willow pattern

moroccan fruit tagine

When I run out of new ideas (and haven’t been shopping for ages) I turn back to my trusty friend Claudia Roden for dinner inspiration.

For example, yesterday I only had 2 onions, some chicken, a bunch of parsley and a bowl of fruit in my kitchen. Oh and some tomatoes and fennel – but I didn’t use those …

And a cupboard overflowing with spices …

What to cook?

I just leafed through ‘A New Book of Middle Eastern Food’ until I found a suitable recipe.

A few tweaks, and this is what I made.

Moroccan Fruit Tagine

3 chicken breasts (Claudia suggests a large roasting chicken, jointed, but I just had 3 chicken breasts …)
2 onions, finely chopped
3 tablespoons of parsley, chopped
2-3 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Salt and pepper
500 grams peeled, cored and sliced fruit.  You can use apples, pears, quinces, fresh dates, raisins or prunes. I chose pears.

Put the chicken, onion and parsley in a saucepan and cover with water. Add the butter and ginger and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil then simmer for an hour. The sauce should be reduced and the onions disintegrated.


Here we are after nearly an hour with the chicken cooking and the sauce reducing. Nearly ready for the fruit.

Then add the sliced fruit and simmer until just tender.  Only about 5 minutes for the pears.

Serve with rice or cous cous or flatbread to dip in to the sauce.

Sounds good. Looks interesting.  Tastes great.

We ate it with rice.  

Oh, I love Claudia. I really do!


dining blue


If you are looking for something to collect that doesn’t take up too much space and gives your second hand shopping a purpose, then how about table cloths?   I have a whole cupboard of them that I use whenever we have visitors.

I have big table cloths for our formal dining table, and mid sized ones for our round kitchen table, and then I also collect small table cloths to go over the top and create layers. Layering if a very handy approach to dressing the table, because then if they aren’t quite the right size, you can have another one poking out underneath … like it’s meant to be.

And, if sometimes they have stains (mine NEVER DO of course, OTHER PEOPLE have just mentioned this idea to me …) you can hide them with a smaller cloth.

Yesterday I set the table with a blue theme.


I used my trusty favourite underneath – it is a 60s or 70s cloth, with big blue and green flowers in mid tones.  It has a white background.  Over the top I put my new white table cloth with the small blue pattern.  From a distance the pattern looks like it has been hand stitched, but in fact it is just printed onto the fabric.  I can’t remember, but I think this came from the tip shop …

I set the table with my willow pattern china which I have been collecting along the way, and I put out matching plates and boring old Maxwell Williams round bowls that I purchased new years ago.  And I also put out the rectangular small trays with edges that I picked up from the trash and treasure stall at our school fair this year.

Then I just had to cook something …

rhubarb relish

rhubarb chutney - thesecondhandcity.com

My latest collection (that I have actually started and now have enough to use) is willow pattern china.

Two years ago I started a collection of large rose patterned china (any colour, just large roses), and I found some great Johnson plates and my sister bought me a beautiful secondhand dinner set in this theme with pink roses.  Unfortunately it wasn’t that friendly with my dishwasher, and I ruined a lot of it.  The lovely old roses have faded and nearly disappeared on some pieces.

So, in 2014 I officially abandoned that collection for every day use (I threw some of it out but I still have the better pieces in my cupboard for special ‘hand washing’ occasions) and have moved on to blue and white, with a willow pattern base.  Hardy, dishwasher proof and lovely!

I am not too fussy about where it comes from.  I have some Johnson pieces and some Churchill pieces.  I have also mixed in a bit of plain white and matching blue and white (dishwasher safe) pieces while I build the willow pattern collection.

The picture above shows ones of my dinner plates, out with the rhubarb relish I made for Christmas.  We ate this relish on Christmas day with our roast beef and I also gave jars away as presents.

My mum loved it.  She returned her jar before the holidays even ended and asked me to make some more.  As we now have some more rhubarb in the garden I think I might.

Here is the recipe just in case it you have some rhubarb too!

Rhubarb Relish

2 cups chopped rhubarb

2 cups finely chopped onion

2 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 cup red or white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon cloves

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Put all these ingredients in a pot on the stove and cook for 30 minutes.  Bottle.  Voila!