There are two things I do when I've time on my hands, or I need to de-stress, or if I just fancy a bit of homemade therapy. One is playing my piano and losing myself in some knotty Chopin. The other is COOKING.

"How do you find the time?" people ask. The answer of course is that I MAKE time - for cooking, and piano practice. Bread can be set to rise while I'm studying op 25/7; a cake can bake while I'm wrestling with Brahms's finger exercises.

The other thing about food, and, more specifically, me and food, is that I am very very interested in it - and very, very greedy. I'm an adventurous and curious eater - there's not much I won't eat apart from celery, oysters, raisins and their cousins, and anything that resembles semen - and I'm an adventurous cook too.

I probably did learn to cook with my mother, standing by her side stirring the Christmas cake mix, making choux batter for eclairs or rolling out biscuit dough. She was queen of the 1970s dinner party and could knock out Fanny Craddock cordon bleu confections when required. She also taught me that food is a convivial, sharing experience. My parents entertained a lot: long, relaxed meals with good friends, formal dinner parties, suppers in the garden, long before the barbecue became de rigeur for summer entertaining.

My cookery teacher at school, a large lady with a friendly round face like a Dutch cheese, taught me the rules of pastry (keep it cold!) and how to make Bechamel, and then, when I left home, I started to teach myself.

As a student I lived off strange, sludgy bean and vegetable stews. I had a few disasters, such as red cabbage turning everything an unappetising blue colour because I didn't realise I should add some lemon juice or vinegar to retain its colour. Gradually, I began to formulate some favourite dishes I could cook well and as my confidence grew, so did my repertoire (just like my piano playing).

Now I am not afraid to try new things, though my rule is never to cook something untried for a dinner party. I make my own bread, and have just started experimenting with simple cheese making. It's just about having the will and the interest.

Friends who come for supper know they will be treated to a good meal, and I get a huge amount of pleasure from gathering friends around my dinner table for food. Friendly & convivial, it is the stuff that nourishes us, the staff of life, and the social glue that sticks us together.


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