I got the bleus..du ciel, de la mer..the summertime bleus.

It might surprise you to hear that I’ve been ranting quite a lot over the last day or two, although surprise may not be first among the emotions felt, by those of you who know me well, on hearing that unsurprising news. I’ve been ranting over WordPress.org’s user unfriendliness only to realise that it was this user who was being unfriendly to something that he hadn’t fully understood so I had to rant, quite vigorously, at myself. Self ranting is not half so much fun as self abuse so I must try to stop. A reduction in self ranting can result in airy calms which is something that I currently need, so I’m going to think about nice things and not about my photography website that now has no pages.

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I’m going to think of summer lunches, under cloudless blue skies, in an elegant courtyard on a tiny island off the coast of the Vendée..of butter basted, herb filled roast chicken with good bread, well dressed salad and chilled wine under the kind shade of a huge parasol…of pink slices of crisp skinned, garlic and anchovy spiked gigot served with thinly sliced potatoes that cooked beneath it and slowly soaked up the juices like we soaked up the sun….of family and good company…and of sea, sun and all the other good stuff…..and

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of Edward Hopper who was the influence for these pictures. I feel an airy calm coming on…..

Posted in 2014, anchovies, Art photography, Chicken, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Emotion, family, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, gigot, harmony, Humour, Ile d'Oleron, Mediterranean food, Memory, Photography, photography course, summer, Uncategorized, Vendee, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Who called the cook a cunt?

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Which knotty question is traditionally answered with the pithy response of: ” Who called the cunt a cook?”. The first time that I encountered that profane but apposite riddle was whilst making a television commercial for Nescafe in Athens in 1971APC (Ante Political Correctness)  when smoking was de rigueur and obscenities were the jewels that studded a well formed sentence. It was uttered in priestly tones by the lighting camera man, the response being taken up like Gregorian chant by the rest of the film crew sitting around the table in a mistakenly chosen restaurant in Athens. At that time I found it a very clear criticism of the plates of dreadfulness that had been placed before us and I still find it so in similar situations. Yesterday was such an occasion. I have opened this post with a gentle image of a sculptural, but unusual for our house, bunch of gladioli which our neighbour passed over the wall as a present for Jenny yesterday evening. Gladioli are forever Dame Edna Everage in my mind, but this morning they looked wonderful and not at all reminiscent of Moonee Ponds. But I digress. Back to the nub of the matter which is an encounter of the bad kind with Martha Stewart. Martha and I don’t go back a long way and I think that it’s going to stay that way. I first met her yesterday in the guise of her recipe for Nectarine Upside Down cake. Aside from deciphering the colonial measures of sticks and stones and cups and spoons, the recipe itself had all the twists and turns of Chinese political reform or implementing Obamacare. This might be a harsh judgement, but harshness is my middle name when I look upon the mistake that is this cake. I’m in the mood for blaming my tools which is a sure sign of having crap tools. In the words of  Steve Martin before he stopped being funny : “Curse these cake tins….I curse thee cake tin”. The essence of the recipe is a crisp butter and sugar coating on top of the pieces of nectarine that will be on top of the cake later on but are at the bottom of the cake while it is cooking which meant that all the molten butter and sugar leaked out of my accursedly ill fitting cake tin resulting in there being no crisp candy coating on the cake but a perfect glassy layer of superheated sugar on the oven tray thus fucking it up for ever.  Even if she had paid her taxes I feel she deserved some time in the pen for thinking of such a cu..silly idea.

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Posted in 2014, Baking, cake, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Fruit, Humour, Martha Stewart, nectarines, Photography, photography course, Sugar, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Aubergine the Über Gene….

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Whenever I forget what’s for dinner or, more precisely, realise that I have forgotten to make anything for dinner, I pray for the presence of an aubergine to be in the near vicinity or, ideally, in our kitchen. It is unusual for there not to be some fresh tomato sauce and some mozzarella but aubergines, in the summer, putrefy at an alarming rate. The deep purple swollen bull’s pizzle that one carefully selected from the market’s phallic array will soon darken and soften if not used quickly. How true that is of life, but back to the kitchen. This holy trinity of ingredients will, in time, become one but melanzane alla Parmigiana is a very slow affair which is a very good thing for both taste and contentment. Cooking with sensual ingredients is a great pleasure. Slicing the aubergine into even slices that are just the right thickness, a thickness that varies with each person who makes this dish regularly, entails a sharp knife and clean, straight cuts to reveal the slabs of palest green flesh rimmed with darkness that collapse onto the chopping board. A favourite frying pan, large enough to hold three big slices of aubergine, is on the hob. The dark base of the pan is shining with a   shimmering film of hot olive oil upon which the slices will gently burnish. The tomato sauce needs to be highly seasoned with garlic, chilli, salt, pepper, red wine and an overdose of deep green olive oil to make it shine with silkiness. A thin layer of this sauce is laid in the base of the cooking dish and the first slices of golden aubergine are placed on top of it and are sparingly seasoned with a pinch of sea salt and some  ground black pepper. A couple of slices of creamy, soft white mozzarella are laid on top of these and so the layers continue until the aubergine slices are all gone. Parmigiana cannot be left out of melanzane alla Parmigiana so remember to be generous when grating this wonderful cheese over the surface. Generosity is the key to this dish…generosity in flavour, care and time. Put the dish in a hot oven for 40 minutes or until it looks right for you. I serve it with some spaghetti olio, aglio e peperoncino.

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Posted in 2014, aubergine, buffalo mozzarella, Cheese, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Italian food, Mediterranean food, Olive oil, Parmesan, Parmigiana Reggiano, pasta, Photography, photography course, sea salt, spaghetti olio aglio, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 63 Comments

…and thyme rich

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In my previous post I had availed myself of a metaphor which placed me in a kitchen, vigorously removing the seeds from a pomegranate with blows from a wooden spoon, whilst dressed in a white Dior sheath dress and which, not surprisingly, engendered some searching comments, one of which suggested that I might be a mixture of Jamie Oliver and Conchita Wurst and, as such, could make a mint. This missed career opportunity made me reflect on my lack of “mint” and, equally, on my wealth of thyme. Before you, or I, could say cherry tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella on a puff pastry base scattered with small branches of thyme, there it was, on a table in the garden, enhanced by a profusion of lavender in the background and still sitting on the handsome cloth that had carried it outside, piping hot, from the oven . Breathless and dressless stuff.

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Posted in 2014, baking, Baking, buffalo mozzarella, Cheese, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Garden, Humour, Kitchens, Lavender, lavender, Mint, tart, Thyme, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

Time rich…

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I spent all of yesterday afternoon melting some onions and tomatoes for a tortilla. It takes time for onions to melt into an incomparable sweet savoury fondant and more time for tomatoes to transform into  a sticky palate stinging jam. Luckily I can afford it. Saving has never been in my remit but somehow I have amassed an enormous reserve of time. I have certainly wasted enough of it but but it seems to have been replaced by my high interest rate.

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Melting onions can be very well behaved which good behaviour they displayed yesterday. Owing to these paragons I was able to avail myself of another slice of time savings to recreate a summer salad that had impressed me when I first saw it on a wonderful blog - http://mapleandmiso.com/2014/06/24/courgette-with-tahini-yoghurt/ – that I urge you to visit. Although the dish in Maple and Miso’s blog travels under the name of  Courgette with Tahini Yoghurt, it’s the fresh peas and broad beans that initially caught my fancy, along with the outrageously silky combination of greek yoghurt, tahini, sumac and olive oil. Over the passing years I had lost faith in fresh peas which, on each occasion that I had eaten them, never seemed to have retained the sweet pea taste of my childhood memories. However, I relented and bought a handful of fresh peas and the same of broad beans together with the first pomegranate that I have bought since God was a boy. A pomegranate in the hand is worth sending all your clothes to the dry cleaners in the vain hope of removing the stains. However, in the back of my mind rang clear the words of none other than Andy Harris, that doyen of pomegranate seed removal. “Cut the bugger in half and whack it on the back with a wooden spoon”. Unbelievably it worked like magic. The perfect little jewels shot out of their shell and landed harmlessly in the bowl beneath. I could have been dressed in a white Dior sheath dress and no one would have been any the wiser about my close encounter with the stain of pomegranate juice although pomegranates would not be the first concern if such an encounter were to occur.

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This salad was so much more than I had expected. I strongly recommend that you go to the blog of Maple and Miso for the recipe….and for all their other delicious recipes.

Posted in 2014, Andy Harris, Art photography, beans, Cookery Writers, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Garden, Herbs and Spices, Olive oil, Pea Pods, Peas, Photography, pomegranate, Recipes, Shopping, Sumac, Tahini, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments

Hot day, blazing chillies, cold pasta…

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Eating outside on a hot, still day, in the shade of the house is a pleasure that I keenly anticipate throughout the winter months. Most enjoyable of these moments are the impulsive, unpremeditated occasions when it just seems like the right moment. The preparation for the pre-arranged dinner al fresco is fraught with doubt and anxiety, whereas walking out of the door, into the buzzing silence of a summer’s afternoon, with a freshly prepared plate of something simply delicious in your hand is a confirmation that all is right within the small world that is today’s happiness.

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Making the right amount of pasta is one of the great oxymorons. There is no right amount only a wrong amount. It’s always too little or too much. If some pasta is left over it will be because you made too much and if none is left over it will be because you made too little, not because you made the right amount. So, it appears that I made too much last night. A friend of mine, an Italian, gave me some good advice many years ago about left over pasta and the advice was to eat it cold as a salad.

Last night I had made a larder pasta sauce based on a small amount of good tomato sauce which needed using. A red pepper was close to giving in to the weather and had be sliced and very slowly cooked in a pan with olive oil. I didn’t skin it, but cooked the thick slivers until the skin side had burnt edges and the flesh had melted. In another pan, translucent discs of thinly sliced garlic together with a chopped bird’s eye chilli were infusing the warm olive oil that surrounded them. The peppers and tomato sauce were added to the garlic and chillies, along with the oil from the red pepper pan. The mixture sat over a low heat until the pasta was cooked, drained and stirred into it. A dish of fresh breadcrumbs from a cereal loaf were sprinkled over and stirred into the deliciously entwined pasta threads.It was a bowlful of this chillied delight that caught my eye as I opened the fridge. I moistened it with some more olive oil, left the kitchen and within a few moments I was seated at a shady table on my favourite terrace.

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Italian food, Olive oil, pasta, peppers, Photography, photography course, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Weather, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Bull’s eye…

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“Beware of the Bull” could well serve as a health warning against excessive trust in Government. Here, in my apolitical, if occasionally apoplectic, life it means what its says: be careful of the big, dangerous fucker who has the power to gore, trample and terminate me on a mere whim or, with absolute certainty, should madness descend, and I decide to antagonise the beast until it cuts up rough . On the other hand it could just watch me with a disinterested baleful eye and do absolutely nothing. So….very like Government.

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Posted in 2014, Digital photography, France, French countryside, Humour, Landscapes, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments

While Eve delved Adam watched and criticised..

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Overshadowed by Eve’s magnificent crop of lavender sits Adam’s humble bowl of wild rocket. The difference in effort and application is clear, but the paltry handful of leaves garnered by  Adam’s scissors produced a fiery summer salad whilst the tumble of lavender still awaits a purpose. On the other hand, lavender is scented and looks wonderful……very like Eve.

Posted in 70's, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Garden, Gardening, Herbs and Spices, lavender, Photography, photography course, Rocket, Still life, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 51 Comments

looking for somewhere nice to go for a drink?

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Within a few paces of the garden gate lies a peaceful refuge in the true chauvinist spirit of France. In the baker’s dozen of years that I have passed in this hamlet I have yet to see a female in this “cave”. This is a fact that needs no apology as there is no exclusion, just a distinct lack of interest or desire on the part of the distaff side of this tiny community. It would be similar to excluding me from a football ground as the only way that I would consider entering such a place would include dragging and wild horses.

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On hot days, or indeed cool and rainy days, a conversation started with my neighbour could very well end in the cool of his “cave”. In the cluttered peace of this comfortable shambles we will not talk of sport, tits or politics. We might discuss the level of alcohol in the “épine” that is macerating in a large black plastic dustbin in the corner into which he’ll plunge a small glass and draw up a slightly cloudy pale pink draught for me to taste. We’ll talk of today, yesterday and tomorrow. The racks are full of bottles of nothing particularly special…samples of his friends’ distillations and wines for the most part. Boxes of wine, of the supermarket variety, fill the spaces between trays of apples in the old fridge and are piled up on shelves behind the newly constructed bar. Aside from this simple selection of wine, we have chairs, a table and a lead square on the floor for playing “palets” which leaves very little wanting save for Omar’s loaf of bread and thee.

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Posted in 2014, aperitif, apples, Art photography, Digital photography, Drinks, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, friendship, Fruit, harmony, lifestyle, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Vendee, Wine, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

the smell of the cooking, and the roar of the cook….

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I’ve had a quiet day cooking on my own. The cooking was quiet but the peace was spoiled by someone talking to himself. Being alone in the house does not spare me from myself. My mistake lies in turning on the radio which allows uninvited opinions into my kitchen and mind. I very nearly wrote “wireless” which terminology used in relation to our wire strewn house would have been as far from the truth as the opinions to which I was allowing myself to listen. In company, it is polite to consider the worth of another person’s opinion but, when engaged in solitary cooking, there is no right opinion save for one’s own and how invigorating that is. It can be very difficult listening to these misguided opinions over the volume and vigour of my onanistic diatribe, but as each presenter becomes progressively more enraging I have to spur myself on to keep up the tirade. How I love the hiss and boo of one sided argument. In the midst of this onslaught my cooking mind remains calm and focused. Should there be another person, incarnate, in the kitchen during these outbursts, things can go badly wrong. As long as the people remain ethereal I can continue my philippic without burning the cakes.

Today, there were no cakes to burn. Summer cooking eschews cakes, or it eschewed them today as I had a kilo of cherries that seemed hell bent on getting stoned and throwing themselves into a light syrup of  rosé wine. This is a wonderfully simple dish that can be served warm or cold, in crystal or in an empty glass yoghourt pot, and which never fails to please. I have been told by an old wife that cherries are good for gout, so I shall be eating as many as possible. I didn’t confer with the old wife as to whether cooking them in rosé could reduce their anti gout properties…..I knew her opinion would only get me going again.

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This is a very delicious recipe from the pen of Mary Cadogan
Cherries in Rose wine

Posted in 2014, cherries, Cherries in rose wine, Cherries in rose wine, Cookery Writers, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, Drinks, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Humour, Mary Cadogan, Photography, photography course, Recipes, summer, Uncategorized, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments