Also appearing at…

I thought I should tell you guys following me here, that I’m also over on Blogger. That’s a lot more food based. (This place is for the times when what’s in my head just has to get out onto the page.)

This was a restaurant I reviewed in Marylebone, which was so good, I’m linking here too.




It’s a funny old thing, International Women’s Day. For a start I can never remember where the apostrophe goes…

I see posts about ‘strong, beautiful’ women, and part of me thinks why does beauty even have to come into it? The idea of ‘beauty’ has damaged so many women through the decades, that I’ve almost come to dislike the word, but I do realise that beauty is far more than the fleeting physical appearance ‘Society’ wants us to keep preserved and flawless.

Mind you, though, if we do manage to do that, by sheer genetic luck, we get cat called for being plastic, or whispered about, questioned as to whether we’ve had work done. Or labelled as freaks, when work has been done, and it’s gone too far. I will admit that it makes me sad to see a face that would have aged so gorgeously into graceful later years, with all the lines and folds of a life lived, but then I think each women to her own ideals.

The Western idea of beauty is certainly not the only one, is never the be all and end all and nor should it be. It’s subjective, fluid, and endlessly manipulated by the media of the day. Nasty business, that, because we’ll never fit, never be able to catch up, as it changes so often.

Be skinny! “Ooh, I wonder if she’s got an eating disorder.”

Be bigger! “Ooh, she’s bigger than she should be, she needs to diet.”

Look Strong and Healthy! “Oh now I bet she is addicted to exercise, probably not very bright. “

Look like an average, every day woman! Natural make up! “Well she’s let herself go.”

See? Can’t win.

I’ve never conformed to anything, really. I was never the swotty school kid, or the truant, I was just at school. I was never the drawn and depressed art student, even though I was an art student. Nor was I the wafty, willowy Goth, even though I was/am a Goth. I’m definitely not the ‘average’ middle aged housewife, even though I am approaching middle age, and am a wife, with a house.

I suppose what I’m getting at in a roundabout and meandering way, is that quite a few of the IWD posts feature amazing women who have ‘made it’ in some way. Top of their chosen profession, outstanding in whatever field they are in, even famous across the world.

But for me, there are BILLIONS of women who will hardly ever get the wider recognition of a job oustandingly done, because it’s never seen.

A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pyjamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.

The door of his wife’s car was open, as was the front door to the house and there was no sign of the dog.

Proceeding into the entry, he found an even bigger mess. A lamp had been knocked over, and the throw rug was wadded against one wall.

In the front room the TV was loudly blaring a cartoon channel, and the family room was strewn with toys and various items of clothing.

In the kitchen, dishes filled the sink, breakfast food was spilled on the counter, the fridge door was open wide, dog food was spilled on the floor, a broken glass lay under the table, and a small pile of sand was spread by the back door.

He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened.

He was met with a small trickle of water as it made its way out the bathroom door.

As he peered inside he found wet towels, scummy soap, and more toys strewn over the floor. Miles of toilet paper lay in a heap and toothpaste had been smeared over the mirror and walls.

As he rushed to the bedroom, he found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pyjamas, reading a novel.

She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went. He looked at her bewildered and asked:

“What happened here today?’”

She again smiled and answered, “You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?”

“Yes,” was his incredulous reply.

She answered, ‘”Well, today I didn’t do it.” ~ Author unknown

To all of us ‘every day’ women, tootling about, getting on with getting on, maybe with no particular goal apart from trying to live a good life, be a good person, hold a family together, hold a job down; we are just as strong and amazing and fabulous as anyone else. We don’t have to be ‘top of our game’, we just need to be true to ourselves, LOVE our own self or try to love our own selves and maybe get some others to love themselves along the way.

Forgive our own selves, because perfection is a construct, that blows away on the winds and gets buried in the sands of time.

The only person that notices our ‘imperfections’, and who matters, is us, and once we say “Fuck it.” the pressure drops away.

I have daft hair, sticky out teeth with a gap, a double chin and variable days of energy and ability. I’m tall but fat, and kind of fluffy about the face. I have rounded, soft edged arms that would hold a thousand people in them if they could, in the hope it might heal someone.

I love hard, and lose love fast and harder albeit after an eon of patience.

I give as much as I can, whenever I can, and I carry guilt that I cannot give to or save everyone, but I also carry around a sharp and practical brain that knows I can’t save everyone, and forgives me for it.

I try. And will continue to do so. It’s all that each of us can do.

Α—Lisa. She tried her best, always, And when she succeeded, it was GLORIOUS.—Ω


If Food be the Language of Love…

Funny thing, food. There’s so much wrapped up with it, built around it, things that head towards it and run away from it. I’m a lucky kind of person who loves food, loves eating, and loves cooking, so much so that the cooking is a bit of an escape, to be honest. I will never be that person who doesn’t want to eat in front of a date. In fact most of my first dates have involved food. I remember the first date with J, a good few years ago now, and we headed straight to Cote Brasserie, filled ourselves full of cheese, bread and charcuterie with utter glee, and he said to me how sexy and how unusual it was, to see a woman really enjoying her food without worrying about it. I don’t think, until then, that I was properly fully aware of just how hard some women find it to enjoy eating in front of a potential partner, especially when they really want to impress. I was a bit taken aback, a little flattered and mainly just pleased to share a dinner with a fellow food liker.

Eating alone is, or was, a different matter for me. As a woman, especially a fat woman, eating solo makes you a target for any old idiot to pontificate on what you should or should not be eating. I’m more or less immune to it now, and much more ready with a quick sarcasm shot across the bows, but for a long while it was something that I did not do. Who wants to willingly make a target of themselves?

I’ve been listening to Dolly Alderton’s Love Stories, with Ruby Tandoh, an excellent discussion piece that covers a huge range of subjects, a lot of which spoke quite deeply to me, but does it in such a way that it’s not heavy, or overwhelming and definitely not preachy. I’m not a fan of preachiness at all.  The more I hear Ruby speak, the more I like her.

She spoke of food and over/undereating, love of it, hatred of it, fear of it, how it can be tied in with anything and everything that make us, us. She spoke about thin privilege – yes, it absolutely exists – and owns the fact that as a naturally slim person it is quite a different experience for her eating in public than it is for a perceived larger person.

I will admit that if I have to grab a quick something to eat on the train on the way home late at night, my brain first thinks of what people will think or say if I eat something ‘fattening’. Then I get the hell over it, and just buy something I like that is tasty, non messy and non stinky. Because I am a considerate commuter. Unless you are manspreading, then I am not.

Many years ago some friends and I thought we’d set up a web site called Fat Girls Eating. That’s all it would be, all us fat girls, eating good things. Not in a sexy way, not in a look at me [licks finger] way, but just in a “I like big buns and I cannot lie” way. Maybe we should have done it. Get the world used to fat women, eating, with no shame.

Shame is not something that should ever be attached to food. We all need it (breatharians I SEE YOU) and most of us like it. Many of us don’t have enough of it, and me feeling ashamed about eating a cake, or a choccy bar, won’t help anyone. There is no good or bad or sinful or naughty or indulgent or oh go on spoil yourself food. Yes, there are treats, which are the more expensive steak, or that pricey bottle of wine for a special occasion but none of them are inherently good, or bad.

The application of morals to food is just so weird. And who gets to decide what level of godliness or devilment is applied to a food anyway? Where did that nonsense come from? Philosophers, apparently.

I tell you now, no man, robed or not, or woman for that matter, is going to tell me how and what to eat. I’m a big, grown up woman, and I can decide for myself.

Now. Time for tea, and a bikkit.

Tea and biscuit


Nigel Slater’s Middle East

I found this to be a beautiful programme. Of course it was, it’s Nigel. There was no doubt at all in my mind that it was going to be tasteful, and caring, and so it was. Gordon Ramsay Shouts At People in Different Countries this was never going to be, thank goodness.

Nigel retains a childlike joy at food and traditions, whilst keeping a cheekiness and a little self-deprecation that encapsulates everything I love about him.

The whole programme kept me riveted, brought me almost to tears on many an occasion when the pain behind much of the happiness was revealed. That region has never had it easy, the people have suffered far too much because of faceless bureaucrats, or all too obvious dictators. Still they keep their dignity, and their history.

The ice cream shop with the shell holes in the machinery, the farmer who plants za’atar when it became too dangerous to go out and gather the wild stuff any more, the lady who stored and preserved just in case but don’t get me wrong, this was no expose of ‘pity these poor people for how they have struggled’. Oh no, not at all. If anything it celebrated their strength, showcased just how determined they were, how deep the food and family traditions run. Nigel was no Lord Bountiful, he was learning, and discovering, and showing huge appreciation whilst doing so.

When spices such as mahlep, or masticha were mentioned, it was a jolt for me, as I grew up with those flavours but really, it should have been no surprise because look how close Cyprus is to Beirut;

Cyprus - Beirut

But during that show I got angry. When I watched those kind, happy people bring him into their homes, share thousands of years of history and food knowledge, so much richness of heritage, such generosity of spirit it was just beautiful, but all the while I knew that not that far away cities were torn asunder, peoples displaced.

People JUST LIKE US, with families, and jobs, and homes, made into refugees and then rejected by who? Stupid, ignorant people who think a white skin is the be all and end all and that refugees are just making it all up?

Our bigots should watch and learn. Learn just how much we could benefit from the knowledge that is readily shared.

It’s such a shame that they never will.

I, for one, welcome such people. I always will.


Chalton Street market, Euston



I don’t often read Twitter, at the moment, it’s all too Trumpy for me, but Ruby Tandoh posted something and people tagged me so I saw it. It made me think quite a lot.

I like things that make me think, that force me to reconsider my viewpoint and experience, to face things that hadn’t previously occurred to me. (That’s called growth, and gaining empathy. Sadly lacking a lot these days in this crazy world, as some people just cannot deal with being made to feel uncomfortable.)

Ruby Tandoh @rubytandoh: we need more queer, fat, trans, working class, disabled and non-white voices in food writing like NOW ✨ the whole industry is so wealthy/white – built on such a narrow vision of what ‘good food’ means. if you’re an alt voice in food writing pls reach out! i wanna know you

Now then. I’m fortunate to know a few of the writers in the food world at the moment. Let’s face it, when you are as food and cooking obessed as me, you follow writers, and cooks.  Facebook, Twitter and Instagram make people far more accessible than ever before – though that’s not always a good thing for the writers as people are not always nice – but it has led to some friendships, and not least to highlighting the kindness of many of those authors to their fans. (It’s also given me the chance to see the wonder that is Felicity Cloake’s Cairn terrier, Wilf. That dog may need his own agent…One of my favourite photos of him. )

Having read Ruby’s Tweet, I had to sit and properly think about it for a while. It’s easy to have a knee jerk “That can’t be right” reaction, especially when you don’t want to upset the nice human beings out there, writing their bottoms off for a living.

But once you chill out, and then tot up who’s out there, once you work it out, it can suddenly feel like it’s a Best of GBBO world out there. Like Midsomer Murders, if you will, but with cakes and no bodies. I hope.

I think that’s perhaps part of the reason that Nadiya Hussain was such a brilliant flash and bang of fresh air, apart from her being utterly gorgeous and funny, and very clever indeed. She is British too, part of the teeming lives and myriad colours that make up this island, no matter what the more unspeakable sections of the great unwashed might voice.

Someone whose skin colour and bright eyes I grew up with, surrounded as I was by brown ladies in shalwar kameez or peacocked saris and glittering bangles. Going to college in Newham did not lead me to farmers’ markets and tea shops with bunting, even though I love that style of nostalgia for things we never really had, but more to bhel puri stands, piles of stickysweet orange jalebis and shops stacked full of gleaming stainless steel cookware that I still covet to this day.

My local high street was a mash up of Asian and Greek grocers. Flaounes and sesame bread sold cheek by jowl with bhindi and brinjal pickles. The waft of hot oil and fried potatoes coming from Kings Fish Bar; halal chickens and lamb pieces hanging up in the windows of the butcher next door.

This is absolutely not to cast aspersions on the established writers, many of whom I love, but instead just to fervently hope that there will be more diversity soon, a more accurate reflection of who else is out there cooking and sharing and feeding.

I remember when Jamie Oliver made a 5 ingredient flatbread on TV last year, there was such adulation that I felt almost nauseated by it. Women in Indian kitchens all over the UK have been making them every night, week in and week out, with no such pomp and circumstance, for years. It’s just part of every day life. But a white TV chef does it, and suddenly it’s a miracle. Indian food without the roti, Greek without the pita? I think not.

Growing up in varied kitchens there were no great expanses of work surface and  scrubbed wooden tables, no perfect flower arrangements or napkin rings, certainly no wood fired oven in the garden, or bronzed KitchenAid taking pride of place.  Martha Stewart would have a proper hissy fit at my house for as much as I long for the Italian table that seats 12 easily, I doubt it will ever be a reality for me. I live in a 3 bed semi with an average sized kitchen, and a ‘dining room’ full of washing airers, guitar cases and cat toys. However, my desk is right outside the kitchen. I’m a bit Harry Potter in my computer positioning, but that means that I can cook for half an hour or so, then have a quick sit down when the fatigue or back pain kicks in, rtest, and then start again.

The kitchens of my youth – and there were a LOT of them – were hardworked, average to small sized rooms, full of good but basic ingredients and they churned out meal after meal, every night. A lot of the time money was tight, so when I see ‘money saving tips’ on some shows, you have to remember that it’s all relative. They were gracious enough to feed me if I turned up along with their kids, with no fuss at all. One of the best meals I ate was a simple slow cooked, spiced onion dish, and freshly made roti. Similar to this, but it was made just with a pile of onions, no potatoes.

Sure, pork belly or lamb shank, or stewing beef is cheap – ish – but in a household where it might be a toss up between food or heating, then a Jamie Oliver pork belly recipe that takes 5 hours to cook is no longer practical, or even feasible.

Dried beans and pulses can soak overnight, that requires no heat, and then they don’t take that long to cook. On lean weeks, my fasolia soup used the bendy scrag end of some celery, half an old onion that had curled at the edges after being wrapped in clingfilm, and a carrot that had gone a bit fluffy, so it got peeled. Water, a value tin of white beans and a small old potato with the eyes cut out completed it.

Tasty, filling, and does for 3 or 4 meals. Jack Monroe had the right of it. Cooking a big joint of meat and using it up through the week, yes, that IS a good idea. Making many meals out of one thing is a great way to economise and not waste anything – but only if you have those funds available to lay out in the first place. That £20 has, sometimes, to be used on other, more important things. Food becomes fuel, and we need to remember that not every person is as food oriented as we are. In fact, I suspect that the majority aren’t, and often wonder if we are the odd ones.

I don’t have the means to give up work and concentrate on being In Food. (Postcode Lottery, get a move on will you?) I’ve worked since I was 18, non stop, and I mostly like what I do.  I would like to be involved more in the food world in some way, but at the moment for me it’s just not practical. I certainly cannot physically stand for hours in a restaurant kitchen, as various slipped discs and an autoimmune condition doesn’t let me, so I content myself with cooking as much as I can, when I can. A cosy hindbrain dream of a picturesque café somewhere pokes its way in on occasion, but I know all too well the sheer graft that has to go into it, and the heartbreak it can bring. Reality bites.

I would like to see someone like me on TV food channels. No perfect skin, no gleaming hair, but the usual lumps and bumps and a face for radio. Ingredients from the Co-op, or Asda, not shown in twee waxed paper, or paper bags with the tops turned over. (What IS it with that anyway?)

If you’ve ever seen a BBC Alba show called Fuine, then THAT is what I love. A down to earth show about cooks up in the Hebrides, all cooking in their own kitchens, with no fancy camerawork, or hipster brown bags of ready weighed out goods. The equipment is well used, in many cases old and handed down, and the recipes are excellent. Mixers and bowls that are from real family kitchens, yoghurt from the pot, sugar from the bag, no naff little bowls full of ready prepped things. Women in cardigans, battered old cake tins, all lovingly washed and cleaned and cared for, but above all else, USED.

My kitchen is stuffed with all the things I love. I’ve had a kitchen of my own since 1992, and only JUST treated myself to a stand mixer, and that’s only because I won John Lewis vouchers in a competition. My Precioussss is beautiful, but I can get by without it. It does make kneading dough a far less exhausting task, and my hands don’t hate me too much.

My little space is full of baking trays, roasting pans, saucepans; tins, packets, jars and Frozen Things which mean nobody would ever arrive here and not get fed something. I think I do tend to take after my Nan’s siege mentality in that respect. She lived through WW2, walking through the rubble of East London to Silvertown to work and back every day, so she knew what it was like to have nothing.

I admit that I grew up breathing the privileged, clean air of Seven Kings Bungalow Estate, with my mum’s galley kitchen, where we had to do-si-do around each other, but also with a large garden where first my dad would barbecue and then in later years where my step dad would. I was often in my Nan’s square, 1950s sunsine yellow kitchen, with its smoked glass table and under the counter twin tub, the large wooden tongs clattering into the tub at the end of wash day, watching her make cakes, and craft pies. Not as a hobby, but as a necessity for the family.

Roast on a Sunday, cold meat, mashed potatoes and chutney on a Monday. I can’t remember what happened Tuesday to Thursday, but it’d probably be fish on Friday, and a casserole of some sort of a Saturday. In the summer when Grandad’s runner beans went wild, there’d be chutney making.

My childhood was a lucky one, I am well aware of that, but Mum going to a single parent in 1984 made me well aware of how fast things can change. Every time a new cookery book comes out, 90% of the time these days it’s got someone on it who looks like this;

Jackson and Levine

I long for the days of Two Fat Ladies, privileged background on the one hand, but a reformed alcoholic, and poor as a church mouse on the other (though not at the end) and a staunch Catholic – vivid, and real, and in your face. Or Loulla Astin, coloured hair, loud and funny, warm and natural and just dying to feed you until you fall asleep from joy.

I recall being so very happy when Neneh Cherry and Andi Oliver hit our screens.

Neneh and Andi

And, years ago, there were two gorgeously round and real Thai ( I think, though I may well be wrong) sisters who cooked up a storm in blue and gold dresses, with the catchphrase of “Life’s too short to grate a coconut”. Full of verve, sparkle, and fun.

Reza Mohammed, as camp as a Bollywood Christmas tree, but with knowledge and flair. Gok Wan, though people slated him, produced a show that drew people in and made Chinese cooking accessible, not daunting at all. He opened up a little about his life, and the struggles he’d had, plus we all loved Poppa Wan.

Obvious enjoyment of food has to sing out in cooking shows, but also ingredients need to be accessible, that you’ll use again and again, not just use for one dish and then stare at, and file away in a cupboard until it dies and becomes just another greying packet or sticky jar.

Brand Oliver used to be like that, years ago, but now…well, not any more. He’s a fabulous chef, but it leaves me cold these days. It all feels like a world I can never reach, that unattainable hallowed Waitrose shelf that is never quite in front of you. Seemingly one that preaches ‘health’ at you if it gets half a bloody chance. HEALTH IS SUBJECTIVE. What you might eat could be bad for me, and vice versa. Nobody’s body is the same as anyone else’s. There is no one size fits all with food. Stop trying to blanket and stifle everyone with the same rules. Sayiing “This is feta, it is a high fat salted cheese.” is fine! Saying “This is feta, it is a high fat salted cheese and so the lower fat one is more healthy.” is not ok. How do YOU know what’s good for someone when you do not know their body, their metabolism?

[wags a finger at  the health people who are not actually qualified]

I’m thrilled that we have people like Sumayya Usmani, Nisha Katona, Olia Hercules, Zoe Adjonyoh and Sabrina Ghayour on the writing scene,  and Asma Khan soon. It just feels real. People I identify with.

But WE NEED EVEN MORE. More of a range, more diversity. I don’t want pretty, lithe, slim to be the be all and end all; I want lively, vivacious, witty, tall, short, fat, round, gay, straight, tattooed, disabled, Northern, Southern, all accents and incomes up and down this sceptred isle. Mums and fathers, singletons and heads of familes and all else we can find, together. Non homogenised, non Pretty Young Thing people, real characters with appetite, with vim and vigour, the scars and marks of their lives on them, and the sheer joy of cooking pulsing through their veins and out on to the table, just brimming with excitement and wanting to share and feed everyone.

Less polish and perfection, please, and more LIFE.

Next week I am meeting a new chum, thanks to Instagram. A baker, a baker of Middle Eastern heritage, and a baker also with MS who works as hard as can be at her own business.

I have a feeling we will have a lot to rant talk about.



18 years today

Today is our 18th wedding anniversary. Ok, it’s the 18th anniversary of our church blessing, to be fair, but that means it’s 18 years since I stood outside a stone church in the freezing cold (-3C, the coldest day of the year so far) waiting to go in and launch myself down the aisle, singing as I went.

I had my best women with me, and even though the cold was creeping slowly into everything – people, cars, the church hall, even the bag of rice someone had brought along to throw had frozen –  they carried my 3 feet tall, lit candles into the church before me, and placed them at the sides.

The heating wasn’t on in the church hall, so even though we put it on when we got in, it made little difference against a hall that had been cold for days, so we lit as many tealights as we could find, in the hope that it would warm up somehow.

It did in the end, a little, but I think everyone was glad to get home that night and into a warm bed.

Every time I have re-read The Dark is Rising since then, and I do every year, my mind replaces the church in that book with the one of my youth, the one of my blessing.

It just feels right.



La Bella Lingua

By heritage, I am half Cypriot, and half English. I feel strongly part of both, mostly, though when I’m with Cypriots I feel more British, because I don’t speak Greek (thanks Dad) and when I am with Brits I feel more Greek as I don’t look like them. Yes, I am contrary. I was born that way. (No, really, I was. Full breech baby. Oh yes. Arse to the world.)

However, there is one other place that also feels like home, and that is Italy. We used to spend whole summers there when I was a child, because one of Dad’s barbers had an apartment he would let us use. A huge place of echoing rooms, rather spare of furniture but exotic to London born and bred me. It still had a coin operated lift. This was back when Italy still used the lira, and the tiny coins for the lift felt like monopoly money.

I will happily admit that I was a truly privileged child to have seen so much by the time I was 12. Getting lost in Besançon, France, which happened every time we went there; drinking big bowls of hot chocolate in a hotel just over the border into the Alps; waking up hearing the cow and goat bells and smelling the cold mountain air; driving – or in my case sleeping –  through a huge thunderstorm and navigating the San Bernard pass at night.

We would drive from London all the way down to South Eastern Italy, starting off at Dark o’ Clock, getting the ferry from Dover (which probably explains my love of the smell of tar and diesel), stopping off overnight in France and Switzerland on the way, picking up local foodstuffs from any of the roadside stands that we saw and packing them into our bright blue cold box that plugged into the cigarette lighter.

Cool box

The strangeness of the empty apartment was erased once we’d been shopping. Nan always used to send us off with a tin of fruited fairy cakes that tended to have a petrol tang after 3 days in the car. No matter how much I loved the smell of benzina, the taste wasn’t quite what we wanted. We would stop off at the local alimentari, run by Anna and her parents, to collect bread, fruit, cheese, coffee and milk. Subsequent trips would net us fresh parmesan, peaches that took two hands to hold, and the best and most fragrant mortadella for our breakfast rolls. Italy introduced me to Nutella, as small tubs of it were given to us at the grocery shop to have with our rolls for breakfast. Chocolate spread, for breakfast?! We found it very strange, but we ate it anyway, because we found it to be wonderful. (Please, Nutella, lose the palm oil, you have no need for it and I prefer my orangutans to stay where they are meant to be.)

Pontecagnano is not a tourist destination, at least it certainly wasn’t then. It was an industrial town in the province of Salerno, Campania. I remember it as being full of life, with a great stretch of beach that had a freshwater river cutting across it, almost in an indecent hurry to get to the sea.  Depending on the tides, that watery path across the beach would change shape overnight on occasion. There were pizzas the like of which I had never eaten before, everywhere, and in one place, on the way to the beach, you could buy them by the yard. Small child, big eyes, good food.

This is the apartment block that we stayed in, and that’s our old place, marked in red. I suspect that Giuseppe has long since sold it on.


Via Trento Pontecagnano

I remember one morning waking up to the sight of that whole street, all the cars, all the shops, the roads, covered in pink froth. Upon further slippery exploration, it seemed that the rest of the town was covered too. It turned out the local tomato canning factory had had an explosion…as you can imagine, the rumours were rife. Cans of San Marzano tomatoes washed up on the beaches for weeks. Such a huge waste of produce, though many a Mamma made off with the few cans that had stayed intact.

We made friends with the people that ran the alimentari, so much so that we were invited to Anna’s wedding, an ostensibly 7 course dinner that turned out to be many more courses than that. Because Dad spoke the local dialect – for reasons we were never privy to – we were accepted far more readily than usual I think, apart from the one time we left the GB stickers on the car. It was on our first night, and we came down to a car made toothless by broken windows. Needless to say, we didn’t do that again. This would have been around 1980, so I assume the British had been doing something to anger the Italians again. Given how a lot of our tourists behave, it would never surprise me.

I felt so very at home there. I made friends with the local kids, and I must have been able to speak far more Italian than I do now, because we didn’t seem to have any problems with communication. We spent time in and out of each other’s houses, and days on the beach swimming and digging sand tunnels. (I didn’t do castles, I did Excavations and Tunnelling.)

That language knowledge still lingers, but it’s like a memory that’s just out of reach, that movements at the corner of your eye that’s gone if you turn your head. I can almost manage a few sentences, but then not quite. I love listening to people speaking Italian, it brings huge amounts of joy to me and makes me smile. I have been known to sit in Cicchetti in Covent Garden and just grin quietly to myself. Maybe I should go to evening classes for conversational stuff, but I tried that with Greek, and that didn’t go so well.  I can pick out words here and there, and they pop like small starbursts of understanding when there’s a conversation going on but I can never quite grasp the language that’s lurking at the edges. Perhaps if I was to immerse myself in it for a week or so it would come back. It has also led to a certain amount of irritation with people that pronounce tagliatelle with a hard G, or who say ‘expresso’. [glares at Jamie Oliver]

I watch Montalbano avidly, both the young and the old. Not just for the stories, which are themselves extremely good, but for the glimpses of the scenery, both breathtaking and run down, and also for the arm-waving, hot tempered, passionate characters. They provide a sense of comfort, and of familiarity. I can almost feel the warmth radiating off the stone streets, the cool when they step gratefully into a shaded house and the sheer relief when Salvo makes it to the sea.

When I watched The Trip to Italy, I had the great fortune to see it at a cinema. The sheer beauty of the scenery blew me away, and it being on a large screen just made it even more immersive. I more or less ignored my companion for the evening, and was totally transfixed by the screen.

The trailer really doesn’t accurately portray the film at all, so I’m not going to share it here. It lacks any of the gravitas and the care that was taken with the filming, and plays up the silly, egotistical side of the two main characters which, whilst certainly there, was not the greater part of the film. Watching them walk the roads in Pompeii that I, too, had walked actually had me overwhelmed by emotion. I can’t properly explain what Pompeii is like; it’s more than a deserted town, it’s a place full of the most oppressively sad feelings, side by side with exquisite historical beauty and architecture. More is being uncovered all the time, and I would like to go back and see how much has been discovered.

When Nigella did her Nigellissima series, and got royally torn down by certain other food writers (Matthew Fort I am looking right at you) I did feel rather sorry for her, and more than a little protective, as this is how I am. I am not Italian, and never will be, but my food is inspired by, and affected by, my time spent there. It infuses how I cook, what I cook. The tastes and flavours of Italy are familiar to me, yet also foreign, and I love cooking old favourites, and finding new ones. None of us are pure breeds, no matter what the Britain First types would have you think. As such, neither is our cooking purely British. It’s made up of begs, borrows and steals from all over the world. HP Sauce, Worcestershire Sauce, Mulligatawny Soup, fish and chips, marmalade, you name it.

We adapt, we change, we grow, and so does our cooking.

One would like to hope that, as a fine wine or an excellent chutney does, we would mature and improve with age.

La bella lingua, davvero.

spaghetti with meat ragu