Blog

Talking Food with… Premee Mohamed

author photo premee mohamed

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

This week, I’d like to introduce Premee Mohamed, author of the The Apple-Tree Throne and the much-acclaimed Beneath the Rising, whose work romps across genres, from alt-history gothic fiction to cosmic horror.

LM: Premee! Thanks for joining. Let’s kick off by talking about Beneath the Rising, which was published in March of this year. In this book, food is used to add detail to character relationships and to vividly evoke time and place. (I’m thinking of Johnny and Nick eating cubes of cheese and crudites as children, or the odd sort of intimacy that getting a yoghurt out of someone else’s fridge implies). Can you tell us a little about using food within the novel, as an authorial decision?

PM: I genuinely think that’s something I lifted wholesale from all my friendships while I was growing up. My brother and I weren’t supposed to have friends over while ‘unsupervised,’ so the upshot was that we rarely had friends over at all. Meanwhile, I was often over at other friends’ houses with what felt like less strict rules, and I was always ultra-paranoid and on what I thought of as my best behaviour. It always meant a lot to me when they were like ‘Let’s make a box of Kraft Mac for lunch’ or ‘Go get anything you want out of the fridge.’ In particular, I remember being over at my long-time best friend’s house once (28 years now!) when we were thirteen or fourteen, and they had a box of some coveted cereal that my parents never bought, and he gave me a strange look when I pointed it out and said ‘You can just make yourself a bowl, you know.’

Cooking for friends, offering someone food, trading snacks, that absolutely cemented my friendships and made me feel more certain not merely that we cared about each other, but that we trusted each other. I think I was using it unconsciously in the book to signify how deep and long-standing Johnny and Nick’s relationship was. Not just that they ate each other’s family’s food, and had since they were children (the weri-weri conversation!) but that even on the run, they’re consistently making sure the other person isn’t hungry or thirsty. The meals they deliberately eat alone are weighted with meaning too.

LM: The descriptions of food in your novella, The Apple-Tree Throne, are equally fascinating, and perfectly encapsulate the story’s alt-history setting: the terrible deprivations of trench warfare versus the overabundance of rich food, to the Victoriana melange of some of the descriptions (like the “Clark’s Garden” cocktail of rosewater, orange blossom, lemon juice, black rum, salt and ginger beer – please tell me you’ve tried that in real life?). Can you tell us a bit about using food within that imagined historical setting?

PM: Thank you! I loved writing about food in that novella! I did a bit of research for it, not very extensive – actually, quite a bit of food came out of a dictionary of Victorian slang that I looked up before writing. I really wanted food to be something that the main character, Lt. Braddock, was fixated on. Because as you point out, he was terribly deprived while serving, he and his best friend Clark still joke about it (cannibalism, etc). He grew up poor, he taught himself to eat scraps, and that came in handy for wartime. Now that he’s out, he’s clearly expecting more of the same, and part of the shock he experiences when he returns – cultural, class, social, religious, financial, etc – also includes the food he’s used to versus what the Wickersleys are used to.

It became a handy shorthand for how very out of his element he is. Food is almost another weapon, or a tool: they’re not using it to show off or illustrate their social standing and wealth, but that’s how it ends up feeling to him. They think they’re just eating like normal, and he’s constantly reminded that he doesn’t belong. It was also fun to contrast that with the food that his best friends give him. The homemade cakes and jams and pies, they make him feel loved, they don’t make him feel intimidated. (I have not tried Clark’s Garden, but if someone makes me one, I absolutely will drink it. What’s the worst that could possibly happen?)      

Definitely making a Clark’s Garden

LM: Do you have any particularly strong food memories that you find yourself re-creating in fiction?

PM: Oh no, now I’ve had to wrack my memory for food in short stories as well as the longer works. Most of my strong food memories are about cooking with friends, or at friends’ houses, and so there’s always a couple of disasters… I haven’t deliberately incorporated anything from real life, I think, but maybe I should start doing it in my writing! There are a lot of stories to tell. A lot of smoke alarms going off, a lot of questionable barbecued items, and at least one pitcher of absolutely disastrous sangria.

Quickfire round!

LM: I suspect I may know the answer to this but… coffee or tea? Or neither? 

Tea!

Chocolate or cheese?

Cheese cheese cheese absolutely cheese I am comprised of 90% cheese by weight.

Breakfast or dinner?

Breakfast FOR dinner! That way, you get all the delicious breakfast foods you love, without having to get up early!

Favourite beverage to relax with?

Non-alcoholic is definitely a cup of tea, alcoholic probably a cider! I love cider.

If you cook, what’s your favourite thing to make? (Or order in, if not?)

I find during lockdown I’m cooking the same dozen or so things again and again… maybe eggs benedict? I’ve gotten quite good at it in the past six months, not that it requires any special skills, but I feel I may as well be competent at making something I like to eat.

Can you tell us a little about what you’re working on now?

Something I’m not supposed to be working on! I’m about a third done a long novella or short novel, I guess a fantasy, about a man who’s coerced into participating in a dangerous military mission, despite the fact that he’s part of the resistance. Definitely one of those ‘Your principles or your life?’ stories I find uncomfortable but satisfying to write.  

Premee Mohamed is an Indo-Caribbean scientist and speculative fiction author based in Edmonton, Alberta. Her short fiction has appeared in a variety of venues, including Analog, Escape Pod, Augur, and Nightmare Magazine. Her debut novel, Beneath the Rising, is out now from Solaris Books, with the sequel A Broken Darkness due out in 2021. She can be found on Twitter at @premeesaurus and on her website at http://www.premeemohamed.com.

You can buy The Apple-Tree Throne and Beneath the Rising, or pre-order A Broken Darkness, the sequel to Beneath the Rising (Spring 2021).

Thanks for reading! You can sign up to my newsletter for subscriber-only recipes, exclusive content, news and more.

Simple Cider Apple Cake

apple cider cake

It’s been a bumper year for apples, thanks to early rain and lots of sun. So here’s a SUPER EASY, dump-it-all-in-together-in-a-bowl rustic apple cake, to use up a few. It also involves cider – why wouldn’t it? – but you can easily replace that with liqueur, apple juice or even just milk.

For the cake:

  • 100g salted butter
  • 125g self-raising flour
  • 125g golden caster sugar
  • 50g roughly chopped nuts (I used hazelnuts)
  • 1 cooking apple, peeled and chopped into chunks
  • 50ml cider
  • 1 large free-range egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Grease and line a 20cm cake or pudding dish.
  2. Soften the butter until almost melted (5 second blasts in the microwave works well).
  3. Dump all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir together well.
  4. Spoon into the tin and smooth over.
  5. Bake for around 30 minutes, until golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean. 
  6. Drink the rest of the cider.
  7. Cool for a few minutes in the tin, before turning out onto a wire rack. 
  8. Serve warm with clotted cream OR with a hunk of cheddar cheese.

This recipe first went out in my newsletter. You can sign up here.

Talking Food With… Rachel Burton

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

Rachel Burton author

Today I’d like to introduce novelist Rachel Burton, whose new novel The Tearoom on the Bay is due out from Head of Zeus today.

LM: Happy publication day, Rachel! Readers may know you from your previous novels, The Many Colours of Us or The Things We Need to Say. Both of your upcoming books, including The Tearoom on the Bay take place in atmospheric seaside locations. Are they a departure for you in style as well as setting?

RB: In 2018 I spent a lot of time on the south coast due to my husband’s job. I’d never really spent a lot of time by the sea other than when I was on holiday and I really noticed what a meditative experience watching the sea can be, as though the sheer enormity of the ocean makes you realise how short your life can be and I knew then that I wanted to write a book set on the coast. The Tearoom on the Bay is set in the fictional Yorkshire coastal town of Sanderson Bay and while I didn’t deliberately change direction when it came to the style of my writing I did find that by setting a book on the coast a lighter style emerged even though the book deals with difficult themes. I think writing evolves over time as we evolve both personally and as writers and being by the sea and setting a book by the sea definitely saw me make some changes! 

LM: There’s a strong thread of memory, family and stories passed down through the generations in almost all of your work. Is this reflected in The Tearoom on the Bay in the form of recipes?

The Tearoom on the Bay cover

RB: Ellie, our protagonist and owner of the eponymous tearoom, has been inventing recipes for different teas and tisanes since she was a teenager and grew her own herb garden. She dried the herbs and started experimenting with teas – lavender and valerian for insomnia, camomile and rose petals for anxiety, ginger and peppermint for nausea. She grew up in a cafe and her memories are all intertwined with tea. She also believes everybody has a tea that is “theirs” – the pub landlord for example who Ellie is in constant but friendly competition, is gunpowder tea, and Ben, who claims to be a hardened coffee drinker, is Russian Caravan. There is also a recipe in the book for vegan black bean brownies (this is a recipe that readers of my previous books will already be familiar with and now they can finally make them!)

LM: Do you have any particularly strong food memories that you find yourself re-creating in fiction?

RB: My favourite meal has always been afternoon tea – I’ve always loved home baked sweet treats – and there have definitely been a lot of scenes in my books that revolve around tea and cake. I also find that I often write scenes set in restaurants and cafes; I’m much more of a “dining out” person when it comes to socialising.

LM: What was your favourite part of conjuring Ellie’s cafe in The Tearoom on the Bay?

RB: I loved imagining what it would look like, how it would be decorated and thinking about all the care and attention Ellie would have put in to the small details to get her tearoom just so – the shelves with the boxes of loose leaf tea for example, and the way that none of the cups and saucers match and have all been picked up from shops and markets across the world. I also loved inventing the different herbal tea mixtures too! 

Quickfire Round!

Coffee or tea?

Tea of course!

Chocolate or cheese?

Chocolate.

Breakfast or dinner?

Dinner.

Favourite beverage to relax with?

Earl Grey tea or a gin and tonic, depending on the time of day.

If you cook what’s your favourite thing to make?

Scones. (I told you afternoon tea was my favourite meal!)

LM: Can you tell us a little more about what you’re working on now?

RB: I’ve just finished the edits for my next book, The Summer Island Festival, which is out in March. It’s also set by the sea – this time on the Isle of Wight – around a music festival and the desperate search for a missing rock legend! There are a lot of chocolate croissants in this book too I’ve just realised!  I’m also finishing up the first draft of my summer 2022 release but I can’t tell you very much about that just yet. 

You find Rachel on Twitter and Instagram and at her website.

If you enjoyed this interview be sure to sign up to my newsletter, for news and exclusive content, including recipes and sneak peeks at work in progress.

Four Blackberry Recipes for August

Blackberries are one of my favourite things about the long, late summer days of August. This year, thanks to the rain and blazing sun, they’ve been particularly bountiful. On my allotment, the bramble bushes (some deliberate and some, ah, not) have been weighed down by berries, most of them plump and bursting with purple, gritty juice. Blackberries picked from brambles and hedgerows have their own taste and scent; a musky, deep, almost feral sweetness and fragrance that sets them apart from any other berry.

Since they’re heavy in the hedgerows right now, I thought I’d share a few past recipes, to make the most of the blackberry harvest before rain and coming autumn catches hold of them.

Blackberry Madeleines

Madeleines are so simple, yet ridiculously moreish, and I love them combined with a burst of blackberry in the centre of each.

Blackberry Madeleines on wooden background © Laura Madeleine
Blackberry Madeleines

Hazelnut Cake with a Blackberry Sloe Gin Glaze

One of my all-time favourites, this. Toasted hazelnuts and a deep, sweet, sticky glaze, flavoured with home-made sloe gin. (Though of course you could replace the sloe gin with creme de mure, or a cordial of your choice).

A picture of a cake with blackberry glaze and fresh blackberries
Hazelnut Cake with Blackberry Sloe Gin Glaze

Blackberry and Bay Galette

A super easy, stick-in-the-oven-and-forget dessert, and a good addition to Sunday lunch. I love the combination of blackberry and slightly bitter, botanical bay leaf.

Blackberry and bay galette with cream
Blackberry, Bay and Apple Galette

Blackberry Crumble Cupcakes

An oldie but a goodie from my days on the cake beat at Domestic Sluttery; these blackberry crumble cupcakes are a way to combine cake AND crumble in an explosion of blackberry stickiness.

blackberry crumble cupcakes

And of course, if you’re not in the mood for cake, there’s always jam, or a good, old fashioned crumble, or even gin (I always add a handful of blackberries to my sloe-gin). Does anyone else have favourite, go-to blackberry recipes? Drop me a line below or over on Twitter or Instragram to share!

And if you liked these recipes, there are plenty more where those came from via my newsletter, which goes out monthly to subscribers with free short stories, recipes, news and more.

Subscribe button for Laura Madeleine newsletter

Talking Food with… Tiffani Angus

In my Talking Food series I’ll be featuring short interviews with authors, chefs, cooks, historians and food writers about their experiences of food, from memories to favourite recipes.

Today I’d like to introduce author and lecturer Tiffani Angus, whose debut speculative historical novel Threading the Labyrinth is published July 13th by Unsung Stories:

Cover image for Threading the Labyrinth by Tiffani Angus

If Robert Macfarlane wrote a ghost story this would be it. Haunting, delicate and multilayered, Angus channels her own humane understanding of our relationship with the quiet places of the world, the places hidden away, neglected, but always eager to blossom with the right kind of attention.

– Helen Marshall, award-winning author of The Migration and Gifts for the One Who Comes After

Headshot of author Tiffani Angus

An American ex-pat, Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer in Publishing and the course leader for the MA Creative Writing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK, as well as the General Director of the Anglia Centre for Science Fiction and Fantasy. A Clarion (2009) graduate, she has published short fiction in several genres in a variety of anthologies. Threading the Labyrinth, in its original form, was part of her PhD dissertation, paired with an analysis of time and space in fantasy gardens. Her research into gardening history and women’s bodies in apocalyptic fiction feed into her fiction. You can follow Tiffani online, on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.

LM: Threading the Labyrinth takes places across different time periods and focuses on the heart and history of a whole garden, including the kitchen garden. Can you tell us some of the ways the kitchen garden changes across the centuries in the book? (without giving away too much!)

TA: Kitchen gardens are one of my favourite! I have a soft spot for geometric, formal gardens and kitchen gardens have to be tidy and organised, which makes me happy. Plus, they’ve got a constant specific function beyond just being pretty, which makes them different from pleasure gardens that change according to the fashion of the day. After the Civil War, pleasure gardens were considered frivolous and growing fruit and veg the moral choice; there was even an attempt to make growing fruit trees mandatory for all landowners. My kitchen garden is special because the house for the head gardener is built right into the kitchen wall; in Threading the Labyrinth, the walled garden and the kitchen garden both feature, and this house is the setting for several scenes in the novel as a place where some threads of history intersect.

walled garden Audley End
Walled garden at Audley End

The kitchen garden (as well as the central walled garden) in Threading, which I envisioned as existing in some form for hundreds of years before the beginning of the book (since part of the house was originally an abbey, which would have grown food for the resident nuns), would have changed across the centuries mostly in what it grew; as the empire expanded new foods such as tomatoes, potatoes, and aubergines were brought back and, after some time, became garden staples. Kitchen gardens are also where garden technology advanced, with cold frames and hot frames leading to greenhouses with their own heating systems where plants from other countries — both flowers (especially for carpet bedding) and food, such as pineapples — could be grown in England’s rainy climate. In the eighteenth century, with the rising popularity of the landscape garden in England, anything considered unsightly was often moved—this includes kitchen gardens and even villages! The kitchen garden is under threat of this at one point in Threading but luckily fate intervenes.

 LM: Are there any particularly intriguing examples of kitchen or herb gardens you encountered in your research? 

illustrating arched doorway

TA: I travelled to see gardens all over the country during my research; it was the best part of it. And I always gravitated toward the walled gardens, be they walled pleasure gardens or kitchen gardens. My favourites are Kentwell Hall, Blickling Hall, Audley End, Ickworth, and Glastonbury, where a monk’s herb garden has been recreated. Kentwell Hall is especially wonderful; it has a huge walled kitchen garden complete with gnarled old apple trees, espaliered fruit trees that are hundreds of years old, a potager and herb garden, and a gothic-arch-shaped door; Blickling Hall’s kitchen garden is amazing for its sheer size; Audley End’s kitchen garden is especially charming; and at Ickworth, there is a brick house built into the brick wall, which was a bit of an inspiration for Threading of course. One of the best things about going to some of the historic houses around the country that have extensive kitchen gardens is getting to see the historic kitchens; I get almost as excited about the kitchens as I do the gardens!

 LM: You grew up in the desert in the American southwest before coming to the UK to study for a PhD, and have spoken before about a fascination from a young age with English landscapes and gardens. Are there any idealised versions of food that you encountered first in fiction, before trying them in reality? (E.g. when I was a kid, I was always bemused and fascinated by the “shrimp paste” and “chocolate creams” of Enid Blyton books…)

TA: When I was a kid I, like so many other Americans, always wondered what Turkish Delight, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, tasted like. I was not impressed when I finally had it! I can’t remember where I first read about clotted cream, but in my head I imagined it was something like cottage cheese (I think the word ‘clotted’ made me think of chunks!). When I finally got to have it HOLY COW where was this all my life? I also remember stories often having children eating toast—which I seem to remember they called toasted bread sometimes, which sounded quaint to my American ears—and marmalade; I mean, marmalade exists in the US but it isn’t something I ever really ate, and toast has always been a food group in my life so I suppose I felt that I at least had something in common with British kids!

LM: Do you have any favourite food-related scenes in fiction?

cover image for Gail Carriger's Soulless book

TA: I love how talks, and battles, often tend to happen over a tea cart in Gail Carriger’s Soulless series; I mean, shouldn’t everything happen over a tea cart full of cakes and scones? Life would be much more enjoyable! And one of my favorite books is Douglas Coupland’s microserfs; when I think of it I often remember the scene were the group are trying to get Michael to eat after he’s locked himself in his office so they slide whatever two-dimensional foods they can under his door, from cheese slices to Pop-tarts. I like reading about people cooking, and one of the ways that food gets used in books I like to read is the creation of magical spells, especially those that use herbs and other plants.

LM: Time for some quickfire questions! First, coffee or tea?

TA: Tea. Well, iced tea (American, sorry!). If I drink hot tea, you know I am getting sick or I’m out having an afternoon or cream tea. Coffee smells amazing (I even have coffee candles!) but tastes like poo.

LM: Ha ha, we will have to agree to disagree, says the coffee addict. Chocolate or cheese?

TA: CHOCOLATE! Although for health/weight reasons I am on a chocolate moratorium right now until July 1. So June is cheese 😊

LM: Breakfast or dinner?

TA: Breakfast. I even love having breakfast for dinner!

LM: Favourite beverage to relax with?

TA: G&T (I love the citrus or fruit flavored ones) or a spicy, bold red wine.

LM: If you cook, what’s your favourite thing to make?

TA: I love to bake—cookies, brownies, etc.

LM: Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

Nicholas Culpeper image
Nicholas Culpeper

TA: I have been working on a novel that I started before I started the PhD, and I am about 75K along on it. It’s about an apocalypse, of all things, which will be a hard sell right now (but it’s not a pandemic, so there’s that). It’s about how women deal with the end of things as they were and the beginning of something new, so I’m excited about that aspect of it. Living through this pandemic and observing how people act has really started to inform some of the novel, and I’ve made a few tweaks to it as a result. In my head I think of it as Little House at the end of the world. After that I am considering a research-heavy novel about Nicholas Culpeper (author of the first herbal for the populace) or, more challenging, his wife about whom little is known.

Thanks so much to Tiffani for joining me. Threading the Labyrinth is out NOW as an ebook, available for pre-order from 23rd June, and officially published on 13th July by Unsung Stories. You can find it at: Hive| Amazon| Waterstones | Goodreads

And if you like speculative fiction, you should definitely check out FIYAH; a quarterly speculative fiction magazine that features stories by and about Black people of the African Diaspora. An annual subscription is just $15.

You can also sign up to my newsletter for more news, interviews and exclusive subscriber content.

The Secret Slang of Paris’ Butchers

One of my favourite things about writing historical fiction is the research. To me, it’s like detective work: inevitably, I end up taking deep dives into a particular subject. (I just spent two days reading about the changing judicial system and socio-economic make-up of the Paris police force at the start of the Second Empire and will probably end up writing “he was a policeman”). Research is an essential part of the writing process for me, not least because I often get my best ideas for plot and character (not to mention future novels) while researching.

This month I ended up taking a fascinating detour into argot – French slang – and particularly types of vernacular native to Paris. And so I discovered louchébem; the secret slang of Paris butchers.

Louchébem is just one form of the many types of argot that have existed in Paris; it is a variant form of a slang called largonji, and similar to javanais and verlan, in which individual words are disguised by using a set of rules. For example, in javanais, [av] is inserted after every consonant followed by a vowel: “bonjour” thus becomes “bavonjavour”. Louchébem substutites [l] for the consonant at the start of the word: the original consonant is them re-attached at the end of the word, followed by an em/ème suffix. “Boucher” (butcher) thus becomes “louchébem”.


Les Halles centrales de Paris, construites sous le règne de Napoléon III. 1862, Baltard, Callet

In Les Misérables (1862) Victor Hugo called argot “the language of the dark” and “the language of misery”, and like all slang, louchébem had its ties to the underworld. Originating some-time during the mid-nineteeth century, some sources claim that louchébem was invented by inmates at Brest prison, though it was mostly spoken in the stalls, alleyways, bars and cafes around Les Halles: the enormous food market that was the setting for Émile Zola’s 1873 novel Le Ventre de Paris “The Belly of Paris”.

Les Halles itself was a liminal place, by turns seedy, glamorous, luxurious and cutthroat, where societal lines were necessarily blurred; among the plenty was great poverty, and prostitution thrived in the surrounding streets. It was in this tight-knit world of commerce in all its forms that louchébem thrived. A cross between a type of cant and jargon, designed to be unintelligible to outsiders while using the specialised vocabulary of a profession, it was spoken almost exclusively by the city’s butchers, but due to close proximity, many of the other vendors and workers understood it well. For example, the “larçonguesse” (garçons) in the “listrobems” (bistrots) that surrounded Les Halles were known to speak louchébem to the butchers who came in after their shifts, carrying their “lobékesse” (gobbets) of meat for the chefs to cook.

Postcard showing Les Halles, 1900.

Louchébem was spoken among the butchers and vendors of Les Halles until the 1950s, and was used by members of the Parisian Resistance during the Nazi Occupation. Apparently, although not as widely known these days, it is still spoken by some workers in the meat industry. Some of the words have even crossed into common use in French, for example the word “loufoque” (“crazy”).

Anyway, here’s a short glossary of louchébem, to get you started:

Lonjourbem, ça va lienbem?” = Bonjour, ça va bien? = Hello, how are you?

larlépem” = parlé = talk

lijonpem” = “pigeon”

lardonpem” = pardon = excuse me?

lerchem” = cher = expensive

lortefeuillepem” = portefeuille = wallet

A lotvem” = à votre santé = to your health / cheers!

If you liked this, why not sign up to my newsletter? Subscribers get first access to new articles and recipes every month, as well as exclusive content.

Look Smart: Vintage & Eco Friendly Suits

June, 1928: “As soon as I lifted the tissue paper, I knew I had chosen well, for here it was: a suit of pale flannel, as unobtrusive as fine leather. A jacket with notched lapels, a single-breast waistcoat, wider cut trousers that hugged the waist. It all fit better than a dream, and when I looked into the mirror, I could scarcely believe what I saw. The pale brown of the suit contrasted with my black hair, the deep red of the tie was a splash of colour, just a hint of excitement. There was a straw hat to go with the suit, trimmed with a brown band. When I put it on, I had to blink hard to stop tears from falling on that perfect cloth. No one would have recognized me as the person I was before, the scruffy, frightened kitchen girl of the Hostería del Potro. Here was my new face. Here was freedom.” – from An Echo of Scandal

Ever since writing about suits in the 1920s-set An Echo of Scandal, I’ve been more than a little obsessed with them: I’m not talking about uncomfortable businesswear that you can’t wait to take off the minute you get in the door, I mean classic suits, the kind that – in decades past – were meant to be worn every day, smart yet comfortable in hard-wearing fabrics that look equally good while teaching a class or slouched at a bar.

So I started to search online. How hard could it be to find interesting and affordable suits for women, I thought? Well, as someone who’s a petite/short 5ft 2″, takes a larger size trousers than top and has a limited budget (read: full-time novelist) pretty tricky, it turned out. A lot of the suits and co-ords in high street shops are either too corporate-looking or completely the wrong cut, often in polyester or other synthetic fabrics, which I’m not much of a fan of. Add to this the fact that for the last few years, I’ve been trying to cut down drastically on the amount of brand new clothes I buy, and I found myself in a bit of a quandry.

Luckily the internet is a wonderful place, and after many hours trawling I’ve found a few reliable places that are helping me feed my suit obsession. The following listings range from online vintage stores to brands that use sustainable practices. Since the whole point of a suit is that it’s meant to last a long time, I’ve steered away from synthetics and towards fabrics like wool, linen and corduroy where possible.

L: Here’s me at the launch for An Echo of Scandal, wearing the two-piece vintage wool suit I got for a steal for £40 on Etsy last year. I had the waistcoat altered to fit at the brilliant Jokoto Tailoring in Bristol, who did a fantastic job.

P.s. I have no affiliation with any of these companies; this is purely a selection of places I’ve either shopped at or browsed for my own clothes! I’ll update this as and when I discover anything new.

Vintage

Dautrefois Clothing

This online store is run by the amazing Raluca. She has a great eye for classy, smart vintage pieces, and frequently sells trousers, suits, blouses, shirts and blazers. All clothes arrive beautifully wrapped in plastic-free packaging. I bought a fantastic green three-piece combo from there last year.

Instragram: @d.autrefois

Truffle Pig Traders

This eEbay shop sells good quality vintage men’s suits at bargain prices. Mostly male tailoring, but could be an excellent place to look for a blazer or jacket. (Incidentally, I asked the tailor who altered my waistcoat for me, and she said it is definitely possible to alter men’s suits for a better fit). Worth a look!

Vintage Vixen

A long established, US-based Etsy shop, I’ve never bought from them before, but have been eyeing this brown 1970s corduroy suit for months. They usually have a good selection of suits, jackets and blazers, not to mention thousands of other items, with frequent sales.

Narrations LDN

A curated, minimalist vintage/retro shop. Last time I checked they had quite a few options when it came to suit trousers and blazers for decent prices.

Celestial Youth

One for people who love trawling Depop! if you look on my Pinterest, you’ll see several amazing outfits from this store, curated by Alex in L.A. Worldwide shipping, and some amazing trousers.

New Clothes

Admise Paris

Made in Paris, Admise was founded on a philosophy of timeless suits for women in a number of different styles of cut. They’re on the pricier end of things, but they do have sales, so worth keeping an eye on if you are in the market for treating yourself. Clean lines and classic colours, you can mix and match jackets and trousers to get the style you want, e.g. peg leg or wide leg trousers with boxy, loose or fitted jackets.

43 RUE DE LA FOLIE MÉRICOURT – 75011 PARIS

Lucy and Yak

Buy one thing and become obsessed. Lucy and Yak are known for their hyper-comfortable dungarees and boilersuits, as well as for having excellent eco-friendly and sustainable credentials. It’s their organic cotton wide-leg jeans I want to talk about here though. I’m short, and had never found a pair of high-waisted jeans that suited me. Until Lucy and Yak. They’re brilliant, with a flattering nipped-in waist and wide to tapered leg; sort of a 1930s cut. They’re made from sturdy organic cotton twill and you can order them to waist and leg measurements. Honestly, I live in mine.

‘Addison’ High Waisted Organic Cotton Twill Jeans in Black – £55.00

Toast

Yes, Toast are not cheap, but they do have trousers that I lust after, usually in great quality, hard-wearing fabrics. It’s worth keeping a beady eye on their sales. (Thanks to my friend Lidia for the tip off on this one!) They’re also trying when it comes to their environmental impact; they run repair workshops across the UK, their paper packaging is fully recyclable and they’ve committed to eliminating all single-use plastic from their supply chain by 2022. I’ve been eyeing these olive cotton linen trousers for a while now.

Jude Cotton Linen Trousers in Olive – £165

For more suit inspiration check out my Pinterest.

Cardamom & Coconut Cake

Is there anything more comforting than the smell of freshly ground cardamom? Maybe a freshly baked cake or pastry, where the buttery baked smell combines with hot sugar and fresh, floral, spicy sweetness?

Niki Segnit, author of the one of my most-referenced food books, The Flavour Thesaurus, says that cardamom and coconut, especially in Indian rice puddings and barfi is so delicious that it is “not to be trusted”, tricking you into eating far more than you should… That’s an easy thing to do with this cake, which goes as well with coffee at elevenses as it does with tea late afternoon. Just have to bake another one!

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 10 cardamom pods
  • 1 tbsp coconut cream (instructions on this later)

For the coconut filling:

  • 3 tbsp coconut cream
  • 2 tbsp desiccated coconut
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar

For the syrup:

  • 3 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence (or vanilla bean paste)
  • 5 cardamom pods

Method:

  1. To make coconut cream, put a can of full-fat coconut milk in fridge for a few hours. DO NOT SHAKE IT. When you open it, the cream should have risen to the top.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease and line a 23cm, 9 inch deep cake tin.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  4. Add in the eggs one at a time, along with a tablespoon of the flour with each and beat well. Repeat with rest of the eggs, beating well in between. 
  5. Using a pestle and mortar, bash the cardamom pods to split them open, then scrape out the seeds. Discard the husks and grind the seeds into powder. (Or you could bash the pods with a rolling pin or similar and grind the seeds in a clean coffee or spice grinder). 
  6. Add to the mixture, along with the tablespoon of coconut cream and stir to combine. 
  7. Add the remaining flour in thirds, folding in lightly in between.
  8. Dollop into the tin, smooth over the top and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden and risen, and a skewer inserted comes out clean. 

The filling:

  1. Scoop the coconut cream into a clean bowl.
  2. Add the icing sugar and desiccated coconut and mix together. 
  3. Cover and place in the fridge until ready to use.

The syrup:

  1. Bash the cardamom pods open and grind in the same way as before. 
  2. Place in a small saucepan, along with the caster sugar, vanilla and 5 tablespoons of hot water. 
  3. Bring to a simmer and reduce over a medium heat until the consistency thickens. BE CAREFUL because hot sugar is HOT. 
  4. When the cake is out of the oven, prick holes all over the surface with a skewer and spoon on the sugar syrup so that it all soaks in. Leave for a few minutes before turning out of the tin and leaving to cool on a wire rack. 
  5. When completely cool, carefully cut the cake in two. 
  6. Spoon the coconut filling onto the bottom half, spreading out to the edge, then sandwich the other half back on top. 
  7. Decorate with icing sugar and try not to eat too many slices at once…

This recipe was first featured on the Domestic Sluttery newsletter.

If you liked this, you’ll find more where that came from on my newsletter. Exclusive recipes, research, snippets of work-in-progress. Sign up below!

Breakfast Martini Cake

It’s orange season! And I love it. My local greengrocer is selling HUGE navel oranges 4 for £1, blood oranges (my favourite) are back, and jars of marmalade are appearing in my vicinity with startling regularity.

Sadly, I’m not a marmalade fan. Something about the combination of sugar and bitterness just doesn’t work for me, which is weird, because I love other bitter flavours. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t love orange and marmalade in stuff, including cocktails.

A classic Breakfast Martini involves marmalade, dry gin, triple sec and lemon juice. Someone once tried to make me one with just vodka and marmalade stirred in a glass, which I won’t recommend. But this cake combines tangy orange, sweet marmalade, buttery sponge and yes, some generous slugs of gin and Cointreau.

Breakfast Martini Cake

Ingredients:

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 220g self-raising flour
  • 25ml milk (or milk alternative)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 1 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • Segments of 1 orange
  • 2 tbsp marmalade (preferably thick cut)

For the martini topping:

  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp muscovado sugar
  • 2 tbsp gin
  • 3 tbsp Cointreau (you could replace with orange juice if you like)
  • 2 tbsp marmalade
  • Lemon zest, to decorate

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Grease and line a 20cm, 9 inch deep cake tin.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. 
  3. Add the eggs one at a time, along with tablespoon of the flour with each to stop the mixture from splitting.
  4. Gently fold in the remaining flour until it is just incorporated and no streaks are showing.
  5. Stir in the milk and the orange zest.
  6. Sprinkle the muscovado sugar over the bottom of the prepared tin.
  7. Spread the marmalade over the top, then layer the orange segments in a pattern, whatever you feel like.
  8. Dollop the batter over the top, smooth over and bake for around 30-35 minutes, or until it’s golden and risen, and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
  9. Cool in the tin for a few minutes before flipping onto a plate and peeling off the paper.

The syrup:

  1. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan and stir together.
  2. Bring to a simmer and reduce for 10 minutes or so over a medium heat, until the consistency thickens.
  3. Whilst the cake is still warm, prick holes all over the surface with a skewer and spoon over the sticky, boozy syrup so that it soaks in.
  4. Decorate lemon zest, make yourself a real breakfast martini to drink with it.

This recipe was first featured on Domestic Sluttery.

If you liked this recipe, please consider signing up to my monthly newsletter, where I share news, promotions and research, and offer subscriber-only access to new recipes.

At the Sauce Podcast

I was delighted to be a guest on episode 35 of At the Sauce; a brilliant food and drink themed podcast based here in Bristol. It was a joy to talk to Alex and Karis, especially knowing they’d recently interviewed one of my favourite food writers, Bee Wilson.

Check out the episode below. You can find other episodes with guests ranging from chefs to producers to other writers over at At the Sauce and you can also support their work via their Patreon. Thanks Alex and Karis!

It’s a heck of a newsletter this month, with a seasonal recipe perfect for Burns Night, news, a short story and more. Click below to sign up.