Gypsy Punk Peppers

Yes, I’m talking about stuffed peppers, but if I called them that would you read this post?  Probably not.  I certainly wouldn’t.

Stuffed peppers have a bad rap.  They smack of 1970s dinner party.  Especially when served on brown Denby plates like the ones we’ve got.  And they’re exactly what you imagine a chiffon clad, Singapore Sling swilling, Margo Leadbetter from The Good Life would have insisted her caterers serve after reading about them in The Lady.  Stuffed peppers are démodé.  Perhaps that’s why I love them.

The other day someone I know posted a photo on Facebook and wrote, “You know you have a good Armenian wife when you come home to dolmas.”  Though I’d never heard of dolmas, I knew I wanted a taste.  I immediately started researching and was a bit taken aback when I realized the peppers I was drooling over were indeed very similar in construction to the nasty, season-less, stuffed peppers I refused to eat as a child.

Dolma.  Dolmeh.  Sarma.  Kidonato.  Whatever you want to call it, people have been stuffing fruits and vegetables for ages.  From the Greeks who lived in Constantinople to present day grandmothers in the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Levant, and Russia.

Below is my recipe for peppers filled with seasoned rice, lamb, and beef.  I serve it with a yogurt sauce.  Would I say it’s Armenian, Persian, Turkish?  I don’t know but it sure is delicious and when I eat it it makes me want to whirl around the Wallachian hillside to the sounds of an accordion and a furious violin in between sips of amber Georgian wine.


8 medium sized sweet peppers

1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 large garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 cup mixed rice and bulgur wheat (the rice I use is Camargue red)

800g mixed lamb and beef mince

1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped + some extra for garnish

1/2 – 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more depending on how much heat you like)

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

the juice and zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup crushed tomatoes

roughly 500ml beef stock

olive oil

Yogurt sauce = 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 1 small garlic clove grated


First things first.  Wash, dry, and hollow out your peppers.  Then place them in a large pot that has a bit of olive oil on the bottom.

hollowed out peppers

Sauté the chopped green pepper, onion, garlic, and cherry tomatoes.

sauteed vegetables

When they have softened, put them in a large bowl.  Add the rice and wheat, the parsley, cayenne, salt, pepper, dried oregano, lemon zest and juice, and the meat.  Mix well with your hands.

rice and filling vegetables filling

Stuff the mixture into the peppers.  Fill them about 3/4 of the way before placing the tops back on the vegetables.

Pour the stock and crushed tomatoes around the peppers.  You want the liquid to come halfway up the vegetables, no higher.

pre-steam peppers

Fit a lid on your pot, bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour.

When your peppers are cooked, remove them from the pot and place them in a large dish.  Set them under the broiler/grill for a few minutes.  This roasts the top of the peppers and brings out their flavor.  While the peppers are roasting, bring the liquid in the pan to a boil and reduce.

To serve, place the stuffed peppers on a plate, spoon over the reduced sauce, some garlicky yogurt sauce, and garnish with parsley.  Most of all, enjoy.

plated peppers

Ginger Peach Jam

Life is better than death, I believe, if only because it is less boring,

and because it has fresh peaches in it. 

~Alice Walker 

Ripe peaches are among my top reasons for living.  Soft, sweet, lightly floral, and full of juice.  They are a testament to the fact that perfection can be found in the simplest things.  First cultivated in ancient China, peaches were believed to have magical properties like immortality.  Emperors loved them.  Thousands of years later, so did western royalty.  Plantagenet King John is said to have perished after consuming a surfeit of peaches.  In T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, the main character asks himself, “Do I dare to eat a peach?”  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for taking a bite out of life.  Perhaps it’s a metaphor for having the woman he desires.  No matter the interpretation, Prufrock’s peach definitely represents what my husband refers to as the English danger of having too much fun.  For Roald Dahl, a peach was the vehicle that whisked James away from his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge.

No matter how you cut it, a ripe peach is magical.  Though perfect on its own, I like to try to capture its fragrance and keep its magic a little longer than just the summer season.  That’s why I have been making buckets of ginger peach jam.  As peaches can be so sweet, I find the ginger adds a bit of fire and also refinement.  It provides structure for what could otherwise be a cloying mess.  Also, I like the idea of adding Chinese ginger to Chinese peaches, even if my fruit happens to come from Kent or Spain.  Below is my recipe.



peaches (I use about 2 kg)

caster sugar

preserving sugar (as peaches have a really low pectin content)

the juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon unsalted butter


Peel and slice the peaches. Weigh them.  Set aside in a large jam pan.

Add 60% of the peaches’ weight in sugar.  I use a mix of caster and preserving sugar–only about 200g of the latter.  Be sure to taste your mixture.  You don’t want it too sweet but it won’t set if it doesn’t have at least 60% sugar.

Next stir in the lemon juice and ginger.

Mash everything lightly. Warm over a low heat.  Once the sugars have dissolved, turn up the heat and stir constantly.

Never let the temperature pass 104F which is the setting point for jam.  Test for a set with the cold plate method.  When the jam has achieved your desired set, stir in the butter (it’ll help keep your jam from looking scummy), and let cool for a few minute before putting in sterilized jars.

Serve on toast, pancakes or over vanilla ice cream for a real treat.  I must say if you want this as an ice cream topping, it’s best to not have a really thick set.  Runnier is better in this case.  Also, this jam is delicious if used in the middle of shortbread thumb print cookies.

2015-08-25 10.38.40 2015-08-25 10.36.55 toast




When I was 6 and first moved to Los Angeles, my mother and I were hungry.  The kind of hungry that qualified me for two free meals a day at school and made her say things like “Sweetheart, I’ve had enough.  You eat it.”  I remember my grandmother sending us a box of food from Hawaii and never feeling more grateful for Top Ramen and Kraft macaroni and cheese.  After my mother’s first proper acting job, she came home with food she had taken from craft service at lunch but not eaten.  She had saved it for me.  Though we were never starving, we were certainly poor and while our hungry days didn’t last long, they lasted long enough for me to remember and always be grateful.

Which is why I just helped #FEEDGREECE.

“Parcel Broker have teamed up with Greek charity Desmos to allow you to send care packages completely FREE. The campaign is designed to enable people to send a package of food weighing up to 10kgs to Greek charity Desmos. The charity will then distribute the care packages to families in need of them. We are sending up to 500 parcels so if you want to take part in this be sure to get your parcel together quickly and follow the steps below to be a part of the project.” 

I am sender #60.  You could be the next.

*I should add this project is only available to those living in the U.K.


Food for a Summer Cold

Being sick in summer is the worst.  Especially if you live in England where blue skies and sunshine are rare.  When my Casablanca lilies are in bloom and the berries out back are ripe, I want to be outside.  Not tucked up in bed surrounded by Kleenex, wearing socks,  and smelling of menthol.

To me, summer means swings on which to swing.  Or if you’re Southern, swangs on which to swang.  A boat pond begging for paper schooners to sail across its surface.  Berries for crumble and cobbler that won’t pick themselves.  Bubbles to blow, daisy chains to make, and roses that I want in my cheeks instead of just in a bedside vase.

That’s why this weekend I said chest colds be damned and made a delicious lunch to heal all the family.

If you’re like me you might not think much of celery on its own.  Sure it’s great for adding depth to things like chicken stock or bolognese, but by itself I’m never tempted.  Unless it’s in a soup.  Which is exactly what I made.  My recipe is as simple as it is savory and equally delicious.

The other thing I made was a drink I call Hot Ginger & Dynamite.  It’s a potent hot lemonade with a fiery kick that’ll burn whatever ails you.  Ginger to heal, honey to soothe, and lots of lemon for vitamin C.  Cold medicine’s never tasted so good.  Except maybe at night when I like to add a splash of whisky to it.

Below are my recipes.  Though they have healing powers they’re also great to make when you just want to eat something good and clean.  I hope you enjoy them.

Celery Soup


2 bunches of celery (with leaves–that’s where the flavor is), washed and chopped

1 onion, chopped

chicken or vegetable stock (or just water)

2 Tbsp olive oil + 1Tbsp butter

Marigold stock powder (optional)


Heat the oil and butter in a large heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Sauté the onions and celery until soft.

celeryonion Sautéing

Here is where I stir in a tablespoon or two of Marigold powder for a extra depth, but you certainly don’t have to.

Add the stock or water.  I put in enough to cover the celery by half an inch.  Simmer for 20 minutes.

Lastly, blend until smooth then serve.  If you haven’t used Marigold powder, do be sure to season with salt.

simmer bowl of soup

Hot Ginger & Dynamite


the juice of 3 lemons

1-2square inches of freshly grated ginger

2 mug fulls of water

1/4 cup honey and then some to taste


Bring the lemon juice, ginger, and water to a boil.  Turn down and simmer for at least 10 minutes.  Stir in the 1/4 cup honey until dissolved.  If you want it sweeter, add more 1 tablespoon at a time to suit your taste.

ginger lemon tincture

La Tupina, Sheep’s Cheese, and Cherry Jam

Off the quai in Bordeaux, between St. Michel and Ste. Croix where George is still slaying a dragon, there exists a street called rue Porte de la Monnaie.  At the top of it is an arch and down it a restaurant that is now my favorite in France.  Its name is La Tupina which means the cauldron and how fitting as the place is filled with many of them. george pont de pierre Several Sundays ago I stood under gray skies on the edge of the Garonne taking in the Pont de Pierre and picking wildflowers along the banks to compliment my outfit.  Sure, it was lovely pretending to be Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face and hearing Fred Astaire on a loop in my head, but mostly I was killing time with my husband before a much anticipated lunch. hotel room We didn’t know what to expect.  The reviews we read had been so mixed.  In Fiona Beckett’s 2012 review, she said she detected a slight sense of ennui in Chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis.  She also described “the kitschness of the place” by saying “If Disney were to recreate south-west French food, it would look like La Tupina.”  Then again, former restaurant critic for The Times, Jonathan Meades, loves the place and has named it his favorite restaurant. When the clock at the local church struck one, my husband and I looked at each other.  Neither of us asked for whom the bell tolled.  We just took each other’s hands and then a chance on lunch at La Tupina. arch After crossing the street and passing under the arch, we saw an old man walking a white cat on a leash.  If black cats are bad luck then this sighting had to be good.  The old man smiled at us and tipped his hat just as my husband opened the restaurant door. outside window From the moment I entered, I saw everything La Tupina had to offer.  Literally.  As the heart of the restaurant is laid bare for all to see.  A giant chimney for smoking, an enormous hearth for roasting, a generous countertop laden with meat and baskets of produce that would be used up by closing time. Many restaurants open up their kitchens to give an element of theatre to their diners, but I always feel it’s a bit contrived.  Not at La Tupina.  Nothing about it evokes the high pressure of a celebrity chef’s kitchen or a televised cooking competition.  On the contrary, the mise en scène there was warm and welcoming.  Like walking into the kitchen of a French friend’s grandmother.  It was charming and not at all like anything I’ve ever experienced at Disneyland. waiter2 Once seated, we ordered glasses of champagne.  They arrived with the silkiest most savory rillettes.  Next we had white asparagus with vinaigrette.  For the main course, my husband had duck breast that had been cooked in the chimney.  I opted for the Noir de Bigorre, which was a plate-sized chop from a black thoroughbred pig whose history in the region can be traced back to Roman times.  This tender fatty pig was served perfectly pink with a single roasted garlic clove on top, salad and mashed potatoes on the side.  It was so delicious I stopped caring about the couple next to us who were making fun of us in French for having ordered a half-bottle of wine instead of a whole.  NB: Just because I’m American and my husband is a plummy Englishman does not mean my schoolgirl French isn’t good enough to know when you’re mocking me.  But like I said, lunch was so good their rudeness didn’t detract.  At least not much.

For pudding I had walnut ice cream.  It was served with walnut liqueur that tasted of the best amontillado sherry.  My husband indulged in a plate of local ewes’ and goats’ milk cheeses.  They were served with strawberry jam.  After the consumption of which, he couldn’t refuse our waitress’ offer of armagnac.  “Higher alcohol content is better for aiding digestion,” she said. wine henry cannele fraises The food at La Tupina could never be called haute cuisine nor nouvelle.  It’s better than that.  It’s classic and nothing about its legacy is as ephemeral as foam.  Dishes of the region are its specialty.  They are tried and true and as old and delicious as the pigs of Roman times.  Lunch at La Tupina is history on a plate.

Jonathan Meades has noted the “ewes’ milk curd with berry jam” among his favorite dishes at La Tupina.  Having tasted it myself, I see why.  It’s the perfect marriage of sweet and savory.  The book he’s presently working on, The Plagiarist in the Kitchen, includes Chef Jean-Pierre Xiradakis’ recipe for Poulet à l’oignon.  I hope it will also include a few more.  Like that jam recipe.  Until then, here is my recipe for cherry jam.  It’s wonderful on toast and also with sheep’s cheese from Southwest France.  Serve it on a Scottish oat cake with a slice of Ossau Iraty and there you have the flavors of the Auld Alliance.  A snack worthy of Mary, Queen of Scots and a marriage far happier than her own.  I hope you enjoy it.

Cherry Jam


2 kg cherries (I used 1kg from spain and 1kg from Kent.  I like to mix mine for different flavor notes.)

the juice and zest of 2 lemons

1.3 kg sugar

a candy thermometer or a cold plate in the fridge (I use both)

Method: Wash and dry your cherries.  Then pit them and cut them in half.  Macerate them slightly with a bit of the sugar.  I use a few tablespoons.  Next, transfer them to a large maslin pan. Add your thermometer to the pan.  Cook the cherries over low heat until they are tender.  When they are, stir in the sugar and lemon.  Keep the heat on low and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved.  Once it is, bring the fruit mixture to a rolling boil.  Be sure to stir it so the fruit doesn’t stick and also be careful about bringing the heat up too high.  You don’t want to burn your fruit.  When the mixture thickens and goes glossy or when it is about 102ºC, test the setting point.  Pull your cold plate out of the fridge and put a small teaspoon of jam on it.  Wait a minute before pushing it with your finger.  If it wrinkles like jam, then it’s set.  If it doesn’t, give your mixture a few more minutes of cooking time.  Do not let your mixture pass 104ºC.  This is the setting point of jam.  If you pass this temperature, you’ll end up with glue.  Nobody wants to eat glue.  When your jam is ready, take it off the heat and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes.  Finally, pour the jam into sterilized jars and store. 2kg cherries jam fairy jars jam close up toast cheese and jam

Light Pasta Lunch

Once when I was home from college for winter holidays, my mother served the most delicious green beans I’d ever tasted.  I asked her what the sauce was.  She laughed and said “butter.”  Growing up in Los Angeles, I wasn’t raised eating butter.  It’s not that we never had it in the house, but if we did it was for cooking.  It was because a recipe called for it, not because anyone in our family ate buttered toast with jam.  The other thing we never ate was bacon, proper pork bacon.  I specify as I, like many children in Southern California, was raised on turkey bacon.  Not until moving to London five years ago did bacon become part of my diet.  I confess.  I went a little pork crazy.  That said, I still love the wholesome flavors of home.  I genuinely enjoy the slight nuttiness of whole wheat and I love a light lunch especially as summer approaches.  Below is a pasta recipe from my California days.  I hope you enjoy it.


whole wheat pasta

1/2 kilo plum or cherry tomatoes

3 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1 avocado

a handful of ripped basil leaves

olive oil

salt and pepper



Make your pasta according to the packet instructions.

Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a roasting dish.  Rub them with olive oil and some salt.  Place them under the broiler/grill until they start to blacken a bit.

Add the chopped garlic to the tomatoes and put back under the heat for no more than a minute.

Remove them from the broiler/grill and set aside.

Cut the avocado into chunks.

Smash the tomatoes with a fork.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the tomatoes to the pasta.  Mix thoroughly then add the avocado and basil.


avocado tomato basil pasta

Rigatoni Alla Vodka for the Mean Reds Revisited

It’s been over a year since I wrote a piece called Rigatoni Alla Vodka for the Mean Reds.  The post was about anxiety, motherhood, and losing one’s sense of self.  The response I got was overwhelming. It seemed to have touched a nerve. There were clearly lots of women who felt as I did/do. Which is why I distilled that piece (sans recipe) and pitched it to a magazine.  It’s been a long time coming, but I’m proud to say it’s finally online and on Sunday it’ll be in print in Stella Magazine.  You can read it here.