I live on Salisbury Plain, England, in a very old, wonky thatched cottage that looks like it’s been iced with royal icing and topped with Shredded Wheat. I grew up in South Africa, but have lived in England for 19 years.
I run my design business, Hector and Haddock, from my studio at home where I design linocuts, screen prints, tea towels and greeting cards. A complete bibliophile and self confessed hoarder, all of my designs and work pay homage to vintage graphics and paper. I also use this extensive paper ephemera collection to create bespoke paper pictures for clients.
I write, and contribute to a few publications, and teach. I also conduct Hector and Haddock Linocut Workshops.
More than anything, I love to cook for people.
I’ve always been a bit of a sentimental old fool: I am a hoarder of immense proportions, and can vividly remember filling the tiny alcoves of my printer’s tray on my bedroom wall with minute memorabilia. As a girl, I kept all of my toys, even when I had far outgrown my dolls, and I collected shiny wrappers and pretty packaging from favourite chocolate bars. I still have all of my birthday cards, even those from my first birthday: clearly my mother hoarded them for me, and anticipated I would become someone obsessed with nostalgia. My sentimentality and attachment to sweetie wrappers, clothing, and letters became all the more important in 1987, aged 13, when my world ended, and my mother died. Something in me went with her when she did: and I don’t think I will ever get it back. Of course, I began to hold on to every tangible thing I could that would help connect me somehow to her.
Mum’s letters to me at boarding school, her nursing qualifications: I kept them all. I studied them religiously, as if opening each precious document would soothe my inexorable pain and miraculously bring her back. Trawling through mum’s memories didn’t soothe or bring her back, of course it didn’t, but I’m grateful I kept all of those items. Now I can look at them with greater appreciation and love, without the continuous bruising, salty wave of tears that swept over me in those horrendous early years. My mother was good at lots of things: in fact, she was good at pretty much anything. Sewing, cooking, baking, milking cows, putting out forest fires, teaching; everything mum turned her hand to, she excelled at. Except running without tripping over: she wasn’t the most agile of creatures, and I’m pleased to say I’ve inherited this daft ineptitude from her, a clumsiness which has caused me silly amounts of pain and hilarity over the years. However, what I also inherited from mum, besides the agility, were her cookbooks. Her sticky-backed-plastic wrapped notebooks, her spiral-bound scrapbooks filled with yellowed sellotaped collages of Pineapple Fluff and Chicken a la King: all of them I value more than most items I own.
I read them when I am feeling light-hearted and fairly strong, because seeing her happy, rounded script on the page is still sometimes too much for me to bear. I page through the recipes with nostalgia and fondness, and as I read her recipes for Date Pudding and Chicken Tetrazini I see her again- alive, in the kitchen, long-legged and smiling, taking brown bread from the oven, yelling for my brother, while opening a jar of her apricot jam (always made with dried apricots: that was the secret), lifting the pale white wax lid from the amber jam, and allowing me to dip my finger in the jar. When I read these recipes, and when I see her again, I do not feel that utter sadness from the early years, but rather a re-invigoration of sorts: I am ensuring, through my cooking and through the adaptation of recipes in my modern day kitchen, that her memory and the fond nostalgia live on.
This collection of recipes has been a long time coming: I’ve spent my life in the kitchen: years with mum, learning the basics, rubbing butter into flour for scones (oh, the infinite amount of time it took! An absolute age: and she made me persevere, gently encouraging me to continue while I sobbed over the lumps that wouldn’t turn to crumbs, no matter how hard I tried). I listened, watched, and made mistakes with mum: I was lucky enough to spend precious time with her. However, it was when I took over the reins so to speak when mum died, that my real learning and knowledge began. I was determined that I would get to grips with everything, from sewing to cooking and baking, everything that mum had done. In those years of my mother’s illness, and afterwards, I assumed responsibility of so many household tasks, especially the cooking. I remember my utter confusion at my father not allowing me to take three days off school: I had explained to him that I needed to “get on top” of the washing, we were out of biscuits for the house, and the placemats that I was quilting and sewing for the table weren’t finished- I needed the time to complete everything, why on earth couldn’t he see that? Thankfully my father didn’t allow me the time off school: I see now why he didn’t give in, but I’m still someone who likes to “keep on top of things”- most certainly influenced by those early days of domesticity. So many tears were shed over disastrous recipes- I remember with sharp pain my rock hard Hot Cross buns, an attempt at making them just like mum’s for the first Easter after she died: I’d used the wrong flour, and I was utterly devastated. I look back on those days of grieving and attempting to assuage my sharp grief through cooking and being in the kitchen with much sadness: however, also with great joy: I am so grateful to my mother, because I know that every day I am in the kitchen, every meal I make for my family and friends, her influence is present, and she is with me.
I have spent five years on a gluten free diet, for health reasons: before the diagnosis, I cooked and ate anything and everything, and perfect weekends always revolved around food or going to restaurants, discovering new places to eat: from Michelin starred restaurants to little pubs in the countryside, my life focused on food. I was the unfussiest of eaters, and in fact, was intolerant of people with intolerances: I understood the severity of allergies, of course: but an intolerance? Come on. Get a grip, and eat up. Until, of course, it happened to me, and my life became intolerable. Although the gluten-free diagnosis was a hugely positive shock to my body, as I physically recovered very quickly, it was also an emotional disappointment, as my epicurean adventures pretty much had to stop. I think too, becoming so ill in my late thirties was scary in another way: mum had been taken ill at about the same time in her life, and no matter how hard I tried to push the similarities aside, I was of course consumed with fear that the same thing would happen to me. The relief at discovering that I could change everything through one simple alteration to my diet has brought with it not only immense relief at renewed health and energy, but also huge happiness at the fact that I may hopefully be around for a bit longer.
Five years is a pretty long time to get to grips with a new lifestyle: but I was adamant that it wasn’t going to be totally new. This wasn’t going to suddenly turn me into some fat-dairy-sugar-free newly-imbued-with-evangelical-energy foodie: a lot of my friends already fall into that category, and I don’t think I’d fit into their gang very well even if I tried. I found eating gluten-free easy enough to do at home, but going out to eat was another story: establishments are just not geared to cater for the increasingly popular need for gluten free food. There are some establishments who cater beautifully for GF diets: but these are few and far between. We should expect more, and we also don’t necessarily want a menu glowing with dietary low fat health either. We just want beautifully cooked food, utterly delicious, inventive and not knowingly gluten free.
Sadly, while we wait for establishments to get with the programme, we are just going to have to do it ourselves: and I have spent the last five years attempting to do just this. All recipes on the site can of course be adapted for those of you lucky people who can eat gluten: this was one of my other many reasons for writing these recipes: I want everyone to be able to enjoy them. The Plain Kitchen brings together adaptations of my old favourites, developments of new recipes, interpretations of delicious meals I have eaten elsewhere, and of course, recipes from the incredible women in my life: my mother, my aunts, my godmother, my friends: these are recipes of nostalgia for the modern kitchen.
I can be contacted for product testing, recipe commissions and writing on firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Hector & Haddock, on email@example.com.