Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.

31.10.06

The birth notice.

Ring. Ring.

Hello, classifieds?

Yes, I'd like to place an ad.

Pardon me? The 'Celebrations' or 'Milestones' section? It's a birth notice, so I suppose it could be in either. You decide. It's your newspaper.

You'd like to start with the surname? Sure. It's spelt K - E - ... pardon me? Larger point size? To make it more prominent? It's a birth notice, not a used car ad. (PAUSE) No, I'd feel like I was putting all those other new babies in the shade if we ran the surname in 72 point. Thanks anyway.

The text? Sure. I'll read it out to you.

... born October 23. Thanks to all at ... excuse me? 2006? Yes, I do know it's 2006. I wouldn't be placing the ad if the baby was born in any other year, would I? (PAUSE) They what? People like to cut out the ad and blow it up and place it on the wall and that way they know what year the baby was born? I see. I think. Then again, I suppose people forget their children's names as well.

OK, now, the baby's name: it's spelt T - H - O - ... excuse me? (PAUSE) Oh, probably not the calligraphy or the double spacing either side, thank you. I really don't think so. I mean, it might suit names like Tahliah Jayyde or Yasmiina Juanah or Talullah Venezianah Pomeraniah or Edgegrass Brunel Highcliffe III for that matter but does Thomas Brian sound like it needs a flowery italic calligraphy with rococo flourishes and baroque curlicues to you? No, I didn't think so. It's a nice strong bold dignifed name and it needs a nice strong bold dignified typeface. (PAUSE) Pardon me? They all want the calligraphy and the spacing? Yeah, I know, I tried to read the birth notices once and the page had eighteen different typefaces, twenty-three point sizes and fifty different line drawings of love hearts, fat cherubs, cooing doves and flying storks and it looked like someone had dropped a box of hot metal type and a book of clip art into the printing press.

(PAUSE, THEN JUST A TINGE OF EXASPERATION CREEPING IN. WELL, I WAS TIRED) A what to finish with? A logo? A logo? It's a birth notice, lady, not an ad for a can of tomatoes. (PAUSE) Some people like to have their favourite football team's logo with the words 'I'm a little Collingwood Magpie' in the ad? But he might not want to be a little Magpie. He might want to be a little Hawk or a little West Coast Eagle or a little North Melbourne Kangaroo or a little Bulldog or a Carlton Blue. He might even hate football. He hasn't decided yet. He's only a day old.

*

Oh yes, I'm getting the hang of this placing a birth notice business.

A few more children and I'll be an expert.

30.10.06

Dr O. prescribes congee.

I'm really not good at posting pictures. If it's not sideways teapots, it's something else. The first post with Thomas' picture disappeared into Blogger space so I created a new post. Now I realise it was there all the time, so there are two pictures and posts, nearly identical, but with a couple of minor variations like those 'pick the difference' puzzles they used to have in the newspapers years ago.

*

Thomas came home on a cold Wednesday to a warm house, but I was out again almost straight away to take William, who had become ill over the previous twelve hours, to see Dr O.

Unusually, there was no wait when we arrived at Dr O.'s rooms late at about six o'clock. However his waiting room looked like eighteen toddlers had had an afternoon party there without any adults present. Dr O. has more toys and books in his waiting room than the average department store toy floor, and none of them are put away. Most are the same ones that were there when I took my now grown-up children to see Dr O. twenty and more years ago.

Dr O. is an eccentric ruddy-faced bearded Welshman. He has an offbeat sense of humour that goes straight over most peoples' heads but that nevertheless serves to set patients at their ease almost immediately. Dr O. checked William out and pronounced 'rotovirus' and 'gastroenteritis' and then proceeded to write out a five day regimen involving dilute fluids and dry crackers and no milk. 'Of course,' he said, continuing to write, 'if you were Chinese, which you are not,' (he added parenthetically and somewhat unnecessarily),' I would be prescribing congee.' I told him we eat congee all the time and not just as a convalescent food. Congee is delicious.

*

I was ill as well and for a while, with Tracy recovering from the birth, two-day-old Thomas was the healthiest person in the house. Shame he can't cook or clean yet!

CONGEE

For William: boil rice in a lot of water for a long time. The End. How easy is that?

For me and Tracy: boil rice in a lot of water for a long time, adding finely grated ginger, a drop of sesame oil and a dash of fish sauce earlier and chunks of white-fleshed fish and finely sliced squid later. Garnish with chopped spring onion and add chili sauce if you wish.

29.10.06

Thomas.



Here he is, sleeping in his white wicker bassinet which sits in filtered light near the window in the front room. We have had a sustained cold snap after last week's heat and he is well rugged up.

Dream on, new baby.

Thomas asleep.




Here he is, sleeping in his white wicker bassinet which sits in filtered light near the window in the front room. We have had a sustained cold snap after last week's heat and he is well rugged up.

Dream on, new baby.

27.10.06

William has a brother ...

... whose name is Thomas.

Thomas came along on October 23 at about a minute, maybe ten seconds, before midnight.

Thomas is red and chunky and has dark hair and a good appetite and a sweet little cry that sounds like, I don't know, a large mouse, a tiger cub, a baby eagle in the nest? Kind of husky with three different notes.

He is a healthy 9lb 6oz or 4600 grams, which is a lot of grams when you think about it. Tracy certainly thought about it - she is only a tiny slip of a girl and we thought William had been large at 9lb 1oz. Nevertheless, all went well and Tracy didn't end up attached to a forest of tubes and drips and wires and as many medical instruments as they could cram around her bed like she did last time. This time there was just her and the midwife and a soft light in the corner and the gentle hum of the hospital airconditioning; and afterwards, the baby laying on her chest, eyelids opening and closing on deep brown newborn eyes.

There will be a photo in the next day or so. I took photos but I can't find my camera.

23.10.06

Shaken, not stirred*.

Melbourne experienced its largest earth tremor (it takes no regional 'u' while favour, colour, labour and rumour do: why?) since 1961 around 10.30pm last night. Radio talkback callers reported rattling china. Maybe my teapot knew something after all and dropped its handle ahead of time.

Chez Kitchen Hand, we didn't hear or feel a thing. We were all tucked up in bed and sound asleep after a delicious Sunday night supper of smoked kippers with buttered sourdough bread and mashed potatoes on the side. I poached the kippers and added some butter and parsley to the water at the end, reduced it and poured it over the kippers, adding some capers and a squeeze of lemon. There is something very Sunday night about a meal like this. (By the way, ignore the dateline. I must fix it. It is Monday morning here right now.)

We are already operating on Eastern Summer Time around here, rising with the sun, craving lunch around 11 and planning dinner by 6 o'clock. This morning we were about by 5.30. Glorious sun was streaming in through the lace curtains. It's a shame to miss these golden mid-Spring hours when the garden is wakening into full flower and leaf; yet the streets are still quiet, apart from the dinging of an early tram and the distant swish and clack of the first train.

Of course, it's all William's fault. He wakes up talking: raises his sleepy head and says a tentative word or two, sits up, looks around and launches into shorter or longer paragraphs of baby sentences which make as much sense as our own first mutterings for the day.

We will be even busier very shortly: within days. My original reported projection of November was incorrect.

*Speaking of martinis, here's one not to have.

21.10.06

The teapot and the drought.

I bought it at a Myer annual sale many years ago. The maker is Duchess, the style is Genevieve and it is numbered 426 and marked Bone China and Made in England.



As you can see (although you would see better if I could learn to post a picture the right way up) my teapot still looks brand new, because I look after it very well. I rinse it after every use and sit it on the mantlepiece above the stove to air dry, next to the grey and yellow canisters containing, respectively, flour, sugar, coffee and tea.

This sturdy, trusty vessel has poured approximately 87 billion cups of tea, of which I personally have drunk about 86.9 billion. That's a lot of tea. In fact, that amount of tea would fill the Thomson Dam, which is almost empty, raising the question: am I responsible for the drought? I think am! I've drunk all the water! In cups of tea!

Anyway, let's not worry about the drought just now, because there is a more pressing issue at hand: the teapot broke!



Quite some time ago, a very fine hairline fracture developed across the top of the handle near the body of the pot. Then, recently, the handle simply fell off. Not while the pot was in use, as you would think. The pot was just sitting there minding its own business and the handle fell off beside it, like a eucalypt dropping a branch in perfectly fine weather after surviving a storm.

I am looking for exactly the right glue, suitable for ceramics and crockery and fine china, to repair the handle. It will need to be very good glue because I want to get another 87 billion cups of tea out of my teapot. It's only fifteen years old. I figure it should last for seventy, at least.

Plus, I'm working on the Upper Yarra Dam. There's still plenty of water in that. I hope.

*

SERIOUS DROUGHT UPDATE - STATE GOVERNMENT TO SING FARMERS' CARES AWAY.

We joke about the drought in the city, but some farmers are being told to leave their land. And do what? A sixty-something farmer whose wife has died and whose children have left the farm is going to uproot and forge a new career in the city? As what? A stockbroker? A fireman? An IT professional? A strategy-implementing public servant developing powerpoint presentations? No wonder they are committing suicide in record numbers.

Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Bracks, having stolen water from farmers and announcing a plan to divert a rural community's water to the Labor strongholds of Geelong and Bendigo, today came up with a new idea - let's sing to the farmers! I don't know what you think, but the words patronising, insulting, laughable, duplicitous and hypocritical come to mind. Not to mention insane. What's more, this idiocy was the front page lead story in the Herald Sun, backed by an editorial supporting the idea.

Now I'm not sure who is the stupidest: Premier Bracks for coming up with such a dumb idea, the Herald Sun editor for boosting it, or me for reading the Herald Sun. Probably me, I suppose.

20.10.06

Home cooking.

We started cooking for William immediately he was ready for solid food. When we tried him with bottled or canned baby food, he refused it and hasn't had it since.

I don't particularly object to store-bought baby food, I'm sure it's nutritious and balanced with vitamins and minerals and will guarantee your baby grows up strong and healthy into a 6'9" Essendon full-forward, even if she is a girl; and has no additives or chemicals and uses only free range chickens and organic vegetables and the label on the jar is recyclable. It's just that it tastes like ... canned baby food.

Now he just eats what we're eating. Meals evolve. The other night we made a basic meat ragu, kind of a bolognese sauce, I suppose: minced pork and veal, canned tomatoes, onion, garlic, parsley, grated carrot, grated celery); and he ate that with some tiny pasta mixed through it - stellini, I think they were. Half the rest of the meat sauce we ate with some quick home-made gnocchi - just the basic strained potato with flour and egg - and the other half was combined with some cooked rice, about one part meat to four parts rice, which I stuffed into three large sweet peppers set into a casserole and covered with a jar of tomato passata and half a cup of water. That was the following night's dinner, baked in a slow oven for an hour or so. I must say it gave off the most delicious aroma while cooking. Peppers always do, no matter what you do with them.

15.10.06

A Shorter History of the Bean.

Broad beans were a kitchen staple 6000 years BC, Wikipedia tells me, but what would Wikipedia know about 6000 years BC? It's only been around since, what? Two years ago? Five?

However, I have solid evidence that they have been around for at least 45 years; because my mother has been cooking them for that long. We grew up with broad beans as a side dish to a main course, for example, roast mutton. My mother cooked the beans for ages. She probably put them on when the roast went into the oven and they were served up next to mashed potatoes and a couple of thick slices of delicious roast mutton (which was drowned in mint sauce made from mint picked fresh from the garden and combined with boiling water, sugar and brown vinegar) and the beans sat there, grizzled and wrinkled like tiny old footballs and they squeaked when we ate them.

These days we no longer cook our broad beans until they are like old footballs; but my mother still does. That's OK, she still goes into the bank to get money and listens to an old fashioned wireless radio. You can't teach some people. They won't learn. I've given up telling her.

Pasta shells with broad beans and walnuts.

Boil a generous cupful of beans for a few minutes, just until they turn bright green and swell. Drain and return them to the pan with some olive oil, a finely chopped clove of garlic, the juice of half a lemon and some ground pepper. Fry on low heat for five minutes.

Cook your pasta shells - cochiglione - and add some small florets of cauliflower towards the end. Meanwhile, warm some halved walnuts in a pan ensuring they don't burn but just develop a nice deep tan. Then drain the pasta and cauliflower, toss the walnuts through, plate and top with the beans along with the lemon juice and garlic. Top with crumbled or grated cheese. I used a crumbly kefalograviera.

Serve with some very fresh crusty bread and a nice chilled Hunter Valley semillon if you can lay your hands on a bottle.

13.10.06

Record temperatures, grumpy stallholders, Readers Digest Condensed Books and toffee.

October means the Caulfield Cup, extremely annoying hay fever-causing wind and having to mow the lawn every five minutes. This year it means record temperatures. Yesterday was the hottest October day for something like a hundred years.

But when I was a child October meant the annual school fete. Held over a Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday, our school fete was famous for having exactly the same stalls manned by exactly the same people every year for, I don't know, ten, twenty, fifty years?

There was always the same old dear on the pot plant stall selling donated pot plants. After about ten years every family in the school must have owned each pot plant at least once. It was like having them on loan. You bought them one year and donated them back the next. On the groceries stall, another old dear sold packets of Cottees jelly, cans of Biddies peas, tins of IXL marmalade, jars of Pecks anchovy paste and tins of Bear Brand milk. The grumpy old man on the second hand goods stall warned us away, every year, from the old crockery, teapots and framed pictures of guardian angels in midair behind kneeling children: 'If you break that, you'll have to pay for it!' There were always stalls groaning with Readers Digest Condensed Books which nobody ever read but thought other people would want to read. Why would anyone want to read books in which bits had been left out? Beats me. Then there was bric-a-brac, art and craft, cakes, and toffees.

Ah, the toffees. There were literally thousands of them. There were entire stalls selling nothing but toffees; and all the same, all in their dear little corrugated paper cups and all decorated with green sprinkles. Sometimes yellow.

I have my theories. One is that when post-war sugar rationing finished, people just went silly making things out of the stuff. Another theory is that toffees keep children quiet. Have you seen a child eating a toffee? They take about a day to eat. Some kids actually bit into them too hard and had their jaws clamped shut for hours on end.

Then again, maybe the were just the easiest thing for harried 1950s mothers of baby boomers to make. They're just sugar and water.

Toffees for your next fete. Or to keep several children quiet for days.

Cook three cups of sugar in one cup of water in a saucepan over low heat until it dissolves. Bring to the boil and cook uncovered for about fifteen minutes. Do not stir.

When it becomes syrupy (which you can tell by the larger plopping bubbles and the golden colour) remove from the heat. When the bubbles subside, pour into patty pans. Cool and decorate with sprinkles. Makes about a dozen.

Personal toffee note: my mother never, ever made toffees and she practically forbade us to eat them along with lollies of any kind. She was very strict about sugar and teeth decay. Maybe that's why I like plenty of sugar in my coffee and tea.

12.10.06

Question.

You are running the hottest new restaurant in town. Two people arrive for lunch. One is a neatly-dressed, well-known writer. The other is a Z-grade celebrity wearing shorts and thongs (flip-flops to our cousins across the water).

Who do you throw out? In earlier times you would have thrown out the latter. Nobody wants to look at someone's toenails, even Z-grade celebrity toenails.

But no. They showed the writer the door.

Steven Downes didn't like being shown the door.

That's fine. Writers write better when they're angry. And hungry.

UPDATE

Downes comments further, saying he isn't the only one angry at being thrown out. His newspaper's features editor was also told to take the air. The features editor of the country's largest selling newspaper is not a great choice of guys to throw out of your joint (as long as he is behaving, of course. And isn't wearing thongs.) Downes:

The Herald Sun – to which I contribute a weekly restaurant review column — is hopping mad. Australia’s biggest-selling newspaper contributed significantly to the hype around the Oliver caravan. Now, its critic has been booted out when he tried to review it. His companion, moreover, was the paper’s features editor.

More fireworks to come, no doubt.

10.10.06

Who put all that alcohol in my wine?

Many years ago, too many to count, when Kitchen Hand didn't know a colander from a coucousier or a baked bean from a beer nut, someone invented chardonnay.

I was working in a bar at the time. In those days, when you ordered white wine, you would be asked, 'Moselle or riesling?' This drove me crazy, because I knew there was more to white wine than just moselle and riesling: there was hock.

Just kidding. In fact, there was a number of other varieties and nearly all of them were better than moselle and riesling - which usually wasn't riesling but something else - but moselle and riesling dominated the market.

Then chardonnay came along. In the early days it was called the red drinker's white because it had a complexity rarely found in other whites - which wouldn't be hard when you're talking moselle and faux-riesling - as well as a powerful dose of alcohol. At a time when white wines were generally between 9% and 12.5% alcohol, chardonnay was at the higher end of that range with the really big ones sometimes hitting 13%. You could tell. Three glasses of that big, buttery, melony sunshine and you'd be seeing two of everything.

Now, 13% seems to be a minimum. The other day, I had a glass or two of a Yalumba viognier. It was OK, not really my style, but pleasant enough. Too grassy or lemony or something. I can't remember. I couldn't get through the second glass. No wonder I couldn't remember - I looked at the bottle later and the alcohol content was a whopping 14.5%. That is just way too high.

Reds are going the same way. An old favourite from the early eighties, Leasingham Bin 56 Cabernet Malbec, used to be around 12.5%; while the really big, specialist reds like Victorian durif, in which you could stand a spoon when you weren't drinking it, occasionally nudged the 14% mark.

The other night, I tried a Bendigo Waterwheel Shiraz 2004. If the viognier had you seeing double, you'll think the only oak in this - at a massive 15.5% alcohol - is the piece the winemaker had hit you over the head with.

7.10.06

The grapefruit tree.

We've been in this house almost a year.

When we arrived, there was one tree in the back yard, a sad old grapefruit that had long outlived any function and had been badly neglected. At first I thought it was a lemon, until it fruited a couple of big yellow orbs, just for old times' sake. I guessed it was about forty years old, probably a relic of the time when everyone was madly eating grapefruit prompted by some idiot diet plan that was around for fifteen minutes in the sixties or seventies.

The tree was a complete mess. It was dense and impenetrable. The branches were on the ground and there was no real canopy, just a jungle of branches growing in on each other. It gave no shade. Last summer there was really nowhere to sit in the middle of those terribly hot days.

One of the first things I did when we moved in was to prune it heavily. I removed all the branches drooping to the ground and those up to about three feet up the trunk. Then I hacked my way inwards like the early explorers cutting through jungle. It was full of those citrus spikes that can take out an eye. After about a day's work, I had a set of clothes ripped to bits, scratches all over my body and a pile of grapefruit branches and debris higher than the original tree.

After that I planted some lawn seeds beneath the tree. That was almost a year ago.

Yesterday, I sat out in the back garden during the afternoon. It was hot. I sat under the grapefruit tree. It's not a sad old grapefruit any more. Its massive canopy cast a deep pool of shade over the lawn. The branches spread upwards and outwards and waved gently in the light northerly. The leaves were rich and green, that delicious pale green of vigorous new growth. Where it wasn't green, it was specked white gold with blossom. I sat on the grass and gazed up at the blossom. Bees hummed. The scent of grapefuit blossom is one of the strongest and headiest I have known. Imagine lemon blossom, but add some notes of rich honey and a dash of jasmine and you just about have it.

William crawled over, stood up against me and pointed to a grapefruit on the tree. 'Moon!' he said. He knows 'moon' - it was one of his very first words - and the grapefruit are like moons to him.

*

I suppose the tree will be even happier if it knows we are eating its fruit. Any one know any grapefruit recipes? Everyone I ask turns up their nose and says, 'Yuk! seventies diet fruit!'

I'll have to eat them fresh, I suppose.

6.10.06

Six things to do with asparagus. And one thing not to.

I went to a dinner party once where the centrepiece on the table was six asparagus spears sticking out of six long, narrow jars all in a row.

What's wrong with that? Plenty. It's dinner, not a game of skittles. I tend to limit my centrepieces to candles or flowers. Call me boring. I've seen pears sitting on flat rocks, miniature hedges of pampas grass that caught alight when someone lit a match, shiny black stones in a clear glass jar like a caveman showing off his life savings, tabletop water features that bubble away all night and giant flat dishes full of water with candles that float around like gambling boats in the bay, all lit up.

But I remember the asparagus spears the most because five of them wilted and the sixth was eaten by a guest.

So don't so that with your asparagus. Do this:

1. Steamed and simply served on a plate with poached duck eggs, shavings of finest parmigiano and a light shower of freshly cracked pepper.

2. Summer party entree: very lightly steamed asparagus on a serving platter along with thin slices of carrot, red pepper, blanched green beans, florets of broccoli and your choice of something in which to dip them - hommous, babaganooge, that kind of thing. I prefer something tangy, a good mayonnaise or thousand island dressing is just fine.

3. With pasta: chop into one inch lengths and steam with snow peas. Meanwhile, lightly poach a chicken breast in some white wine and garlic. When done, cube and toss with cooked pasta and vegetables. It's fine just like that with some grated cheese over the top or: toss it all with pesto or a little cream.

4. Serve with hollandaise sauce.

5. Cold asparagus soup. Serve with a good champagne late on a summer night.

6. Barbecue, barbecue, barbecue. Throw them on the grill alongside capsicum, eggplant, strips of zucchini and then make up a big barbecued vegetable platter to balance out the snags and chops. Or omit the snags and chops altogether. I do. Crumble some good fetta over the vegetables, dress with good oil and lemon juice and watch them come back for more.

Strange asparagus facts:

A. 84% of the Australian asparagus crop is grown the State of Victoria. Of this, only 22% is consumed there. Victorians are not eating enough asparagus.

B. Asparagus can grow 2 centimetres in an hour. Thank goodness it stops at about 10 centimetres or Victoria would be an asparagus forest.

5.10.06

Take a walk with Spike.

You might or might not have noticed a recently added link at the left.

Spike's photoambulism is This Isn't Sydney, the weblog of a man, Spike, who goes on long walks and takes photos.

The photographs are magnificent. Spike portrays period houses, landscapes, seascapes, weather, mountains, gardens, fences, whatever strikes him. He has an unerring eye for detail and composition but his work is devoid of the artifice that is frequently seen in photography described as stunning.

Spike's commentary is equally devoid of artifice. He is very Australian and calls a spade a bloody shovel.

Take a walk with Spike soon. You'll enjoy it.

4.10.06

Coco Roco Loco Joko.

Most newspapers have a food writer, or more usually, a writer who happens to write about food.

Some are good, some ordinary.

But who'd want to be a restaurant reviewer anyway? Hello, New South Wales Court of Appeals.

This is nothing new. Leo Schofield was sued well over twenty years ago for describing a lobster he was served as an 'albino walrus'. That case would surely be thrown out today, but it wasn't then and Fairfax had to put $100,000 in the tip jar.

Freedom of speech means being able to call a crap restaurant a crap restaurant. There's enough of them.

3.10.06

Garden party uninterrupted.

It was a perfect Spring day. There was warm sunshine and a breeze ruffled the white linen cloth on the table set up on the lawn in the garden. New flowers danced in the sun and some early butterflies staggered around in the air.

Lunch was over. The adults were sitting around the table having another campari and soda and thinking about another piece of chocolate cake and the children were rolling a ball around on the lawn, except for Canisha and Shanra who were under the table. Why? I don't know, trying to work out which shoes belonged to which guests, I suppose.

Canisha poked her head out. "There's a redback under the table," she announced.

"Oh," I said. "What's it doing under there?"

"Just sitting there in its web," she said, with a slightly sarcastic tone and a shake of her head, as if any adult could seriously be asking such a silly question.

I thought the spider would most likely be another, less venomous, one; but I crawled under the table anyway, excused myself to various legs and feet and had a look for the arachnid. Sure enough, it was a redback (careful!). I fetched a glass jar (an empty mango pickle one) and coaxed the spider into it with the help of the end of a fork - being careful not to harm it (the spider, not the fork) - and placed the lid on the jar.

"There we are!" I said, emerging from under the table. I gave the jar to Canisha and she triumphantly showed the redback spider, safely behind glass, to everyone who cared to look.

Here's the funny thing: during the entire episode, from Canisha's announcement that she had found a redback through my retrieval of it and subsequent display of it to everyone, no-one had moved a muscle. Not out of shock - they just didn't react to the news that one of the world's most venomous spiders was right there under their table. In fact, they barely even moved their legs, except to accommodate me when I climbed under it to get the spider. The conversation just went on as before, uninterrupted, about football or cars or recipes or babies or the weather or scandal or whatever it is that people chat about when they're at Sunday afternoon garden parties.

Later, I tipped the spider out of the jar over the back fence into the vacant bock behind, where there are plenty of rocks for it to make a new home in. I still can't kill a spider, even a venomous one.

2.10.06

My current favourite salad.

Is: Potato and Avocado Salad.

Cold or wam, but warm is especially delicious.

Chop four large potatoes - or more small ones - into reasonably thick slices, about the thickness of your little finger, and boil them until just tender, about ten minutes. Drain them and place them in a bowl. Chop two avocadoes into roughly equal-sized slices and combine with the potatoes. Add some very finely sliced greens - I used a few leaves of sorrel and rocket from the garden - and fold through.

Now drizzle with three parts olive oil, one part lemon juice and plenty of salt and pepper.

The perfect salad for this changeable Spring, when it's warm one minute and cold the next. Try it with grilled fish.

*

It's been a busy few days. I threw a Surprise Lunch for T.'s birthday and was able to maintain the surprise until under one hour from start time. T. went out for coffee mid-morning and I madly started throwing tablecloths everywhere, hauling glassware out of cabinets, setting up stacks of crockery and placing chairs around the garden. I had managed to sneak in drinks during the week and secrete them in cupboards here and there; the food was to be delivered. The weather gods were in on the surprise and sun shone all day.