Friday, February 15, 2013


I'm doing some research for a story I'm working on at the moment and came across a place called The Parting of the Ways which is in the north of Sweetwater County, Wyoming.

This is where the California and Oregan Emigrant trail diverged and travellers decided whether they kept on the main route to towards Fort Bridger or cut across the Little Colorado Desert on a 'Cut Off'.  Opened in 1844, it offered a much faster journey - shaving 46 miles on the journey - but while the main route was well-watered, taking this option included fifty-or so waterless miles.  Still, some travellers were more risky than others and from 1849 it's popularity increased with people keen to get to the other side as quickly as possible.

There's something so significant about this little fork in the road: there's no particular landmark here that would make a deviation in course obvious. The only way it became ... anything was because one day someone called Greenwood (FACT) went right.  And then the people behind went right. And then the people behind. And then someone put it on a map. 

What I love from this image is that even though the wagons stopped going through here about a hundred years ago, the wheel ruts are still so clear and the sagebrush plain is still wide open.  You don't have to even imagine what it was like. Sure it's not hearts and flowers romantic, but there's something so historically romantic about this that it fills me up with inspiration.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


When I was little my parents could only have fish pie if I was out of the house for the evening. I really, really hated it. Even the residual smell when I returned would make me gag.

Now, though ... well. I'm a bit more grown up. I can just about eat a prawn without thinking about its wife, children and the fact that its diet consists of little more than poop.  Making a fish pie is a bit of a milestone for me.

And I made one last night.

I've had the In the Mood For Food for years. I bought it because it had a nice pattern and she looked pretty but the recipes all looked a bit grown up for me.I did want to do the pomegranet salad: it's photographed in such a lovely little lunchbox, though, that I got distracted by wanting an equally lovely lunchbox too and the salad was forgotten. Discovering this little gem nestled inside has made all those years of moving it from house to house worth it.

I have to say, this recipe was easy and ridiculously tasty. The sauce was thick and silky and totally lumpless - I couldn't believe I made it. The topping is made by grating the potatoes (I got Rob to do that), squeezing all the moisture out through a tea-towel and then cooking it off for a few minutes in butter before scattering the top.  I'd never even heard of that method.  My repertoire is definitely expanding.

And this is it on my plate with some peas.

And here's the recipe.

Fish Pie with Sweet Potato topping (although I used White) from Jo Pratt's In the Mood For Food
  • 50 g butter
  • 1 bunches spring onions, sliced
  • 50 g plain flour
  • 400 ml milk
  • 500 g cod, coley or haddock fillets, skinned and cut into chunks
  • 200 g cooked tiger prawns
  • 150 g smoked salmon, cut into strips
  • 1 tbsp chopped dill, or parsley
  • 1 lemon, grated zest only
  • squeeze lemon juice
For the topping
  • 700 g sweet potatoes, peeled - I used white potatoes in exactly the same way.
  • 40 g butter
  • 50 g matured cheddar cheese, grated
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4.

2. Melt the butter in a large pan, add the spring onions and cook until softened. Stir in the flour, and cook for about 30 seconds before gradually adding the milk. Bring to a simmer and cook for a couple of minutes until you have smooth thick sauce.

3. Stir in the white fish, prawns, smoked salmon, dill or parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Once the sauce is bubbling and the cod is starting to flake a little, remove from the heat.

4. Spoon into a large 1.5-1.8 litre pie dish or 4 individual dishes and leave to cool while you prepare the topping.

5. For the topping: coarsely grate the sweet potato. Place in a clean tea towel and squeeze out the excess water.

6. Melt the butter in a pan and add the grated potato. Stir over a medium heat for a couple of minutes until the potato is coated in butter and starting to soften.

7. Scatter the potato over the top of the pie, leaving a rough topping rather than pressing it down. Sprinkle over the grated cheese.

8. Place on a baking tray and bake for 30 minutes, until the top is golden and the filling is starting to bubble over the edges.


So far, I've done three recipies from my Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals. My favourite so far has been the Pork Chops, Smashed Potatoes and Minty Savoy Cabbage.

I skipped the fennel seeds (I couldn't find them in the shops) and I didn't get the skin-on chops so there was no crackling.  So basically it was chops and potatoes, but doing the potatoes in the microwave gave them this really interesting stodgy but firm texture which we both really liked.  It's fun not skrimping on butter either. I felt very En Francaise.

Jamie really goes for combining flavours and sometimes this can be a bit much, but this was just right.  Maybe because I missed the fennel.  The lemon in the potatoes on their own was a bit 'hmmm' but with the chops it was 'oo'.

I also loved the Fiery Noodle Salad which is from the Chicken Skewers with Amazing Satay Sauce recipe. 

The chicken and satay sauce was nice enough, but the flavours in the noodle salad were AMUUZING.  And so easy.  Although you serve it cold with the warm chicken which wierded my husband out.  He ate it like it was alive, shooting me occasional, tentative looks and saying 'it's supposed to be cold, right?'.

Also got a good tip on how to thread the chicken onto the skewers. Showing here.


I mean, of all the images you'd want to recreate in coloured pencils, how far down the list do you think this was?

Technically really very good but ... that gurn forever immortalised in a 2B. Poor Hugh.

Friday, February 01, 2013


I've FINALLY got what YouTube's for.  So not only can I devote a good 75% of my working day looking for videos of Hugh Jackman, I can also UPLOAD things for people who like to look at, say, puppies enjoying their first visit to the beach.

This is Molly, our too-adored cockapoo puppy, discovering the beach.  She was just under three months then and is now a strapping almost five. Short of dressing her in a coat made of diamonds and french manicuring her claws, it's safe to say she's a ridiculously spoiled pup. 

Until recently she had the perfect cockapoo mop top but it was driving me nuts because I couldn't see her eyes and she wouldn't sit still long enough for me to put it into a glittery hairband, so I decided to give her a trim.  Now, I tend to think I can do anything but, as it turns out, I'm no dog groomer.  It was just supposed to be a gentle trim around the eyes but I basically Hathaway'd her.

Now it's hard to show what it was like before because she never stays still for long enough but it was a bit like this.

 And now it's like this.

And this is pretty much what it was like when I was doing it.

At least she's on trend.


Hey, hey! Have you seen this? Awe. Some.

Which, in turn, leads to this ... Who knew Doogie was this talented??

Btw, it's come to my attention that some youngsters don't know that Neil Patrick Harris is not just that dude from How I Met Your Mother (which is very good, also btw) but is and, to many of us always will be, Doogie Howser MD.  A show that was insanely popular when I was growing up.  Basically, NPH plays a child prodigy who is a qualified doctor and works in a hospital. Of course.

I really loved that show but I remember really trying to fancy him (because, you know, that's what I generally do in any given situation) and not quite succeeding.  The people (and I use that term loosely) I had more success in fancying included:

It's a pretty wide playing field.