Madeleine does modelling

Today I shall be mostly eating Madeleines. This is not on account of a drug induced feeding frenzy nor of a sudden gluttonous urge,  but on a failure of basic cooking sense. I blame LBC – for those beyond the shores of Perfidious Albion, LBC is a “talk in” radio show that makes having ‘flu a distinct pleasure in comparison. My hands were too busy weighing, whizzing and being burnt to turn off the repetitive moaning which was turning my mind to jelly and making the Madeleines stick in their moulds. In fact ranting presenters and omniscient taxi drivers were blameless. It was the omission of a smear of butter in each of the tiny shell shaped moulds that was causing the carnage. I now have to deal with the temptation presented by 32 warm Madeleines, of which only 8 have the credentials to be photographic models. As in real life, the ones unsuited to be models are full of warmth, character and charm…… and chocolate.

Posted in 2014, baking, Childhood memories, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

Cake magic brings out the currant bun……

Yesterday, having fallen under the spell of rain and dullness, it became clear to me that I needed to exorcise the grey that had surreptitiously laid cataracts over the sun’s eyes and so, lacking bell, book and candle, I heeded my voices and opted for sugar, eggs and flour. Cake would be the day’s salvation, yet this annunciation was not accompanied by a clear idea of the cake that would best serve to banish gloom. Dull cake would not do.

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At this time of year our fruit bowl undergoes a seasonal change. The small tangerines of winter, so perfectly designed as an easily unpacked snack, disappear from the shops to be replaced by the weightier roundness of oranges, of which access to the fruit within is a more demanding operation. However, should the effort be made, the pleasures of the bitter sweet zest, dribbling juice and thick, brightly coloured roundels of sweet flesh are full of delicious possibilities. Add sugar, eggs and flour and the good magic of cake brings out the sun.

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Posted in 2014, Baking, cake, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Fruit, Humour, orange caramel sponge, oranges, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Sugar, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Boudin the Bad…the tale of a sausage..

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The accepted movie tradition, in old Hollywood Westerns, simplified the distinction between good and bad by the colour of the hats worn by the main protagonists. Villains wore cool black hats and heroes wore white. To my young mind the villains were infinitely more interesting than the anaemic upholders of the law who compounded their blandness with purgatorial bouts of singing and, on occasion, girl kissing. Today’s movie morality is more equivocal, but earlier traditions still apply in the world of sausages, particularly when applied to boudins. A blood soaked boudin noir evinces all of the perverse appeal that attracts us to the man in the black hat whilst pallid boudin blanc brings clear meaning to Augustine’s prayer for purity, but without immediate effect. Jenny’s feelings about red meat and peaceful living dictate that neither blood filled sausages nor black hatted villains are permitted to cross our threshold. I am unequivocally in agreement with the exclusion of blood thirsty villains, but Jenny is adamant that both sausage and villain should be treated equally with the result that boudin apartheid has been declared. I may have a dream, but at the moment all I have is boudin blanc and I have come to like it quite well.

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 A pork sausage made with crème fraiche, egg white, egg yolks and seasoning is so far from the tradition of dark meaty sausages as to be unrecognisable as one of the same family. There is something of the quenelle in the appearance of the boudin blanc….a sort of unhealthy delicateness. I cooked my first two examples in some butter and oil, very slowly, in a frying pan, until they attained a deep caramel tan…and burst. Damaged goods as they were, they still tasted delicious eaten hot, and would have been even better with a creamy purée of potato and celeriac. They were particularly good served cold with mustard and good bread.

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Today, I am without the internet which has reintroduced me to writing without the electronic aid of Google as Thesaurus and researcher. It’s been wonderful rummaging through my book shelves to find answers and names. Boudin blanc is not mentioned often and eventually I had to turn to my battered copy of Larousse to find some answers to the splitting of the skin. Pricking is certainly part of the answer, but Larousse suggests wrapping a piece of buttered grease proof paper around each boudin, and grilling them slowly. I love the idea of this performance and wonder how well it will work outside of the kitchen envisaged by the compilers of Larousse. I can almost smell the burning as I write….

Posted in 2014, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Google, Humour, Meat, Photography, photography course, Sausages, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Apologies – no internet at the moment

Owing to God knows what, I have no internet for the next few days (or hopefully hours), I’ll post again when communications are restored

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Many a mickle makes…

leeks_red_wine_0049..very little sense, save to someone making a muckle, and is as good a reason as any for Scotland to be independent. It was only after some Wiki research that it became apparent that my recent gift of tiny leeks illustrates perfectly that enigmatic cliché whilst reaffirming my ambivalence to the glut of unintelligible local speak on which the Temporarily United Kingdom prides itself. Beset, as we are, with every sort of social problem it is hard to rationalise this irrepressible Babel urge.

The bowl, holding the slowly disappearing bundles of leeks, was in my line of sight whilst I was spooning another mouthful of the last remaining leek and cheese soufflé. My mind was set on making some simple leeks vinaigrette and so I would have done had not I first caught a flash of the pale blue fabric cover of Ms.David’s “French Provincial Cooking” in the corner of my eye. A little earlier, whilst rifling through my store cupboard, I had noticed that the bottle of olive oil was all but empty; enough to make the vinaigrette, but that would leave none for any other eventuality until next I went to the shops, some two days hence. What I did have was red wine and Ms. David has a typically simple, yet delicious, way with leeks and red wine, which also benefits from only demanding a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil.

The recipe specified more leeks than I needed but, being as it was so simple, that was no matter.leeks_red_wine_0033 I prepared a handful of small leeks and put them to brown in some of my precious olive oil…..precious through lack rather than singular quality. Once one side has started to take colourleeks_red_wine_0035 sprinkle the leeks with a little sea salt and a grind of black pepper before turning them. Now is the time to add a small glass of red wine and, if you have any available, a spoonful of good meat stock before covering and cooking them for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the end can easily be pierced with the point of a knife. Part of the charm of Elizabeth David’s writing is the regular appearance of anachronisms, such as the expectation of a spoonful of good meat stock to be reserved for such an occasion, of which I am usually, and was again this time, found wanting. A splash of Marigold vegetable stock was not as intensely meaty as Ms.David would have liked, but it worked.

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This is a particularly satisfying dish whether served hot, as an accompaniment, or cold as an entrée or part of an hors d’oeuvre. Now I’m heading back to the kitchen to make a leek tart.

Posted in 2014, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Elizabeth David, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, leeks, Olive oil, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Wine, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Wickedleeks….

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I don’t know much about a science book, and I don’t know much about the French I took …but anything I’m not sure about, as long as it’s to do with vegetables or local French, can be resolved by our neighbours, Fernand and Jeanette. Fernand has recently retired from a lifetime of farming which has taken its toll of his back. To avoid the endless bending, which cultivating a vegetable patch demands, all operations are carried out, as far as possible, in a sedentary position. pink_seat_0011A pink painted, tubular metal garden stool is used for lifting last year’s plants in preparation for turning the soil for the new planting. To keep within this chromatic scheme, a bright orange mini tractor will be used for preparing the soil, and then back to the pink throne for the planting. Interestingly, and wisely, Fernand has not opted for the same colour scheme in his work attire so, had it not been for the vibrant pink work station, I would not have spotted him lifting the remnants of last year’s leeks. As it happened, he had already put aside for me a pile of these delicious, tiny leeks. I spent some time sorting them into bunches this morning whilst deciding what to do with them. There will definitely be some leeks vinaigrette which are amongst my favourite hors d’oeuvre, particularly when they are this small and fresh. A leek tart, with very short pastry, has to be a possibility as does a cheese and leek soufflé, which I haven’t made for some time. Soufflés were always a challenge to photograph for film or stills. Speed was always of the essence, but I remember trying all sorts of bizarre tricks to make them stay risen for that moment longer than expected. Amongst the ruses was the placing of thick iron nuts and bolts in the bottom of the soufflé dish, the intention being that the iron objects would absorb a great deal of heat in the cooking process and retain some of it when the soufflés were taken out,  and in so doing provide residual heat to prevent the immediate collapse of the dish. I don’t think it was totally  successful and I strongly advise against using it at home. A sixpence in the Christmas pudding is amusing, but a red hot iron bolt in a mouthful of soufflé is going to lose you friends ….and maybe some of your own teeth.

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Here’s one or two that I have just made…there were three but I had to eat one…I left out the nuts and bolts and just shot very quickly. Here’s the recipe that I found on British and Irish Food – http://britishfood.about.com/od/recipeindex/r/cheeseleeksouff.htm

Leek and Cheese Souffle

Posted in Baking, Cheese, Christmas, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, friendship, Garden, Gardening, Humour, Leek and cheese souffle, leeks, Photography, photography course, Recipes, souffle, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

Clinging on in heavy syrup….a wet dream

On most nights I have a dream and, although in my waking moments I have begun to forget everyone and everything’s name, I very often retain a clear image of some tiny fragment of each night’s unconstrained meanderings. This morning’s memory is of a very dapper man, with a shining head of slicked down hair asserting that he would be truly happy if, on each and every day of his life, he could have a tin of peaches. I cannot recollect the context of his partiality to tinned peaches in the dream, but the memory has served to stir my own recollections of childhood. “Cling peaches in heavy syrup” is the title of the memory, co starring “Evaporated Milk”. In another time they were considered to be a treat, never more so than when they were part of my “tuck” that I took back to boarding school in my eponymous “tuck box”. This small wooden trunk, with a padlock, was the only gesture of privacy allowed to a junior in those institutions although that privacy could be short lived should a senior boy feel that the contents would be better in his care: a blue print of the society into which we would later be launched. During those early years I viewed food at meal times as fuel. Food outside of those fixed appointments was deemed as pleasure and it is in that context that I remember the bright orange slices of peach hanging suspended in their bath of viscous syrup. The addition of evaporated milk directly into the tin, as it was both container and eating vessel, created a magic of its own. As the the first drops of evaporated milk were poured into the tin they hung in the syrup like petrified gobs of purity alongside the salacious curves of slick peach. The temptation to plunge one’s fingers into this glory were always too much and the perfect image turned to a cloudy mess. And then I woke up and found real peaches…..I had been asleep for a long time.

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Posted in 2014, Bad Habits, Childhood, Childhood memories, Digital photography, Dreams, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Fruit, Humour, peaches, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

the wild bunch take a bath…

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I could not help but notice the very human characteristics being displayed by this particular bunch. It is clear to me that there is leader, head and shoulders above the others, who is holding court to this sycophantic bunch of young shoots. The majority gaze adoringly at his bowed, patrician head as he dispenses wisdom, hanging on his every word and, indeed, around his neck. However, as in life, it is clear that all is not sweetness and light. Two dissidents have turned their backs on Caesar Asparagus, the Brutus and Cassius of the bunch. Their plotting will be in vain as fate, which role I am playing in this drama having assumed the form of a brightly coloured rubber band, a far cry from Zeus’ swan or shower of gold but more practical in a kitchen, has bound them irrevocably together in readiness for a hot communal bath which could not be more apposite for such a classical bunch.

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Bunches of green asparagus, tagged with outrageous prices,  have already begun to appear in the shops here. The green variety seems to be a rarity in the Vendée as the appetite for white and violette asparagus is enormous. To my mind, green asparagus is at its best when served in the simplest way. An asparagus cooker is not an essential piece of kit, but it does do the job well, as the base of each spear is cooked in a bath of boiling water whilst the stem and tip are cooked by steam. Such asparagus should be served with melted butter and little more. I do have a taste for another dressing which is made by beating together hard boiled egg yolks, olive oil and seasoning. Just delicious.

As I mentioned before, white asparagus is very popular here which means it is readily available and much cheaper than its green brethren. White asparagus takes a good deal longer to cook than the green variety and, if it is not cooked sufficiently, is not worth eating at all. The violette tipped variety behaves in a similar way as far as cooking time is concerned but is slightly finer and doesn’t need to be peeled. I particularly enjoy this with hot, herbed butter and prosciutto.

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Posted in 2014, asparagus, Cooking, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Hard boiled eggs, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 60 Comments

Of armpits and artichokes…

Yesterday began in a most unusual way.  I function, during my morning bathroom ritual,  on “auto pilot”.  An order of events has insinuated itself, over the passing years, which means that once ablutions have commenced I’m not particularly conscious of that which is happening as it is pre-ordained. As the razor slices through foam and stubble I am elsewhere. If it is a good day I am in that pleasant place where my thoughts are of what I shall be writing, cooking or photographing later that day. Such a day was yesterday. For an unconscious and complicated process such as this to have a happy ending, it is essential that all the different pieces of “equipment” required  must be in their ordained places. The moving hand takes and having taken moves on…but should the moving hand have taken the wrong item, and carried on moving, as was the case yesterday morning, then you may well end up with an armpit full of shaving cream rather than deodorant.

I recovered from this setback and went to see Lennox, whose morning ablutions seemed to be simpler than mine as he just dived into the cold clear water and stayed under it until I had gone. The weather having changed for the better, I now leave the trap door of his oubliette wide open so that, like Oscar, he may appreciate that little tent of  blue  that prisoners call the sky.*

And so to artichokes…this time the “Poivrade”. As you will notice, this artichoke is prettier and more feminine than the butch Camus de Bretagne. This is because it is rumoured that Jupiter was wildly in love with a beautiful blonde girl. who gave him the bum’s rush. In a fit of pique he turned her into a artichoke, a poivrade artichoke to be precise. I’d love to hear that one being tried at Crown Court.

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Forgetting that I had a bunch of bewitched blondes in my hands, I broke the heads off each of the artichokes in this delightful bouquet and trimmed them severely. The cut ends were rubbed with lemon and covered in a layer of an intense tomato sauce which was flavoured with thyme, basil and parsley. All that remained to do was to cook them, covered, in salted water for about an hour, or until they were soft.

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At the end of the cooking, they are sprinkled with fresh breadcrumbs and parmesan and flashed under a hot grill. They taste wonderful whilst reminding us that hubris is always unwise….particularly if you’re a blonde walking out with a mythological god.

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* For first time visitors, let me assure you that Lennox is a frog that I am trying to rescue, but who eludes my every effort.

Posted in 2014, artichokes, Artichokes Poivrade, Basil, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Herbs and Spices, Humour, Olive oil, Parmesan, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Thyme, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

The frog and the photographer…

Notwithstanding the promise of a magical transformation into handsome prince, I can understand why princesses were hesitant to do tongues with a frog. I feel the same, yet over the last few days I’ve been emotionally involved with one of the little chaps. I say little “chap” in the terms of a friendly diminutive as I can’t be sure of the gender. Maybe I’m seeing her masculine side or his feminine side…it’s like catching a glimpse of Annie Lennox as she pops her head up out of a dark pond and submerges nearly immediately. The relationship hasn’t turned physical yet, although I must admit that I’m the one making all the moves at the moment. There is a well like structure, that houses the pumps, at one end of the pool, intently staring down into which on bended knee, net in hand, I can be seen most mornings and evenings.The frog, the subject of my affection, is trapped in the depths, …Lennox le Grenouille sits on the flotation switch of the cave pump, cold and alone. How many times did he not listen to la mere Grenouille when she warned him against leaving the safety of the pond. Lennox disregarded her dire admonitions. As I open the trap door, Lennox looks up at me with a very appealing frog expression, which I am reading as “Get me out of here”. In reply to this cri de coeur I lower the net, Lennox panics, and disappears into the dark waters. On two occasions, I have netted Lennox and brought him/her nearly to safety, only for frog fickleness to intervene. With one bound Lennox was free…wrong….Lennox was back in the oubliette. I shall persevere and let you all know if I become a princess…or hopefully a prince.

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The green of frogdom has brought to mind the wonderful pile of artichokes that were in the shops yesterday which reminded me that I hadn’t cooked one since last year. Preparing and cooking an artichoke is very undemanding and the ritual of eating one is comforting in its familiarity. Hopefully, if the artichoke has been chosen well,  each leaf will be blessed with a plump, fleshy base which has conveniently grown into the form of a spoon to carry a gob of well flavoured vinaigrette.

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Artichokes need conversation. They are not a dish to eat without company. The slow ritual of removing each leaf needs to be interspersed with words and sips of wine….a young red such as a Chinon, from the Loire, is very good to my mind. There is something atavistic and carnal about eating an artichoke, which is unusual in the consumption of a vegetable, as each leaf that is removed and eaten brings us closer to the heart which is, after all, why we started in the first place. Now I must see about the toad in the hole.

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Posted in 2014, artichokes, Cooking, Digital photography, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, photography course, Still life, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 63 Comments