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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A bit of the Good Life

Beetroot, onion and garlic from my allotment

When I say I run an allotment (and I have said this, in many an interview), well, that’s kind of a lie. I did at one time have one together with my (now ex-) husband Matthew. Truth is, he did all the work (funnily enough, weeding and sowing seeds on a freezing cold, wet and windy Sunday in February doesn’t hold the greatest attraction for me) and I did the harvesting. Seems fair, doesn’t it? No, he didn’t think so either.

Even though we’re not together any more, he lives just around the corner and, with the boys coming and going between houses, we see each other and eat together a lot (food is the glue in our funny family). And I seem to have joint custody of the allotment (still harvesting only, you understand).

So at this time of year, when everything is getting ready, it’s kind of hard not to come over all Country Living/Martha Stewart. The rasps are over, but the beetroot (and garlic) are ready now. I know beetroot is a sort of Marmite (love it or hate it) food but I adore it in all its forms. Fresh out of the ground, you cannot beat this: grate two small beetroot and put in a bowlAdd a good few tablespoons vinaigrette made of 4 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp cider vinegar, pinch sugar, s+p, 1 tsp Dijon mustard. (Make a batch in a jam jar and keep in the fridge to use as and when.) Add a handful of chopped parsley and a few toasted chopped walnuts. Put on a flat plate and serve with sourdough or flatbreads. Omg it is just yummy. I had to shout at Ewan to stop gobbling it all before anyone else had a go at it.

Matt keeps going on (and on) about all the millions of beans he’s going to have. My absolute fave thing is digging for potatoes. Once I start I sort of can’t stop and it drives him mad because if they’re not eaten within a few days they start to go green then have to be binned. I think I am probably a very annoying person to live with. Or at least to share an allotment with…

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Moreish meringues

Ewan and me with our meringues

As a family we’ve always been a greedy bunch and interested in most aspects of good food, whether it’s tasting, cooking, shopping, baking, overeating, reading about…even watching Saturday Kitchen (I’m not normally one for daytime telly…once a Calvinist…). When the boys – Rory and Ewan – were little, they used to moan about their mates being allowed Domino’s and why on earth did we always have to have this homemade stuff?

Now they’re almost grown up they wouldn’t thank me for a ready meal or takeaway food (curry’s the exception – you can never quite get the results at home. And maybe fish and chips from the Happy Haggis in Aviemore. Hell of a name I know but the fish suppers are legendary). Rory’s at music college in Leeds and because he’s not subsisting on pasta and pesto his mates reckon he’s the spawn of Jamie. He loves to get hold of a half price duck from Sainsbury’s on a Saturday afternoon and roast it with a load of vegetables on the Sunday to deal with all their hangovers.

The little one, Ewan, is a brilliant cook at well. In fact he’s going to make a career out of it. He’s almost 16 and is off to Westminster College in September to start a three- year professional chef’s diploma – I can’t wait for all those goodies to come through the front door of an evening.

Of course with all these calories going in, there’s a price to pay. So as well as cycling most days, I also haul myself round the local park every morning before I’ve had time to wake up properly. Yesterday I bumped into my old pal Pippa who was also puffing her way round the park so we stopped for a chat. She mentioned she had a girls’ eve coming up and she was down to do pud. It was going to be lavender meringues…a la that charmer Valentine Warner.

Mmmm, liked the sound of those, so when I got home I attacked the lavender bush and took the egg whites from the freezer (they thaw in no time in this heat). When I make meringues I always weigh the whites first (there was 140g) and then weigh out double that in golden caster sugar (more caramely than white).

Into the KitchenAid go the whites, whisk, whisk, whisk till dry and foamy then add the sugar bit by bit and keep whisking until very thick. Just before the end, add four heads of lavender, crushed in the pestle and mortar, plus a little purple food colouring.

Granted, food colouring’s not the sort of thing you’d normally have in your cupboards, but Ewan recently had a grand pash for making those yummy French macarons in varying shades. Btw, Squires online shop is the place for all those colours.

A few of the gorgeous macarons Ewan made recently

So in went the purple powder. I didn’t want them to end up too lurid but think next time will be a bit bolder with the colour. I put them in blobs on silicone-lined (the only way) baking trays and baked them at 140 C for an hour, turned off the oven and left them in there a few hours longer.

Then I welded them into pairs with thick cream and sprinkled over the last of the raspberries and blackcurrants from the allotment. Ewan was running a barbecue for his pals round the corner at his dad’s (while dad was out) and so I took the plateful there for their pud (not that Ewan allowed me beyond the kitchen. Just drop and leave). I was told everyone loved them, and yes they did taste lavendery. Ewan’s had a request from the pals for more, so he’s busy whisking while I am typing this. He’s decided to add more colour than I did – good move.

Easy Lavender Meringues

140g egg whites

280g golden caster sugar

4 heads fresh lavender, crushed in a pestle and mortar

purple food colouring (or a mix of blue and red)

Whipped cream and any soft berries

Preheat the oven to 140C/275F/mark 1. Whisk whites in mixer until dry, foaming and in stiff peaks. Slowly add sugar while mixing until you have a thick consistency. Add the lavender and food colouring (go easy – you can add, but difficult to subtract if you add too much!). Put dollops of the mixture on to a silicone sheet on a couple of baking trays and bake for an hour. Turn off the oven and leave the trays inside to cool for at least a couple of hours.

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