so much hot air…….

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There is always a something that I’m meaning to do. This “always” is not the “always” of heated argument, which “always” is used to define the occurrence of fractious and irritating  behaviour in another when the red mist prevents accurate recall. The “always” to which I refer is the “always” of as far back as I can remember, which distance is  variable, depending on perceptual wind and tide. A useful cerebral fog often arises to obscure the tedious or unpalatable, miraculously clearing to reveal the agreeable and pleasurable. Thus ” I’ve been meaning to pay the electricity bill” is shrouded in an impenetrable pea souper whilst “I’ve been meaning to polish off that bottle of Côte Rôtie” is bathed in sunshine with gentle blue seas lapping at its shores. As I slip farther and farther into the quicksands of irresponsibility and contentment the things that I’m meaning to do generally taste very good.

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I have a large, lever arch file that is filled with things that I mean to do….they are all recipes.I also mean to put them together in book form but there is still a slight mist obscuring the details of that intention.Each time I open the file and start to flip through the massed recipes, like a close magic card trick, a particularly simple recipe for an omelette soufflé, by Rachel Khoo, is the first one to catch my imagination.

Omelette Soufflé by Rachel Khoo
4 eggs, separated
a pinch of salt
1 tbspoon of butter

Preheat the oven to 180C. Put the egg whites and salt into a bowl and beat until stiff. In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks for a minute. Fold half the egg whites into the yolks until evenly incorporated and then fold in the rest. Heat the butter in a frying pan ( that can go in the oven) over a medium heat until it sizzles and then pour in the eggs.Spread them quickly over the bottom of the pan with a palette knife and cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes before placing them in the oven for a further four minutes, until puffed up and golden.

I should mention that my version was made with only one egg….to fit in my small pan for a midday collation. It worked wonderfully.. and I omitted any smoothing with a palette knife which looked better to my eyes.

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This perfect little omelette no longer remains among the things undone. One down, infinity to go….

Posted in baking, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, omelette, omelette souffle, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Rachel Khoo, Recipes, souffle, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Those damn waves flopping in all day…..

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There is a moment in “One Eyed Jacks”, a film directed by Marlon Brando, in which the title lines of this post are used to suggest the boredom imposed by peaceful seclusion on a perfect Californian beach. As the words are mouthed by a black hat, we, the cinema audience, had no trouble in seeing the irony as Marlon seemed jolly happy, albeit recovering from a severe horse whipping and whilst nursing a smashed gun hand. That’s Marlon for you.

When, with age, the names of the days of the week lose the significance that was once accorded them, by the demands of family life and work schedules, the ineluctable passage of time is less noticeable and certainly less important. Spending the time to watch a tiny speck being overtaken by the slow, soft waves breaking onto the shore was unnoticeable time spent unimportantly……that moment will never happen again but a better one is happening now.

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Digital photography, France, French countryside, Landscapes, Landscapes, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

buzzing….

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I remember reading, in a book whose name I have now forgotten, of how the human voice resembles the senseless buzzing of an insect to the ear of a cat. Whether this opinion was gleaned from a cat or from the writer’s imagination is irrelevant as human voices often sound that way to me. The radio buzzes throughout the day, its meaning rarely penetrating the incessant interference of machines and taps and the clatter of the kitchen. Words that interest and appeal seem to be able to shimmy through this net of confusion and so it was that I heard the words ” unstructured leisure time” which sounded very like my present life. The thrust of the diatribe, from which I plucked these words, was that the leisure time of children today is filled with piano lessons, tennis lessons, riding lessons, invitations to parties, cinemas, sleepovers, team games, and theme games: there is no unstructured time where they just have nothing to do but imagine without commitment…without winning or shining. I had that in my childhood and I don’t think I ever got out of it…maybe it’s why I feel it so acutely now and why it is so important to me.

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Posted in 2014, Art photography, Digital photography, France, French countryside, harmony, Landscapes, lifestyle, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Going down to the sea again…

fishing pier..

fishing pier..

Today I’m heading off to the Anse d’Aiguillon to teach a landscape photography course. These two images show the  subtle beauty that makes this area one of my favourite locations. Both pictures are available at the Print Store

low tide ....

low tide ….

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Seeing for the first time, not understanding and being content…

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This image bears a resemblance, if not immediately apparent, to myself staring in wonder at the emptiness of the blank page. Whether with pencil, pen, paintbrush or poised finger tips I find my self frozen in attendance of the admonitory tones of my cerebral GPS which will make it clear to me to carry on, or make a U turn or just give me a clue as to where I am or where I could be going. Howard Hodgkin, the renowned painter, has said that he may spend a long, hard working day looking at a white wall. The white wall beats me every time. As an image maker, when my world has gone blank, I have to look to words to find where my pictures are coming from and as I looked up from that exercise  the cat was having a Pauline moment. This was his first sight of fire. As with my white wall there was no understanding but there was contentment which is as hard to find as inspiration.

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A cake named Joan …

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Bakewell is to be found in Derbyshire as well as in the name of a celebrated jam filled, almond flavoured confection but, for me, Bakewell will forever be associated with crumpets. Joan Bakewell is an English journalist,  television presenter and Labour Party Peer who, being both highly intelligent and beautiful, was christened by the Press, of another time, as ” the thinking man’s crumpet”. I like crumpets, cogito ergo sum and I’m a man which combination makes Bakewell irresistible. The dangers of sugar are as nothing when compared with the wrath of those who, today, would consider such a soubriquet as deeply denigrating, so I will stay on the side of the angels and speak sweetly. The Bakewell of which I now speak would be too sweet for words were it not for the tartness of raspberries that gently brings it to heel just before your teeth start to drop out. The baker’s art owes a great deal to appearance but, as if to confirm the truth in the caveat to not judge a book by its cover, disappointment so often waits just below the thin ice of the sugar coating. Having not resisted temptation and broken the ice we are, on occasion, confronted by the soullessness of poor cake that fills the mouth with the dusty crumbs of anonymity which, in an instant, seem to suck up and absorb all the moisture that was ever in our mouths leaving us like thirst crazed legionnaires crawling on our bellies to an oasis on the horizon that is but a mirage. I had suffered this disappointment, as a child, from the commercial variety of the cake called Joan. At the time, any break from gruel was welcome, but the residual disillusionment, even though trusted friends had assured me that the recipe when made correctly was a cut above toothsome, made me circumspect of purposely recreating an example of that which had once been so disagreeable. In conclusion, I came, I baked and I came again…and again.

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Recipe below by Mary Cadogan.

recipe

 

 

Posted in 2014, Almonds, Angels, Art photography, Bakewell Tart, Bakewell Tart, Baking, Childhood, Cookery Writers, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Illusion, Mary Cadogan, Nuts, Recipes, Sex, Sugar, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Lifting the lid…..

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A very significant moment of the year has just occurred and passed, unnoticed, to all but me. I have put on a pair of socks. This ceremony is as clear a sign of seasonal change as naked druids dancing at dawn, but warmer. My knowledge of religion is intentionally limited but memory still serves to remind me of the discomfort of worship which is why I suggest that druids may be dancing without socks. There are few more precise indicators of hot and cold temperatures than my extremities so, henceforth, my socks and I will be an item until my feet let me know that the time to cast a clout is upon us yet again.

At this time of year, the introduction of socks into my daily life is not the only momentous change. The alliteration of sock and sausage leads me astray. Although not a committed vegetarian, I eat very little meat…..until the black sock is drawn over the foot like a blindfold. Senses numbed by superfine yarn to the squealing of slaughtered pigs I happily engage in consenting pleasure between man and sausage in the privacy of my own home although I draw the line at sausage dogging. I have seen how the pleasure afforded by a wholesome sausage sandwich can so easily lead to the free basing of pseudo sausages in sweet buns… known as “hot dogging”. Beware.

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A pair of fruitscapes from Roger Stowell’s Print Store

passe-crassane pear

passe-crassane pear

Two very different views of an autumnal pear from the Print Store…looking as good on the wall as on the tree

paring a pear

paring a pear

Check out this page for more print ideas.

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Autumn, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Pears, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Presents, Prints, Still life, Xmas Presents | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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 , , , , , , , , , , | 54 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