Radio daze

Jane Pikett enjoys lunch with Metro Radio breakfast presenter Anna Foster

Anna Foster has just dropped her roasted pine nuts all over the kitchen floor. Her mother, Felicity, is doing a grand job sweeping them up while Anna and I try to get Henry the dog (sorry, small pony) back into the house. He’s quite excited. And very big.

Welcome to lunch at Anna’s lovely home in the County Durham countryside, where the crockery doesn’t match (her oft-repeated lament; I am honestly not the sort to notice), the food is absolutely delicious (despite her protestations that she is no great cook), and the company is so good I stay all afternoon.

Well, how often do two working mothers of three get to sit down to lunch and call it work? Not often enough, we agree.

Henry the dog is a Weimeraner. A very large Weimeraner and, at two years old, still full of puppy love.

Felicity, who is known as ‘Licity is the sort of mother everyone should have (yes, I asked, and no, she is not up for adopting adult orphans with a full package of kids and dogs of their own) takes Henry to her house round the corner so Anna and I can relax, which in our vocabulary means wine, so that’s nice.

Anna keeps apologising for the food, though I can’t work out why; garlic roast vegetable and griddled halloumi salad with warm pitta bread, tzatziki, hummus, olives, home-grown tomato and basil salad, home-grown grated carrot salad, chilled Marlbrough Savignon Blanc. Sorry, but how delicious is that on a Tuesday lunchtime? And no kids! I mean, really, this is not work…

And… we even have pudding! Okay, it’s bought, but Gu mini mango and passion fruit cheesecake is so good you could easily get away with decanting it into your own dishes and passing it off as your own (clearly, I wouldn’t dream of it).

By the time Peter the photographer arrives, we’ve eaten most of the salad, which is a bit embarrassing because he’s had nothing since breakfast. “Oh God, oh God, you have to eat something,” says Anna, leaping up. Eggs? Yes, eggs. Scrambled, yes?” He is persuaded.

“Scrambled eggs made with Lurpak, no milk; Steven my husband, who’s the cook of the house, taught me that. How many eggs? Five? Six?”

The eggs are good (I too am a convert to the no milk brigade) and the photographer is happy, which is always a good idea when you’re about to have your photo taken.

She’s a good sport, is Anna. If you’ve heard her on the radio, you’ll know she manages to be sparky no matter how early in the morning, though after seven years of getting up at 4.30am for work, she’s ready for a rest and will hang up her Metro Radio breakfast show headphones in March.

Her new slot is under wraps for the time being, but it can’t fail to be more sociable time-wise for her. “I have loved breakfast, but it is time for a change,” she says.

She describes her home life as chaotic but fun, which will be familiar to anyone who works and has three school age kids and a big dog. Mum and Dad around the corner are gems, absolute gems, and their village is blessed with a good pub. “Great fish and chips,” she says.

Jamie, 13, Zara, 11, and Jasmine, nine, are blessed with a mum who cares what they eat (“no packet stuff, apart from Friday nights, when we eat in front of the telly. Fajitas are a favourite”) and a Dad (fireman Steven) who is a great cook. And their grandparents grow fantastic fruit and veg.

“Thank God,” says Anna. “There is nothing – nothing – like food from the garden. It’s just beautiful, and I’m obsessed with getting loads of good fruit and veg into the kids.”

Does she like her food? “Oooooh, yes! I love food. I’ve been doing boot camp for a few months, thank God, and managed to drop a couple of dress sizes. It’s bloody hard; the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it’s worth it because it means I can eat, and I do sooooo love to eat!”

Mind, she has to eat some strange stuff. Whereas pre-boot camp, breakfast never happened, it’s now a big protein shot at 8am. “Hmmmm, a can of tuna or some chicken at 8am. Yum,” she says, wrinkling her nose. “It works, though!”

Carbs are rationed big style (apart from today), so there is particular pleasure taken in our rule-breaking lunch.

Steven, who is young (42), fit and healthy, had a double heart bypass two years ago, which was something of a shock, so healthy food is even more important in this household. “Hence the obsession with fruit and veg,” Anna says. “I wish I could be vegetarian, but I love bacon. I can’t eat steak, though, because I talk to the cows in mum’s field.”

Anna loves to cook when she isn’t stressed with kids, homework, and a dog. “I wouldn’t say I’m accomplished by any means, but what I do cook tends to turn out okay. Mind, baking scares the crap out of me and I have to cover my cakes in fudge or icing to disguise them. How do you get them to rise? I don’t understand!”

She also claims to be a chaotic, messy cook (no more than anyone else on the evidence of her kitchen this day) but she likes to have people round for informal kitchen suppers; her winning staple being baked ham with gratin Dauphinoise potatoes and home-grown veg. “Easy, and everyone likes it,” she says.

Curries are also a staple. In fact, mum Felicity spent her first 13 years living in India and has passed her talent for Indian cooking down to all four of her children.

“We’re a big food family and everyone cooks, and they’re all better at it than me,” says Anna, whose self-deprecation in the kitchen knows no bounds, covering everything from the mess (minimal, in my opinion), the non-matching plates (who cares?), the standard of the food (which is delicious). Clearly, the rest of the family are domestic goddesses beyond compare.

And she’s got some neat tricks of her own (chocolate in chilli, sugar in curry) and admits she can make a good hot chocolate brownie cake (Nigella) and banoffee crumble, which she suspects is Delia, but can’t quite recall. Oh, and as mentioned, her scrambled eggs are good.

Probably because breakfast is a strange affair for a breakfast host, particularly one on a boot camp regime, family weekend breakfasts are a big deal in this house; the full cooked with local sausages, lots of toast and marmalade and good coffee. “I can definitely make a good breakfast,” she says.

“If I didn’t work, I have this image of me having this wonderful life like my sister-in-law in Italy, where everything she serves is fresh and completely delicious, all very Nigel Slater and Delia. That’s the kind of woman I want to be; in my dreams!”

The huge kitchen fridge is crammed with good food – lots of fresh veg from mum and dad’s garden, hummus, loads of cheese (“Oh God, I love cheese sooo much!”), loads of condiments.

“Oh my God, I cooked with Jean Christophe Novelli last week. The mind boggles what he’d make of it,” she says, as if whipping up a quick snack with Jean Christophe happens every day.

“We were both doing things at Alnwick Food Festival and I ended up on stage with him, assisting with this fantastic apple tart thing. And he used packet puff pastry! I couldn’t believe it! He wrapped it round a whole apple with spices and stuff and just baked it. I said how delicious it was, though if I’m honest there was too much cinnamon, but you can’t really say that, can you?”

Anna says her mother planted her love of food and that the food at her boarding school in North Yorkshire, which was run by her parents, was fabulous because her mother insisted it must be so. “It was wonderful, fantastic nursery food,” she says. “Shepherd’s pie, big roast dinners, and an incredible Cornflake cake.”

So what’s the signature dish she’s inherited from her mother? “Oh, that’s a tough one, there are so many, but chocolate schnitzel cake is a favourite and everyone in the family does it. It’s easy – you just melt butter, cream, cocoa and icing sugar in a pan, then add an egg and pour it all over broken rich tea biscuits in a tin and keep layering until you use it all up, then just leave it to set.”

And the one she will pass down to her kids? “Nigella’s chocolate brownies, and a family tradition for fajitas on a Friday night, followed by a movie with big bags of Maltesers.”

Favourite cafes and restauants? Blake’s coffee shop in Newcastle for the fish finger sandwiches, Café Neon in Newcastle for the Greek mezze, the Punchbowl pub in Edmundbyers for fish and chips, and the Royal in Ocean Road, South Shields for Indian.

She insists – insists – there must always be cheese in the house (“any and every cheese – Dolce latte, mature cheddar, halloumi – everything”), and Heinz baked beans, which she customises with balsamic vinegar, or curry powder, or just a lump of Lurpak on the top (“butter always has to be Lurpak”).

There has to be Heinz ketchup, Mary Berry’s dressings (we have the original on our gorgeous salad), wine (Shiraz and Chablis) and lager (San Miguel), and tea. Anna is a big Earl Grey drinker. With milk. “Sorry, that’s wrong, isn’t it?

“I’ll put the kettle on, shall I? Sorry, the mugs don’t match. Who wants the Cadbury’s Flake mug and who wants the Tyne and Wear Fire Service one? Oooh, here’s my Weimeraner mug. I love that.”

The mugs emerge from a wall cupboard that is too high for the 5ft 1” Anna to reach, so she has to climb aboard the white Corian worktop. She and Steven added the contemporary black gloss kitchen with its big silver Whirlpool fridge and black gloss table a few years ago.

“I love it, even if I can’t reach the wall cupboards,” she says, “and even though nothing matches. Look! I love this little Alessi pepper shaker, but no-one’s ever bought me the salt one. That about sums it up.”

And if she could choose her last meal on earth? Oh God, that’s hard! I guess it would be Colman’s fish and chips (South Shields) with mushy peas and – sorry about this, it’s gross – curry sauce on the side, followed by sticky toffee pudding with custard and vanilla ice cream, and a big slice of hot chocolate fudge cake.

If it hadn’t been for her love of food, and her curves, she would have loved to have been a ballet dancer. “But can you imagine the diet?” Or a classical singer – she is classically trained and does sing with a couple of guys. “We don’t have a name or anything, which is a bit stupid,” she says, “but we do quite well, and I absolutely love it.

“Oh, sorry, pudding! Now, I’m really sorry but it’s bought and the spoons don’t match. Do you think I should have tipped them out and put icing sugar on top and claimed I made them? Oooh, mind they’re good, aren’t they?”

They are. And several cups of tea later, we are still there, which is just as a working lunch should be, shouldn’t it?

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