Tag Archives: cucumber

Learning to Love Water

It’s ridiculous but I never seem to drink enough water. I sometimes get that searing, top of the skull headache that signals dehydration and often wake up feeling desperately thirsty. Why? It’s extraordinary when we have water on tap, that so many of us fail to achieve the recommended daily fluid intake of 1.6 litres for women or 2 litres for men a day. OK it doesn’t all have to be water but most of it should be; it just seems so much easier to drink coffee, tea or sugary cordials not to mention all the wine, beer, cider and spirit options  (current favourite : Aperol Spritz).

Last weekend we made our annual pilgrimage  to WOMAD – a festival of world music and dance near Malmesbury. It’s our summer highlight and this year was a scorcher. We adore WOMAD, you can flit from Senegalese kora and drums to Welsh folk, from Jamaican reggae to Ukrainian “ethno chaos” (in the words of the WOMAD programme! ). The children go wild and have a sense of  freedom and adventure that’s difficult to find nowadays. One of the highlights, and I know it sounds bonkers, is refilling their water bottles. Once the kids have their bearings we allow them to disappear for a minute or two into the crowds (yes, it’s terrifying to begin with, but when do you give a child their first sense of responsibility and space?). They make their way to the  Frank Water refilling station (more about Frank in a moment) and return triumphantly with their bottles of chilled water. Their insatiable desire for these tiny bursts of freedom means that they drink water by the pint, which is great in the heat. 

So Frank Water has become synonymous with WOMAD for the children, but there’s so much more to shout about. You can read all about the Bristol based charity on their website but I’ll sum up as best as I can. Frank sell refillable water bottles at festivals, cutting down on all the plastic disposable bottle waste whilst raising money to fund sustainable clean water projects in the developing world. It’s genius – and this year in particular, in the intense heat, I really appreciated having their beautifully cool water, whereas I’m ashamed to say that I do often take water for granted. One in ten people worldwide have no access to clean water whilst, rather extraordinarily, many of us spend money on bottled water when we’ve got perfectly good water on tap. We’re spoilt.  Frank Water also sell Devon spring water by the bottle in all sorts of restaurants, cafes and shops with those proceeds going to the charity too. So look out for these guys and give them your support.

Frank Water

And now to my new resolution to drink more water. Here are a few of my tips, although I’m only a couple of weeks in.

1. Pour some water into a large bottle or jug so that you can gauge how much you’re drinking

2 Remember to chill it – it makes such a difference (obviously if you have one of those swanky American style fridges you can bypass this stage)

3. Flavour your water, and I’m not talking squash here.
-Try putting a few sprigs of mint and slices of lemon into the water, it’s instantly more interesting.
-My all time favourite trick comes from The Lido where they sometimes have long ribbons of cucumber whisping around in a jug of chilled water, the taste is very subtle but wonderfully refreshing.
-Literally any fruit sliced or slightly squashed and added to your glass of water will add a little something.

4. Boiling water poured over a large slice of fresh ginger makes a great coffee/tea alternative (that’s once I’ve had my caffeine – which I couldn’t possibly give up)

Rhubarb, Rhubarb


I can’t help muttering “rhubarb, rhubarb” every time I decide to cook some. It’s rather like shrieking “Basoool” in a Sybil Fawlty-esque voice whenever I make some pesto. It’s really not funny but there are certain bits of ridiculous British humour that have become lodged in my brain for life. I’ve not seen the Eric Sykes film Rhubarb, Rhubarb for decades. I’m not even sure that a farcical game of golf between a policeman and a vicar (whose only words “rhubarb, rhubarb” are repeated many, many times) would be that amusing any more, but now I’m determined to track the film down just to see.

I’m especially in love with rhubarb at this time of year when the stalks are still slender, tender and lurid pink. I loathed it as a child. It was the school pudding that did it;  slimy mush topped with undercooked pastry, all floating in a pool of lumpy Bird’s custard. Now I just can’t get enough of the stuff whether it’s the stunning Barbie-pink forced stems or the more sturdy garden varieties.

So, I had my big bunch of rhubarb and had already decided that the finer pieces would end up on top of a gingery meringue whilst I made a zippy sauce with the stumpier pieces to go with some wonderful fresh mackerel. Disaster, no mackerel. We’re not the only ones who are throughly peed off with the shockingly cold spring. The freezing easterly winds have sent the mackerel in the English Channel packing, seeking refuge in deeper waters, and only some milder westerly weather will bring them back. Thankfully David Smith, my fantastic fishmonger, does stock some delicious smoked mackerel from the local Severn and Wye Smokery too.

I changed tack and decided to try a dish using raw rhubarb. A Dutch friend had told me that he used to munch at the stems dipped in sugar when he was little. I tried it today. Not bad but rather like the super-sour sweets that children pretend to relish. I’m sure that they’re the junior equivalent of the posturing male’s Vindaloo curry, managing to look like you enjoy them brings some bizarre form of kudos amongst peers. I was more up for trying the traditional Iranian salad of salted rhubarb and cucumber that I’d found in Paula Wolfert’s brilliant book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. The tart, fresh crunch was a great combination with the rich oily fish. I swapped watercress for the rocket, did add a pinch of sugar, a splash of rapeseed oil and of course the smoked mackerel.

rhubarb and mackerel salad

Smoked Mackerel and Raw Rhubarb Salad

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a light lunch

2-3 stalks of rhubarb
1 small or 1/2 a large cucumber
2 tbsp salt
1 large bunch of watercress
2 fillets of smoked mackerel, skin removed
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
Black pepper and a pinch of sugar

Slice the rhubarb and the cucumber as thinly as possible (mandolin or knife, that’s your choice). I’d only bother to peel the cucumber if I was using one of the delicious, but tougher skinned, continental varieties & maybe thicker garden rhubarb would be best peeled too.

Put the rhubarb and cucumber in a colander and toss with the salt. Leave for 10 minutes and then rinse and drain it.

Now throw the salad together in a bowl, shredding the mackerel flesh in with the rhubarb, cucumber and watercress. Add the mint, lemon juice, rapeseed oil and pepper. Balance up the flavours with a pinch of sugar or salt, or maybe both.

Delicious with some sourdough bread and plenty of butter.

rhubarb and ginger pavlova


Mini Rhubarb and Ginger Pavlovas

The rather decadent mini pavlovas went ahead as planned. The classic combination of rhubarb and ginger is heaven. I really did pile the dried ginger into the meringue mixture, as well as serving some little chunks of the fiery crystalised stuff on the top. The pinky, pink rhubarb really looks beautiful. Save fools and crumbles for later in the season when it’s lost its good looks but still tastes great.

Serves 4 (with 4-6 left over meringues for another day – keep in a sealed bag/box/tin)

4 medium egg whites
225 g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp cornflour

For the top
3-4 sticks of rhubarb, cut into 5cm-ish pieces
150 ml double cream, whipped until just stiff
8 pieces of crystalized ginger, sliced

Pre heat the oven to 180c. And line 2 baking sheets with baking paper.

Take an oven proof dish and place the rhubarb in 1 layer, sprinkle over the sugar and then cover with foil. Cook in the oven for anything between about 8 and 15 minutes until just tender (timings will depend on the thickness of the stalks). Watch it like a hawk as it can turn into a rather messy looking mush if you leave it just a couple of minutes too long. Set aside to cool.

Now for the meringue. Whisk up the egg whites until stiff and then whisk in the sugar a few tablespoons at a time until the meringue is really firm and glossy. Add the ginger, vanilla, vinegar and cornflour and whisk those in too.

Use a small blob of the meringue underneath the paper to stick it to the tray. Divide the meringue into 8 or 10 circles, leaving some space in between them as they will expand a little. Flatten the meringues, making a bit of a dip in the centre.

Place the trays in the oven and turn the heat down to 120 c. Bake for about an hour until crisp and golden.  Cool.

Serve the pavlovas piled with double cream, the fabulously pink rhubarb and a few pieces of chewy ginger.

Other Ways with Rhubarb

You’ll have to hold out for the rhubarb sauce (the one for the fresh mackerel) as my friend Kate   has promised me some stems from her garden this week so I’ll post about that recipe if the Mackerel have been lured back by the warmer weekend (although it was hardly balmy).

Rhubarb coulis. Cook up thicker rhubarb in a saucepan with a couple of oranges (juice and zest) and good dose of sugar. Once tender, puree with hand held blender until smooth. Try adding a few strawberries or better still raspberries for extra flavour and colour later in the season. Fabulous with vanilla ice cream and you crumble over some Ginger Nut biscuits for a bit of crunch.

And of course there’s fool, there’s crumble, there’s pie. There’s another post waiting to happen.