Monthly Archives: July 2012

On Brittany


Months ago we went to Brittany to stay in a family member’s house (there are 3 apartments for holiday lets. Highly recommended). I was going through a big Instagram phase at the time, and found my pics lurking in a folder this afternoon. Not much else to report, it rained, it was sunny, we had lots of nice (albeit slightly beige) food. And at one point the English Channel (OK, from the French side) looked like Mauritius.

Actually we did have an horrendous time going over there, involving Ryanair (no comment), an emergency purchase of a suitcase at the airport as I hadn’t quite believed that 1 piece of hand luggage really meant just 1, the car hire guy driving off to St Malo without giving us the car seats, DS2 falling over in the back of the car as we were waiting for the car seats to come back and cutting his lip, and DH failing to remember a map meaning that we spent hours driving around a small peninsula trying to find our destination village. Anyway, once we got there it was lovely.

Et voila:

On edible art. In cake form.


One of the loveliest things about this wedding business is that it means you start talking to all sorts of local people offering various goods and services of the nuptial variety. At the barn we’re having our reception at, I picked up a postcard with some beautiful photos of sugar flowers that were actually good enough to eat. Short and Sweet’s stuff looked fab – but there was no website.

As I’ve got lots of spare time with just two young children, I got in touch with the cake maker extraordinaire, artist and baker Terry Wilson, and we’ve done a lovely deal: I’ve put together a WordPress site for her (, and she’s going to make me some flowery cupcakes for the wedding. Today I officially handed the blog over, with instructions as to how to post new blog entries, update photos etc. So Terry’s it is, and I hope that it’ll evolve and grow as she bakes, paints and blogs. In the meantime if you’re looking for some gorgeous cakes, or are just surfing over coffee, do have a browse. Yummylicious!

Michelin recipe: gazpacho jelly, dressed crab and avocado


This was the starter from our Waitrose Cookery School Michelin-starred (style) meal. Reluctant as I am to think about Christmas in the middle of July (OK, reluctant-ish), it’s going to be our Official Starter on 25th December. At least that’s the plan now… It feeds 8. You need to get going the day before. It’s basically a savoury trifle really lovely and refreshing.

For the gazpacho jelly (layer #1) – make the day before:

  • 250g tomatos: peeled, deseeded, chopped
  • 1/4 large cucumber: peeled & roughly chopped
  • 1 red pepper: deseeded & roughly chopped
  • 1 red chilli: deseeded & roughly chopped
  • 1/4 small red onion: roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic: crushed
  • 2-3 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 x 25g pack of fresh basil
  • 1/2 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 100ml tomato juice [I’d use good quality stuff; I think the one I tried was too runny]
  • 2.5 leaves bronze leaf gelatine
  1. Put everything except the gelatine into a food processor [NOT a liquidiser; I used that and it got whizzed up too much v quickly] & blend to consistency of coarse soup. Taste & adjust if necessary with salt and vinegar. This is your gazpacho, and you could just eat it as it is…
  2. Pour it into 2 layers of muslin and hang to strain into a bowl or jug in the fridge overnight. You should have 175ml of clear ‘gazpacho consomme’ at the end. [Mine was not clear I think because it was too runny – though the taste was still great]
  3. NEXT DAY: Soak the gelatine in cold water until softened. Warm the consomme gently in pan over medium heat until it ‘steams’ – do not boil. Remove from heat.
  4. Squeeze the soaked gelatine leaves to remove excess liquid and whisk the softened sheets into the warmed consomme until they’re completely dissolved.
  5. Divide the consomme between 8 (cocktail) glasses [or something that’ll allow you to get your spoon in to the bottom]; place in the fridge to chill and set (about 6 hours).

For the crab (layer #2):

  • 200g picked fresh white crab meat [I bought mine from Waitrose fish counter but it was a mix of white and brown; gave up trying to separate it eventually #whyIwontwinaMichelinstar]
  • 2-3 tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1 Baby Gem lettuce: very finely shredded
  • Salt, lemon juice & Tabasco sauce for seasoning
  1. Mix together crab, mayonnaise & lettuce. Season with salt, lemon juice, and Tabasco to taste. Refrigerate.

For the avocado garnish (dolloped #3)

  • 1 avocado
  • Salt, lemon juice & Tabasco sauce for seasoning
  • drizzle of olive oil
  • 1-2 ice cubes
  1. Mix up the avocado and seasoning in a food processor (pinch of the salt, squeeze of the lemon, dash of tabasco), with a little olive oil and the ice cube. Blend to a smooth consistency.
  2. Taste, taste and taste again for seasoning and acidity. Add another ice cube if the puree is too thick; blend it until its smooth and silky.
  3. Spoon it into a piping bag with a plain nozzle (or a plastic bag, from which you can cut the corner) and refrigerate.

For the melba toast on top:

  • 1 – 2 slices of white bread (packet bread is fine for this)
  • salt and olive oil for drizzling
  1. Preheat the oven to 170C GM3 [or I’d go a bit hotter, as long as you’re around to keep an eye on things]
  2. Roll the bread out with a rolling pin under a piece of clingfilm so it’s nice and thin. Cut off the crusts, and cut out shapes such as triangles or squares (large or small).
  3. Put the shapes carefully on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil and salt; put another baking tray on top to stop them curling.
  4. Bake for 8-10mins until crisp and golden; drain of any excess oil on kitchen paper and put to one side.

The other garnishes:

  • 40 pieces of red pepper: skinned (if you like), and diced
  • 40 pieces of cucumber: peeled and diced to the same size
  • 1 punnet of salad cress
  1. Take out your jelly so the glasses are at room temperature. Spoon a layer of crab mixture on top, then pipe 5 mounds of avocado puree on top of each dish. [You’ll probably have some spare, so just eat it.]
  2. Place your pepper and cucumber pieces Very Carefully around the puree. Garnish with few sprigs of cress. Apparently the trend is now to have the cress sitting upside down (ie on their leaves with their stalks waving in the air. You heard it here first…)
  3. Drizzle over a little olive oil, and serve with your toast.


On getting engaged


Last summer my brother, who emigrated to New Zealand about 10 years ago, said he and his family were thinking of a trip (his first) back to Blighty in 2013. As I cogitated this announcement, it occurred to me that the likelihood of him coming over once for a holiday, and then again a year or so later for a wedding, was very slim. So on a hot sunny day, after a lovely swim in the Thames, I mentioned to DH (who of course isn’t DH, but father of my children so a bit more than just a BF) that if we were to get married, it would be very nice to have brother and family there, and 2013 was probably the only time they’d be in the northern hemisphere this decade.

DH acknowledged that he had received the information and had stored it. I swear I only mentioned 2-3 more times, honest, over the rest of the year. We had my 40th birthday. We had Christmas & New Year. We had his birthday. We had Valentine’s Day. All passed very nicely but with No Action on the Proposal front*. There was the odd perusal of jewellers’ windows, and the magazine with the ad containing my dream ring was left open for days at a time in the bathroom. Finally, on 25th March, we’d arranged to go into London to celebrate exactly 5 years since our First (blind) Date. As this had been my idea I wasn’t thinking much of it, and indeed it very nearly didn’t happen at all as

  • DH had a work crisis, which he ended by saying very sternly ‘No more calls after 6pm’
  • Babysitting cover went wrong, resulting in us having to cajole my sick mother over once the DS’s were in bed (which meant in turn that we only had about 2 hours in London to revisit a pub, have dinner, and have a ceremonial snog).
  • I announced that if I didn’t go for a run that morning the whole evening was going to be off.

Thankfully I managed to stir my limbs and stagger out for my inaugural joggette; made ultra meaningful in retrospect when I saw two great-crested grebes engaged in their wedding dance as the mist lifted from the river.

So off we trotted into town that evening, not feeling HUGELY gorgeous; in the rush to get the boys to bed I’d forgotten to put any mascara on, and in my lardy, nothing-to-wear state I was wearing a denim maternity skirt. I hadn’t given the proposal a moment’s thought, until as we were going up an escalator at Oxford Circus, I put my arm round DH and felt something square in his jacket pocket.

Oh f**k.

The next 20 minutes passed in a haze of me swearing to myself (not sure why, I was hardly going to say ‘no’), trying to convince myself he had a hard corner on his wallet or phone, and trying to act normally (but I couldn’t think of anything at all to say). We walked past Debenhams’ wedding window, and where usually I would have dawdled, we marched past in absolute silence, eyes firmly ahead. At the pub where we first met, we were once again only the 2nd and 3rd people in it (and yet it’s Saturday night, 3 minutes’ walk from Oxford Street. Bizarre), but we had a massive glass of wine each and that sorted the nerves out. And anyway nothing happened.

Dinner, bottle of bubbly (nice). Nothing happened.

Walk past my old flat (again instigated by me). By this point we were both a bit drunk, and when we stopped on the pavement for a quick kissette, I couldn’t believe it when DH suddenly disappeared onto one knee, and said something lovely (not repeated here, partly as it’s private, and partly because I can’t remember the exact wording) and asked me to marry him. Once again I messed up by saying “Are you sure?” which I had sworn to myself I would NEVER EVER say if I was lucky enough to be asked, as it just smacks of insecurity and desperation, but out it came. Thankfully, DH was sobbing so much I don’t think he heard me. I do remember him blubbing out ‘I didn’t think this would happen to me’, which at the time I interpreted as not lucky enough to marry a mascara-less, fat tummied gorgeous woman such as you, but actually meant crying like a baby.

And then we beetled off to get the last train home. With The Ring on my finger.

The next two weeks were very weird; almost all of my friends are married and I have been party to many conversations about proposals, weddings, guest lists, and plans – but it was exceedingly odd to be on the other side. Thankfully things have now calmed down, and a few months on, Being Engaged feels like a totally natural and lovely state of affairs.

Although my mother-in-law-to-be having already bought her dress is freaking me out a little bit… The Dress. Ahh, that’s another story.

* Of course I could have asked him. But I didn’t want to.