Thursday, 22 October 2009

Sum: The Afterlife?

In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.

You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet.

You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it's agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.

But that doesn't mean it's always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can't take a shower until it's your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower. Two weeks wondering what happens when you die. One minute realizing your body is falling. Seventy-seven hours of confusion. One hour realizing you've forgotten someone's name. Three weeks realizing you are wrong. Two days lying. Six weeks waiting for a green light. Seven hours vomiting. Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy. Three months doing laundry. Fifteen hours writing your signature. Two days tying shoelaces. Sixty-seven days of heartbreak. Five weeks driving lost. Three days calculating restaurant tips. Fifty-one days deciding what to wear. Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about. Two weeks counting money. Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator. Thirty-four days longing. Six months watching commercials. Four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time. Three years swallowing food. Five days working buttons and zippers. Four minutes wondering what your life would be like if you reshuffled the order of events. In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand..

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The Rehabilitation of Boy George

Once Boy George had it all – not just the music career, but national treasure status to boot. Heroin dependency followed by cocaine addiction sabotaged all of that, culminating last year in an ugly court case that seemed to defy credibility, which saw George convicted of false imprisonment and led to him spending four months in jail. Here, in his first major interview since his release, he talks to Alan Franks about prison, privacy, love and regret…

I can’t say I was looking forward to meeting Boy George. Those photos of him two years ago, bloated, brutish and sinister; the arrest for imprisoning a Norwegian man in his London flat, manacled to the wall and to the bed, and beating him; his own jailing for the crime. He had become so unrecognisable that it was hard to believe he had once been the pretty and effeminate singer with the massively popular Eighties band Culture Club. Stars lose their looks, from Elvis Presley to Adam Ant, but there never was such a dramatic morphing as this, all the way across the spectrum from beauty to beast, sweet little thing to nasty piece of work.

For days before our meeting, the negotiations were dogged by the tedious rock’n’roll foreplay that often happens on such occasions. Boy George, said his representatives, did not want to talk if the whole thing was going to be about “my prison hell” (their phrase). He served four months of a 15-month sentence, until May this year, in HMP Edmunds Hill, a category C prison in Suffolk, and then wore an electronic tag for a further three. He is, in a word, out, and back in the public eye, if he was ever truly away. He has product to shift, namely himself and his new moves in the entertainment business – the imminent opening of a no-booze, no-drugs club called Godspeed, the return of his West End show in December and a live performance at the fashionable Proud Camden in London.

When we do meet, it is in the old stables that form part of Proud, a gallery cum music venue, where the matter of his crime and punishment stands like an elephant in the stall. So it’s a surprise when he says: “The thing about Pentonville [where he spent the first six days of his sentence] is that when you go in there, you are going into Scum [the violent 1979 film about life in a borstal]. You’ve got the classic picture of the balconies and the banging cups. I knew what to expect. I was quite hostile.” Hostile to the other prisoners? “Yes. Very hostile. And very grumpy. Not because I felt that way particularly, but because I felt it required that. The situation required me to be a bit feisty, a bit don’t-f***-with-me. I’d heard it all before. I’ve grown up with all that name-calling. I can’t walk down the street without someone calling out, ‘Karma chameleon.’ [Culture Club’s 1983 hit single.] That’s sweet; that doesn’t bother me.”

The 48-year-old singer hasn’t spoken publicly before about his prison experiences, but he is so quick off the mark in doing so now that there’s barely been time to take in the present look of the man. Something’s changed. He was always a chameleon himself, a professional one like his idol David Bowie, but the alteration in him looks far more profound than a shift of image. He cuts a very different figure now to the one on display at his trial and conviction at Snaresbrook Crown Court in December last year. He’s lost weight: he looks firm, and astoundingly solid. It’s more the set of a builder, which his late father was, than of a New Romantic, however middle-aged. He carries himself like someone who reckons he’s useful. But it’s in the face that the big change has happened. That awful frame of raddled flesh has fallen away to unveil the old androgynous expression of the young Boy George: hard little imp. His eyes twinkle with a weird but rather benign mischief, and there are times when he can barely talk for overjoyed laughter.

So this is why he wouldn’t talk of “my prison hell”. There wasn’t one. A nasty little time in Pentonville perhaps, where he wore a T-shirt with a glittering handcuff design and, according to one source, needed a minder because he was scared and disorientated.

But at Edmunds Hill it was a different story, and this is how he tells it: “I felt strong throughout the whole thing because I knew there was a beginning and an end to it. So for me it was a matter of, OK, so this is how long I’ll be here, what am I going to do with the time? I read everything I could. I read Bleak House, The Catcher in the Rye, The Ginger Man, A Confederacy of Dunces. I really identified with the central character of Ignatius J. Riley.” The Southern US novelist Walker Percy described Riley as, “A slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas rolled into one.”

One of the books that made the deepest impression on him was The Thief’s Journal, Jean Genet’s largely autobiographical novel about the roamings and incarceration of a homosexual prostitute. “I found that very erotic, and I kept thinking, well, I won’t be able to pass this one on.”

As he talks like this, one elephant, the prison one, leaves the room, but another appears in its place, arriving trunk-to-tail.This is the question of remorse for a nasty crime. There is the familiar danger of a redemptive tale like this upstaging everything else – the consequences, the victim’s life, the contrition (or not) of the offender. In the course of the trial, the court heard how Audun Carlsen, a 29-year-old male escort, was manacled by the singer and another man for several hours, eventually managing to escape and run from the Shoreditch flat wearing nothing but boxer shorts, trainers and a pair of handcuffs.

The singer, whose real name is George O’Dowd, was by his own admission under the influence of cocaine. Indeed, he now says that he was rarely not under its influence for a five-year period that encompassed the incident, and came to an end about 20 months ago. He rattles off the starting date of his present abstinence – “March 2, 2008” – adding with triumph that 15 days have passed since his most recent cigarette. But the British courts are adamant: a drunken (or stoned) intention is an intention nonetheless.

Where is his remorse? We come on to this in a moment, and his reply is unexpected. But he has not quite done with prison. He says he was never physically afraid. “If anyone bothered me, I’d have hit them back, no problem. They would have got what they gave me. What people don’t realise is that bullies aren’t popular in prison. If you have someone ringing the alarm, then everyone gets locked up, like school. Someone does something wrong and you’re all blamed…” Like a working-class counterpart to Jonathan Aitken, who said jail held no fears for an old Etonian, O’Dowd says Eltham Green School, one of London’s first comprehensives, was pretty good prep for life inside: “Hideous place. Hideous place.”

The low point, he says, was being away from his family and friends. He is one of six children – five boys and a girl – with several nephews, nieces and godchildren. None of his own, however. “Ooo no,” he winces. “I leave that to the professionals.” His parents, Gerald and Dinah, came from Thurles in County Tipperary, and raised their family in southeast London. “While I was away,” he goes on, “I got so many letters from friends. Maybe some of them I had taken for granted, or thought, well, I wouldn’t call your name if I was drowning. They blew me away, it was really beautiful. That was the only time I ever got emotional in prison. I got about 15 cards a month from one of my friends, Dusty. My therapist Jamie, who now lives in Karachi, he told me, during all that turmoil after I was arrested in New York [for falsely reporting a burglary], he told me I had a public responsibility, and if I don’t like it, tough. I remember at the time being really furious that he said that to me – I thought, how dare you. I bumped into him at Heathrow a year ago and he said, ‘My God, you are clean,’ and I said, ‘You remember that thing you told me. I wanted to kill you but now I get it.’ I have a responsibility and that’s OK. It’s not something I should be embarrassed about.”

What then should he feel about the crime that got him jailed? Remorse, surely. Isn’t that what we want to hear before we too can move on from it? The good humour vanishes from his eyes and he says tartly: “I’m not going to talk about that. I’m not going to talk about that.” His face seems to lock up, although he denies that it is. But why no expression of regret? “The important thing,” he says, “is that I don’t feel malice towards anybody. That’s the most important thing. Whether I feel remorse or not is irrelevant. What I would say is this: what happened in the last five years of my life [that is, until he gave up cocaine] was all to do with drugs. I took responsibility for that, in a way. Generally, my attitude is, I put myself in those situations because of drugs. I never would have made those decisions if I had not been high. So that, if I sit down and start thinking about the finer details, I would drive myself crazy.”

Those who are enraged by this answer will probably say it’s unforgivably selfish. Forgivable or not, it is selfish in the sense that it puts his recovery from drug addiction before anything else. In that respect, his approach is in line with the 12-step programme of Narcotics Anonymous, which he has joined with a ferocious commitment. Get clean, runs the argument of that organisation, and the right things will begin to happen – therefore, your abstinence is your primary responsibility. “It [my face] is not locking up,” he continues. “The reason I’ve not done any interviews about any of that stuff is because it’s not helpful to me in any way. One thing I’ve learnt in the past few years is that less is more. I don’t have to tell everybody my business any more. Some things are sacred, and it’s taken me a long time to realise that. What I’ve experienced in the past year is that the energy around me has changed so much. I guess my soul used to feel wretched.”

When it comes to his recovery, he is, as in so much else, out. This too will probably ruffle the feathers of the NA mainstream, which takes anonymity as a core principle. But here again he has no compunctions. Quite the reverse. He wants to sing the fellowship’s praises, and so he does: “In NA, you see people getting their lives back. They come in broken. At my first meeting I could hardly breathe or walk. I talked like Darth Vader, got off at the wrong stop and had to walk up Goswell Road.

“When I was away, I wrote a lot of stuff, which will be released next year. I wrote a diary and songs. I got into trouble because I wrote on the wall: ‘Some things are past understanding, you just need a place to land.’ It was part of a lyric. I actually wrote a song about Amy [Winehouse] when I was in prison.” The two have only met once, at a gig at Koko in London, when they were both the worse for wear. It was the last show he did before, as he puts it, “things went crazy”. He was falling out with his band, who were refusing to do any more work with him in that state. Winehouse went backstage to see him. This was exciting for him, because he considers her a great talent. The song he wrote is called Your Pain Makes a Beautiful Sound. He recites the lyrics, slowly and intensely, and is visibly moved as he does so:

“It was easy to make them love you,
All you had to do was sing.
Now it’s not enough to listen,
They want to know everything.
Every day another rumour,
Ugly headlines in the press.
You’re a genius, you’re a car crash,
It’s hard to say what you do best.
But when you sing, you sing,
The whole world gathers round.
It’s a glorious thing,
Your pain makes a beautiful sound.”

It sounds as if it might be as much about him as her, and he says as much himself. He also says that this is the case with a lot of his songs – more than 20 albums’ worth in his various incarnations; you go back to them after several years and realise they weren’t about someone else, but you. He recites again, this time from Brand New, which he says could have been written now: “I don’t want to change the world/ I know I can’t change you/ Maybe I can change myself/ Make it all brand new.”

Maybe. He has tried before, breaking his heroin addiction back in the Eighties. Like Winehouse, his songs are toxic with the pain of love and the difficulty of relationships, particularly with yourself. They are songs that beat up the singer as well as the listener – emotional S&M. When the two spoke, they discovered they had a favourite song in common: the Gerry Goffin/Carole King song He Hit Me, recorded in 1962 by the Crystals and produced by Phil Spector. “He hit me/ And it felt like a kiss/ He hit me/ And I knew he loved me.”

As with the incident that led to his imprisonment, he won’t say much about the strange episode three years ago that led to his receiving a community service order in New York. Regrets and remorse? He gives the same uncompromising message that he won’t go there. At least, not here and now. “It doesn’t matter. It’s what you do now. The whole Eckhart Tolle thing [author of the spiritual self-help book The Power of Now] is about living in the day.”

He struck a deal with the authorities after police had responded to a call from him saying his Manhattan apartment had been broken into. They found no evidence of a burglary, but they did come across 13 bags of cocaine. Part of his penance was to sweep the streets of the city in the glare of publicity. He does say that he felt a bit duped. “I was told I would be working in a park, away from public view. But I was thrown right into the centre, in Chinatown. I called it my Media Circus Order.” He couldn’t explain why he had made the call and won’t try to do so now. It has to be put down to the great bully of cocaine, which was running the show for those five years. Though it may be a cliché to say so, that, more than HM Prison Service, was his true jailer. It was Edmunds Hill that was, ironically, a liberator.

“Walking to work one morning,” he recalls, “when I was away, I thought, ‘Who am I now?’” He was working in the vegetarian kitchen, seven days a week, starting at 8.30 in the morning. “You can get off drugs and still be in an oblivious state. Last year I had a huge reality check, and I felt very bare and open. That was quite scary to start with, in that I thought, I don’t know if I want to deal with this. I don’t know if I want to be George. Actually George is all right. George is quite nice. I thought, I’m XB7073, I’m just George O’Dowd, and I’m happy to be George O’Dowd. When you’ve shown them that you can just get on with it, then you’re pretty much free to do your own thing. The kitchen is quite a stressful environment. You can’t mess around. If there’s 140 for curry, and another 40 to make something else for, you’ve just got to get on with it. Once you show them – and I do like working – you will be pretty much left alone. You come in in the morning, you get your menu and you get on with it.”

“I’m happiest when people don’t notice me. I’m in heaven. On the Tube or the bus. The tattoo [a huge swirl on the back of his head and neck] is a bit of a nightmare. But people aren’t sure it’s me. I’ve got the hood up and the glasses on. I’m very happy when people don’t bother me. I have a strange sense of freedom. When I put gear on, I become that person, and I expect it. But with day-to-day business, I love to be anonymous.”

So Boy George, or George O’Dowd, is saying he doesn’t need the limelight? “I absolutely don’t. I’m not into being a star. I want to be a great musician. I want to be happy with what I have. I used to define myself by how much money I had, where I went, how many records I sold. I stopped doing that some time ago. Even when I was huge, I wasn’t insecure. I haven’t really hated myself for a long time, despite the fact that I used to take drugs. I don’t know what that was all about. I haven’t really had that self-loathing thing. I saw those pictures of me in the papers, all bloated, and I had no idea I looked like that. I don’t think I’m unattractive. I think I’m charming. I’ve got something.”

A lot, actually, including the lovely Hampstead house that he rented out during the chaotic years; and, in case you’ve forgotten, a beautiful singing voice, nimble, light and strong. Whatever other elements of his life were vying for attention, that was always at the heart of his appeal. He is now considering adding management to a career that has combined design and photography with the music. When he plays at Proud Camden, he will be joined on the bill by a New York (male) jazz singer called Coby Koehl, whom he is eager to promote and who he says is the best he has heard since Amy Winehouse.

He has even restored his friendship with Jon Moss, the former drummer of Culture Club. The two were lovers in the Eighties. It was an obsessive, turbulent affair. “Yes,” he says with a smile, “people were fascinated with that relationship, weren’t they? He has children now, he’s a married man. But yes, it was a big passion, absolutely. For a long time [after the split] I couldn’t be in the same room as him. I love him, but I’m not in love with him. I’ll always love him. I’ve only recently found that how I behave really makes a difference to how everyone else behaves. Because I do have quite a strong force in that department.”

There is a man in his own life. He describes him as “a special friend – and not into drugs”, and has known him for a long time.

I have to confess, it’s not until after this conversation that I think of a possible explanation for his absolute refusal to talk about remorse. There are many obvious ones, including shame, privacy and the complexities of the case. But there is another, and it is to be found in the literature of Boy George’s, or rather George O’Dowd’s new “family” of Narcotics Anonymous. This fellowship is run along the lines pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous in America 74 years ago. At the heart of its method is a 12-step programme designed to help addicts get clear, and stay clear of their habit. Step No 8 reads: “We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Judging by the changes in this strange, tough, talented man, he is taking his recovery seriously enough to suggest that he is practising the steps to the best of his abilities. So the chances are that he is saying sorry, or thinking about it, to people he has wronged. Unlike so much else in his life, the public won’t catch him at it.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Jamie's American Southern Sausage Stew

From Louisianna…

olive oil
good-quality sausages (about 2 or 3 per person)
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 red pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped, yellow leaves reserved
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1–2 fresh red chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
10 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
1 heaped teaspoon paprika
1 heaped teaspoon cayenne pepper
2–3 heaped tablespoons plain flour
1 tablespoon white wine or cider vinegar
750ml chicken stock, preferably organic
1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
cooked long-grain rice, to serve
3 spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
a small bunch of fresh curly parsley, roughly chopped

Wine suggestion:
Argentinian red – a Malbec from Mendoza

Put a splash of olive oil in a pan and let it get hot. Add your sausages and let them cook away so they brown nicely on all sides. Once golden and crisp, take them out of the pan and put them on a plate to rest. Depending on your sausages, there may be a lot of fat left behind in the pan. You only want to keep about 4 tablespoons of it in the pan, so carefully pour any extra away. If you don’t have enough, just add a splash more olive oil.

Add your onion, peppers and celery to the fat and fry on a medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Stir in your garlic, chilli, thyme and spices and fry for another minute or two. Stir in your flour and vinegar, and after a couple of minutes add your browned sausages, chicken stock and tinned tomatoes, using a wooden spoon to break them up a little. Season with a nice big pinch of salt and pepper, stir, then bring to the boil and let it tick away for 15 minutes or so until you have a thick and delicious gravy.

Serve with a hearty spoonful of rice on the side and sprinkle over some sliced spring onion, chopped parsley and any reserved celery leaves. Really tasty stuff!

PS: I've also stirred chopped up pieces of cooked chicken, quail and smoky bacon through this with great results!

Jamie's American Redondo Mackerel Fillett Wraps

For the wrap
1 ripe avocado, halved and stoned
2 limes
2 mackerel fillets, pinboned
4 small flour tortilla wraps
4 tablespoons soured cream
a few sprigs of fresh coriander, leaves picked

hot chilli sauce, to serve

For the salad
1 green or yellow courgette
4 asparagus spears
2 large spring onions, trimmed and finely sliced
2 radishes, cut into matchsticks
1 fresh red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
juice of 1 lime
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wine suggestion:
French dry white – a Riesling from Alsace

Light your barbecue or get your griddle pan screaming hot. To make the salad, shave the courgette into long ribbons with a speed peeler (if it's a big one you'll want to avoid the fluffy seedy centre) and put them into a large bowl. Do the same with the asparagus spears – you will need to lay them on a board to do this, as it is a bit fiddly to hold them and shave! Add the asparagus to the bowl with the spring onions, radishes and most of the chilli. Squeeze over the lime juice, add a good lug of extra virgin olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Gently toss everything together using your hands – this will give you a beautiful salad base. Put to one side.

Scoop your avocado flesh into a bowl and mash it up with a fork along with the juice from 1 of your limes and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Put this to one side while you prepare the fish.

Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over your mackerel fillets and add a generous pinch of salt – putting extra oil on the skin side of each fillet to prevent the fish sticking to the barbecue or pan. Place the fillets, skin side down, on your hot barbecue or griddle pan and cook for 2 minutes. Turn over and give them another 2 to 3 minutes, until cooked through. Pop your 4 tortillas on the barbecue next to the fish, or in a hot dry pan for a few seconds to warm them.

To serve, spoon a quarter of the avocado mixture into the middle of each tortilla and top with a spoonful of soured cream. Break each of the mackerel fillets in half – removing any bones you see as you go – and divide between your tortillas. Toss the salad one last time and put some on top of the fish. Scatter over some coriander leaves, your remaining chilli and a few drizzles of hot chilli sauce if you fancy. Definitely give each one a good squeeze of your remaining lime, then roll your tortillas up (make sure you close the ends so it doesn't all drip out!).

Jamie's American Lime & Chilli Flatbread


olive oil
800g pork mince, the best
quality you can afford
1 teaspoon dried sage
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 green peppers, deseeded
and roughly chopped
6 small green chillies, roughly chopped
4 large ripe red tomatoes,
chopped into small chunks
1 romaine lettuce, leaves
washed and spun dry
a small bunch of fresh mint
4 spring onions
1 packet of flour tortillas
optional: 1 lime
soured cream or natural yoghurt, to serve

Put a large pan on a high heat and add a little olive oil. Add the pork mince, dried sage and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to break the meat up a bit and stir it about, then cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add your onions, garlic, peppers and chillies, stir everything together, then fry for 15 minutes on a high heat until any liquid from the pork has evaporated and everything is starting to turn golden. When it looks good, stir in your chopped tomatoes and half a glass of water. Remember that it's supposed to be quite dry (in a really wholesome and nice way), not stewy and wet, so don’t add too much water.

Turn the heat down to medium and let it tick away for 10 minutes or so while you wash and roughly chop up the lettuce. Pick the leaves from the bunch of mint and roughly chop them. Trim and finely slice your spring onions.

When you're ready to serve your chilli, warm your tortillas in the oven at 180ºC/350ºF/gas 4 for a few minutes or in a dry pan for 30 seconds. Taste your dense chilli. More than likely it will need another good pinch of salt and pepper. If you want to give it a nice fresh edge, you can squeeze in the juice of a lime. Stir in half your chopped mint. Push a warm tortilla or flatbread into each of your little bowls and spoon some delicious green chilli on top of each one. Top with your chopped lettuce and a dollop of yoghurt. Sprinkle over the rest of your mint and spring onions and serve right away with some cold beers.

Jamie's American Candied Bacon Salad

For the creamy French dressing
6 tablespoons good-quality extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 heaped teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 heaped tablespoon natural yoghurt
sea salt and freshly ground
black pepper

For the salad
12 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, the best quality you can afford
1 clove garlic, peeled
3 slices of fresh white bread
olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
2 heaped teaspoons demerara sugar
3 clementines
5 large handfuls of mixed salad
leaves, washed and spun dry
1 pomegranate
a small bunch of fresh mint,
leaves picked

Wine suggestion:
Californian white – a Fumé Blanc

To make your dressing, put all the ingredients into a large serving bowl, whisk together, and season to taste. You want it to be slightly too acidic, so add a splash more vinegar if you think it needs it. Put to one side.

Get a large frying pan on a medium heat, add the bacon rashers and cook until lightly golden (but not really crispy), turning them every so often. Remove the bacon to a plate. Squash your garlic clove and add it to the pan, then turn the heat up a little and tear your bread into mediumsized chunks. Drop them into the pan so they suck up all the flavours and become crispy. If your bacon didn't release a lot of fat and you think the bread needs a little help to crisp up, simply add a lug or two of olive oil. Add a pinch of black pepper and shake the bread around until crispy and golden, then remove to the plate with your bacon.

Wipe the pan clean with kitchen paper, then put the bacon back in with the sugar or honey and the juice of 1 clementine. Concentrate on what you’re doing, and make sure you don’t touch or taste anything at any point because it will burn you. Stir everything around in the pan so the syrup starts to stick to the bacon. As soon as the rashers are perfectly caramelized and sticky, use tongs to carefully move them to an oiled plate and leave to cool down for a minute. Whatever shape you leave the bacon in at this point is how it will set, so give the rashers a bend or a twist. Peel the remaining clementines and slice them into rounds.

Grab your bowl of dressing and add your salad leaves. Halve the pomegranate and use a spoon to knock the back of each half and pop the seeds over the salad. Add your mint leaves, then use your hands to toss and dress everything thoroughly. Lightly toss your croutons through the salad and lay your candied bacon on top. Place your clementine rounds on top of the salad, then pass the bowl around the table and let everyone serve themselves.

Jamie's American Appleberry Pie

good-quality vanilla ice cream, cream or custard, to serve

For the pastry
500g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
100g icing sugar
a pinch of sea salt
250g unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
2 large eggs, preferably free-range or organic
a splash of milk

For the filling
10 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and halved,
3 sliced juice and zest of 2 oranges
7 heaped tablespoons caster sugar
400g huckleberries or blueberries
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
1 large egg, preferably freerange or organic, beaten
a small handful of demerara sugar

Wine suggestion:
Italian sweet white – a Moscato d'Asti from Piemonte

You can make your pastry by hand, or simply pulse all the ingredients in a food processor. If making by hand, sieve the flour, icing sugar and salt from a height into a large mixing bowl. Use your fingertips to gently work the cubes of butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Transfer a handful of this mixture to a separate bowl, rub it between your fingers to get larger crumbs, then put aside. Add the eggs and milk to the main mixture and gently work it together until you have a ball of pastry dough. Don't work it too much at this stage – you want to keep it crumbly and short. Sprinkle a little flour over the pastry, then wrap it in clingfilm and pop it into the fridge to rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, put the apples into a large pan with the zest and juice of 1 orange, a splash of water and 5 tablespoons of caster sugar. Cover the pan and simmer on a medium heat for 10 minutes, until the apples have softened but still hold their shape. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Scrunch a handful of berries in a bowl with the remaining caster sugar and the zest and juice of your remaining orange. Add the rest of the berries. Toss the cooled apples and their juices in a large bowl with the berries and the flour, then put aside.

Preheat your oven to 180°C/350ºF/gas 4. Take your ball of pastry out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature. Get yourself a pie dish around 28cm in diameter. Flour a clean surface and a rolling pin. Cut off a third of your pastry and put that piece to one side. Roll the rest into a circle just over 0.5cm thick, dusting with flour as you go. Roll the circle of pastry up over your rolling pin, then gently unroll it over the pie dish. Push it into the sides, letting any excess pastry hang over the edge. Tip in the fruit filling and brush all around the edge of the pastry with some of the beaten egg. Roll out the smaller ball of pastry about 0.5cm thick and use your rolling pin to lay it over the top of the pie. Brush it all over with more beaten egg, reserving a little. Sprinkle over the reserved crumble mixture and the demerara sugar.

Fold the scruffy edges of pastry hanging over the sides back over the pie, sealing the edge by twisting or crimping it as you like. Brush these folded edges with your remaining beaten egg. Using a small, sharp knife, cut a cross into the middle of the pie. Place on the bottom of the oven and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until golden and beautiful. Serve with ice cream, cream or custard.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Phishing (fake) email scam warning


I just wanted to warn you of a security threat affecting webmail services such as hotmail, gmail by google, yahoo and yahoo, which came to light this week. You may have seen this featured on BBC News.

The threat commonly involves compromised email accounts sending personalised emails to your contacts suggesting shopping sites which are fake.

I personally wanted to let you know that I never have and never will send you any links that ask you to visit any online stores. I never send spam or junk mail and never email website recommendations. If you do receive such emails from me, tell me - they are probably fake.

The only site I might mention is my own website, and I promise this is safe, secure and legitimate.

For advice on staying safe with your webmail accounts and for detailed information, the BBC has valuable news and guidance:

Thanks for reading and please tell your friends and colleagues.