drawing on resources…the circumference of pie…

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Cooking has an architecture of its own. There is the extravagant rococo of chocolate confections, the classical pillars supporting towering wedding cakes, the painstaking science of molecular cuisine, the soft curving shells of magically set egg white and, in my case, the crude shack construction that concerns itself with being waterproof and not falling down. There is a roughness to my efforts at carpentry and construction that is clearly, but safely, reflected in my kitchen craft. Text books on both disciplines are unequivocal in the need for accuracy in measurement and quantity. Such accuracy is not in my remit, as the uneven paving stones and serpentine walls in the garden together with the ragged edge of pastry around the lip of the pie below will confirm. However, my kitchen disasters are, for the most part, a matter of profanity and dish hurling whereas falling walls may have a more terminal outcome. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but curds will never hurt me.

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Today’s enquiry into the properties of pie were concerned with circumference and volume. Having successfully made a set of six of Ottolenghi’s individual warm vegetable pies in a muffin tin, I yearned for a simpler way without losing the unforgettable flavour of his choice of spices and seasoning. One of the reasons that I eschew spending time watching television cooking programs, apart my parsimony with time as opposed to money, is the unbearable monotony of seeing the host’s flawless proficiency in each and every cooking skill. I yearn for burns, curses and even a few drops of chef’s blood due to a slip of the Sabatier….for fuck ups and collapsed whatevers…for a bit of that which happens to me. So, even though the solution of making a couple of larger pies rather than the six small ones may not seem ground breaking to you, dear reader, to me it was. Would there be enough pastry to line and put hats on the two oval dishes that I had chosen? Where should I start cutting to ensure I made the most of the rolled out paste? It should be simple but in the end I turned to profanity as my saviour, gave up and made one pie and one Palestinian Pasty.

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One of the joys of cooking is that it needn’t be fatal unless you’re very careless or unless you intend it to be so, in which case it is called “poisoning” and always ends badly for all concerned.  The same can be said of poorly proportioned concrete: a failed recipe that didn’t set resulting in the dam collapsing and lots of drowned people. The same cannot be said of pastry tailoring which is a relief to me and an object lesson to all of you who may be considering cyaniding Auntie Beryl or buying a dam from an innumerate.

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Posted in 2014, Art photography, Baking, Cooking, Digital photography, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Herbs and Spices, Humour, pastry, Photography, photography course, Pie, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Pear booty..

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Their curvaceous booty is reminiscent of a group of elderly matrons chilling on a sun kissed beach. As we know to our cost, appearances can be deceptive for this is not a remake of “Les Baigneuses” but a group of indolent young male pears who have left it too late. Green William has gone too far this time. Not only has he turned yellow but he also appears to be rotten to the core. These are the chaps who are left until last when teams are being picked, which is quite apposite for a pear as it’s at the moment of picking that it all starts to go downhill for Poire William. Having established their gender, the shape of these pears is more reminiscent of a certain William Bunter of Greyfriars School than the leaner Just William character, although both of them would have been found wanting in a team sport and I needed to mould these supine pears, grown soft through dolce far niente, into a cohesive group of bronzed flesh who would be remembered, by all that sunk their teeth into them, as Team Tatin. Getting their clothes off was no easy matter as they were clearly embarrassed by the fragility of their once firm flesh. Pears and humans have this frailty in common:  we turn our back on exercise and activity for what seems like a couple of seconds and before one can say “who shrunk my trousers” we’re as soft and fleshy as a pear’s booty.

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Slipping gently into sanity, I should mention that when a pear reaches this state of collapse it’s not worth coring with an apple corer. I’ve found that option to make life more difficult, leaving one with a handful of soft mush, so I peel them whole, halve them from the top down and scoop out the “pourriture” with a melon baller. This leaves the pear quarters in reasonable shape to get sticky and golden in a tin lined copper bath of sugar and butter. I used 50 gms of demerara and 50 gms of unsalted butter, which was half the amount suggested in the recipe…believe me, it’s enough. There is a time in cooking when even -featured handsomeness must be replaced by asymmetrical fabulousness….”beau laid”..which does not translate as well laid, as my plans never are. The confection that is born of this plan and pan is solely concerned with the enjoyment of flavour and texture. The pear quarters should cook slowly in the butter and sugar for a good 25 minutes and then the heat should be turned up for a further 15 minutes. It’s important that the pale and flabby slobs, that entered this copper gym, will pass out of it as bronzed pear gods prepared to be laid beneath a tart pastry, so short, as to make their eyes water.

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This pastry is as easy as it is short, both in creation and consumption. 140 gms of all purpose flour (not unbleached) and 105 gms of unsalted butter are processed together with a teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of iced water. Pulse the ingredients until they start to come together but do not let them form a ball. Put the pastry onto to some grease proof paper, flatten it into a disk and put in the fridge for at least an hour. This is a classic Pâte Brisée and there is nothing better in the world to show off Team Tatin at their best. Once the deeply coloured pears have been tipped into your chosen cooking utensil ( mine is a trusty old tatin tin ) cover them with a blanket of pastry, tuck them in and put them in a hot oven for 35 t0 40 minutes.

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The final moment of tarte tatin creation offers no hiding place. So many times have I been fooled by the simplicity of the instruction “place a large flat plate over the tin and quickly invert”. So few words for such a multiplicity of possible fuck ups. On occasion I have coated the kitchen, myself and the cat in a fast hardening layer of toffee, or looked at a still pristine white plate and then into the black depths of the pan to see sticky pears and pastry firmly welded onto lumps of charred sugar or just dropped the plate onto the tiled floor to create a fruit and toffee mosaic that will take the weekend to clear. Sometimes it’s perfect and they are good times. This time it was not perfect but it probably tasted better than any I have made before.

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Baking, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Fruit, Pears, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Poire William, tarte tatin, tarte tatin, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

turning a blind eye…..

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The apple on the left will never be the apple of the food buyer’s eye as the apple itself has eyes. In the eyes of the buyer those eyes are the eyes that blind the punter from picking it up and paying for it. What is demanded should be immaculate…without blemish…the eyes do not have it. In a world that is so profoundly, and contrarily, maculate we dream of the unmarked, of the smooth and lissome. Lumps and bumps are part of our frail human condition which we do our best to conceal, only baring them in the madness brought on by sun or gymnasium, but we are not keen on misshapen in others, or in things, and particularly not if  they happen to be others, or things, for which we are expected to pay. The huge, smooth and unreal Kardashian arse of food is the food buyers’ dream. Shiny and smooth, but in the tones and colours that food magazine editors have conspired to tell the punters are the colours of  real food or, in the argot of the zeitgeist, “heritage”. “Heritage” can have a lump here or wart there, one or two only, in the manner of Cindy Crawford’s beauty spot, but if it has then it better also have damn good tits to make up for it, which metaphor equates to there being a current and glowing testimonial from a culinary celebrity about whose opinions we give a flying….(  you will notice that I omitted the word “fuck” out of consideration for sensitive readers. You may remember that D.H. Lawrence was never as caring with his vocabulary which is probably why he had to content himself with writing rude stories rather than being a food buyer for S&M …..very good whipped cream, apparently.)

Posted in apples, Art photography, Bad Habits, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Humour, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

Getting a bit crusty with Ottolenghi…..

 

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As a rule, it is unusual for me to find either TV chefs or lumps of cooked egg white enjoyable. There’s a relentlessness about television presenters, that may well be part of their training, which serves to quickly remove any interest that I may have, or have had, in whatever they may be saying, teaching or selling. The lack of pause, of silence, is enervating and conducive only to my fumbling for the off switch on the remote control, whose batteries will be as flat as my expectations,  in a desperate attempt to eclipse the on screen hyperactivity that is threatening to make me never want to cook again.

Oeufs durs with anchovies and a well made mayonnaise can change the rule about lumps of egg white as can Yotam Ottolenghi change the other. In truth, I did not see him, for which I am glad as I didn’t have to suffer any disillusionment, but Jenny shouted up to me that she had just seen a chef make some wonderful vegetable filled pies and that I should look up the recipe on the internet which I did and which is how I came across this excellent recipe for the shortest of pastries encasing some miraculously flavoured run of the mill vegetables. The crust is made from butter, flour and sour cream which is a combination that I had never before tried but which produces a pastry as short as one made with lard whilst feeling more virtuous. One of the pleasures of this recipe is the silky feeling of the pastry in one’s hands. Curry powder, thyme, caraway seeds, ground cardomom, black mustard seeds, green chillis and garlic transform traditional root vegetables into something quite unexpected and, possibly, addictive. I’m keeping Mr.Ottolenghi in the same place as the other cookery writers that I admire….in my book shelves.

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Posted in 2014, anchovies, Art photography, Baking, Boiled eggs, Cheddar, Cheese, Cookery Writers, Cooking, creme fraiche, Eggs, Excellence, Expectation, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Herbs and Spices, Olive oil, Photography, photography course, Pie, Recipes, Vegetables, warm vegetable pies, Writing, Yotam Ottolenghi | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Roger Stowell prints for sale…new Print Store

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daily bread

Recent print sales have encouraged me to take a fresh look at my Landscape Print Store. My first step of changing the name to Print Store reflects the variety of  the new images that I have selected from my archives. The display of images on sale will be refreshed on a regular basis and please don’t hesitate to ask me for prints of any other images that you may have seen in previous posts.

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Photographic Prints | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at suppertime…

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Fall is a time when I need to pick myself up from the lazy carpet of summer on which I have been laying, ripening with age, for far too long this year. Long sunny days of rustic torpor are not conducive to mental exertion and, in the words of Hercule,  “ahhh yes, these little grey cells of the mind…they must be stimulated, mon ami”! So I decided to shoot myself. Sugar, a substance that I have only recently started to treat with the respect that it deserves, was to be the chosen silver bullet that would awaken the kraken in my brain which in turn would scare the shit out of the little grey cells and make them do something more than demand another glass of red or a quick nap on a deckchair. The chosen weapon was a cake, “three pear cake” to be precise, from “The Provence Cookbook” by Patricia Wells. My new found respect for the perils of sugar is manifested by the comparatively understated presence of sugar in our kitchen which scarcity flew in the face of the demands of this recipe. At first sight the sugar bullet is a medium calibre projectile specifically designed to hit the pleasure centres with a similar impact to that of being struck behind the ear with a stuffed seal (pace P.G.Wodehouse). It will daze you, but not put you down…..but it’s the addition of the sugar, egg and eau de vie glaze that is poured onto the cake, after its initial 40 minutes in the oven, and then replaced in the oven for a further 10 minutes to crisp and bubble. This small addition turns the gateau into a gator…a full metal jacket that would suit Vinnie Jones .50 Desert Storm in Snatch – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LgBA1jA2-mo  – beware:)

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Posted in 2014, Baking, cake, Cookery Writers, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Humour, Patricia Wells, Pears, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Three Pear Cake, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

egg tempera..ment

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Like a sun tanned Humpty Dumpty, I am cracked and broken. As with H.D, I am basically a good egg but fragile. The last few days have provided me with a cogent and flawless argument against the extension of the retirement age from physical labour. On reflection, maybe the flaw in the argument is that it touches more on the dangers of a late entry into physical labour rather than an early exit. I have done both and, of the two, the leaving was far sweeter.

The last few days have afforded me little time for writing or picture making. Lack of these outlets has allowed my mind, numbed with the repetitive dullness of the tasks in hand, to dwell on words remembered: annoying words remembered such as ” …if you drink milk you should be obliged to eat veal” as written by an established food writer in a Twitter conversation on “head to tail” eating. The main thrust of the argument centred on the premise that unless a person is willing to eat every part of an animal, including the offal, that person should not eat any of it”. The patronising morality that lays behind such didacticism is so ridiculously misplaced as to beggar belief. Aside from the fucking outrageousness of such bollocks (and very tasty tidbits they are too), there appears to be no conception that the milk drinker might well like to eat some veal if only he/she had the wherewithal to buy some of the stuff. I am a committed supporter of Fergus Henderson’s mantra but, if my memory serves me right, I saw no one but the well heeled during my many visits to the St.John in Smithfield some 13 years ago. This is no criticism of that or any other of his excellent restaurants, just a statement from my memory. The prime morsels of offal are not eaten by the short of a few bob. What they eat is “meat”. Very often the provenance and  type of “meat”  is uncertain and may well contain many of the pieces of offal that, unaware though they are of the obligation, they should indeed be eating. I am no friend of statistics, but I am fairly sure that the majority of people, at least the majority of those who are lucky enough to have the choice, eat meat out of laziness which is why Ronald’s outfits proliferate, why meat pie producers profit and why pubs are placed close to establishments offering the whirling doner dervish option. The amount of people who are considering, at a butcher’s counter this morning in the UK, whether to have lambs’ brains, calf’s head or sweetbreads for dinner tonight could be counted on the beads of food zealot’s rosary. My delicious spleen is now vented and I shall return to sanding and painting shutters ….after a glass of wine and slice of a very good tart. I’m not risking milk…..

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Posted in 2014, Baking, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Emotion, Excellence, Expectation, Farming, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, hypocrisy, Meat, Memory, Photography, photography course, Pie, tart, Uncategorized, Wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Angry birds…

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The glow of satisfaction in which to bask at the end of a hard day’s work is as elusive to me as a pretty chicken. After living in the French countryside for some years I am as far from conceiving what sort of unbearable loneliness brought about the colloquialism of “poule” for a lady of easy virtue as I am from understanding the pleasure of honest toil. Chickens and beauty go together like a peach and carriage and you mostly certainly can, and should, have one without the other. Work and basking have no contiguity in my experience. I have seen London road menders make a liaison of such opposites seem as natural as breathing, but these are the Shaolin of manual workers and it would take a lifetime of leaning on a shovel to come near to that trance like version of labour. I have used up most of a lifetime so I feel it would be wiser to avoid labour altogether rather than fall short of that flawless paragon. Jenny has seen the holes in what I assumed to be a water tight argument which means that, rather than continuing my pleasurable and sedentary quest for the link between poultry and pulchritude, I am condemned to continuing the search for the hidden link between sanding and painting heavy wooden shutters in the bright sunlight of an Indian summer’s day and basking in the satisfaction of laborious drudgery. At least a “poule” isn’t on her feet all day.

Posted in 2014, Bad Habits, Chicken, Digital photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, photography course, Poultry, Uncategorized, Weather, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Cat under a hot tin roof…

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The day before the one in question, we had become aware of another presence insinuating itself into the tranquil peace of our home. This is a rare period of the year when there are very few birds in the garden and so individual bird calls are more easily distinguishable. As I lay in bed in the early morning, hovering between sleep and waking, I found myself intently listening to the insistent song of a lone bird which was chameleon like in its similarity to a small cat crying. How varied and wonderful is nature, I reflected, as I slowly raised myself to start another day. The bird song, which continued, relentlessly, through the morning was beginning to lose its charm to the point when I knew who would kill cock robin. Looking up, I scoured the branches of the trees in the garden for the feathered pussy-tit, but to no avail. It was only as I looked down that I noticed a tiny creature looking up at me, perfectly imitating the bird song to which I had previously been listening.

Our married life has been filled with cats, all of them now dead. There must be an ethereal Boot Hill filled with cats who came and died at the Stowells. I am not good at being sad and each of these deaths caused me a great deal of  that emotion, to the point where I don’t want any more so I shouted at the tiny creature and shooed it out of the garden before it could take my heart. Jenny was already leading a clandestine Fifth Column in support of the kitten, ably supported by Nancy, but I stood firm and sung Kumbaya, even though my principal opinion of that anthem is that it sounds like a crap scrabble hand.

The last kitten free day dawned and I steeled myself to stand firm against the waves of cajolement and bribery. We had now noted that the kitten was outside the front of the house and closer inspection revealed that it was sheltering beneath our car, in which I was about to drive away on various commissions. Jenny came out of the house with me to ensure that the kitten was clear of danger before I set off but, although there was plenty of aural evidence to establish the presence of a kitten, there were no visual indications to confirm this. I lay prone on the road, moving in an organised fashion to examine each quarter of the terrain beneath the car to be sure that the little heart breaker was not  trying to end my marriage by purposely lying under a wheel. The all clear was sounded and I started the car but, even  over the engine noise, a cat’s crying could clearly be heard. A full cavity search of the interior of the car was undertaken and revealed nothing. I had a feeling that this kitten’s ancestors might well have been the most ingenious of “priest hole” designers who drove the searchers to such extreme ends of frustration that burning the whole house down was their only recourse. I duly started to stuff petrol soaked rags into the petrol tank but realised that I had things to do and places to go. I jumped to the stirrup, and Joris and he….I should have called him or her Joris, come to the think of it. Once in the saddle I restarted the car and yes, you’re right, the fucking miaouing was still going strong and seemingly very close to me and I wished that I didn’t care. I can never find the bonnet/hood  release because the name makes me think of Little Red Riding Hood/Bonnet and I forget what I’m doing. Once found, the release was released to reveal a tiny cat sitting on the air filter. Molly is now resident in our outhouse, where she lives in the lap of luxury. I think I shall get on very well with this cat as he/she ( we’re still not sure) looks as though it will be happy to live outside which is a sign of a very independent cat which I already love.

Posted in 2014, Digital photography, Emotion, family, Humour, Photography, photography course, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

A warm hand on your opening….

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The old ones are always the best and so it turned out to be with this elegant bottle of  1984 Chateau de Rayne-Vigneau Sauternes that I could no longer resist opening. One Christmas, some fifteen years ago, my cousin, who is also partial to glass of something good, put this bottle into my safe keeping. As a wine guard I would not be a first choice or, some would say, not a choice. The label, which still hangs around the neck of the bottle, reads “Roger/ This is a NON Christmas present. It needs a good home and I’m sure it will find one with you. Cheers, David” ..which is comparable to entrusting the NHS Blood Bank to Count Dracula or the Bank of Scotland to whoever it was entrusted. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? As rhetorical a question as ever there was, being that the answer is invariably “No bugger, they do what they like”.
And so it will come as no surprise to you to learn that this guard, who is quite good at doing what he likes, decided that it was time to set the contents of this bottle free. On a sunny Sunday in France, not too far from its birth place, the cork that in 1984 sealed in the genie of maturation was gently pulled from the bottle allowing the golden miracle within to take it’s first breath of the poisonous air that will kill it …..unless we drink it. Which we will, if only out of kindness.

 

Posted in Digital photography, Drinks, Excellence, family, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Miracle, Photography, photography course, Sauternes, Sauternes, summer, Sunday, Uncategorized, Wine, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments