This is where you'll find my at-home and travel-notes - mostly on food, but plenty of people and places too....
Sketches from a brief visit to beautiful Istanbul in October 2021 - .
Cookstrip - A WORK IN PROGRESS
Although my day-job is writing about cooking, in an earlier life - when my children were young and we lived in a remote valley in Andalucia - I worked as a botanical artist for Kew and painted birds - most owls - for the Tryon Gallery in London. After I took to food-writing, I continued to make a visual record of what I saw, ate and cooked in watercolour in hundreds of sketchbooks.
I still use a sketchbook rather than a camera to keep notes when I travel, and it’s these that provide me with the raw material for Cookstrip. Thirty years is a long time to keep a project simmering on the hob, and the result is a cartoon cookbook for people who love to cook or don’t know how to cook but want to learn or simply want to know how to prepare, say, a paella as they do in Andalucia or gravlax as they do in Norway. No fuss, just delicious.
So far, I’ve written more than 20 cookbooks including my first, European Peasant Cookery - published in the US as The Old World Kitchen - now seen as a classic. Add to that 4 memoirs-with-recipes, a couple of doorstopper novels and the cookery pages of magazines and newspapers including Country Living, Waitrose Food Illustrated, The Daily Telegraph and the Scotsman as well, for the last 15 years, a cookery column with its illustration for The Oldie.
I paint when I travel not only for the images themselves, but because it's the easiest and friendliest way to communicate with other people, particularly in markets or kitchens where I don’t have the language. I work very fast - 10 minutes is more than enough to get what I need. The result is the raw material for Cookstrip. I’ve always taken visual notes. Even forty years ago, when as a family we were living in our Andaluz valley, my children complained that dinner was always late because I just had to paint the ingredients.
The recipes are nothing complicated - some will be familiar, others less so. They’re the everyday recipes that everyone remembers when they think of home. And since I’ve learned all I know from watching other people, I know that following a process step-by-step with a reliable guide is easiest way to learn. So I’m delighted to have this chance - with your help - to take that pot off the back-burner at last and set it on the table…join me on my journey of discovery and you won’t regret it!
Here is a watercolor from my sketchpad from my recent stint as Artist in Residence for Cheese Weekend in Berlin's Market Hall Nine - setting up, tasting and drinking and cheese-making for beginners.
All Cheesed Out
Jan. 28th 2017.
New old news! I'm the grateful (and delighted) recipient of The Guild of Food Writer's Lifetime Achievement Award 2016 (a gorgeous crystal vase with my name on it, big enough for a whole raft of lilies. Fabulous).
I've been all over the country at literary events for the last few months, met and talked to lots of readers about Squirrel Pie, and had some great reviews, including The Times (Sat 30th July 2016) and Times Literary Supplement (23rd Sept 2016).
Nov. 7th 2016.
Here is a page from my travel sketchbook of the fish market in Mola di Bari in Puglia, where the inshore fleet lands the catch. The day-boat come in on the tide around 4.30 every day except Sunday and holidays - the Med is non-tidal which means that the timetable doesn't vary. The Pugliese enjoy eating fresh fish raw - crudo - with just a squeeze of lemon. A plate of crudo in one of the seaside restaurants such as the Torre Santa Sabina in Carovigno will include cuttlefish (sepia ), clams, prawns, fresh anchovies and sea-urchins (only in spring as the edible parts are the five little corals). Mola's market-traders sell to locals from Bari and Brindisi as well wholesalers from the cities. Bargains are mussels, spider-crabs and technicolour assortments of bony little soup-fish. Mussels are the main ingredient in a fisherman's stew, tiella, a layering of rice, potato and mussels that takes its name from the traditional earthenware casserole in which it's cooked - is a layering of rice, potatoes and mussels. Fresh mussels are often sold from the rope in the inland markets.
Jan. 29th 2017.
Three baby barnowls have now fledged from the owl-box behind the barn (where else?) at my farmhouse in Wales. Dietary notes: voles, mice, baby rabbits and fledgling starlings from the nest in the chimney pot. The owls hunt at dusk from the beech tree and are in competition with Ollie the marmalade cat. Ollie catches moles but doesn't eat them. (I was a natural history artist specialising in owls (and vultures) before I became a food-writer...)
Jul. 26th 2015.
Just delivered what I hope is the final draft of Squirrel Pie and other Stories, new food-and-travel memoir-with-recipes for Bloomsbury! Sections are divided into Islands, Forests, Deserts and Rivers and there's a snail recipe in each section....My own black-and-whites from my watercolour travel-sketchbooks are scattered throughout. It'll be out in June 2016.
Nov. 30th 2015.
Lipsi, Dodecanese: Best place for iced coffee and cheese pies is Taki's bakery just above where the the yachties tie up overnight. Best place to make friends is Nico's ouzerie on the harbour front opposite the fishing boats where the night's catch of octopus is hung up to dry on the canopy rail right through the day, flies and all, then slapped on the grill to order to soften the effects of Nico's ouzo. For those who don't want to mess about with chewy chunks of octopodi, there's fava, a soft yellow-green puree made with split peas, to scoop up with bread. To prepare fava, put about 300g split peas in a roomy pan with 2 litres water, bring to boil, skim off the froth which rises, stir in 5-6 tablespoons good green Greek olive oil, return to the boil, turn down the heat and leave to simmer for an hour or two till perfectly soft. Check every now and then and add more boiling water if necessary. Season with salt and maybe pepper and serve with plenty of bread. And ouzo, naturally. If you drink enough ouzo, there will be dancing.
Sicily: Cannoli - tubes of deep-fried pasta dough stuffed with sweetened fresh ricotta - is what everyone in Sicily takes instead of a box of chocolates when visiting friends, relatives or godfathers. To prepare cannoli, make a smooth soft dough with 1k pasta/bread flour kneaded with 100g finely-pounded cane-sugar, 100g unsalted butter or pork-lard and about 100ml sweet wine (Marsala, for choice). Leave it to rest. Chop the dough into walnut-sized balls and roll each into an oval as long as your hand. Now wrap it round a cannoli mould and dab the overlap in place with a fingertip of beaten egg. Then deep-fry till brown and crisp. Wait till it cools a little before you slip it off the mould and start again with a new batch. If you don't have cannoli moulds - you'll need at least 4 to avoid going crazy - roll out the dough as thin as pasta, cut into squares or triangles, fry as above, and pile with sweetened ricotta just before serving. To make home-made ricotta when not in Sicily: bring 1 litre full fat milk and 250ml double cream to just below boiling point; add a pinch of sea salt and the juice of 2 lemons and tip into a muslin-lined collander to drain. Next day, sweeten with a little sugar and use to stuff cannoli.
The interior of the Church of the Nativity at Abernassi in eastern Bulgaria, where they grow roses for rose-water, is completely covered with frescoes of life-sizes saints and stories from the Bible so that it looks as if there's a whole congregation watching even when the church is empty. The monks built their monasteries in the mountains to preserve their culture under Ottoman rule and much of Bulgaria's cooking is still quite Turkish. At the entrance to the churchyard was a stall selling beautifully carved and jointed wooden gloves to protect your hands from thorns when picking the roses used to make attar of roses, rosewater for soaking baklava and rosepetal jam. To make rosewater syrup, prepare a strong - 1:1 - sugar solution and combine with its own volume of rosewater. For rose pillau, prepare a saffron-flavoured rice (use butter rather than oil) and sprinkle with rosewater just before serving.