The Upside of a Very Anxious Time

“Everybody’s anxious,” my friend messaged. “Everybody’s anxious.” It sounds true, I know. But it isn’t true. At least five of my hyper-anxious psychotherapy patients have been miraculously calmed by the whole planet acting out their inner drama on their behalf. 

“I feel weird for not being in a panic. Maybe it’s coming? Maybe I’m numb but it will hit me later?” They are in a bit of a panic about not being in a panic. But the fact is, they’ve been proved right – the world is a dangerous and hostile place where death lurks mysteriously around every corner. And now that the planet has finally heard their hyper-anxious message, they can completely relax. “I am cocooned and I think I’ll stay like this even when it’s over,” a patient said to me yesterday. Some people who always suffer from chronic anxiety, whatever the political, virological or socio-economic weather, feel they have at last been issued the permission they’ve been seeking all their lives – relax, there’s really nothing you can do about it.

At The Mind Field we had a meeting of all the therapists to discuss the issues around Coronavirus and how to deal with everyone talking a) about the same issue and b) about something in which we too are personally involved. But, surprisingly, my experience has been that fear of the virus has come up very little with patients in the past two weeks. What has happened is that things in general have been pulled into very sharp focus – those in bad relationships are having to confront that in quarantine, people are leaving countries they’ve called home for countries of origin they didn’t miss, emotional life seems to be distilled down to an essence in which only the fundamentals remain. 

Even in psychotherapy it feels as if all the candy floss people whip up to mask what’s really going on (the stick in this, admittedly not brilliant, analogy) is dropping away. A patient who couldn’t face lock-down with her abuser finally left, another who has spent five years unable to leave a punishing job that took the role of an abusive relationship for a quieter family life in Turkey has taken the family to quarantine by the sea in Turkey. Another workaholic, consumed by a very toxic job, took the last flight out of a war zone to find herself with her beloved but neglected boyfriend in the German countryside. A development worker about to leave for Western Europe realised in an epiphany that his home was now here in Beirut and he would stay (after years of fretful indecision). Enforced stillness makes us realise where and with whom we would most like to be still (even when this is unachievable – I miss you!). 

But the quarantine has granted us another valuable permission – we’re allowed not to be coping. We’re suddenly allowed to say we’re anxious, we’re struggling, we’re bored, we’re lonely. We might have felt, no, we did feel, all these things before, but now all the ‘reach out’ messages of therapy, helplines and all mental health providers has been completely de-stigmatised. We’re all suddenly finding it’s allowed to reach out and say things we were once embarrassed to say – ‘I miss you,’ ‘I love you,’ ‘I can’t bear this,’ ‘I’m really scared.’  

Last night in the bath (sorry, Elvin) I watched a live violin concert by Elvin Ganiyev on Instagram given from his sitting room (in Turkey, I think?). Ordinarily, you might pay upwards of $100 to hear Ganiyev play, but now he’s breaking our hearts for free, chatting, waving and smiling, in jeans, trainers and a setting so intimate it’s almost liver than live. I’m deep in the Italian countryside where the birdsong is deafening and the blossom is out and every day people send me hilarious memes, videos and songs, my own children (well, I say children….they are 19 and 21) are playing their instruments and posting videos of themselves playing, as are all of their friends from music school. Every Thursday and Sunday at 6pm we go out onto the balcony or into the garden to play and sing with the rest of Italy (in our case to an audience of the one old lady, a slightly distant next door) and my son’s Fiesole music school prescribes parts so that everyone is playing the same thing, creating an orchestra in central Florence that, sadly, we can only watch on video. People are lending out their dogs so that everyone can go for a walk and the whole country makes that Moretti advert, where the Italian man is sent his beer via a neighbourly pulley system to remind him to come to family lunch, a reality (which, actually, it was already – the only thing unrealistic about that advert is that it would be more likely an esspresso or a glass of wine that they family would send, otherwise it’s a completely accurate, gritty and unromanticised picture of Italian life). 

It is a highly anxious time, of course it is, and only the lucky few can decide to learn the piano or work their way through cookbooks. The news is full of the horrors that await us just around the corner, the horrors being suffered by so many and the unpredictable terror that is racing unseen around the world (giving the sense of dread suffered by so many psychotherapy patients – certainly by me when I first went into an analysis – a very real manifestation). It is reminding me a lot of Moscow at the end of Communism in the obviously bad ways (shortages, confinement, public services no longer able to cope, uncertainty, deaths) and also in the good ways. Russians have always been very good at living as if you might die tomorrow (a very real threat throughout most of their history) and the West has developed a weird way of trying to pretend we will never die at all and something is very wrong if someone does so, under the age of about 90. The truth is, and always has been, you never know what’s going to happen so, in the meantime, what and who matters? These are things a lot of us are realising with an enormous release of joy. 

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The Best Soup of All Time Ever – A Georgio-Azero-Armenian Feast


This has become known as The Soup. I was in the car with my boyfriend a few months ago talking about what we were going to eat (he is Italian and takes food very seriously indeed, often just closing his eyes and saying, wistfully; ‘Cibo.’). He said he wanted soup with chickpeas in it. There is this awful grey soup everyone loves in Italy, a kind of broth with loads of stuff in it, all flavour and colour extracted, and it makes me want to throw a handful of chillis, some coriander and some noodles into it. So I did.


That night we came home and I went through my Caucasian cookbooks because soups in Central Asia and in the Middle East (you know that amazing Egyptian lentil soup with lemons in it, a bit like dahl but nicer?) are so delcious. I crammed three different recipes into each other and made the greatest soup of all time ever. You can put whatever you like in it really, and it is heaven. A bit grey (unless you throw herbs in right at the end which would be a good idea come to think of it) but unbelievably good. My mum said it was the nicest thing she’d ever eaten.

Okay, so…do this:

Fry a piece of beef/a few chicken thighs/a wodge of lamb in olive oil with one or two chopped onions and one or two chopped carrots. Don’t chop anything finely. Big chunks here. You can also throw some potato in at this stage. One big potato in chunks or some new potatoes whole or halved. If you’re going to put noodles in later then maybe omit the potato or, if you’re hungry, have both. The meat should have bones in it, whichever meat you use.

While this is all frying, add a teaspoon of salt, a heaped teaspoon of pepper, as much fresh chilli (dried is okay but not flakes please) as you like, also a teaspoon of cumin. When the meat is browned cover all this with boiling water (you can add more as you go along if it boils away). Here I chuck in some kosher chicken stock powder out of a yellow tub, but you could add a stock cube or, since you are basically making fresh stock as you do this, nothing.

Then add two pierced dried limes, a couple of bayleaves and some saffron strands. At this point I leave it simmering for an hour or more. (NB. All three of the moshed together soups here have two tablespoons of pomegranate molasses in them here, but Massimo is allergic to sugar so I don’t put it in. I should think it would be nice though). Then, fish the meat out, take the bone/s out and put the meat back in, cut up. This soup would be even more delicious (if that’s possible) if you could bear to leave it overnight at this stage, but I can’t imagine anyone being able to do this because it smells so amazingly good.

Now put a can of chickpeas in (obviously, you could soak some overnight and blah blah blah if you were immortal) and lots of cavolo nero/any other cabbage/a bag of spinach. When I say lots I mean lots. If you’ve bought a bag of cavolo nero or spinach, then all of it. The pan (and I’m using the biggest Le Creuset casserole) should be overflowing with the greens so it’s hard to get the lid on to wilt it. Cram the lid on until the greens have wilted and you can stir them in. Also at this stage you can add green beans, mange touts, sugar snap peas, peas, broad beans, asparagus  (you get the picture). You could also add your two minute or straight to wok egg noodles or fat udon noodles now.

The vegetables only need a few minutes – you don’t want them to go soggy, so this is final stages. Then, the last thing – in a blender or pestle and mortar, grind up a teaspoon of salt, four fat cloves of garlic and 100g or more of walnuts (toast them if you feel the urge) to almost a paste. Then stir the paste into the soup. Fish the dried limes out and throw fresh coriander and parsley on top.

EEEEEEEAT! This is rich and wonderful so don’t eat crap bread with it, please. Gorgeous fresh sour dough, lightly toasted and, in a dream world, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. This is how we ate it last night. Also a big salad – spinach, beetroot, spring onions, feta, more walnuts, toasted, red pepper hacked up and…that’s it. I made a really sharp mustardy dressing made with the red wine that my son’s friend Gabriel spat out and said I should use as vinegar. I did. Excellent. Good tip, Gabz.


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Claudia’s Chicken Salad, Sailing (who knew?), The Moretti Advert, Divorce, Kenya 25 Years Later and The Brothers Karamazov


Photos: Me IN A HAMMOCK, ON A BOAT happy as a clam in Cervia, Bagno Samuele where Lev works, Me and Cath on the beach in Mombasa (I know we look like girls out of college but this one is now and not 25 years ago…), Wedding in East Hendred 1997, Mum on Massimo’s boat going the full Patsy on Lev’s birthday, Claudia’s Chicken Salad and a Watermelon and Feta one. 

It’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve added anything here – basically, it’s because a patient was reading the blog (I actually see people under my ex-married name but some people know I’m me anyway) and it made me self-conscious about it. Not that I mind, but I suddenly felt I should write more edifying-type things with more psychoanalysis in them. But then, the other night, I made Claudia’s chicken salad and felt I had to share it with you urgently. Make! Eat! Quick! Easiest thing in the whole world. I made it to go out on Massimo’s boat. Boats! Who knew? I’ve been sailing all summer – I say sailing, when I mean sitting on a boat and being really, really impressed and soaking up the pinks and blues and just feeling like this is the nicest bit of my life so far. I’ve been learning the Italian names for bits of boat and getting into the politics of whose boat is whose and whose grandfather owned and fished from what and how speed boats (or any boats with a motor really) are for small-penised losers and real sailors can sail down a windless canal at night spreadeagled on the sail to catch the slightest motion of the air to the awe-inspired gasps of sailing-savvy diners at the twinkly, shouty restaurants on the waterside in Cervia (Massimo is a real sailor I will have you know).

Everyone shouts out his name, people he was at school with, vague relatives and clients who shout out ‘avvocato!’ and address him as vous. You know that Moretti advert where there’s an Italian family eating on the terrace and trying to get someone to drop work and come and eat and they send him a bottle of beer on a complex pulley via neighbours’ flats and stuff? Obviously it’s an idealised Italy ad aimed at Brits but, surreally, it’s actually a bit like that here in real life.

So, I’m divorced. I didn’t know I was getting divorced when the papers arrived from the East Midlands something or other (even though I got married near Oxford, in fact) all and terrifying. So sad to see the name of the church we got married in and my ex’s full name and all that. And to have to sign and I didn’t want to. I mean, I get it. It’s been over a very long time and the end was instigated by me and etc. etc. But it’s sad. I know that deserves a whole blog to itself but it’s not getting one. I went to Kenya just now, 25 years after I first went there to see the same friend and hang out with all the same people (one of whom has become the President during my long absence…). Went to the same beaches and carried on a lot of the same conversations. Friend and I even look not TOO disimilar in the matching photos we took, just sadder really. And I want to go back 25 years and do it all again, better, properly. It could have all have gone so right. And, of course, some of it did. And maybe if it had I wouldn’t be as happy and finally peaceful as I am now. And this is bliss, all the more so after the work and struggle to get here. But still…strange how time has swooshed by and we are nearly fifty and yet it all feels like the other day. WAS the other day.

I’m listening to The Brothers Karamazov in the car (in English – Constance Garnett translation) and thinking about how much people discuss politics and religion (as per last night in garden), social issues and God knows what and it’s all in there – a comprehensive discussion of absolutely everything, with the Grand Inquisitor chapters containing the actual meaning of life and why and how we all get it wrong. Okay, that’s pompous and boring but, what I mean is that these discussions could have been over ages ago, were over ages ago. It’s just that most people haven’t read it. NB. Dostoevsky not great on women’s characterisation.  Just, you know. Yuh.

Claudia Feneziani’s Chicken Salad designed for Sardegna boating and modified for Cervia: 

A roast chicken (bought from rotisserie totally fine), pulled apart into shreds

Five big tablespoons of any mayonnaise

A whole thingy of celery, sliced, including the leafy bits

Five chopped spring onions

A big handful of flat leaf parsley

Eight cloves of garlic, chopped and fried in oil, plus the oil

Salt, Pepper

Mix all the above together and eat. You can add boiled potatoes or cooked pasta too if very hungry. Or put it in sandwiches for boaty activity.

Good with salad of chunks of watermelon, crumbled feta, baby spinach and or rocket leaves, spring onion, lemon juice, salt and pepper, maybe mint?

Therapy via Skype at 

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Four Recipes, a Wedding and a Funeral

Four Recipes, a Wedding and a Funeral

(Wedding photo left to right – James, Hope, Lily, Me, Samira, Charlotte, Steve, Grace – kneeling in front Lev, Murdo) (Dogs: Blue and the last ever photo of Marmite, taken four days before he died)

Since I last wrote a blog, I launched The Mind Field with two colleagues from Washington DC. Please have a glance if you’ve got time – . Basically, we’re providing Skype therapy to aid workers and journalists in the field, people who traditionally don’t look after their mental health and whose lives mean it’s impossible for them to show up at someone’s consulting room once a week. 

I’ve been thinking and talking about these people a lot since we launched, and the thing I’ve noticed more than anything else is that everyone thinks someone else should have therapy. Everyone knows someone they think should have some therapy. It’s nearly always true that when patients show up in therapy the problem, they tell me, is with someone else. My wife, husband, mum, dad, friend needs therapy and they’re making my life hell. I’m here to tell you how mad they are. This is probably completely true, but so what? We can’t treat them and we can’t know what they’re thinking, so we’ll have to make do with helping you. So, when your boss, who is insane, is making your life hell, who needs therapy? You do! The boss is going to have to sort himself or herself out in his or her own time. But you might need help with the feelings you have of being controlled, bullied, coerced, made miserable. That’s one thing. 

Then the other thing that I’ve written about before but that always strikes me, is that people force, like, really force the outside world to match their inner world. Someone who is terrified goes somewhere terrifying and feels a bit more relaxed, a bit less mad. See! I was right! The world is fucking terrifying! When my mind was fragmenting, disintegrating, I went to live in Russia at the very end of the Soviet Union when society, the world as everyone knew it, was disintegrating, just like my inner world was after my dad was killed. I felt at home in Russia, all my anxiety and hypervigilance was justified, my hard drinking and promiscuity considered completely normal – hell, we might all die tomorrow! 

All the sex scandals in development are no big surprise. In a world without boundaries that might end in the morning, who cares what we do? I think people who go in for this work are already suffering with mental health issues, a boundarilessness, anxiety, a need to be plunged into acute crisis as a defence against thinking. I mean, obviously, there are other motiviations too, but still. 

It’s been a really intense summer. My ex-husband, his girlfriend and her young son decided to go on holiday. Perfectly normal behaviour, of course. Mexico? Thailand! Spain is gorgeous. France can be lovely of a summer. OR, just up the road from here….? Guess which one they chose. Yup. At the same time, someone I once had a brief and basically ghastly thing with was also in town running a festival, wife and children in tow. So, I sat around in Lucca by myself feeling unwelcome and weird in my own town, like something toxic everyone wishes wasn’t there. It was fucking grim. 

Then I went to London for my sister’s beautiful wedding. In joint first place with my daughter’s graduation in June for Loveliest Day Ever. Charlotte was so happy and funny, the venue magical, the bevs copious the food…well, as I said to Sheba (Local Sauce) who did the food ‘everyone was in ecstasy’. She quoted me on her new website and I denied saying it, so she played me back the audio of my audio message. That’s what I said. And it was true. But it was tough too. Our dad died when Charlotte was only 2, so she doesn’t remember him at all. “I hope he would have liked the wedding”, she said in her speech and we all sobbed. Her step-dad, James, made a wonderful speech about being her father all these years and it was heartbreakingly moving in itself, but also made me wonder what dad would have said in his speech, how nervous he’d have been, how different from James and how similar to him. It was as though dad was there all day and the weeping and laughing just went on and on. 

Two days after that, my beloved Marmite died. He went out to the back of the garden in London and stayed there. That was weird because the day before he’d sat under my feet while I had patients. In a break I went out to see him and he was vomiting and breathing very hard. I knew really. I thought – I’ll see the next patient and in 50 minutes I’ll bring him water and take him to the vet. When I went out of the back door 50 minutes later I could see he was dead even from a distance. Marms had gone. And I wish I’d sat with him, and I wished I could have another five minutes just to stroke his head. The way he looked at me that last time, a bit wild and scared and sorry. Apologetic. Gentle. Poor Marms. Of course, he’s been ill for ages, and there was no awful final vet visit, no terrible suffering really, and he was on end stage drugs for his arthritis, so it was completely expected. But even then. He ate his breakfast that morning and was lucid even 50 minutes before the end. Strange to think of his death in terms of the psychoanalytic hour. Oh, sweet, funny and happy dog. He’s been by my side, everyone’s favourite member of the family, all these years. 

Yesterday I was playing tennis on the clay courts in Bagni di Lucca with Alberto the pharmacist. September evening sun, hard match. I fell over and grazed my knee. Strange to fall over at this age, and strange to have scabby knees like a toddler. My daughter has swollen up like a puffa fish in a violent allergy to antibiotics, in other health news.

I feel like I usually comment on world affairs, but, I mean…seriously. 

Okay, food. So, I made bagels!! Here’s a photo! I won’t include the recipe because I did exactly what it said in the book so you can look it up. But, boiling dough! Who knew? 

The French Toast is my recipe though so here it is: 

Crack two eggs into a bowl, add two or three tablespoons of sugar, vanilla essence and cinnamon and whisk. Drag slices of soft bread through the mixture until they’re soaked through and fry in butter until beautiful. Dust with icing sugar. 

Also, I made cardamom chocolate mousse, throwing crushed cardamom seeds into the melting chocolate. I wanted to grate orange zest into it but didn’t have an orange. Any dark chocolate mousse recipe is good for this. Then I candied basil leaves for the top, I tell you. This is easy! You drag the leaves through egg white (mint would have been nice too) and then through sugar and leave them to dry. I put mine in the freezer. Seemed fine. Was delicious. 

The plum cake up there is the Honey and Co. pistacchio, almond and coconut cake, recipe on this blog somewhere. Sometimes I put cherries on top but I had plums from the garden so poked them into the cake. 

Skype Therapy from wherever you are:

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Potato Skins, Mary Magdalene, Lucca Homeless Lunches, the Book I’m Writing (and having been thinking about for nearly ten years) plus Other Stuff

Potato Skins, Mary Magdalene, Lucca Homeless Lunches, the Book I’m Writing and Other Stuff

It’s been ages. If I’m writing I need to be writing a book – it’s about simultaneous interpretation, identity and Stalin. Hmm. That’s not a very good pitch. I’ll try again – It’s the mid-80s and there’s a guy in a remote Soviet psychiatric facility says he’s Stalin. People start to believe him.

For ages it was called I Am Josef Vissarionovich. Now it’s called Don’t You Know Who I Am?

However, since I am plainly not writing the fucking book, I could at least write something…could I?

Saw Mary Magdalene (no, no, the film) dubbed into Italian in a deserted Lucca cinema yesterday and thought various things, aside from; “Joaquin Phoenix is hot,” though mainly that. As soon as it started I realised I was going to get depressed about the plight (plight!) of women, then, now, always. Even though it’s supposed to be a vaguely feminist film, reinstating her as an apostle equal to Chewitel Ejiofor and Tahar Rahim (also both hot, btw). What you ideally don’t want to be in life is a chattel, if it’s not a collective noun (or crucified, more obviously). The potential for violence, rape and general abuse of women in remote, rural areas where their status is pretty much equal to the goats, well, etc…

Also, while Joaquin, who is a fabulously mad and weird Jesus as He presumably must have been, was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven or something (not quite sure, it was in Italian) I was thinking about the lovely cartoon of Stephen Hawking, there in the glittering cosmos stepping out of his wheelchair and walking, young and handsome, into infinity. Immediate tears. And I’ve always imagined heaven as embracing everyone I know, smiling, none of the inhibitions, circumstantial nightmare, bitterness and misery of the real relationship, but all healed and genuine – what we really meant to say was ‘I love you’. Not all the rest.. I mean, I’m not holding my breath for this, obviously, but it’s how I’d do it if I were establishing the kingdom of heaven myself.
(PS. It’s a slightly boring film).

I’ve been cooking at a charity in Lucca. This is not an easy thing to go and do. Well, it’s easy once you’re there, but ITALY.  I’ve been looking for somewhere that might want my help for literally years. I found websites, Facebook pages, people’s numbers and tried them all. Nothing. Then, in a weary fit of knowing what you have to do in Italy, I went and banged on the door of an address in Lucca. Nobody answered. It was raining (it has now rained for five months non stop in Lucca – not English rain but proper monsoon), and I was on my own (as ever) and miserable. I sat at a cafe on Piazza Napoleone and ranted to the charity’s Facebook page. How can I help if you’re impossible to find? Then I noticed another address on the page and schlepped off, a soggy mess, to see if there was anyone there. Bikes stacked up outside against the wall, a nun pottering about inside in full regalia, a lot of African boys standing around chatting, an office. Yes!

So, I go in twice a week and sous-chef for Antonella, the big kitchen boss (actually tiny), making lunch for 60 of Lucca’s hungry and homeless and then, 20 minute turnaround, 60 boys from the local hostel. There is a lot of frying and a lot of pasta. One day I fried about 300 eggs. The boys, African, Albanian, Syrian, all go to school or work and are basically optimistic (being under 25) and they are sick of the pasta, muttering in French and asking if the meat is cat meat. They are energetic, buzzing, intense. The hungry Lucchese are much, much sadder, big and slow. They get food delivered from Caritas, served and added to by us. Two interesting things. 1) Of about 60 people who come every day only one of them is regularly drunk and even he isn’t that drunk. 2) The food is GOOD. Squid in bietola, vegetable sformato, cod with chickpeas, and stuff the UK homeless would never get or, probably, wouldn’t eat if they did. This lot is defeated by life, some of them really well-dressed, probably not homeless, just broke, really making an effort. Others, especially the older Middle Eastern men who speak French, look as if they were doctors and teachers back home. There is a real feeling of the desperation and humiliation. The resident nun, a big, loud lady who left school at 11, is lovely to the boys and horrid to the homeless. Weird. Anyway, this lunch happens in a very run down but beautiful palazzo with a big garden where the boys smoke in the cloister and where we get herbs. The Italians are pretty awful to their refugees until they get leave to remain. After that, well, it’s pretty lovely actually.

I feel like I should say stuff about Russia but, really, what is there to say?

Audiobooks? The Dry. The Elegance of the Hedgehog.
Podcast? Dirty John.
Netflix? The Get Down


I made these for a dinner party I had in a perfect AirBnB in Rome, right on Portico D’Ottavia in the ghetto, above a fried artichoke place and round the corner from the Acquamadre Hammam where you must all go immediately. So exciting to be in a caldarium in actual Rome. Cooking for ten with only a table knife and no pans was quite difficult. Did the chicken pastilla and cheescake deal, but while we stood around we ate ..

Potato Skins with Guacamole

Bake potatoes. Scoop out the insides and discard (Hope fried them to crispy and added feta cheese for breakfast the next morning so don’t throw them away!). Cut the skins in half or quarter slices depending on size of potato. Rub olive oil, salt and ideally paprika on them (but I didn’t have any paprika) and then roast them until crispy – about ten minutes but check them a lot.
No blender guacamole – mash very ripe avocados (two for ten people was good) and then add lime juice, parsley, spring onions and garlic mashed in salt.

In a retro 70s fit, I put the guacamole in the potato skin boats.

Orange Salad

This is so beautiful in Italy because most oranges are blood oranges. Seriously, this salad is just oranges. You can add chopped fresh chilli (I did), rocket, parsley, mint, coriander, salt, pepper, a bit of lemon juice and olive oil.

What to do with Chicken Scrags

You know those nasty little mini chicken breasts supermarkets sell? Vile. But it’s all I had last night. I was thinking of Chinesifying them with sesame oil and seeds, spring onions, soya sauce etc, but I was feeling the Middle East. Weirdly, this was delicious. Then again, it’s asparagus season here and you hardly need even to cook them.

Fry the chicken in olive oil with chopped chilli, onions and garlic until it’s nice and brown, add ras al hanout, salt, pepper aaand…cinnamon. When it all looks fried and cooked and delicious add a can of tomatoes. That’s IT. Rice. Asparagus. So good.

Pistacchio Cake

I’ve put a recipe for this up before. It’s the Honey and Co cherry and coconut cake, but I made it with pears. It’s got mehreb in it (crushed cherry pips – who knew?), coconut, almonds and then you push plums or cherries or really anything into the batter and bake with pistacchios on top. I add vanilla essence but then I add vanilla essence to everything.

Are you Okay? If you need to talk – Therapy via Skype – 

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Perimenopause, HRT, Sexual Harassment, Misogynistic Abuse from Peter Hitchens? Who’d be Female? Also, a Lemon Cake.

Perimenopause, HRT, Sexual Harassment, Misogynistic Abuse from Peter Hitchens? Who’d be Female? Also, a Lemon Cake.

Sexual harassment stuff – beyond depressing. And it is complicated by the fact that my generation grew up watching Benny Hill and The Generation Game. Women with their tits half out giggling while men in suits made lewd comments. I remember feeling confused about it. Wondering how I was going to manage to be like Anthea Redfern at the same time as liking books. I had goofy teeth, was skinny and anxious, I wet my bed until I was 11. How was I ever going to get men to fancy me (clearly the be all and end all of life). All the men I knew, led by my father, made it very clear that women and girls needed to be “cute” and sexy and were otherwise to be derided. But, hey, I got my teeth fixed and both my parents were hot so I turned out hot too. Turned out I could look like someone half-naked on telly and read books. Who knew? So, by the time I got to work I was wearing short skirts and hoping to be fancied by men in the office – it was at least half of my worth, I thought (brainwashed bitch that I was). Probably more. I didn’t want to be assaulted or touched, obviously (though I was both – not in the office), but I did think I was supposed to be sexy. The whole fucking culture was and is sick. And, men? Seriously, fuck off.

Peter Hitchens (poppet) wrote a sweet piece in the Mail about how women shouldn’t “squawk” about sexual harassment in case they end up even more oppressed and wearing the hijab. Twitter went nuts. I joined in. But, of course, he’s asked to say offensive shit. If people like him and Katie Hopkins write offensive shit, we all talk about it, they get more page views and, therefore, more advertising. If he wasn’t a dick they’d sack him and hire someone who is.

The menopause (or perimenopause to be more accurate) has dominated my life and health since I was about 43. Apparently I’m still years away from the actual thing, but who cares because the symptoms of it not quite happening yet have been horrific (Sweating at night so much I have to change the sheets every day, a horrible smell and so much blood loss I go blue, and I also have other nasty stuff – endemetriosis and adhesions and general hell that means the hysterectomy I still might have comes with a 5% of them piercing my bowel…). So, I had a hideous and terrifying (but, actually, fine) injection that brings on the menopause and then went on add back HRT. Not taking progesterone, as I’ve been doing in some form or other for about five years, is fantastic. The puffiness that was making me look pregnant went down immediately and I look normal again thank fucking God. No sweating, got my own smell back (never noticed it until it had gone). I can’t drink because I’m also on high blood pressure meds and am now officially the cleanest-living person in the world. Not so much as a Pringle. And every time I tell someone female about this they tell me all their awful stories – so angry and weepy, ruining clothes with sudden blood loss (I’ve thrown so many pairs of jeans away), scary scans, can’t remember anyone’s name, operations, drugs, toughing it out. All these stories told in a whisper.

I was sitting next to an old man at a dinner. He was famous and fun and the woman on his other side was great too. Afterwards I said to her: “We had such a fun corner!” She said: “Ooh, doesn’t he have piercing eyes. Quite sexy.” I was shocked. “No,” I said. Later I took my shoes off walking through the foyer and told her they don’t fit because I’m all swollen on norethisterone (the progesterone I’ve now stopped). She told me her menopause was horrific but the HRT she’s on and loves makes her really randy (her word). “I think that’s why I said that about his eyes. It’s quite an unsettling side effect.” We laughed and went off to find our cars. But there is this wierd bonding, camaraderie that you wouldn’t get talking about a bad back and the treatments you might be having. We don’t like talking about it in public because we want to pretend we’re still young and sexy as per the above (otherwise we are worthless and shit, right?) and not weeping in pain and a supermarket toilet (zeugma there) over a terrifying lake of blood like I was doing half an hour ago. Outside again, sitting in the car in the rain, just felt very old and lonely and nothing at all like Anthea Redfern. Well, the Anthea of fantasy anyway. In reality, of course, she’ll have been through her own hell with misogynistic wankers and menopause. Obviously.

I feel like I want to put a lemon cake recipe here but it seems inappropriate….Oh, but it was delicious. It’s a Honey and Co. recipe as usual. You caramelise sliced lemons with sugar, saffron and turmeric so they go really, really yellow. Then you make a lemon and almond cake mix. Line the tin with parchment paper and then the lemons, pour in the cake mixture. When you turn it out it looks like the photo above. Tip over the rest of the syrup. It’s just amazing.

Recipe –

For the syrup
  • 3 or 4 lemons
  • Enough water to cover the lemon slices plus 400ml water for syrup
  • 250g sugar
  • A pinch of turmeric
  • A big pinch of saffron
  • 140g semolina flour
  • 3 tbs plain flour
  • salt
  • 1/2 tspn baking powder
  • 200g butter
  • 270g sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 200g ground almonds
  • A pinch of turmeric
  • Zest and juice of one lemon


  1. Pre­heat the oven to 350˚ F/ 175˚C/ Gas mark 4.
  2. Butter  and line a cake tin.
Prepare lemons and syrup
  1. Slice lemons, cover with water and boil.
  2. Add sugar, turmeric and saffron and make a syrup for the lemons.
  3. Arrange the lemon slices around the bottom of the prepared cake pan. Save syrup.
Make the cake
  1. Blend all the ingredients together and pour the mixture into your cake tin already lined with lemon slices.
  2. Cook until it’s golden brown and not wobbly. Don’t forget a tray of water in the bottom of the oven to keep it moist. Cook for ages on a low heat. Keep checking.
  3. Turn out. Gawp. Eat.

Talk to me about your menopause and anything else that troubles you. Therapy via Skype or email:


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The Draining Narcissism of Yoga, Best Cheesecake Ever, Fuck Unsolicited Advice/Information


IMG_3201Look, I know I will be losing friends like….I don’t know, lemmings off a cliff or something, but I just really hate the thing of yoga. I’ve done yoga – good stretching. Quite liked it. Almost everyone I know does yoga, likes it, gets something out of it. Great. But there’s something SO annoying about it. “I’m just going to yoga, bye.” (You know who you are…) There’s some sort of smug, evangelical deal with it like it’s not just exercise. Like an addiction or (usually) a cure for addiction. And even though you do it in a room full of people it’s totally solitary and narcissistic – oooh, focus on yourself, focus on your breathing, focus on thinking about your own arsehole. As if the people who do it need to focus MORE on themselves and their arseholes for the Lord’s sake. I mean, tennis, you’re having a relationship with your opponent. Horse riding, you’re having a relationship with the horse. (NB. These are both things I do and are therefore inherently worthy and good). Yoga? You are almost literally having a relationship with your own bumhole. Ugh.

Want to know what else I hate? Of COURSE you do. Unsolicited advice/information. Everyone who ever comes to the Casa Rosa says the same stuff. (Men ask how high we are up here. Every man, every single one who has ever walked through the door has asked. Occasionally I know because another man says it. But the information won’t stay in my head because I don’t give a fuck. Like, what does it mean?) Everyone else says; “You should rent this place out.” And then; “You should make jam out of those pears/plums/grapes.” It’s as though I’ve never come across the idea of renting a property out (“Why, what a novel idea! How might I go about such a thing?”) and I’ve spent 16 years staring at the fruit trees, baffled. Hmm. A pear. Wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of produce I could make from them. But what? What, I ask you?

So, that’s the advice (“You should write a book about that! Or, about this story I’m about to tell you”). Then there’s the information. You know how some people talk to you as if you’d said: “Please, please tell me exactly what route you selected to get here. Please! Quick!” or “I must know exactly how you became as successful as you are, why you moved to Dubai, how you came up with the idea for the really boring thing you do. I beg you. Tell.”  A man came round the other day and started telling me I should defrost my fridge. “Should.” Like it has some sort of moral imperative. God loves a nice defrosted fridge. “Oh, is it icy? Thanks so much for the tip.” I mean, a woman would never wander around someone else’s house telling them what to do and a man wouldn’t tell another man. Ugh. God, blokes. NB. Italian ones do this the most. They really, really think people need to hear what they think about stuff and want the advice they are dying to give poor helpless women.

True, I am quite crabby today (slash always). Suddenly it’s winter. Blazing unbearable heat to freezing rain, empty village, low cloud, chimneys smoking and mushrooms blooming (they get VERY excited about mushrooms in Italy). Do mushrooms bloom? Anyway, it’s bleak out there in a dramatic Wuthering Heights sort of way and I’m inside cooking. Soffrito in the oven right now (short beef ribs in dates and onions and date molasses cooked for 6 hours) and everything smells wonderful. Lately I’ve been doing chicken pastilla a lot because Esselunga near Lucca suddenly stocks filo pastry! Hooray. I’ve put the recipe in before but it’s actually even easier than I’d thought, so here’s my totally simple version.

Chicken Pastilla 

Fry some skinless (or not, but I would) chicken thighs in oil with onions, garlic, cinnamon, ral al hanout (or not), and a packet of stoneless dates. Salt, pepper, of course. When the meat is nice and golden cover it all with water and a lid and cook on a low heat for 3 or 4 hours. You can ignore it apart from the odd stir. Then pull the chicken off the bones and chuck the bones away. Butter an oven dish (I use those Le Creuset frying pans, but anything is fine) and then lay filo pastry in it and brush that with melted butter too. Spoon the chicken mix into the pastry (not too much liquid but some) and then close with more pastry so it’s sealed. Brush with even more butter. Then put it in the oven until it’s golden and crispy. (10-20 minutes). It’s SO easy.

Serve with parsley salad (chopped parsley with pomegranate molasses and lemon juice, salt, pepper) or orange salad (oranges, mint, parsley, chilli, lemon juice, spring onions, salt).

Best Cheesecake Ever

So, this Honey and Co. Cheesecake that demands shredded Middle Eastern pastry. Too hassly (just noticed they say kadaif pastry OR shredded filo so will try it next time). So, make their cheese mixture and use a digestive biscuit base.

160g full fat cream cheese

160ml double cream

40g icing sugar

40g honey

50g feta cheese

vanilla seeds or essence

So, that’s the cheese bit. Mix the stuff together. For the base, crush a packet of digestive biscuits with a rolling pin, add some thick, dark, sticky sugar (150g?) and two teaspoons of ginger powder, a teaspoon of cinnamon and enough melted butter to bind it all together (probably half a pack -ish).

Lay the biscuit base out, spread the cheese stuff on top, put in the fridge for a couple of hours and then put masses and masses of berries on top and some mint. This IS the best cheesecake ever.

Okay, the other picture is lemon drizzle cake that my son Lev made. Mary Berry recipe. So good. So easy. I won’t include the recipe ‘cos it is unadapted and you can find it online. Nice pic though, no?

Then there is chicken salad. This is fried chicken (lemon juice and garlic) on spinach, spring onions and avocado in lemon juice and salt dressing. Also nice with salmon (then add feta to the salad) or roast chicken. Actually, that might be roast chicken in the picture.

Therapy via Skype or email:

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Dreams of Trump, Hot Hot Hot, Salsa Verde, Prawns and Peas, Easy Pomegranate Chicken with Kasha

IMG_2769IMG_2752IMG_2768IMG_2780Dreams of Trump, Hot Hot Hot, Salsa Verde, Prawns and Peas, Easy Pomegranate Chicken with Kasha

Okay, so it’s hot at La Casa Rosa. Really fucking hot. 41 degrees in a high mountain village, five degrees hotter down in Lucca and just the proper fiery abyss of hell in Florence. I have gone into my slug coma mode, where I swell up and sort of hobble about in the dark with the shutters shut. The fan, aimed at my head at all times, pumps hot air at me like a hair dryer. I haven’t slept for a week, regardless of the number of bevs consumed (many). My kids have been lugging cellos and double basses around Lucca in the thumping heat and there are concerts in pretty churches where I fan myself menopausally and wonder if I should take antibiotics for my infected mosquito bites. My leg won’t bend – they got me on the least leathery area – behind the knee. I am taking the antibiotics.  The tourists are burnt and fat and they wear stupid hats for no apparent reason, middle-aged women wear little girls’ dresses, the men in shorts and t-shirts two sizes to small for their huge paunches and they all look angry and exhausted, sweaty and bitten. I fear I look like them. I do look like them.

HowEVER, before it got apocalypse hot my sister and her boyfriend were here and nice food was consumed in the garden. The days when you had to put a shirt on in the evening feel like a hundred years ago now that this boiling soup has descended. I dreamt about Donald Trump again (okay, okay, so I slept for five minutes) and we were on a Dreamliner to New York which seemed scarily vast and overpopulated and the press were all wondering who I was and why I was with the President. I was reading him a story about sharks. One of the journalists, who I knew from Moscow and was a friend of John Donvan’s, asked me what the significance of the book was and I said; “Oh, I don’t even know if he understands it’s about sharks.” She wrote it down in shorthand in her notebook and I said; “No, don’t say that. It’ll make him look stupid.” So, THAT’S how mad I have gone.

I see my patients on Skype with my feet in a bowl of iced water. They do not know this.

Prawns and Peas – a classic for when there’s nothing in the house to eat except frozen crap. Fry the prawns in olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. Boil the peas in salty water. Mix them together and add parsley, spring onions, salt, pepper and grated cheese.

Chicken in Pomegranate Molasses with Kasha and Mint –

This was another slightly desperate supper with scrags of chicken out of the freezer. It’s from a Honey and Co. recipe and I’ve written it up properly before but this is a very quick version and it was good, actually. Fry the chicken from frozen in olive oil and pour some pomegranate molasses over it while it’s cooking, some chopped garlic, salt and pepper, a chilli maybe. Once it’s brown and sticky, add a lot of spinach and let it all wilt. Pretty. Boil the kasha (had to look up the English word – buckwheat! (who knew?) But this could be rice, couscous, farro, whatever) and then chop or tear some mint into it, salt, spring onions, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, parsley. Toss the salad and put the chicken on top.

I made a Cucumber Salad with this. Cucumber, salt, sugar, Japanese rice wine vinegar….sesame seeds. Nice.


Whole, gutted fish. These are sea bream and a sea bass in the picture, but also good with trout. Or salmon. Or anything. Put a sprig of rosemary, some salt and a clove of garlic in the gutted fish. Pour on olive oil and lemon juice, more salt. Bake until the eyes are white and the skin is crispy.

Serve with

Salsa Verde

Parsley, anchovies, garlic, spring onion, vinegar, capers, olive oil (not much), salt and pepper in the blender. Lemon juice if you like. Also nice with watercress or spinach.

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Sorting People on the Basis of Their Genitalia, Legal Definitions of Madness, Painting the Kitchen, Coconut Milk Panna Cotta and Almond Fruit Tart




I drove to Florence to meet an old friend and his daughter. They had come in this kind of hellish way to spend two days sightseeing in the blistering heat with a billion other tourists. Even Florence is vile like that. Crowds and heat and the strong smell of faeces that pervades the city in summer (Italians are not big pooper scoopers). (Having said that, I bought cheddar at the Mercato Centrale cheese place – can’t complain). ANYway, his daughter is going to a girls’ school in September and we were talking about how she felt about this. I went to a girls’ school (City of London) for four years but I’m not sure it was typical – it was particularly odd and I don’t think any of us there were happy. I would say I’m probably projecting but I still know a lot of them and I don’t think I am. But this may not have been a gender-based problem. Probably wasn’t. In any case, I was thinking how amazingly odd it is to sort people on the basis of what kind of genitalia they have. Penis? Off you go that way and get muddy. Vagina? This way and make sure you look pretty – everyone will comment on your looks, good or bad, every day for the rest of your life. It’s because of your vagina. Really? Oh. Also, you will probably have to do a lot of menial shit and clean things and nobody will think it’s weird because of your vagina. My daughter once had a Russian mouse and it had a billion babies. We wanted to keep one or two and give the others to the pet shop. The vet sorted them, peering at their genitalia, desperately trying to sort the girls from the boys so they wouldn’t reproduce on us again. “Pipi?” “Pipi!” “No pipi!”  The boys’ school/girls’ school separation reminds me of this. It’s such an arbitary distinction. Not much different from separating people by hair or eye colour and sending them to different schools to do different jobs, wear different clothes and be paid differently (blondes less? I bet). I mean, look, I’m not mad (or, at least, not like that) – I do get that female mammals have the babies and someone has to look after them. It perhaps makes sense for the female that carries them to look after them. But why that should mean anything else, why it should dictate where she sits in synagogue or mosque and what jobs she is or isn’t allowed to do, why her views might be taken less seriously and why she’s less likely to hold forth at a dinner table (Why the fuck do men do this? Italian men do it even more) – I have no idea. Makes no sense. Then again, what does?

Not this. Same friend. He’s a barrister. He was talking about a murder case where he was planning to claim diminished responsibility on grounds of insanity. I was thinking how odd that you have to be basically psychotic and delusional during the attack to be considered insane. Surely it’s far madder to plan for a year while maintaining an ostensibly ordinary life. But the jury wouldn’t go for that. You have to be in a psychotic state. I thought I’d write about it for Prospect and starting talking to psychoanalysts and barristers all of whom think the system is ridiculous. It’s a big issue and someone wrote a long piece called “Are All Murderers Insane?” (the answer being yes). Anyway, strange how some madness is forgivable and other madness is not.

So, I have to write a book which means I painted the whole kitchen the other day (meaning only to go over some of the yellower, greasier bits, but, obviously, once I started I couldn’t stop because then the whole rest looked yellow and greasy) and threw away four wheelbarrows of crap. Then I bought huge jungly plants for a sort of crap bit of the house that usually just has broken hoovers in it (why? why?). My son is stuck in London because his passport vanished. You would think that once he’d missed his flight and the money was wasted he’d have found it again. “Oh, NOW I remember where I put it!” But, no. So me and Mo are waiting for him. Well, I am. She goes to work at Canyon Park every day – a zip wiring and paddle board place down the mountain where they get paid an amazing fortune.

Here are some recipes.

Almond and Fruit Tart. This is a Michel Roux Jr raspberry tart recipe, bastardised for convenience.  It is the best thing you will ever make. You will now make it all the time. Easy too.

600g sweet pastry – 180g butter, 375g flour, 90g sugar, 2 egg yolks, 1tbsp double cream. I add vanilla essence.

Almond paste – 100g, butter, 100g icing sugar, 100g ground almonds, 2 eggs.

Then fruit, ideally raspberries but really doesn’t matter. At all.

Roll out your pastry and put it in the tart tray. Here’s the thing – I never roll pastry. I line the tray with baking parchment so as not to have the buttering faff. I put the lump of pastry in the middle and then push it out with my fingers until it’s lining the tray. Then I freeze it for ten minutes, I can’t remember why and there’s probably no need. It is less pretty but, then again, it’s for eating, right?

Almond cream – beat all the ingredients together and tip the result into the pastry case.

Cook in the oven until risen and golden (about 25 minutes) on a low-ish heat.

I don’t usually bother with this bit, but….Boil some of your fruit with sugar to make a syrup. Brush the cooked and cooled tart with it and then put your fruit on top. Often, I just put the fruit straight on. Not mad about sticky syrups. Dust with icing sugar.

Coconut Milk Panna Cotta

I resent calling this panna cotta. I mean, Italian panna cotta is boring. This is delicious. Plus all cultures have some cooked cream/custard recipe, right? Anyway. Bleaurgh. It’s really nice. Makes six in standard ramekins. Do this…

2 x 400ml cans coconut milk, 400ml full-fat milk, 100g caster sugar, 2 x 12g sachets powdered gelatine, or five leaves of leaf.

Boil the milks and sugar either with a split vanilla pod or some vanilla essence. Leave it to cool a tiny bit then add the gelatine. Pour it into ramekins (or whatever, one big dish, doesn’t matter) and put it in the fridge to set. This all takes two seconds. Honestly.

It would be nice with mango on top, either just like that, or you could boil it in sugar for mango syrup for a bit. I did it with peaches because I’d used the mango for a tuna thing. I put a chilli and some salt in my syrup too (Mo nearly choked to death on a big bit of chilli though). So, when the puddings are set, slop a bit of your fruit stuff on top and a sprig of mint might be nice (I forgot).

I also boiled sugar until brown (do not add water) and tipped sesame seeds into it. Poured it out onto baking parchment to set into brittle. Put the sesame shards in the puddings. Cool huh?

This was pudding to a supper I forgot to take photos of. The starter was seared tuna and mango salad. Sear tuna in pan with sesame oil, add soya sauce and sesame seeds when it’s really hot. Cut up the tuna and toss with the mango, a chopped red chilli, some parsley and coriander. Dress with lime juice, soya sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar and salt (easy on the oil and the fish sauce). Da dah! I made this up – it was REALLY good.

Okay. Enough for now. xx

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Instant Curry, Shepherd’s Pie, Apricot muffins and No Rambling – just the food


I spend most of my time up this Italian mountain making curry. Anything that tastes of SOMEthing. This is my quick curry recipe. Takes ten minutes, always delicious. So, if there are going to be three big onions in it then it would serve about four people. But, obviously, it’s all adaptable and you’ll make it how you like it.

Very Easy Curry

Onions, garlic, chilli, ginger, whatever spices you like (have got), chicken, can of tomatoes, cocunut milk….

Put three large-ish, chopped onions and six peeled cloves of garlic in the blender with a peeled thumb of ginger, one small red chilli and a couple of glugs of cold water. Blend to a paste. (Honestly – I don’t usually bother to blend this but just chuck the chopped ingredients into the pan with the chicken and I don’t brown and then remove the chicken usually either).

Fry your skinless pieces of chicken (thighs are the tastiest, I think, but it doesn’t matter) in some oil until browned then take them out of the oil and put them aside.

Put your onion and garlic paste into the hot oil with whatever spices you like. I’d go for – a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of turmeric, cinnamon, cumin and coriander, ten peppercorns, a couple of crushed cardamom pods and then, honestly, anything – poppy seeds, mustard seeds, garam masala, curry leaf powder, whatever you’ve got.  Sweeter? Dump a few handfuls of toasted, dessicated coconut in there and add some cinnamon. Makes it a bit milder.

Fry until the spices look a bit browned, lob the chicken back in and add a can of tomatoes OR a carton of coconut milk. OR BOTH! Then simmer for….five minutes if you’re hungry, half an hour if you can bear it.

You could use prawns or lamb instead….or potatoes and cauliflower, aubergines.

Then plain rice and a tomato, cucumber and onion salad with fresh coriander. Also salt and peppered yoghurt. Want to chop some cucumbers into it? Why not! Oh, wait. I usually make chapatis. Brown flour, water and salt. Roll it out, fry it dry in a hot frying pan, then take it out and put it on top of the gas flame to puff up. Want to be fatter? Brush with melted butter, fold and roll again, do this a few more times then fry in butter (don’t puff up over the gas ring, the butter will catch fire). This really is delicious but, you know, not that low cal.

12 Muffins – This recipe is in a book I bought for the kids and it has photos of all the ingredients and photo instructions. This page is the most splodged and sticky. This is what we make the most.  My daughter’s got a little muffin machine and sometimes in the morning I wake up to the smell of muffins. Sometimes. Not that often. Pretty rarely.

115g butter, 285 plain flour plus a tablespoon of baking powder (why? easier to use self-raising), 85g caster sugar, 220 ml milk, I add vanilla essence, whatever fruit or chocolate you like. Blend everything except the fruit or chopped chocolate. Then stir in the latter. Bake in muffin cases until they’re raised and golden.

Shepherd’s pie. I KNOW you know how to make shepherds pie. But just in case. Make a bolgnese sauce (wait, is this cottage pie? whatever. beef or lamb, same process), frying garlic, onions and minced meat until brown, adding a can of tomatoes, salt, pepper, a spoonful of Bovril or Marmite (or a stock cube or both), some soy sauce. Put mashed potatoes on top of this, mashed with butter. Controversially, I don’t both to peel the boiled potatoes for mashing. I mean, life is short, etc. It’s just as nice, I promise. Put a lot of grated cheese on top and grill or bake the whole thing until the cheese looks like the photo.

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