Writing Portfolio


Golden duck

I guess it had to happen at some point.

My batting has never been of a particularly good standard but until last Saturday I had never been out first ball. Coming in at 5 in the middle of a batting collapse after spending two and a half hours in the field, though, I was unable to deal with a ball that kept low and straight, and the schoolboy error of leaving sufficient gap between bat and pad led to my stumps being rearranged and much merriment on the part of the opposition.

A very frustrating start to the season, especially as I’d been doing so well in the winter nets.

On the (sort of) plus side, this does mean that I can get a new tie – a Primary Club tie, that is. Only in England would there be a special club for cricketers who’ve been dismissed for a golden duck, but hey, it’s for a good cause (raising money for blind or visually impaired sports). 

Another positive to take from this is that I know that I can’t do any worse when I walk out to bat next time!


An evening with Delia

We own many, many cookery books and it’s safe to say that most of them are Allison’s. Of those that are mine, I have a particular fondness for Delia Smith’s One is Fun!, in which the queen of British TV cookery explores cooking for the lone diner. Written in the 1980s, some of the recipes can seem a bit old-fashioned these days but the basic premise of this book is that it’s sometimes difficult to scale down recipes for four to a recipe for one (how, for example, do you add half an egg to something?), so within its covers are presented recipes designed with one person in mind.

Tricky? No. This, after all, is Delia Smith – the woman who has always done her best to make cooking look simple. No glossy TV shows involving shouting at waiters or using liquid nitrogen, just basic home cooking that makes the viewer think ‘I could make that’. You cannot go wrong with Delia.

You will not be surprised to learn that in our flat, One is Fun! usually gets an airing when Allison is out for the evening and I have to fend for myself in the kitchen.

Last Friday was a case in point, and Gratinée of eggs Savoyard à la Delia was on the menu.

Ingredients-wise, it looked eminently do-able. Eggs, a potato, bacon, an onion, olive oil, cheese, salt and pepper are all there is.  What could go wrong?

First of all, I diced the potato and put it into the frying-pan with the oil. This had to be browned and then cooked for ten minutes before the bacon and onion could be added, to be cooked for a further ten minutes.

While all this was going on, I turned on the grill and greased a Pyrex oven dish. The contents of the pan were tipped into the dish, and two depressions were made with the back of a spoon. Onto this I broke the eggs, seasoned them and topped the whole lot with grated cheese. This then went under the grill for (Delia reckoned) about seven minutes for soft-set eggs.

What, you may be wondering, about a vegetable accompaniment? I went for cabbage, which means that, basically speaking, this meal was using the same ingredients as would be used for a fry-up with bubble-and-squeak – just cooked differently!

The meal was delicious, although next time I think I will grill it for just a little bit longer as I’d like the eggs to be done a bit more, although there’s a balance between this and making sure that the cheese topping doesn’t burn.  

Dinner over, I went to the pub to watch the football. Delia would definitely approve of that!


Making bread

For several years I have experimented in making my own bread. I think it’s the kneading that I like the most – it’s rather therapeutic. Plus, I’m the sort of home cook who likes to follow recipes to the letter, so I am OK with baking. Unfortunately, though, the bread-making process is not a regular event for me as it tends to require a full day when I’ll be at home for some if not most of the time, what with the whole thing about waiting for four or five hours before I can do the next stage. It’s something that has to be reserved for those weekends when we’re not really doing anything else.

My forays into break-making started a few years ago when I found a fairly straightforward white bread recipe in Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course and wondered how hard it could be to make a loaf of bread for my sandwiches rather than buying one. I subsequently progressed to specialist baking tomes such as Richard Bertinet’s Dough (which contained a step-by-step guide, with photos, about how to knead bread properly), making such delights as walnut bread, dark rye bread and rock salt and rosemary focaccia.

My masterpiece was épi de blé, a rustic version of the French stick that Allison clipped from a copy of Canadian Living, which goes very well with soup, although I also do a mean kolach at Christmas.

Things stepped up a gear a couple of years ago, with the acquisition of Beyond Nose to Tail. This is the second volume of the legendary Fergus Henderson’s cookbook, and it’s the one with the baking chapter .

For those who don’t know, Fergus Henderson is credited with having revived the concept of nose-to-tail eating in the 1990s. His view is that, having killed the animal, making sure that you make use of all of it is the decent and polite thing to do. As such, many of his recipes are devoted to doing all sorts of things with offal. Now I have always liked liver and am ready to give any cut of meat a go, but I must confess that I find Henderson to be a bit hard-core; I’d never even heard of chitterlings before I read his book (pig intestines, in case you were wondering). His main restaurant, St John, is appropriately located just around the corner from Smithfield Market and is highly recommended (order the bone marrow and parsley salad).

Naturally, Fergus Henderson’s people make their own bread. As one would expect, the chapter on baking isn’t for novices. Henderson’s was the first book I came across that seriously advocated sourdough, that naturally leavened bread made from a living, breathing starter – meaning you don’t need to buy yeast. The flip-side is that this involves making (creating?) the starter a week before you can actually begin to use it to make some bread.

Henderson refers to the starter as ‘the Mother’ (with capital ‘M’), although Allison and I prefer to call it ‘the science experiment’. It’s been with us for two years now, and is in fact the only one of three science experiments that I’ve undertaken in our flat that is still in existence; of the other two, sloe gin made with actual sloe berries was an unqualified success, and home-made lime pickle was an absolute disaster (that was from Floyd on Africa, and as I followed the recipe to the letter I suspect the great man may have been drinking when he wrote it).

Getting back on topic, the only problem I have found is that since this starter has come into existence, I have hardly made any other type of bread. The starter, after all, is sitting in the fridge waiting to be used. It’d be rude not to.

Anyway – the bread. But not quite, for if it hasn’t been used for a while the starter needs to be ‘woken’ a day in advance. This is done by taking it out of the fridge, adding flour and water and then leaving it for 24 hours. If it’s bubbling after this time, it has woken and can be used.

Making a loaf of bread is an all-day affair, so first thing in the morning (well, second thing – a cup of tea comes first) it’s time to fire up the stand-mixer and use the dough-hook implement to mix the starter with flour (strong bread flour preferred) and water.

Henderson’s is the only cook-book I have so far come across that advocates adding a ‘bathe’ to the dough after it’s been mixed together. This basically means adding more water but, unlike the water that’s added first of all, this has to be cold and has to be added in three stages. I have no idea what it’s supposed to do, but it’s in the recipe so in it goes.

There follow a series of periods in which you’re best off going away and doing something else. It has to stand for 20 minutes before the salt can be added, then an hour in the fridge before kneading (my favourite part!) followed by three hours in a warm place. The phrase ‘hurry up and do nothing’ could’ve been coined for bread-making.

The shaping of the loaf comes next and that’s the bit I have trouble with. My efforts at free-standing loaves end up looking like blobs on a baking-sheet so I prefer to use a loaf tin.

Four or five hours later, it’s ready for the oven. A bowl of water at the bottom of said oven helps to form a better crust (who knew?), and after 40 minutes (taking the water out with ten to go), the lovely smell of freshly-baked bread pervades through the flat, and the bread is done!