The Spike


May 2017

Money diet

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Boden Riviera dress, £98

My husband has decided, as he does periodically, that we have run out of money and we all (meaning me) have to stop buying absolutely everything we see.

I don’t know what he’s talking about!

It was only those two Ikea chairs, those three Uniqlo jumpers, a Rixo dress, some new flamingo swimming shorts for Sam, a mug with HELL YEAH written on it, 100ml of SJP’s perfume and a teeny weeny weeny bottle of Chanel nail varnish!

What is not perfectly streamlined and economical about that?!

But I like challenges and this no-shopping thing takes me back to the principles of my protestant (with a small p) youth where my mother skip-dived and clothes were strictly hand-me-down or bought from jumble sales.

So no more clothes. No more stuff. No new bikinis for the summer or another pair of espadrilles while the ones I’ve got still have the sole attached.

At first this all really panicked me but then I realised that he’s right (and I don’t always think that). I’ve got too much stuff. And I buy things for bad and potentially mentally ill reasons. I’ve written about it before in the paper, as has Leandra Medine from Man Repeller (this is not the piece I am thinking of but here is an example of her no-shopping philosophy that I can find).

I have of course made a deal with my husband that every time I do one of his Sam early-mornings I get £100 to spend on something. So far I’ve got £100. And I’m thinking about this dress:

OR about saving up a few more early mornings and getting a Manu Atelier Mini Pristine… if I can actually find somewhere that still has them in stock.

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Manu Atelier mini pristine box bag, £330

Or, just not buying anything FFS, but looking at what I have in a more thoughtful way and finding something else to do with my time other than shopping – like cooking and reading. Maybe one day some work but let’s not get carried away.

Anyway that’s all from me for a bit as it’s HALF TERM NEXT WEEK duhn duhn duhhhhhhhn so I will be busy screaming at my kids and hopping from foot to foot until it’s time for a drink.




The Spike has been reading…

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Superb and very funny.

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… from Uterque

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Once upon a time, when I couldn’t cook anything, I regarded being able to do it as a sophisticated skill that was almost other-worldly. There was a girl at university, Amelia, who did a cooking course at Leiths and could knock up brownies and cocktail sausages in their own honey and mustard sauce and multiple other treats and I thought “God. That is incredible.”

But teaching yourself to cook at that time wasn’t straightforward. There was no internet! Someone had to teach you or you can to buy books, or get them out of the library. And who’s to say the book you chose was a good one? Or had the things in that you wanted to make?

People lament about millenials but with access to Catch Up TV and YouTube and Google, I bet they can cook better than we could at 23.

Anyway several hundred years passed and now I can cook and it remains the most useful thing that I can do. But being an autodidactic cook means there are holes in my knowledge; I cannot make bread or, up until last night, hollandaise.

I don’t know why not with the hollandaise. I can’t remember what kept going wrong but it never went right.

The internet is probably the single most useful tool a cook can have as not only can you look up any recipe you fancy making but recipes are rated by other cooks so if someone’s written an uncookable bummer, they will be found out fast.

So I went straight to a “member” recipe off the Jamie Oliver website and it worked out just fine.

Hollandaise sauce

this makes enough as an accompaniment for about 4 people

1 Put a pan with about 1.5 inches of hot water in the bottom and set it on your smallest burner at its lowest heat.

2 Put a small pan with a pouring lip on another small burner and melt 100g of butter in there.

3 Separate two eggs, putting the whites aside for another project (meringues?) and put the yolks in a bowl that will go on top of the pan of water.

NOW… normally I would use a heatproof bowl, but in this instance I used a metal bowl – I don’t know if that made a difference to the success of it.

4 Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard in with the yolks and whisk briskly.

5 Trickle in the melted butter to the yolks, whisking all the time. Once the butter has all gone, you ought to be left with a slightly paler, glossy sauce, to which you can add a few dashes of vinegar

I genuinely feel relieved that I can now make this, although I wonder how many times I will end up actually making it. As for the bread, I once attended half a class at Bake With Maria, (because Kitty was 3 and got fed up and wanted to go home), but it was really good so I think I will go back on my own.

Francesca Segal on The Spike

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Francesca’s debut novel, The Innocents, won the Costa First Novel award and her follow-up, The Awkward Age, was recently published. Buy it here.

The Awkward Age is set just round the corner from me in London and sets a microscope about a “blended” family where a step-brother and sister get on a bit too well. If you like an intelligent, polished and totally gripping domestic drama, you will go mental for this book.

1 When did the germ of the idea for The Awkward Age come to you?

I knew what I wanted to write next was a love story between a mother and a daughter. It’s such a beautiful, fraught, consuming passion,and I wanted to explore all the ways in which it is, and isn’t, like a romance. And then I read an article that mentioned the frequency with which teenage step-children have relationships with one another and I thought – sweet Jesus, that’s not easy. What a perfect sabotage to your parents’ newfound happiness – just assert this new happiness of your own. It was those two ideas that came together.
2 Where did having the twin (girls, born in 2015) fit in to the writing of it? Were you mid-writing it, before, after?
I was mid. I had a fantasy, or rather I was entirely convinced, that I would whiz off the book the night before I gave birth to them. I found out early on it was identical twins and so I knew I was having a C-section and had a date in the diary. I kept grandly announcing to my editor that she’d have the book 6pm the Friday before. I don’t know how she kept a straight face through it all. In the event, neither the babies nor the book played ball. It was a long way from ready. I went back to work very quickly, and had a long, hard year.
3 How do you focus on work with small kids?
Poorly, but doggedly. It is not a very interesting observation but nonetheless essential that good childcare is is absolutely the key. We have a wonderful nanny and that frees me emotionally, because when I have work to do, hearing giggles from downstairs is considerably more reassuring than worrying that they’re miserable. I wish I remember which novelist said it, but someone once said they ‘make a rag-rug of the minutes’ and now I remember that phrase so often. When I tried to google it obviously I just got a lot of instructions on how actually to make a rag rug. Who has time to make rag rugs? I used never to be able to work unless I had a clear four hours. Now, give me forty minutes and I am focussed like a ninja.
4 How do you feel *now* about the “pram in the hall” being the enemy of creativity as opposed to before you had kids. 
I loathe that phrase, and have always loathed it. I think exhaustion is a challenge to creativity, however, as is broken thought, and both of those are close correlates of the pram. But I also now understand in a way I never did how bloody lazy I was with my time before I had children – I had seas of it! Oceans of the stuff! And I squandered it.
5 Do you feel you made any judgment about the behaviour of anyone in TAA? My feeling was that you set it up and then just marvelled from a distance at their cock-ups… am I missing out on something? Is there a message here?
I had absolutely no intent to judge. I wanted to write a novel in which a lot of essentially kind, well-meaning people were busy doing their best, which sometimes involved making one another’s lives bloody difficult. That’s real life. It’s not for me to moralise.
6 Someone once said of Richard Yates that he “led his characters down dark alleys and then left them there”. In both TAA and The Innocents you rather pour people into a small room and then shout “Fire!” Both novels have a background of claustrophobia to them – is this intentional?
I think maybe that sense of claustrophobia in both books comes from my fascination with family. Families are basically what you describe – a group of people who may or may not have anything in common, cohabiting in a very small space. I didn’t even need to shout ‘fire’ – someone in that room was bound to start one.
7 Are those Valentino Rockstuds [which Francesca wore to her book party] comfortable?
YES. Yes. Go and get them immediately. As soon as my sister got engaged, my immediate thought was that I could now buy myself a pair. I wore them for the first time to the wedding and they were on my feet from noon until midnight and I had no need of Compede, flip-flops, or a podiatrist. I have now boxed ALL my other smart shoes and I wear these to absolutely everything.
8 What are you having for dinner tonight?
As a prelude, I will be eating wild organic salmon, grilled organic broccoli, and extortionately expensive organic blueberries, all of which have been squashed onto the mat beneath two highchairs. Later, my husband and I might order a pizza.
9 What was the last clothing purchase that you are excited about wearing?
Rockstuds, see above, but mostly a pair of leopard-print harem pants from H&M (£12.99) which I will never wear out of the house, but in which I will almost certainly write 98% of my next novel.
10 Complete this sentence: “My kids are…” enchanting and enervating.

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Coco Chanel said that. I’m not, like, a slave to Chanel really. I’m sure she was a ghastly snob when she wasn’t being a Nazi spy. But she is spot-on with this.

I often struggle with motivation to dress nicely during the day. Who cares, really. What’s the point? The point is – you really might meet your worst enemy today. I recently for various circumstantial reasons have had my percentage chance of running into someone I don’t especially want to see upped by a significant factor. And it makes me think twice about putting on those baggies with the grease stain, let me tell you. As it ought to.

So next time you are considering putting on something you know to be just a gross outfit stop and think: maybe I will bump into my worst enemy today. And at the very least, put on some dark glasses.

Jazzy napkins

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I am not, as a rule, a napkins person. But occasionally I have been seized by a vaporous mania of Hyacinth Bucket-ness and have thought that napkins are a brilliant idea.

But the problem with napkins is this: at one or other dinner, someone will spill a great load of red wine on one of your napkins and you will then be operating with an odd number for evermore.

(Actually there are loads of problems with napkins – washing and ironing are two more – but this is the main one.)

The solution is a clutch of very jazzy napkins, which can take a few indelible stains in their stride. They would also liven up my unspeakably plain and rather drab kitchen-diner, decked out in the mutest blues with horrifying cliche of a zinc-topped table.

I was inspired to think about jazzy napkins by a very smart dinner I went to last week, where the napkins were decked out in a sort of green-and-pink paisley swirly pattern of unimaginable jauntiness.

I have no doubt that they were purchased on some sort of dreamy holiday to, like, Rajasthan or Italy – but I will have to make do with these from Anthropologie.



Blueberry almond pudding cake

Sorry what a shite photo. It looked nice in real life. 

This is a very  handy cake to have up your sleeve – it works as well as for a teatime treat as for an evening pudding with a blob of creme fraiche, keeps well (thank you, Mr Ground Almond), easy to put together and looks pretty. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.

Blueberry Almond pudding cake

Preheat your oven to 180C – a bit less if you have a fan oven

125g self raising flour

125g ground almonds

200g caster sugar

200g butter

4 eggs, separated

150g blueberries or a mix of blueberries and raspberries.

1 Cream the butter and 175g of the sugar together. Add the egg yolks and combine. Fold in the flour.

2 In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until you have soft peaks, then beat in the 25g of the sugar (if you fuck this up and forget to keep back the sugar for this stage, don’t worry, it doesn’t make a difference I don’t think). Carefully fold in the ground almonds

3 Gently fold the mixtures together until basically combined, then turn out into a greased and lined tin.

4 Smooth the top with a wet spatula and scatter evenly with the berries.

Bake for 1 hour and wonder if it’s just me or does my husband look a lot like Keanu Reeves.

Anna Jones mad pizza


There are only two things I really miss about not really ever eating pasta or pizza any more. One is spaghetti bolognese and the other is, well, pizza. I just really miss pizza toppings – melted mozzarella, tomato sauce, ham or salami with the edges slightly burnt…

I have trialled courgetti bolognese but my husband wasn’t keen on it. But this insane pizza, with a base made from cauliflower, ground almonds and oats, might just work okay as a mid-week substitute for a Pizza Express La Reine.

I made it last night and my friend Simon gamely tried it with me and liked it. Simon is no arbiter as his standards are insanely low – but he did once tell me that a cobbler I was trying out was “unexceptional”, (I agreed), so he’s not a total yes-man.

You do not, let’s be honest, get that intense frontal-lobe hit from this that you do from some sort of spanky, lively sourdough crust gimme gimme from Franco Manca, but you do get to have those flavours you might be missing; the tomato sauce, the melted mozzarella, the slightly burnt ham…. though I did this one last night with very thinly sliced courgette and onion as Simon is vegetarian and it was, you know, actually really nice.

Anna Jones’ mad pizza

for 2

Preheat your oven HOT to 220C

1 cauliflower

100g ground almonds

100g oats

2 eggs

salt and pepper

olive oil

1 Break the cauliflower up into florets and whizz in a whizzer until finely ground.

2 put in a bowl with the almonds and the oats and give it all a mix. Add salt and pepper.

3 Make a well in the middle and crack in two eggs, mix around.

4 Generously grease a large baking sheet with olive oil and then press your cauliflower mixture down all around it to make a flat base. Then slide it into the oven for 20 mins. Check occasionally to make sure your oven isn’t burning the shit out of it as some ovens are hotter than others. Some burnt parts around the edge are fine.

5 Cover with your favourite toppings. Turn the oven up to as high as it will go and then put the pizza back in for 8 minutes. I also finished mine off under a hot grill.







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