... and roses too.

The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too.

Recipe: Courgette and lentil moussaka, after Rick Stein

Boo! The cold weather is back. We were so nearly through February too.

I hate February. It’s the month when new year’s resolutions crumble and fall, and yet spring still feels so far away. A cold, grey month with a backdrop of misery.

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Exhibition: Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War at the British Library

How would you like to see a book that someone – probably a monk – wrote by hand in a cold scriptorium a little while back?

Say, a thousand years ago?

Then get yourself over to the British Library, where they have some incredible treasures on display at their astonishing Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.

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Recipe: Hearty curried lentil and coconut soup

Brr! It’s getting cold now, even in the city. And the rain this past month has been welcome for the water table, but not so much when I’m out and about. (Rain, stop driving in my face please, that’s just rude.)

(Also I lost my coat. Or maybe left it at the dry cleaner’s. Can’t remember tbh and I didn’t like it much anyway. Stop nagging me, Christy, I’ll get a new one at some point.)

A couple of weeks ago, I fancied a hearty lentil soup for supper. Ted got all excited, thinking I meant a dal soup. I didn’t, but compromised, and as so often with compromise we ended up with something better than either. (Hmm, maybe there’s a lesson here for all of us, are you listening world?)

Things I love about this soup:

  • It’s a vegetarian recipe (well, vegan actually, but let’s not get too excited) that Ted, my meat-loving husband, is more than happy to eat.
  • It’s made of storecupboard basics, aside from the fresh coriander, which is optional – so no last-minute dash to the supermarket on a rainy night.
  • It will make you glow with warmth all the way from the top of your head right down to your new winter boots, which look great by the way – nice choice.

It also only takes about half an hour to get to the point where you can put it in the slow cooker and forget about it for a few hours. I love that – the flavours mingle together in this magical way, scenting the kitchen with the promise of tastiness to come.

via GIPHY

(Anyone else watching the Sabrina reboot? It’s all gone a bit weird, hasn’t it …)

So it’s one I put on at lunchtime and then leave to bubble away until supper. But you can totally simmer it on the hob for about 40 minutes (or until the lentils are soft).

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Exhibition: I am Ashurbanipal at the British Museum

So your average idea of sexy librarian goes something like this:

Well, the latest exhibition at the British Museum certainly takes that up a notch.

Take a look:

Ted, Esther and I went along yesterday to find out more.

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Remembering Private James P Rawlinson

A hundred years ago today, the guns fell silent.

That was too late for my great grand uncle, Private James P Rawlinson. A short, spectacled postman from a quiet part of Cheshire, he had already died 19 months earlier in Basra during the Mesopotamia campaign.

The fall of Kut Al Amara in April 1916 (after a long and horrible siege) was a huge embarrassment to the British government. They lost a lot of troops there, mainly from British India. So they just shipped in more.

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Recipe: One-can, Ottolenghi-style, cheat’s hummus

Hummus isn’t the kind of thing you can get passionate about, really, is it? Or so I thought until Simon, quite a few years ago now, dragged me to Hummus Bros for lunch. I thought he was being a bit weird, tbh – no one gets that excited about chickpeas.

Boy, was I wrong. Nutty, heavy on tahini, scented with cumin, it’s a completely different thing from the cold, beige pots of supermarket gunge – so I mainlined it once a week or so, and had major withdrawal symptoms when work took me elsewhere.

Thus, the search for a replacement recipe began. I looked at Ottolenghi’s (don’t you love Ottolenghi? His food, his writing, his determination to dirty every receptacle in your kitchen whenever you make one of his recipes) and it was deliciously familiar, but it involved so much faff (cooking chickpeas from dried – lovely, but for a simple lunch it just takes.too.long) and I ended up with about two litres of hummus at the end. (I mean, I love hummus, but …)

So here’s a cheat’s version. It uses one tin of chickpeas, so there’s no boiling for hours, and you end up with, hmm, about the equivalent of 2-3 supermarket tubs. That’s enough for Sunday pre-dinner snacks, then lunch on Monday and Tuesday. But it’s way nicer, and faster to make than popping to the shops.

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Highgate Cemetery tour

Esther messaged me.

“Do you fancy going to Highgate Cemetery on Saturday? They’ve got -”

“Yes! I’m in!”

So we met at the tube and walked up, and then down, the hill, past the world’s poshest charity shops, to the cemetery.

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Recipe: Quite frankly the world’s best tomato sauce

There comes a time in every cook’s life, no matter how competent she thinks she is, when the holes in one’s repertoire start to show.

So it was with me and tomato sauce.

For many years, I’d got by with frying onions, adding garlic, tomatoes and herbs, and cooking it for a bit.

But none of these attempts resulted in the thick, savoury, hyper-tomato flavour that one gets from a simple plate of spaghetti al pomodoro in any half-decent Italian family joint. To be honest, it was all a bit … studenty.

So a couple of years ago, I embarked on a mission to fix this. But it proved much more difficult, with far more experimentation, than expected.

  • I tried Diane Seed’s, the ones from her otherwise completely ace book, “The top 100 pasta sauces”. (Surprisingly uninspiring.)
  • I tried Delia’s. (Too fussy.)
  • I tried Marcella Hazan’s, via Smitten Kitchen. (Delicious, but it’s got so much butter in it that there’s no way it can claim to be an everyday staple.)
  • I tried both the recipes from the Silver Spoon. (They were … fine?)
  • I tried Felicity Cloake’s allegedly perfect amalgamation of all the greats’ recipes. (It was not.)
  • I even tried the Mothership’s, but for some reason, mine never turned out reliably like hers.

Thus, a dead end had been reached.

And so it was that I found myself in Mark and Niki’s kitchen, telling my sorry tale over a cup of chamomile tea.

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5 gins reviewed: Bloom, Brighton Gin, English Rose, Silent Pool, Ely Gin

Mothers’ ruin. Or mothers’ delight, maybe. Delight in the Mothership’s case, certainly. A delight that her fabulous friends have been only too happy to enable. (Thanks, guys!) This has resulted in a rather fine selection of bottles in her personal collection.

Now, you may not know this, but the Mothership was originally a biologist, fully committed to the scientific approach. So when I suggested we nip through her gin library and do a comparative tasting, her inner lab geek kicked in.

Four gins were selected, eight teacups were produced and a *very* small tin of Fevertree “naturally light” tonic appeared on the table. Then we added a small bottle of Brighton gin, just to be sure. We then poured a little dribble (tiny! Barely anything at all) of each gin into a cup, then smelled it, tasted it and tasted it again with a little splash of tonic.

Scientific rigour at its best.

Our aim was to discover which one we liked the most; our method was careful and consistent; the results and conclusion are below.

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Easy autumn leaf lanterns

It’s the time of year when things start to get crafty, with washi tape …

And buttons …

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