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 , , , , , , , , , , , , | 41 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 ….

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Digital photography, France, Photographic Prints | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

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.

Posted in Art photography, Digital photography, Food photographer, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Still life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 55 Comments

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.

Video | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 57 Comments

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

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…..

 

faut mettre les mains..

faut mettre les mains..

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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Recipe2

 

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