Tomorrow, Monday 12 April, begins the next stage of getting our lives back in some semblance of normality. We can move about and stay in rentals, those lucky enough to own a second home, can visit it. We can eat outside at restaurants but the big excitement for me, is a planned visit to Mousehole, my erstwhile second home. The Fish Store (www.thefishstore.uniquehomestays.com) is booked but we are staying just below it, in a friend’s cottage. Hake, mackerel, crab and lobster beckon but before we head West, I find early asparagus on sale here in west London. More of my recipes for asparagus in the current Idler magazine (www.idler.co.uk).
Catching up with yesterday’s papers, my name leaps off the page of the Times paperback non-fiction list. Surprised and delighted to see Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson with help from me has come in at no 6, out of nowhere. Excellent to see more recognition for this enduringly successful friend in the kitchen and by total fluke, yesterday I cooked us a roast chicken dinner. I did it the wet roast way, with half a bottle of white wine and lemon juice, with roast potatoes, bread sauce, sausages (yes!) and peas, making plenty of lemony white wine gravy made with copious juices left in the pan. Supper tonight, is leftovers. Chicken with jacket potatoes and a crisp green salad, a favourite meal. The stock pot now on, with chopped onion, carrot, a herb bundle from the garden – thyme, bay, rosemary and leek trimmings from the freezer. It simmers away gently all morning, then strained, poured into containers and cooled for the freezer.
Bought 2 bundles of Norfolk asparagus and decide to make risotto, adding the last of the leftover roast chicken. With lashings of Parmesan at the end and a smattering of chopped flat leaf parsley, Asparagus and Chicken Risotto is a real treat. The chicken gives a textural chew, perfectly matched with the special grassy flavour of asparagus, the rice rich and creamy. Lovely combination.
Spent the whole of today and most of Wednesday clearing the kitchen ready for Steve, our ace decorator to restore the walls, shelves, cupboards, skirting etc to immaculate cleanliness with new paint, all to be done while we are away in Cornwall for the week. I have a total blank on what we ate tonight or tomorrow night, I was that exhausted. I draw a veil over them.
It’s very gratifying when anyone tells me how much they’ve enjoyed cooking one of my recipes but extra nice when it’s one of my sons. Growing up, youngest son Henry always loved spag bol, we all did, but the other day he had it again cooked by me and had forgotten how much he loved his mum’s way of making it. Aaah, mum’s cooking is always best. Anyway, tonight we are having pork ragu from the freezer. I often cook up a batch of the versatile meat sauce we now call ragu which is perfect with any pasta, in lasagne or doctored slightly with different herbs and piled over previously roasted aubergine (halved lengthways, scored with a lattice about 1 cm deep, the cut surface smear with olive oil and roasted until soft at 180C/gas mark 4) to make what I call slipper moussaka when it’s covered with béchamel or creamed feta slackened with Greek yoghurt or crème fraiche. Tonight we are having it spag bol-style, with a cloak of finely grated Parmesan and I happen to know that’s how Hen is having it too. Tomorrow we are up at Sparrow’s Fart to drive down to Cornwall. I can’t wait, it’s been a frantic week one way and another, not least clearing my kitchen and adjoining dining are so that Steve the decorator can give the place it’s first paint job since the side return was incorporated. Probably 20 years ago. Amazing it’s lasted so well but is long overdue. The best part of clearing everything was the chuck-out; jars and cartons dating back to 2008, some with expiry dates going back to 2002. I piled all the plates, bowls, dishes, cups, mugs and other random china on the garden table and the dining table, hoping it wouldn’t rain while we are away but not caring if it did as I will wash everything when we get back. I had a middle of the night brainwave for the glasses; they are stacked in the dishwasher and my two ovens, carafes, vases and the like were boxed up and put under the table. Le Creuset and other oven dishes were stacked under a garden bench piled high with jugs. I wish I’d taken a photo.
Up early making a cheese sandwich for our journey westward, unreasonably piqued by the arrival of super decorator Steve, who likes an early start. He unloads all his kit while The B loads the car and I whizz round the block with Red, once again done out of a decent walk. I’d ordered hake, mackerel, crab and smoked salmon from Trelawney (www.trelawneyfish.co.uk) my favourite fishmonger in Newlyn and there it was, all ready for me to collect as we swung past just before 2pm. I’d brought basic provisions with me, a few tomatoes, jar of Spanish butter beans, little chorizo cooking sausages, butter, olive oil, lemon, coffee, fruit and cheese, and had in mind a supper of Hake, Chorizo and Tomato Butter Beans, the fish steamed over the beans added to a tomato slop, all cooked in one pan over the Aga-like Everhot. First, though, a glass of rose in the little garden that overlooks the rocks and sea below, gazing out towards St Michael’s Mount. The sun is shining. It is lovely.
Lunch is head-on, gutted mackerel, lightly oiled and lined up on foil in a small roasting tin in the Everhot. They’re ready in 10 minutes and sit for a couple of minutes while I make vinaigrette that starts with a spoonful of mayo and smidgen of Dijon mustard, the salad started with peeled, seeded, cucumber half moons slaked with white wine vinegar, most of which it seems to instantly absorb, then adding crisp lettuce and mint scrounged from a giant pot next to the public bench next door to our little garden. We’ve bought a couple of lobster for supper and later I find a rock to crack the claws and help with splitting them (pandemic restrictions prevent the fishmonger doing it for us, or so he says). Lovely lobster with mayo, first Jersey Royals of the season and a rather disappointing tomato salad. The latter were those expensive big toms that look like a pleated money bags but don’t have the flavour of equally expensive so-called winter tomatoes.