Warming wonders

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October is all about wholesome, nutritious, heart-warming, health-giving food. Food replaces sunshine, warming us from the inside out rather than outside in! Katie Kindsley brings us her recipes…

 

Scallops with apple & bacon

(allow three or four scallops per person)

Perfect for this time of year, bringing scallops and apples together in perfect harmony, this is sour, salty and sweet success. Remove the rind from three slices of thick-cut smoked bacon and set aside. Chop the bacon into small pieces and fry in a little butter until brown. Peel and cut half a green apple into small cubes, heat 1tbsp of butter in a small pan and add the apple and bacon then continue to cook while you cook the rind in the pan just used. Add a small knob of butter and fry until the bacon fat renders. Add 50ml bourbon to the apple mix and let it bubble for a minute before adding 50ml maple syrup and continue to simmer so it reduces by at least half to a thick sauce. Place your scallops in the pan with the sizzling bacon fat and cook on high for a minute or so on each side, seasoning with salt until they’re nicely brown. Toss some watercress in a little lemon juice and heap on each plate, laying your scallops on top. Spoon over some apple and bacon mix and freshly grind some black pepper.

 

Thai noodles

 

This is versatile so use whichever vegetables you have to hand or whatever’s in season. All you will need to gather from your pantry is noodles, curry paste, coconut milk and fish sauce (or soy for vegans). Heat 2tbsp of coconut oil in a pan and sauté a finely chopped onion for about three minutes. Add three cloves of minced garlic and 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, cooking until fragrant then add 2-3tbsp of red Thai curry paste for a minute and then a 400ml can of coconut milk, 1tbsp of honey and fish sauce to taste. Stir then boil for five minutes or until the sauce is thick. Add your veg at appropriate times so they are cooked but have bite (I used fresh corn kernels, broccoli and aubergine). Remove from the heat and stir in cooked rice noodles, Thai basil and serve with lime wedges and fresh chilli.

 

Boston beans with pork belly

Serves 4-6

Definitely a weekend treat to relish and as wholesome as a corn-fed farm boy. The night before soak 500g haricot beans in water for at least 12 hours. Rinse and place in a heavy, five-litre casserole pan covering with water by about 3cm. Boil hard for about 10 minutes then lower to a simmer, cover with the lid and cook for 1 hour. Take a 400-500g piece of pork belly (rind on), cube then add to the beans with 50g soft dark brown sugar, 3tbsp black treacle, 1tbsp English mustard, three peeled crushed garlic cloves and 3tbsp of tomato puree. Peel about 10 pickling onions and insert five cloves into one before adding to the beans with a generous seasoning of black pepper, giving a mix. Preheat your oven to 140°C, place the lid on and cook for 3 hours. Remove the lid and drag the pork chunks to the top before cooking for a further hour uncovered. The beans should be soft and the mixture glossy and thick, (cook for longer if it is still a little watery). Season to taste and remove the clove spiked onion before serving with crusty buttered bread and fresh coriander.

 

Blueberry buttermilk pancakes

Serves 2-3

My son will be raised on these and not just on special occasions, as they are easier to whip up than French toast and twice as delectable. A recipe to scribble down and shortly after memorise through repetition! Sift 200g self-raising flour into a large bowl then add 2tbsp caster sugar, 1tsp lemon zest, a lightly beaten egg, 1tbsp melted butter and 380ml buttermilk. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined (a few lumps will not matter). Add one or two handfuls of blueberries or raspberries, stirring gently to combine and without breaking up the fruit. Heat a small knob of butter in a pan and cook spoonfuls of batter on a low-medium heat for a few minutes on each side or until browned and cooked through. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

Me time

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Actress, activist and mum Joanna Lumley, 72, talks tigers, tickets and taking life in her stride as she embarks upon her solo UK tour It’s All About Me.

Q. Tickets for your 31-date UK tour sold out amazingly quickly; how does that feel? “It’s utterly thrilling that on the first day the show was selling out across the country. At first, I thought I was scared about this tour. When it was announced, my first concern was that I’d have to pay people to come. I thought: ‘we’ll have to close the dress circle and pay people to sit in the stalls.’ But now I’m so excited. The great thing about performing live is the audience.”

Q. You have homes in London and the Thames Valley; what kind of reaction do you get out and about? “I travel on the Tube, and people are constantly talking to me as if I’m their friend. They’ll say ‘what we really liked about India was this…’ People love the travel shows and often come up and tell me they love that I don’t talk down to the people I meet. I don’t find food revolting or customs silly just because they’re from other countries. Chatting is pretty much what I do – I’m forever doing this at charity dos.”

Q. You’re a national treasure, thanks to your work on the Gurkha Justice Campaign and all the TV and film work; what’s the key to cramming so much in? “When I look back on all the things I’ve done, it’s a gasp-making list! You realise if you say ‘yes’ to jobs, you do jobs. If you’re picky, you do more great work, but needs must when the devil drives! The ability to send yourself up helps you survive. If you don’t have that, you can get gloomy.”

Q. You beat 800 other actresses to the role of kickboxing Purdey in The Avengers; was that your big break, would you say? “There had been no Avengers series for ten years – our version just caught people’s imagination. Maybe it was time for that kind of adventure story again. But it was also ludicrous! In one episode, a rat ate some nuclear waste and became the size of  a double-decker bus.”

Q. Did you know Ab Fab, would be such a huge success to this day? “I didn’t know Jennifer [Saunders} at the time, but when her script was sent to me, it was the funniest thing I’d ever read. I had no doubts about it.”

Q. What do you want to give people on this UK tour? “I want audiences to feel happy and go home feeling that life is great, getting old is great and you can still have a go at anything!”

For all the dates of Joanna’s tour and tickets, visit www.joannalumleylive.com

Eyes on the tiger

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Liz Nicholls chats to Simon Clinton, founder of Save Wild Tigers, about the plight of this critically endangered big cat and events this month supported by our brightest stars…

As if stepping up to dance, two 11-month-old tiger cubs begin play-fighting in India’s Ranthambhore National Park. This stunning photo (above), taken by Andy Rouse in 2015, captures the poetic, almost impossible beauty of these creatures. However, the sad truth is fewer than 3,800 tigers exist in the wild today as poaching and habitat loss push them to the brink of extinction.

“It’s about more than just tigers, as much as I love them,” Simon Clinton tells me. “I’m quoting David Attenborough because he said it best: it’s a moral           question about whether we humans have the right to exterminate a species, leave a world that’s more impoverished than the one we inherited, simply because of our own carelessness and greed as a species.”

Simon has done more than just wax lyrical about the plight of wild tigers, whose numbers have fallen by 97%. He grew up in Malaysia, which is home to the oldest rainforest in the world, and first encountered tigers as a child in the early 1970s.

Ten years ago, Simon was working in marketing and advertising, producing TV ads for brands such as The Happy Egg Co. Having always been passionate about conservation, he was asked to help market and launch Europe’s first ever tiger art exhibition, at London’s Asia House. “Only then did the irony hit me that this stunning tiger-inspired art exhibition, with some of the pieces dating back thousands of years, could soon be the only way in which we see tigers,” he says. “Art and pictures… could this really be the legacy we leave our future generations if we do not act quickly? What chance have we got of saving the countless other species that will inevitably follow in the tiger’s tracks towards extinction; the elephants, the rhinos, the lions? The list goes on. If we can’t win this battle, the consequences are too unbearable to imagine.”

Indeed, he has acted quickly from that point. Save Wild Tigers, which is a non-profit organisation, has forged links with NGO partners, the Environmental Investigation Agency and Born Free Foundation to help combat the murky and dangerous £20bn illegal wildlife trade in products such as tiger bone, wine and fur, as well as raising funds and awareness about the importance of sustainable palm oil whose production also threatens the future of the orangutan and rhinos. Simon has also won the hearts of stars including Jaime Winstone (pictured above with a Swarovski tiger as featured in Vogue) who is an ambassador of Save Wild Tigers along with shoe designer Jimmy Choo. Other star supporters of the cause include Stephen Fry and also Joanna Lumley and Brian May who took part in the world’s largest tiger event, Tiger Tracks, at St Pancras International in 2013.

“Globally, the symbolism and imagery of the tiger has long been used for marketing and resulting commercial gain across numerous brands such as petrol, fashion, beer, the list is endless,” adds Simon. “Now it is time to bring the power of marketing and creativity to inspire all to help save this magnificent species from extinction. The tiger is more than just the charismatic animal we see on TV. It is a keystone species that represents the very heart and soul of the jungle.”

Until Sunday, 14th October, you can head to the Royal Albert Hall for Eye On The Tiger, the world’s largest wild tiger photography exhibition. International photographers from the USA, UK, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Australia, Russia, Japan, Germany and India, including Steve Winter, Theo Allofs, Thorsten Milse,  Toshiji Fukuda, Nick Garbutt, Anish Andheria, Robin Hamilton and Roger Hooper have all generously donated their time and photographic rights to exhibit these beautiful photos.

They are on display in the Amphi Corridor, and can be viewed when attending a performance or on free open days on Friday, 5th, Sunday 7th, Friday 12th and Saturday 13th October, 10am-4pm.

Then, on Saturday, 27th October, Danesfield House Hotel near Marlow will host a star-studded black-tie champagne reception and dinner created by executive head chef Billy Reid and Masterchef winner Ping Coombes (tickets, £170 per person, are selling out very soon).

Head to www.savewildtigers.org to find out more

Rick & Roll

Liz Nicholls

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Liz Nicholls chats to singer-songwriter and dad Rick Astley, 52, about making his new album and having the best of both worlds

Q: Nice to speak to you. How’s your summer been?
“Fantastic thanks. Lots of touring and pottering in the sun too. We live a stone’s throw from Hampton Court Palace and the other night I was having a glass of rosé in the garden listening to Lionel Richie thinking ‘how wonderful’. I have a little boat – and it really is very little – which I take a couple of mates in to drift off down to the pub – my local is The Albany. There’s something about the river – in the mornings I’ll have a coffee looking at it and if you go off on a boat for even an hour, you feel like you’ve had a day out. It’s a great pace of life.”

Q. How did your new album come about?“
My wife was in America for a couple of weeks and, like any man left alone, I went to my ‘man cave’! Which is a studio at the end of my garden. Before long I’d made some tunes I really liked and thought ‘maybe I’m halfway through another record’. That’s how the last album [2016’s best-selling 50] happened. That one came after a big break from music and I got so much goodwill and love. I don’t kid myself that people are sat there with bated breath waiting for my next album to come out. But we’re on a bit of a roll at the moment.”

Q. Speaking of rolls, what about the ‘rickrolling’ phenomenon?
“It’s freaky and amazing. Years ago when it started, a friend of mine rickrolled me a few of times and I kept saying ‘yeah very funny, whatever’. I didn’t understand the concept, still don’t really! It keeps going and going – and it’s because of that I ended up invited on stage by the Foo Fighters last summer. I‘m a bit obsessed with the show Westworld and was stunned when the lead actress launched into Never Gonna Give You Up. Bring it on!”

Q. Do you love playing live?
“Yes; performing in front of human beings is the most exciting bit. Whether it’s your wife or friend – once you play a song and get a good reaction from someone, that’s amazing. Magnify that by playing in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people, and I do think it’s like a drug. It messes with the chemicals in your body and is a weird feeling – weird in a great way. It’s not like the real world.”

Q. Which other musicians do you love live?
“I’ve seen Adele in front of 500 and 80,000 people and she makes such a connection that it’s like being in her living room with her. I was going to say that’s her skill but it’s natural. I saw Gary Barlow the other day – again at Hampton Court Palace. I know Gary and said hi. When you look at his solo and band career he’s got a helluva set list – he’s worked for that and really works for his audience. Having read his book, I know he’s been through some s****y times and I think that always makes you appreciate what you’ve got more, and give more.”

Beautiful Life is out now and Rick Astley will perform at London’s Eventim Apollo on Thursday 8th & Friday, 9th November.

Michaelmas daisies

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Fill your garden with these beautiful Michaelmas Daisies flowers, says Cathie’s Garden Army, and have beautiful blooms in Autumn

Tall, short, pink, purple, white… I love Michaelmas Daisies and they provide much needed late summer colour throughout September and into October.

Cultivation
These beautiful daisies are fairly drought tolerant (once established) and need a well drained soil. They don’t need fertilising and, in fact, flower better in poor soils. Some cultivars clump up more than others and could do with being divided after flowering or in the spring every three or four years. It’s best to weed out the little lilac wild ones, which can come from the seed of cultivated varieties, as they can take over a border.

Name Changes!
Aster is (or was) the easy-to-learn scientific name for myself and my horticultural students; but, now it has been re-classified and we have to use the new name ‘Symphyotrichum’ These new names to get to grips with include: Symphyotrichum novi-belgii cultivars; Symphyotrichum novae-angliae cultivars; Symphyotrichum x frikartii ‘Monch’ – this is a species croSs, that has large lilac flowers and is my absolute favourite!

Why Michaelmas?
Michaelmas is a minor Christian festival celebrated on Saturday, 29th September when many Asters ( sorry, Symphyotrichum) are at their best. Often we call the late August bank holiday Michaelmas too.

Turning point

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September signifies a change of the seasons, woodland walks and cosy evenings in. These recipes should provide comfort & nourishment

Mussel linguine with saffron cream & samphire

Mussel linguine with saffron cream & samphire

This simple dish celebrates these tasty, vitamin-packed morsels in all their glory. The addition of samphire is delicious, if you can still get some – if not, cavolo nero or kale also work well. Once you get going it’s a bit of a whirlwind from pan to plate so get your ingredients prepped before turning on the hob. Take four large, firm tomatoes and score a cross into the base of each before placing in boiling water for a minute or two then use a slotted spoon to transfer to cold water. When cool enough to handle, peel off skins, remove seeds and membrane, chop and leave to one side. In a small bowl add 3tbsp of just-boiled water to a good pinch of saffron threads and leave until needed. Thinly slice four cloves of garlic, finely chop a handful of fresh parsley and zest one lemon, adding the juice from half. Measure 150ml white wine and 4tbsp of single cream and you’re ready! Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook pasta (to al dente). Meanwhile, heat 2tbsp olive oil in a pan with a lid and gently sauté your garlic, until golden; add your tomato, wine, saffron (with infused water) and season. Bring to a boil, letting the wine cook out a few minutes, then add 400g of fresh mussels and cook for about five minutes (with lid on) until open. Add lemon juice, zest, cream and samphire with a sprinkle of Aleppo chilli flakes and check seasoning, cooking for a few minutes before stirring into pasta, stirring. Serve with fresh parsley.

Rose veal schnitzel

Rose veal schnitzel

You can use pork or chicken for this schnitzel but I think rose veal works best for its sweet and tender flavour. Make breadcrumbs with day-old bread. Place your breadcrumbs in a shallow dish then whisk two eggs and place in a second shallow dish and place well-seasoned plain flour in a third. Cover your escalopes with greaseproof paper and beat to about 5mm thin. Coat each in flour then egg then crumb and refrigerate until required. Heat olive oil with a knob of butter in a frying pan to about 1.5cm deep and when a crumb dropped in sizzles and rises to the surface, cook each schnitzel for a minute or two on each side until they turn crisp and golden. Blot with kitchen paper and serve with fresh lemon.

Autumnal coleslaw

Autumnal coleslaw

The perfect accompaniment with a fresh, garlicky yoghurt dressing. Sometimes I like to serve this inside a brioche bun with schnitzel or pile high upon schnitzel and serve with sauté potatoes. Use a slicing blade on a food processor or chop the following finely and add to a large bowl one fennel bulb, six radishes, half a red onion, ¼ green cabbage and ¼ red cabbage then add a grated carrot. To make your dressing mix 250g natural yoghurt with two minced garlic cloves, 1tsp of Dijon mustard, ½ tsp each of celery salt and ground pepper and the juice of ½ a lemon. Adjust seasoning as you wish then stir in the coleslaw until well coated. Garnish with chopped toasted pecans.

Apple and marzipan pie

Apple and marzipan pie

The duo of apple and marzipan tastes divine. Heat your oven to 200°C. Peel and core two large (or three small Bramley) apples and roughly chop. Place in a saucepan with 80g of caster sugar, 30g unsalted butter and 3tbsp of water. Bring to a boil then lid the pan and gently cook, stirring occasionally until puréed. Leave to cool. Unroll a ready-made all-butter puff pastry sheet on to a lightly greased baking tray and slice 250g of natural, uncoloured marzipan. Lay the slices across the pastry leaving a 2cm border all around the edge then spoon over your cooled puree. Lightly beat two egg yolks and brush around the border. Unroll another piece of puff pastry and place it on top using your fingers or a fork to crimp and seal around the edges. Cut diagonal lines about 2cm apart from the centre towards the edges of the pie leaving a 2cm border using a sharp knife then brush with more egg mixture and sprinkle with demerara sugar. Cook for about 30 minutes or until the pastry has risen and is crisp and golden. Best served warm with thick cream, ice cream or custard.

Recipes created by Katie Kingsley, food stylist and blogger at thetravellingpantry.com

Make believe

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Susannah Steel traverses rooftops and rainforests with prize-winning author Katherine Rundell to explore children’s literature and her inspiration

Children’s literature is that most imaginative, immersive, shape-shifting, character-building collection of written words. For many, it conjures images of wardrobes, wizarding schools and midnight gardens…

But what does it take to write? To create something so captivating, so fantastically unbelievable that your reader has no choice but to believe… So synonymous with them that they need only see a rabbit with a watch to know they’re in Wonderland?

Having lived in many countries, Katherine Rundell brings a wealth of experience and an original spirit of character and adventure to her books. Indeed, for her most recent novel, The Explorer (about four children whose plane crash-lands in the Amazon rainforest), she went on a research trip to South America. “I swam with pink wild river dolphins, captured tarantulas and fished for piranha, and then I put it all in the book,” she says.

This pursuit of authentic experience highlights the importance of storytelling in giving vicarious experience. Isy Mead, head of learning and participation at The Story Museum in Oxford agrees: “Children’s literature occupies a fundamental role in the formation of the imagination, as well as compassion, humour and perspective.” Katherine adds: “It’s true there are more alternatives to reading, but books still do something nothing else can – they give you another world you can know in an intimate, blood-deep, behind-the-eyes way.”

Whether writing about the African landscape, the strict corridors of a boarding school, Russian forests under inches of snow or the rooftops of Paris, Katherine brings a magical, poetic and vividly original flair to her characters. They include a refreshing collection of strong female protagonists. However, Katherine says, she did not set out to consciously redress this imbalance…

“They were the characters I had in my head; I loved them, and I wanted to see if I could make them fly. In fact my most recent book has a boy protagonist, Fred – but I fervently believe boys must be shown they can read books with girls in them as readily as girls read books with boys; it’s absurd that the old prejudice still has pincers in.”

Was writing always Katherine’s calling? “It was! I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be other things along the way – architect, archaeologist, acrobat, pilot… But writing was the one that stayed at the centre.”

I wonder whether Katherine has been influenced by past children’s classics and fairy tales and, if so, which? “I’m sure I must be – I loved the dream of finding Narnia, I loved Paddington’s kindness, I loved the dry wit of E Nesbit. I loved Cinderella; but the 500-year-old, pre-Disney versions, in which Cinderella murders the wicked stepmother by chopping off her head with the lid of a trunk!”

Katherine’s stories usually include a journey, physical or emotional. What is it about a “journey” that so appeals to readers? “We love transformation, whether it be of a person or a landscape,” she says. “And I do love a good packing scene!” And her stories are not without sadness…“My reckoning is life is as difficult as it is beautiful, and all books worth their salt will acknowledge this, one way or another.”

Her characters are often aided by strong friendships. I ask her; Is the loyalty of friendship something she’s keen to explore? “Yes! I think friendships in fiction, particularly boy-girl friendships, can get sidelined by romantic plots, and I was keen to look at what friendship is made of – at that particular blend of admiration, love, trust, exasperation, and shared jokes that can shape your entire childhood, if you’re lucky.”

As for Katherine’s other characters, Sophie (Rooftoppers) loves to climb, Feo (The Wolf Wilder) plays with wolves and Will runs barefoot in the African landscape (The Girl Savage). Does Katherine share any unusual hobbies with her characters? “I love to climb,” she replies. “I think climbing can be a superb way to see and know the world. I used to go clambering on the rooftops of my Oxford college [All Souls], for a sight of the gargoyles, and of the world spread out below.”

And, with Katherine’s ethereal, almost timeless application of language, her empathy with character and need for adventure, the future of the growing children’s lit genre seems to promise a vivid and enticing view. Nonetheless, as Katherine reminds us, there are growing obstacles too…“What worries me is poverty, and its effect on literacy,” she says. “Three quarters of a million children in the UK don’t own a single book, and I worry that, as more libraries close, we’ll create an apartheid, where some children are shut out from the world of books and the joy comes with them.”

After all, views of landscape, adventure and wonderlands were created without borders. Let’s make sure they need not be seen only by telescopes and keep the expanding horizons of children’s literature visible for all.

Grill-seekers!

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Summer is here which means al fresco aplenty and Katie Kingsley has rustled up some delicious ideas to enjoy on the side!

Giant couscous salad with roasted peppers, tomatoes, pesto and feta

If you can’t find Israeli/giant couscous, small pasta shapes or orzo work well. This salad packs a lot of flavour; a more than worthy accomplice to any barbecued protein! Measure 200g giant couscous (I used wholewheat), rinse well and add to a pan of simmering vegetable stock (500ml). Once back to a rolling boil, turn down to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 6-8 minutes then drain, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, stir and leave to cool.

Cut two red and one yellow pepper into chunky slices and place cut-side up on a foil-lined baking tray. Halve a pint of cherry tomatoes and place with them in the tray then slice a whole garlic bulb through the middle and place, cut-side-up, in the tray. Drizzle with olive or rapeseed oil and season before placing in a heated oven for about 40-60 minutes and the edges are nicely charred. Remove the garlic halfway through (it will have turned a light gold) and cloves and pound into a paste with a pestle and mortar with a sprinkle of rock salt and glug of extra virgin olive oil. Stir the paste through the couscous then add the roast veg, dollop on fresh pesto and crumble feta on top.

Griddled cos with anchovy butter

Almost everyone who tries this will want the recipe and it’s a pleasure to disclose in its refreshing modesty. Ideal for barbecues, there is something alluringly unconventional but worthwhile in grilling the salad. Halve three or four cos lettuces then heat a grill pan or barbecue to hot, brush your cos with olive oil and grill cut-side-down for a few minutes before turning and grilling for an extra few minutes. You want nicely charred griddle lines and edges.

Transfer to a serving dish. Use a small pan to melt 80g butter then sauté two garlic cloves until golden before adding three finely chopped anchovy fillets, 2tbsp of finely chopped rosemary, the grated rind of a lemon and juice of half. Season to taste and drizzle over your charred lettuce.

Toasted caramel pineapple with coconut ice cream

Dress this dessert up into an exotic sundae with chocolate, coconut shavings and rum or keep it simple on a platter with scoops of ice cream and generous drizzles of caramel sauce. End your barbecue on a high as pineapple is said to contain significant amounts of the feelgood chemical serotonin. Peel and core a pineapple then cut into about 10-12 wedges. Place wedges on the barbecue and cook for a few minutes on each side until you get griddle lines then transfer to a serving dish.

To make your caramel sauce, measure 100g granulated sugar into a large clean pan, heat to medium and once the sugar has started to melt shake the pan occasionally until all the sugar has melted. Cook and stir with a spatula until the sugar has turned a light brown then add 30g butter and whisk vigorously until the butter has melted with the sugar. Remove the pan from the heat and add 60ml of single cream, whisking rapidly again until combined. If you have any sugar crystals, pass the caramel through a metal sieve, leave to cool then drizzle sparingly over charred pineapple and ice cream scoops.

Easiest ever flatbreads with herb butter

I have made these countless times; a delicious accompaniment to any barbecue. I like to pre-roll these so when people arrive, you aren’t in and out the kitchen all day – just separate them with baking paper or cling film. Place 350g natural yoghurt with 350g self-raising flour into a large bowl then add 1tsp baking powder and a pinch of salt. Use your hand to bring the dough together (it will feel a bit sticky so add more flour until you can).

Once you have the dough in one lump, give it a bit of a knead in the bowl then lightly flour your work surface and divide into 12 pieces. Roll each piece out to about 5mm thick and cook on a hot barbecue or griddle pan for one or two minutes on each side. Melt butter and sauté minced garlic cloves before adding fresh herbs then brush the herb butter over the flatbreads. Enjoy your summer!

Summer favourites from Paul Clerehugh

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We chat to Paul Clerehugh, the star chef of The Crooked Billet and London Street Brasserie…

Q. What’s your favourite kitchen gadget?
“ My Vogue Speed Peeler, for planing Reggiano curls from a parmesan wedge. It produces perfect courgette, daikon and carrot ribbons and peels a waxy charlotte in seconds… I could even shave my legs with it.”

Q. What are your favourite al fresco summer dishes?
“Shaved courgette and parmesan dressed with thick green olive oil. Or else rotisserie spitroast chicken, loads of herbs, garlic and lemon. I’m also partial to a Mr Whippy with local raspberries and monkey blood.”

Q. Which are your favourite local suppliers, producers or farm shop?
“Blue Tin Farm Shop at Keepers Cottage in Ipsden. Great produce, a great smoke house, great providence and I fancy the farmer’s wife…”

Q. What’s your favourite summer veg, fruit and drink?
“Runner beans, tomatoes and Barbara Laithwaites’ Stoke Row English sparkling wine. I also love an ice-cold Dandelion & Burdock.”

Visit www.thecrookedbillet.co.uk  or London Street Brasserie

Feast of fun

Liz Nicholls

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Liz Nicholls chats to musician, cheese maker and dad Alex James, 49, ahead of The Big Feastival which takes place 24th-26th August, in the Cotswolds

Q: How do you start planning each new Big Feastival?
“The first thing we do is invite The Cuban Brothers and Justin Fletcher; then we’ve got a party. Justin turns up and marches on stage with his little red nose on to sing One Man Went To Mow and brings the house down, without fail, every year. As time goes on it gets easier to attract the big stars. I’m delighted Marco [Pierre White] is involved this year; the whole British food revival started with him. Raymond Blanc and Pierre Koffmann complete the trio of culinary granddaddies.”

Q. Do you love the local food scene?
“Totally. We’re lucky with such a brilliant culture of food, starting with Daylesford just up the road and that’s drawn loads of brilliant chefs to the area. I love all the great pop-ups, farmers, producers…”

Q. Do you get to enjoy the festival once all the hard prep work is done?
“Yes; it takes all my charms and the odd cheese parcel, as well as loads of hard work. But when the sun’s shining and everyone’s jumping up and down, having a good time, it’s worth it. I don’t think I’ve ever had as much fun as this – it’s an absolute scream. I get the whole family involved; everyone’s got a role.”

Q. You make parenting look easy, with your big brood!
“Haha! Yeah but I do get stressed too, man. Having a big family teaches you to roll with the punches, focus on the horizon, keep pushing.”

Q. You seem very productive?
“I’ve made five children, six cheeses and seven records. That’s the only reason I can do a food, music and family festival. You’ve got to care to make it happen.”

Q. How do you stay so svelte, making so much cheese!?
“Thanks for saying; I don’t feel it! I’ve got two new cheeses out this year so each one is quite a bit of time in the gym. It’s difficult not to invent cheese without eating loads of f***ing cheese!”

Q. Where do you want to travel next?
“Marco and I were talking about this the other day – he wants to go round Europe. South America, for me, is mind-blowing. The last time I was in Chile with the band I had a great meal and there wasn’t one ingredient I recognised. There’s interest in doing a festival down there, actually. I love travelling as a family; it’s so easy to travel in the 21st century.”

Q. Do you still love astronomy?
“Yeah; I watch lots of videos on YouTube; science, physics. It’s a good way to zone out at the end of a long day. Since the kids arrived I’ve got more down-to-earth concerns but my love of astronomy has gone into a more abstract realm of higher maths.”

Q. Who’s your favourite author?
“I like to re-read those books I’ve always loved, especially Conan Doyle and Robert Louis Stevenson.”

Visit www.thebigfeastival.com

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