The first thing they did on arrival was to have another breakfast. Just as if she had known what they would like Bella had made popovers for them; as well there was the most amazing fruit. Blueberries, the size of gooseberries, served with thick cream. Purple figs. Little cantaloupe melons cut in half and iced...
The Painted Garden, Noel Streatfield
When I was twelve, we won a competition at our local shopping centre. We could claim the prize in any store we liked and, at my stepfather's urging, mum bypassed the grocery store, and the furniture store, and instead walked straight into the travel agent, where she purchased four return flights to Europe. Six months later, we landed at Heathrow Airport, and spent the next three weeks travelling through the English countryside, before visiting Paris, Tuscany, and finally London. It was a formative trip for me; the beginnings of a sense of certainty that this is where I was meant to live. Just under ten years later, I made the move permanent.
This month, I am on another trip, with the children I am a nanny for. We have come to Santa Barbara, California, in search of Vitamin D, and the feeling of sand between our toes. We’ve spent the past weeks alternating between laying our towels on beaches, and putting on our trainers and hiking up into the hills. We’ve made tacos, and found fields of wildflowers, and stopped to listen to water rushing over rocks. It’s been heavenly, so good that all our big plans for heading out of town for a couple of days have fallen by the wayside, and we’ve instead attempted to explore every corner of Santa Barbara.
This is my first holiday with children, and it's a completely new experience. I have found that I’ve been emulating my dad: reading The Hobbit with them on lazy afternoons, building sand sculptures around them on the beach, and bribing them with stories and a backpack full of snacks when we venture out on hikes.
While here, on the back of several enthusiastic Twitter recommendations, I have read The Painted Garden. It’s about an English family who travel to California for the winter, after the family doctor prescribes their father a generous dose of sunshine. Like so many of Noel Streatfield’s young characters, the siblings are artistically talented: Rachel studies ballet and Tim is a gifted pianist. Jane often feels out of step with her brother and sister, but it is she who is cast as Mary Lennox in a film version of The Secret Garden, after a chance encounter with the Hollywood director who lives next door.
Their journey from London to Los Angeles, on the Mauretania, and then across the country by train, is quite an adventure. It ends, once they finally arrive at their aunt’s home on the West Coast, with the most incredible sounding breakfast. These popovers, which they try for the first time on the train to Chicago, are a welcome to their new home. And so, in our temporary home in Santa Barbara, I had to make a batch. They’re Yorkshire puddings, really, by another name, but the idea of having them with jam for breakfast is a new one I’ll be adopting going forward.
60g unsalted butter
220g plain flour
Fruit compote (equal quantities berries and sugar, brought to a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes)
Deep muffin tray
Mixing bowl or jug
1. Preheat the oven to 220C. Once the oven is at temperature, generously grease the muffin pans, then distribute the rest of the butter between the 12 pans. Put the tray on a low rack in the oven to heat up for a couple of minutes. Keep an eye on it; you don't want the butter to burn.
2. Tip the flour and salt into the bowl and make a well in the centre. Crack in both eggs. Whisk to incorporate some of the flour into the eggs, but don't mix in all of it, or the mixture will become lumpy. Tip some of the milk into the centre, and continue incorporating the flour. Once you have poured all the milk in, whisk a final time.
3. Pull the tray out of the oven, being careful not to splash the butter. Fill each pan 2/3 full with batter, and quickly transfer the tray back the oven, on a low shelf.
4. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 180C and bake for a final 15 minutes. Don't open the oven to check them, or they'll deflate. Eat immediately with honey, jam, or any other breakfast spread you fancy.