what's in season: april

plum blossom from an elderly tree in my backgarden
Always Marry An April Girl
Praise the spells and bless the charms,
I found April in my arms.
April golden, April cloudy,
Gracious, cruel, tender, rowdy;
April soft in flowered languor,
April cold with sudden anger,
Ever changing, ever true --
I love April, I love you. 
Ogden Nash, 1902-1971

T.S. Elliot called April the "cruellest  month", which probably resonates with all cooks in Britain since it is rather lean in terms of seasonal British produce. This is not helped by the strange weather we have experienced over the past few years. God only knows what we have in store over the next few months in terms of unseasonable conditions, since at the moment London and southern parts of England have just experienced a dust cloud of sand blown in from the Sahara!

wild leek, lemongrass and chilli paste

wild leek, lemongrass and chilli paste
The old adage that my mother used to drum in to me was "Rachel, don't play with your food!" In those far off days I probably heeded her eventually, little angel that I pretended to be. But these days I try to play with my food whenever possible. With the foraged food from my garden, I can experiment and take a few risks with this season's rampant wild leeks.

a little time travel: kamut kisir

kamut kisir
The myths behind the whole grain, Khorasan Wheat (Kamut), are the food equivalent of an Indiana Jones-type boys own story; rediscovered in the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh, the ancient grains were sent to the US and replanted by a farmer in Montana. The truth is sadly more prosaic. But what is indisputable is that khorasan wheat had fallen out of use over centuries, very largely because yields are relatively low and farmers started to develop higher yielding grains.

in memory of my father: seafood laksa lemak (malaysian spicy coconut noodle soup)

seafood laksa lemak
(Malaysian spicy coconut noodle soup)
If you are regular reader of this blog, you will know that I often talk about my father, Henry, a larger-than-life character who taught me so much about how to eat and enjoy food, although not about how to cook. (Frankly Henry's cooking skills generally serve as a warning to others).

It has been over eight months since Henry died and I fully intended on writing an obituary to celebrate what a lovely man he was. But I just couldn't do it. Call it self-indulgent but I was just too sad.

what's in season: march

a riot of clematis in my garden

nothing says "I love you" like a heart-shaped potato . . .



On a dark and stormy Valentine's night, my secret admirer left me a heart-shaped potato . . . and they say romance is dead!

pearled spelt salad with kale and lemon-tahini dressing

pearled spelt salad with kale and l
emon-tahini dressing
Out shopping and I'm caught in a dilemma. Do I choose dark, sleek and elegant, or bright, frilly and frivolous? No I am not shopping for [whisper unmentionables, but one of my favourite winter vegetables. Do I choose calvo nero or frilly kale? These are the kind of important decisions that I like to make.

caldo verde: portuguese pork, potato and kale soup

caldo verde
(Portuguese pork, potato and kale soup)
I feel as if I am working with a northern-accented voiceover at the moment: "Day 35 in the Marmaduke Scarlet house. Rachel is in the kitchen making soup again." You get the picture. I am continuing to make soup for my friend Chris. Things seem to be going quite well; Chris seems healthy and he certainly hasn't lost his appetite; well at least not for soup.

in praise of damien trench: baked camembert

baked camembert with garlic,
rosemary and bacon
My favourite radio food writer, Damien Trench, is back. He returns on Radio 4 for another series of his superlative programme, In and Out of the Kitchen. I have so missed his wise, fulsome words and unflappable approach to food.

Damien Trench is the comic creation of Miles Jupp; a gentle parody of the most florid aspects of food writing. The programme is an absolute hoot.

an easy vegetarian curry (pea, egg and potato)

pea, egg and potato curry
I arrived at University several decades ago with a box of books, a suitcase of vintage clothing and a complete inability to cook. The days of me pouring over my copy of My Learn to Cook Book ended the moment I discovered boys, booze and thick black mascara.

I am not sure that any of my new friends had any idea quite how useless I was, nor how much that these girls intimidated me with their confidence and apparent sophistication. It is unlikely that they would have realised from my attitude of feigned nonchalance that I actually really cared about their opinion and hated the fact that my cooking skills were so limited. But this girl loves to eat, and I learned how to cook, at least the basics, pretty damned quick.

celebrate chinese new year with dragon cookies (loong peng)

dragon cookies (loong peng)
When Malaysian Chinese people found out that I was born in the Year of the Dragon, they cooed and petted me. "Pantai" (clever) they said. You will be very lucky, they said. Very auspicious. Noble, they said. (Annoying, bossy, old big head, said my little brother).

My first week in Kuala Lumpur, at the age of seven, was during the autumn harvest festival. We walked through a market, where all the stalls were bedecked with bright jewel-like coloured lanterns. It was obvious that I would chose a dragon, and I eventually found the perfect specimen - a neon pink and gold cellophane behemoth.