Looking Up, Looking Down

Brilliant concepts are often described in risible ways: ‘push the envelope’, ‘wake up and smell the coffee’, ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, ‘let’s make a plan going forward’ and ‘blue-sky-thinking’. I aim to do all of those things most of the time, but never, ever will you get me to use any of those phrases. Take ‘blue-sky-thinking’ for example: the notion of devising creative ideas that are unfettered by the mundane or the pedestrian. The concept is perfect, but the cliche-ridden packaging kills it stone dead. But then it struck me that perhaps ‘blue-sky-thinking’ would be better if I reverted to taking it literally rather than metaphorically. Lying on a forest floor and staring up through the canopy of trees at the blue, wintry sky beyond is as good a way of thinking new things as any and it certainly took some of the sting out of the cliche.

To be absolutely truthful, the idea that came to me while I looked up through the canopy of leaves wasn’t exactly revolutionary. All I kept thinking as I stared up at the sky was that looking up is the same as looking down – it’s the simple action of taking a different viewpoint that counts. To prove my theory, I’ve been staring down into a pot of home-made orange curd to see what inspiration might come. My orange-pot-thinking produced two and a half decent ideas – I will tell you about them in my next post. In the meantime, here’s my recipe for orange curd to help you with a little orange-pot-thinking of your own.


Makes four or five 200ml jars

  • 4 large oranges – finely grated zest and juice
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • 400g caster sugar
  • 300g unsalted butter, chopped
  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 3 extra yolks, beaten

Add the butter, sugar, lemon juice, orange zest and orange juice to a pan and heat gently until the butter has melted. Pour the mixture into a heatproof bowl and place above a plan of simmering water. Strain the eggs into the mixture and stir constantly until everything is combined. It will then take at least an hour to thicken. Stir it frequently and do not allow it to get too hot – it will separate if you do. If you’re cautious with the heat, the thickening will take longer, but you will avoid calamity. Once the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon, pour it into the sterilised jars and cover with a circle of greased paper. It will keep for around 6 to 8 weeks in the fridge.

P.S. I have used the phrase ‘orange-pot-thinking’ three times in this post. It is now officially a cliche and I promise never to use it again – unless, of course, literally.


Lit by orange light….

I was invited to a friend’s house last night, on one condition. We had to sit in the dark. It turns out we were marking Earth Hour by eschewing electricity. I admit that our gesture of solidarity to the planet was small, but sixty minutes of candle-lit gloom became slightly addictive. Four hours later we were still sitting in the murky light shed by a dozen candles.

Although gentle candle-light is flattering to a slightly sagging complexion, it turns out that cooking in the virtual dark is a nightmare. But in the interests of Earth Hour camaraderie, I have the perfect recipe, one inspired by the great chef Skye Gyngell. It’s so easy you could make this dish with your eyes shut. And so brightly zingily fresh-tasting is it, you could light a room with its orange glow.

Oranges in Rosemary Syrup

Serves 4

5 or 6 sweet, juicy oranges. I used Maltaise sanguines, a delicious variety of blood orange

2 good sprigs of rosemary, about 10cm long

150ml light, clear honey

Cut a thin slice from the top and bottom of each orange. Stand the fruit on a chopping board and, with a very sharp knife, slice the peel off in curving downward movements. Reserve a couple of tablespoons of the juice that collects on the board as you prepare the oranges. Slice the oranges thinly and arrange on a plate.

Bend and bruise the rosemary in your hands to release the aroma and place in a small pan with the honey and the reserved orange juice. Warm gently for ten minutes over a low heat. Allow to cool for a further ten minutes, remove the rosemary and pour the honey over the sliced oranges. Decorate with another sprig of rosemary and it’s done.

After my evening of enforced gloom I walked home by the gentle light of a wind-up torch. But opening the front door was like walking into a harshly lit lift in a municipal car-park. Blinking mole-like at my slightly alarming reflection in the dazzling hallway mirror, I realised there’s another peril to entertaining by candle light. It’s impossible to see quite how many times your wine glass has been filled up.

Blood Orange Posset

Like people, there are recipes blessed with both beauty and elegant names. When my daughter was four years old, she heard a waiter in a Portuguese restaurant say that the fish of the day was ‘pan-fried-fillet-of-golden-bream’. It had such a poetic lilt to it that my daughter repeated the name of this dish endlessly, enchanted by its rhythm.

Sadly ‘Blood Orange Posset’ got a rough deal when names were being handed out. The word ‘blood’ is never good when attached to an elegant pudding and ‘posset’ (like ‘gusset’, ‘corset’ and ‘thicket’) is just plain horrible. But don’t be fooled. Blood Orange Posset is a divinely creamy confection with the fresh sting of Sicilian oranges and the extravagant indolence of double cream. It’s also the easiest pudding I know.

Blood Orange Posset With Candied Orange Peel

Serves 4

For the Posset

2 blood oranges (ordinary oranges or even lemons will work too, but you won’t get the bubblegum-pink final result). You will need the juice plus the finely grated zest

500ml double cream

120g caster sugar

Bring the cream and sugar to a boil in a pan and then bubble gently for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the juice and zest. Stir to combine. Pour the mixture into glasses or bowls and refrigerate for at least 3 hours until it’s set.

For the Candied Peel

Peel of 2 blood oranges

Half cup caster sugar

One cup water

Peel long, very fine strips from the oranges and put them in a pan with enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, drain the water off and then repeat twice more. In the meantime, in a separate pan, combine half a cup of sugar and one cup of water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer for a couple of minutes and then add the previously boiled orange peel to the sugar solution. Simmer for a further ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, allow to cool and then hook out clusters of peel from the pan with a fork and place carefully on top of each posset.

All you need to do now is to eat your Blood Orange Posset while dreaming up a new name for it. Since I’m speaking as someone who created a ukelele pop group when she was nine years old called The Umbilical Chord I think I should leave the re-naming to you.