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In these busy, busy days quick mid-week meals are the winners for me, especially if they’re full of flavour and taste like they were harder work than they really were. Oriental style dishes are perfect examples of this; stir-frying is as quick as it gets and the spices and flavours used really permeate the dishes.

This meal tonight was very much a store cupboard dish. Rob had bought some pork medallions when he went shopping – I love it when he brings something back unexpected like this; puts me in ready, steady, cook mode – and I thought I’d use some Chinese five spice on them but alas, there was no such spice lurking in the back of my cupboard. There was, however, a pot of schezuan pepper. Have spice, will travel; in this case to China. I added soy sauce, runny honey and garlic to the mix and marinated the pork for an hour before cooking it up and serving it with egg fried rice. Sure beats takeaway!

Soy, Honey & Schezuan Pepper Pork Medallions with Egg Fried Rice

Serves 2

For the Pork
300g Pork medallions
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon runny honey
2 garlic cloves, grated
1/4 schezuan pepper, crushed
Vegetable oil, for frying

For the Egg Fried Rice
200g long grain rice, quickly cooled and chilled
2 eggs
Vegetable oil, for frying

Start by marinating the pork. Add it to a shallow dish or a plastic food bag. Mix the soy sauce, honey, garlic and schezuan pepper together then pour it over the pork. If using a dish cover it, if using a food bag squeeze out the air then tie it in a knot. Put the pork into the fridge and leave it to marinate for at least an hour.

When you’re ready to cook the pork heat a little vegetable oil over a medium high heat and add the medallions along with the marinade. Cook them, turning once, for about 5 minutes each side (the time will depend on their thickness, mine were quite thick) until completely cooked through.

While the pork is cooking make the egg fried rice. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and then whisk them together and set them aside.

Heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a wok over a high heat and then add the rice. Stir fry it for a few minutes and then pour the eggs over the top. Continue to stir fry, mixing the egg into the rice, for a further few minutes or so until it turns lightly golden and is piping hot all the way through. Serve straight away with the pork.

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My grandparents had a box of buttons. It was a small cardboard box held together with sticky brown tape and it was filled to the brim with buttons of every shape and size you could possibly imagine. There were shiny metal ones; large brown ones perhaps once belonging to an old teddy bear; there were small prim white ones from a crisp cotton shirt; there were discs the colours of Smarties. Some were old with peeling surfaces, some were as bright as a pin and some still had cotton thread woven around their middles. I loved each and every one.

When our family came to visit my grandmother would beam down at my sister and me and ask ‘shall I get the box of buttons?’ and our eyes would widen a little as hers glinted and sparkled. You see, this box of buttons was no ordinary thing; it was a secret box of treasure that never failed to delight. We would sit cross-legged on the carpeted floor in front of the burning coal fire that kept this one room in the Victorian terraced house toasty warm and we would count out the buttons, one by one. The box seemed so deep that we would never find the bottom and I’m not sure that we ever did.

And let me tell you: that box held secrets. If those buttons could talk they would tell you stories that would transfix you and some that would make your hair curl. But rather than me tell you about it how about I show you? OK then, take my hand and let’s travel back.

Here we are then. Come down here with me in front of the fire by the rocking chair and make yourself comfortable. But before you do, would you pop to the cupboard under the stairs and pull out two cans of Shandy Bass? My grandmother always kept it in there as a special treat for my sister and me and we always felt so grown up with our ‘real beer’. Watch out for Cindy the cat, she’s blacker than night and hides in the shadows so be careful not to accidentally trip on her tail. Come back in quick and close the door to keep the drafts out, don’t mind the squeak. You’ll find glasses next to the Cream Sherry in the sideboard there, the one with the doilies on it just below the old cuckoo clock that my grandfather fixed. Right then, let’s take a look.

So many buttons. Where do we begin? How about with that small brown one there? It belonged to an A-line skirt that fell just below the knee, which took the number 6 bus to London town, to meet a friend who wore a fancy felt hat and carried a handbag full of hankies and mints. Do you see that oval button in the corner of the box, with the scalloped edges? It travelled through wind, rain and shine each day to the big department store where my grandmother worked when she was a young lady, and it was envious of the pretty pink button that went for tea and cream cake in the Lyons cornerhouse one sunny June day. And that proud, shiny button sitting on top adorned my grandfather’s army uniform and travelled over war-torn seas. What’s that you’re asking? What are those strips in the box? I do believe they are old leather swatches, perhaps to choose the cover for a sofa, but I couldn’t say for certain. I don’t know why they were kept in the box of buttons but what I can tell you is that they were the notes my sister and I used when we played shopkeepers with the button coins. Aren’t they colourful with their reds, greens and browns? Oh, look! That pearl button there belonged to the satin frock my grandmother wore the first time my grandfather took her dancing on a Saturday night. I wonder if she wore her favourite pink Yardley lipstick. What was it called…Camellia, perhaps, or Capri? She used to give me her old ones and I treasured them like gold. I can still smell their flowery scent now.

Look at that small brown button jumping up and down. He’s dying to tell us his stories. He knew lots of secrets, you see, learned each time he went to the top of the cinema on the corner of the high street where my grandfather worked the projector. In the dusty light beam that button saw the initials naughty little Jimmy carved into the back seat, the young couple kissing in the back row, the two old friends in their Sunday Best who never once missed their movie date, and Mr Robins sneaking in with the married lady from down the road.

So many buttons. I wish we had time for me to show you them all. But it’s time now for us to pick them all up and put them back in the box, close the lid and put them away until our next visit. Don’t worry, they’ll be there still, waiting, and shining.

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These days are about flinging the patio doors wide open and inviting the sunshine in, letting your skin breathe under the flimsiest of material, turning the radio up and singing along. They are about delicate salads of pea shoots and plump king prawns, radishes and asparagus with a warm chicken, a joint of lamb left to slowly brown and melt in the oven served with New Jersey potatoes and little gem lettuce. Simple, effortless, glorious.

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On these hazy days I’ve lost hours and hours, immersing myself in a lost love I’ve found again. How could I have let it go? I’ve picked up my pencils and paintbrush and begun art journaling once again. Ink, paint, pastel; whichever medium you choose, making a mark on paper and letting your imagination run free is wildly liberating. You can be yourself, you can empty your mind and your emotions out onto the page, you can release, you can heal. No one need see those pages but yourself, unless you want them to; you can make the craziest, childish art imaginable – in part, that’s the point. Try it: type ‘art journaling’ into a search engine or YouTube and make the discovery I made a few years ago. You’ll find so much inspiration out there from like-minded souls.

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Now in its fourth year, Nom Nom Nom is a MasterChef style competition giving the internet’s finest bloggers, food photographers and food writers the chance to compete against each other in a professional kitchen in London. On Sunday July 17th 2011, eight teams of two will shop around Marylebone for ingredients to make an office lunch for four people. This year I’ve been invited to be part of the judging panel which I’m very excited about. It will be great to see the event from the other side of the table as myself & cookery partner Sara Materini won the Judges vote of the first Nom Nom Nom in 2008.

The other judges include Tom Pemberton – Head Chef & co-founder of Hereford Road restaurant, Susan Low – deputy Editor of delicious magazine, and Darryl Healy – Head Chef of Riding House Cafe. Also everyone can get involved in a Viewer’s Choice vote.

As well as winning some amazing food & kitchen appliance prizes, the overall winners will have their food served for a week in Rosalind’s Kitchen – a new take out cafe in Little Portland Street, W1, so that West End office workers & shoppers can try out the winning lunch menus.

An online raffle will also give everyone the chance to win some fabulous prizes, with money raised going to Action Against Hunger.

For a chance to reach the finals and for full entry details visit Nom Nom Nom and submit your menu by Thursday June 30th 2011.

I hope lots of you will be able to join in the fun!

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Thank you all so much for entering the Cooking Gorgeous apron giveaway. A winning comment has been picked at random and I’m delighted to announce that Fiona has won! Fiona, an email is on it’s way to you giving details of how to claim your apron.

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I’ve teamed up with www.cookinggorgeous.com to offer you the chance to win a beautiful apron. All you need to do to is leave me a comment in this post by Friday 10th June. The winner (who will be picked at random) will receive one Mini Pinny OR Bottom Line apron of their choice. Competition open to UK residents only.

www.cookinggorgeous.com is also offering ‘A Slice of Cherry Pie’ readers 10% discount on all orders placed by 30th June. Simply quote the discount code in the box below. Discount code valid for all orders including those shipping internationally.

Good luck with the competition and happy cooking!

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