Category Archives: Film

Recovery Mode

Woohoo! I’m in recovery! Raise the flags! I’m back!

Don’t worry, I’m exaggerating; I certainly haven’t been at death’s door and I didn’t even lose my appetite. But I’ve had about ten days of heavy, heavy cold, sore throat like swallowing razor blades, and with chest infection and OUCH!!! a UTI for good measure.

Yesterday, though, I put my toe in the social water, had a great afternoon and then a lovely long phone conversation at night and am feeling much restored. Still blowing my nose for Scotland (think massed bagpipes and ‘The Muckin o’ Geordie’s Byre’), but approaching normal routines. 2016-07-16 07.46.56.jpgThis is an old photo chosen for its cheeriness. I haven’t had the camera out in the last week.

I read a lot, and watched LOADS of telly. Will report back on my reading material in due course, but just want to briefly record my new-found appreciation of the Dinner Ladies series 1 and 2, written by Victoria Wood in 1998-2000 and with a stellar cast including her good self plus Julie Walter, June Reid, Irma Barlow, Maxine Peake, Celia Imrie and others. Great to see them all nearly 30 years ago and to know that many of them are still going strong. Not Victoria Wood, sadly. She was one of many great artists who died in 2016, and received nothing like enough tribute because so many others were following suit.

Dinner Ladies is a situation comedy, set in a factory canteen, and follows the daily events and the relationships and adventures that ensue. You couldn’t call it high literature, but it has such a faithful ring of authenticity and a lot of good, straightforward belly laughs. Also some poignant moments, like when Andy gets cancer treatment; and when Bren’s neglectful, fantasist mother played outrageously by Julie Walters manages to trick her daughter yet again out of her holiday money.

Now that I’m better I’ve just heard a great interview by Andrew Marr on the radio and have pre-purchased a Kindle book due out later this week by Martin Sixsmith. Remember his ‘Philomena’? An investigative journalist approach to an Irish orphan scandal. He’s written in the same style this time about honour killings in Pakistan, and I can’t wait to read it.

Not much to say about food and drink in this post; it’s been soup, bread and cheese all the way. And lots of lemons. Wishing you good health wherever you are.


Coming soon … Scottish Film Night!

Every year at the meeting closest to St Andrews Day (30th Nov), our book group abandons the written word and watches a Scottish film. We’ve had The 39 Steps (Robert Powell version), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (the Maggie Smith version), That Sinking Feeling, and this year it’s Sunshine on Leith. Utterly corny but lovely, featuring the great Proclaimers. When I saw it in the cinema I was sure I was going to see someone I knew on the big screen because the Edinburgh scenes were so familiar.

Naturally we have seasonal refreshments including the single malt, the shortie, and the Black Bun. If you’ve never sat down with friends in front of a good local film, and partaken of this particular repast, then you really must. It’s a winning combination. This year, I volunteered to make the Black Bun.IMG_8262

I’m not a Black Bun Virgin – maybe seven years ago I had a go and made one to take to Krakow for New Year. I remember then expecting it to fail because how on earth, I thought, could you get the rich fruit cake inside to cook without burning the pastry? Anyway it must have been Virgins’ Luck because it turned out beautifully. Tonight’s – well – maybe my luck has run out. This is it ready for the oven – hearts are definitely not the traditional decoration for anything Scottish – are Scotsmen romantic? Some more than others I guess. But I’d just bought a set of little heart cutters and thought why not? Ae fond kiss and all that.

it came out of the oven 10 minutes ago. This is its North aspect …







And this is its South …IMG_8265

Oh well I suppose it’ll taste good on the night. And the lights will be out. And the malt will make all the difference …


Play it, Sam …

Moroccan Chicken MiseThe other week, I was putting a carry-out menu together for friends, and it had to include vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. Consulting Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (I’m a big fan) I found a lovely combination between his books ‘Meat’ and ‘Veg’:

Chicken with preserved lemons and olives (‘Meat‘ p313)

North African squash and chickpea stew (‘Veg‘ p 30)

Fresh dates

‘Special’ couscous (‘Meat’ p 512)

It was all kind of north African in style, and I found myself wanting to give it a filmic title – I guess this stems from a holiday I had in Tunisia a number of years ago, where we signed up for a couple of days in the desert, away from the resort (Port el Kantouai – scene of the recent terrorist attacks). We headed up through the Atlas Mountains in a couple of Land Rovers, and the vista was stunning – I’d never seen ‘desert’ before, and hadn’t expected it to be so beautiful – mountains and valleys and salt plains sparkling like vast lakes. Apparently the Atlas Mountains (follow this link for some fabulous photos, not my own alas!) have been used for the shooting of a number of films  – Star Wars, and The English Patient are the ones that come to mind now – and you can see why. I’ve never actually seen Casablanca so I may be completely out of kilter here, but ‘Play it, Sam’ seemed like a good name for my menu.

Moroccan Chicken spicesPart of our trip involved a couscous meal with lamb. It was good, tasty and filling and quite simple although with subtle aromatic spicing.  The photos show my ‘mise en place’ for the chicken dish, with its palette of spices. I used a couple of ingredients I hadn’t used before – preserved lemons, and harissa paste. The lemons are, well lemony and also salty, and bring a real fragrant bitterness to the mix. The harissa paste is smoky and warm. Both the veggie and meat recipes use saffron, and I dutifully shelled out the necessary small fortune for same. But you know what? I don’t really get saffron. Maybe my palate isn’t sophisticated enough, but alongside all those other strong flavours, I just can’t find the wonderful difference that saffron is supposed to make. Sorry, Hugh F-W, but I think I’m going to drop it.


Seville Orange Curd

P1010948 You have to really want to spend a couple of hours in the kitchen to make this. Standing, stirring and not much else. But it’s worth it. The intensity of the bittersweet oranginess is wonderful. Like sucking Cointreau through a straw … (I’m guessing …)

Many years ago we had a New Year trip en famille to Majorca and the orange trees were in full fruit. We did the little Tren de Soller trip up through the mountains and you could have reached out and plucked the oranges as you climbed through the orchards. So I really like making marmalade, for the nostalgia trip. But this year I thought I’d try something different. I used the recipe in Sophie Grigson’s book, ‘Feasts for a Fiver’ and it has worked beautifully. She warns vigorously against letting it thicken too much as it  will turn to inedible curds. This would be most irritating but fortunately didn’t happen to me. Nevertheless, because you can’t see the water simmering under your bowl, it’s impossible to tell (a) whether the bowl is touching the water, and (b) how fast it’s simmering. And the instruction ‘… until it thickens…’ is always a bit stressful. I mean, how thick is thick? So there’s a bit of anxiety involved in staying on the right side of curds.

You need:

9-12 Seville oranges
550g caster sugar
225g unsalted butter
5 large eggs

Grate the zest off the oranges; squeeze the juice till you have half a pint; and put them together in a heatproof bowl with the sugar and the butter. Put the bowl over a simmering saucepan of water (see comments above – don’t let the water touch the bowl P1010949or it might burn). Stir gently till the sugar has dissolved and the butter melted.

Beat the eggs and strain them into the orange mixture. Stir constantly ’till it thickens’. Sorry, I can’t help you on that one except to say that she suggests 25 mins and minP1010957e took 35. Pour into sterilised jars and cover tightly. Keep for a month in the fridge – it goes off after that. Or give a jar to a very special someone whom you really really love, and make sure they eat it within the due date. It would be a pity to kill your nearest and dearest with the fruits of your labour. ‘Death by Orange Curd’ … maybe for future reference.

And I just want to say something about the grater. Last night I watched (again) ‘Vera Drake’, directed by Mike Leigh and starring Imelda Staunton (brilliant performaP1010953nce). It’s a wonderful film, somewhat unlike various other Mike Leighs in that it has a very clear storyline. But what a story, and told with such pathos. Anyway she had a grater identical to mine(you may have one too, it’s bog-standard supermarket issue). I won’t tell you what she used hers for, as it won’t enhance your appetite for Seville Orange Curd. But I do urge you to find out. If you haven’t seen the film and don’t know about it, see if you can guess. The accompanying items for her use are carbolic soap and a length of rubber tubing … Enjoy!