Tuesday, 31 January 2012

January 31st - Water is free, but tap water is different

Dear Nigel,

You might have thought that living in a wonderful old spa town the water would be of the best quality. You would be wrong. It's not bad - not like the many times recycled stuff that you are probably forced to drink - but our water still comes from somewhere else.

Given that it rains (and snows) here so much of the time, and that we are on top of the hill, this might seem strange. But our water comes from somewhere else, and the water we have, goes somewhere else. None of this is the wonderful Spa water anyway, so it hardly matters.

In the town there is a fountain put up by some wealthy philanthropist, probably, for the ordinary townspeople to partake of the stuff. Every time we pass it my kids have to stop for a swig. And it's popular. People stop their cars and take out huge quantities of plastic bottles and will spend ages filling them all up, driving them all back home, and all because it's free. I used to do something of it myself about five years ago. Pregnant, with another baby in the pram, i used to load sixteen litres of the stuff onto the pram tray and push it up a very steep hill for the family to quaff back at home. Must have been mad.

The Hotel gym where i used to go, had presumably been taken  to task by its residents,at some point,over the high prices charged for a small bottle of water (- when they could, i suppose, have refilled them all for free just down the road). So they decided to carry on charging their high prices but selling Harrogate Spa water instead.

I went to buy some Mussels yesterday to make your lovely soup, but i'm reliably informed that they only sell Mussels for the weekend in Buxton. If i come back at the end of the week there should be some.I think i would  have to travel about ten miles to be able to get some, so i'll wait for friday and hope there's not a rush on Mussels in the town. Don't suppose this sort of thing crops up much in the metropolis?

It's a very cold day here today. There's a scattering of snow on the hills but the roads are still clear. Spent two hours driving back from Manchester last friday, edging over the hills in second gear trying not to skate on all the black ice. No sign of any gritters - the council don't like to bother if they can get away with it. Bernard's bins have been removed and the recycling people have just delivered me a brand-new shiny recycling box to replace the one that got pinched. I shall be the envy of the street with my brand-new shiny box - rubbish envy, no less.

You make a warming sausage casserole and zesty lime tart. I'm heartened to see a warning about filling in all the cracks in the pastry: Too often it happens to me that i make some lovely tart and watch the gooey topping disappearing through the pastry case before it has chance to cook. My cookery books are plastered with notes-to-self about such disasters that have occurred. Luckily, the friends i have to dinner are good friends, who would even find something nice to say about the dishes that haven't quite turned out like the one in the photographs.

Hoping it's a bit warmer where you are,


Sunday, 29 January 2012

January 29th - Saffron and Honey

Dear Nigel,

Well, i finally unearthed my book of Cornish recipes. It is written by the Cornish WI in 1968 and reprinted eight times. My copy dates from 1990, which is about right as we moved to Cornwall in 1991 and it was a gift from my then husband to help me settle in.

There are three recipes for Saffron cake. It is many years since i made it. Initially, i go for the one entitled "Real Cornish Saffron cake" until i notice that it contains 1/2lb chopped peel (and i'm not really a fan of peel anyway).  I decide that the second recipe - which is at least forty years old - is traditional enough for me. It is similar but the peel has been reduced to 2oz. My only confusion is the quantity of saffron which is 1/2 drachm. Have you any idea what that is? Failing that, i will marry the two recipes. The other main ingredient is 1lb currants which pleases me greatly. I like the dark richness of currants. I was trying to work out at Christmas what it was about my Granny Burn's Christmas cake recipe that made me treasure it so much, and decided then it was the increased quantity of currants which gave it a kind of old-fashioned  taste so often missing in modern raisin -heavy recipes.

 The Saffron, i brought back in a little box from Southern Spain, where it is considerably cheaper than here. It is so often adulterated, particularly in its powdered form (which this is not), but the true scent is so intoxicating, like deep warm honey. I remember, some of the less-reputable bakers would sell bright yellow saffron buns that were surely coloured with turmeric. The true Saffron cake is only mildly coloured as the spice is so expensive to use.

I look, briefly, at the third recipe which is for Saffron yeast buns, but  - shame on shame, WI - under ingredients  it says "saffron, if used". I'm sure things have moved on in the WI since the sixties.

There are few smells so evocative to me of  Summer than Saffron and warm Honey. If your only brush with Honey is from a cold jar then you are missing something magical. The smell which rises as you lift the lid on a working hive or uncap the waxy comb and watch ooze forth, is Summer unbottled, warm and vibrant. The aroma from the extractor as you rotate the frames to collect the Summer's bounty is little short of heaven - a lingering memory of Summer's lease. The jars i filled, and labelled with the beautiful line drawing of a hive which my friend Andre designed for me, and lined up in the pantry - a vision in amber.

My Bee keeping days started with a lucky encounter at a meeting, with Raymond, soon to become a very dear friend. Raymond was a wonderful old Yorkshire man in his eightees with a pony tail and gypsy earrings, who had been the county Beekeeper for many years. I was lucky that he lived in the same little village of Praze-an-Beeble near me; and he took me under his wing and became my mentor. He lived in the tiniest pepperpot house, down a little farm track which ran out before it got to the house. There he'd lived for over forty years with his tiny child-like wife, Dolly, and row upon row of beautiful handmade Beehives.

It was Raymond who showed me how to keep Bees on the cheap: that Marigolds were just as good as expensive Beekeepers gloves, that wellies were fine, and that a small pair of men's farm overalls in white from Cornwall farmers (with the fly sewn up - i wasn't taking any chances), was more than adequate. I had two beautiful old WBC hives, which i bought from Raymond, a smoker and a hive tool, and the greatest fountain of Bee knowledge i have ever come across. He was generous in every way and passed on something of a life that still exists if only you look carefully.

That first year i took a bumper crop of 120lb of Honey from my two hives - enough to keep Hannah in her favourite Honey Ice Cream for a very long time.

I turn to your book and see you are making a clear hot mussel soup, which sounds wonderful. I have fought shy of buying mussels since a bad bout of food poisoning once at a restaurant. Shame, as i love the flavour of mussels, which tastes more of the sea than any fish. Perhaps it is time for me to get brave again, and buying a kilo of mussels might be just the place to start.


Thursday, 26 January 2012

January 26th - My tea fetish and Cornish memories

Dear Nigel,

I have a pavlovian reaction every time i come into the kitchen, every time i have a problem, every time i need a small reward for doing something (or conversely, to give me strength), I put the kettle on. Again and again and again. My friends and family think it funny. I drink at least twenty cups of tea a day - well past the government's target. Latterly I've changed to big pint mugs as it saves me pouring two at the same time. I realize this is probably slightly unusual, but i'm so used to these sort of quantities that I start to get headaches and feel dehydrated if i'm out for more than a couple of hours without a drink.

My favourite tea is Twinings Yunnan tea, which the supermarkets seem to have stopped selling, so i have to buy it direct. It is a cross between a full-bodied English Breakfast type and an Earl Grey - not so Bergamotty. I love it and have been drinking it for years.

My Tea fetish started when i was at school. I used to buy coloured building block tins of tea in different flavours - orange pekoe and Queen Mary,Jasmine and Gunpowder . My friends would give me tins as Birthday presents and i had them all lined up on a shelf. The herbal teas arrived as a kind of new-age antidote to all that caffeine. Even now i must have at least twenty varieties in the cupboard: Cranberry for detoxifying, Echinacea for colds, Fennel for dieting, Camomile for calmness. Some taste absolutely vile and i'm only leaving them there in case i should get accustomed to them eventually.

You make a winter salad with cauliflower and chickpeas and lemon juice. It sounds nice. I remember when we lived in Cornwall and the main crop everywhere down there was cauliflower (although the farmers all called it "Brocc-ly" in their deep Cornish accents). I used to buy great cannonball heads of the stuff from little tables on the edges of fields for 20p in a rusty old tin. In frugal times, i used to make a cauliflower crumble with cheese mixed into the crumble topping, in an age when a family dined well for a pound.Fields of daffodils brightened the landscape there from Christmas onwards and there was seasonal work to be had for those prepared to bend and pick and bunch for a pittance.

I made the Iranian omelette yesterday and it tasted  good. The saffron was steeped in boiling water and the deep honey smell took me back to the Saffron buns i used to buy the kids. The Heavy cake and Lardy cake were lesser Cornish delicacies i always thought. And the baker in our little village of Praze-an-Beeble made a fine Pasty. Strange how some foods stay particular to one place. Saffron cake has such a delicate flavour when made well and properly, and not adulterated with unnatural food colouring. It deserves to be much wider known. Think i'll make some for tea at the weekend for the next batch of children to enjoy.

Yours with misty Cornish eyes,


Tuesday, 24 January 2012

January 24th - Fairies make biscuits and the two Hoover family

Dear Nigel,

I'm just recovering with a glass of something dry. Molly had a friend to tea. I'd forgotten how intense these sessions can be. As if realizing time is relatively short, they got through several games, dressed up as fairies, and  had a fine time making biscuits. Most of these had been welded to the table, and rather a large amount of uncooked dough seemed to be disappearing into their mouths. Maybe with hindsight, choosing to cook half an hour before tea was not a very good idea.( I hope the mother doesn't blame me when her offspring is sick in the night). At least Molly has moved on from the days when she used to eat Blue playdough. I remember, i didn't discover that one until nappy change time.

My second son, Chris,(the only one of them reading my blog), rang up to moan that he was the only one who didn't get a mention. I told him it was probably because he was quite normal, with no hang-ups or food phobias. And he is; but he does have this amazing psychic power that i haven't quite figured out as yet.

 I regard him as my second hoover - the first is obviously the dog. Nothing is safe for even a moment with Poppy. If i want to nip up stairs i have to put everything in the cold oven or the microwave, or five feet up on the top of the fridge. The Turkey spent Christmas eve in the back of the landrover because i didn't want to come down on Christmas morning to carnage in the Kitchen.

My second hoover is a more selective vehicle. Whereas my first vehicle will remove anything in its path, animal, vegetable or mineral, my second vehicle has an alert sensitizing device. You know those times - well most times - when you go out shopping for washing powder, loo rolls and Breakfast cereal, and, just to get you through to the checkout, you slip a 'something special' into your trolley. It might be a small piece of special cheese, a packet of biscuits or a little bowl of olives. Whatever it is, it has your name on it and anyone touches it at their peril. You take it home. You have to pop out. You realize other people are in the house so you hide it at the back of the fridge behind the jam jars and the milk. Or you put it in a high up cupboard where only plates and bowls live. It matters not. By the time you come back through the door, that morsel of prosciutto you'd been thinking about for the last half hour will be midway between two slices of a doorstop sandwich. "This is great Mum," he says. I'd like to say i approve of his good sense of taste, instead I just feel bereft. Again. Could someone perhaps invent a biscuit tin with a false bottom where you could hide all the chocolate ones? Or a cupboard with a retro safe opening handle? I rather like that idea - three clicks to the left, two to the right...

I am making Kuku - an Iranian omelette with saffron, from Sam and Sam Clark's "Moro East". I must remember to freeze the rest of the pine nuts.  I tend to leave them in the cupboard and they always look a bit  rancid next time i come to need some. I'm not as good as i'd like to be at using up leftovers. I had this dilemma at Christmas. I was making Delia's Christmas pudding, as I've done religiously for the past however many years it is. Waitrose decided to produce a kit to make Delia's Christmas pudding, with everything weighed out. Then a little time went by and the kit was reduced in price. I went into the shop to buy exactly the same ingredients in the box and yet  i couldn't somehow bring myself to pick up the kit instead, even though it was probably considerably cheaper.

You make a wonderful sounding herb butter with blue cheese and dijon mustard. It's a shame that you find chard a disappointing accompaniment. I used to grow lots of it in my garden in Cornwall. I think i was always  somehow amazed that i could get something to grow that we could actually eat. My results with carrots were less than impressive.


Saturday, 21 January 2012

January 21st - "Not that again" and "Anything"

Dear Nigel,

The Red-haired Hannah is flying off to Spain tomorrow, and off to her au pairing job near Madrid. I ask her what she would like to eat, this being her last day, and she says,"Anything". Anything, was on offer last night as she sailed in from her nightclubbing responsibilities with all her Uni friends in the North. I had two soups left over from the Yoga lunch and homemade bread, but of course she didn't like either of them.

The Yoga lunch went well and i needn't have worried about dear little Olive; she has the constitution of an Ox, and will probably outlive us all. My teenager-in-the-house, Tom, was glad they'd left the Smoked Salmon soup for him and made short work of it. His usual comment, as he sits down to the table, is,"Not that again". This
 seems to be a general teenage thing (and, to be fair to him, is getting less frequent as he matures). It doesn't seem to matter whether it's been six months since i made a particular dish or last week; he's even been known to say "Not that again" about something I've never cooked before.

I have this theory, that there is a reflex arc that goes from nose to brain to stomach which gets quicker as we age. No adult has been known to utter the immortal phrase "Not that again" - at least not to my knowledge. The comment, "that smells good", or a general salivating or tummy rumble, is more likely. If, then, the reflex is slower in a young person and goes quicker instead from eyes to brain to mouth (i won't say bypasses the brain entirely...) then maybe that is the reason such a comment is universal. What are your thoughts?

I see you are having Mackerel tonight. It's not a fish I've bought much, but as you team it with one of my favourite ingredients, smoked paprika, i'm tempted to give it a go. I'm fond of fish - i ought to be, my Grandpa was a fish monger - but i don't like them too fishy, if you know what i mean.

Enjoy your little fishes,


Thursday, 19 January 2012

January 19th - Friends in the Kitchen and Happy Bread

Dear Nigel,

I caught myself salivating over the appliance department in John Lewis last week. It happens, ever so often i find myself walking round these beautiful polished chrome, mounted and immaculate toys with the glee of a Jeremy Clarkson and a hankering in my pocket for something i don't really need, can't really afford, and could never keep in that immaculate condition anyway (if the appearance of my Le Creuset casseroles are anything to go by).

I was staring headlong at a beautiful sleek chrome hand-blender and thinking of my rather sadder, old stained plastic version back at home. With the look of  something-naughty-for-the-bedroom it drew me in. My old one has done fair service : orange stained from seven babies-worth or pureed carrot and the lazy answer to blending just about every soup I've ever made. The impending loss suddenly started making me feel possessive and nostalgic.  The urge to go for the new, the improved, the better looking was suddenly being eclipsed by the thought of loss of old friends; and that's what so much lurking in my kitchen has become.

I have a wonderful salt pig made by a lovely potter in Northumberland with whom i spent a pleasant afternoon passing the time of day - he, free of his soliciting activities (in the legal sense) and me sprog-free for a few precious hours. There is a pot for jugged hare which belonged to my granny and which i keep wooden spoons in. The recycled herb jars i bought in Woolies when i first set up home. I bought 40 and filled them with all kinds of strange spices like Mace and Fenugreek and then proceeded to work out when to use them all. The cast iron casseroles are markers of all the places I've ever lived - each one a house-warming present from my mum for a new home. Everything has a history and a place and is somehow part of my identity.

I'm fattening up a load of stick-thin Yoga friends tomorrow. What started as an invite to a couple of friends for a soup and bread lunch has turned into eight of us packed round my table. So I've made the Moroccan chickpea and spinach soup again (as i think this will go down well ) and some smoked salmon soup for dear little Olive who is eighty nine and lithe as a whippet. I don't want to finish her off with the other soup which is quite spicy. I think what i admire most about Olive is not just that she can put us all to shame in the class, but the fact that she didn't start until she was fifty - I want to be like Olive when i grow up, helping people twenty years or more younger than herself and bombing round town like a crazed city banker.

I've also made Bread - four loaves of Malted Granary - an oak smoked flour from Bacheldre watermill which is new to me. Bread is something i can only make when i'm happy. At times in my life when I've been really happy i've knocked out up to 24lb a week to keep up with the demand of a large family. Lately there's been a bit of a lull. I want to get back there though. Andrew Whitley runs wonderful Breadmaking courses just over the border in Scotland and I've been promising myself for a while that i'll go and learn to make sour-dough bread properly.

You've been making Spaghetti Bolognese - wonderful news, I've long been looking for something to make mine taste like something i actually want to eat every week, as the kids love it. I see you use pancetta and a little Nutmeg, and maybe that's the mystery ingredient that's been missing in mine. No one looks at a recipe for Bolognese. We all think we know it; we bung a little bit of this, a bit of that, and it tastes universally depressing.Mine's always had the addition of a dash of Worcester Sauce, but i guess that's not very Italian either. Think i might try your version in the interest of 52 Mondays for every year for most of the rest of my life.

Looking forward to Mondays,


Sunday, 15 January 2012

january 15th - the case of the exploding egg

Dear Nigel,

A strange thing happened to me yesterday. I'd decided that we were all having eggs for tea - whether boiled, scrambled or fried - as we seemed to have bowls of eggs all over the place, left over from over-ambitious Christmas plans. Now, ordinarily, i look at the printed sell by date and add on a good couple of weeks, sometimes almost a month... How far would you let a good egg last? Or do you do as recommended by the supermarkets ( who have no interest whatsoever...) and bin everything past its due date?

Anyway, i figured i could probably get away with three weeks, and so put half a dozen  in a pan of boiling water to have with toasted soldiers. There was a loud bang and one of the eggs completely exploded. Never had this happen to me before; and when i looked into the pan i saw the top of the egg had blown off just as if someone had cut its head off in an egg cup. Talking about decapitation, i have the most amazing gadget which i bought a few years ago when my eldest son was small, in a bid to encourage him to eat eggs. (We had so many chickens not eating eggs was not going to be an option). It is like a pair or scissor hands attached to a ring which you place over the head of the egg, and as you squeeze, little metal teeth come out of the ring and decapitate the egg in one go - kids love it. I expect this lot will want a guillotine for the cucumber or something.

We had Roast chicken with jacket potatoes, because i don't think a Roast should always be a big song and dance. You go for a treat with oysters, and pair it with a cheap accompaniment of bulghur wheat with aubergines and mint. I splurge on a free-range corn fed bird but make sure i keep the legs towards dinner tomorrow. I'm always tempted to carve up and eat while the going's good, but actually if i thought about it, i could probably save substantially if i cooked and was a bit more savvy in my planning.

The house i was after didn't come good. The landlord preferred to offer it to the other people. The dog was a problem apparently, said the farmer. My bid to become part of the community and send my children to the village school (which is struggling to stay open) meant nothing. Shame. Back to square one. I try and convince myself something as good will come up again, but i'm not hopeful. Would be nice not to be looking out on people's headless bodies as they go down the street, and endless phone calls to the council about Bernard's rubbish, next door. Since last time, the council has offered to charge him a couple of hundred to move it all from his back yard, so now it is dumped in the alley outside my back gate, and is called fly-tipping.I can see it's going to move back and forward like ping pong again. Last time, i took a deep breath, bagged it all up and took it to the dump. This time, i can't be bothered.


Tuesday, 10 January 2012

January 10th - A post-coital Mango and Moroccan chickpea and spinach soup

Dear Nigel,

Sometimes it takes a happy accident to put you right about something you've been doing wrong for years. For me it was the near death of a Mango. The poor thing had been sitting there in the vegetable trug since before Christmas waiting to be pureed with passion fruit and made into a wonderful meringue roule - only it never happened, did it. I was too busy with pre-Christmas celebrations and i kept putting it off and putting it off (as you do with something you've never made before and are psyching up the nerve to attempt). So it got shelved and no one except me was any the wiser.

January dawns - time of counting the pennies and frugality - and we're eating our way through anything i can find that looks like it needs to go. The Mango sat and sat. I squashed it and it gave a dimple: EAT ME OR I DIE TOMORROW, it said. Now I've always struggled to get at a mango. That damn stone gets in the way from all angles, and, while i love the taste, sometimes i just think it's all too much like hard work. But not this little darling. It fell away from the knife with a sigh and the taste was positively orgasmic. It took a happy accident for me to realize that i'd always been struggling with a half-ripe, tense and anxious fruit; but now i had tasted the best - a relaxed, post-coital beauty that melted in the mouth. There would be no going back.

Soup today - a Moroccan chickpea and spinach soup, which i adore. It sits nicely with my hope to slim down, yet smells and tastes of exciting other worlds. You made a wonderful double ginger cake to keep out the endless drizzle. It's drizzling here too and i am very tempted to make one as well. I love the warmth the ginger gives you and it's so good for the digestion. I've been trying to persuade myself to drink more herbal tea - lemon and ginger etc. but i don't really like my ginger like that even if i know it's doing me good. It makes me miserable. Think i'll fill my kitchen with the gentle fug of baking and enjoy a piece of proper ginger cake. It will be doing me good, won't it? and i could always have a smaller piece, put it on a smaller plate, cut it with a smaller knife (or something like that)...


Saturday, 7 January 2012

January 7th - Hopes, Dreams and the Body in the oven

Dear Nigel,

I am in the middle of a culinary disaster, i think. There is a body in my oven which looks like it could have been part of my ex-husband. It has been cooking for hours, first boiling on the top and now roasting inside. It's my own fault; my eldest son James requested a cooked Ham and i was persuaded by a particularly large piece with a knock down price tag - bargain, it said to me. And now i'm not sure i want to eat it. I thought that when it came to pork there might be little in it, after all aren't nearly all pigs pumped full of hormones and then injected with water when dead? I figured that several soakings in cold water and a few hours boiling would even out the differences. However, in my greed and round-eyed wonder i failed to consider the size of pan i might need to cook the thing in.

I put it in my stock pot - which is really large - but even then it was poking out of the top. After several hours boiling i got the jitters about giving my family food poisoning so i rammed it into a roasting tin to finish cooking in the oven. The door, naturally, wouldn't close with the tray of chips already in there, so i propped it shut with two kitchen chairs and turned the temperature up to compensate for the partially open door. I don't suppose this is the way you cooked your Ham this Christmas?

On a different note, there is hope in the air in this New Year season of changes. I have finally plucked up the courage to consider moving house again. It's been hard being pinned to a house you never chose to live in, and it hasn't been suitable for the family. It's not so much the range of eclectic features of the property - living next door to a bombed-out alcoholic, being able to hear ever word of the cop programmes through the wall at three in the morning, nor is it the designer gaffer tape on the broken round window on the stairs, the constantly blocked sink, the hole in the wall above the dog bed - i just want a little garden and a village school for my children. I've seen the ideal house and am waiting with bated breath while the landlord hums and hars about the dog. I could neither get rid of the dog than i could one of the children.

You talk of pruning your Raspberry patch and a Mulberry tree -my favourite. Tiptree used to bring out a limited number of jars of Mulberry jam each year (probably because the delicate fruit bruises so easily when picked), but i find lately that i can no longer get it. It used to have a wonderful almost boiled sweet taste and a chewiness that other jams don't have. Perhaps you could send me a jar of your wonderful Mulberry jam in late Summer and i will send you Sloe gin from the Derbyshire hedgerows.

Yours in mixed spirits,


Friday, 6 January 2012

January 6th - Food Packaging and the Recycled Home

Dear Nigel,

I write this letter to you sitting knee-deep in a heap of clean rubbish. It is clean because i have washed it, and it sits, imploring me to make yet another journey out into the cold because i am a good citizen who recycles their paper, cardboard, plastics, glass - whatever they will take away. And that is my current problem. The council has suddenly decided that cardboard is no longer welcome in the green bins and must be placed in a flimsy blue plastic bag with an open end. Great idea whoever thought that one up. We've had storms this week and the town is looking like something from an earlier era when we had things like Bin men striikes. Walking my children up to school we were met by a high playing field fence lined with cardboard boxes of all sizes and shapes.

 I hadn't realised until this recent development how little recycling is paper, envelopes etc. and how much is cardoard - pizza boxes, sleeves round dips, boxes of cheese, biscuits,cereal packets etc. I started to think where i might be able to make changes to reduce packaging but came to the conclusion that these were already eco- changes by some of the companies involved - cardboard is at least biodegradable. Rachel's yoghurts come in carboard pots not plastic, as does my local Hillybilly Ice Cream. And others have followed suit. Just wish the council would make it easier for everyone to recycle. I note a huge drop in the number of Recycling Bins outside. As one person (who shall remain nameless) said to me: "I haven't got the time to break up cardboard boxes, so i'm going back to putting it all in the Dustbin." Not a good sign.
I see you're choosing a TV supper tonight of Grilled mushrooms "slathered with some of that garlicky French cream cheese from the corner shop". Did your mushrooms come in a blue plastic tray like mine do? That would be a visit to the recycling bank at Morrison's car park then for plastics, and the cardboard cheese tray into the blue bag. The red wine you might choose to chase it down with would go in the green box for glass, the plastic film over the mushrooms into the Black Rubbish Bin and the Newspaper you might be currently reading, into the Green Bin. And all for the sake of just one meal.

Yours from the top of Mount Everest,


Monday, 2 January 2012

January 2nd - Resolutions and leftovers

Dear Nigel,

Well, a new year dawns, thank god, - better than the last one, i hope. I'm in two minds about making resolutions; on the one hand they spur you on, on the other they are usually too uncompromising and ambitious and fall by the way side within a month, on average ( mine, anyway; yours may be different).

If i have a New Year's resolution it's to give up the gym (as i haven't actually been for some time). I'm working on the think yourself thin approach, with a dose of yoga thrown in. Exercise just makes me hungry and gives me muscles i don't really want. You don't look like the gyming type yourself, Nigel - and not everyone thinks rippling muscles attractive.

Meals here have been a series of leftovers and hotch potch affairs, with a collection of four of five different puddings on offer, but only for one or two persons. I buy lots of healthy salad to bulk out the fettuccine, and steer  clear of the pain au chocolat on offer. The diet proper won't really start until the cupboards are empty, and there's still plenty of ice cream left in the freezer. I admire people who can leave a box of chocolates open for others to enjoy but refrain themselves. That kind of self-will seems almost barbaric and masochistic. I suppose if you were going to give up something indefinitely it would seem reasonable.

Left overs can almost be the best part of Christmas. There is nothing nicer than heading to the fridge with a rumbling tummy to discover a hunk of special cheese or a jar of figs in port squirrelled away in a cupboard, that you had forgotten about.I am working my way through the last of my Christmas chocolates, a box of chocolate disks with bits in  from Twinings which came free with my tea order, and which i saved for my stocking. I rather  prided myself on filling my own stocking almost entirely on freebies - three for two etc : it became quite a game in the end. Making sure that the other stockings were fair and equal to each other was quite another game in itself.

Your resolution, and it's a good one, is to "eat less but better food this year". I think this an excellent idea and quite in keeping with my idea to be mindful of what i eat, and not just graze through half a bar of dairy milk whilst watching a film without even tasting it. You don't appear to have much left over from Christmas and rely on beans and lentils and larder stuff. Don't think my observance of the season of gorging would allow me to touch a lentil or dried bean as yet. Self - flagellation (even the bean kind) should not start on January 1 when most of us are nursing a mild, or not so mild, hangover or sleep deprivation at the very least.

Enjoy your beans and lentils and I'll catch up with you in a few days,