Bleak, Austere, Welcome to 2011

There is something very cleansing about stumbling into a cold bleak January after the outrageous indulgences of Christmas and New Year celebrations. A long random and biting walk along a cold empty and windy beach is the very tonic to help you think about the year ahead and what you could, possibly, achieve.

So instead of the removal of things, as in the traditional New Years resolution; stopping smoking, cutting out sugar, being nicer, more thoughtful and then a few weeks down the line failing miserably; lighting a fag whilst shouting insults at the boy next door, it is perhaps more pertinent to add things.
To enrich yourself with a new talent, a new skill, to indeed try and be nicer and more humble – shouldn’t we be trying to do that anyway?, but to also learn to knit a scarf, sing a new song, design a cool tee-shirt, learn a new yoga pose, make the perfect oat cracker. Indeed this is what I shall set to this year.
Dungeness, apparently one the largest expanses of shingle in the world, is a unique and mysterious location in Southern England’s Kent. Home to not one but two power stations and a thriving community of artists, fishermen and twitchers.
A cluster of Nordic looking wooden huts sit looking down onto the ice-cold grey English Channel, the isolation and desolate beauty of the place makes it an inviting destination for anyone wanting to escape the perversities of 21st century capitalism.
Or even to take a long walk on a cold new years day…and watch the sun dip into the sea.

Its fishy

Last week we had a dinner party for some delectable folks, one, my brand new goddaughter Alice May, peach that she was, she didn’t drink a drop of proffered wine, insisted quite simply on her mother’s finest homebrew. Meanwhile, however, the rest of the bunch well possibly just moi and one or two others got completely plastered.

I know it is the responsibility of the hostess to stay focused and deliver fine food to her invited guests. Yet somehow I always seem to get overexcited and drink rather too quickly, is this just me – do I have some genetic cog that makes me quaff booze faster than others, there is a history of hard-boozing in my family so I cannot rule it out. Others who seem to be able to slowly drink a glass of wine seem incredibly controlled and, quite possibly, dull. Does that mean its better to be a lush and get pissed – of course not, i just enjoy tossing these theories around to make myself feel more, well, enlightened.

I had one vegetarian, so rather than knock up one veggie dish, I decided to do the entire meal vegetarian. A good idea? Well maybe. Being an old school Brit born in the 70’s I subscribe to the need to feed people MEAT at a dinner party. The idea of doing an entire fish based feast was, in short, exciting and for a moment I thought I would rise up on my meteoric hostessing star and provide an abundance of delectableness….
I forgot that I always get pissed.
The starter was fine, smoked salmon, served with julienne beetroot, a dollop of creme fraiche with horseradish and vodka and sprinkled with dill – easy and sublime to boot. This is easy I foolishly thought.
By the main course it was nigh on ten o’clock and several people were seriously starving. I had chosen to serve a tomato-based paprika-ed fish stew. But decided first to smoke some kind of fags – a ridiculous idea and one I always regret the next day. The fish and prawns in the fish stew were actually perfect I cooked them to perfection terrified of over-doing them. Sadly the stew was a disaster for some daft reason I did not follow my normal rules and barely cooked the tomato and chick-pea stew. A tomato based dish must always, always be cooked slowly and gently for bleeding ages to allow the tomatoes to mellow and to give the dish some depth.
Fortunately for me, my honey tends to stay focused at these occasions so he took it upon himself to blast the stew up for another half hour or so. Pudding I managed to pull out of the hat, coffee creams with chocolate orange sauce, courtesy of that old Brit pack Gary Rhodes. beat mascarpone with some 85g of caster sugar, stir in several tablespoons of cold expresso – to taste. Whip some cream and fold it altogether. Make the sauce by melting dark chocolate with a drop of butter, mix in some orange juice and orange zest for a divine sauce – drizzle over and serve.

Piano Grande

The old man has bought for himself an electronic piano, that is; a keyboard. I didn’t know I was snobby about these things but I was like: “a bloody keyboard?”.

Anyway, so it arrived this week and hell it is a beauty of a keyboard and I have totally turned the corner, changed the page and so on. It is HUGE. And it’s keys are weighted to resemble an ordinary piano, it sounds as beautiful as a piano. And, well, we have been listening, online, to some LA-based American dude who, in his soft silk shirt, has been trying to describe and teach us how to play the piano. Truth is I have kind of given up already – I prefer to sing.
But each evening as I sit in bed and read the papers, catching up on three Sundays ago, I can hear, my boy, tinkling away and, actually tinkling is entirely the wrong word – because the sound is soft, melodic, pulsating and oh, so calming. It is gorgeous and has changed the entire beat of our home during these Autumnal nights, the children fall asleep listening to him practice his chords, and I feel a great sense of peace and strength listening to the undulating rhythm float along the landing – it is blissful.
But mostly I am excited about Christmas – I adore the idea of showing off and singing something super classic for folks. Of donning matching spandex outfits, creaming our barnets down across our foreheads, sipping on some eggnog before launching into, Let It Be, I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas, or something equally as brilliant.
I love music, I love people singing and making songs go together at the end of an evening it is bonding and it is fun, it brings laughter and tears and it strengthens your very soul.
Bring on the keyboard.

Sweet feasting friendship

A perfect summer starter here in this sweet fragrant corner of rural France is Charentais melon and Bayonne Ham. The salty, wafer thin slices of ruffled jambon taste divine when paired with the super sweet and juicy orange-fleshed melon. Only the highest quality of ingredients is needed for this dish – no olive oil or dressing, just ripe melon and good Bayonne (or Parma or Serrano) ham.

Nothing can be more fulfilling than preparing a feast of epic pleasure for your dearest and oldest friends. To lay a table with glasses, flowers, champagne and evening sunshine.

To present the ones you love with rich, simple tastes, to spoil them with fresh seasonal flavours and to sit together and toast your 30-year friendship with laughter and memories. What could be sweeter than simply being together under a star packed sky.

A dish of perfectly juicy and roasted quail teamed with baked aubergine, tomatoes and local goats cheese, sets off the main course. The quail marinated in crushed garlic, herbs de provence, salt and pepper and oilve oil for as long as you have – pan roast the tiny birds so they become golden and crisp – roast them off in the oven for a little time – constantly check them to keep them pink and juicy. Place the sliced aubergines in a dish, drizzle them with olive oil and anoint with S&P, bake in a hot oven for twenty minutes before placing the sliced tomatoes and crumbled cheese on top – roast again for another ten minutes until all is caramelised and soft A rich red poured into deep glasses to drink with. The time gentle floats around you as you savour each mouthful and smile with your luck.

A good ripe Coulommiers camembert, a super poky roquefort and a hard pourtalet, the last of last autumns creamy walnuts and a juicy pear make for the perfect cheese course.

Hours later, the sun has well set, the stars, planets and satellites course above our heads, the wine and food has left us mellow and at peace. Finally we finish with a plate of roasted nectarines – dusted with cinnamon and served with a generous spoonful of creme fraiche mixed with natural yogurt, icing sugar and fresh vanilla – adorning them. We have feasted like kings and we are at peace with the world – all is good and we are blessed with this moment.