread-basket-construction alone (ever the authenticist, he had recreated the Parisien experience perfectly - which is to say with all the style of the original and none of the disappointments). But his signature main is equally stylish: salmon with a warm salsa of cherry tomatoes, ginger and pineapple. And after finishing with luscious lemon crème brulée, we rolled all the way home...

Friday 13th September

When an evening starts with candy floss at the fair, it's hard to tell which way it's going to go. Will we be in casualty by midnight? Will we be carrying home an enormous inflatable alien? Will we know which way is up? Of course, there was nothing to worry about. The fair didn't detain us for long and Em knocked up a sort of uova in purgatorio - that is, eggs poached in tomato and chilli sauce. Trust a vegetarian to know a fantastic trick like that. The rest of the evening passed in a blur of calvados (warmed over coffee mugs) and tales of those happy days we spent in the Brownies.

Thursday 12th September

Inspired by Rick Stein, I made a Thai prawns last night, with lots of chilli (a bit of a theme this week!), ginger, lemon grass, nam pla, cashew nuts and basil. Very easy and delicious. As the man says, Thai food should be sweet, sour, salty, hot and crunchy. And all those darling little prawn shells mean I now have fish stock as well as chicken in the fridge! Mmmmm, risotto heaven...

Wednesday 11th September

I butchered a chicken last night, apparently an activity so archaic that I had to turn to Delia's 1979 Complete Cookery Course for instructions (how things change - in 1979 Delia was delighted with the poultry industry and tut tutted at the complete myth that supermarket chickens had been raised in battery cages...) Anyway, I jointed henny-penny, put the breast aside for another day, the carcass on for stock, and used the legs, first poaching them with spring onions, root ginger and dried chilli. When they were cooked I shredded the meat, skimmed the poaching liquid and made a broth with some fresh spring onions, garlic, Chinese five-spice powder, a bit more ginger and sweetcorn shucked off the cob. Finally I added the chicken and a shattered block of egg noodles: three minutes to the pure, golden, fragrant heat of noodle soup.

Tuesday 10th September

On Sunday we took a civilised trip to the Arts Cinema to see The Importance of Being Earnest. In timely fashion, the Food Programme had been talking about food in the theatre - and the difficulty of acting with muffins. With this warning ringing in our ears, we were treated instead to cucumber sandwiches: surprisingly tasty as Em had used gorgeous organic cucumbers from the farmers' market. The Queen, we assured each other solemnly, will only eat octagonal cucumber sandwiches. I don't suppose she has 'french' (ahem) fancies with hers, though...

Monday 9th September

Friday night everyone was in town for a wedding the next day, so we gathered for dinner very informally, with dips and pitta bread round the kitchen table (who am I kidding, I only have one table...) The dips were new and fairly successful, especially a hot (chilli-hot) baba ghanoush - aubergine and tahini - and a hot (oven-hot) roasted pepper and garlic. While we dipped, drank and caught up, I finished the tarte aux pommes for dessert (with the help of some willing slicers, of course), beat calvados into a tub of mascapone to go with, and last of all threw the cod into the oven, frozen peas into boiling water and some wild mushrooms into butter for the main course - the buttery, thyme-scented mushrooms being my addition to Nigella's roast cod and mushy peas. Did you see her new series on Thursday? The woman has become a complete caricature of herself. Talk about food porn...

Friday 6th September

At last, something interesting and edible. This was my recollection of what Mother used to call wild boar - for no particular reason (beyond the use of juniper, which does seem to be traditional), I think, than that we were all mad for Asterix as kids. So this is how I did it yesterday, from memory! Sliced a couple of potatoes and boiled until mostly cooked. Layered the slices across the base of a dish, followed by a layer of thin apple slices, with slivers of garlic tucked between. Wrapped each pork chop in a piece of bacon and sat them on top of the apple. Seasoned with salt, pepper, a few crushed juniper berries (they are quite strong so you really only need half a dozen) and some sprigs of thyme. Poured a glass-full of white wine over it all and finished with another layer of potato slices. Spread a bit of butter over the top so that it would crisp up nicely and baked for three-quarters of an hour. By Toutatis, that's good...

Thursday 5th September

What is it about chilli? I suppose it's an American thing. Every second person on the internet seems to have a secret heirloom recipe for chile con carne they don't actually want to keep secret at all. One of the defining moments in a relationship is when you realise that he'd rather eat a bowl of your chilli than fancy-schmancy seduction food. I wouldn't say I had a great recipe yet - ask me in twenty years. At the moment I do something different every time. Strange how great it can be, really - especially with a spoonful of guacamole on the side (probably disgracefully inauthentic...); cocoa powder is always a good addition, too, for that subtle secret-recipe-of-the-Aztecs flavour; but the best thing about it is the way it lasts all week. My advice is to work on your chilli - if there's any truth at all in that back-of-the-mind feeling that one day you'll make something so perfect that all mankind will fall at your feet, this is what it'll be...

Wednesday 4th September

What's all this fuss about Poilâne bread? Funny how the newspapers all leap on something at once, even if there's nothing to it. I can't believe this is really the first time a loaf of bread has gone on sale for more than 10 - apparently some sort of psychological barrier. The Cambridge Cheese Company has been importing Poilâne for a while now - and of course we've had it in Paris. It's very nice. So what's the point? All sorts of basic staples come in luxury, expensive versions - rice, pasta, mineral water... You can buy a supermarket's own brand of generic 'cheese', or the best imported artisanal Roquefort. You choose what to spend and whether the quality increases the value. It isn't news...

Tuesday 3rd September

Home alone with the remnants of the weekend. That means a big bowl of rice and stuff: cooked chicken, fresh sweetcorn, red peppers. Not really at the culinary cutting edge. Just food you can eat (and cook) while reading a book. Then (I confess) I made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. Before you ask, yes, this morning I still have a batch of chocolate chip cookies in the biscuit tin... Happy thought! In a randomly non-food-related aside, perhaps I should explain why I have Flanders & Swan's London omnibus song on the brain: it is the fault of Radio 4's Today programme, which announced over breakfast this morning that it is the bicentenary of Wordsworth's Composed upon Westminster Bridge... I was half way to work before I connected this news to the tune in my head: "earth has not anything to show more fair... any more fares, any more fares?"

Monday 2nd September

On Monday mornings I'm slightly bleary and not quite up to the task of choosing what to tell. Bear with me. The nicest meal was the one I didn't cook, of course: it was a little random as there were random things in the fridge, but all the parts were good... avocados (baby ones, aw) covered in prawns and a slightly Thai-ed dressing, to start; then huge field mushrooms with eggs cracked (carefully!) into them and covered with pesto breadcrumbs, a-top a mound of bacony lentils. Retelling it, it seems strange that we didn't make dessert: ah, I remember - we had alcohol instead. I wish I could tell you what kind of whisky we're currently drinking... another foodie failure. If we return to my specialist subject, though, I can tell you precisely what the chocolate was with which we consoled ourselves when the modem died: Persian lime and basil from Rococo. Unlikely, but fabulous.