Friday, 26 July 2013


The meringue has always been a bit of a mystery to me.

My mum used to make them all the time when I was little and, although I never took to the ones I found in the shops once I'd grown up, I never felt a burning urge to make them myself.

All that changed on Sunday.  We visited good friends in Ireland and were treated to the most amazing tray of meringues I have ever tasted in my life (sorry Mum).  

It turned out that they were adapted from an old family recipe for pavlova and, in the true spirit of The Starving Artists’ Kitchen, they’re made from ingredients that you'll find at the back of your cupboard.  

They looked pretty spectacular too.  Here’s how they did it.


6 egg whites
2 teaspoons custard powder
2 pinches salt
2 teaspoons white vinegar (this will make the insides lovely and gooey)
2 teacups caster sugar


1. Beat egg whites and salt together until very stiff and whipping into peaks.

2. Add half of the sugar, continuing to beat all the time.

3. Fold in the remaining sugar, custard powder and white vinegar.  I know this sounds revolting but trust me, it will make all the difference.

4. Bake at 150 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.  The meringues should be golden on the outside, gooey on the inside and not look out of place on Notre Dame.  Fabulous.

Friday, 12 July 2013


“[I]t’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck.  Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right?  And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer-curing legacy. But in ‘AIA’, Anna decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called The Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera.”

This is Hazel Grace Lancaster’s summary of her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction.  Hazel is the  narrator of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, and she has terminal cancer. 

Although she has survived its colonisation of both her thyroid and lungs, Hazel would scoff at the title ‘heroine’.  “Cancer kids are essentially side effects of the relentless mutation that made the diversity of life on earth possible”, she deadpans, “…Cancer is … a side effect of dying.  Almost everything is, really.”

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes this book so irresistible.  It had been recommended to me time and time again, but even so it caught me unawares.  Perhaps it was the black-humoured fatalism with which the main characters treat their diagnoses.  Maybe it was their eye-rolling at the seemingly ubiquitous cheesy sentiment of ‘cancer heroism’.  Or it might have been the sheer normality of the teenage voices living through an entirely abnormal adolescent experience. 

In truth, I suspect it was all three.  But what really remained with me was the extraordinary dynamic between Hazel, her about-to-be-blind friend Isaac from Support Group, and Augustus Waters, the osteosarcoma survivor with whom she falls in love.   

All three of them would hate this categorisation by diagnosis. ‘[I don’t want] your cancer story.  [I want] your story….” Gus presses Hazel after their first meeting, “Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who becomes your disease… Cancer is in the growth business, right?  The taking-people-over business.  But surely you haven’t let it succeed prematurely.”

Writing teenage relationships isn’t easy at the best of times.  Overlay the intensity of first love with looming mortality and there is a real danger of heavy-handed mawkishness.  The Fault in Our Stars takes this threat and flips it on its head.  It is laugh out loud funny, but beneath the humour lie strong and utterly believable bonds of friendship.  Who but Augustus Waters would address a blind man’s heartbreak by re-enacting Counterinsurgence 2: The Price of Dawn with a dozen eggs and an ex-girlfriend’s car?

And then there’s the love story itself, which will break your heart.  For teenagers, romantic relationships are often insecure while death remains largely irrelevant.  For Hazel and Gus, it's very different.  The result is intensified emotion that their wise-cracking banter never allows to cloy.  There is an honesty here that is pitch-perfect, and their refusal to be sentimental means that any ‘overdone’ moments are genuinely moving. 

This is not a ‘cancer book’, it is so much more than that.  It is a story that will make you laugh and cry from start to finish.  Don’t miss it. 

Thursday, 4 July 2013


This week, and for the first time in a while, I cooked a roast chicken dinner. 

As I really can’t be bothered with making stock, chicken leftovers are usually served up as cold meat or  in a curry.  This time though, we still had had some of the lemon and thyme used to flavour the roast left, along with a variety of healthy vegetables.

With the addition of rice -  always a cheap and easy way to bulk out a meal – this was the obvious solution.

We call it Post-Roast Risotto. Enjoy!


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 onion, chopped
Half a lemon
250g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
225g broccoli florets (stems can be kept for Odds and Sods Stirfry)
175g fine beans
1.5 litres vegetable stock, made with Marigold Bouillon
Leftover roast chicken, as close to 200g as you can manage.
350g Arborio rice
200ml white wine
fresh thyme leaves

Freshly grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste


1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan and add the chopped garlic and onion.   Cook on a gentle heat for 2-3 minutes until the onion softens and begins to turn transparent.

2. Break the broccoli into florets and halve the beans. Blanch in salted water for 4-5 minutes.  Drain and refresh under the cold tap. Put to one side.

3. Add the rice, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and approximately a ladleful of stock.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Cook gently, stirring while the stock is absorbed, adding ladleful by ladleful as each addition is soaked up.  Make sure at least a ladleful is left for the final stage.

5. After approximately 15 minutes your stock should be mostly absorbed and the rice creamy.  Add the mushrooms, broccoli, beans, cold chicken, thyme leaves and your remaining stock.

6. Cover and simmer for another 5 minutes until the rice is tender and all the liquid absorbed.

7. Adjust your seasoning if needed, and serve with freshly grated parmesan.  Thrifty and delicious!