Friday, 17 February 2017



Here's a page from my favourite 17th century cookbook (alas, in the British Library's possession, not mine). I was rather pleased yesterday with my cheesecakes in the Italian fashion, having drastically cut down the quantities. (For '6lbs of good fresh cheese curd of a morning milk' read one tub of Tesco's cheapest cottage cheese; if I make them again I'll use ricotta.)

Cheesecakes were quite the thing in 17th century England. Hurrying to meet a friend last night I came across a tiramisù shop. ('Have you seen the new tira-mi-shoe shop?' I babbled to my baffled friend.) It seemed to be doing a thriving business though I only had time to peep in the window. Now that cupcakes are old hat - and macarons are for tourists - and éclair shops never quite seemed to catch on ... is the tira-mi-shoe shop the latest thing? Something puritanical deep inside me is appalled. # First World Gaps in the Market.

Sunday, 12 February 2017



I came across this very old-fashioned cake book in a 10p rummage bin in a charity bookshop and I've been enjoying it immensely. Originally published in 1964, I'm guessing it was old-fashioned even then; in fact, I'm wondering if this might be the last ever published recipe for rout cakes which I think of as very Jane Austen-ish. I made several batches of little cherry rout cakes before Christmas - a bit fiddly but you only have to flash-bake them for five mins and they're pretty and people seemed to like them. I've got a ginger cake in the oven right now. Margaret Bates was an old-fashioned Domestic Science teacher in Belfast and there's several Northern Irish recipes ... I keep meaning to try the potato apple cake 'from the orchard districts of County Armagh. And Jap fancies ... anyone remember Jap fancies? They were my favourite as a child but they were bought cakes; far too fiddly to make at home.

Incidentally, does anyone out there what China ginger is? I'm guessing that it's crystallised ginger - but it's not something I've ever come across and it's not in the glossary, so presumably in 1964 it was assumed that you'd know. I'm wondering if maybe it's an Irish term?


No Sunday morning cinema today as I knew that if it were snowy and slushy, I'd want to roll over and stay in bed. Well, the blizzard turned out to be a mild flurry of snowflakes yesterday afternoon but I rolled over and stayed in bed, anyway. However, I never got round to writing up last Sunday's film which was Hidden Figures. A bit clunky but we enjoyed it, anyway - and the story of these mathematically gifted black women working at NASA during the space race was new to me, and I guess will be new to most audiences. They're sending men into space - but lose a 40 minute chunk of their day as it's a half-mile round trip to the coloured ladies' room.
I know it's not the same thing, but it did remind me of the casual chauvinism that was taken for granted when I started work back in the Seventies. It wasn't at all unusual to encounter men in the ladies' if you were working a late shift ... they assumed that out of secretarial hours, it was their territory, because what could a woman possibly be if she wasn't a secretary?

A few days later, several of the Hidden Figures cast cropped up again in Moonlight - but despite stellar reviews I found this film heavy going. I think I was expecting a black Brokeback Mountain which it isn't. It has some wonderful performances but it wasn't for me.

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Beach and Star Fish, Seven Sisters Cliff, Eastbourne, John Piper. 1933-34


Off to Two Temple Place this afternoon for this year's exhibition - Sussex Modernism - bizarrely, in the most ornate surroundings you can imagine. It starts with a roast peacock banquet in 1914 for an old-school poet who thought this modern stuff was all tosh - well, that was a bit of a distraction because it set me off wondering what roast peacock tastes like and whether you'd need some bread sauce with it or a few chipolatas - but stay with me, because we're off on a tour of Sussex, starting at  Ditchling then on to Charleston Farmhouse ...  At the back of the catalogue, there's directions for a real tour - well, you'd have to whizz around to fit it all into a day, but it did make me long to visit Furlongs and Farleys Farmhouse and West Dean, though I'd rather take it slowly over a few long summer afternoons. Why rush?

Sussex wasn't just a rural escape, it was a threshold - gateway to Europe (for ideas and refugees) and also a site for potential invasion. Piper's cliffs are torn-out pages from the New Statesman: a strip of classified ads for English private schools, perhaps making some statement about the class system,  and (hard to read as they're upside down) news reports about Nazism in Germany

Landscape near Rye, Edward Burra, 1943
Burra wasn't too keen on Rye. (Harlem was more his thing.) He called it a 'ducky little Tinker Bell towne - like an itsy bitsy morgue, quayte dead' ,,, so I'm guessing he wasn't a fan of Mapp and Lucia. Dark clouds loom over his landscape ... are those skull bones being crushed in huge pincers?


Bronze Ballet, 1940 - Edward Wadsworth
Bronze Ballet, Edward Wadsworth, 1940
Wadsworth was working 'to the somewhat noisy accompaniment ... of the bombardment of Abbeville, Boulogne and Calais' - heard from across the Channel - 'all mingled with the call of the cuckoo.'

The Annunciation, Vanessa Bell, 1942
I've still never been to Berwick Church, but I do like the idea of the Angel Gabriel appearing in the walled garden at Charleston.

Two Temple Place has become a winter landmark for me; half way between Christmas and spring, although sadly the cake isn't anywhere near as good as it was a few years ago. Shame - but it's still free to get in and there's some fabulous pictures of this very quirky building here.

Monday, 30 January 2017



Caught sight of this poster on a Tube platform today and realised how much I've been craving colour. Still a few days to wait until the exhibition opens at Tate Britain.

Sunday, 29 January 2017



Very weird. Very long. Very German.
Apparently, the last German comedy on general release here was Good Bye, Lenin! which was funny and completely delightful. It's been a long wait since then ...
Toni Erdmann is likely to win the Oscar for best foreign film (which does make me wonder what all the other foreign films were like this year!) Did I say it was weird? I'm not saying there weren't some laugh out moments. (Along with lots of false teeth - yuck - lots of very Germanic nudity - and a scene that I sincerely hope will be the grossest Bad Sex scene I see this year. Or for the rest of my life. It involves petits fours. You don't want to know. And please don't tell Mary Berry.
Reviewers seem unanimously to have loved it. I'm just relieved that the director is so against a Hollywood remake because, believe me, it would be lost in translation. There's a trailer here.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017


Sunday morning cinema has become a habit ... I suppose it's easy on cold mornings, grab a slice of toast, 10 minute bus ride and you're up and doing something that doesn't require much effort. And sometimes it nudges me to see a film that's out of my comfort zone.
I wasn't sure if I'd be able to stomach Hacksaw Ridge but the reviews were so good that I gave it a try. It's a fascinating true story about a conscientious objector who volunteered as an army medic and the first half of the film is fine ... we see him growing up in Virginia, his drunken father still scarred by his experiences in WW1, his romance with a pretty nurse who gets why he's different, then his struggle to get the establishment to allow him to serve without touching a rifle. And then he gets to Japan ... what happens on Hacksaw Ridge is not for the faint-hearted and this is the bloodiest war film I have ever seen. But it is undeniably very good. I wasn't quite sure about Andrew Garfield's Forrest-gumpish portrayal (sweet, gangly and innocent) of conscientious objector Desmond Doss - but then the real Desmond Doss appeared in footage at the end (he died in 2006) and it seems he caught him exactly right. There's a trailer here. I'm glad I went - I was gripped by the story - but I had my face buried in my woolly scarf for the worst bits. The cinema was full; you could feel that this was a film that had the whole audience by the throat.