Rotiwala Indian Catering

It’s Mark’s 75th birthday today so last weekend we had a Daniel family party at home catered by Rotiwala, Southall. They fed us five years ago for Mark’s 70th at Ealing Town Hall where we had a much bigger gathering. That time we had a bar service and crockery and cutlery so we didn’t have to worry about washing up. This time, the birthday boy had to wash up all the serving dishes and crocks the morning after. We had so much food left over that the guests took lots home in tupperware I asked them to bring just in case, and even the neighbours were drafted to mop up the never-ending supply of kebabs, paneer, and salad. We were still eating leftover dhal by the middle of the next week!

For 15 adults and 3 children I ordered:


Hara Bhara Kebabs

Paneer Tikka

Sheekh Kebabs

Chicken Haka Noodles


Chana Masala

Butter Chicken

Dhaba Dal

Tomato and Cucumber Raita

Pilau Rice

Naan Bread



Fresh cut fruit

The process of ordering was good fun thinking about what would be a nice spread and enjoyable for carnivores, veggies, vegans, gluten intolerants and those with nut allergies! Indian food is perfect for everyone. I asked for the noodles to be mild (but they ended up being a bit too spicy for the kids). Nevertheless, there was lashings of naan, rice, salad, kebabs etc so no-one went hungry. Mark’s favourite curry is Chicken Tikka Masala but I thought the Butter Chicken would be fancier for a party. I prefer spicy lamb curries and garlicky dhals but wasn’t sure if the non-Asians in the group would cope with anything too spicy or bold. Because it would have been difficult to keep cold and fresh, I had to go without my preferred starter: Papri or Aloo Tikki Chaat. I hope someone’s taking notes for my ‘surprise’ 50th in 7 years time!

Planning drinks was a bit of a stab in the dark – we wanted to have lunch early so that Mark and his son could go to Chelsea for the big afternoon game so I knew we didn’t need much wine or hard stuff. In the morning of the party, I filled one of those big rubber buckets with ice and cooled about 30 lagers, 10 ciders and a few ales, and I put some Prosecco in the fridge. I also had a few bottles of red wine in case I didn’t fancy beer on the day (I did as it happens). I also got some nice flavoured tonic waters to go with a bottle of gin, had Pimms and other spirits on hand with a few bottles of fizzy pop, soda water and plain slimline tonic. Mark likes sparkling elderflower and Pip wanted me to get some pink lemonade and mint for the kids so they didn’t miss out on the fancy cocktails. I probably didn’t need anything more but chucked in a few boxes of different San Pellegrino flavours to balance the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Guests arrived from 11am and we ate at around 1pm. The delivery was very professional: all it took was one guy to set up the chafing dishes on the dining table (serving dishes resting inside shallow dishes of water heated from beneath), light the fuel canisters to keep the food hot, lay out the serving spoons, food labels, salads, and chutneys (another table would have been great for this) before bringing in the hot food from his special delivery van. He arrived at about 12.15pm and we waited for the food to be piping hot before we all tucked in. Jeff’s friend Robin – the only other Indian in the room – joked that he looked like he was one of the cooks! (A dodgy waiter at best…)

I was concerned that there wouldn’t be much space to sit and eat a full meal but the dining chairs around the room and the living room sofas and armchairs were ample for the size of the group. The sun came out just after we’d eaten so we dashed out for a group photo, realising too late that some of the tallies in the back were hidden from view!

If I would do it again, I would have insisted people ate more or I should have ordered less food. I remember from my first jobs as a silver-service waitress and then a cook at a health club that catering is a process of simple economics. Whatever the sum of people, you cater for about a quarter of them, not for each individual person. It’s not an exact science but it definitely works! Why didn’t I do this last weekend? I literally ordered for 15 people so therefore I was feeding approximately 60! Definitely at least 30 anyway.

There was fresh fruit but Pip, baker extraordinaire, supplied the toadstool cupcakes.

Mark’s sister brought dozens of daffodil bulbs and decorated the house while we were setting up. Throughout the week they have been blooming and filling the house with joy.

I have also remembered too late that I was planning a speech to remember our parents, none of whom are alive to be with us for these special occasions. I had the group picture printed and framed so it now hangs on the wall next to other gang photos, memories of our separate and combined families together again in one collection of misfits and weirdos, old and young. Mark says we could have dusted them off and brought them down from the kitchen cupboards so they could join the party…

Today, Sunday, the three of us have enjoyed a German style breakfast, presents, Pip’s homemade fruitcake, calls with family and friends and now the possibility of a late afternoon stroll. Mark has requested bangers and mash for dinner (although there’s actually some curry still left in the fridge!)

Happy birthday Mark!


Garessio, food, wine, and devilled jackfruit

It’s almost 4 years since Dad died and over 5 years since Mum died so Jeff, Kris and I thought we would go to Italy to scatter some of their ashes in their beloved Garessio, a small town in the Piemonte mountains, about 45 minutes up winding roads from the Ligurian seaside. Mum and Dad first happened upon Garessio in the early 80s when they used to drive us kids down through France in our brown car towing our folding caravan. We would be picked up from school at 12pm, giving Mum time to pack the car and get sorted and then we’d drive down to Folkstone, have an early dinner at a pub in Faversham along the way, then get a ferry across to France where we would unpack Mum’s karti-kebabs and tandoori chicken. Dad would then drive until late and we’d either camp in a random field (you could do that then) to break the journey or, sometimes Dad would drive all the way to Garessio (870 miles) and park outside the campsite in the small hours, pulling in the next morning refreshed and ready for the day. They found the campsite as they were heading down towards the seaside one year and fell in love with the place. As the story goes, in the first year they found the campsite sign in Garessio, they camped but needed some candles and went to the local hardware shop where they met an English speaking woman called Marina Ross (nee Canavese) who said she was married to a Scot who would be glad to meet them later that evening. Well, Ronnie Ross went straight to the campsite after work with several bottles of wine and the Griffithses, Rosses and Canaveses became firm friends for the next thirty plus years.

Every year up to the noughties, Mum and Dad went back to Garessio even when the allure of Spanish package holidays tempted us kids away from the sleepy, remote village when we were teenagers. But the golden age of Garessio for us was during the pre-teen years, when all we needed was a few other kids for playing games and running races and some pocket money for ice-creams and arcade games in town. I’ve recalled the great barbecues Mum and Dad hosted; Mum’s tandoori chicken and chops wafting exotically across the campsite, her rainy day beef curries, and the bountiful beers and wine served in plastic beakers. We loved our campsite breakfasts – Mum would pedal off to the local bakery and grocers for lashings of fresh bread (“bum rolls”), mortadella, prosciutto cotto and crudo, salami, cheeses, tomatoes and juicy apricots, plums and peaches. There would also be Nesquick, Nutella and Kinder bars, which we never ate in England. On beach days we would have pizza focaccia and warm chinotto. Once or twice a week we would have pizza (we went for three or four weeks at a time). Mum and Dad made annual friends and some families returned every year so we built lasting friendships. One such family, the Pruzzos, made friends with Mum and Dad by offering them a giant hollowed out watermelon filled with Italian sangria. Firm, firm friends they became.

I’ve been back to Garessio a few times in Pip’s lifetime. Fortunately, she has memories of Italy that include Nana and Papa, visits to Garessio but mainstay holidays on the coast or in Sicily. Going back to Garessio was always tinged with sadness after the death of Marina’s mother Seconda and on seeing the fissures that appeared in the Canavese family. But it was saddest when I first went back after both Mum and Dad had died and the campsite was overgrown and neglected. This time, we’ve made new memories and the sadness has turned into warmer nostalgic feelings: it was silly to think we could go back to Garessio and relive our shared experiences (and some were truly horrific like when I knocked four teeth out after careering down a mountain road on my bike) but it was a joy to find that the same grocery shop Mum used to go to is still in business and running in the family and certain landmarks are still standing, like the bombed hotel, still derelict after 75 years…

This time, we stayed in an apartment so we could cook lots of our meals using fresh local ingredients; Monika is vegan and gluten intolerant so it was brilliant to be able to source and cook delicious things she could eat – mushrooms being a particular highlight. Kris and Margo stayed in a B&B and we met for meals and wanders around the old haunts. Lara turned 6 so we had a cake made for her by the shop that makes Garessini, the chocolate truffles we adore. We went for a highly recommended meal that night but, sadly, it did not meet our exacting specifications although we did enjoy the wine. And we had plenty of it throughout the holiday and raised many, many glasses to the parentals. A gently fizzy red is perfection and Barbera wine in general is our number one fave. On the last day in Garessio (we went afterwards for a few nights in the Asti wine region) we picked cherries in the Canavese orchard and sprinkled the ashes. Pip made a little cherry headstone and we said some words.

Mum and Dad planned to retire to Italy but, when the time came, they depended on their local hospital in Suffolk and preferred to consider Garessio as their number one holiday destination, guessing that perhaps real-life over there is more political and complicated, and certainly more catastrophic in terms of weather. Garessio has experienced some torrential floods due to its position in a river valley surrounded by snow-capped mountains. In 2020, the town’s bridge collapsed, an iconic landmark that, to the Griffithses anyway, was famous as the site of an annual apple dumpling festival aptly called ‘Festa Sul Ponte’ (festival on the bridge). It was a wrench to see the bridge’s temporary replacement but a reminder that the town has changed, that we’ve changed, but it will forever contain our memories, and now a little piece of Mum and Dad too.

So then we came home after a few more days drinking wine (and some of us having food poisoning… poor Pip and Margo!) and all we fancied was Mum’s jalfrezi – dhal, rice, potatoes and devil. I’ve already posted these recipes but as I’m trying to be more Monika – not quite vegan but flexitarian – I used jackfruit instead of meat and it worked a treat.

Here are some snaps of what we ate. Buon appetito!

Looks like turkey devil but it’s jackfruit 🙂

Pepper Water

Mum’s staple Anglo-Indian dishes of dol and rice, ball curry, jalfrezi, turkey devil etc were perfect for her growing children who had more of an Anglo palate than an Indian one when we were very young. AI food made for children is comforting, soft and mild. Nursery food. Of course, AI cooking for grown-ups has plenty of kick with curd chillies and green chillies chucked in willy-nilly. But there was one dish that was so powerfully spicy, stringently peppery and yet tart and tangy that, to really enjoy it, you had to have been raised on it from birth. It is everything that is good about AI cooking, sweetness, sourness and spiciness, condensed into a few peppery cupfuls of watery soup, enigmatically titled ‘Pepper Water’.

I never really appreciated it at the time. Mum made it in small quantities for her own consumption mostly. I associate it more with my Gran who always seemed to have a small pot of this black water covered at the back of her hob or in a pyrex dish in the fridge. She never served it to us as children when we would spend the weekend with her (at that time in her flat by Ealing Common). She would take us to West Ealing (why, when we had to pass Ealing Broadway to get there?) and we would go to Sainsbury’s to choose our dinner (Findus crispy pancakes or Lean Cuisine prawn curry or beef Madras, an individual strawberry trifle, a can of cherry 7Up, and a sachet of mint hot chocolate). Then we would go to McDonald’s for lunch. She would have a plain hamburger and cup of tea. We would have the works: burgers, fries, nuggets, and milkshakes. When I was older, in my teens, we used to visit Granny at the weekend and she might have made some dol and rice and pepper water. At these times, I would enjoy a few spoonfuls over my rice and marvel at how simple yet satisfying it was. Umami before I knew what that meant. I never thought to ask how she made it…

My Granny (Esther) was one of 8 Martin children born to Walter Martin and Mary Elizabeth Milne in Kharagpur, India. Walter’s parents, Robert Martin and Caroline Rodrigues were married in 1880 in Palghaut, India and Robert’s parents, John Martin and Jessie Drane were married in 1855 in Coimbatore, India. My Grandfather, Leonard Upshon, Lennie, Papa, had the same Anglo-Indian background, both military and industrial, working in the steel and rail professions. Granny and Papa married in April 1948 in Jhargram and my Mum was born the following May in Burnpur. My Uncle Adrian was born 10 years later.

Great-Grandparents Walter and Mary with Uncle Laddie (bottom left), Uncle Pixie (bottom right), and Aunty Vida (centre)

My Gran was the fifth born:

  1. Rita (died in infancy)
  2. Laddie
  3. Ronald (known affectionately as Pixie)
  4. Vida
  5. Esther
  6. Luna
  7. Benjamin
  8. Philomena

Uncle Laddie died before I was born but I grew up knowing Uncle Pixie, Aunty Luna, Uncle Benny and Aunty Philo very well. Uncle Pixie died in the 1990s and Uncle Benny died last year. My great-aunt Vida is going to be 100 this year and Pip and I are hoping to visit her in Canada. She moved to Canada from India so I have only seen her a few times but I know she is a wonderful woman.

My great-aunts Luna and Philo have been Londoners all my life and are fantastic matriarchs and role models. Both excellent cooks, Aunty Philo’s curries are out of this world and her biriani is second only to Uncle Benny’s who had a gift for its flavour and tenderness. Aunty Luna’s phone-calls are always about the old days and I love to hear her talk about the food and how Christmas and New Year were wonderful celebrations of shared cuisine in the neighbourhood. Aunty Luna says proudly about the Martins specifically and Anglo-Indians in general, ‘we are thrifty’, which chimes with Mum’s approach to making meals stretch but never letting anyone go hungry.

Clockwise from top: Laddie, Vida, Esther, Philo, Benny and Pixie

I’m lucky to have such long-lived relatives. My Mum adored her family, her aunts, uncles and cousins. The women are all feisty, beautiful and totally bonkers at parties! The men are talented, resourceful and proudly family orientated.

Mum and Dad’s wedding March 1973 (Granny in the blue coat on the left, Great-Granny Mary in the brown coat below her; bridesmaids Corinne on the left and Patricia on the right.)

I remember the parties in the old days, everyone packed into the living rooms, music, food, and silly games. The pandemic has meant we only see each other via Whatsapp and Facebook but we’ve been planning our reunion party for two years now!

Me on my fairy godmother and cousin Corinne’s lap and Kris on Aunty Vida’s lap

My Papa, Lennie, died on Boxing Day at our house in 1983. I was almost four and don’t remember but I will always remember Mum telling me about hearing Papa’s breath leaving his body. He was in the garden trying to get his moped to start and had a catastrophic heart attack. Granny was convalescing upstairs after one of the few bouts with mental illness she suffered throughout her life. She had manic depression and was medicated throughout the time I knew her. Granny died from polycystic kidney disease in 2007.

In the late 1990s, Granny moved to a bungalow in Suffolk in the same cul-de-sac as my Uncle Adrian and his wife and daughter. It was here that Gran cooked more frequently and where we would have bigger dinners when we visited. Pepper water is not really something made on a larger scale so it never appeared at these meals. But you could be certain that somewhere in her kitchen there would be at least a cupful of pepper water covered with clingfilm. Hers was more black, probably a simpler version, perhaps uncluttered by other spices, which is where I’ve been going wrong in trying to recreate it.

I never thought to ask either Granny or my Mum to write it down. It seemed so simple! How wrong could I be?

When Mum died and I found the recipe cards she had been writing for me, I didn’t notice that pepper water wasn’t down. I hadn’t mentioned it in the years after Gran died and I can’t remember having it again while Mum and Dad lived in Suffolk. Not even in the year I lived with them when I had Pip. This was a serious omission.

After Mum died, the conversations I had with my Aunty Luna were all about food and what marvellous cooks the Martins were and still are. It was in these conversations that I remembered how delicious and important pepper water was in the AI community. Aunty Luna gave me her version that includes Madras curry powder, which she uses as her masala in all her curries. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t like Granny’s.

Since then, I’ve trawled through Mum’s recipe books, particularly her Bridget White collection of ‘Anglo Indian Delicacies’ etc and her recipe is simple. But still not as I remember it.

Finally, on the Facebook AI Recipes group, I tried a few versions until I found one that is the closest.

It’s a really tangy and cold-busting liquor of tamarind, black pepper powder and spices, with curry leaves and a tomato to cheer it up. The best thing to do is to make this alongside dol and rice, and, as it’s still christmas, why not some turkey devil?

4 cups of water

1 lime sized ball of tamarind soaked in water

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp black pepper powder

Half tsp salt

Half tsp turmeric

2 dried red chillies

3 garlic cloves

Boil for 10 minutes then strain into a fresh pot and temper with:

2 tsp ghee

1 tsp mustard seeds

6 curry leaves

1 dried red chilli

(Chopped tomato is my addition)

It mightn’t look much! Pepper water with a tomato and rice

Ruby Curry

It’s almost 3 years since Dad’s unexpected death. As we were having Lara this weekend and because Jeff and Monika would be staying to watch Wales v Denmark in the second round of the Euros and having, as it turned out, a short but powerful living room disco with Pip and Lara dancing to ‘I Like to Move it Move it’ and ‘Goosebumps’ and something else by David Guetta that made me feel out of touch with modern music, I felt in the mood to make some Anglo fayre including a) a beef curry, b) salt fish patties and c) karti kebabs. What with one thing and another (Lara and Pip and eating out a lot on Saturday) I didn’t soak the salt-fish or defrost the pastry for the kebabs in time, but the beef curry, inspired by the Sri Lankan ‘Beef Colombo’ that I’ve enjoyed at Papaya restaurant in Northfields over the years, went round enough for everyone, eked out by plenty of mango lassi and naan bread, and way too much rice.

Mum used to make beef curry in our caravan in Garessio when it rained. I’ve reminisced about this experience before: the first puffy clouds in the morning would tell us that we were in for heavy weather so Mum would cycle off to one (or all) of the macellerias (butchers) in town and ask for beautifully thick and succulent red steak to be diced into small chunks in her broken Italian; she would then locate garlic, chillies, red peppers, passata (pulped tinned tomatoes mixed with concentrated tomato puree), and lots and lots of sweet onions; she’d spend ages wandering around the aisles pretending to look for rice that wasn’t arborio for risotto but really just enjoying being in shops that smell of parmesan, cured meat, saw dust and dried broad beans. It was dark in these stores, and cosy, unlike the brash overhead lighting of our supermarkets. She would get American easy cook rice if she hadn’t brought her basmati from home. She wouldn’t forget the natural yoghurt, cucumber, fat tomatoes fresh from someone’s local kitchen garden, and all the other standard breakfast comestibles that we would be expecting: bum rolls, mortadella, salami Milano, prosciutto, more tomatoes, fresh peaches and apricots, and cheese – we liked Swiss emmenthal but they liked gorgonzola.

Back at the campsite at around around 11am, she would stoke (connect) the paraffin cooker (set in the awning, not in the caravan itself), marinate the beef in her Madras curry paste to save cooking time (she always took Pataks to Italy), fry the onions and garlic with a thumb of ginger she would also have brought with her knowing ginger was harder to come by in Garessio, and a handful of other spices that she brought in a jam jar from home. She would set her daitchkey over a low heat and let the curry bubble gently for a couple of hours. My job would be to slice the red peppers for the salad nearer lunch time (working on the one for me one for the plate principle) and I would help with fetching water for the rice and watching it doesn’t boil over. Shouts of “mind the cooker” rang out from dozing parents if we tore into the awning away from a double-doofer bee or a sibling who was on the rampage after his lego Millennium Falcon was broken.

We used to have a folding metal table as our dining table in the campsite. It looked like a suitcase when it was folded and inside were four small deck chairs sporting gaudy 70s canvas – orange, brown and yellow stripes. We would all have a small chair each and Dad sat on his bigger camping chair that had arms on which he would balance a plastic beaker of red wine, or sweet coffee in the morning. Because of the rain, we would eat our curry in the awning as the caravan’s folding table was not big enough for five, but brilliant for 3 children playing with lego. I don’t remember eating the curry as much as the memories of the cooking process. I imagine we ate from cereal bowls rather than the flat bakelite plates we had. What I do remember is that washing up after curry was a more arduous experience than empty pizza boxes. The torrential mountain rain would peter out by late afternoon so we would have Pollini’s pizza in the evening. We took our empty boxes back to the restaurant the next day. No washing up!

This weekend I used my slow cooker for the curry. I don’t know why but I never normally use it for curry. Dhal yes. Curry no. I prefer using Mum’s big metal saucepan on the hob that came to Italy with us every year, even though it catches slightly at the bottom. The benefit of the slow cooker is that you can (and should) sear the meat first in a frying pan, then fry the onions in the beef juices, then cook all your spices and tomatoes for the masala after that. Then everything can be transferred to the slow cooker and left all day on low. Sometimes I find if it’s left too long, the curry sauce splits into much more oil than you anticipated but if you stir in some yoghurt at the end, it all comes together again and is thick and dark, like an authentic lamb curry. The meat is super tender, and, because it’s beef, falls apart beautifully and adds to the meatiness of the sauce. The other thing I’ve learnt after years of thin or too tomatoey curry woes, is always, always cook plenty of onions very slowly until they they’ve softened and have taken on a deep brown colour before adding your spices and tomatoes. The addition of onions, I think, is essential to getting that dark curry sauce and flavour. I don’t add salt during the slow-cooking process either. As Mum would say, “you can add, but you can’t take away”.

At half time, I measured out (way too much) basmati rice (a cup per person but I calculated six people instead of four as the kids don’t eat much), rinsed it three times until the water runs clear, bring to the boil with about a tablespoon of salt (sounds a lot but there was a lot of rice!), a handful of cumin seeds, two bay leaves from the garden, and a spice ball filled with about 6 cloves and 5 cardamon pods. When boiling, I turn the heat right down and clamp a lid on. While this was cooking, I put two shop bought giant naans in the oven and then mixed together yoghurt, cucumber, mint from the garden, a splash of malt vinegar, and some chopped coriander. When everything was ready, I spooned some melted ghee over the naans, chopped them with a mezzaluna, and sprinkled over more coriander. Everyone helped themselves.

I’m not going to write out a recipe as it was basically a standard masala for 400g of meat – onions, tomatoes, chili powder, coriander, cumin, turmeric, curry leaves, mustard seeds, black pepper and garlic and ginger pastes. I add about a teaspoon of everything (half a teaspoon of chili powder) but I let the mustard seeds spit before adding the tomatoes. The curry leaves give it a tang along with the tablespoon of yoghurt at the end, which I think makes it taste more Anglo-Indian.

Wales lost the football but we sang ‘The Boy from Nowhere’ by Tom Jones to commiserate and to remember Dad. I’d had a couple of German beers by then and Jeff had a bottle of Sake. Tres international. As luck would have it, Italy played the second match of the evening and beat Austria, a victory I’m sure my parents would have enjoyed more than a Welsh victory.

I’ve called this post Ruby Curry because (as well as being a play on ‘Ruby Murray’) another thing on my mind is the fact that we’ll soon be moving out of Southall, near to where I lived in Hanwell. The owner of the house we’re buying is a nonagenarian called Ruby who has gone into a care home. I can’t help but wonder what Dad’s life would have been like if he’d stayed in his house until his nineties. After he died, we packed up his house much like Ruby’s friends are packing up hers – trying not to be sentimental about furniture cherished over the years now destined for charity shops, sorting through the holiday knick-knacks and photographs and wondering why we bother to plan for the future when so much is tied up with the past.

When we bought the house we’ll soon be leaving, I remember it was around lunch-time and the owner of the house was cooking a cauliflower curry. The smell was evocative of Mum’s kitchen and I instantly felt at home. Ruby’s house is different: it’s very much like our current house (which is very much like the house I grew up in on Woodstock Avenue), but there’s a different sort of familiarity. The cooking smells are long gone and the kitchen is basic and slightly dilapidated. It’s more like Uncle Mark’s house from across the road. I can’t imagine the first meals I’ll cook there but I will have Mum’s ‘campsite cooking can-do’ attitude: as long as I’ve got a saucepan or two, a jam-jar of spices, and really good meat, we’ll have a pretty decent curry. Sliced peppers and camping chairs essential.

Beef curry with raita and naan. Wales v Austria 26 June 2021

Lockdown 2.0 ‘Oriental’ Beef

(From Mum’s recipe scrap book. Kris’ notes added during his Breaking Bad phase – circa 1993)

I looked up to see if the term ‘oriental’ is politically correct when describing retro food and it turns out that if used as an adjective, it’s fine. Well, perhaps not ‘fine’, but more acceptable. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone’s identity or tastebuds.

This dish is from Mum’s mid-week repertoire when she juggled childminding, office cleaning, and working at Taywood Sports and Social Club (RIP) in the late 80s, early 90s. It’s not authentically Eastern as it depends mostly on things like consommé (which sounds French and sophisticated but in reality comes from a can widely available in supermarkets’ own brands), vinegar (widely used in Anglo-Indian cuisine), and Sherry (widely available in a dusty bottle in the cupboard under the stairs). If this was a truly ‘Oriental’ meal, I would expect to see rice wine vinegar specified and mirin instead of Sherry, and perhaps some stock made from marrow bones and a handful of Chinese spices. But Mum’s recipe, or rather one that seems to have come from the back of a Knorr packet despite the lack of stock cube action, is perfect when all you want is something comfortingly nostalgic, winter-stew like, and piquant without being spicy in the least.

Perhaps an Eastern inspired dish is more fitting than I first realised: China was, after all, the epicentre of the Coronavirus. It is January 2021 and we’re in national lockdown – again.

I keep thinking that if my parents had lived through the first wave of Covid between November 2019 and Spring 2020, they would almost certainly have approached the second wave with less war-time spirit and more irritation. Christmas having come and gone, the freezer stocks would be pretty bare and the stacks of Fray Bentos pies and jars of apple sauce diminished. Winter was always a time when they didn’t fancy going out as much but would be planning the summer holidays, making hospital requests for holiday dialysis, and counting the days until the weather turned more barbecuey. If Mum hadn’t spent the first wave nailing Italian via Duolingo, she would definitely be mooching around virtual markets online and dreaming about the Italian dinners she’d soon be enjoying come June. That is, if she felt up to it. The saddest thing about Mum’s deteriorating health in the last few years leading to her death in January 2017, was her dwindling appetite. She lived for food and holidays. She cooked not just with a view to filling hungry tummies, but for the pure joy of combining flavours, experimenting with cuisines, and infusing everything with her typically Anglo tanginess and spice.

This ‘Oriental’ beef ticks all those boxes. The sauce is thickened to a rich, meaty gravy that is both sweet and sour, but not in the traditional Chinese way. It’s garlicky and savoury enriched with the sherried sweetness of the booze and the peppers. The vinegar gives it a tangy moreishness that balances the earthiness of the mushrooms. I also add some sugar-snap peas near the end to add some bite (although they tend to get thrown in too soon and taste more like soused green peppers). As the recipe doesn’t call for chili, I don’t bother with it as the joy of this meal is in its after-school stewiness, which is cosier and more comforting sometimes than that late night spice for which one hankers at times, and with which you require (and deserve) a cold beer or glass of fizz.

No, this is a simple sounding recipe for a late lunch as it turns out. It’s simple yet easily complicated by trying to thicken the sauce containing alcohol with cornflour that refuses to blend. Also, the recipe calls for top rump of beef, which would make the dish ready in the flashiest of flashes, but Mum’s approach was the thriftier, well-diced morsels of braising steak for a flavour that was stronger, but tougher if not cooked for long enough. As she would often cook during the day so we could heat ours when we got back from school, the microwave would finish the tenderising process. Isn’t that what all the best French chefs do? I’m currently braising my ‘Oriental’ beef for two hours and counting. But then, I don’t have to rush off to clean offices after my day job.

Back in the good old days, if we wanted a more authentic Chinese meal, our local parade of shops on Lady Margaret Road boasted the finest takeaway in Ealing. It was and is called China Gourmet but it doesn’t deliver to this end of Southall unfortunately. Sometimes if I’m close by (or have deliberately navigated near), I’ll go and collect an order of Roast Pork Fried Rice, Shredded Chili Beef and/or King Prawns with Green Peppers in Black Bean Sauce. Dad used to love their ribs; Mum loved Chicken with Cashew Nuts in a Yellow Bean Sauce. For occasions, we’d go to Eat Well in Eastcote – an ‘all-you-can-eat’ establishment. (No longer operating as such.) It was not like the fetid AYCE buffets of Central London with gloopy Sweet ‘n’ Sour Chicken and dry wings steaming in the windows, but quite a classy place that cooked to order and allowed you to choose everything on their menu. They would bring dish after dish to your already groaning rotating table.

I’ve just celebrated my 41st birthday, which is always a poignant time since Mum died. My Uncle’s birthday, Mum’s brother’s, is on the 20th, the day before she died. We joked at the time that she held on another day so she wouldn’t spoil it for him. Instead of going out for my birthday as in days of yore, I ordered a restaurant prepared gourmet meal of Beef Wellington, Dauphinoise Potatoes, Savoy Cabbage and Poached Pears with Mascarpone for afters (Gourmet Food Delivery UK | More More More ( It was fantastic.

It’s only a week away from the 4th year anniversary of Mum’s death. Christmas would have been a time to toast Mum and Dad but, due to the restrictions, we had no family visiting and no-one else to help eat the 13lb turkey I didn’t have the heart to cancel.

So here’s to you Mumsette. An Eastern inspired comfort meal, straight from your authentically Anglo Indian kitchen of Western London.

(I did end up scattering some chili flakes on top….)

Lockdown Rye Sourdough

Sourdough Starter

This weekend is the 2nd anniversary of my Dad’s departure from this world. My Uncle phoned earlier to commiserate and, yet, we spoke less of Tony Griffiths, and more of our present lockdown stories: not going to Oz and getting a new dog (Uncle Mal) and having scaffolding erected and watching the new Will Ferrell film ‘The Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga’ (me). In fact, we didn’t talk about Dad at all. We didn’t even talk about bread, which is second on my list of things to think about this weekend.

I’m currently in the throes of bulk rising a couple of loaves to give as presents. There’s an elemental joy to making sourdough bread from scratch (even if it isn’t as ‘nice as white bread’ as my fave writer Nina Stibbe famously tweeted recently). I think the joy comes partly from the powerful alchemy of flour and water creating a life of its own and partly the deeply sublime feelings of hope and fear that balance poetically somewhere deep in the soul/stomach. Is this what Keats meant by negative capability?

I have lockdown to thank for this. Thanks to Covid-19, I finally learnt how to make a sourdough starter (one of the many ‘Lockdown Cliches’ of which I am guilty). After the initially laborious task of making it, you have, potentially, a life-time’s supply of sustenance, provided you have flour and water and salt in abundance thereafter. And an admirable range of Le Creuset cast-iron Dutch ovens, a heat source, a sharp edge, myriad tea-towels, a cotton bag, and posh butter and/or marmalade. What more does one need?

Sourdough Dutch Ovens

I don’t think my Dad would have been much fussed about my sourdough efforts. I recall with great fondness his penchant for soaking white sliced bread (or plastic bread as Nigella calls it) in his gravy like a good Cockney Taff. His favourite type of bread.

But he did have a classier palate when we were out and about. We would drive an hour into Essex from Stowmarket to Mersea Island for its fish platters and oysters when Mum was alive, with a pitstop at Morrisons for the BYOB (Bring Your Own Bread) and aioli. I always, always got a sourdough loaf and only got ciabatta if they were out. At The Company Shed it was encouraged that you brought your own stuff to mop up the fishy bounty. You were not allowed to book a table so, if it was full, we’d go to the less permissive, but equally delicious, West Mersea Oyster Bar, where we would order our platters and sit outside to enjoy the fresh langoustines, prawns, crab, and two dozen oysters with hunks torn from the communal sourdough loaf, dunked first in the garlic mayo, all swashed down with cold beer, 7Up, or Prosecco.

Sourdough BYOBSourdough Company ShedSourdough Mersea Island

Those were the days. Dad and I went back only once after my Mum died as a sort of pilgrimage. We didn’t bother with the sourdough but we did have plenny of fish and sad gulps of fizz.

Mum hardly ever used to bake her own bread. She had a foray into the world of bread-machine baking for a bit and absolutely loved trying to recreate the focaccia we used to eat in Italy all the time. But sourdough was best bought or used as bowls for that incredible San Francisco bay chowder we all had to try on our separate American adventures.

What is it about sourdough and fish? All I know is that when I use the sourdough discard (get me with all the words) in Pip’s weekend waffles, she complains that it tastes fishy! Sourdough bread though definitely does not taste like fish. I don’t even know why I’m thinking of fish. I suppose the sharing of those Mersea Island meals was what made it special and they say that sharing bread is a pretty good thing to do. So, for the first time, I’m making some loaves to share with friends. It’s worrying because I never know how the bread will turn out until I’ve sliced it (or better yet, torn into it). I also thought it would be nice to present some of my three month old starter along with the bread so that if it fails, they can have a go themselves.

I bought a 25kg bag of rye flour when lockdown started so my starter is 100% rye. I followed Anja Dunk’s sourdough starter instructions from Strudel, Noodles & Dumplings cookbook and then watched a number of YouTube tutorials about baking sourdough bread. My favourite is 15 Mistakes Most Beginner Sourdough Bakers Make by Mike Greenfield/Lifebymikeg on Instagram.

Here is my version of the combined tips:

Nikki’s Lockdown Rye Sourdough Bread

Makes 2 loaves


150g of activated rye starter (see method for instructions)

1000g of flour (see method for flour types)

700-800mls lukewarm water

10-20g salt (French rules say max 10% salt but I’m not French!)

Optional – handful of sesame seeds of linseed


  1. Activate your starter. To begin the process you need a starter. My starter was made from adding equal amounts of rye flour and water to a bowl each day for about 6 days until it became active – bubbly and frothy. I then kept a jam-jar full of this starter in the fridge, which is easily activated in a few hours. This recipe begins with a jam-jar full of rye starter in your fridge (or presented to you by a friend).

Remove your sleepy starter from the fridge and scoop the contents into a bowl. Add 100g of rye flour and 100mls of lukewarm water. Combine until you have a firm, wet paste. Scoop/smear this new mixture into a clean Mason jar or bowl (it needs to hold approx 500g of flour). If using a jar, put an elastic band around its waist at the height of the mixture before it starts to rise. This will show you clearly how far up the jar your mixture has risen. Leave the mixture in a warm place (around 21 degrees at least) until it looks bubbly and has approximately doubled in quantity. This activation takes about 2 hours in a warm room.

2. Autolyse the flours. Measure out 1000g of your chosen flour. My quantities are as follows based on the best bread I made at the start of lockdown:

  • 600g white flour or spelt flour
  • 300g wholewheat flour
  • 100g rye flour

Mix all the flour with about 700mls of lukewarm water or until you feel there are no dry bits left in the bowl (professionals call this hydration level and use percentages eg 700mls water = 70% hydration. I tend to use somewhere between 700-800mls water). Don’t worry if the mixture looks wetter than normal bread dough – the flour will absorb lots of water throughout this process. Cover the mixture with a plate/clingfilm and leave aside for 45 minutes.

3. Make the bread dough. When your starter looks active (nice and bubbly and doubled in size), measure out 150g and save the rest in an old jam-jar for next time*. Combine 150g of activated starter with 15g of salt to your autolysed flour mixture. Mix well. You can use your hands at this point if the mixture seems too tough. Always use wet hands. Cover and let the dough relax for 30 minutes.

(*You can put your jar of starter in the fridge if you’re not going to use it within a week, otherwise it can just stay out on your tabletop. It’s best to keep it in the fridge if you are not planning to use it again within a couple of weeks and it can stay untouched up to about a month. After a couple of weeks in its inactive state in the fridge, it might separate: just stir the liquid back in. If mould develops, chuck the starter and start(er) again. But do try to keep it alive – remember, it’s easy to keep it healthy by adding any equal quantity of rye flour and water. Keeping it alive during lockdown was easy as every few days I tried a different sourdough recipe. Some recipes only call for a spoonful so you don’t need to do the 100g rye/100 ml water activation, just add a spoonful of each and wait a couple of hours.)

4. The no-knead ‘Stretch and Fold’ method: instead of kneading the dough for 10 minutes like many bread recipes demand, sourdough benefits from the old ‘stretch and fold’ method, widely demonstrated on YouTube, but is essentially using wet hands to scoop out sections of the dough, stretching it up and folding it into the centre of the dough, turning the bowl about 30 degrees and then repeating about 10 times until you’ve turned the bowl 360 degrees, stretching and folding as you go. It takes about 30 seconds to stretch and fold.

People freak out about it because you now have to repeat the stretch and fold method every 30 minutes for two hours, ie, 4 times in total. This may seem outrageously long but if you watch 4 episodes of Friends in the meantime or a 2 hour feature film that you can pause, it’s no big deal.

5. The Bulk Rise: you will have noticed that the texture of your dough is more elastic now that it’s been lovingly stretched and folded. The flour is sucking up the moisture and the gluten is working. It’s now time to put the dough to bed for a few hours – anywhere between 3-6 hours – ideally in a room that’s at least 21 degrees. You can also put the dough in the fridge at this point and leave it overnight (approximately 8-10 hours); the dough will still rise but at a slower pace. *The following picture is what happens if you leave it for too long even in the fridge!*


After the bulk rise, your dough will have risen (I hate reading this next statement…) until it has approximately doubled in size. (What does this even mean?! You will see that it’s risen at least a bit and, for your first time, you just have to trust that it has done something good after all the hours it’s been left to ferment.) The dough will need another period of rising next. But, before this, you will need to shape it into the loaf that it will finally become. The shaping instructions come after the next important stage which is preparing your bannetons or bread shaping bowls:

6. Prepare your bread basket: I bought a ‘banneton’ for my first sourdough bread and it’s really brillant for ensuring your loaf keeps its shape. It’s a cheap looking, wicker, spiral-coiled bowl that you dust with rice flour. It will support your dough ball (or boule) in its second rise. So, get these out (you’ll need two if you’re planning to bake the loaves at the same time) and dust them with rice flour ready to receive the dough.

7. Shaping: flour your surface (and yourself and the floor just to be on the safe side) and tip the large bowl of dough onto the table. Using a dough scraper (I made myself a dough scraper out of a 4pt plastic milk bottle and it’s way better than the one I bought later when the lockdown craziness settled a bit), cut the dough in half so you have two equal sized dough slabs. Collect one up and put it back in the bowl and cover it with the plate/clingfilm again. Leave the other dough slab on the table to rest for 10 minutes.

This next bit’s fun and I won’t blame you for looking up visuals for it. Top tip: try not to use too much flour as it will dry your dough and prevent it sticking to itself. (Top tip 2: pour out a sprinkle of linseed or sesame seeds on another bit of table surface if you want your loaves to have a more interesting crust.)

Flatten your doughy slab that has, by now, spread out a bit on your dusty table. Shape it into a rough square with your fingers, then take its four ‘corners’ and pull them into the centre of the dough, sticking it into itself, creating a sort of dumpling shape. With floured hands, turn the ‘doughmpling’ over and then cup it, using the bottom edges of your hands to turn the ball on its axis 360 degrees, building surface tension as you go. You will get better at this. If the dough is unwieldy and too floppy, just step away from it, dust your hands again and step back into the breach. (At this point, once you have the best sort of dough ball you can muster, grasp it in two hands and dunk the top into the sprinkling of linseed/sesame seeds if that’s the way you want to go).

Once you are happy with the dough ball surface tension, place it into the banneton seam side up (ie, drop the ball upside down into the basket because you will later tip the whole thing out again onto your baking sheet – the top now will eventually be the bottom of your loaf).

I like to cover the banneton with a clean tea-towel (one of which depicts the Shipping Forecast), then put the whole thing in a plastic bag before putting the lot in the fridge overnight. (I think sourdough likes creating gas but not getting dripped on, much like ourselves.)

Repeat the shaping for the second dough ball.

Now the two dough balls needs another rise. I always time this for an overnight sleep so they can go in the oven in the morning. If you did your bulk rise overnight, you need to complete the second rise either in the fridge for another 8 hours (in which case you will be baking in the evening of the same day) or at room temperature for approximately 3-6 hours so you’ll be baking in the afternoon.

This second rise doesn’t have to double in size, just a bit more than when it went into the banneton. The dough should eventually have a spring to it that slowly bounces back when you prod it. I hate to say this here but if the dough gets too springy, it may be over-proved, in which case you’ll want to bake it sooner rather than later. This will come with practice so don’t cry if it happens first time round.)

Again, trust the fact that after about two hours of room temperature rising after shaping, the active bread will be doing stuff so you’ll end up with something edible.

8. Heat your oven: get your oven and baking sheet(s) or Dutch oven(s) as hot as possible. Crank the oven up to 250 degrees an hour before you want to bake. For my first loaf, I used my 20cm blue cast iron casserole. I put it in the oven when the oven was cold, otherwise the enamel could crack.

9. Scoring: Obviously you are getting 12 points for effort (Eurovision scale) but that’s not what I mean: you need to slash your dough with a razor (lamé) or super sharp knife so it rises prettily and effectively in the oven. Here’s what I do:

Take your first banneton out of its plastic bag and remove the tea-towel. You can either tip the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper, or straight onto your hot baking sheet or into your smouldering Dutch oven. I went parchment first because I was scared of the heat, but now I just dump and score. Try to dust off excess flour once you’ve bravely tipped and dumped.

Cut deep slashes into the dough – I go for the simple cross because I like the uniformity, not the patriotism. Try to do this quickly so the dough doesn’t spread too much (too much spread means you will end up with a flatish loaf). You want to get the dough in the oven as quickly as possible and as snugly to benefit from what we call in the biz, ‘oven spring’.

10. Bake: finally the time has come! Put the lid on your Dutch oven and slam it into your English oven or, if you are using a baking sheet, slide it in, but you will need to put a casserole dish in the bottom of the oven and pour in boiling water before you slam the door shut to create a steamy love oven for your buns bread. Leave the dough to bake for at least 20 minutes but try to leave it without peaking for approximately 30 minutes. You may take a peak after 20 if you have a particularly scorchio oven like mine. Turn the oven down to about 210 and either remove the Dutch oven lid (I take the whole loaf out and put it directly on the oven shelf) and bake for a further 5-10 minutes so the outside crisps up evenly. Finally, using asbestos oven glubs, remove the bread (and bread it finally is), hold it upside down and give it some sharp raps with your crooked finger knuckle. I used to loathe this following statement but now I totally get it –  the bread is done when it sounds hollow. This is about 35-40 minutes after you put it into the oven.

If you have read this far, you won’t mind me sharing the following grain of wisdom: you cannot overbake homemade bread even if it’s scorched outside; underbaked bread is disgusting. If you are in any doubt about doneness, put the bread back on the shelf at a lower heat for a bit until the hollow sound is more pronounced and the bread feels more robust. Use your loaf, innit?

Leave the bread to cool entirely on a rack before slicing. This is actually impossible for your first time as you are desperate to check for doneness. And, also, as the crust is so crunchy and delicious, you will want to devour it before it softens, mayhap with a corner of salty butter or a scraping of mackerel pate (there’s the fish again).

Soften it will but that’s no bad thing. It’s best untoasted for sandwiches the day it’s baked but the flavour definitely develops over the next few days so don’t eat it all at once! If there’s any left by day three, it’s delicious toasted and spread with marmalade.

Finally, to complete this bread odyssey, I will leave with one of my favourite memories of childhood Saturday morning bakery shenanigans:

Imagine a pair of children skipping off to the local bakers for the family’s weekend loaf (in those days, suburban parades of shops had one grocer, one baker, one candlestick et cetera) and two under 10s were permitted to cross the street without adult supervision; imagine their joy at being allowed to handle the faintly warm block of perfectly mellow, cottagey bread; imagine the arguments they had deciding where the half way point was at which one would have to relinquish the bread to the other whose turn it was to hold it the rest of the way home; imagine the irresistible joy they experienced slicing off the end and tearing out the mallowey, doughy goodness within, replacing the end and pretending all was well. Imagine the wrath of Tony Griffiths whose second favourite use for white bread was making cheese on toast with brown sauce of a Saturday morning…

RIP Pode.

ND. Xx

Sourdough Boule 1


Other lockdown sourdough bakes:

Bagels, pretzels, caraway bread, baguettes, and pizza for dinner and pud.

Belated Ball Curry for Mothers’ Day

It’s spring time and we’re all in Coronavirus lockdown. March will always be remembered as the month that sent everyone inside. I’ve been coping by consulting my cookbooks, learning to bake better bread, and trying to ration our resources so we can still enjoy our meals and not give way to junk food. I wonder what Mum and Dad would have made of this period of forced isolation, either separated from us up in Suffolk, or holed up altogether back in the halcyon days of Woodstock Avenue when we were kids…

There are news stories of panic buying toilet roll and pasta – Mum and Dad would be relaxing safe in the knowledge that their fortifications against famine, drought, Covid-19, what have you, meant they could rustle up a curry, roast dinner or Fray Bentos pie and mash without a flicker of concern that they might run out. I can imagine Dad’s smug anecdotes about empty shelves in Asda when his cupboards are piled high with bargain bumper packs of cereal, tinned tomatoes, cheese, and crumpets. Mum wouldn’t gloat but she would modestly nod towards her tupperware containers and ancient recycled ice cream tubs full of dried (and ancient) spices, lentils, rice, and Bombay Mix. They were the type of parents who only used the garage to store their chest freezer, a double coffin sized beast which was stuffed with bulk bought chops, chicken thighs, braising steaks, faggots, sausages, marinated mystery meat, and dozens of containers of old cottage cheese or yogurt pots filled with surplus kebab meat, bolognaise sauce, or red wine. There might be some ice cream but that never lasted in our house. If you were lucky, you might find a frostbitten choc ice. Dad’s fridge-freezer after Mum died was stocked predominantly with these sweetmeats and many, many ready-meals (unheard of in Mum’s time). Actually, there was a time in the 80s when we would go to the furthest flung Iceland (frozen food shop, not the country) in Borehamwood and buy lots of seafood, prawn curries, Findus crispy pancakes, and fish fingers that were destined for the mysterious, arctic corners of the storage freezer. Mum and Dad would never have run out of food. They also didn’t care a tuppence for use by dates.

Yes, I think if they did find themselves in lockdown, they would be okay, if a bit bored with each other. It would be better if we were all together at Woodstock; I’m thinking back to a happy time when I was around 15, Kris and I were still at school and Jeff was working at Guinness. Dad spent his days taking Ben for his romp, helping out at a fruit and veg stall in Greenford, and generally being of good cheer. Mum was still childminding but had started to work behind the bar at Taywood Sports and Social Club a few evenings a week. There was a purposeful rhythm to the week punctuated with regular meals and busy schedules but everyone sort of fended for themselves and kept to their own spheres. It was the weekends when the family often found themselves thrown together, either watching football or sunbathing with the patio doors flung open and perhaps a barbecue on the go. Mum might be making salads and skewering meat and there might be a mix tape of golden oldies playing. If this Saturday ended up taking us to Paulo’s, Mum and Dad’s favourite Italian restaurant in Park Royal (for Dad’s standard ‘double snails and duck’), we might all end up drinking beer and smoking our heads off in the living room, sorting through the collection of karaoke cds and taking it in turns to belt out the family favourites – Mum’s ‘These Boots are Made for Walking’ and Dad’s ‘Fernando’. The crescendo of Elvis’ American Trilogy would have us putting our arms around each other ready to belt out the climax, ‘Glory, glory halleluja! His truth is marching on!’ If it was an evening centred around a dinner party, we’d congregate in the kitchen in between songs dipping spoons (and sometimes not) into thick potatoey curry juices meant for leftovers the next day – perfect midnight feasting.

Yes, if we were back in Woodstock, we would be balling out requests for our favourite dinners – Jeff’s jalfrezi, Kris’ vindaloo, Dad’s meat stew and dumplings and my beloved biriani. Mum loved making Indian fried tidbits like fishcakes and pakoras and she absolutely lived for ball curry and rice. The kitchen would be fragrant with mouthwatering Anglo Indian tangs of lemons, home ground masala spices and fried onions. There would be plenty to go round. Despite the lockdown, I’m sure our Uncle Mark, who lived across the road, would be a regular visitor. We wouldn’t need to insist on the two metre distance as we could hear his voice from several miles away. Another neighbour, Laboo, would also find a way of sending round her surplus family curries that were always too spicy but gratefully received.

Of course the best days at Woodstock were much further back in the 80s when we children used to run around with all the other kids in the street. I think my parents would have found it tricky keeping us all safe though. Having said that, I bet they would be in each other’s houses breaking all the rules having their infamous house parties and ‘committee meetings’ with our best neighbours, Aunty Pat and Uncle Roy (which were essentially plans for booze cruises to France: “Agenda item 1: are we all in? Yes! Meeting adjourned. Let’s get pissed!”) These visits to Bologne were legendary – they would return with boot-fulls of stubbies, wine, fags, French bread, cheese, and salami. What larks they had on the way out there – Mum would pack her tandoori chicken and kebab picnic and they would stop at their favourite pub in Faversham for a game of darts and a beer. Those were the days my friend. I’ll write another time about the FavLon darts cup…

Eventually Woodstock Avenue emptied of friends and then Uncle Mark died. Us kids moved out and life in West London got Dad down. The dream of moving to Suffolk was the retirement fantasy – hunkering down in winter and taking the caravan around the country as soon as spring arrived. They took theirs out once but the bungalow became their refuge from the world. Family weekends tried to resurrect the Woodstock boozy vibes kicked off with an Anglo feast but the experience was never quite the same. Maybe it was because of having children or because Mum’s health was deteriorating; Dad certainly eased off the drinking in the latter years.

The thing that always stayed the same was that instant hit of fried onions and tangy curry as you walked through the door. Mum greeting us with her weird half-apron on, hands floury or beladled. Dad pointing out how expertly he’d hoovered the carpet and how spick and span everything was. We’d want to dive straight into the food of course but we’d wait patiently for everyone to arrive. When it was time to eat, we never served from the table but we’d go and help ourselves from all the pots and pans in the kitchen and then find a seat. Mum would have been cooking all day or, better yet, the day before as her curries tasted even better when left to mature. Kris would always eat at a different time of course, perhaps to ensure he got the lion’s share of leftovers? The classic feast for six or more would include a large daitchkey of ball curry or vindaloo (maybe for bigger groups there would also be a chicken curry), coconut cabbage, fried rice, balti potatoes, often a prawn curry as well and lots of tomato, cucumber, chili, onion and raita. Mum didn’t really go in for rotis with curry. She would make parathas as a separate meal or when she made kebabs. Besides, rice and potatoes in one meal is probably enough! Not forgetting plenty of poppadoms – Mum used to make these painstakingly in a pan before someone told her the secret that they take seconds in the microwave.

Even in her hospital bed she’d look forward to lunch or dinner. The nursery favourite cod in parsley sauce was her last meal, not quite the comfort food of her youth but delicious all the same. Dad’s last Tesco receipt had on it bread, apple turnovers and a litre tub of vanilla ice cream. None of these things were in the house when we arrived. This lockdown does make me wonder what food I could not live without, or, morbidly, what I would want as my last meal. Normally I would say an all-you-can-eat party buffet but now I think it would have to be one of Mum’s family feasts. With all the family.

Today, in homage to Mothers day (which was a couple of weeks ago) and memories of our family, I found that I had the ingredients for Kofta Curry (or ball curry as it’s known). We had been trying to be veggie but, with the current crisis and not having any food deliveries apart from Abel and Cole, I’ve added meat and fish to the menu again. As there are only three of us, I thought it was not necessary to make all the other dishes but I did add ‘one small aubergine’ to eke out Mum’s recipe (like a good Southall girl/fan of Goodness Gracious Me). Like Mum’s trouble, the cooking of it has ruined my appetite for lunch so I will be digging into it later tonight – maybe even heated up but possibly straight from the pot. Perhaps I’ll even start the evening with a French beer and a cheeky fag.

Jeff told me recently that he had been reading and enjoying Cookanana so this one’s for him. Even though you are hundreds of miles away in the Polish forest – do what Mum would do, fry some onions, spatchcock a chicken, open a jar of Patak’s and fry some rice. Your neighbours will be beating down your door.

May all your freezers be well stocked and your tummies full of curry.


Kofta Curry Recipe Mums 1Kofta Curry Recipe Mums 2


And just in case of apocalyptic lockdown:

In memoriam - Tony Griffiths 6.2.42 - 31.6.18

Fish Moli for Fathers’ Day


It’s Fathers’ day. Pip gave Mark a lovely card, a hedgehog feeder and a box of Maltesers. Mum and Dad never made a fuss of these occasions but they always seemed pleased if you acknowledged it in some way, however small. Not phoning was the worst you could do on the day. If you left it until late in the evening, you might get a disappointed voice on the other end, just enough to make a point, and then we could move on to other subjects. I hope I could convey my appreciation of them throughout the year but it’s always nice to have another day to celebrate them. Essentially, Mum and Dad wanted us to save our money rather than fritter it away on luxuries such as hedgehog feeders. Pip loves creating things so (apart from buying the box of chocolates, which it transpires she got at a heavily reduced price because I didn’t give her the £2.50 for the school Fathers’ Day sale this week) we’ll let her off.

Even though we should be thinking of our fathers, I’ve been thinking about Mum a lot recently. It’s almost two and a half years since she died and yet I haven’t got anywhere close to fulfilling her recipe legacy. This week I made Karti Kebabs for Pip’s school’s International Evening but I substituted meat for paneer as we’re trying (and often failing) to be more veggie because of the terrible impact the meat industry has on the climate. I was rather pleased with how they turned out and didn’t miss the meat at all; tangy and spicy with the Madras kebab paste as usual but also with an unexpected crunch from oven baking the marinated paneer. Together with crisp red onions and a sluice of lemon before rolling, they were really rather good (even if I do say so myself!).


So this weekend we’ve been eating the Madras paneer leftovers in all sorts of ways (I made way too much for the 40 rotis I had…). First I made a batch into a vegetable curry adding bell peppers and chili to make it spicier. I also made some Tarka Dhal because I bought a huge bag of lentils when I went to Southall for the big shop.


Then I ran out of rice so made a cous cous bowl using porcini mushroom stock to soak the grains and adding sliced red onions, barberries and sultanas to make it a sort of Middle Eastern affair. This was also a success! The paneer has stayed firm at the edges but has lost its crispness so it really does taste like chicken.


Today, the paneer has all gone but I still fancied something spicy and tangy and only had tinned fish to hand so I followed Mum’s Moli recipe, which calls for meat or fish. I’m using tuna and mackerel just to make it go further. I remember Mum making tuna curries and Moli made from a cheeky tin from time to time but the best version is with mutton and, yet, she would only really make it as an afterthought when the meat was left over from a bigger meal the day before. One of the delights of this recipe is that it needs a piece of creamed coconut, which I always keep a box of for emergencies in the fridge, like Mum used to. A little chunk of this goes a long way but, when I was young, I never understood why the box always seemed to be there, defying the use-by-date and looking retro and exotic with its palm leaves and azure sea. It used to sit beside the sturdy box of Atora Suet, a stalwart tin of ghee and myriad jars of mustard and horseradish.


The other powerful ingredients in a Moli are ginger and vinegar: classic Anglo flavours. What these create is a tangy, sharp, moreish stew, pale in colour but strong in its warming, medicinal effect. I tend to make it go further by adding a tin of coconut milk, more vinegar and, today, some bell peppers because I still have loads from the big shop. This has made it soupier – like the classic Moli or Molee but unlike Mum’s, which was thicker and more concentrated. I prefer hers any day of the week even if I have given up meat (sort of).


Mark is having a lazy Sunday and Pip is playing a video game on Papa’s iPad. It is of course a day to remember fathers; in two weeks it will be a whole year since Dad died. Paul and Jennifer are coming over from America to mark the occasion as well as Uncle Colin from Australia. The Griffithses will assemble to commemorate him and also Mum, who we will be interring in Granny and Papa Upshon’s grave in Greenford followed by (probably) a classic British buffet or a roast dinner. If Nana Griffiths was in charge, the spread would be eked out with a Fray Bentos pie, clouds of buttery mash and mushy peas. We’ll have to have something like this for Griffstock.

But for now, we remember Mum and her understated but delicious Fish Moli. I added cubed potatoes before I started writing this and they are now perfectly cooked so it’s time to eat. It’s not a complicated recipe – Mum’s simple instructions make that clear. Just don’t forget to add the vinegar.


(Some pictures of International Evening at Pip’s school, June 2019)



(The Paneer Kathi Roll process)


(And when you think only the best Samosas and Pakoras will do…)


ND. Xx

Family Food


Last weekend Kris turned 40. When he turned 30, we needed a minivan to get us from Southall to Central London and Mum and I got rather ‘merry’ on the way there drinking sips of vodka that was being passed round Jeff and Kris’ west-side mates. This time it was just me, Jeff and Kris and some close friends.

Whenever there’s a birthday or wedding, Mum would make kebabs. It’s been a while since I last made them but thought 40 would be a nice present for Kris. I’d forgotten how long they take! I was going to surprise the birthday boy with them but thought they might spoil, or get eaten, before he got to enjoy them so they are currently in the freezer until the remaining Southall Griffithses assemble later this month.

Remaining Griffithses. It’s been over two months since Dad died. He was never a party person unless it was at home or at a familiar local venue or with friends or family he’s known forever. Even though it was rare to see him at our birthday drinks, his absence was definitely felt. Kris gave a toast to him and there were some pictures on the wall of him in happier times.

I’ve not really fancied big meals or spice in recent months but weirdly I’ve taken to some old school comfort classics like cheese on toast or bowls of cereal for dinner. My favourite Dad meal was cheese on crumpets, cooked to perfection with slightly burnished edges and crunchiness. In the last year I introduced Dad to the delights of a scraping of marmite before adding the cheese and he, skeptical at first, thoroughly enjoyed it. He used to make cheese on toast for us when we were kids with a layer of Branston pickle or brown sauce. I can’t remember why he stopped making it.

Another Dad classic is perfectly soft boiled eggs. His trick was to bring the eggs to a boil and immediately take them off the heat and leave them for 3 minutes. Mum and I liked to smoosh the eggs up with ripped up toast in a bowl and gobble it up like infants. Dad would then quickly discard all the shells and start to wipe up all our mess, often before we were finished. He’d moan benevolently about the mess on the floor but we all knew he loved sweeping with his special brush and long-handled dustpan.

Probably my favourite memory of him serving me food is when Pip was two or three days old and I was glued to the sofa looking like a crash victim, Dad would appear with a tea towel over his arm, a small table in one hand and a quarter plate with chocolate biscuits cut up into bite sizes in the other. He didn’t say anything before coming back with a cup of strong tea and a coaster and then he would settle on his own sofa and we would watch hours of Judge Judy. He liked half a cup of black coffee with half a teaspoon of sugar about 10 times a day.

When Pip was older, from about 2 years old, she’d wake up early (about 7am!) and wander into the living room where Papa would be waiting with arms outstretched and breakfast served on the little coffee table in front of Cbeebies. Her little pink armchair was positioned at an angle so she could comfortably get behind the table. Breakfast was a fixed menu of a bowl of cereal, rice krispies, cornflakes or hoops, a glass filled with blueberries, raspberries and strawberries, a glass of milk or juice and three jellybeans. Sometimes smarties. I would wander in between 9 and 11am to find Mr Tumble blaring, Dad on his fifth cup of coffee, Mum on her computer and Pip redecorating the living room. When Lara came along, the two of them would launch themselves off the tops of the sofas onto a prepared springboard of cushions, bedding and teddies and Dad would sit tranquilly amid the chaos.

Over the past 8 years, visits to Stowmarket would always include a day trip to either the seaside or a quaint Suffolk village where we would have an extravagant lunch. Mersea Island for oysters, Felixstowe Regal for fish and chips or the Ferryboat Inn for trout, sea bass, seafood and pies. Bury St Edmunds for teashop jacket potatoes and cake, a range of gastropubs for steaks, fine wines and fancy puddings or the local Shepherd and Dog for German schnitzel and lately the Magpie for English pub grub and pints. On market days we’d get fresh bread, olives and pastries, cheeses and fudge. Mum loved savoury nibbles, Dad loved chocolate and sweets. When clearing out the house, I found jellybeans stuck to the inside of drawers and tupperware shoved to the back of cupboards still filled with hot gram and old crackers.

When Mum died, Dad courageously invested in a rice cooker and a halogen oven in order to keep the hot dinners rolling. He only used them once each. He did buy and use a big frying pan for the stir fries he got into and the freezer was stocked with dubious looking ready meals, choc ices and unopened bags of veg. Every day he’d tell me on the phone what he was having for dinner. Brussels sprouts and carrots always got a mention but judging from the size of his belly, I doubt many greens made it onto the menu. The carefully stacked Fray Bentos pies told a different story; blocks of cheese dwindled every day and slabs of chocolate wrapped with an elastic band was a feature of his snack drawer. When he died, I found receipts in his car of the daily trips to Tesco for milk, and impulse fruit pies or other sweetmeat in packages of two and, on his last trip, a tub of ice cream. He also loved a McDonald’s breakfast muffin and black coffee, receipts for which there were many. The last few months were definitely characterised by fast and delicious food and, judging from the ancient burnishings in the oven, not much was home cooked by himself. When I visited, I made old school Mum style lasagnes, shepherds pies and chops with mash and apple sauce. Dad loved his spuds with a sprinkle of salt in a sea of beef gravy which was mopped up with a slice of white bread.

When in Holland recently I was reminded of our holiday frites when we used to drive down to Italy. Dad used to stop once on the way down and once on the way back if we were lucky at a French frites wagon on the side of the road. We’d dunk the crisp salty chips in ketchup (never mayonnaise!) and sometimes we’d be allowed a fizzy drink – once Kris was relegated to the ‘punishment area’ at the back of our estate car for biting the glass and bloodying his lip. Ah the memories…

In Italy, market day in the town square in Garessio meant hot rotisserie chicken, salty olive oil fried French fries and cans or bottles of Chinotto. Dad would be in charge of holding the bag of food and you never saw chips disappear so quickly. Once a week we’d have a pizza. Dad always had ‘Quattro Stagioni’ with artichokes, mushrooms, prosciutto and olives, Mum had prosciutto e funghi and I would have something plain and not too cheesy. There was a sweet shop in town that made a range of local specialties including Garessini – a hazelnut chocolatey truffle piped squidge that tasted boozy and decadent. There were nutty biscuits with chocolate jam and viennese butter swirls with fruity gems. You’d ask for a pick and mix selection but the Garessinis always went first.

Going out for dinner in Italy was the best of times and sometimes the worst for us kids. Dad would be uptight that we would do something wrong but only we could see this – to anyone else he looked serene and jovial smoking his Benson and Hedges and drinking red wine or a cold bottle of beer. We’d eat lashings of tomatoey or pesto gnocchi, slivers of roasted meats in herby gravy, tiny roasted potatoes and green beans or calzones, spaghetti with langoustines and clams, stuffed peppers and aubergines or juicy Florentine steaks. On feast days there would be apple dumplings served hot from bubbling oil drums on the bridge and plastic compartmentalised plates loaded with unctious polenta mash and rabbit stew. Or you could have a platter of meats: local pork sausages with fennel and garlic, lamb arrosticini and different cuts of salami and cured meats.

Our longstanding friends in the campsite famously introduced themselves to Mum and Dad in the early 80s with a hollowed out watermelon filled with Sangria (or whatever it’s called in Italy) and they became firm friends. A group would assemble in the evenings around the barbecue where Dad would be cooking Mum’s tandoori chicken, skewered lamb kebabs and marinated beef steaks and she herself would draw a crowd when the curry smells would fill the campsite on rainy days. She was the only Mum I knew who would pack sunflower oil, Pataks curry pastes and tins of spices to go camping. The Italian nonnas on the other hand would make fresh pasta in their caravans and the table tops so recently strewn with lego would be replaced with pearls of gnocchi drying out before a quick boil in a salty pan. Dad brought along plastic disposable cups from his factory that made morning cups of tea and the ubiquitous Piemontese table wine taste even more delicious. He introduced us to breakfast beer (at that time not consumed in the morning) thanks to the French hypermarkets en route where we stocked up on those glorious cheap French stubbies, perfect for al fresco living.

In later years when Mum needed to dialyse three times a week on holiday, Dad, Pip and I would go sightseeing and find roadside eateries in the mountains and along the coast serving fixed daily menus of veal steaks, risottos, pasta with homemade ragus, seafood platters, antipasti with olives stuffed with meat, freshly baked focaccia and pickled vegetables and that sparkling red table wine you can only get in Piemonte. In their dotage, Mum and Dad liked staying in half-board villas where the evening meal would comprise various small courses of local cheeses, delicate soups, regional pasta such as trofie with genovese pesto, stews and meat, always too much for small appetites but never the same thing twice. Divine. Desserts would always be overkill but a strong espresso and mayhap some local grappa would finish things perfectly.

Mum and Dad gave us so many unforgettable culinary memories and yet the ones that stand out are the meals and experiences that were oft repeated – Mum’s biriani, Dad’s regular ‘snails and duck’ at Biggles and Paulo’s, cheese on crumpets, the Saturday morning fresh bread when bakeries still existed at our local shops, the Fray Bentos pies that Nana Griffiths would use to eke out a Sunday roast if we all descended unannounced and the glass of cointreu or amaretto at the end of a meal.

All of these memories flood back now that the summer is over and a new working year has begun. It’s the time when we normally start thinking about Christmas and booking holidays for next year. It’s sad to think that this year we are missing such lovers of food and family. I hope as we go on we will do them justice.




Karti Kebabs

It’s been six months since Mum died. This post is less about Karti Kebabs than it is about the weeks leading up to her death…

We all thought her time was up this time last year, in July 2016. There were late night hospital dashes, phone calls to family and friends and difficult questions for consultants. Adrian got the vibe from hospital staff that her heart was not strong enough to survive the mystery infection she was suffering from. The consultants confirmed her heart was very weak and advised against resuscitating as ‘bouncing up and down’ on her chest wouldn’t be much fun for her. He couldn’t give us any definitive answers. We gathered. We had the conversation. She knew it was bad.

Then all of a sudden she got her appetite back. After about 8 weeks of hospital food (which she rather liked by the way) she had a hankering for chow mein, dosas and rice. The hospital said it was fine to bring in food so for a couple of weeks Dad brought in takeaways. She thrived!

She couldn’t come with us to Poland to visit her new granddaughter Baby Lara but she was out of the danger zone so we felt like we could go. Mum made the trip a month before when Lara was born, even though she was at her frailest. It was the beginning of her decline.

Christmas 2016 came and went too quickly. Mum was glad to have the family together but she was visibly altered. She’d shrunk quite considerably and her head seemed too heavy for her frame. She sat looking quite comfortable however, sitting propped up on her chair while we made a fuss over Lara and Pip. Christmas was for them really. Paul had come especially to spend time with Mum and it was the first time in a long time that we were all together. It won’t go down in history as the best Griffiths Christmas ever but it served its purpose.

By the first weekend of January she could barely sit without excruciating pain. Her chest plate had been pushed forward by her crumbling spine. After years of dialysis, her bones were losing their strength. She went into hospital to be made more comfortable, which meant enough morphine to impress an athlete. Dad used the time creatively and had new doors put in.

It was my birthday on Friday 13th of January and normally they phone to ‘wish’ me but no call came. Bloody cheek… We visited that weekend and the sight of her was a proper shock. She was still her normal self, felt okay thanks to the Fentanyl (before it was famous), and was even having a few cheeky vapes. Apparently it was comforting. But she could barely lift her head. Her chest was distended and served as a useful shelf for her drooping head when she got tired. On the Sunday she dropped the bombshell that she didn’t want to carry on dialysing as sitting tied to a machine all day was too painful. She didn’t want to be in pain any more. As though we were discussing whether to go on holiday or not, I left her that evening agreeing that she wouldn’t make any decisions until the following weekend when we could all be together.

At school the next day, Dad phoned to say that she hadn’t gone to dialysis. That meant only one thing. The beginning of the end.

I got to the hospital that night and she looked pretty comfortable, as before. The only difference was the previously optimistic consultant now referring to her treatment as ‘palliative’ care. The only treatment that recognises the end of life as the objective.

I was surprised she was not in her own room, but with hindsight, this made it more normal. There was talk of hospices but there was also talk of bed shortages. I don’t think any of us cared. She welcomed visitors, chatted nonchalantly and even said things like, ‘this is fun! Maybe I’ll change my mind.’ How we laughed.



The week passed quietly. Friends and family paid their respects. It sounds conceited but I enjoyed a pleasant feeling of role reversal – here was my mother in a hospital bed, cuched up like a swaddled baby and here was I, sitting nearby, watching her breathing while she slept. It’s the same anxiety you have with a newborn and it’s the same feeling of relief when you see the chest rise and fall eventually. She would rouse herself like a baby too. Eyes open blearily, furtive glances at the strangers sitting round – a quick identity check then back to sleep contentedly. During more wakeful hours she would shift uneasily until finding a new comfortable position. She would say she felt okay. She wondered when it would start to feel strange. You could work out when a new dose of Oxycodone was needed rather like baby’s next feed. As babies thrive with each new day, Mum became sleepier. Her train of thought was disorganised and she’d make funny slips in conversation, which she could hear and would amuse us, herself included. Her sense of humour never failed her.

On Saturday 21st January, I remember how beautiful the sunrise was. There is a playing field beyond the carpark outside her window and I would walk around it while she had her morning wash and change. It was a quiet day. We were expecting Aunty Smita and cousins Shirley and Anthony in the afternoon. She enjoyed sitting in her comfy chair during the morning and would receive her visitors looking her best. There was something lazy and summery about the ward. Even the bustle of the lunch hour was subdued. She always ate her lunch, even if though she had no appetite and could barely lift her head. This time it was cod in parsley butter and mashed potatoes followed by rice pudding. We shared it companionably – even the smallest portion was a bit too much. Lucky me!

After lunch, the ward dozed and the nurses drifted. At 2.40pm Mum decided she needed the loo and was trying to wriggle herself off the bed. We laughed about how pathetic she was (that’s the kind of bants that happens in hospitals). When I asked how she was feeling she said, ‘it’s so hard to explain…’. The nurse and a ‘healthcare assistant’ (who does everything the nurse does but wears different clothes) helped ease her off the bed. Even though I normally leave them to it, I stayed, partly in order to hold her head up and partly to help her back into bed (we had a system based on pivoting and sliding). All was well until the moment her head was back on the pillow. I saw a look pass her face. It was a look you see in the movies and it was the moment in the film when the assembled folks give each other another meaningful look. The healthcare assistant stood beside me with an arm around my waist as I put my head next to Mum’s. Her breathing shallowed and stopped. The pulse in her neck was strong. We watched it ebb. We marvelled at how strong it was. It became fainter and fainter and finally faded away.

I’m not sure how long we stood like that but eventually the staff left me alone and I made the calls. I put things in a bag. Aunty Smita, Shirley and Anthony arrived and paid their respects. Before long, it was time for me to go. The sunset as I walked across the playing field was remarkable. The hymn “I Watch the Sunset” came to mind and I was overcome with a confusing sense of birth and mortality.


I remember thinking how peaceful the end was and so unexpectedly clean and quiet. The opposite of labour yet somehow the same. I had the strangest feeling that she was present at my birth and I was present at hers. I remembered her saying that when her dad, Papa, died, she was holding his head and heard the breath leaving his body in one long exhalation like a whisper.

For a long time I have woken in the night and looked around to check if Mum’s still breathing. It’s not a pleasant feeling but at the same time it’s a reminder that she is at peace and that is comforting.

For the funeral reception I wanted to make Mum’s famous kebabs but was confounded by the fact that no recipe existed. Luckily I had time to grill her for recipes (apologies for unfortunate image there) and this is what she said: ‘You’ve watched me. Just judge it nicely.’

Mum funeral order of service

Karti Kebabs

Makes 20 (I actually could only get between 16-18 kebabs from one block of pastry at first but got more with practice)

For the meat (combine ingredients thoroughly and marinate overnight):

500g diced pork (I prefer pork strips that you can dice into really small pieces – the size of dice in fact)

2 tablespoonsish Pataks Madras Kebab Paste

1 tablespoonish natural yoghurt (too much and your cooked meat will be too watery)

For the rotis:

1 block of bought puff pastry

Flour for dredging/rolling pastry super thin

For the filling (chop finely):

1 large brown onion

2-4 green chillies depending on how hot you like it

lemon juice


This process will benefit from a cook with military/factory line experience. Use a rolling pin you are comfortable with. Mum preferred a narrow stick, I love a fat drum with handles:

  1. Cook the marinated meat at 200 degrees C for about 30/45 minutes until burnished but not too dry. Stir the meat a few times during the cooking process. Allow to cool but not completely before you use a spoonful at a time to fill your rotis.
  2. Roll your rotis thin enough that they won’t split yet robust enough to not crisp up in the pan. You also need to be prepared to roll and watch the frying pan at the same time, which is quite stressful! Have a few rolled before you start, but not so many that they dry out. Carefully place one roti at a time into a dry frying pan over a medium heat and then get rolling the next ones as each cooks. There’s enough fat in the pastry. You have to judge the heat as you would making pancakes: too hot and they brown/crisp too quickly, too cool and they crisp due to the length of time exposed to the heat. Remember that the area of the roti will reduce with the heat so try to be fleet handed. Use the rolling pin to transfer the roti from the table to the pan. Don’t let the cooked rotis cool so much that they become unwieldy nor be too hot so the meat/juice seeps into the roti. You can stack the cooked rotis while you crack on with filling them one at a time.
  3. Have your chopped mixture of onions and chilli in a bowl ready and your bottle of lemon juice (I’ve never tried using real lemons!) next to that. Place a cooled (but not too cool!) roti on a plate; spoon your cooled (but not too cool!) meat in a line across the top; spoon some onions/chilli on top of the meat and douse the line with lemon juice (the more the merrier). Roll into a tight double open-ended wrap and place on a clean plate (or onto a large sheet of tin foil if you are freezing them). Repeat until all rotis are filled. At this point they should be cool enough to freeze (and freeze they will beautifully – all you need to do to defrost them is put them into the fridge for a few hours) or consume immediately, whatever. I prefer putting them straight in the fridge and letting the flavours combine. The chilli loses some heat and the tanginess gets through to the meat. We always eat ours cold!

karti kebabs