Smackerels, Elevenses, and Tea (a cinnamon toast recipe)

On my first day of kindergarten which I found extremely stressful, my mother made cinnamon toast for me after school.  Cinnamon is and has always been my palliative.  Kind of like French toast for Conrad in Ordinary People.  When I eat it, I know I’m loved and everything is going to be okay. Today I registered my two year-old for pre-school.  When we came home, I made cinnamon toast for her.  I didn’t connect the experiences until a few hours later but there they were–involuntary memories linked by a flavor from Ceylon.  I suppose for me the start of school will always taste of cinnamon.  Even if I’m not the student.   Cinnamon toast is so easy to make.  It’s one of those things that doesn’t require a recipe.  That said, The Pooh Cook Book has one.  I had a copy as a child and recently I stumbled across a copy for Helena whilst perusing the book shelf of a charity shop.  She loves it almost as much as she loved today’s cinnamon toast, both the making and the eating of it.  My hope is you do too.     cover smackerels, elevenses, and teas owl's cinnamon toast helper stirring cinnamon sugar under the grill toast 2014-10-07 14.10.43 licking sugar see food    


Foul Weather Curry

England is famously damp.  It’s also cold, gray, and foggy.  Some people try to romanticize this fact.  Like George and Ira Gershwin who wrote a charming tune about it for Fred Astaire to sing.  Well bully for them and all their art deco, sunny, California splendor.  I have always loved “A Foggy Day.”  Still, its sweet melody does not change the nature of England’s foul weather–not even the Ella and Louis version which is my  favorite.

Only those built to last, as my father-in-law says, can sustain the tempests here.  Everyone else who is smallish, like me, gets whisked away by gusts of wind which leaves one feeling rather like Piglet in Winnie the Pooh.  Which is to say not very dignified at all.

I’m glad that I look good in tweed coats.  It’d be a pity if I didn’t as they seem to be part of my daily English uniform.  Ditto herringbone scarves.  Ditto cashmere knee socks.  Ditto my mother’s vintage Superga Wellies.  Still, I yearn for a little warmth come spring.  Especially when the rest of the world entire seems to be bursting with blossoms and basking in the sun.

This is when I pull out my curry recipe for a little heat.  What the English sun fails to provide outdoors, my culinary skills can make up for inside.  Ginger, chilies, and Indian spices can do wonders for increasing body temperature (and metabolic rate I might add).  Until the sun comes out for both me and the Casa Blanca lilies I recently planted , I’ll be making lots of this.  If you live in the U.K., maybe you will too.  Keeping warm never tasted so good and colonial.


380 grams/0.837 pounds mini chicken breast fillets

2 tablespoons garam masala

1 tablespoon tumeric

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon hot smoked paprika

1/4 teaspoon chili powder

2 teaspoons salt

2 small onions, sliced into thin rounds

2 sweet red peppers, sliced into thin rounds

4 roughly chopped cloves of garlic

1/4 cup freshly grated ginger

1 minced chili pepper

1 Knorr chicken bouillon cube

1 can coconut milk

vegetable oil


Mix all the dry spices together in a large bowl.  Next, add the chicken pieces.  Roll them around in the spice mixture until uniformly coated.  Really rub the flavor into each piece.  Cover the bowl of dry rubbed chicken pieces and refrigerate for as long as you can.  Ideally, overnight.  If you’re pressed for time, three hours will do.

Heat a large skillet with about 2 tablespoons of oil in it.  Caramelize the onions and peppers over medium/low heat.  In the last 30 seconds before you take them off the heat, add the garlic and ginger.  Stir to prevent sticking.  Transfer the contents of your skillet to a large sauce pot.

Now, brown your chicken pieces in the skillet.  When they’re done, transfer them to the sauce pot with everything else.  Crumble the bouillon cube into the mix.  Mix everything with a wooden spoon and break your chicken pieces into smaller bits.  They should look roughly shredded.  Finally, add the chili pepper and coconut milk.  Set everything to simmer for about 30 minutes.  Stir often.

Serve with basmati rice.

I don’t intend to make pairing suggestions but I have to say that last night, my husband and I had this with a 2002 Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Riesling Spätlese and it was a perfect combination.  The wine smelled sweet like honey, but the sugar was not overpowering.  It was really well balanced and complimented the spiciness of the curry.  Also it had the freshness of peaches and crispness of apples.  I highly recommend it.