on becoming Ken Dodd….and other recipes…

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On taking stock of things, I never seem to have enough. More precisely, I never seem to have enough of the things of which I would like an excess. Money, hair and teeth would come high on the list although, on reflection, an excess of hair and teeth would open up the undesirable prospect of resembling a reincarnation of Ken Dodd or suffering an untimely death at the hands of one of the myopic and trigger happy local chasseurs. There is a continual deficit;  an insufficiency; of patience, jam, words, pistachios, concentration, caviar and application. Application has always been in short supply. If there was one reiterated shortcoming mentioned in my school reports, lack of application would have been it. Happily, my belief that the designation of dilettante was a compliment provided me with the shield that served to inure me to tutorial criticism and which has enabled me to amble carelessly through life whilst still arriving on the sunny side of the street. On saying that, it should be mentioned that the humble lane on which we live would be as happy to be called a street as I was to be called a dilettante. This and others were among the miscellany of thoughts that passed through my mind as the whisks spun their sorcery of amalgamating the eggs and cream that would fill a shell of Ottolenghi’s sour cream pastry in company with some roasted cherry tomatoes and the remnants of a quite ordinary log of goat cheese. My sense of lack became apparent as photography of the cooked tart began. The experience culled from the years of working in studios where stylists would arrive with van loads of “props” has left me with unrequited expectations. I expect to open a cupboard and to be spoiled for choice by the array of possibilities laid out before me. As usual, I picked up the one knife that I like at the moment. What I really like is what is written on it.

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Posted in 2014, Baking, Childhood, Cooking, Cream, Cutlery, Digital photography, Eggs, Expectation, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, goat cheese, Humour, Illusion, Jam, Memory, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Prints, Still life, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

If there are no Incas available, string up an onion……

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I’m beginning to suspect that La Moussiere may have been a far flung outpost of the Inca empire. Although the name Atahualpa is not as common in the neighbourhood as I would have expected, there is a common thread that runs through the two civilisations and that thread is blue. Recent research on my part confirms that the Inca empire was held together by string and it cannot be by coincidence alone that the La Moussière civilisation is bound together by a striking blue version of that very same material. It is also evident that generosity was not a defining quality of the colonising Incas. When they tired of snail suppers and the lack of mains drainage they took their leave of the Vendée and took their golden treasures with them, spitefully leaving only their highly detailed account books for the abandoned, and now penniless, locals to bitterly pore over and, in consequence, with which they now hang their onions or tightly truss hay bales whilst thinking of Inca throats. Strangely enough, the conquistadores strangled Atahualpa with string, whether blue or otherwise remains veiled in the mists of time, even though his subjects had duly paid up the demanded ransom of 264 tonnes of gold. We in La Moussière are still patiently waiting, whilst idly fiddling with our balls…of string… for the arrival of a Brinks Mat van laden with our compensation.

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Posted in 2014, Art photography, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, onions, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

…give a snail a good name …

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Raising the profile of snails is not an enviable task. On the face of it, which is hard to define and thus rarely seen, the snail remains a slimy intruder which is either crushed beneath the gumboot or sent sailing over the fence to enjoy our neighbour’s lettuces. Lift a flat stone and there will be slugs and snails but, hopefully, no puppy dog tails…that would be too weird and, if it were true, it would signify that Stephen King was the gardener and now would be a good time to leave. However, garden soil is supplanted by olive oil when the slug in a shell suit is reborn as ” l’escargot”. The prefix of “gastro” has, until recent years, been an unfortunate one which was, to the great majority, attached either to pain or poshness : gastroenteritis or gastronomy, neither of which was welcome.

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The current zeitgeist, with the creation of the gastropub, gastroporn and the gastrodrome, has turned such prejudice on its head which change of heart has made ubiquitous the appearance on our tables of this handsome gastropod in its preferred hot bath of verdant garlic butter . The heros of these pictures are “cagouilles”, celebrated molluscs of the Charente Maritime, a bag of fifty of which was bought by some friends of ours when they were staying with us some years ago. Jenny likes snails, but not to eat, whereas the others in the company felt exactly the opposite emotion. Snails do not arrive easily on the plate: it takes meticulous preparation to create such a tiny feast. Check out the link below.

.http://escargot.free.fr/eng/cooking.htm

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In the final analysis it’s the pleasure of eating hot garlic butter soaked up in good bread that makes the snails so good to eat, which anathema may well have me tarred, feathered and ridden out of town backwards on a racing snail by the local amateurs of the “cagouille”..

Posted in 2014, Art photography, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, harmony, Olive oil, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 64 Comments

nature morte vivante…

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I shot these two still lives in a dark corner of our outhouse on a recent day when the skies were overcast and grey. This calm north light, without the intrusion of  brilliant slashes of razor sharp sunlight, allowed the camera to capture the infinity of tiny nuances of colour which are otherwise lost in a patchwork of highlights and shadows. This simple calmness is my ideal and these two still lives are to be new additions to the Print Store.

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Who is not the fairest of them all…

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ET poking his head out of a ball gown. The funny vegetable photograph is a genre which has never endeared itself to me yet, when I look at this gourd, I don’t see food, I see funny. For much of my life I assumed that the taste for pumpkin was part and parcel of being American. That it should be chosen as a symbol of thanksgiving for safe passage across hostile seas in a leaky boat in order to live in penury among locals who are ostensibly far from keen on your immigration suggests that joyous pumpkin dinners should currently be celebrated on a daily basis all over Europe and particularly in Dover.

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I have never got to grips with the pumpkin. It seems to offer more than it can possibly deliver, unlike scorzonera, whose name I love, and which looks like shit but tastes delicious. Pumpkin, on the other hand, looks delicious but tastes unremittingly dull. Admittedly, if enough spices and flavourings are added, pumpkin can be very acceptable but so can most things…that is the point of spices and flavourings. The monotony of pumpkin is as relentless as a dentist’s drill or…soup. Each successive spoonful, or painful, is the same as the previous one only leaving us with concern for how much more we can bear without screaming. The pumpkin, like Justin Bieber and back to back marathon running, has a devoted following upon which evidence I rest my case. However, having scoured the internet for interesting things to do with a pumpkin, I shall do my damnedest to turn this gift of a pumpkin into a tsunami of umami and if that fails, I shall attempt one of the more arcane suggestions uncovered by my research: but how many rats to purchase?

Posted in 2014, Cooking, Digital photography, Expectation, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Google, Herbs and Spices, Humour, Photography, photography course, pumpkin, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 65 Comments

the colours of garlic……

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The importance of garlic as an ingredient in good food was not entirely clear to me until several years after we had moved to live here, in France. Of course, I was well acquainted with it, cooked with it regularly and thought of it as essential to food as perfume to a woman. I had experienced wonderful dishes in good restaurants in London and Europe yet I had never really appreciated that perfume in my own cooking because I had never had access to the source. Being here I see garlic growing in the potageres around our house, I see wooden troughs of it drying in open sided sheds and I smell it wafting from the kitchens of my neighgbours. It’s gentler than I ever imagined and I love looking at it, having it my kitchen and , most of all, cooking with it. Although I have created a garlic flag in red, white and blue there is a growing part of me that is happily losing attachment to my roots, and I’m not speaking of my teeth. Neither am I looking for a another flag to wave, being as the garlic flag has similarities to the Tricolor, as I have never seen the waving of any single flag produce anything but division. It occurred to me that if each of us was allowed but one answered wish in our life then there would be very few of us left alive, as that wish would almost certainly be squandered on getting rid of the someone who was the first to truly piss us off. How often have we muttered “Oh , I wish he’d just drop dead” which muttered wish, in my predicated scenario, would render unto dust the fool who just wouldn’t move forward in the queue. Just annoyingly in the way.

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On the culinary front, should the majority of my fellow countrymen have had their wishing way, garlic would be as scarce as kindness. Myth has it that vampires detest and fear the effects of garlic which suggests to me that they may not be autochthonous to Translyvania after all, and that the influx of middle Europeans to our sceptered isle may just be migrant Draculas returning to their true home.

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“Foreign muck” was the popular idiom for food eaten on holiday in Europe. It was full of garlic and it was certainly best not to eat any of it if you were meeting friends later. Oddly, those same sensitive olfactory senses were oblivious to the ripeness of hot armpits under nylon shirts in the confines of the London Underground on a hot summer’s day. There is a culture gap which is not a bad gap but just a gap created by climate, location and, as it says on the tin, culture. Garlic is part of where I now live and the garlic that I now know is not the vegetable that I used to know and at last that perfume is always around my kitchen and it makes me very happy.

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Posted in 2014, Art photography, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, garlic, Kitchens, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 63 Comments

it’s not the thought, it’s the gift…

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Small gifts of vegetables are always welcome in our kitchen. We lack the room needed to grow them ourselves but, most of all, we lack the will power. Being surrounded by horticultural magicians, it’s clear that any effort on our part to compete would only be shaming. Whilst the markets are empty of good tomatoes, those on our neighbours’ vines are still red, ripe and delicious. Some are even still green. I noticed a very sporty broom stick parked in their garage which leads me to believe that paranormal planting is afoot. Not so much Covent Garden as Coven Garden.

We benefit from simple, thoughtful food gifts as well as the bewitched bounty of which I will speak more later. Meanwhile, our daughter had left us some courgettes and red peppers which led me to open my folder of “mean to do” recipes. As expected, the first recipe that came to light was Rachel Khoo’s Soufflée Omelette. In the complete version, the omelette is served with an eggless piperade basquaise the main ingredient of which is red peppers. As luck would have it, or maybe through the agency of local necromancy, the next recipe that revealed itself was Courgette Flans.recipe_courgette_flans2Returning for a moment to more mysterious matters. As I was chopping small wood for fire lighting this morning, I noticed my neighbour in the vicinity, no doubt enchanting frogs to leave their legs at the door and return when they’ve grown new and better ones. I thought garlic would come in handy with Walpurgis nearly upon us and asked if I could buy a “tete” from her. The word “buy” didn’t go down at all well, so I had to settle for “give”. Our grammatical differences were happily settled without recourse to my being transformed into a bat and she advised me that the garlic would appear in due course…which it did.

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Posted in 2014, Baking, Cheese, Cookery Writers, Cooking, courgette, courgette flan, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, peppers, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Rachel Khoo, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 58 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 , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 28 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