Pirates Ahoy!

Liz Nicholls

Lechlade writer Sandra Dennis has recently published her second book for young readers aged between nine and 12; The School for Scoundrels – The Lost Map of the Prows.

How many of us have looked for a message in a bottle? One that could bring romance, or rescue someone trapped on a desert island..?

In her first novel, Shades of Time, Sandra kept her readers on their toes with the mysteries from the past which pull strings through time to make those of us in the present mere puppets in their grasp.

Her new volume, School For Scoundrels, should stir the fertile minds of our children. When a message in a bottle washes up in the harbour at the end of the summer holidays, little does Thomas Prow realise how much his ordinary life is about to change. ​Thom is reluctant to leave his grandparents, childhood home and friends but is forced to leave the seaside town in which he has grown up when his grandfather is kidnapped by pirates. He’s summoned by the mysterious Captain Ginger to attend a school for pirate youths, founded in 1642. Lessons in weaponry, history and ancestry, mythological beasts, map reading climbing the rigging and sail-mending help towards his F.Q.P. (fully qualified pirate) status

In this gripping yarn, young Thom must find new friends in a strange school to help him find his ancestor’s map and rescue his grandfather. As one young reader put it; “A great adventure for any budding pirate!”.

To find out more and buy the book, which is also available on Kindle and Amazon, visit www.sandradenniswrites.wixsite.com

Good truck

Liz Nicholls

Liz Nicholls chats to musician and dad Gaz Coombes, 42, whose acclaimed new album World’s Strongest Man is out now and appears at Truck festival in Steventon in July

Q. Hello Gaz, I love your new album! Are you most proud of this one?
“Thanks! It’s difficult to compare albums, y’know, like children! This album is still new and fresh, but I feel really good about it. The last three or four years have been the most creative of my life; it’s been a lot of fun.”

Q. Do you get recognised a lot when out and about?
“In Oxford, I’m just not a big deal, wandering along Cowley Road! I moved back just after my mum died to be closer to my dad and we haven’t looked back. I’m so at home here.”

Q. Where are your fave hang-outs?
“Jericho – I love The Harcourt Arms. We’re out in a village now, but when we were living on Cowley Road and my wife was in Banbury Road, Jericho was central and it’s cropped up in my lyrics! Last weekend Jools and I got a babysitter and went on a bit of a pub crawl with walks around Port Meadow – a magical place.”

Q. Oxford is a guitar music powerhouse, starting in your Supergrass days. Do you guys all hang out?
“Well yes! Loz and I hang out as he plays drums in my live band, when he’s not with Ride, and I see Mark Gardener [also of Ride]. When I was at Courtyard Studio recording this album, Colin Greenwood [of Radiohead] came by, for a cuppa and ended up playing bass on Oxygen Mask. He’s a fab guy, is Colin. The guys in my band are all local – I feel lucky that I’ve picked the cream of Oxford players. So yeah, it’s all subtley incestuous!”

Q. Anyone else you’d like to collaborate with?
“Ah, I heard something in my head a few months ago and contacted Nick Cave because I thought he’d be perfect. Unfortunately we couldn’t make any studio time work, but these things happen organically. I’d love to do some soundtracks…”

Q. Do you love vinyl?
“Yeah! It’s how I play music at home. I used to always pick some up on tour and don’t so much now, probably because of how accessible music is now on phones, it makes us lazy. But record releases are special – getting a box delivered, in classic Spinal Tap, style is so exciting.”

Q. Which new acts do you like?
“The band Shame are cool; honest rock ‘n’roll with depth. I also like Willie J Healey who’s a local boy, good and challenging. I’m always looking forward to what Goat are doing next – I’m a big fan of Goat.”

Q. What’s your fave gig venue?
“I’ve played some amazing venues over the years, like the Hollywood Bowl. But as a solo artist, I love the sound and space of The Forum in Kentish Town and Camden’s Roundhouse. I played a tiny basement club in Berlin last night and it was a great vibe.”

Q. What about festivals?
“Festival Number 6 is great; a real experience in a quirky, colourful town. And I always really enjoy Truck, nice and local!”

˜Truck festival is 20th-22nd July in Steventon, Oxfordshire. Visit www.truckfestival.com

Essence of Summer

Liz Nicholls

Katie Kingsley serves up some quick and easy dishes which you can (hopefully) enjoy al fresco.

Cheat’s paella

This is a really flavoursome, sweet and smoky savoury rice that would perk up anyone’s weekday night and will be ready in under 10 minutes if you are using refrigerated leftover rice. It also makes an excellent choice for a barbecue as it goes
well with meat, fish and salads, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser!

Cook one cup of rice according to packet instructions and refrigerate until required (this works best if the rice is cooled before using). Finely chop an onion and fry in 1 tbsp of olive oil, adding 100g of diced cooking chorizo once the onion has softened. Weigh out 150g of frozen peas in a small bowl (if using fresh peas, add with the peppers), add a chicken stock cube and pour over 150ml of boiling water.

Mince two cloves of garlic and add to the chorizo once it has released its oils with 2tsp of smoked paprika, cooking for one minute then adding the rice and stirring to coat. Add your stock and peas with 150g of drained and sliced roasted red and yellow peppers, cooking over a high heat until almost all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice. Serve with lemon wedges and sprinkled with fresh parsley.

Herby halibut skewers

These work fantastically on a barbecue; use any firm fleshed white fish and be sure to get a generous char. Leftover salsa is delicious with lamb or spread over fish in a tray bake with roast tomatoes, peppers and olives.

To make your salsa verde, either finely chop or blitz everything together depending on your tastes and time frame. You will need a handful of mint and parsley, the juice and zest from one lemon, 100g of roasted salted pistachios, one garlic clove and enough extra virgin olive oil to obtain your desired consistency. Refrigerate until required. In a larger bowl, finely chop a small handful each of fresh chives, oregano and mint then add 3 tbsp of olive oil and season well.

Take two large fish fillets and cut into bite sized chunks then add to your bowl with the herbs and oil before threading onto skewers with alternating ribbons of yellow and green courgettes. Season skewers before cooking on a hot barbecue or ridged grill pan for a few minutes on each side so you get charred edges. Serve with your salsa verde dotted on top and in sauce pots.

Raspberry and pistachio mess

The very essence of summer and worthy of concluding the most champion of barbecues with just a few extra flourishes. It’s an ideal dessert to prepare in advance and throw together as you are ready to serve it.

Whisk 250ml of double cream to soft peaks. Sieve 100g of icing sugar into the cream then add ¼ tsp of vanilla extract and fold to combine. Refrigerate until required. Place 300g of frozen raspberries into a small pan adding a few tbsp of icing powder and squeeze of lemon juice. Bring to a boil and then simmer for five to 10 minutes until the mixture has thickened.

Adjust lemon and sugar to taste then when you are happy with the balance, place a fine mesh sieve over a bowl and use a spatula or wooden spoon to push the coulis through so only the seeds are left in the sieve then refrigerate the coulis until required. Finely chop a handful of unsalted roasted pistachio nuts and roughly break meringues into chunks. When you are ready to assemble the desserts, first dollop in cream then meringue then fresh raspberries with coulis then repeat. Finish off with chopped pistachios and edible flowers or sugared petals.

Shore thing

Liz Nicholls

We talk to Cotswold artist Angie Hunt about family, motherhood and the lure of the sea ahead of her solo exhibition at her home studio this May.

Q: Hello Angie, thanks for talking to us! Can you tell how your art started?
“My childhood home was quite a creative one, with an art collector father who worked in advertising and a musical mother who writes and creates beautiful gardens and interiors. I grew up at the seaside, in the north-west of England, so the coast was a big part of our childhood, the sound of seagulls, sand in our shoes! I worked in TV production and advertising before deciding to go in to fine art professionally. I wanted to channel my creative energy in a more hands-on way, so enrolled on a fine art degree course in Banbury in 2007. Ten years later I have my own studio and it’s my full-time occupation… my family would say ‘obsession’!”

Q: What’s the inspiration behind the big themes?
“My big theme currently is family and relationships, probably because of the stage of life I’m at. I’m interested in the evolving generations, how we’re part of a continuum, and how our roles within this are constantly changing. This series of mixed media pieces explores these relationships, especially between mother and child, using abstracted forms as metaphors for the people in my life. The composition is deceptively simple, but I use collage, partially revealed words, drawn lines, charcoal and many layers of oil and acrylic paint to build up texture and depth.”

Q: Which artists have particularly inspired you?
“The 20th century modernists such as William Scott, Diebenkorn, Hilton and their generation appeal to me. I love the post-war period when they were part of rebuilding a fractured society, a fragile time when they were finding ways to express themselves with limited resources.”

Q: What is it about the sea that appeals to you?
“It’s the shoreline, where land meets sea, that I’m drawn to. There’s something about it that makes me feel at my happiest and most alive. My strongest childhood memories are of paddling in the waves, sea swimming and sailing. I’ve just finished a year-long programme at the St Ives School of Painting which has reinforced this.”

Q: Has the St Ives programme changed the way you approach your work?
“It’s been a chance to develop and question these themes through tutorials and workshops, within a small and supportive group of artists. My painting time has become a sort of therapy in a way, finding visual ways to work through feelings and changes.”

Q: You clearly have a strong interest in texture and unusual materials – tell us more!
“Yes, I love to make use of what I call ‘found objects’; cast-off bits and bobs that relate to my subject. As much as I love art shops, I’m totally bewildered by the choice and choose to use these items as a starting point. I have been given old sails which are full of wonderful details – zig-zag stitching, reinforced corners with eyelets and fixings, and a textured surface that is robust enough to withstand layers of paint to be piled on and re-worked, and this is a strong theme in my exhibition this May. That said, I am incredibly lucky to have the Cotswold Art Supplies in Stow on the Wold a couple of miles away for regular top-ups and they also handle all my bespoke framing.”

Q: Do you have any favourite galleries?
“I’m a big fan of Oxford Artweeks for discovering new art, though it is very big nowadays so quite a trawl to uncover real treasures. Modern Art Oxford has some really inspiring exhibitions, eg Lubaina Himid before she won the Turner Prize. I love the Stour Gallery in Shipston-on-Stour which has an emphasis on my favourite Cornish art and there’s always an exciting programme of contemporary British artists at Fosse Gallery in Stow-on-the-Wold. I like supporting new initiatives eg The Compton Gallery, an exhibition pop-up and event venue in the middle of stunning countryside.”

Q. What direction do you see your work going in next?
“Good question! I’m enjoying this current theme and looking at relationships between people in my own life, and also between objects within the composition. My work is becoming more and more abstract, with the forms of the boats and vessels gradually becoming more ambiguous and some starting to resemble domestic objects in a still life. A recent trip to Cuba has also given me inspiration – colours and textures I’m longing to incorporate.”

Q: Can you tell us a little about your studio?
“It’s such a happy place to be; it’s up the stone steps of a small restored coach house with north-facing skylights that bring the light in. It’s so peaceful and I spend hours and hours immersed in painting. We also run a little Airbnb in the studio at weekends, which makes for a bit of clearing up (!) but it is a unique place that I love to share.”

˜Angie’s Open Studio is 18th – 20th May in her Moreton in Marsh studio, near Stow-on-the-Wold. Visit www.angiehunt.co.uk and follow her on Instagram @angiehuntart – for more info.

Rotten luck

Liz Nicholls

Liz Nicholls chats to Johnny Rotten, AKA John Lydon, 62, ahead of The Public Image Is Rotten Summer Tour of Europe and Japan, marking Public Image Ltd’s 40th anniversary

Q. Hello! Which date on this world tour are you most excited about?
“The first one is always the most fearful. But then often your first gig is your best, because of stress. I’m always nervous; I leave myself practically naked when I go on stage. All my defences and ego, I leave in the dressing room… it’s a hard parting! But as soon as you see their eyes, you’re being human together and I love that. That’s why I love these small, intimate venues.”

Q. Are you enjoying making music more than ever?
“Yes! It’s 40 years rewarded well, being in PiL now. I’m happy to say I’m working with real friends. We respect each other; we’re not laying down booby traps to make each other look foolish. And I’ve had that from bands [chuckles]… no doubt I’ve done it myself, too! But you can’t live in that world of adversity and animosity all the time. You just gotta stop it; start being reasonable. It’s a surprise to me!”

Q. How does London today compare to the old Kings Road days of punk?
“Well it’s more Topshop than interesting and avant garde. But I’ll always love a British pub. If there’s a bunch of old people, all the better, thank you.”

Q. Who’s your favourite author?
“Dickens; he gives a child’s view of a cruel world; there’s hope. Look to the children; they’re the ones closer to God.”

Q. What makes you angry as you get older?
“Little things, like my knackered big left toe can annoy the hell out of me. But it’s always bigger issues. The disenfranchised. The rich getting richer. So here I am, fully armed to combat that!”

Q. Is anger an energy and does politics anger you?
“Yes. There’s fake news on both sides of the agenda now, all around the world. Everyone has a personal vendetta which they’ve transferred into an agenda a la politics. As for politicians, is there a football pundit who doesn’t talk absolute b*****s? It’s the same with politicians. They separate us into ‘camps’. That’s why I loved punk initially; it broke down barriers like the north vs south, same with rave. I see the world as us: all of us. Now I’m only nasty to subjects and topics, not human beings.”

Q. You live in LA – what’s the buzz like over the Royal Wedding there?
“The Americans go mad for all the pomp, in a very Walt Disney, childlike way. I see no harm! I love a royal wedding because I get to see the old spitfires and bombers flying over Buckingham Palace… that is a sight for me!”

Q. Do you have much vinyl?
“An enormous amount; to the extent I’ve damaged the structure of my house. I had to put RSJs in! My collection’s the weight of a baby elephant, maybe two. I love vinyl, same as I books; I love the texture, the feel.”

Q. Who’s your favourite artist?
“Kandinsky: free-flowing vivid images. I also love Hundertwasser; taking ideas from the canvass into architecture.”

Visit www.pilofficial.com for details of a new 40th anniversary box set and gigs on the tour.

Watercress to Impress

Liz Nicholls

Watercress season is upon us!

If you are lacking inspiration then I hope these simple but effective recipes from Katie Kingsley will motivate you to acquaint it with your dining table. This mysterious vegetable is known to harbour powers beyond tantalising taste buds. Whether it be a cure for baldness, mental stimulant or aphrodisiac you are after, surely failing to make the most of it this season would be reckless!

Curried egg and watercress sandwich

Boil eggs for seven or eight minutes (you want them in between soft and hard-boiled), I allow two eggs per sandwich. Peel under cold running water and chop eggs before transferring to a bowl and leaving to cool. Add 2 tbsp of mayonnaise (1 tbsp per egg) then add 1 tsp of curry paste and season with pepper. Mix and leave in the fridge to cool until required. I like to serve in between buttered brown seeded bread with plenty of watercress.

Potato, fennel and lemon wedges

Heat oven to 200°C. Cut three or four Maris Piper or King Edward potatoes in half and then into wedges and place in a large bowl. Cut two fennel bulbs into wedges (reserving fronds) and a lemon into six wedges then add to the bowl. Drizzle over about 2 tbsp of rapeseed oil, season with salt flakes and use your hands to toss everything together and coat it before placing on a baking tray and into the oven for about 40 minutes, or until crisp and golden. You will need to give them a shake halfway through cooking. Sprinkle over the reserved fennel fronds and serve with more flaked sea salt and mayonnaise.

Roast salmon and watercress mayonnaise

Heat oven to 180°C and line a shallow baking dish with foil. Thickly slice a lemon and fry in a little oil until golden then season and leave to one side. Pat dry using kitchen paper and rub olive oil into as many salmon fillets as people you desire to serve. Season the fish with salt and pepper and lay your lemon slices on top before placing into the oven.

Check the fillets after 10 minutes, they are ready when the fish flakes easily with a fork. Use a food processor to make the mayonnaise. Zest and juice one lemon, add 1 tsp of juice to the bowl with the zest, three egg yolks, 1 tsp of Dijon mustard and blitz until combined. With the motor running, add 150ml of rapeseed oil in a thin steady stream until emulsified. Add 50g roughly chopped watercress and blitz again then add seasoning and more lemon juice to taste. Refrigerate until required.

Dress some fresh watercress and serve on a board for people to help themselves or separate plates then flake the salmon into large chunks and serve over the watercress with dollops of mayonnaise.

Banana split

Place a handful of pecans in a bowl and toss through enough maple syrup to coat. Transfer to a lined baking tray and toast in a heated oven for a few minutes until they are crisp and glossy. Roughly chop and set aside. Whisk a small 170ml tub of double cream to soft peaks and chill until required.

Make a chocolate sauce by breaking up 100g of good quality dark chocolate into small pieces and placing in a heatproof bowl with 15g of butter. Slowly melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally over barely simmering water (don’t let the water touch the bowl). Remove from the heat when smooth and let it cool to room temperature before stirring in 1 tbsp of golden syrup and 2 tbsp of double cream, or cream to taste.

Gently heat some caramel so it loosens up enough to drizzle. Assemble your splits by slicing bananas lengthways and placing in a dish with two scoops of vanilla ice cream between the slices, a good dollop of whisked cream, scattering of maple pecans, drizzle of caramel and chocolate sauce then finish off with a cherry on top!

Shared experience

Liz Nicholls

Liz Nicholls chats to broadcaster and campaigner Jonathan Dimbleby, and his charity Dimbleby Cancer Care

Q: Good morning! Have I caught you in the middle of your exercise routine?
“Are you joking?! My mornings, on school days, are spent encouraging my offspring with times tables and spelling. Then I have porridge, work on my book and have a light lunch. But I try every day, even on a gloomy one like today, to walk for at least an hour and a half. Because I live in Bristol, which is so hilly, I know it does me good. When we moved here 18 months ago, I’d be out of breath when I got to Clifton but now I can walk it in half the time without noticing. I hate gyms – they make me feel like a hamster. The human body is made to walk and, in my case, to play tennis. It used to be made for riding horses and a whole range of other activities. But basically, I walk and play tennis… and fail.”

Q: Your charity was founded in memory of your dad Richard. Do you think of him often?
“Yes, I’m 21 years older than he was when he died. My father remains part of my life, as does my late mother; I’m blessed by having wonderful parents. You do regret that they can’t see your children grow up, how they turn out. But we learn to live in life with our sorrows and regrets as well as our joys. We manage pain as we manage delight.”

Q: Dimbleby Cancer Care helps with some of the non-clinical aspects of life with cancer doesn’t it?
“We know we make a difference – we support the work done within the NHS, including at our cancer centre at Guy’s and Thomas’s [in south London] and fund a benefits advice service. It’s difficult to exaggerate how support for people living with cancer, and their carers, can transform lives which is where our cancer care map comes in. Acute anxiety exacerbates living with cancer hugely. We offer complementary therapies, advice, support; a counsel of comfort and hope.”

Q. What’s your greatest journalistic moment?
“I think when I ‘exposed’ a terrible famine in Ethiopia and started an appeal which raised, in today’s money, something in the order of £70m. I’ve been locked up in police cells, come under fire, all the things that happen to a front-line reporter. But I think my most memorable interview was with Gorbachev. I thought; ‘here’s an extraordinary man who can change the world’. And he did.”

Q. What’s your favourite book?
“It changes all the time. I’m working on a second world war book so I try to read a novel or a biography to get away from that of an evening. My ‘desert island book’ would be Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge.”

Q. Do you listen to much music?
“Yes – I go to a lot of concerts and listen to Radio 3 and am sometimes profoundly irritated by the presentation. But it makes our green and pleasant land a million times greener and pleasanter.”

Q. Do you enjoy the Walk50?
“This is our fourth and I usually walk the 50km because I’m so competitive but there are 25km and 12.5km options. Walking along the river at night, watching dawn break is beautiful; a real feelgood factor. We live in hard times, but it’s an unadulterated delight.”

Visit www.dimblebycancercare.org and www.cancercaremap.org

Edible Eden

Liz Nicholls

The garden looks abundant again! Katie Kingsley brings us these recipes that are all fresh, feel-good and perfect for entertaining over the Easter holiday.

Spring fritters

These are so quick to put together and look irresistible laid on a platter with dollops of radish raita and pesto. Serve with dressed watercress for an ideal starter or light lunch, very “Garden of Eden”. Use whichever vegetables and herbs, cheeses, seeds or spices you have to hand and design your ultimate personalised perfect patty. Heat a grill pan to very hot then char two bunches of spring onions on both sides until soft. Blanch a few handfuls of peas in salted boiling water until just cooked then drain and add to a bowl with one tin of drained white beans (such as cannellini or butter).

Chop your charred onions and add them to the bowl then mash together until combined but still chunky. Add a handful of chopped fresh mint leaves, the zest of a lemon, a handful of crumbled feta, 2 tbsp of plain flour, a good pinch nigella or black onion seeds and one beaten egg then season and mix together until just combined. Heat rapeseed or vegetable oil in a frying pan to about 1cm deep. Check the oil is at the right temperature by dropping a bit of mixture into the pan, if the oil sizzles quite fiercely it should be ready. Spoon dollops of your mixture into the pan and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon so the patties are about 2cm thick. Cook for a few minutes on each side until golden and crisp then transfer onto kitchen paper whilst you finish cooking the rest.

Slice four radishes thinly then place three or four of them in a small bowl with 4 tbsp of plain yoghurt, a small handful of mint leaves finely chopped and 2 tsp of dried mint. Prepare your pesto (if you are making your own) and lay your patties on a serving platter then spoon over dollops of yoghurt mixture, green pesto, fresh radish discs, fresh herbs and lemon wedges.

Risotto primavera

Once this gets going, there’s no stopping to measure or slice so I’d recommend preparing all ingredients. Weigh out 200g of frozen broad beans, drop into boiling water and leave for 1 minute before removing with a slotted spoon and dropping into cold water to peel off the skins. Snap off and discard the woody ends from a 200g bunch of asparagus and slice into four parts.

Finely chop a brown onion and mince three cloves of garlic, chop four spring onions, measure a large glass/250ml of white wine, a cup of risotto rice and 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock. Use a saucepan to heat the stock until just simmering and a large heavy-based pan to prepare the risotto. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and sauté the onion and spring onion until translucent then add the minced garlic for the last few minutes and add your rice, stirring through. Add your wine and let this bubble rapidly for a few minutes until absorbed into the rice then add, one ladle at a time, stirring often and keeping at a simmer. When the stock is almost all absorbed again, ladle in more stock and taste as you go checking seasoning to ensure the rice is cooked to perfection – it should be softened with just a bit of bite in the centre.

About four minutes before the risotto is cooked, add the broad beans to the rice and asparagus to the simmering stock. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the asparagus to the risotto just before you take the pan off the heat. Add 50g of grated parmesan, a splash more stock to keep it moist and a knob of butter then put the lid on and leave to rest for three minutes before serving with more parmesan.

Lemon and poppy seed Easter loaf

Carefully pluck the petals from a yellow rose. Beat one egg white until frothy and brush on to each petal before coating in caster sugar, shaking off any excess and leaving on baking paper to dry and stiffen (this will take a few hours). Heat your oven to 150°C and grease and line a loaf tin approx 20 x 12cm. Use an electric hand whisk to beat 175g of butter at room temperature then add 175g of caster sugar and beat again until pale and creamy. Measure out 250g of self-raising flour and add three eggs, adding 1tbsp of flour and beating well after each addition. Add the remaining flour with 40g of poppy seeds, four heaped tbsp of natural yoghurt and pinch of salt. Fold until combined then transfer to your tin and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, checking after one hour.

The cake is ready when a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the frosting. Measure out 270g of cream cheese, 90g of natural yoghurt, 100g of sifted icing sugar and beat together using a wooden spoon. Add lemon juice to taste and spread thickly atop the cooled loaf then scatter with your crystallised petals.

The garden looks abundant again! Katie Kingsley brings us these recipes that are all fresh, feel-good and perfect for entertaining over the Easter holiday.

Spring fritters

These are so quick to put together and look irresistible laid on a platter with dollops of radish raita and pesto. Serve with dressed watercress for an ideal starter or light lunch, very “Garden of Eden”. Use whichever vegetables and herbs, cheeses, seeds or spices you have to hand and design your ultimate personalised perfect patty. Heat a grill pan to very hot then char two bunches of spring onions on both sides until soft. Blanch a few handfuls of peas in salted boiling water until just cooked then drain and add to a bowl with one tin of drained white beans (such as cannellini or butter).

Chop your charred onions and add them to the bowl then mash together until combined but still chunky. Add a handful of chopped fresh mint leaves, the zest of a lemon, a handful of crumbled feta, 2 tbsp of plain flour, a good pinch nigella or black onion seeds and one beaten egg then season and mix together until just combined. Heat rapeseed or vegetable oil in a frying pan to about 1cm deep. Check the oil is at the right temperature by dropping a bit of mixture into the pan, if the oil sizzles quite fiercely it should be ready. Spoon dollops of your mixture into the pan and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon so the patties are about 2cm thick. Cook for a few minutes on each side until golden and crisp then transfer onto kitchen paper whilst you finish cooking the rest.

Slice four radishes thinly then place three or four of them in a small bowl with 4 tbsp of plain yoghurt, a small handful of mint leaves finely chopped and 2 tsp of dried mint. Prepare your pesto (if you are making your own) and lay your patties on a serving platter then spoon over dollops of yoghurt mixture, green pesto, fresh radish discs, fresh herbs and lemon wedges.

Risotto primavera

Once this gets going, there’s no stopping to measure or slice so I’d recommend preparing all ingredients. Weigh out 200g of frozen broad beans, drop into boiling water and leave for 1 minute before removing with a slotted spoon and dropping into cold water to peel off the skins. Snap off and discard the woody ends from a 200g bunch of asparagus and slice into four parts.

Finely chop a brown onion and mince three cloves of garlic, chop four spring onions, measure a large glass/250ml of white wine, a cup of risotto rice and 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock. Use a saucepan to heat the stock until just simmering and a large heavy-based pan to prepare the risotto. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil and sauté the onion and spring onion until translucent then add the minced garlic for the last few minutes and add your rice, stirring through. Add your wine and let this bubble rapidly for a few minutes until absorbed into the rice then add, one ladle at a time, stirring often and keeping at a simmer. When the stock is almost all absorbed again, ladle in more stock and taste as you go checking seasoning to ensure the rice is cooked to perfection – it should be softened with just a bit of bite in the centre.

About four minutes before the risotto is cooked, add the broad beans to the rice and asparagus to the simmering stock. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the asparagus to the risotto just before you take the pan off the heat. Add 50g of grated parmesan, a splash more stock to keep it moist and a knob of butter then put the lid on and leave to rest for three minutes before serving with more parmesan.

Lemon and poppy seed Easter loaf

Carefully pluck the petals from a yellow rose. Beat one egg white until frothy and brush on to each petal before coating in caster sugar, shaking off any excess and leaving on baking paper to dry and stiffen (this will take a few hours). Heat your oven to 150°C and grease and line a loaf tin approx 20 x 12cm. Use an electric hand whisk to beat 175g of butter at room temperature then add 175g of caster sugar and beat again until pale and creamy. Measure out 250g of self-raising flour and add three eggs, adding 1tbsp of flour and beating well after each addition. Add the remaining flour with 40g of poppy seeds, four heaped tbsp of natural yoghurt and pinch of salt. Fold until combined then transfer to your tin and bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, checking after one hour.

The cake is ready when a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the frosting. Measure out 270g of cream cheese, 90g of natural yoghurt, 100g of sifted icing sugar and beat together using a wooden spoon. Add lemon juice to taste and spread thickly atop the cooled loaf then scatter with your crystallised petals.

Barn beauty

Liz Nicholls

This month, enjoy The Secret Garden at Cirencester’s newest community asset: the 200-seat Barn Theatre and professional producing house

The Barn Theatre is the centrepiece of ongoing development at Cirencester’s grade II listed Ingleside House. The unsubsidised, not-for-profit theatre will pursue a reputation as a major producing house, attracting the best of UK theatre talent to the area. A large purpose-built education suite, now nearing completion, will host a theatre and musical education projects year-round.

The Barn Theatre’s completion will represent the culmination of two years of hard work. The theatre building itself which was formerly a WWII Nissen Hut housing community and youth theatre has undergone a complete transformation and is now equipped with a 200-seat air-conditioned auditorium space, a new stage and orchestra pit beneath, and the latest in lighting, sound and projection technology. A newly built atrium joins the theatre to the adjacent Ingleside House, providing a contemporary theatre bar and foyer, and through access for audiences and visitors to the beautiful Ingleside House and gardens.

The venue now also includes a stunning, new stand-alone restaurant and piano bar (Teatro) with talented young chefs offering excellent food in amazing surroundings. Pre-theatre dining and a varied programme of live music at the 50-seat restaurant mean Teatro is ideal for a full evening’s entertainment, on theatre nights, or at any time.

The Barn Theatre officially opens on Monday, 19th March, with a production of the Tony Award-winning musical The Secret Garden, based on the 1911 book by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The script and lyrics are by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Marsha Norman with a score by Lucy Simon. It originally premiered on Broadway in 1991 going on to win three Tony Awards. Dominic Shaw, who has worked on several West End Shows including Beautiful – The Carole King Musical; Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Legally Blonde and currently, Kinky Boots will direct the show.

To book tickets (£14 – £28) for The Secret Garden please visit www.barntheatre.org.uk or call 01285 648255.

Home truths

Liz Nicholls

Liz Nicholls chats to Barry “Baz” Warne of The Stranglers

Q. You’re just about to jet off to Oz – how do you feel about touring these days?
“Confident and excited! We had a great French tour in November that loosened up all the cogs and ironed out all the creases. I know we’re all getting on, but a five- or six-week rest over Christmas was enough before we started wanting to get back on it! We’ve spent the past two weeks in the West Country turning it up loud and blowing away the cobwebs. We’re ready to roll!”

Q. You mention ‘getting old’ which happens to us all! How do you stay sharp?
“I eat well; me and my girlfriend love to cook. She’s trying to get me into yoga, actually, but she’s quite a bit younger than me – I’m just a 53-year-old fart who’s trying his best to get his legs behind his head in the living room… but it helps! I played football as a kid but my shock absorbers are knackered so I can’t play with my grandchildren any more, which pisses me off. We go out on motorbikes, in Yorkshire where we live, for fresh air. When you get older you have to take care of yourself. All of us have burnt the candle at many ends over the years. While we still like that – we’re not monks – things slow down a bit!”

Q. You have Stranglers fans of all ages, don’t you?
“Aye; we get the die-hard fans who’ve seen us 50-plus times, and their kids and their grandkids’ generation, which is great.
If the kids like the Stranglers, or any band from before their time, they can find it at the touch of a button. In my day you had to stay up late to watch The Old Grey Whistle Test.”

Q. When did you first hear No More Heroes?
“It came out in 1977 when I was 13. I can’t remember the impact it had on me but it must have been profound. When it comes on the radio nowadays, it still sounds glorious and fresh.”

Q. Do you listen to much music?
“Not really. These tours are so frenetic and you’re living in this musical bubble for weeks and weeks, so it can be hard… I can almost hear your readers saying ‘bless him, poor lad; you wanna try working a nine-to-five like the rest of us!’ But working as we do, our whole raisin d’etre is to stay mellow for 22 hours before each gig, basically, to save ourselves for your two hours of nuts stuff! Putting on music can feel a bit like a busman’s holiday. I tend to have the radio on in the background with classical music on and crank it up now and again!”

Q. It’s your birthday on March 25th isn’t it?
“Aye! I was lucky enough to spend my 50th playing in Guildford – I had 2,500 people sing Happy Birthday to us, which was very sweet. This year I’ll be between Guildford and London.”

The Stranglers Live
The Stranglers Live

Q. Who’s your favourite guitarist?
“Ahh, that’s a toughie! I love everyone from Chet Atkins to Angus Young to James Honeyman Scott who was the original guitar player in The Pretenders and just sublime. But, while I do appreciate virtuosos who can make a guitar ‘sing’, I’ve always been more about serving the song which is the Stranglers way. Without rowing my own boat, I am a good guitar player; I can play a cracking guitar solo along with the best of them but I’d rather lock in with the group.”

Q. What’s on your rider? When I asked JJ that a couple of years ago, he was very amusing!
“Well yes, we do request some Filipino boys with palm leaves full of… no, only joking! We don’t even have big bowls of blue Smarties or any madness like that. We are partial these days to a good Bloody Mary – which I’ve become very adept at making – so we have vodka, some wine, beer, some cold cuts, a few sarnies… Really, you just want things like nice, clean dry towels! Some water and a lot of space. It’s nice to kick around the dressing room after we’ve finished playing and toast our roaring success. The usual crap, really.”

Visit www.thestranglers.net