Friday, 1 August 2008

Wednesday 30th July 2008

Yesterday I had a delivery of pies to taste for my QVC range.
Imagine my anguish when I ate one of them and realised how completely scrumptious they were.
I had a big problem.

Eat them all myself and risk bottom enlargement or send out a call to the Husseys for help.
Call I did. And they came. Caroline, Sue, Robyn and Daisy (not an official hussey - but actually a good tapestry girl - although she’d hate to admit it!) and me. Phoebe and Doddie are away on holiday (More on Phoebe soon).

Eight pies went into the Aga. Eight pies came out. Eight pies sat on a huge plate and were cut into slices. The Husseys dived in with forks in hand.

There was nothing left. Not a crumb. We couldn’t stop. We had no self-control.

It was desperate.

It was a hot day, what were we thinking?

We had no choice.

We didn’t care as we wiped crumbs from our faces, brushed back our hair, straightened our napkins and sat up and surveyed what was left from our feeding frenzy.

We behaved badly. It was liberating.

They were good pies.

Monday 28th July 2008

Got up really early to tweak the recipes from last Friday’s shoot before Celia and Liz arrived for a day’s teaching.
The sky was doing a marvellous impression of a Turner painting, the flowers in the garden were being charitable and behaving like a perfect Monet. Honey did a small pirouette in middle of the lawn trying to catch a fly; I’m sure she was doing her best to imitate one of Degas’ famous ballerinas. However, I thought it looked more like one of the tutu clad hippos out of Fantasia. I didn’t say a word as I didn’t want to upset her too early in the day!
It had the appearance of the perfect summer’s morning... hot, a little sultry but quite dazzling. Until, I glanced in the mirror. The reflection looking back at me was a doppelganger of the infamous painting – The Scream.

That’s what a bad night’s sleep does to you. It had been very humid, and for some reason I was dreaming about buying measuring jugs. I just couldn’t get enough of them – lots of different sizes, makes and colours. I was unable fit them all into my shopping bag. They kept falling out.

Not sure what this means, not sure I want to know.

So, after my recipe fine-tuning, a non-surgical cream induced face lift and general panic over how many measuring jugs I actually had and, where the hell I had put them anyway, Celia and Liz arrived.

We had a lovely day cooking, Celia and Liz were stars because the temperature in the kitchen must have topped 100F and the pastry was playing up! I made us a big salad for lunch, full of goat’s cheese, bacon, soya beans, patty pans from the allotment and herbs and flowers from my garden.

I love being able to make a salad from herbs and vegetables that I have grown. A green salad can be terribly boring – but gather fennel herb, mint, lemon balm, chives, sorrel, roses, calendula, borage, chive flower, nasturtiums and lavender - and a green salad becomes a dish which is a riot of colour, and every mouthful of herbs and leaves tastes unique.

I’ve only discovered frozen soya beans in the last couple of years. They can usually be found by the spinach and the peas. Blanch them in boiling water for three minutes, refresh under cold water and then add to the salad. I also use them in risotto and casseroles.
Apparently – soya is really good for alleviating the symptoms of menopause. By all accounts, a natural form of HRT. Of course, not something I need at the moment- but...

Oh, Lord, you don’t think my sleepless night and nutty measuring jug dreams are the onset of - tum tum tuuuum - the change?!
Nah, I’m far too young and silly.

Recipe for and English Salad of Goat’s Cheese, Flowers and Herbs – and half a ton of soya beans....just in case. - Available Soon.

Sunday 27th July 2008

Stunningly warm weather at the moment. I can’t believe a month ago when I was in Ireland; it was freezing and pouring with rain.
I adore Ireland. I have had some of the best times of my life there. Everyone has a great capacity for fun and the most generous natures of any other nation that I have met. And, even though I have since found out my great grandfather was a Cork man, I only went there for the first time five years ago to film with UKTV Food.

I travelled back then with Martin the producer/director/camera/sound (there is a lot of multi-tasking in TV nowadays!) and Fanny. Our first port of call was Margaret and Michael Browne’s house. Margaret, or The Duchess of Cork, as I like to call her is now one of my dearest friends and my collaborator in various silly evenings. In fact the first night there, I discovered Poteen in the middle of filming, their wine cellar by eight o’clock and their infamous warm whiskeys by twelve.

‘Just one more small one Lotte?’

Yeah, that would be lovely.

‘Just one more small one Lotte? Go on, it’s good for you, it will help you sleep.’

Ok, just one more then I really have to go to bed.

‘Just one more small one Lotte?’

One more, then that is it.

‘Just one more small one Lotte?’

Slurring – I have to bed the stairs and up sleep teeth paste.

I left them all, including ninety-three year old Kitty (mother of Duchess) downstairs as I stumbled to bed. Kitty was still at it til four in the morning.
If you are ever in Ireland, and offered ‘just one more small one’ may I offer a free piece of advice. Say yes – they are delicious!
However, be prepared to do nothing the next day.

Since then, Duchess and I have stayed at each other’s houses a lot. Recently we went to Calcutta together for The Hope Foundation, to organise an Irish Food Festival. Bonkers idea, bonkers time. It worked, and together we also saw the amazing work Hope does for the street children there. I am now a director on the board of Hope UK – this was the reason for my trip to Cork in June.

Maureen, Michael’s sister, is the lady who founded Hope. She had invited me to their Midsummer BBQ. Apparently Hope’s patron, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was also attending...would I like to come? It took three seconds to say yes and a further thirty to book my flight.

I was hoping Jonathan would take one look at my aristocratic features and offer me the part of his last wife (the one that didn’t die) in The Tudors. Ms Parr was after all a little older and I fancy myself in a bodice.

Unfortunately the lovely Johnnie didn’t make it in the end but we still had a fabulous night, I entertained everyone on the bus home with a rendition of Molly Malone – in my best pleasing soprano! Oh, how lucky they were.

The next day, Margaret had to work, so Maureen was given the task of looking after me. Which she did with great aplomb.

‘Lotte, just one small one at the pub? Dickie (her husband) is there with my son and some friends.’ (Oh, Lord, I knew where this was going)

Would love to Maureen, sounds a fabulous idea, but just one small gin and tonic.

I love Irish pubs – all the men talk to you. Maureen’s son was there with some friends, including Kieran who took a bit of a shine to me. I’m not sure whether it was my glowing personality or the fact that his friends had told him that I owned a twelve million euro house in Dublin, but he fell hard and proceeded to sing Irish love songs to me.

‘Just one more small one Lotte? I’ll pop home quickly and put the chicken in the oven, we’ll have a small one and then go back and eat it.’

Ok, one more.

Twelve small ones later, when the live music started I got up and under the hazy influence of good Irish humour thought I could do a jig.

Apparently I can’t.

My achilles tendon strapped up with a large tubi-grip and two aspirins told me I really, really can’t.

Still, I had Kieran at my feet, so it wasn’t that bad. His name is Kieran Leachy (pronounced Leakey). I did have to break it to him gently that I couldn’t possibly marry him. If I did, my name would be Lotte Leachy - and that is what I do when I sneeze or laugh too much.

No recipe here. The chicken was burnt to a cinder by the time we left the pub.

Saturday 26th July 2008

Phew, what a scorcher!
Needed a lazy day after long, hot one yesterday in London.

Ahem! I was on a photo shoot.

All the recipes I tested on Daisy’s friends worked (yippee) and they were brilliantly shot for the magazine.

Tonight, I had a delicious BBQ in the evening at Robyn and Simon’s house – my next door neighbours. I cooked a wobbly rose wine, sloe gin, blueberry and strawberry jelly for pudding.

Later we all wobbled home and luckily I didn’t wobble into my peonies. My path is old, bumpy and rickety and you always run the chance of destroying a perennial or two when arriving home in the dark and full of wine.

And just when you think you are safely up the path, you are subsequently attacked by suicidal moths hurtling themselves at the outside light as you fumble for the key. Much arm waving, dodging and general panic ensues as you drop the keys, pierce your head with the climbing rose on the wall and eventually stumble through the door skidding straight into a dead mouse the bloody cat has brought home.

Recipe for Rose wine, Sloe Gin and Fruit Jelly without dead mouse. - Available Soon.

Thursday 24th July 2008

In my office all day writing recipes and working my way through at least a million emails. Or was it two? Actually it was three.

I popped my head above the computer and realised that I had missed a fabulous sunny day, so Daisy and I decided to find a pub by a river for supper. We found one - a beautiful place for a pub, but unfortunately I have just discovered, run by a bunch of despots.
We want your money, but don’t expect service with a smile and whatever you do, don’t even think about enjoying your food in our lovely garden by the babbling brook.

I ordered scampi and chips for two with a side of onion rings. Obviously from the diet menu! When the order arrived it was just the scampi and chips.

Where are our onion rings? I enquired with a smile on my face.

What onion rings? They’re not on the ticket. (Slight accusatory tone) Do you have your receipt?

Yes, but just the card receipt. I promise you I did order them. Maybe the chap behind the bar forgot to press the button. He was busy. I definitely said Onion rings.

Ok, I have to speak to my boss. (chubby man with attitude)

Boss comes over.

You ordered onion rings?


Well, they are not on the ticket. Let me see your itemised receipt.

I only have the credit card one.

Oh, well you should have the other one. We always read the order back when you give it.

He did, and he said onion rings.

Do you want them now? It wasn’t on the order, so you obviously didn’t say it.

Ok, at this stage I am afraid I may have slightly lost my good mood. Needless to say I mentioned to the chubby boss man with attitude that I wasn’t trying to steal an order of onion rings and dupe them enormously. I was just enquiring where mine were.

He, I am afraid has forgotten (if he ever had it in the beginning) that he is in a business that is there to make people happy. I’ve worked in this industry since I was sixteen and it has given me a fairly clear insight into what I and other paying customers expect, require and most of the time deserve.

So Daisy and I, suitably chastened ate our soggy scampi and awaited the arrival of Hussy Sue.

Sue got onion rings.

But her son made the mistake of picking up the tomato sauce bottle from inside the pub, (you are only allowed sachets outside) and had it snatched away from him. It was then replaced by twenty sachets of tomato sauce.

He is awaiting his ASBO for being so naughty.

Recipe for Oven Baked Fish, Chips and CIDER BATTERED ONION RINGS with as much home-made tomato ketchup as you could possibly want. Ever. - Available Soon.

Wednesday 23rd July 2008

Up at 4.45am...just so I could miss the traffic into London. I had a training day with QVC. The M4 behaved itself and I had time for tea, muffin and a gawp at Uri Gellar who just happened to be on the table next to me in the cafe. Good job I only had a plastic spoon for stirring. Could have been a catastrophe.
Got home late to a very humid garden, retired to hammock and then watered.
Stared at the two roses I still haven’t planted. Tomorrow I shall get the spade out.
Supper was a very complicated jacket potato with tuna. When I say complicated, I really mean it.
Whenever I open a can of tuna I have to sing opera very loudly. This isn’t an OCD issue or anything, just a necessity. If Honey hears the turn of a tin opener, she knows it’s going to be tuna. If she knows it’s going to be tuna I have a fight on my hands, a battle of wills and usually a cat attached to my leg.
So, using stealth tactics the SAS would be proud of, I did a (rather good, if I say so myself) rendition of Ave Maria in time with each turn of the opener.
I then proceeded on tip toes to the fridge where I removed the mayonnaise, cucumber, red pepper and celery. Sidled to the sink where I drained the tuna and sang Pia Jesu as I rinsed out the tin.
I then piled the lot inside the potato and ate it sitting on top of the outside table, while Honey sloped around me like a stalking shark.
I have a feeling that she may be developing a love of opera.

Tuesday 22nd July 2008

Today I return to the pool. It’s been two months since I took the waters at Milton Common! This is because my back has been playing up. I have been bent and tucked by my chiropractor Julie and finally feel better.

I have rewarded myself for the swim with a pedicure. A girl needs incentives!

I’ve received another missive from Fanny. Actually that isn’t her name, but she wants to remain anonymous.
We have this ill conceived illusion that we are modern day Jane Austens and, on occasion write to each other in Georgian speak. Fanny works as a TV producer and is also a fabulous actor. I haven’t heard or seen her for a while, probably because she is in disguise, so this letter was a lovely surprise.

Oriental Club, London.

Dearest Sister
Bath was simply marvellous. So calming to take its waters once again and it does the Colonel so much good.
We are now, as you will have established, staying at his London Club. I must own, I find city life rather too grey and busy for my liking but it is so pleasing to have the freedom to call upon ones London companions. We shall be departing for the Kensington countryside tomorrow. Not so arduous a journey as one might imagine.

Oh how I thrilled at our delightful sojourn with your dearest self. Always so hospitable, so companionable and with, as I always say, the finest cook in the country. You must endeavour to keep her on at all costs. This talk of her moving to London for some QC or other is most distressing and must be discouraged at once. Do your utmost my dear.

Another point which held my peculiar interest was that regarding the health of Miss Honey. Her recovery from such a dreadful wasting illness is indeed remarkable. I own, in fact, to never having seen anything quite like it. Do continue your special regard for her. I feel she needs to be directed carefully and yours is just the hand to do it.

By the time this reaches your fair hand you will have returned from your visit to Lady Someoneorother, I do hope you enjoyed it and look forward to hearing of it and your financial recompense at your earliest convenience.

Your room shall be waiting for you as ever upon your arrival in August. We look forward to it my dear and may even retrieve some wine from the cellar. Once more, so many thanks for your kind attention.

As ever, yours affectionately,


My reply. I really must get on with some proper work!

Cook’s Cottage, Oxfordshire

My dearest sister

Once again, I find myself sitting at my writing desk. Parchment in place and quill in hand to regale you with my joyful news.
I do believe that Colonel D’Arsey himself will too be overjoyed.

My short trip to Worcestershire was as successful as it was agreeable to my purse. Indeed, I am now able to oblige my many future social arrangements and connections.
Lady Someoneorother greeted Miss Honey and I with deep affection, as if we had known each other as cousins for many years. Lord Someoneorother was disposed to take very kind proper notice of Miss Honey.

A rather grand carriage arrived early at my cottage. Not early enough to miss the eyes of my neighbours and make us the centre of enviable gossip. This carriage, I am to make known to you, belongs to Lord and Lady Someoneorother. I have to confess that we did have a slightly worrying moment on our journey. I only wish that Miss Honey’s propensity to carry a little more weight than is proper hadn’t caused the carriage wheel to fall off.

With great luck and fortitude we were only delayed for a short while and arrived in Worcester for a light supper.

I fear I am so caught up with our journey, that I am not telling you of my joyful news. Gossip has reached me and has put me in such a glow.
Rumour that left us all so very vexed regarding my cook leaving to work for Lady Saunders, is just that my dear, rumour.

I believe the contemptible Lady Saunders and her odious husband, both of disagreeable character, started this nonsense without thought or consequence of my feelings.
It has left me with nerves in tatters. Miss Honey too has suffered terribly at the thought that the finest cook in the land might be taking her leave of us. So much so, dear sister, that she has taken to her bed, and is, as I write to you reclining gently upon her pillow.

I have been so happy to receive the news that your time in Bath was agreeable to Colonel D’Arsey’s health. I do hope that your time in the Kensington countryside is both enjoyable as it is diverting.

I am so looking forward to spending time with you in August. London is so pretty in summer with its avenues of chestnuts. I believe that society is quite at its best with the optimism of warmer days ahead.

Please do not trouble your dear selves with talk of opening the cellar. I do not wish to be an encumbrance. Just a small glass of sack to fortify me is all I require.

With deep affection


Celebrated Georgian day by making a syllabub trifle for the Husseys who are coming over tonight.
About three years ago, I decided after crocheting an enormous bedspread whilst filming Dial a Mum on ITV, that I wanted to start up a knitting/crochet group with the girls in the lane.
It took a while to persuade them, but when I mentioned wine, they all seemed keen.
Since then, every other Tuesday we get together and ...drink wine.
I am afraid the knitting and crochet has taken a back seat recently. We’ll get back to it when the evenings shorten.

Recipe for a very excellent syllabub trifle. - Available Soon

Monday 21st July 2008

Job number one. Clear up cat pee in old fireplace. Order logs to fill the now empty old fireplace and to cover up smell of disinfected cat pee.

Job number two. Glare at Honeybear, a lot whilst pointing at the fireplace.

Honeybear was once a very sweet ginger kitten with her own fan base on UKTV Food/Great Food Live. She was filmed in my garden while I was cooked, and used to receive her own emails from besotted viewers.
Honey went on to have five beautiful kittens. She did what some women are accustomed to do (that’ll be me) after childbirth - proceeded to put on weight. Honey’s last weigh in was a stone and a half. Please believe me when I say she only eats diet one else does, including the vet.
She is still sweet, and I do adore her, but she has the hideous habit of peeing in the old fireplace. And for that I glare a lot, but it makes not a blind bit of bloody difference.

Job number three. Go to village shop to buy apples to put into pudding that I am cooking for the first time in my QVC cookware.
My samples arrived this morning. I cannot possibly explain just how excited I was when I un-wrapped the parcel. Actually I can. I squealed, did a turn of my kitchen, phoned anyone that was in, squealed at them, they came around, squealed and did a turn of my kitchen and then we celebrated with slug of my frozen elderflower vodka. (my elderflower vodka amnesty didn’t last long!) They look perfect. Pink and Blue with my recipes printed on the inside. Flip the dish over and my new logo shines out. It really is thrilling.

Job number four. Make the pudding for Annie and Susan. Annie is my agent, from now on to be known as Agent Annie. And Susan is a PR genius. We are to plan the QVC campaign. But not before we have eaten ... a lot.

Girls cannot work on empty tummys. This is a theory I have been working on for many years. I believe I could write a thesis on it. In fact, maybe I will. This will of course include returning to university and being surrounded by supple young rowers/rugby chaps. In fact that leads me to...
Job number five. Apply to university. Preferably one that does sport science.

Job number six. Cook all the samples from the QVC food range that is launching in October so Agent Annie and PR Susan and I can fuel our brain cells.

All looking and tasting delicious. All eaten in the sunshine in the garden.

Agent Annie has bought gorgeous baby Jake with her. He is twelve weeks old and scrumptious. With Jake, the food and the sunshine, we forget to discuss the PR campaign until two.
Told you ladies can’t function without food.

After tartlets, fairy cakes, eccles cakes, the ready meal range in its entirety, pies, sticky toffee and chocolate pudding and of course my QVC dish pudding, we feel we are ready to launch me and my food on the poor unsuspecting public.

Recipe Apple and Raspberry Pudding. - Available Soon.

Job number seven. Open door to Robyn and Sue. Two members of the knitting hussey (long story, read on). Ask them to make tea and feed Jake whilst Agent Annie and PR Susan and I finally do some work.

Job number eight. The most arduous of the day. Retire to the hammock and have a small nap to give me the strength to write today’s entry. Hammock time is also my special recipe time. I come up with some of my best ideas when I am swinging gently in rose scented breeze (how am I doing?!) listening to bird song and watching the clouds dance across the horizon. Hey, I can also write romantic fiction – can you do this at university too?

Sunday 20th July 2008

Woke up today with a slight niggle to the front of my head. Due in part, I think to that fourth bottle of wine we enjoyed enormously last night. I fear it is also as a result of bringing out the home-made elderflower vodka and four year old sloe gin – never again...not for a while at least!

Four idiotic friends, competing for the title of ‘best slipper shuffler’ in the morning.

This is my yardstick for a good night – do your slippers shuffle around the Aga as you gently put the kettle to boil? Or do they step up (excuse the pun) to the task of elegant morning person?

I shuffled badly and won the title for the fourth year running.

Daisy was due back at nine with eleven university friends from a party in a field. I don’t do fields/camping since last year when I tented up at Cornbury music festival. I’m far too high maintenance now. I actually took a hairdryer and straighteners along....need I say more? I’m still traumatised.

I can’t believe how much they ate. Luckily I had the other slipper shufflers around to help me. Twenty fried eggs, half a pig (I’m not kidding!), forty or so blueberry pancakes, four loaves of stunning bread I’d pilfered from my QVC cake baker AND four pounds of Musks sausages from my favourite sausage maker in Norfolk.

Recipe for Blueberry Pancakes and Maple Syrup sauce - Available Soon.

Now, just when I thought it was safe to retire to my hammock in the garden, I remembered that my brisket simmering away in my slow cooker was ready. All weekend, in between cooking for lovely girls and strapping young rowing men (wahey!) I have been testing recipes for a magazine photo shoot next Friday. Luckily they regained their appetites and I pressure cooked some potatoes (I love my pressure cooker - not scary at all) and made some butter and chive mash to go with the pot roasted brisket.

Not really perfect fare for a hot July afternoon. But what can you? It needed eating, and not by me. My bottom and thighs don’t need butter and brisket in their life.

Recipe for Pot Roasted Brisket in Ale with Mash - Available Soon.

Last night, Doddie (weird name, long story, read on) Sian, Gilly and I ate chicken and mushroom pie, mash, peas and steamed chocolate and almond pudding – again remnants from my recipe testing. The recipes are cooking after the above bottles of wine not quite so good.
But that is to be expected.

Recipes for Chicken, Leek and Mushroom Pie and Steamed Chocolate and Almond Pudding - Available Soon.

Mowed lawn. Stared at two new roses I’ve bought and not planted yet. I’ll do it tomorrow. Bed early, after Top Gear fix and large jacket potato. Daisy at work. Honeybear, hairy and enormous on my bed. (long story, read on).