Madeleines and white chocolate teaspoons

After last weekend’s dis­astrous visit to Tate Mod­ern in Lon­don, it was reas­sur­ing to dis­cover that La Musee Rodin in Paris is as won­der­ful as ever. The house on Rue de Var­enne, lived in by the sculptor Auguste Rodin until his death, is wear­ily beau­ti­ful, like an aging French film star. It’s not so much ‘eyes and teeth’ as creak­ing joints and wrinkles — and I adore it.

There’s so much to love about Paris but I’m still per­turbed by the city’s res­taur­ants. They take dull, pre­dict­able and snooty to a whole new level — the ghastly Bras­serie Lipp has all those qual­it­ies and more.

We had a per­fectly good din­ner at Bouil­lon Racine, but the ser­vice bordered on the com­ical. We ordered snails and a crab salad fol­lowed by scal­lops and sea bass. Moments later the waiter came back to say that he had ‘abso­lutely no memory’ of what we had asked for.

At La Cou­pole on Boulevard du Mont­parnasse we had already star­ted eat­ing our filet de boeuf when the waiter returned to the table, snatched our plates away and swept into the kit­chen without a word. We were left hold­ing our cut­lery in mid-air, help­less vic­tims of a car­toon food robbery.

What a relief then to find that La Grande Epi­cerie is as glor­i­ous as ever. The won­der­ful food store offers the best altern­at­ive to the erratic res­taur­ants in France’s cap­ital city; simply buy a pic­nic and eat it in the park. And if you can, buy a box of white chocol­ate tea­spoons to take home with you, serve them with mini madeleines and eat with an espresso while you remem­ber all that’s great about Paris.


Makes around 15 mini cakes

60g unsalted butter

1 large egg

50g caster sugar

50g plain white flour

Finely grated zest of an orange

Icing sugar to dust

Pre­heat the oven to 190 degrees c. Melt the but­ter and, using a pastry brush, lightly grease the moulds. Allow the remain­ing but­ter to cool. Whisk the eggs and caster sugar vig­or­ously until the mix­ture is thick, pale and foamy. Sift the flour into the egg and sugar. Fold it in, along with the orange zest and the cool melted but­ter. Fill each mould and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Dust with icing sugar.

The sixth sense and an extra dimension…

I was given the per­fect going-home present last night, after sup­per with friends; two plump, mottled, ever so slightly mis­shapen and exquis­itely per­fumed quinces. They ful­filled everything you could wish for in a gift: taste, touch, scent and rar­ity, with a sprink­ling of eccentricity.

My visit to Tate Mod­ern in Lon­don to see Ai Weiwei’s new Sun­flower Seeds exhibit was any­thing but ful­filling. Now that we’ve been banned from walk­ing, ankle-deep, through the one hun­dred mil­lion hand-painted por­cel­ain sun­flower seeds, the work has been stripped of a dimen­sion. The snootier art crit­ics claim the work is the same whether we walk through it or not. But that’s just wrong. Sun­flower Seeds was sup­posed to be a work to exper­i­ence not just with the eyes, but with our ears, our hands and our feet. Rop­ing it off with the kind of pro­saic black bar­rier you would find at an air­port has stripped it of its demo­cratic power — and its glory too, for that matter.

I stomped grump­ily away from Sun­flower Seeds to join the line for the new Gauguin exhib­i­tion. That was pos­sibly even worse as an artistic exper­i­ence. Duck­ing and dodging around the crowds, I saw more shoulders, elbows and necks than I saw paintings.

My dis­ap­point­ing day got me think­ing about what hap­pens when our senses are cheated. Bit­ing into a taste­less, scar­let tomato. Smelling a bunch of hot­house flowers devoid of scent. Sli­cing a downy, blush­ing peach and find­ing it has the tex­ture of moss. And even when all five senses of see­ing, hear­ing, touch­ing, tast­ing and smelling are ful­filled, there’s still a little some­thing miss­ing. Shouldn’t we add the sense of mov­ing to the list? Trail­ing through the sea-shore with the salt water froth­ing at our ankles; pick­ing black­ber­ries while zig-zagging along a shaded lane with thorns snag­ging at our sleeves; eat­ing a per­fect apple on a climb up one of Dorset’s highest hills. Or fol­low­ing the curve of the hedgerow while hunt­ing for sloes to add to gin.

The slightly tricky thing about sloe gin is when to drink it and what to drink it with. Lunch time? Not really. In the even­ing, before din­ner? Not sure about that. And then it struck me. It needs that extra dimen­sion. Just as the Itali­ans drink sweet Vin Santo while eat­ing bis­cotti, why not pair sloe gin with spiced ginger bis­cuits? Ginger goes per­fectly with the plummy-ness of sloes, and if you invite a friend to share your feast and you pick the sloes your­self you will have ful­filled all six senses by the time you’ve fin­ished. Sight, sound, touch, taste, scent and move­ment. Bet­ter than Tate Mod­ern can man­age as it turns out.

Spiced Ginger Biscuits

Pre­heat the oven to 175 degrees C

80 g but­ter

80g light brown caster sugar

2 desert spoons black treacle or molasses

250g plain flour

Half tea­spoon bicar­bon­ate of soda

2 roun­ded tea­spoons ground cinnamon

2 roun­ded tea­spoons ground ginger

1 egg yolk

2 or 3 table­spoons milk

Icing sugar to dust

This is a vari­ation on Nigel Slater’s ginger bis­cuits, but it’s slightly more suited to sloe gin. Beat the but­ter and sugar together until it is light and well mixed. Add the treacle, fol­lowed by all the other ingredi­ents apart from the milk. Add the milk gradu­ally until the con­sist­ency is per­fect for rolling but not too soft. Cut into shapes and bake in the oven for ten minutes. Sprinkle the bis­cuits with icing sugar and pour the sloe gin.

In full colour…

It’s the start of another week. Note to self: less mono­chrome, more colour.

This week I’m going to be Pol­ly­anna, Eleanor H Porter’s eponym­ous char­ac­ter who always found the best in everything. Pol­ly­anna played the ‘glad game’ so bril­liantly that she even man­aged to be pleased when she was knocked over by a car. My Pol­ly­anna imper­son­a­tion isn’t going to take me that far. But a little more Pol­ly­anna in our lives can’t be a bad thing, can it?

The reason for my Pol­ly­anna trib­ute act is that, when I look back over the past seven days, I real­ise I’ve been down­right gloomy. Everything has been mono­chrome. Franken­stein is partly to blame for that. I’m writ­ing a lec­ture about Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Franken­stein to be given later this month. Shar­ing my life with Vic­tor Franken­stein and his mon­strous cre­ation isn’t a laugh a minute. As the mon­ster picked off yet another of Victor’s rel­at­ives I could feel my spir­its sinking.

The week has also been peppered with small instances of sheer bloody-mindedness. This morn­ing I walked past a woman shriek­ing at an eld­erly couple who’d dared to com­plain that she was block­ing their drive­way with her huge 4 x 4. Pol­ly­anna would have sor­ted her out. I was just left feel­ing part appalled and part embar­rassed at my fail­ure to do any­thing about it.

So, here we go. Where bet­ter to start than with food?

Full Col­our Red Rice With Squash and Tahini

But­ter­nut squash — 1 should be enough for 4 people

Tea­spoon cumin powder

Rice — 80 g per person

1 tea­spoon of tahini per person

1 dessert spoon thick Greek yoghurt per person

1 tea­spoon pomegranate seeds per person

1 tea­spoon spring onions/red chil­lies per person

Coriander/cilantro leaves

I used red rice from the Camar­gue, although bas­mati rice cooked with a dessert spoon of tur­meric in the water is both beau­ti­ful and deli­cious too.

Peel, de-seed and cube the squash. I happened to use acorn squash because it appeared in my organic veget­able box this week, but but­ter­nut squash has a stronger fla­vour and col­our. Rub with olive oil and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Sprinkle a little cumin over the cubes and bake for half an hour at 170 degrees C or until soft and start­ing to turn golden at the edges.

Cook the rice and stir a tea­spoon of tahini into each serving. Top the rice with the baked but­ter­nut squash. Next, a spoon­ful of Greek yoghurt per per­son, fol­lowed by a spoon­ful of pomegranate seeds, fol­lowed by some spring onions/scallions that you have fried in olive oil with some finely chopped red chil­lies. Last of all, a sprink­ling of coriander/cilantro leaves.

And there you have it — food in full colour.