It’s been a long haul and one hell of a lot of work but at last we can have a little bit of down time, because the book is finally published. Yay! It’s been quite a cook-y year for us, what with Sleb MasterChef, producing our Family Cookbook and Ewan starting at chefs’ college.

When I was first commissioned to do it, to include 100 recipes, I said to the boys, Rory, 20, and Ewan, 16, what the heck are we going to put in it? We sat down and after about 20 minutes had a list of 85 recipes…so it wasn’t difficult to come up with the rest.

The past few days have been a flurry of events, signings and media interviews. Kicked off at the Henley Book Festival, where on a beautifully sunny day the Delicious magazine editor interviewed me at the lovely Stirring Stuff cookery school in front of a very welcoming audience. After the Q+A session there was a glass of wine and tasting of a few recipes from the book: brownies, mini scones and shortbread fingers all perfectly baked by Jenny at the school. The brownies recipe is my all-time favourite and was given to me 20 years ago by my pal Fiona. Here it is:

Spot-on gooey brownies

125g butter
125g dark chocolate
3 large eggs
300g soft light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g self-raising flour
25g cocoa powder
125g toasted pecans or walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 180C/160Cfan/350F/gas mark 4

Put the butter and chocolate in a heatproof bowl and melt on low in a microwave. (Or put it over a pan of simmering water, checking the base doesn’t touch the water, and allow to melt.) Stir and set aside to cool.

Grease and line a 16x26cm baking tin with baking parchment.

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla in a bowl till thick and moussey. Sift flour and cocoa over the mousse mix, then pour the chocolate mixture carefully around it. Add the nuts. Using a large metal spoon, fold everything together. Pour into the prepared tin and bake 20-25 minutes. It’s crucial not to overbake these – the gooeyness is the whole point. Be brave and take them from the oven almost before you think they are ready. Cool in tin; lift out and cut into squares.

Spot on brownies

You can find this and three other recipes, plus the chance to win a copy of the book and a deliciously nutty hamper over at allaboutyou, in aid of National Nut Day on October 22nd!

It’s all hotting up on Sleb MasterChef as well! Into the semis, I am. Phew! Back in the kitchen/onscreen w/b Mon 10 October for another grueling set of sessions.

What with all this eating and drinking, it’s just as well I’m in training for the Women V Cancer 400km cycle ride in Kenya at the end of the month. Not done nearly enough, though. I’m loving the organisation, whereby at a park near you each Saturday morning at 9am there is a 5km run, free for all to enter (great hangover cure). It’s all over by 9.30 (unless you’re a real slacker). Trouble with going more than once is that you start getting competitive against yourself (and others of course). Last Saturday was my second run, and I shaved 103 – don’t forget the three! – seconds off from the previous week, down to 27.41. I was knackered and it was only sheer embarrassment that stopped me from vomiting at the finish.

Then on Sunday I cycled 20 miles north to Hatfield House to catch the last day of the Henry Moore exhibition. Met up with my pal Anita, who had curated it (she took the train, softie that she is). Mind you, so pooped was I after cycling there, I had to train it back home again with her. I blame all those Saturday-night mojitos (no, I didn’t mind being the oldest swinger in Shoreditch). Was there to see Rory’s band George and the Georgia Boys play in Cargo – get me!

Ewan, meanwhile, is also pooped. This week at college he’s being a waiter in the brasserie open to the public and coming home each evening absolutely whacked and with achy feet! He says he’s making lots of mistakes but absolutely loving every minute. Bless his sweaty cotton socks.

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Back to school…

It’s Week Three of Ewan’s Professional Chef’s Diploma and although he’s enjoying it immensely he’s complaining he’s still not cooked anything. They’re being hauled through all the healthy and food safety/admin/drugs talks, and he’s champing at the bit to get chopping with those super-sharp knives now in his possession.

When I was at a wedding on Saturday (exquisitely perfect food – caterers called Last Supper – see canapé example and amazing cake baked by Fiona Cairns – yes THAT cakemaker) he decided to cook lunch for three of his girl pals: Atul Kochhar’s tandoori chicken (slightly adapted), spicy sweet potato and his special naan bread (recipe for which I must get off him and pass on). When I returned in the evening, the curry smell was still very pronounced (a good thing I would say). Here’s what he did.

Serves 4

1 medium chicken, or four breasts (bone in)

For the marinade:

200ml plain yogurt
1 tsp each chopped ginger and garlic
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp garam masala
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp gram flour
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp vegetable oil
Pinch salt
50g melted butter, for basting

  • Chop the chicken into four pieces. Ewan says look on YouTube for instructions on how to divide up if you’re not sure. Make deep cuts into the flesh.
  • Whisk the yogurt and marinade ingredients in a bowl and rub over the chicken until completely coated, then cover and chill for 3-4 hours. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/mark 6.
  • Place the chicken on to a rack above a roasting tray and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Preheat the grill to high.
  • Take chicken from the oven and rest a few minutes. Baste with the butter and grill for 5 minutes, or until the chicken is completely cooked through. Delish!!

Ewie and I went to see Tinker, Tailor last night and because neither of us had read the book or knew the story, we left the cinema both feeling a tad bewildered. Next on our movie list is We Need To Talk About Kevin. Somehow think that will have a slightly different effect…

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Always pleased to see you…

People sometimes ask me, do I mind being noticed, stopped in the street and spoken to? To be honest, I don’t. I’ve not worked out whether it’s a desperate, narcissistic need for attention or the fact that I grew up in a small village where everyone knows everyone else and stops to speak, so when some stranger does engage with me I get that warm ‘at home’ feeling (though I’m aware it’s a one-way process).

But in the past few days that connection has brought me a measure of joy.

I was sitting in the bar on the Euston-Aviemore sleeper train one night last week. I love that place, especially when the Inverness crew are on – they’re just so friendly and helpful (to everyone). A woman came up to me and asked if I was Joan MacKenzie’s daughter (yes) as her mum and mine were in the WAAFs together. We had a lovely, long conversation (through the mothers’ keeping in touch, she seemed to know more about my family’s movements than I did). The following day I took my mum to her appointment at Inverness Hospital and in the waiting room was approached by a woman who lives very near my auntie and whom I’d not seen for about 45 years. I used to play with her son, who was with her, and whom I would never have recognized had they not collared me. On our way out, I was stopped by a nurse who told me she’s married to a man who used to live about five doors from my childhood home. Ian Garrow! As a teenager he was notorious (and got the blame for any bad things that went on in the neighbourhood), but I thought it might be rude to spill.

Ewan’s never been comfortable about my being stopped. As a 10-year-old he used to feel aggrieved about strangers taking up my time and attention. Now he wreaks his revenge thus. A typical scenario will be that if I’m out with him he’ll clock that someone has spotted me, has told whoever they’re with and the pair will be craning their heads to see. Cue Ewan to position himself bang in front of me (with his back to me), blocking the view. As they move to get a better view, he will perform his counter-moves to keep me hidden from them (which amuses him no end). By this stage it’s slowly dawning on me what’s going on.

My Ewie started on his new path this morning: Day One of Professional Chef’s Diploma at Westminster College. He was very organized and has worked out his route. First stage was to cycle to Highbury tube. Alas, on the return journey, when he went to get his bike all that remained was a vandalized lock lying on the ground. Cue very angry boy (he brought those wheels all the way back from LA and built the bike himself). I took a picture of him leaving earlier, so if anyone sees said bike around London please get in touch!

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I’ve had a bellyful this week…

Have spent the afternoon cowering in my office in fear of the doorbell ringing…son Rory’s band, Georgie and the Georgia Boys, are upstairs rehearsing at full pelt for Green Man Festival this weekend. So far Angry Neighbour from quite far down the street hasn’t been calling. Rory left an apologetic note on the door for her, saying it would be only this and tomorrow afternoon.

The bell did go a little while back, however, and I answered it to a mum with her two-year-old who was very happily dancing on the pavement outside our house…glad someone appreciates.

Ottolenghi Food

Bit of a foodie week going on. My gorgeous neighbours Georgina and Robbie were married on Sunday and had the peeps from Ottolenghi in to do the catering. If I said salmon, broccoli and rice, you’d say ‘Yeeurg’, and I wouldn’t blame you. But stick the phrase ‘Otttolenghi-style’ at the front of that list, and suddenly the culinary landscape looks very different. Gallons of chilled fizz too, which is always a good thing.

Then yesterday….I am still recovering from the full-scale attack on my waistline. Each month I write about new JS products I like in Sainsbury’s magazine. I went in to the office for a mass tasting…and emerged three hours later, having forced 59 different items of food over my lips (no, there wasn’t a spittoon). Most of it was good (there were a few turkeys, though, if you know what I mean), but unfortunately some of it was very good, which meant I had second and third tastes…big mistake. I cycled home in a very wobbly fashion, and, joy of joy for me, my dinner date called around 5pm to say she wasn’t feeling so good so did I mind terribly if we could postpone? Do the bears sh*t in the woods?

So I’ve eaten fairly normally today (I’m doing chilli con carne, rice, salsa and flatbreads this eve) but tomorrow is set to be another grand challenge for the gut. I’m a judge at the 2011 Quality Food Awards and need to allow the WHOLE DAY for tasting. I can already feel the food hangover headache coming on…

Darling Ewie is living it up in Newquay this week with his dad Matt and pal Josh. We’ve just done the big order for Westminster catering college next month: knives, uniform (with his name stitched on the breast pocket!), books. I’m almost as excited as he is.

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Too close for comfort…

Am hating all this unrest and destruction. Plus my bike is not getting mended as the shop keeps having to close early in case of trouble. Monday night my pal Anita came round with her 16-year-old son for a post-holiday roast chicken chat. After we ate, he said he was off to his pal’s house, slap bang in the middle of Hackney. I didn’t like to interfere (but wanted to say, ‘Are you CRAZY, letting him walk the streets at 10pm in all this trouble?’). Yesterday I overheard my Ewan saying to his pal, ‘I didn’t even ask if I could go out, as I knew Mum wouldn’t let me.’ (I think the truth is probably that he had no desire to take the risk of leaving the house, and I was a handy scapegoat).

Big son Rory (20) is home from music college and his band (Georgie and
the Georgia Boys) are rehearsing every day as they’re playing at Green Man Festival next weekend. I LOVE their music, but alas my admiration is not shared by all our neighbours, one of whom came to the door looking very agitated and saying she was having trouble working. I’d never seen her before…and it’s because her house is quite a long way away. Mmmm – maybe it was a bit loud. The band obliged and toned it down quite a bit.
My lovely living room has been completely taken over with all the kit, but I do like having teens around the place, messy as they are. Another thing I also like doing is baking for them (drives Rory mad for some reason…probably thinks I’m overstepping the mark and should butt out of their lives). Anyway I take no notice and made a batch of pancakes for them yesterday for when they finished rehearsal. Here’s the recipe…

2 cups self-raising flour
Half tsp each baking soda and cream of tartar
Tablespoon golden syrup and knob of butter, melted together
2 large eggs
Cup of milk
Pinch salt
2 tablespoons caster sugar

Put everything in a large bowl and mix like mad with a balloon whisk. Heat a flat griddle or large frying pan, melt a tiny amount of butter, then place three separate tablespoons of mix in the medium hot pan, well apart from each other. When bubbles appear on the surface (takes about 30 seconds), turn over with a palate knife and leave to brown on the other side. Transfer to a cooling tray and continue with the rest of the mix. We had them with maple syrup Ewan brought back from his trip to Canada (more of him very soon). Yeeumm…

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My life is toast…

Ewan’s been gone 10 days now…am missing his cheeky smile so much. Wondering whether his love bites have faded at all (or indeed if he has any new ones?). He’s at a summer camp avoiding bears in the wilds of Ontario…with no mobile phones allowed. Took big son Rory out last night to Boho Mexica, a very noisy Mexican (astonishing, yes?) in east London for his 20th birthday. A whole evening with both parents equals time wasted so we had to eat at an unnaturally early hour – food was great, btw – so he could get on with the real purpose of the evening: drinking with his pals. Before he left us we managed to persuade him to come with us across the road for pudding (I just don’t get Mexican puds…too much corn in the cob for me). We went to St John and had eccles cakes (they are the best in the whole world, I kid you not) with a portion of meadowsweet ice cream. Meadowsweet? Yes, me too. Apparently it’s a herb found in the wild. The ice cream tasted of caramel and vanilla – beautiful.

Am deep in testing toasters for November issue of Delicious magazine. The kitchen is buried in appliances, boxes, plastic bags, polystyrene wadding, cold toast. I am pathologically unable to repack the items. No matter how well I try to memorise the positioning of everything as I unleash it all from the box, I can never get it all back in. Never. Apologies to all you PR companies for my shockingly bad packing (and so much for my ‘tidy’ image!).

Got to my eighth toaster at the same time as Rory was heading out to catch his lift to Womad. He has – get this – procured two bottles of absinthe that are EIGHTY TWO PER CENT alcohol. I asked him what he’ll be drinking it with. He couldn’t give me an answer. So that’ll be neat, then? ‘Well, maybe a bit of lemonade, Mum.’ It is a real worry.

So by the time I got to that eighth toaster, I needed a little distraction and thought I would have a little taste of the absinthe. It smelled quite nice.  I took the teeniest little sip…and it nearly blew my head off. Like liquid scotch bonnet chillies. I will be sticking to my 12 per centers in future


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A L-o-n-g Day Out

Took big sis to Heathrow first thing yesterday for her standby return flight to Chicago courtesy of her pal Joan who works for United. Stony desk person grunted, ‘No go! Standbys invalid 15 July-15 Aug.’ Ooo-er. We were looking at £700 – ouch. In the end got one for £425  – bargain? Still hurt badly.

Later on attended another two Christmas press shows. First to Amazon. They were encouraging attendance with the promise of a Kindle (bribery? Never!) so although I have my own (and loving it) I’d promised the new one to another sis so felt obliged to go. But y’know it was very enlightening. I had NO idea Amazon sells everything under the sun (even Aggie’s Probiotics range!) – from lighting to lingerie to and loads, loads more. And all with next-day free delivery. Quite a revelation. We don’t need to mourn Woollies any more! Okay, there’s no Pick n Mix, but am sure it’s only a matter of time…

Speaking of the Kindle, just finished Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman. And boy is she some woman. Never mind the brilliantly funny writing, I am so in awe of her sheer honesty. She really knows herself and doesn’t seem to give a toss what impression she makes on others, and I love her for that. More, please!

I saw Jay Hunt saying in Monday’s Media Guardian she’s looking for a slot for CM – let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long.

Went from Amazon to Superdrug’s show…had a manicure done (moss green) by a beautiful Czech woman named Marquee. Which set me up nicely for my dinner with some fellow Birbeck students (am doing a Cert of Ed in psychoanalytic psychology). Met in Tibits in Heddon St, just off Regent St. Am no veggie, but this place is, and the food is absolutely gorgeous and not pricey. Good place for a girly meet as you can sit for hours on end yapping. Is it licensed? Of course – I wouldn’t be in there if it weren’t.



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Ewie’s Off!

Ewie’s off!

Just took my 16-year-old baby to Heathrow. He’s gone to summer camp in Ontario for three whole weeks. I was getting all sentimental, saying how much I loved and would miss him, etc, etc, and the grunty response I got was, ‘Shu-UP, you mug.’


Just had a text from him, saying he had boarded and that, guess what, the whole of Nurse Jackie was on the flight!! (I introduced him to NJ and he occasionally allows me to watch it with him. I am very grateful for any crumb that comes my way.)

I excitedly responded, ‘What, even the main star herself??’

Response: ‘Nah, u MUG. On the screen.’

I said I would report back on the Sainsbury’s Christmas show. Very impressive, actually. (I must have a serious word with them about refurbing my local store, Haringey.) Their fizz offering is a fabby sparkling NZ sauvignon blanc. There’s some super-special Iberico ham, and the cheeses have had a serious upgrade. Oh and some amazing salmon that’s been smoked over old whisky-soaked oak barrels; just fantastic. All prices are impressively low. There was a cute, quick hands-on canapé masterclass with Steve Gibbs of Urban Caprice; check out their website for ideas.

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It’s Christmas time in magazine land…

It sounds kind of nuts but makes sense, really. All the big retailers have their ‘Christmas shows’ around now. What happens is that each company takes over a London venue to showcase their Christmas stock, to which magazine and newspaper journalists attend to look, taste and select for the relevant editorial pages.

Last week both Waitrose and Lakeland were on. I attended the Waitrose day (sadly, Bicester Village visit coincided with Lakeland’s so I had to miss that. I say sadly as their goodie bag is always a BIG treat) and two items stood out for me. First is a Brown Brothers sparkling shiraz (absolutely gorgeous deep jewel crimson – so very festive…oh and it tasted great!). It’s around £7.50 now but will be rising by £2 a pop around Christmas time so get in asap (I certainly am).


The other treat I will be buying is a Suffolk Cure Gammon. Omg it looks absolutely amazing…steeped in local molasses and cider and allsorts that is Suffolkian. That is definitely on my list for Christmas.  Off to Mr Sainsbuy’s show tomorrow…will let you know what’s good there…

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Six go mad in Bicester

A little while back Ewan told me he and a few of his mates wanted to visit Bicester Outlet Village (once he had his birthday money) and would I drive them there? How little does he know me? Shopping centres give me the hives, and the notion of a two-hour drive (each way) with a carful of cussing and farting 16-year-old boys is perhaps not top of the list of how I want to spend my day.

A few days after this convo, I was at a charity bash for the National Aids Trust. I bought two raffle tickets (£25 each – gasp) and one of them was drawn. My prize was, unbelievably, a VIP day out for six people to Bicester Village. Nooooo! Well, it seemed to be written in the stars – I was gonna have to go.

Fact was, Ewan was so chuffed that I got kind of caught up in his and his pals’ excitement. Yesterday was the Big Day. We set off at 0745 to catch the complimentary coach from Victoria and got to Bicester about three hours later.

On our way

The lovely PR Amy welcomed us into her very posh VIP room (much excitement from the boys…Claude said he felt as if he was in an MTV show), where we were treated to coffee and croissants and given our 10 per cent discount cards, £100 gift card (I took care of that one), and told that we were booked in for a complimentary lunch at Busaba Eathai.

Off they all scattered in the direction of Lacoste, Fred Perry and the like. I wandered into The White Company (irresistible, isn’t it?) and decided there and then to replace my ratty 10-year-old off-white bath towels (I mean, £7 a pop…can’t not). Gift card gone in a flash. My bargain of the day was a Prada skirt (original price £545!, down to £50). Loving it.

L to r: Josh, Fabian and Claude get stuck in to their freebie feast

The boys over-ordered at lunchtime to an embarrassing degree, but everything was eaten so I didn’t feel toooo guilty.

The five of them occupied the back seats of the coach on the return journey, and they all fell quickly to sleep, bless them, the babes that they are still.


The sleeping beauties

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