Thursday, 27 February 2014

Flare Path by Terrence Rattigan

There's a new kid in town.

A new kid who flounces and projects and stalks around the stage wiggling their eyebrows with the best of them.  My work place has started up a new staff drama society.  They are very new but my word do they know what they are doing!
I work at a University and that has some distinct advantages.  One of those is a handy Estates department who have the space and ability to build amazing sets, another is a theatre on campus where you can perform, there is an on campus design and print unit for all your publicity and programme needs and you also have access to a few thousand staff so hopefully you will get some with some interest and excitement in being part of a staff group!  An email went around the staff network back in the autumn asking people to audition for a new show and a new drama group.  I was intrigued but at the time I had my hands full with Wyrd Sisters and couldn't commit to another group.
However a few of my colleagues were able to commit and after months of hearing stories about rehearsals and line learning the time finally came to see them in action.  One of my colleagues, Jo, mobilised us and we went on a staff outing across the campus to the theatre for dinner and a night of entertainment.
I was incredibly impressed with the set - it was sturdy, practical and the finish was of an extremely high quality.  There was no sign of wobble with the staircase, the doors didn't stick and all the finishes were true to the period.  If I have one criticism it would be that they should have painted the floor - the standard black floor of the Gulbenkian did not look right with the inside of the hotel lounge and floorboards are extremely easy to paint and look very effective when lit up.  It would have added that additional touch of realism and I couldn't understand why it was left black (and scuffed as well as no paint had been put down to cover up the marks of previous shows) when so much time and effort had clearly gone into the rest of the set design, right down to the gravel pit by the exit stage right which gave the impression of the actors walking up a gravel driveway to the hotel front door.
Costumes and props were all true to the period as well and looked impeccable.  The soundtrack was gorgeous, with 1940's spirit lifting war songs intermingled with the engines of bomber planes.  We came on opening night and there were a few problems with the sound in the 1st Act as some of the levels had been set so high that you couldn't hear a word that the actors were saying on stage, especially when they were peering out of the window at the fighter planes and had their backs to the audience, however this was quickly resolved by Act 2.
So, onto the show itself.  This was a relatively small cast production - 10 or so characters all of whom spent a significant amount of time out on the stage.  Just before the play started my colleagues and I were all sat in the audience nosing through the programme going 'oh, it's so and so from Estates, and so and so from this Department - I've never met them but I speak to them a lot on the phone, oooh I didn't know HE was in it!' and so on.

The play is written by Terrence Rattigan in 1941 and is partly based on his own wartime experiences during the 2nd World War in England.

The play opens with actors already in position and quietly showing the day to day life of this little hotel in Lincolnshire near a RAF base.

We are introduced to three women who are all waiting for their pilot husbands to spend a couple of days on leave.  There is Pat, an actress who is married to Teddy the bomber pilot, Doris who is married to the Polish Count who is serving in the RAF, and Maudie who arrives late who is married to Dusty, Teddy's tail gunner.  Each of the couples have their own quirks and foibles and there are three very distinct types of relationships on display.

In addition there is also the strict and no-nonsense Hotel Manager, Mrs Oakes and the barmaid, Percy as well as Squadron Leader Swanson and a young airman, Wiggy.
The situation is complicated when Peter Kyle, an American actor arrives who is having an affair with Pat.  Pat is ready to leave Teddy and run away with Peter when the RAF pilots all get unexpectedly called away on a night raid.  4 planes leave at 10pm that night whilst the women sit at the hotel and wait for news.   They stand at the window and look at the Flare Path, the lamps outlining the runway that were lit to enable planes to take off and land during night missions.  This was dangerous as it also highlighted planes to the Luftwaffe who would shoot them down as they attempted take off.

During the course of the evening we learn that one of the planes is shot down upon take-off and one has not returned from their mission.  Pat starts to unravel slowly as her worry for Teddy's safety conflicts with her desire to elope with Peter.  A lot of alcohol is consumed.
Gradually the RAF pilots start to return.  Dusty comes in first and is reunited with his long suffering wife Maudie.  Teddy follows shortly afterwards.  The Count does not return and the Countess, fearing the worst, retires to her room.   It is now about 5am in the morning and everyone apart from Pat and Teddy go to bed.

Once alone Teddy confesses to Pat that he was terrified.  He was responsible for the lives of 6 men and he wasn't sure that he would be able to bring them home, and the only thing that kept him going was the thought of Pat.  He breaks down on her, who realises that she truly loves him and could never leave him.

The next morning she leaves a note for Peter explaining her decision.  He takes this very badly and confronts Pat, threatening to tell Teddy what has been going on between them.  Before he has a chance to though the Countess asks Peter, who speaks French, to translate a letter that the Count had left for her that was only to be opened upon the event of his death.  As Peter reads the letter to the Countess he realises that he would never be able to force Pat to leave Teddy and changes his mind about outing her, leaving the hotel quietly.
Suddenly there is a commotion at the door and the Count appears, alive and well, having fallen into 'the drink' when his plane crashed into the sea and forced to make his way back to the airbase by whatever means possible.  A highly relieved Countess is reunited with her husband.
This was quite a gentle play which mixed touches of light comedy with real pathos.  The scene between Teddy and Pat when Teddy breaks down was incredibly powerful and easily the stand out moment for me.  The play explored the intermingling of human emotion and interaction under a highly pressurised set of circumstances and I think that the Players interpreted their material very well.

I was incredibly impressed with the level of professionalism from all the cast and crew, especially considering that for most of them this was their first experience with amateur dramatics, adding weight to the expression that 'amateur does not mean poor quality'. 

I am really quite keen to see what this new group comes up with next!
Photo Credits go to Kasia Senyszyn who took them at the dress rehearsal and sent them to me.  I would have done them, but I was rehearsing myself that night!

Monday, 24 February 2014

Apple and Cinnamon Cookies

I'm in a bit of a baking phase at the moment.  Steve is playing cricket on a Sunday afternoon which normally gives me a couple of hours to potter around and experiment in the kitchen.  One such Sunday after a bit of a mooch I found I had some apples in our fruit basket that were looking a little sorry for themselves so decided to turn them into apple cookies.
These are probably a little more suited to autumn than this strange winter-spring we seem to be in at the moment but if you are anything like me, you will normally have some apples lying around that need using up and this is a wonderful way to re-vitalise apples that are about to turn.

They are soft and chewy and only slightly sweet; great for people who don't want to be on a sugar high for the rest of the day!
I love them for elevenses at my desk in the office (I feel like a hobbit!) with a cup of coffee.  The porridge oats give that little energy burst I need to tide me through until lunch and they are the perfect treat if you are trying to curry favour with your work colleagues!  I know it's purely psychological but the fact that they are packed full of apples makes them feel positively virtuous as well - a complete myth but I've always been a fan of self-delusion.

They don't keep for long, so you really want to eat them within 24 hours of baking as long as they have been kept in a air tight container.  If you make them on a Saturday I can't guarantee you would be able to hand them around the office on a Monday!  Of course this could simply be due to the fact that they have all been eaten...
The recipe below will yield about 15-20 biscuits roughly the size of a hobnob.


125g unsalted butter at room temperature
95g brown sugar plus extra for sprinkling
1 egg
130g plain flour
130g porridge oats
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 apples, 1 peeled and chopped, 1 thinly sliced with the skin on
4 tsp Cinnamon powder
Preheat the oven to 180°C and grease 2 large baking trays.
Cream the butter and the sugar, add the egg and beat well.

Mix in the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking powder and chopped apple to make a sticky dough.

Divide the dough up and roll into balls (you may find it easier to do this with wet or lightly oiled hands) and spread the balls about an inch apart on the baking tray.

Press down the centre of each to flatten it out slightly and place a slice of apple on the top of each ball.

Bake for 30-35 minutes until the biscuits are golden, remove and cool.
I imagine they would be lovely with other dried fruit as well, such as banana or sultanas.  If you experiment, let me know how it goes!  Also try drizzling honey over the top of each biscuit for the last 5 minutes of baking, adding ground cassia or nutmeg or allspice, maybe a bit of ground ginger at Christmas time, go really decadent and coat it in smooth caramel toffee; the possibilities are endless!

Friday, 21 February 2014

Coconut Hair and Scalp Treatment

I like to think I treat my skin well.  I exfoliate, moisturise, buff and polish myself.  I do this from head to foot making sure every last inch has been pampered to within an inch of its life.  Well, nearly every last inch.  I've never really bothered with my scalp.

My poor, abused, malnourished and attention starved scalp.  How could I have left you out for so many years as you screamed for attention.  All the signs were there as you reached out for me in desperation, dryness, itchiness, oiliness and I just ignored you.
Winter for me means warm rooms, radiators on, hair dryers and loads of serums and oils to try and control flyaway's and frizz in my hair.  Unfortunately this led to product build up so I've then used cleansing shampoo's to try and remove it which in turn has stripped my scalp of its natural oils.  This gave me a dry, itchy, flaky scalp which, considering how dark and long my hair is, really isn't attractive.  Not to mention the constant itch which was driving me up the wall!

I had also noticed that my hair was getting greasier much faster than normal.  I spoke to my hairdresser about it and it turned out that the cleansing shampoo's were removing so much oil from my hair that my scalp was overcompensating to put it back.  It was putting the overtime hours in, but as fast as it churned it out I would wash it again, so it would roll its sleeves up and have another go.

If that isn't a vicious circle of scalp hatred I'm not sure what is.

I needed a remedy and quickly.  Once again the internet provided the answer for my home made beauty treatment - a heavily moisturising hair and scalp mask.  There are a lot of variations of this out there and I choose one that would be relatively simple to make and use from The Mother Huddle (mine isn't nearly as thick as hers so don't worry if yours is a bit drippy on the cotton wool).
Firstly I used a soft bristle brush and gentle rubbed it in circular motions across my entire head.  This helps loosen dead skin cells, unblock any clogged hair follicles and get the blood circulating to your scalp.  This head massage lasted for about 5 minutes and afterwards my scalp felt light and tingly and my hair resembled a haystack.  This was the mother of all backcombing sessions!

Next I melted about half a tub (4 tablespoons) of the coconut oil in the microwave for a few seconds in a heat proof bowl and then added 3-4 drops of rosemary oil (increases circulation to the scalp and stimulates new growth) and 1-2 drops of tea tree oil (its anti-septic properties will help keep your hair follicles healthy and kill any nasties lurking on your head).  The coconut oil, apart from being deeply moisturising and smelling divine also helps remove product build up, negating the need for those cleansing shampoo's which were stripping my hair so badly of its natural protection.

Quick note - make sure you are not allergic to any of these, never use essential oils without diluting them in a carrier oil and don't use them if you are pregnant apparently!

I used cotton balls and dunked them into the mixture, then applied it across my scalp by parting my hair in various places.  You need to make sure your entire scalp is covered obviously!  Once I had finished I gave myself a head massage with my fingers to ensure the oil was rubbed in, then applied the remainder to the rest of my hair as a mask and pinned the whole lot up.  My hair is very thick and down to my shoulder blades and this quantity was about right for me.

I left it on for just over an hour (20 minutes should be fine) then washed it out with a nourishing coconut milk shampoo and conditioner.  It washes out easily and doesn't leave your hair greasy or claggy at all - if anything it was lighter and more bouncy than normal!  I chose this particular shampoo as it has egg white proteins in it and a huge number of hair treatments include egg whites as the proteins are very beneficial for your hair.
Verdict?  My head is completely and utterly flake free and looks so much healthier.  It is no longer producing nearly so much oil so I'm back to washing every other day instead of every day and this is obviously improving the condition of my hair as I am not exposing it to so much heat on a regular basis.

I would recommend doing this on a monthly basis.  Other benefits should include faster hair growth and hair that is generally in better condition!

The cost was very good value.  The pot of coconut oil was £2.95 and will last for 2 treatments.  You can buy much bigger tubs at places like Holland and Barrett.  I had the tea tree oil already (The Body Shop) and the rosemary oil was about £8 but will last forever.  The shampoo and conditioner were about £5 in total.

I'm really pleased with the results of this treatment and it's one I will definitely be adding to my monthly routine!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Tankus The Henge

It is a question that has plagued pondering philosophers of the perfect pitch persuasion for eons.

What happens when Ska falls in love with Deep South Jazz and they have a love child born by moonlight on the sawdust centre ring in a bohemian circus Big Top?

Tankus the Henge.  That's what.
Billed as one of the UK's most original bands and adopted by Steam Punkers as their sound, the world of Tankus the Henge has been described as uplifting and wild, dark and heartfelt.
A six-piece hailing from London, their sound is a wonderfully heart-racing mixture of Madness and Jazz fused with the sassy, sultry beats of a Latin Tango.  It's a sound that is so alien to anything you have heard before yet hauntingly familiar with the undertone of classic gypsy and Balkan Folk that also runs through it.  If a Circus could sing, this would be it's voice.
I went to see them perform at the Gulbekian Cafe stage with Sinead and Ben.  Sinead had messaged the usual suspects ages before with a short note that just said 'I saw them at Lounge (on the Farm).  We have to go'.   I then promptly forgot all about it (my mind has been like an absolute sieve recently, far too much on the go at one time) until I saw her Facebook status about going to see them that night.  God bless you Facebook news feed.  I panicked, grabbed my phone, called the box office, demanded to know if there were any tickets left (there were, just) and bought my ticket there and there.
Thank god I did.

Steve dropped me off so I could have a couple of glasses of wine.  I walked in filled with that bubbly kind of nervous excitement that comes with being out on a school night (music gig on a Sunday night?  How very decadent!) and instantly spotted the band.  To be honest, it was kind of hard not to notice them.  Their style is a mish-mash of sharp-suited bohemian faded glamour that has them standing out in a crowd, even a crowd as eclectic as the one waiting for the show that night.
That's another part of Tankus' magic.  In the audience were business men and women, older couples holding hands of glasses of red wine or pots of herbal tea, a festival loving motly crew of dance enthusiasts, another local band (Coco and the Butterfields) and international students.  All were relaxed and having an absolute ball.
Tankus don't just play songs for you to enjoy.  They put on a show that transports you away to another land.  I commented to Sinead during the break that the lead singer with a gravelly voice who looks like he got lost on the way to the Oliver! auditions, Jaz Delorean, was a true virtuoso performer who knew how to play a crowd like the ivory keys on his piano.  And the ivory keys on his accordion come to think of it. 
This is a band that doesn't have just one strong personality in it though.  All six members bring a distinct individuality to the band that somehow just meshes together to form one cohesive unit that is like nothing else that I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing before.  There is a reason they were one of 2011's Top 10 Acts To See At Glastonbury.  There is a cockney cheeky chappy charm that just permeates through this band.
The majority of their material was all unique although they did indulge with a couple of covers, one of which had Ben particularly excited and singing at the top of his lungs.
As the evening wore on the audience got swept up in the zeal and energy of the performances and the dancing started.  Initially it was located (politely) to one side of the stage and then gradually took over as more and more people took to their feet.
As the evening pressed on the windows steamed up, music blasted out across the campus and for a short period of time people could forget the stresses and worries of their day jobs and just be carried away with the beat.  Sinead and I were not immune either and soon were dancing away with the rest.
In case it's not clear, I am strongly recommending you try and see Tankus the Henge in action for yourself.  They play at venues all over the country, so keep an eye on their website  (I've just ordered their album from there) and their Facebook group for information.  They have promised to return to Canterbury, and I will be holding them to that.
Until you do get to see them though, just try to remember, Smiling Make The Day Go Quicker.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Rice Krispie Squares

I don't have kids and I don't work in a school so I never remember when half term is until I get in my car on a Monday morning and realise that all the traffic has just magically disappeared over the weekend, the journey to work takes about a quarter of the time it does the rest of the year and I'm not coming to blows with someone in the car park at work for the last parking space at 9.01 am.

Of course this does mean that for an awful lot of you, you are currently wandering around the house with a slightly glazed look of shock on your face, clutching your fourth cup of coffee to your breast at 7am as your little darlings tear up the joint going stir crazy, especially if the weather continues to be as bad as it was last week.   You've spent the weekend desperately trawling the 'What's On' pages of the local rag, calling your friends for day trip inspiration that will ideally wear Molly and Mikey out enough that they just want to watch a Disney film later on and you now have your eyes glued to the computer screen as you google 'things to do with your kids in half term'.

Well oh fraught one, I present you with 'Something To Do With Your Kids In Half Term'.

The fact that I make these on a regular base for my husband is neither here not there.
These are ridiculously simple and have that delightful stickiness about them that kids will love and will love smearing all over your carpet and the dog.  I'd keep an eye on them.  You will also be using the hob, heating butter and marshmallow so again, I would recommend only attempting under direct supervision.  Also keep an eye on the marshmallows.  If your kids are anything like my husband you will be lucky if you get to the part where you need them with enough left to actually cook with.

They take about 15 minutes in total but you can easily lengthen that out by getting the kids to do the weighing and measuring and patting down the krispie mix.   You could even ice and decorate them!

So gather your small ones close and go foraging for:

50g unsalted butter
200g marshmallows
180g Rice Krispies

Over a low heat, melt the butter in a large pan and add the marshmallows.  Stir until all the marshmallow is completely melted.   Pour in the rice krispies and stir to coat everything.  Quickly move to a greased baking tin, making sure it is packed down and even.  Set the tin aside to cool and set (about an hour).  Carve into squares and let the kids enjoy their treat!
I apologise for the sugar rush this *may trigger.

*almost certainly will.  Unless you use sugar free marshmallows.  Is there even such a thing and if it does exist, it begs the question, should it?

Friday, 14 February 2014

Serge Lutens, Un bois vanille

I've been waiting a while, over a year in fact, to do this review as I wanted a new bottle of my favourite perfume in the world to photograph.

This is my signature scent.
Serge Lutens, Un bois vanille, is, to my mind, the ultimate in vanilla fragrances.  It is no secret that I love my vanilla scents; that warm, comforting, sweet blanket of smell that envelops you and gives a big squeezy cuddle in its bounteous bosom, but if you are not careful a vanilla scent can suffocate you in a treacly mess of syrupy miasma and leave everybody in your wake wondering why they are suddenly craving a cupcake with extra icing.
Serge Lutens have managed to create that rarest of all creatures; a vanilla scent that isn't cloying.  The edge of liquorice cuts through the vanilla and leaves you feeling like you are less in candyland and more in a grown up's chocolate factory.  It is so refined compared to other vanilla scents that it is completely suited for uni-sex use. 

The name translates as a vanilla wood so it is no surprise that there are also sandalwood notes adding depth and interest in the dry down as well as notes of coconut adding a smooth and creamy sweetness to the vanilla. 
Un bois vanille also has remarkable staying power.  It will last on me all day, without leaving a perfume bomb behind me, and attracts attention without fail.  If I hug someone when I am wearing it, they will almost without fail ask me what perfume I am wearing and Steve can't get enough of it!  It is a definite nuzzle inducing scent.

It's also not a very common perfume, I have yet to find someone who wears any of the Serge Lutens scents, all of which I find are typically grown up scents with none of the alcoholic vapours you find in cheaper versions, and they last.  I wear Un bois vanille at least four times a week and one bottle will last me for 18 months.   House of Fraser is the only mainstream department store commonly located on high streets I have found that carries it, although you can easily buy it on line.  At £70 a bottle it is not the cheapest scent on the market but for me it is absolute value for money.

The packaging is clean and simple and very French chic.  No gimmicks, no fancy stoppers, no strange twisted shapes that cut into your hand when you attempt to spray.  Serge Lutens relies purely on the strength and complexity of his fragrances to do his selling, not clever marketing gimmicks and I think he has it spot on.

I also find that this scent is suitable for use all year long, except perhaps on those hottest of sticky summer days.  I really want to explore more of the Serge Lutens range (I have my eye on Five o'clock au gingembre and I own a sample of L'Eau, a remarkable clean fragrance) but if doing so means straying from Un bois vanille, then I don't think I have the heart to make that sacrifice.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Hobson's Rehearsal's

I'm rehearsing again.  I feel like such a glutton for punishment - I finish a show, swear I am taking a break and sitting the next one out just so I can catch by breath for a couple of months, then I get the cast list and go oooh, that character would be great fun to play and before I know it I'm back at an audition, acting the fool, side eying the Director and hoping that somehow this mummery means I get a part.

That's how I've ended up playing a sulky, snotty, whiny, selfish brat with a large wagging behind (don't laugh, it's a bustle, for the most part) and a superiority complex.  She is remarkably similar to some of the girls from Made in Chelsea.  You can call her Alice. 
Most of the time when Steve and I are in plays we never manage to be in the same play.  We have never even had an in-character conversation on stage before.  This time it's a little different.  Whilst not strictly speaking acting opposite each other, I do get to play his sister-in-law which is fun, and we get to have a bit of a barney on stage!  At least we get to see each other in the evenings for a change, a rare occurrence when one of us is rehearsing.
Steve is playing Will Mossop, a character the absolute antithesis of his own personality.  Will is a boot maker in a shop in Salford, near Manchester in the 1880's.  The master of the shop is Henry Hobson, an alcoholic who spends most of his time in the Moonraker's Parlour with his friends, leaving the running of the shop to his three daughters, Maggie, Alice and Vickey.
Maggie (played by Stella) is a no-nonsense, practical woman who takes her fate into her own hands, orchestrating the activities of the men and women around her with the expertise of a virtuoso conductor.  Vickey is played by none other that The Demon Gin who brings a razor sharp edge to Vickey's wit.
Hobson's Choice means a free choice in which there is only one option, i.e. no choice at all and Maggie manages to give a Hobson's Choice to everyone who may stand in her way.  Everyone argues with her, but all end up bending to her intractable will.  All end up happy, or at the very least cared for (eventually) but they may not have approved of Maggie's methods of getting them there!
Right now we are in the middle of our rehearsal period.  Books are down, people are OK on their lines (you have a rough idea when it's your turn to speak) and movement, characterisation and expressions are being played with and refined.  One of the most common phrases you hear at this stage was 'I know I tried it that way but what if...'.  Costumes are nearly complete, props are being acquired and the marketing and publicity is starting to trickle out.
I'm not sure if the Director, Sally, would agree with me, but this production has so far felt rather smooth going.  Maybe it's because the last couple of productions I was directly involved with (Teechers and Wyrd Sisters) have involved a lot of complex choreography whereas Hobson's Choice is significantly more naturalistic, but this play has come together so easily.   Sally always seems to have a big grin on her face when she is watching us rehearse at least!
The hardest part for me has been getting the Salford accent right.  I'm not good with accents and the fact that we were expected to have a northern drawl nearly prevented me from auditioning.  It has been hard work but being married to a northerner (he will insist he's from the Midlands, I say it is north of the Watford Gap therefore it's northern) is helping with some of the trickier phrases. I slip occasionally but it's not as bad as my first couple of rehearsals when I took a bit of a detour over the entire of the UK, normally within a single sentence consisting of less than 10 words.  I still struggle with 'Yes' though - it should be written as 'Aye'!
We are on in just over 3 weeks and right now I think we are almost there!   We are returning to the Playhouse in Whitstable for this production and I am really looking forward to Get In.  I have booked annual leave and am fully prepared for a couple of days happily sat on the floor of the stage helping to get the stage together.  I say this now - if I remember rightly I was cursing at the set from Teechers by the end of the build.
If you are local, I really hope you come along and support this production.  It is a gentle comedy that is full of subtle, clever character interactions and humour that is still tickling the ribs of our delightful prompt even though she's watched it half a dozen times! 

I can't think of a better way to shut out the stresses of day to day life for a few hours.

We are on from the 6th-8th March 2014, Playhouse Theatre Whitstable.

Monday, 10 February 2014


Driving rain, floods, hail, storms and high winds.  It's all a bit bleak here at the moment; everything is cold and grey and wet and miserable.  I'll admit that in the Costa del Kent we aren't doing too badly compared with the rest of the UK (have a look at the South West) but even so it's still fairly depressing outside.  Sunshine appears to be a distant memory and I can't even remember what it is like to venture outside without a coat and an umbrella.  This is the exact sort of weather that demands full on comfort food, brightly coloured, warming, rich and satisfying.  Something that wraps you in the food equivalent of a cashmere jumper and blanket, curled on a sofa in front of a roaring fire.

I have just the thing.  Gumbo.

Gumbo is a traditional Louisiana dish, consisting of a strongly flavoured stock thickened with a French roux made from flour and fat, the Creole Trinity of celery, onion and pepper (add garlic to make it a Holy Trinity), and shellfish and meat.  It is the official dish of Louisiana and is a warming, hearty, filling supper for a cold winter's night.  It is very similar to the French bouillabaisse except that gumbo should always have okra in it (we'll just ignore the fact that the supermarket was completely out when I went there, grrr).

While I was at the fish counter the man serving me asked if I was making paella.  I explained that I was making gumbo and he went slightly cross eyed and started to drool a bit, simply saying 'ooooh, I love gumbo'.  For people who like shellfish, this is a real crowd pleaser.   This recipe will easily serve 6, or 2 with a week's worth of leftovers!
Steve asked me for my gumbo for dinner one night, and it wasn't until I was 2/3rds of the way through cooking it that he realised he made a mistake.  He stuck his head in the kitchen, looked puzzled and asked me why it was red.  Gumbo is always red I replied, to which he stated he had expected it to be white and then realised he had meant to ask for chowder for dinner.  Too late!

It may not have been what he was expecting, but, even if I do say so myself, my gumbo is really rather tasty.  I know it looks like a lot of ingredients but they are worth it.  Don't feel restricted to the seafood I have listed below either - gumbo is real country food and should be amended and adapted to different palettes; that's the beauty of dishes like this.

Just try it for yourself. 

80ml peanut oil
130g plain flour
4 boned chicken thighs, butterflied (will serve 6 people)
6 smokey sausages (I used 3 smokey chilli chipotle sausages and 3 smokey chorizo chipotle sausages from Morrison's but andouille or any smokey sausage will do), chopped into large thirds.
450ml chicken stock
450ml beef stock
1 small octopus per 2 people
6 small langoustines per 2 people
4 small whole squid per 2 people
50g king prawns per 2 people
2 tins chopped tomatoes
1/2 tube tomato paste
Handful fresh parsley
Handful fresh thyme
4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon dried chilli flakes
1 tablespoon dried sage
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon celery salt
1 clove chopped garlic
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery sticks, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
Salt and pepper
Tabasco to taste
Parsley to garnish
In a large pan heat the peanut oil and then pan fry the chicken thighs until brown on both sides.  Remove from the pan and leave to cool, then cut into chunks.

In the same pan add the sausages and brown all over to release their oils.  Remove and set to one side.

Add the flour to the chicken and sausage scented oil in the pan and whisk briskly to make a thick roux.  Add more oil if it is not smooth.  Keep whisking the roux until it turns brown and has the consistency of pancake batter.   Slowly pour the chicken and beef stocks into the roux and continue whisking to form a soup-like stock.  Transfer to a large soup pan and keep warm on a low simmer.

In a large pan heat a little oil and cook the vegetables and garlic until the onion is soft and translucent.

Add the softened vegetables, tinned tomatoes, tomato puree, chicken, sausages, herbs and spices to the flour and stock mix and stir together to form a thick stew.  Taste and adjust the seasonings and spices according to preference.

Allow to simmer on the hob for 30-40 minutes.

Prepare your fish by cleaning the octopus and squid and peeling the prawns.   If you are not sure how to do this ask your fishmonger to do it for you.   Keep the langoustine whole.  Add the fish to the stew about 5 minutes before you are ready to serve; it will cook very quickly.

Serve with parsley sprinkled over the top, fresh bread and tabasco or other hot sauce on the side for people who want a bit more heat.  If you want to be more traditional, serve your gumbo over rice.

Close the curtains, lock the doors and listen to the wind howl outside as you tuck into a taste of sun-soaked Louisiana.