Hot days and cool drinks…. excuses, excuses…

We’re now coming up to our second Christmas in Malaysia and I realised that I had hardly written anything this year. There are so many reasons why… time seems to slip by and we’ve been busy

Pantai Cenang, Langkawi
Pantai Cenang, Langkawi

We’ve been travelling around Malaysia… exploring beautiful beaches

Kuala Selangor
Kuala Selangor

and being punted down the river at night to watch fireflies...

Singapore - Marina Bay
Singapore – Marina Bay

I drive to Singapore every few weeks to see my best friend from my teenage years and we try out roof top bars to see where we get the best view

Elephant sanctuary at Kuala Gandah
Elephant sanctuary at Kuala Gandah

We’ve taken our friends to the elephant sanctuary, where you can help bathe baby elephants in the river

Batik painting
Batik painting

and I’ve taken up batik painting at the Kraf Kompleks in the centre of KL

Mei King Fatt crabs, Ampang
Mei Keng Fatt crabs, Ampang

We’ve gorged on amazing crabs

Jalan Alor
Jalan Alor

and we always take our visitors to Sun Chui Yuen on Jalan Alor, the famous street of food off Bukit Bintang, where you eat outside at plastic tables, using melamine tableware… but the food is five star.


.. we breakfast at Raju’s, where roti canai, chicken and squid are eaten from banana leaves.

It’s not all eating out. I have cooked at home

Eating in
Eating in

where we can relax

Night view from the balcony, looking at the Petronas Towers
Night view from our balcony, looking  over the city towards the Petronas Towers

and enjoy the view with our after dinner drinks.

But cooking at home has taken a back seat really,  with all of the other things we do.

And it’s so hot! My kitchen is always over 85 degrees. All I want to do is relax and drink cold drinks. I bought a day bed so I can keep cool under the fan…

Day bed... for thinking on
Day bed… for thinking on

… it’s where I relax and read and think about writing things up, but mainly, I have to say,  it’s where I just relax.

I was there one day when I read about  Cakeyboi’s delicious Vanilla Bean Lemonade and realised that would be perfect, just perfect, for drinking as I idled an afternoon away. When he described it as “almost like drinking lemon meringue pie’  I knew I had to make it.


I had four beautifully juicy, organic and unwaxed lemons that squeezed out at least 125ml of sharp and aromatic juice

90g of sugar
90g of sugar

Sweetness was needed, so 90g of sugar was weighed out

90ml of water with the sugar added
90ml of water with the sugar added

… and heated with 90ml of water to make a simple, pure syrup, which once everything was dissolved and the mix was clear,  was left to cool completely.

Lemon juice...and vanilla bean paste
Lemon juice…and vanilla bean paste

I have a beautiful, old glass water jug that was perfect for this – the lemon juice was added and two teaspoons of vanilla bean paste was added to that

Whisking in the vanilla
Whisking in the vanilla

and then the  vanilla was whisked into the lemon juice

Adding the syrup
Adding the syrup

… then the cooled, clear syrup added…

...topping up with sparkling water
…topping up with sparkling water

When you’re ready to drink it, top up with sparkling water…

Vanilla bean lemonade
Vanilla bean lemonade

… and you’re ready to serve.

Vanilla seeds fleck the surface
Vanilla seeds fleck the surface

It’s so beautiful… the vanilla seeds fleck the drink

Vanilla bean lemonade
Vanilla bean lemonade

And the taste? Sweet and sharp, deep and rich… perfect for a hot day.

Perfect to serve to our guests who don’t drink alcohol but who need something more exciting than a glass of water.





… and perfect for me to drink as I read and laze about. One more reason why I haven’t been into the kitchen really….



Thanks, Cakeyboi! A great idea and a great drink.

Now all I have to do is start cooking again.

Merry Christmas!

Meatfree Monday – citrus, thyme and garlic potatoes, or dinner from scraps.

We didn’t have much in the apartment – I’d been getting to work early and getting back late and the thought of stopping to buy food was just too much. Crawl through rush-hour traffic and pull off the main road, then fight through shoppers and then try and get back to the main road? No thanks.

I knew there were a few potatoes left and I could do something with them….

I had some polenta pie left so that would go with them.

I needed to liven them up a bit so as I drove back I worked through what else we had in the apartment… or what else we had growing outside the apartment.

There was a lovely, healthy bush of thyme, just outside the french doors. I could use that…..

And in the freezer there was a bag of quartered lemons and limes. Whenever I have lemons and limes left over, rather than letting them dry out and go to waste, I quarter them and freeze them. That way I have a marvellous ice cube for a G&T or other drink. But if I used them for the potatoes… well… they would go perfectly with thyme.

So I had a plan.

The potatoes were washed and  cubed and the oven put on at 180 degrees C/160 degrees C, fan assisted/350 degrees F.

I put the cubed potato in a bowl with some water and salt – minimal water – and microwaved them for 5 minutes. You could parboil them but this was faster and I was tired, hungry and didn’t want to wash any pans.

In a lined baking tray, I mixed crushed garlic with oil and salt

and grabbed a handful of thyme and lemon and lime pieces.

The potato cubes were thrown into the baking tin with the thyme and the frozen lemon and lime and everything was tossed in the garlicky oil.

Into the oven for twenty to thirty minutes while I went to get changed out of my work clothes and into something more comfortable.

The thyme leaves fall off the stem so all you have to do is pick out the stems and Bob’s your uncle.

The potatoes had that lovely, almost sweet, savoury taste, crunchy on the edges and deliciously soft in the middle. The lemon and lime had cooked slowly from frozen solid to soft, almost caramenlised roastedness, which gave everything a lovely sharpness and the garlic and thyme worked wonderfully. With a few salad leaves from the box on the balcony and a couple of tiny tomatoes and the remnants of the polenta pie, I had a marvellous meal in less than 40 minutes.

Now, look at that photograph more carefully…. guess who didn’t spot that lime quarter nestling amongst her potatoes?

What have I learned from this?

That a delicious meal can be made from scraps, that freezing lemons and limes are not just for gin…. and that wearing your glasses when dishing up is a good idea.

Maggie’s Lemon Drizzle Cake … an homage to my aunt

As some of you know, my aunt passed away a few weeks ago. What you might not know is just how much of an influence she was on my life.

When I started this blog, I told you how I had spent a lot of my life not cooking. I ate, obviously, but I got other people to cook for me. I didn’t need to cook as I lived on my own and anyway, I was always travelling. I ate in great restaurants and had a marvellous time.

I come from a family that always celebrate things with a family meal. Every occasion was marked with a get together. My mother and my aunt used to swap occasions… Christmas Day, one of them would cook, Boxing Day, the other would do it. Whoever did New Year wouldn’t do Easter. Everybody’s birthdays were a reason to come together as a family and eat.

My aunt was a great cook and always made the most superb cakes. Her Christmas pudding really couldn’t be beaten and, since I started cooking,  I always used to ask for some to take home with me so I could use it in Christmas Pudding Icecream. She always believed that a person should be able to cook and, more to the point, be able to cook well.

She was so pleased when I started cooking and asking her how things were done. I used to ring her from my car as I drove the thousands of miles I used to do on motorways in my other job. She would tell me how I was supposed to make things and patiently go through the shopping I would need to get in order to make whatever it was she was helping me with. I would stop in some far away town, get my ingredients and carry on driving home. Then, when I got there, I’d ring her again and check I had everything right in my head.

She was the one who taught me how to cook ham properly….. she taught all of us.  My brother adapted her recipe and came up with Gingery. Which is, in our eyes at least, possibly the world’s most delicious roast ham. Her daughter, my cousin, has been baking for years and is the maker of the world’s most delicious chocolate cakes which pleases her sons and her nephew no end. My aunt was never happier than helping people learn – she was a teacher all of her life. She even taught my postman when he was a little boy and whenever I saw him he would always send his best wishes and tell me that my aunt and uncle were the best teachers in that school.

Anyway, while my cousin and I were sorting things out at my aunt’s house, she dragged me to a bookcase and said she had found this….

………An ancient copy of Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.

My cousin said she wanted me to have it, tattered though it was, because it was something my aunt had had for years. It’s falling apart, as you can see and the covers are hanging off. I wish I’d asked my aunt about the book … who it belonged to before her and what she had learnt from it….anyway, I have it now and it is on my cookery bookshelves. You never know, it might get picked on the next round of Cookery Lotto!  How proud she would have been to think that I was even contemplating cooking something from it.

The very first cake she taught me to make was her simple and delicious Lemon Drizzle cake. I found the recipe in my cook book, scrawled on a piece of paper. She will have dictated that to me as I, no doubt, sat in the car at some motorway services, parked up in the rain.

I think she chose that as it is the simplest cake in the world to make and if she was going to entice me into the world of baking, she would need to make sure that I could manage. I think she was reckoning on a small cake, emerging triumphantly from the oven, would be the first in a line of cakes.

And, I suppose, in a way, it was. I decided, this weekend, to bake the Lemon Drizzle cake because it reminded me of her.

The ingredient list was simple and concise – 4 oz each of soft butter, caster sugar, self raising flour and a couple of large eggs. How hard could that be? And some lemons for the lovely drizzle to be poured over the top.

My note did say to cream the butter and sugar together and I’m certain she meant doing it with a wooden spoon… but you see the Kitchen Aid mixer? She bought me that as my wedding present. I have to use it, then, don’t I? I think she realised by the time I eventually got married that I was turning into a cook and a Kitchen Aid was going to be far more use to me in my married life than some standard wedding present of crystal or maybe bed linen. It was an incredibly generous gift, from an incredibly generous aunt.

A couple of the brilliantly golden-yolked free range eggs turn the mix into a vibrant yellow. Finely grate some lemon zest in there – you will be using the lemons later. Just remember to make sure you used unwaxed lemons and if you don’t, give the lemons a good scrubbing first.

That 4 oz of flour (she told me to sieve it) was folded in and then everything put into a lined loaf tin.

Those silcone paper tin liners are an absolute godsend. No more snipping about with pieces of greaseproof paper or baking parchment… the hours they must save across the world!

And into the oven for about 30-40 minutes at 140-150 degrees.

Now to make the lemon drizzle…

That too, is simple…. Just the juice of one and a half lemons and some icing sugar – a good 2 ounces.

(I know that whenever you see chefs on the TV they squeeze lemons in their hands but I always use that glass lemon juicer. I don’t think you need to get your fingers covered in juice and besides, the pips will always drop in whatever it is you are making. Anyway, you get far more juice out of the lemon or the lime with one of them than you do by just squeezing. Maybe my hands aren’t strong enough? )

Heat it gently in a pan until the icing sugar dissolves.

Then let it cool.

At the end of the cooking time, take the cake out and peel back the paper to let it cool for ten minutes or so.

Once that’s done, take a fork and prick over the surface of the cake

This will let the lemon sugar syrup sink in when you gently drizzle it over the surface.

And there you have it.

The simplest cake in the world… but also one of the most delicious.

Golden cake with a lovely, sweetly sharp lemon drizzle. The first cake I made and one that will always remind me of my darling aunt.

Thanks for everything, Maggie.