Tag Archives: Food


I had some tea, I say, if asked whether I’ve eaten, or want something now. But what did I actually have?

For me the tea will have been either a cup/pot of tea only. Or maybe with toast or cake or similar. I.e. I’ve had something, but not a full meal. Means I’m not desperate, but will have some interest in more food later, please.

Years of interaction with ordinary residents in England have taught me that when they report having had tea, they mean the cooked meal at the end of the day. Dinner, to me. They don’t mean just a cup of tea, nor do they mean Afternoon Tea. Or High Tea, or Five O’Clock Tea, as we foreigners have fondly come to think of what the English eat. In fact, often their meal does not actually involve tea, the beverage, at all.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the famous five o’clock tea might not exist. I’m not sure. But it feels like a term that got misunderstood by outsiders and romanticised and spread by those who don’t eat, or drink, five o’clock tea.

When I shout the single word ‘tea’ to the Resident IT Consultant, he knows to expect a pot of it, usually served with a slice of bread or toast with butter and jam. It’s the mid-afternoon snack that tides us over until dinner, i.e. other people’s tea.

And when you ask me if I’ve had anything to eat, I daren’t say afternoon tea, because that sounds way too grand.

I like inviting people to Afternoon Tea, because it’s simple. Just tea (or coffee) with something bready and something more cakey, which can be eaten almost anywhere; kitchen, living room or garden. But I rarely do, because of the misunderstanding bit. They might expect something far grander than I have in mind, or the full meal, or simply a cup.

Far easier to suggest they pop in for a coffee mid-morning. Even though I don’t actually drink coffee, and possibly they don’t either. There can be a biscuit with it. Or not. And no one will mistake it for dinner.

Cayenne with everything

This business of cooking meals in someone else’s kitchen isn’t always straightforward. But with me and the Resident IT Consultant having invaded the Grandmother’s privacy and making much of her hospitality for over two months, means the least I can do is cook dinner for everyone.

But then you stand there, having planned something reasonably simple, and you realise that the staples you have in your own kitchen are simply not available. Pasta and rice are easy enough to buy, as long as you discover the lack of them before getting too hungry.

I normally use quite a bit of seasoning, and have far too many spice jars in my own food factory. But here I am looking at salt and pepper. That’s fine, but not exclusively. On the other hand, you don’t want to go out and buy a dozen flavours for a limited period.

So, in this case I sent out for cayenne. It was initially for one dish only, but I’ve found myself adding cayenne to almost every meal. It does spice things up! 😉

The caviar incident

We are almost ready to leave what has been a lovely area in which to live. Nice, but not posh. Those of our neighbours (not us, I’m afraid) who have comfortable incomes, are generally not the kind who consider themselves better than others, or anything. Our grandest neighbour was a baronet, but he lived in a semi. The rest are pretty normal.

Swedes eat caviar on a daily basis. Not the expensive Russian kind, which is no longer allowed to be called caviar, but instead has to be described as cod roe paste, or some such unromantic word. But us old ones grew up on caviar, so caviar it is. Salty, fishy muck that you eat, whether for millionnaires or comes out of a tube from the supermarket.

Son used to eat it, before he went off most things fishy. When he was six, we were invited to a garden party next door. It was a buffet, so I talked him through what was available to eat. I pointed to the little black grains and explained it was another type of caviar.

Later on, Mr R, the nice man who had married the woman we bought our house from, and who just might have been feeling like an outsider (the party was for neighbours, and strictly speaking he wasn’t one), chatted to Son, and hoping to freak him out by mentioning fish eggs, asked Son if he knew what the little black grains were.

‘Yeah, caviar,’ said Son, matter of factly.

Kalles Kaviar

Poor Mr R went away convinced we were so posh that every small child in the neighbourhood knew about caviar. (The fish eggs would have worked on any other little boy. Just not the Son of a Kalles Kaviar-eater.)


Cake at 79

It was a family birthday this weekend. Or rather, it wasn’t. But with the Hungarian Accountant visiting, his sister felt some slightly premature birthday cake for their mother would be in order.

I have never experienced birthday cake with these people before. Would you expect integers (yes, whatever they are) to have much to do with birthday cake? Or any other cake, for that matter?

So people sang. The birthday child blew out the candles like a pro. There were nine candles; seven blue and two pink ones. Before any cake could be cut or eaten, she had to work out what each candle ‘was worth.’ Apparently this is a family tradition.

You should never speak of a lady’s age, but for the purposes of this mathematical candle calculation you need to know she’s 79.

How much for each blue candle, and how much for a pink one?

Oh yeah, it has to be the solution the Hungarian Accountant’s sister thought of. Not just any that works.

The Annexe at Cornerhouse

Annexe at Cornerhouse

Knowing that the food at Cornerhouse is good, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to find they cater well for events, too.

Yesterday – as Bookwitch – I went to a book event at the Annexe at Cornerhouse, and although they called it breakfast, I didn’t expect to be so well fed. After all, it was seeing and hearing the authors that was important. Meeting others. Networking a little.

Chicken House breakfast

Nice room. Easy to get to by train. The weather was good, but I’m guessing I can’t praise Cornerhouse for that. But it meant that the little outside area looked particularly attractive, and it made me want to sit there. Except then I wouldn’t have been able to hear Melvin Burgess and the other Chicken House writers read from their books.

Annexe at Cornerhouse

When I saw the rolls – freshly made, and to a nice recipe – filled with sausages and bacon I wasn’t at all hopeful. But lo and behold; they had veggie sausages as well! I should only have eaten one, though. The reason for my lack of control was they tasted so good.

Cake, Cornerhouse

But so did the cake that came after. One cake or two? Carrot cake or blueberry muffin? I did what others did. Ate one and sneaked the other into my bag. (And obviously went without lunch, which is a severely under-used phrase in my life.)

Dan Smith, blogger Kate, Sam Hepburn, Tony Higginson and Fletcher Moss

And in my usual illogical fashion I began thinking about a reason to hire the Annexe. That must be a sign that either I am crazy, or they are good. It could be both. Probably is.

Dressed for Christmas

Just as I was about to throw it away, I looked at the thin wire with the small red ‘berries.’ I could use this. My new white – but frankly boring – wooden electric candlestick from that well known shop needed some help. As it turned out, the fake berries/jewels were just the thing. Years later, they still drape themselves lovingly over the frame of the lights.

I call them my vinaigrette candles.

Shortly before Christmas that year I had sent the Resident IT Consultant out with a list of food to buy from the large supermarket. The two bottles of french dressing he returned home with were already out of date. I had no wish to use old dressing, however safe, and had no wish to go to the shop myself to complain. And the Resident IT Consultant does not like complaining.

Wrote the shop a letter. They phoned to say I could eaily swap the bottles next time I was in. I said I was not intending to come again before Christmas and that I had actually hoped to use the dressing for Christmas. That’s why we’d bought it. I mentioned the small fact that it was a use by, not best before, date we were talking about, and they had displayed it in their shop well past that date.

Half an hour later two members of supermarket staff bearing gifts rang my doorbell. They brought fresh dressing. They brought a £10 voucher. And they brought flowers. Even I was impressed at the swift change of heart and tone.

I am allergic to flowers, but put them in a vase and enjoyed them for as long as I could, before deciding that being able to breathe was also quite attractive. So I dispatched the flowers to the compost and before that the garland of jewels adorning the bouquet had to be removed.

Vinaigrette candles.

Christmas lights

Hot and cross

Those hot cross buns are creeping closer and closer. My first problem with them has been to learn they are not for lent. My second problem is not to serve them on Easter Sunday. Well, I suppose there isn’t a problem in doing that, so much as in disappointing the Resident IT Consultant on Good Friday, when he really expected them.

But I’m slowly getting there.

Another thing I’ve learned over the years (almost 30, since you didn’t ask) is not to bake them myself. I’m good at baking. I’m just no good at baking something where I have no basic understanding of what I am aiming for. Yes, I have eaten them. But I have no idea what a very good, homemade, traditional hot cross bun might be like. So I gave up on that.

Bought, and served on Good Friday is my goal. So picture my confusion in August last year when I returned from holiday to find a half eaten (and inadequately wrapped) packet of them in the freezer. OK, it was better they were in the freezer than moulding away in the bread bin.

But where had they come from? I left the kitchen in a hot cross bun-free state in July, and the Resident IT Consultant and Son only had a few days in which to cause mayhem, before they joined me on holiday. Seems that was enough. I re-wrapped the buns, deciding to check on their edible-ness when the right time of year came round.

That was a couple of weeks ago when Son visited, and I felt we were decently close to Easter. The buns were OK, actually. They had been reduced from £1.10 to 60p, so I could see Son’s hand in all of this. He’s keen on bargains, and it’s hardly surprising that Tesco’s customers didn’t buy them in mid-July, thus leaving them ripe for reduction.

Anyway, we enjoyed our cheap treat for tea, and then it was time to send someone out to buy more, what with Good Friday getting closer. I’m just glad I solved the puzzle of my unseasonal freezer guests. Now I wish could teach people how to wrap food. (It’s not so much the teaching; it’s the learning how. And remembering.)

Old years, new year

First Dodo and Son (hmm, good company name…) spent hours watching the extra features on Harry Potter, while making witty comments. Then they ruined my childhood. We ate the usual Indian food. Once the forgotten Daughter had been collected from her nerds’ party, we went to bed and then we woke up and ‘went’ to the New Year’s concert in Vienna. Dispatched Dodo and Son, ate again and watched Sherlock.

Spiced rice


Scrambled eggs with tomato sauce

Chickpea salad

I never cease to marvel over the fact that the next generation willingly opt to spend New Year’s Eve with us doddery types, eating the Resident IT Consultant’s Indian cooking. It was good this year. Recently we have had time issues, but he diligently slaved over a hot stove for days (with me trailing behind, wiping, and filling the dishwasher), so we had plenty to eat.

Son had missed the last Harry Potter, so bought a copy of the DVD for Christmas. After which, the extras were enjoyed by all. It’s his childhood, when all is said and done. Also the childhoods of Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson.

That’s what got me started on mine. I was seven when I went to see Five on a Treasure Island in the cinema. I’ve never forgotten it. It started my reading career, and subsequently lead to everything else I’ve done, including coming to England first on holiday, and then to live here. And they had the nerve to laugh at the film!!!

Even the Resident IT Consultant who hardly ever laughs, was bent over in an uncontrolled fashion, red in the face, tears spurting. It wasn’t that funny! Not even the navy vessel The Gay Viking was all that funny. As I said, that was my childhood memories ruined. I could still feel the magic of that beautiful coastline and the lovely English house and the old ruins. Not to mention the ingots (otherwise known as gold bars).

Anyway, I enjoyed it. And as a punishment the amused chef was sent to pick up Daughter, missing the end…

Famous Five on Treasure Island, 1957

We slept and we woke and we breakfasted. Lounged with the Wiener Philharmoniker and Mariss Jansons. Have you noticed how conductors often look very conductor-like? I feel there is a special conductor look. Mariss must have worked slow, since we missed all the lovely credits at the end.

Then Daughter packed her bags, and – illogically – Son and Dodo were driven away by the amused chef. We settled down on the sofa with the leftovers and Sherlock, which was as good as ever. I even remembered how the last episode ended. Most unusual. Very good script by Steven Moffat, and let’s hope the howler highlighted by that darling Sam Wollaston in the Guardian wasn’t his doing.

An exciting weekend was had by all.

Those sandwiches

They are easy to do. Really.

I’m talking about the sandwiches I made for yesterday’s interview with author Katherine Langrish, and that I somehow suggested were awfully complicated.

Previously I had admired the next-door neighbour’s nifty little blinis with toppings, and I admired the way her helpers swept through the room with little trays of blinis to be waved at the guests. I thought I could do that, too. Possibly. But the mere idea of standing for weeks frying blinis, before you could even say sour-cream topping, struck me as too much. And I didn’t have a band of helpers.

This was back in the days of hosting selling parties, and you really do have to give people something to nibble, and I wanted to avoid crisps. So I returned to thinking about the blinis, and worked out that I could use small slices of nice bread instead. In my case I made the bread, but that’s not essential.

And as for toppings I took what was in the fridge; cheeses, boiled eggs, veggie paté, smoked salmon. That kind of thing. Put a little of that on each slice of bread, and then went and looked round the kitchen again.

You are bound to have some olives, grapes, prawns, tomatoes, peppers, pickled gherkin slices (well I have, anyway). So you put a little something of that on top of what you’ve just made. And it may just be a tomato slice, but it looks much prettier.

Mix and match on trays or large plates.

The sandwiches

My former selling party selection bites were much smaller than the sandwiches above, so looked more attractive. This time I was aiming for lunch and people being hungry, so size mattered.