Friday, 30 December 2011

December 30th - What it's all about

Dear Nigel,

I thought this Christmas was going to be a hard one for us - the first year on our own, but now i feel myself going with the flow. The food is fairly organised, coming out of the freezer far quicker than it went in. It's amazing what vast quantity a family of eight can consume when put to the test. And Christmas is always a test of fortitude. What teenager, however hung-over is going to look his mum in the face and refuse to eat her lovingly crafted game casserole? Sometimes this means a stay in the microwave and the staggering of sittings as one after the other fits the food around their dynamic social lives. Sometimes this is plain annoying, usually i remember how i was as a teenager and make allowances. Maybe it is because of this that i am paid the highest accolade: "This has been the best Christmas ever". Odd, perhaps, but i know that the sentiment behind it has everything to do with this Christmas being laid-back and flexible; with people able to do the things they want to and have the Christmas they choose. Sometimes, as in the past, we place high demands and expectations on people at Christmas and require them to be and do the things that fit in with our view of what should be. Yet Christmas is for everyone and the art of giving is in the thinking of what the receiver would really appreciate. As in presents, as in life.

Today we had some very fine Stilton and Asparagus sausages from Chatsworth farm shop with Chips and mushrooms and a piece of rump steak. I'm quite addicted to Heston's oak smoked salt from Waitrose and the kids take note. My second son will always say "i'll have whatever your having" because he knows he won't be disappointed. My ex- used to have food envy too: whatever he chose from a menu when we went out, somehow he always thought mine was better. I always found this a strange concept to get my head around. After all, surely you would always choose whatever sounded nicest to you on the menu, and what you fancied at the time?

I see you plumped for bangers and mash too; and add all those jars of pickles found in your stocking. We have some particularly nice ones this year. I love caramelized onion and a wonderful fig relish by Tracklements which was just made for anything involving goats' cheese.

I think 2012 is going to be a better year for us - i certainly hope so -. Maybe it is time to move on, literally and mentally, and create a new life for ourselves. I hope you're having a wonderful Christmas and look forward to a bright and beautiful New Year,


Friday, 23 December 2011

December 23rd - venison and chips and chocolate

Dear Nigel,

Christmas is in full swing here and the food is flying out of the cupboards far faster than i put it in. Today we have venison casserole lovingly made earlier and frozen. But by the time it comes for dinner we are all worn out and comatose and i can't be bothered to peel lots of potatoes to make mash. So we have chips instead. Sacrilege i hear you say. But we don't care, we enjoy it anyway. Followed by a sticky toffee pudding and ice cream.

Yesterday i was making millionaire's shortbread, as requested by Tom. It's not the quickest thing to make or the cheapest, and, when it came to melting the chocolate to go on top i got complaints from my daughter that i was wasting good chocolate - two bars of lindt excellence - . I was rather taken aback. What does this say about my cooking in her eyes? or is chocolate only for eating? Should i resort to cooking chocolate or, heaven forbid, cake covering? Is the amount of time spent not worthy? Are the people likely to eat it not worthy either? It's an interesting question: what is worth enough and what is too high a price to pay (in any kind of sense). My mother has the same problem when it comes to putting good wine in a casserole, yet she will willingly pay a king's ransom for the meat. Others will lavish an inordinate amount of time on a poor quality piece of meat, or go for quantity over quality.

You've been icing your Christmas cake. The children and i did ours yesterday. I went for the ready-to-roll white marzipan and icing and was pleased with the unusually professional finish. Then i let the children loose with the decorations and they made sure it looked like a good old-fashioned homemade affair, like every year. I remember the American frosting my mum used to ice our cake with when i was a child. The idea was that you didn't have to use marzipan which we all detested. And this thick glossy coating, like whipped cream, did the trick. But as time went by it became harder and harder until you fairly needed a dentist drill to crack into the cake. It's not one of those family traditions i've been tempted to replicate.

Happy Christmas,


Tuesday, 20 December 2011

December 20th - Return of the Prodigal

Dear Nigel,

Christmas has started in our house. It flickered into life as my red haired Hannah jumped off the train in Buxton with a broken suitcase and a smile as big as a Cheshire cat. We almost didn't make it in time on the grounds that i couldn't get into the landrover as the severe weather had frozen up all the locks. So she was back home, complaining, arguing and fighting her corner immediately - our old Hannah back unchanged by six months au pairing in Spain. And then came Chris the following day. Brought up from the midlands by my sister and her brood. Home. Hugged. Safe. He flew in from Cyprus on friday, six months, much-missed. The prodigal returns; so naturally i have killed the fatted calf and we are tucking into the Christmas fodder uncharacteristically early, i suppose. Just when is Christmas supposed to start? Christmas day? Christmas Eve? I suspect a fairly empty house at New Year as they will all have parties of their own to go to, so why not eat, drink and be merry now? Office parties are always early, as are school Christmas dinners, parties and friends get-togethers.

I've been slow-cooking venison casserole and a game casserole to freeze. The colour is so deep and chocolatey and a wonderful richness that just feels so right at this time of year. I get some chipolatas for the little ones in case they turn their noses up at it. My daughter brings us packets of hams and salamis from Spain and two huge long salamis, gifts from her Spanish family. It reminds me of my German exchange back in  the 70's and carrying foil-wrapped Kabanos back on the train from Germany, through Belgium, the ferry and home to my unsuspecting parents.I'm sure it's probably illegal these days but we will eat the evidence first.

You've been enjoying some faggots. I shall say nothing. You lament the fact that your favourite brand has disappeared, saying "there is much comfort in familiar tastes". I know just what you mean. It is that particular something that takes you back instantly to a particular day, or time in your life, and something similar just won't do it. Our senses aren't fooled by new improved, low fat, or whatever. I've just purchased a tin of grapefruit for Christmas morning - just for me, i don't expect anyone else to eat it - because i need it to take me back to a place and a time that can't be replicated by a fresh, ripe, succulent grapefruit. My sister does it too, i discover. Funny that.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

December 15th - Words with Mary Berry, and playing with food

Dear Nigel,

I can see i'm going to have to have words with that Mary Berry. I made her wonderful Apple desert cake, which is in her Christmas book - just like last year. And, just like last year, i found the whole thing superglued to the loose-bottomed tin after cooking, and needing a black and decker to remove it from its metal base. I make sure i put a note to add baking parchment next year as i chisel away with a palate knife. I've also added pecan nuts and cinnamon instead of the almonds (as i'm not a fan), but all in all it's a pretty fab desert.

There's been a lot of playing with food in this house today. I should say it started with the daily shouting match - me at my four year old who takes twenty minutes to eat four bites out of a piece of toast and raspberry jam. Other people's children seem to eat; I clock watch and get exasperated, i cajole, i get angry, i throw it in the bin .Then Sophie made two dozen fairy cakes this afternoon. Only, by the time it came to getting the mixture in the cake cases we were down to fourteen. Where had the missing cake mixture gone i wonder? Little suprise that this evening's spag bol was barely touched.

Then it was my turn this evening. A quick recipe for Toffee sauce - also from the sainted Mary - to go on the Sticky Toffee puddings in the freezer. Last year i made lots of jars of this sauce (also in the Christmas book) to give to friends and family. I put labels on them, like the Supermarket, saying,"HIGH in Fat, HIGH in Sugar, HIGH in Calories, NO nutritional content whatsoever". The kids put it on ice cream and pancakes and my teenagers ate it straight out of the jar with a spoon.

Anyway, i got completely absorbed watching the golden syrup trickle off the spoon in the glow of the light from a candle. Like amber or molten glass the colours just moved and flowed - rather like the girl dancing at the start of the Bond film - and then tapering to a jumble of spidery writing in the pan. There is wonder to be had in the seemingly everyday things we never stop to consider. So this was my play moment. Back to the cooking days as a child when the simple act of weighing or mixing was an act of pure magic as the liquid disappeared into the flour or the pastry became a ball.

You're busy making lists for the festive season, and trying to save a few pennies by recycling food in another incarnation the following day. I like your method for cooked Ham, poached in Apple juice with onion, carrot,celery and star anise. I think i might try that recipe for the large Ham i bought the other day in Town. I think it might be time to start making my list, too. I tend to get a bit over-ambitious and inevitably run out of time and get stressed. Less is more, I've decided, and this year it's definately going to be less. I don't want to be running around like a headless chicken the day before Christmas.

So here's to our Christmas lists. May your Christmas be stress-free,


Tuesday, 13 December 2011

December 13th - pineapple progress and yet more soup

Dear Nigel,

Sophie came home today saying she loved pineapple, so off we went to the supermarket to buy one. It's only interesting because Sophie hates pineapple, wouldn't dream of letting a chunk rub shoulders with her grapes and strawberries in a fruit salad. So, the change of heart? - school dinners. I am a recent convert. I had previously thought that i would have better chance of getting something healthy into the mouth of a right little fusspot if i chose it and packed it myself. But i was wrong. The change to school dinners has had an effect like no other to get her to try new things and increase the variety of things she will eat. Why is it that i have tried giving her the same food as us, pretending to ignore what actually gets consumed, have her friends to tea, visit other people's houses, have grandma cajole and pander to her every whim; and yet it is the school dinner lady with her fast-moving queue, the noise and the rush to get out in the playground, who has had the greatest success?

I meditate on vegetable peelings as i make gallons of sweet potato, butternut squash and smoked chilli soup for the freezer. It is calming and contemplative. My grudge-bearing ex-husband has asked my son Chris, flying in from Cyprus for two weeks only, to spend Christmas with them. He does this two weeks before Christmas, knowing he will be stirring up trouble. Luckily, my son declines, but will visit later. I hadn't realised until this year what a highly emotive time of year this is. The importance of everything being just right, of everyone doing what you think they should, of the hidden dangers in the seemingly ordinary - the right amount spent on a particular person's present, the idea of fairness or 'equalness', the favours bought or paid for, the downright bribery if necessary so that someone won't be offended. It's a minefield. And the more people there are involved the greater the likelihood of something detonating somewhere. Add to this the "modern" family with step-parents, half-siblings, ex-stepchildren and a whole battalion of competing grandparents, and world war three is predicted to start in your own living room sometime within the next three weeks.

You appear to have had enough of pandering to others needs and, as you're not very hungry yourself "they get cheese on toast". Quite right too. There's too much expectation made of the cook these days; and the more you do the more they seem to expect. There is no end to this desire for better, more, different,improvement, and all without a single word being said. I would give them cheese on toast tomorrow as well and see how long before they crack.

Yours, cheesed off,


Sunday, 11 December 2011

December 11th - All the best cooks...

Dear Nigel,

I am going to make a supposition which may or may not be true as far as your concerned. But i think that all the best cooks like to eat out and let someone else do the cooking. Sometimes it's because you are able to enjoy the company more without the pressure to perform, to compare cooking styles and ingredients, pinch ideas (and why not?), but mainly so that you can let your hair down and be looked after by someone else for a change.

We had a day like that today. My Mum was here, three of my sons, and myself. I packed them all into the Landrover (complaining, of course, as they prefer something more comfortable), and took them all off to "The Devonshire Arms" at Beeley. This is a wonderful old Peak District pub with loads of charm and character and a  menu to match. I had Partridge with creamy potato and truffle sauce. The poor bird was tiny (as they are) but someone had seen fit to shoot it three times just to make sure it was dead. My teenage sons are learning to have a palate and make choices for themselves. It is lovely to watch them consider the options and move away from that childish state of only wanting a certain brand of junk food or food as a kind of statement of who they are - i only eat pizza etc. Sometimes, it seems as if they are never going to reach that state and that your giving in to their demands has brought up a child who will live solely on junk food or unhealthy or bland foods into old age. So it is nice to see them connecting their brains to their taste buds.

For once, it means they are confined to a space of about 4' x 3' and are thus removed from anything electrical and forced to communicate with you. This they find actually quite enjoyable, as is the action of moving fork to mouth. It is possible to do this at home - and sometimes it even works - but when you are out for dinner there is no being late to the table ( because you're halfway through a game), no exiting early (as you're the only driver), and the table manners you continuously moan about at home suddenly become effortless. Smaller children can be apt to play-up perhaps when out, but older teenagers seem to turn into the sort of people you want them to be. So, for that reason alone, i consider eating out with your family to be worth every penny.

You are feeling the change in the weather and make a three course meal to stuff you full to bursting. I find the  cold snap leaves room for the inevitable sticky toffee pudding, and, like the Readybrek advert, we leave with a warm glow surrounding us. Out to the delights of shopping in Bakewell, and trying to stuff three very reluctant teenage boys into the sort of boots that will keep the snow out. It is a trying time, but with my mum as ally we come away successful, and only one is still moaning all the way back to the car.

Eat today, for tomorrow we diet,


Friday, 9 December 2011

December 9th - Thermals and fish and chips

Dear Nigel,

The first snows of winter have come and the temperature has plummeted. My mum arrives from a much milder Northumberland and i put the heating on in her honour. I bundle her out of the railway station and into the Landrover and skate down the road trying to avoid the stationary cars. The other cars see us coming and reverse in unison - i thought this short cut was such a good idea. It's times like these i think of winter tyres and snow chains as an answer to my prayer. This year the council have sent their leaflet out early saying what they are doing, and narrowly avoiding to mention what they are not doing - like wasting our money on salt to grit the roads apparently.

So we get home and i remember that we ate the Carribean stew i thought we'd have, yesterday, and now, as they say 'the cupboard was bare.' I have a cold and i don't feel particularly hospitable so i suggest we have fish and chips because it feels just right in this bitter weather: inside thermals to add to the outside thermals which have been dug out from their summer hiding place. Sexy they are not, but who cares from under this parcel of at least four wool layers.

 Your answer is to cook a curry to 'bring us out in a sweat'. There is something totally defeating to the British idea of dieting about this kind of weather. Your body just craves and craves CARBOHYDRATES in any shape or form, whether bread, followed by toasted muffins, Barmbrack, chocolate, chips - who invented this ridiculous diet? Who sits in your head declaring that this is what you really want to eat, and now? If there is something inside us that instinctively knows, for instance, that there is something in a piece of coal which makes us compelled to lick it when pregnant, then surely there must be good nutritional reason why only chips and chocolate will do.Your curry sounds nice, with fennel and cream - such a lovely vegetable fennel and so under-used.

Tomorrow, snow permitting,we will go and hunt out a Turkey and bring it home and freeze it. I don't want the last minute panic of last year - will the Turkey make it through?or what will we eat on Christmas Day - tinned Ham? I am not aware that a fresh Turkey is any more superior to a frozen one, particularly if you have done the freezing yourself. Are you?

Yours from somewhere no less warmer than the arctic circle,


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

December 6th - The Best recipe Books

Dear Nigel,

Where do your best recipes come from? Do you just conjure them up daily from the unfathomable depths of your culinary mind, or do you, like the rest of us, dip in and out of various recipe books for recipes and inspiration?

I have a shelf unit in my kitchen which houses only cookery books. There are plenty of others floating around the house but these ones are the ones in current use. Some are my latest acquisitions, some old favourites, my very first copy of Good Housekeeping which i bought when still at school, my own recipe book of old family recipes. Being the anally retentive sort of person i probably am i have also alphabetically arranged the above books according to author. Thus your books, of which i have six recipe books (and two others) are between Delia's and The River cafe.

The best recipe books, i find, are the ones that you actually use. The recipes that you come back to time and time again, the cooks that you trust to deliver and not confuse or baffle you. Like many people i choose to mark my books. They are books for using and not just salivating over. I write crosses and ticks depending whether it's worth making again, i make comments about whether it was lovely, OK, too expensive, too fiddly or time consuming to bother with. I tweak ingredients or change the quantities e.g. for more sauce or topping etc. Sometimes i make notes to myself about the credibility of the recipe - "who does she think she's kidding", "no one in their right mind would spend this long preparing these vegetables", "has anyone actually tasted this? - it's foul". Some times i like to write notes of a special occasion i cooked something for, a memory saved in time, to be glanced at and remembered at odd times.

I like to think that one day, when i'm long gone, my children or future grandchildren will be able to look at one of these books and find a little bit of me trapped therein. It's easy to leave photos or diaries, and they too have their place, but i like to think that in these books are a lifetime of meals prepared and served and eaten, of friends and family nourished and entertained (in every sense), and a kind of documentary of my life. There are lavish recipes of good times, celebration and plenty; and frugal cookbooks for the lean times, for the post-Christmas recovery, the pre-Summer drive to lose weight, balanced by the books of puddings and pies and comfort food for those cashmere days in Autumn. There are notices on timing, which tin to use - or not - how to rescue something that's in danger of escaping or substitutions for things that i know my family will like better - a different fruit, or nut, or topping. And interspersed with these are the inevitable artwork of splattered recipes, dustings of cocoa or flour, of spitting fat or greasy fingerprints. Some people like to work from a perfectly clean book and will replace worn-out, dog-eared and stained books with new. But for me  it is comforting to know I've been this way before.

You make your Christmas cake and remind me to feed my cake with brandy. This is one recipe that i won't be making of yours. I have my Granny's family recipe and here is one instance when it's about something more than just the recipe: this is about a family heritage which i want to pass on to my children and to theirs.

 So sorry Nigel, I'm sure it tastes absolutely wonderful, but we all have our little family customs.


Sunday, 4 December 2011

December 4th - Christmas Trees and chocolate santas

Dear Nigel,

Today we went to get the Christmas tree as always from a little farm in Higher Disley which always seems to have the brightest, bushiest and freshest. I set off in the Landie - Archie - with the little ones singing along to a bad christmas song tape (yes, someone still makes them, tapes i mean). I was feeling quite upbeat and looking forward to choosing a tree together. And then it hit me. Sometimes the smallest thing can push you over the edge. Perhaps it was the fug and warmth and bad carols, but i found myself sobbing silently, trying not to let the children see my tears. This is our first Christmas on our own. Choosing the tree had been one of OUR special things as a couple. Bad time of year this - so much expectation, so much forced and real jollity, so much pressure to have a nice time, get everything right, be everything to everyone...Sometimes it's all just too much.

Molly said to me," Are you going to carry the tree, mummy?" Yes, who else is there? The plight of single mothers everywhere is that you just have to get on and do the things you thought you couldn't possibly manage.
"My big mummy," she says - and i am, to her four year old frame. I'm contemplating how i'm going to get this huge tree we've just bought onto the Landrover roof rack - luckily there's a little ladder on the back. I'm 5'2" and fairly slight and this tree is considerably bigger than i am. But i manage, and i give myself another gold star for grin-and-bear-it; and another first is passed and i'm still here.

I bought some little chocolate Santas to go on the tree. Small children love them out of all proportion. I don't suppose they pass the taste test or the style test, but i would never be allowed to get away without them - not for a good few years at least. I remember when i was small we had chocolate candles and angels with gold radiating fronds; ridiculously ornate affairs for christmas tree chocolates (and maybe that's why you never see them anymore), but they were magical things that remain where other things have faded.I'll keep the santas under wraps until Christmas is fully upon us or the mice will surely visit and deplete their number.

There's no entry for you today so maybe you ate light. We have pudding - sticky toffee pudding with custard - but no dinner planned as such. Expect i'll just see what i can do with whatever i can find in the fridge. Increased the timer on the heating as it gets darker and colder earlier, and there's nothing more miserable than waiting for the heating to come on.

Yours from the depths of a winter's day,


Saturday, 3 December 2011

December 3rd - Christmas Angels and Mince pies

Dear Nigel,

The festive season is at last upon us. I'd almost decided to give up on the day as the children were behaving like horrible spoiled brats, fighting and generally trashing the house. If it hadn't been for the fact that i'd already paid for the tickets (and the inclusion of supper meant that there was one meal i didn't need to think about), I think i would have been tempted to stay home, put forward the clocks and move towards an early tea and bedtime. So i set off with grim determination towards the surrounding darkness of the vast parkland surrounding Chatsworth.

 But here the magic started. With every car heading the other way, every light bulb taking us towards the stables, the little pink and spotted bodies of two-day old piglets suckling. And then on to the dressing room for the donning of costumes, of angels with wings of real goose feathers, sitting on hay bales tucking into a fine Cornish pasty from the renowned farm shop. And as the story unfolded, replete with real donkey and sheep, my heart melted just a little and the disaster of a day was gone to replaced by something immortalized and eternal.

I was tucking into my third  Chatsworth mince pie in the interest of research you understand. I made my own mince pies weeks ago with mincemeat left to mature from last year. I was pleased with the taste although they do seem to weep a sticky goo - which i quite like - but doesn't give the kind of shop-bought finish the Chatsworth ones enjoyed. I think on balance it's a question of soul - the neatly-formed, precise, sugar-dusted pies seem to lack that touch of love, the uneven rolling of pastry, the lopsided star pressed on by finger dents. A bit like my angel with her lopsided halo and the sheep trying to tuck into whatever was surrounding baby Jesus. The smallest king refused to hand over the gold and mary appeared to have been drinking given her red nose and cheeks - or it could just have been over-zelous use of face paints.

You cook some Spanish-style re-fried rice with left-overs from the fridge and echo my thoughts, saying, it is "utterly delicious (but) looks a bit of a mess". Food is like that, when left to its own devices, not fussed or garnished. My mince pies would never grace a farm shop or WI tea, but i would like to  bet there won't be a   single one left at the end of the festive season.

From one blinkered omnivore to another,


Friday, 2 December 2011

December 2nd - A right veggie knees-up

Dear Nigel,

I received an invitation today to a party at the Peak Yoga Centre where i go once a week for bodily torture and soul restoration. And herein lies the dilemma.(It must be one that you face regularly but for me it is an irregular event at most.) That is the idea of expectation and of what the food says about you to other people. In my case, the invitation simply says, any food donations welcome. But is that really the case? A few minutes chat in the cafe reveals that there is an accepted view of vegetarianism - so there goes my tray of sausage rolls out of the window. The view about alcohol consumption is split, but as the ticket mentions mulled wine and mince pies, i guess i'm safe with a sherry trifle. On the other hand, i notice i'm the only one downing a latte while they all sip earl grey, so perhaps a coffee and Baileys cheesecake would get me double black marks.I decide to plump for the savory option as there are a lot of very lean and lithe people out there and a sweet indulgence might be met with derision. And then where do you go? India? which part? and how authentic could you make it when they've all been away practicing on hallowed ground and the nearest you've been is the Tandoori at the end of the road?

I leaf through my vegetarian cookery books, many of them worthy, wholesome and completely indigestible tomes from the 70's. Eventually i remember a wonderful tart with Aubergine, red pepper and tomato by Isidora Popovic, who started cooking eleven years ago with a Prince's Trust grant and a stall in Portobello Market. A woman after my own heart, and in whose footsteps i would like to tread. It is the sort of tart from which the taste explodes and, i hope, will prevent judgement from a fairly formidable group of people.

You make your Christmas Pudding today. I made mine a few weeks ago but i wish i'd seen your recipe first as the idea of dried figs, apricots and orange zest appeals greatly. I will add it to my Christmas note book with a note to try it next year. I've been following Delia's Christmas pudding recipe since her days as Queen of TV food watching. Some of her other recipes I've done-to-death and rather moved on from. I tend to stay clear of many chocolate recipes for the same reason. These days i make a lot of ordinary home-cooked fare because a lovely casserole and an apple and cinnamon crumble is what i want to eat; though the casserole may be game and the crumble with ginger ice cream.

Hope you made a wish. My children all had a stir and the little ones made wishes for their absent brothers and sister; and i wished them all back home safely.


Thursday, 1 December 2011

December 1st - Rock'n'roll Turkeys

Dear Nigel,

It's the first day of Advent and i thought i'd get ahead by ordering the Turkey. We usually have a Norfolk Black or a Bronze from Karen at Heathylea farm in Hollinsclough. But, disaster of disasters, Karen's decided that,  after the snow of last year, not to bother with Turkeys this Christmas. Living in a small hill farm on a tiny little back road was a nightmare for them last year when the snow hit just a few days before Christmas.It's a shame as her Turkeys were beautiful amazing beasts. We went to see them when they were growing and they were having quite a rowdy party: Radio 2 was blaring out and they were tucking in to Christmas pudding along with their regular food. I swear one staggered past with a glass of wine and a paper hat on its head. Karen did offer to let me have one of their few birds, but as these are really pets i couldn't find it in me to make them hand over Charlie or Alfred in a plastic bag. Think i'll go back to the Ice Cream farm who were taking orders from a local farm at Wildboarclough.

Every family has its pre-Christmas customs. Mine usually involves hunting for all the boxes of decorations in the loft- early, as several involve the children's advent calendars. We have a lovely one with a christmas tree musical box and tiny decorations in drawers to hang on it. It belonged to my older daughter, now in her 20's, and is still intact and just as precious. This year i bought a new wreath to replace my cobweb-encrusted dried mushroom ring above the stove. This one is a ring of Brussel sprouts. And i cracked open the tiny gold perfume  bottle of Chambord black Raspberry liquor.The taste is wonderfully warm and inviting. I used some in my Summer Pudding as an alternative to cassis; though i have to admit that this was one case when i chose the product entirely for its beautiful packaging.To my shame.

I see you've caught the Christmas bug, too - not the tacky, commercial affair we're all pressurized into wanting, but the magic and candlelight and distant waft of carols in the frosty night air. Meals are light, at this end too, as we prepare for a season of over-indulgence and stuffing. You offer a quick pasta dish with artichokes and flat-leaved parsley and i think we may go for something similar ourselves. Children seem universally to love pasta however fussy they are at eating and it always figures heavily on our menu.

With yuletide greetings and the sound of sleigh bells from over the hills,