Happy Times

the plain kitchen food blog
Festive season essentials: these, and Berocca every day…

I have had the longest period of time away from the blog: a purposeful move, and one which certainly did me the world of good. I have learned, over the last five years of running my own business, that it doesn’t work to attempt to do everything, all of the time. Of course, Christmas is a busy time for Hector and Haddock, and I conduct Christmas Linocut Workshops too at this time. Cooking is constant, as the holiday season, is, for us, all about friends, food and fun. I thought I’d write a little about what we’ve been up to here on The Plain- particularly in the kitchen.

the plain kitchen christmas cake
Easter Chicks or Penguins?

Our Christmas Cake ended up being a fairly rushed affair, and I relied on Delia’s Mincemeat Christmas Cake (for “busy, harassed cooks”, I think she writes). Decorations were tenuously linked to Christmas: pale grey penguins adorned the cake, and in fact, yes, on closer inspection the penguins may just be Easter Chicks. Note to self: invest in proper Christmas cutters for next year, or at least find the ones I already have which are probably lurking in Barnaby’s toybox.

The Plain Kitchen
Christmas light: it’s been gorgeous, hasn’t it?

Christmas Eve was quite the most wonderful affair. Friends invited us over for a Babette’s Feast celebration, inspired of course by the film. It’s one of my favourites from my youth, and certainly inspired me to pursue a life immersed in food, cooking and entertaining. I made little smoked salmon blinis which we had with fizz- I know it’s not the usual way, but I like adding chopped chives into the batter, which I did for both the gluten-free and “normal” versions of the blinis. Gina, who was hosting the evening, made the most heavenly Mussel soup (made, she told me, with a stock made from sprats- I am pinching this idea of hers, and shall be making sprat stock for a multitude of things: it was glorious). Gina’s father Chris had chosen the wines for each course, and each was pitch perfect. Gina followed the soup with Confit of Duck- again- just perfection. Our friend Helen had been entrusted with making the Rum Baba, and I have not seen such an utter triumph in a long time: we all agreed that Helen (who was slightly nervous about the creation) was in fact a secret star baker. I have ordered a tin online already, and am going to be making the exact same one that Helen made…

Simon, Gina’s husband, had cleverly devised a little Pantomime for all of us to take part in between courses- great fun for everyone, including of course the children who really threw themselves into it. I’m not very good at providing entertainment for people at dinner parties and the like- and am definitely going to be improving on this come 2017!

Of course, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without children waking at ungodly hours. Barnaby woke at 530, and so our day began- tea and mince pies, followed a little later by more smoked salmon blinis, and a little later by Buck’s Fizz (Christmas Day is the only day of the year when drinking at 11 o clock is completely acceptable, and of course I throw myself into this with my usual excitement). We had turkey this year- which I brined according to Nigella Lawson’s instructions. As a small family, we usually have duck, but Barnaby was leafing through Good Housekeeping magazine a few weeks ago (the child is obsessed with baking and food) and declared he’d like a turkey this year- so of course, we obliged. Dear God, I don’t think I will ever cook turkey by any other method- it was unbelievably good, and the turkey, a bird sourced from our wonderful butcher R Douse & Sons in Market Lavington, was gamey, spiced, and one of the most succulent roasts we have ever had. The usual accompanied the turkey: goose fat roast potatoes, chestnut & bacon sprouts, parmesan parsnips and carrots, homemade pigs in blankets (I make sausages from pork mince, apricots, walnuts and sage) and slow braised red cabbage. I don’t stuff our turkey, or any Christmas bird for that matter, in the usual way- I pop the cavity full of aromatics and vegetables, and then use these to flavour the gravy later with- the gravy being made, of course, with the roasted neck and giblets of the bird in question.

The day was happily interspersed with phone calls to South Africa, and FaceTime calls to family in far-flung parts of the world. When you live in one country, and all of your family live in others, you do need to make your own rituals, routines and happiness, probably more so than if you lived in the country of your birth: of course, we have built up our own rituals over the 19 years of living in England- they are hugely important and necessary tools for happiness, and, I dare say it, survival. However, as wonderful as these newly formed routines are,  nothing quite matches hearing those family voices you love on Christmas Day.

Trifle followed our Christmas turkey; again a Barnaby instruction- somehow he has trifle linked with Christmas, and I adore how his rituals have already begun. I make a simple gluten free sponge, and I layer everything in an old fashioned cut glass bowl- slowly stewed raspberries and clementine juice, the sponge, custard, raspberry jelly and of course whipped cream and toasted flaked almonds. We veer away from the booze at this point- it’s one ritual that Barnaby hasn’t got into- yet, that is!

The Plain Kitchen Stanley
Stanley, my trusty kitchen companion

Boxing Day was a quiet affair- and more food prep was underway, as we had been invited to our dear friends Alison and Frank on the 27th. We see them every year, along with their family, and this has become a sort of ritual too. I have mentioned them before in my blog- the family are an inspiration in the kitchen-we always come away feeling loved, and happy, and very content after being in their company. We had gorgeous turkey scratchings with fizz on arrival, smoked salmon (which Frank had smoked himself) and celeriac remoulade to start, followed by platters of beautiful ham and turkey, pigs in blankets and my absolute favourite, Alison’s Dauphinoise- I am quite sure she thinks I go on about it far too much, but I can never, ever get mine like hers. I quiz her on every aspect of it, determined to extract her secret, but, I fear I will never be able to make it quite like she does. I had made two salads- one a grilled chicory salad with toasted pecans, Cropwell Bishop Stilton, and an orange and mustard dressing: I had reduced orange juice down into a syrup with some brown sugar, which made a great difference to the depth of the dressing. Steamed green beans dressed in sautéed red onions and garlic followed salad-wise, liberally sprinkled with a cobbled together dukkah of mine: hazelnuts, chilli, za’atar, garlic, lemon zest, all toasted in lots of olive oil. I will definitely be making both salads again- and I promise I shall post the recipes for you!

Pud followed, of course: Alison’s Prune & Almond tart, a great wheel of golden toasted loveliness (again, I admired/envied Alison again, this time for the size of tart tin and perfect pastry) and I contributed with Delia’s Chocolate Rum Torte- which was ok- it needed to be of a softer consistency I felt, perhaps I needed to bring it up to room temperature a little more- and it was, as Delia does say, incredibly rich. What did work a little better- I have to say- is the double cream mix I made to go with the torte: I reduced clementine juice, rum and soft brown sugar to a syrup, and then folded this through the cream: I couldn’t believe how it changed the consistency of the cream so instantly; perhaps, like with a posset, it’s the citrus which alters the cream and thickens it. I will be making this wonderful creamy concoction again, I can tell you- and of course, the recipe will follow- but it is truly the most simple thing, and as long as you reduce the juice, rum and sugar down to the consistency of maple syrup- I am sure it will work for you, whatever proportions you use.

Branksome Beach
Utter heaven on Branksome Beach

A day of rest followed our Putman Thoma gathering, in preparation for a lovely visit to friends in Poole the next day: walks with the dogs on Branksome Beach, followed by more delicious smoked salmon and pink fizz, and Venison Stew: our friends had very kindly made me my own little version of flash fried venison as I couldn’t have the stew (silly bloody gluten thing that gets in the way and is an absolute embarrassment sometimes) and, in my usual fashion, I am now all about the venison: their dish has inspired me and I can’t wait to cook more of it. I shan’t have to wait much longer, because I have the most wonderful joint in the freezer, given to us by friends who shoot regularly- I have great plans ahead! Barnaby and I had made Florentines from his new Mary Berry cookbook, which we had with coffee after, of course, more cheese had been consumed.

The Guardian Reader Recipe swap
Mincemeat pebble Tart in The Guardian

I was also thrilled to have another recipe featured in The Guardian Reader Recipe Swap last Saturday- on the theme, appropriately, for Christmas Leftovers. It was for Mincemeat Pebble Tart- the recipe is on the site here.

As I write, I have a ham simmering slowly on the Stanley, deep in its aromatic cider liquor. I shall glaze and brown the ham briefly tonight, and will be, in my usual fashion, attempting to make Alison’s bloody Dauphinoise just how she makes it, but I’m not holding out much hope for its success. Vegetables will be steamed spring cabbage (“It’s squeaky, mummy, like halloumi, and I like that”) leeks and peas, with a glass or two of something white and cold. Barnaby has been up to his usual tricks today- we didn’t emerge from our dressing gowns until 11 o clock, not, as you may think being lazy- we simply began to bake at 830, and couldn’t quite leave the kitchen to shower and change. He decided more Florentines were on the cards, followed by Chocolate Eclairs, and Mary Berry’s “Best ever” Chocolate Cake, made in preparation for tomorrow evening. The happiness on this little boy’s face as he wandered off to walk James on The Plain, cream-filled, chocolate drizzled eclair in one hand and (I know, I know) a crispy rasher of Frank’s homemade bacon in the other was a sight to behold: well, if it works for you, Barnaby, why on earth should I stop you?

Mary Berry Chocolate eclairs
Mary’s Eclairs, off for a walk on The Plain with Frank’s Bacon…

On that note, everyone: I wish you a very happy 2017. A massive, all encompassing South African style hug to you all (we tend to kiss A LOT and hold on longer than most people do…)

Hector and Haddock: Christmas Shopping and a Big Thank You

Hector and Haddock Snow Fox

There is a little thank you for you all, at the end of this post: I hope it comes in handy!

As I write this, our little village is rather damp, to say the least: the rain hasn’t stopped for several days, and I’ve just returned from a daring trip out to the bank, of all places, and managed to make it home in one piece. The dog is looking longingly at the door, and I am afraid he will just have to continue gazing longingly, as I will wait for the torrential downpour to abate before I step out again. The cat, in all his black fluffy glory, has joined me in the studio and is not looking too happy- his mice hunting activities have been curtailed; one of the things which perhaps displeases him most in the world. Winter is well and truly here, I think, but we certainly can’t complain- Autumn was a blaze of glory, and we can only don our wellies with a smile and lift our brollies in bravery, while we go about our daily chores.

Hector and Haddock The Plain Kitchen Poppycock

Christmas too, is only several weeks away. I am off to Pullens Yards on the 2nd December, donning my “other” hat- my Hector and Haddock one that is. I’ve been attending the Pullens Yards Christmas Fair for a while now- this will be my fourth year there, and it is one of my favourite places to be in December. The Yards are a trio: Iliffe, Clements and Peacock, and I am lucky enough to have a space in a studio in Iliffe Yard, selling my wares. If you are able to visit- it would be lovely to see you!

Teatowel Jam The Plain Kitchen

I digress. What I did want to say to all of you wonderful Plain Kitchen readers and subscribers is this: thank you. Thanks for subscribing to my newsletters and posts, and thank you for your support and comments. As a very small gesture of gratitude, there is a special Plain Kitchen discount code for all of you on www.hectorandhaddock.com: all you have to do is enter PLAINKITCHEN2016 at checkout and you will receive 30% off your shop, and, if you live in the UK, there is the added bonus of free postage too.

Fox print linocut the plain kitchen

There are a variety of things on the site: from framed handprinted linocuts, to organic cotton tea towels, framed ephemera, framed phrase and motif pictures, screen prints and greeting cards. I hope you find a few things there that take your fancy!

Happy shopping- and thank you all.

kitchenalia print hector and haddock



John Hanna & Country Fair

John Hanna Country fair Jenny Duff

I promised you a few posts on my favourite kitchenalia and homeware pieces: well, here is the first instalment, detailing an illustrator very close to my heart: John Hanna. No, not the actor, John Hannah, or indeed one of my other favourite illustrators Jonny Hannah: this is one John Hanna, who lived and worked in London in the 1950s before returning home to his native Australia.

Many of you will be very familiar with the work of John Hanna- but, upon seeing some the images, you may have trouble placing just where you first saw the illustrations. His illustrations will be evocative, and you may not know why. They will seem like a lot of work you’ve seen recently, and you may be surprised to in fact learn they are over 60 years old. John Hanna was an Australian artist who worked in London in the 1950s, and who is known primarily for his work on Country Fair Magazine. Ring any bells? It may do: I have a few copies of Country Fair rescued from the tip and auction, and have always adored the images: and, a chance meeting with a designer a few years ago at a fair made me research Hanna a little more.
Jenny Duff Mats John Hanna

I was immediately drawn to Hanna’s work: being a fan of woodcuts anyway, and Ravilious, and of course adoring the use of line and flat colour in design, his work had a gentle dream like quality for me, and I loved the illustrations instantly. However, Country Fair magazines aren’t that easy to come by- unless of course you do an Ebay trawl, which somehow feels like cheating a little. I was also quite surprised at how undiscovered Hanna remained, and, I think, remains: not many people are familiar with his work, yet they have that immediate connection to it. Perhaps it is because of our recent obsession with midcentury design. Upon seeing some of Hanna’s work for the first time, you may in fact think they are imitations, or 21st century designs reproduced in the 1950s style: they now have a certain immediacy about them. Of course, they’re simply excellent examples of such a style- and, I feel, hugely underrated. Even by writing this post, I almost feel like I am letting others into a secret- a copy of Country Fair can be purchased on Ebay for as little as £4.50 (I have added a few to my Christmas list) and I know they will simply hold their value if one were to purchase them. Of course, as an animal lover, and obviously growing up on a farm, I find his depictions of British creatures spot-on: and his animals reflect human emotions in the most precise way: the little-boy mischief & excitement of a retrieving gun-dog, the irritation of an extremely grumpy sitting hen, the energetic persistence of a blue tit, and one of my favourites, his quizzical tilted-head terrier.

I suppose there is the added affinity with Hanna’s work in that, as an Australian living in England, his take on these everyday British creatures was new: something I can relate to, growing up in South Africa, where my South African childhood tales and books were populated by crocodiles, snakes, lions and giraffes. I of course also read English books: my bedroom library contained both English and South African illustrated books, and I was particularly fond of my little Beatrix Potter collection: the animals seemed so sweet, so harmless, so gentle and neat and tidy compared to our ferocious looking African beasts. And so it still is for me: I enjoy the warmth of Hanna’s work, it doesn’t alarm me, and it feels very comfortable. Of course, having also had Springer Spaniels and now an Irish Terrier, I have a new found appreciation for Hanna’s exacting depictions of these beautiful creatures.

I am the proud owner of John Hanna coasters and table mats, made by the designer Jenny Duff. I met Jenny at a fair we were both attending years ago, and I immediately loved her work. All of Jenny’s coasters and mats are made in Britain, unlike a lot of other reproduced homeware items, and I have a thing for melamine and cork anyway. Jenny was offered the illustrations by the family of journalist and publisher Macdonald Hastings, who had discovered an archive of Country Fair magazines in their attic. I have 6 mats and coasters, and I of course am hoping, in years to come, to collect more. Whenever we have friends over, Barnaby loves choosing who will have which mat and coaster- and I love knowing that this little ritual, with these perfect images, will be part of his childhood memory library.

Jenny Duff Mats John hanna

When researching Hanna, I found very little. I of course had Jenny’s information to draw on, but, thank God, I also read the blogs of Nick Asbury. The links to Nick’s work are here if you fancy a read: In Search of Hanna  and Nick and Sue’s site, Asbury and Asbury,  (where, I am warning you, you will spend a great amount of time reading lots of other interesting things). I love how Nick’s perception of Hanna’s work echoes my sentiments too. Perhaps we should all begin a Hanna Fan Club of sorts: I would wear the pin badge and jumper ANYDAY.

Of course, to buy Jenny’s beautiful mats and coasters, made right in sunny Margate, go here: Jenny Duff.

Kitchenalia and Ephemera


Of course, cooking, and being in the kitchen is not just about ingredients, or food, or the way you cook: it’s about what surrounds a cook. We are all fascinated by the minutia of people’s lives, their implements, their aprons, the way someone may hold a spatula: it seems to be endlessly fascinating for us all. And I get it. I do understand that fascination. And these days, more than ever, we are able to really see what goes on in the lives of those we follow on social media. We are able to see their bed linen (mostly Ikea white & blue stripe, it has to be said), we are able to see where they have coffee, eat lunch, and where they take their children to play. We are able to see the special jug on the shelf, the weird framed picture on the wall, and the mismatched cutlery which seems so important.


I have decided to write a few little posts on some of my favourite items in my home; things I collect, junk shop finds I want to share with you- books, ceramics, paper, furniture- you name it, there are a lot of funny old pieces in my house that so many people have asked about. So, the next few blog posts will deal with these lovely items. Perhaps they will interest you, perhaps one or two will take your fancy, perhaps I may alert you to an auction worth visiting: I hope the musings will make you smile.

The first few items I shall be writing about are right here. Peruse if you fancy it; and I shall be telling you all about them very soon indeed.


The Elgin Avenue


I have been a long time fan of Monica Beatrice Welburn and her work. Monica is a pioneering lifestyle and fashion blogger, who began The Elgin Avenue years & years ago (before the term “fashion blogger” was the huge influence it is today), and has grown her brand and blog with great integrity and style. I subscribe to her newsletters which I love- particularly her Croissant Reading ones, and hers are one of the few newsletters that I actually open and read. We so often can subscribe to things unthinkingly, and then suffer the clutter of inboxes- well, subscribing to The Elgin Avenue has never brought with it such desktop clutter. Monica’s advice, style and sense of aesthetic is always spot-on, and she carefully curates and chooses the brands she works with, which in turn provides her readers with honest and trusted opinions. That’s rather a difficult and rare thing to find these days- as I’m sure you’re all aware.

You can imagine my utter surprise and delight then, when Monica chose The Plain Kitchen as one of the newsletters worth subscribing to. There are 10 other blogs that Monica has chosen, and The Plain Kitchen is certainly in very good company- I really do feel completely overwhelmed at being included in Monica’s roundup: the link is here if you fancy a read:

11 Newsletter Subscriptions I Value (And Actually Open)

Huge thanks to Monica for the inclusion- I hope I can keep up the level expected of me!