plum and poppy seed muffins

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Was it really only a week ago that I was talking to you about my tragic lack of breakfast recipes? Well, as it turns out – and this should come as a surprise to none of you, I expect, except your correspondent here – the answer to this problem is: ‘muffins’.

Not the horrible kind you get at the coffee shop, full of ingredients you’d never knowingly let anywhere near your kitchen, let alone your breakfast, (and once, even with a surpise splodge of horrible lemon goo in the middle – that wasn’t a good day) but the kind barely sweetened, full of fruit and packed with wholegrains. I say packed only for a given meaning of the word, you understand, that being “about 25% spelt flour” – but I did use the flour full of the extra wholegrain bits that I sieved out of the zopf, so I reckon that counts, don’t you?

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In this house, though, what really matters in a breakfast food is its ability to entice us out of bed in the morning – especially on a day like those we’ve been having lately, with the sun shining gloriously through the curtains and nothing but the prospect of 7 hours in an air conditioned cube to look forward to (okay, maybe I exaggerate; my life is not quite so bleak as this). If that same enticement can be at least reasonably healthy, or at least pretending very hard to be, then by my reckoning we have hit upon the ultimate morning food.

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crab with ginger and spring onions

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I’m very excited today: I finally have my writing room back again, reclaimed from the pile of John’s printing stuff which has been occupying it for the last few months. I probably should point out – before you start wondering how an unpaid blogger can justify having an entire room dedicated solely to writing, decide that property prices in Bath must really have hit rock-bottom and rush, headlong, for the estate agents – that in this flat, ‘writing room’ is just a slightly grander name for what other people would probably call the ‘utility room’. You know, the one with the freezer in, and the slug pellets. I write resting my feet on the pipes for the washing machine (shh! don’t tell John – I’m sure that’s the sort of thing you’re not meant to do with washing machine pipes), with a lovely view out of the window over the wall that separates our path from the neighbours’. Luxury, I’m sure you will agree.

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In order for me to have my corner elegant writing retreat back, I have had to move several racks of moveable type into the corner of the living room, a reallocation I distinctly remember John agreeing to. He denies all knowledge of this, but then I have been known to hold entire conversations with him in my head, and then argue furiously that he absolutely definitely said, in real life – last Tuesday, in the salad aisle at the supermarket – whatever it was that my imagination actually made him say. That’s normal, right? In any case, It Is Done, so most likely it will stay done, at least until the accompanying press makes its way home.

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pink peppercorn and pistachio meringues

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Don’t you want to make these, just so that you too can say ‘pink peppercorn and pistachio meringues’? That was most of my reasoning, right there. Admittedly, it does help that pink peppercorns have been my new favourite thing to eat ever since I found this recipe for a pasta dish with broad beans and pink peppercorns last summer, and so now I find myself forever on the hunt for other things to put them in. It’s an easy step from broad bean pasta to meringues, clearly. No?

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I can’t, unfortunately, claim credit for the peppercorns-in-meringues idea, which comes from a recipe swap in the Valentine’s edition of the Observer (theme: pink. Of course. What else would you expect?). Whenever I’ve tried to add anything to a meringue, just on the off-chance that I will – this time! – have hit upon such a spectacularly winning combination that I will be lauded throughout the land, and maybe even have a whole new dessert named after me (crêpe suzette katherine? It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, somehow), it has invariably been a disaster.

For example, perhaps – just perhaps – you might think that I should have known better than to swirl blood orange curd – which is, as we all know, mostly egg yolk – through the egg white mixture before baking the meringues. As usual, you would be right, but I did learn a very useful lesson: namely that if you add a mixture which is mostly barely-cooked egg yolks to a meringue, what you get is not delicious pink-citrus-swirled meringue, but something much more akin to scrambled eggs. Also, that thinking things through properly in my head might sometimes be a good idea.

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chewy granola bars

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Isn’t it a shame that the overlap is so slim between things which taste delicious and things that wouldn’t horrify your mother if she knew you were eating them for breakfast? And as if the list that resulted from those two categories wasn’t short enough, that’s not even it for the breakfast critera: add to the Venn diagram a section called things it’s possible to make and eat in less than twelve minutes, and the pickings are even slimmer still. Pancakes? Delicious, but unless your speed-whisking is better than mine, probably not. Kedgeree? Not even a chance. Toast, again? You see the issue.

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I used to quite enjoy a breakfast of posh muesli with giant chocolate buttons, but I have since learned that this  – unsurprisingly – fails the horrified-mother test. Who would have guessed? With that one out of the window I’m left woefully short of breakfast options: it turns out peanut butter on toast is truly horrible, the very idea of porridge upsets me, and the only cereal we have in the house is a box of cornflakes that have been there since we moved in, longer ago than I’m prepared to admit. Yes, I know I have mostly brought this upon myself by being too a) picky and b) disinclined to buy sensible things – like replacement cereal – at the supermarket, instead of gin, but that’s just how it is round here, I’m afraid.

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green pancakes with lime butter

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Would you like a tip? It is particularly useful if you discover you have run out of baking powder in the middle of a recipe which requires it, and it is this: bicarbonate of soda is not a suitable substitute for baking powder. Certainly not weight-for-weight. Have you ever eaten pancakes with a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda in? I would recommend you do not.

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Perhaps – just perhaps – I should take this discovery as a sign that I need to get over my aversion to leaving the house mid-recipe. The problem is that a) when I am cooking, it is because I want to eat, soon, and also b) – have you not noticed? – it has only just stopped raining. For the first time since May 2011. Why on earth would I go out there? Yes, never mind that we moved into a flat less than a minute’s walk from the shops, or that I own several and various items of clothing specifically designed to keep the wearer dry: it’s wet! and, usually, dark (although not any more – is anyone else eternally grateful for the return of British Summer Time?), and the shop is so very far. I have to go all the way across the road to get there.

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roasted pear and chocolate chunk scones

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I try not to enthuse too much, over here. Instead, I try to tell you about things I’ve eaten, and let you make up your own mind: of course think these things are all delicious, otherwise I wouldn’t bother a) eating them or b) telling you about them, but there is no point spending whole paragraphs meticulously detailing how truly delicious rhubarb schnapps is if you already know you hate rhubarb, now is there? In some instances, though, I must insist. (Also, I keep feeding my rhubarb schnapps to people who claim they don’t like rhubarb, and then they sneakily finish the rest of my glass when I’m not looking. So there).

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If you’ve seen the title of the post, rushed to the kitchen and are – as we speak – rummaging in the back reaches of the baking cupboard for the scone cutter, with your laptop balanced precariously on last night’s washing up, you can skip on ahead to the recipe. (Also, you’re welcome around here any time. That’s how we roll, too). However, if you’re eyeing the photographs suspiciously and thinking either ‘they don’t look very …sconey’, or ‘roasted pears? is that even a thing? Sure, it sounds nice, but how come I’ve never heard of it, then?’, let me set you straight: these are truly delicious.

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hot smoked duck

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Did you miss me? (correct answer: yes. Feel free to lie, if necessary) Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to abandon you there these last few days, but we have had my parents’ 30th anniversary party to cater for, John, my sister and I – full of people I have known for most of my life, and, more importantly, two people who have known me for all of it (plus a bit, but lets not think about that part too much, eh?). So, you know, no pressure.

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Things we have found out, though:
1. Everything goes swimmingly in the kitchen and we all get along fabulously, just as long as everyone does exactly as I say. I got “yes chef”‘ed at one point, which cheered me up immensely;
2. If you wish to make 25 panna cotta topped with some passion fruit stuff, you may want to inform all of your local supermarkets in advance. 14 passion fruit will not be sufficient. Raspberry topped panna cotta is, luckily, also delicious;  and
3. Really and truly, the most delicious thing you can do with a couple of duck breasts is to hot smoke them. Yes, it is perhaps a little bit of a faff to do so, but no more than juicing 14 passion fruits, and we all happily spend our Friday nights doing that, don’t we. Don’t we?

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I won’t lie. This is a bit of an undertaking. However. However! Have you tried them? You really must. And I’m not sending you mine, oh no.

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