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 (more-more-more.co.uk) 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