too Little too late….

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There was a time, not all that long ago, when quantity and quality were unlikely bedfellows. It would be rare indeed for them to be seen together, even just holding hands, let alone snuggled up together under the duvet where it would seem that they now spend most of their time making the two backed beast…both hard and soft covers. Quantity and quality are now an item. After years in the shadows they have sashayed from their closet screaming that they are remaindered, and proud of it. But above all, they are cheap, which word was once a pejorative and is now the grail. I speak of  the tsunami of books that has been created by the seismic upheaval created by the internet which has given us all the chance to be authors, diarists or journalists and by so doing has mightily augmented the creation of books whilst reducing their value  to that of  flotsam and jetsam. Luckily the internet has not yet encouraged us to be amateur surgeons or airline pilots. The upshot of this  may well not be politically correct but because of this surfeit and the consequent reduction in value, I can now buy, and indeed have just bought from that mighty on line river, a very good cookery book by one of my culinary icons for the sum of 1d…that’s one penny, one denarius, one pee or not a lot at all. The icon in question is Alastair Little, who is well worth a pee or two, but probably not directly after eating asparagus, and the book of which I speak is his “Italian Kitchen”, which was published in ’96, some years before Rush replaced Potato after Yukon Gold. In that era, Alastair, together with Rowley Leigh and Simon Hopkinson, formed a trinity of brilliant cooks (I dislike the word chef and have less and less respect for it) who were able to produce masterfully simple and flavour filled food without the need to pair obscure ingredients nor to decorate their dishes with smears, foams or other beastly goo gahs. I knew Alastair a little in the late 80’s when he was going up the mountain and I was beginning my dizzy slide down. At that time he prepared the food at the Zanzibar, an infamous Covent Garden watering hole, where we would talk of food and his plans to open a restaurant until the martinis brought gravity into play and I would fall off the bar stool. I still have a memory of him saying that he was a Bolton supporter, whatever that meant, and at those moments I could certainly have done with Bolton’s support myself.

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I used the book to make dinner last night which consisted of an asparagus risotto followed by a raspberry and frangipane tart. That which is impressive with his writing, as with his cooking, is the detail which is neither padding nor decoration. His advice that it would be a waste of time to make his recipe for asparagus risotto if one could not be bothered to make the recommended asparagus stock from vegetables and the asparagus peelings could easily have  appeared as overbearing and pedantic but in his  safe hands it read as good advice which I happily followed and because of it this butter rich risotto was packed with a sublime asparagus flavour, which simplicity is so often crushed by intemperate seasoning and over generosity with the Parmesan.

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Posted in 2016, Alistair Little, asparagus, Asparagus risotto, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, friendship, Humour, Martini, Parmesan, Photographic Prints, Photography, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Strike over a lack of conductors…..

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French lightning conductor…..current model

The after effects of yesterday’s storm have been apocalyptic. I use the term advisedlyas, apart from the expected mayhem, it appears that the storm has temporarily bent various, previously immutable, physical laws to its will, of which more later. Electricity, water and ice contrived to flash, dash and crash from the heavens in a wilful demonstration of celestial spleen which revealed an unforeseen quality in our newly built préau, being that of a well perforated colander.Standing beneath the colander brought to mind how Hawkeye remained hidden from view, behind a waterfall, from Chingachgook’s Mohicans whilst a small fragment of my shattered sanity remembered that Hawkeye had been grateful for the fortunate presence of a waterfall whereas I was not; at that point there was a loud bang which suggested that I had been shot by one of the Mohicans, who, to be honest, I thought we had seen the last of, but the lack of cordite in the air led me to the fact that lightning had once again struck in the same place and had blown up my office. Ever the pessimist, how lucky was I to find that it had only grilled my computer, the telephone and the internet…hard to get luckier than that. My luck continued to such an extent that, as I reached hurriedly for the car keys on their wall hook, I was lucky enough to witness an example of either auto kinetics or a slight tilt in the earth’s axis as the keys fell from my grasp and landed, not neatly but with a fucking great splash, in the bowl of cat’s milk that I’m sure had not previouslybeen directly beneath them. Finding pessimism too depressing, even for such a curmudgeon as myself, I optimistically set off to the nearest large town to replace the frazzled router.The queue outside the ill named Orange (henceforth to be known as Orage) Boutique was very long indeed.Each of us in that Orage queue cradled a dead Livebox in our arms which, when alive, will serve as a conduit to the treasure trove that is the sum of man’s knowledge and when dead will not; rather it will act as a conduit to the darkest recesses of of our minds wherein abide the three imps of impatience, impotence and imprecation. As I stood there, deballed, the oh so nearly smiling Orage sales person advised our beleaguered line that there would be no more Liveboxes available until the end of the day…which information, it was clearly evident, was not a crowd pleaser leading her to hurriedly lock the Boutique’s portal as it looked as though the tumbrils might roll once more down la rue de la République……there maywell be trouble in store.

Posted in 2016, Digital photography, Photography, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

on a wing and a préau….

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The longing, in this month of April, for the warmth of summer is with me for an unseemly proportion of my waking and dreaming moments. A longing that has me limping along these final few furlongs of heavy going before winter, spring, or whatever this unseasonably cold period is called, finally does the decent thing and drops dead. I weary of daffodils; I need the sun, and when it arrives I shall hide from its glorious heat beneath our newly constructed (might be useful in a crossword) préau and drink chilled wine and eat delicious dishes such as artichauts à la greque with good bread to soak up the oil until both the sun and I, exhausted from a hard day’s shining and dining, will happily turn off and turn in. However, were this to be an ointment, in it there would be a very large fly. Indeed, as I conjure, legions of mosquitoes, wasps and other mordant beasts are currently nestled, nascent, in some dark place waiting for that very same sun to awake their determination to buzz, bite and generally do their damnedest to fuck up the idyllic long summer evenings of those very dreams. And that’s summer….bites, burns and sand in sandwiches ….with which I am so much happier than I am with the pinched faced cold of the other six months…yet without the aching anticipation, those longed for moments would lack their delectable savour….which brings me back to those artichauts à la greque..

Young purple artichokes,without chokes, quartered and peeled. Cooked in oil and water with aromatics.

Young purple artichokes,without chokes, quartered and peeled. Cooked in oil and water with aromatics.

Here is a précis of Elizabeth David’s recipe from “French Provincial Cooking”.

“To prepare the artichokes for cooking in this way have ready a bowl of water acidulated with lemon juice. Draw your sharpest knife through a lemon and rub the artichoke also with lemon. Cut off the stalk and hard leaves on the underside, then slice through the leaf part right down to the tip to the last but one row of leaves nearest the stalk. Holding the artichoke in your left hand rotate it while with the knife slanting towards you in your right hand you slice off the hard outer leaves until only the little tender pale green ones remain. Scoop out the choke ( le foin, the hay) with a little silver spoon. As each artichoke is ready throw it into the prepared bowl of water. Although it takes so long to describe it is really only a matter of a minute, especially after a little practice.

The fonds or hearts are now ready to be boiled, stewed, sauté in butter, stuffed, ect. To cook them à la greque first prepare a mixture of  1/2 pint of boiling water, a small coffee cup of olive oil, a sprig of thyme and a bayleaf, about 10 coriander seeds, a little salt and pepper, and the juice of half a small lemon. Bring this to the boil in a small saucepan, tall rather than wide. Put in the prepared artichoke hearts ( 4 for this quantity of liquid), and let them simmer steadily for 15 minutes. Leave them to cool in the liquid. Cut them in quarters when cold and serve them in a shallow dish with some of their liquid.”

I get a great deal of pleasure from reading her precise instructions on cooking something with which we are now so familiar, whilst reflecting that, at the time of writing, artichokes were a little known vegetable to the English publicand even good olive oil was not easy to find.

 

Posted in 2016, artichokes, Bay leaves, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Coriander, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Dreams, Drinks, Elizabeth David, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Olive oil, Photographic Prints, Photography, Recipes, summer, Thyme, Uncategorized, Weather, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

calling for Pink Lady votes…..

PINK LADY FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR 2016

Have a look at my short film, listed in the non documentary section of the People’s Vote for short films….here’s a link

http://www.pinkladyfoodphotographeroftheyear.com/unearthed-food-film/

….and please give me your vote…if you like it….which I’m sure you do…don’t you.

Posted in 2016, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France | Tagged , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

a taste as old as cold water….

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Lawrence Durrell’s precise metaphor is the clearest description of the taste of olives that I have ever heard or read. In truth, he was speaking of the wrinkly, black, salt cured olives whose flavour is as naked and unashamed as a new born and not at all that of the plump aromatically enhanced varieties which are more Kardashian than Kalamata. However, staying with the previously stated theme of truthfulness, I declare myself unashamedly in favour of flavour. Occasionally I catch a fleeting mental image reflected on a shard of a memory which has me enjoying those same black olives with a glass of retsina in the shade of a dark tree by blue sea but my more recent and tangible memories of them are ambivalent. Maybe a flavour as clear as that does not travel well…or at all. I have heard of asparagus fanciers who will take a small portable stove into the asparagus patch in order to cook and and enjoy the full unadulterated taste of the fresh stems before fugitive flavour begins its slowly accelerating dilution of that intended savour. It is said by those who have enjoyed the pleasure that the only echte truite bleue ( a grouping of words that goes some way to define a united Europe, if only gastronomically at this point) is the one cooked direct from the hook by the side of the gurgling chalk stream from which it has been presently plucked. There is to my mind another form of fugitive flavour which decrees that some foods, when eaten for the second time out of geographical or climatic context, fail to ignite the synapses with the remembered pleasure  and delight of that first mouthwatering experience.

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The olives in the pictures, which were harvested from the trees in our garden and preserved in our kitchen, have not as yet suffered from that particular concept or, more precisely, my pleasure in their flavour is that of the asparagus fancier crouched by his rows of thrusting asparagus….on reflection, a nerve wracking position that I do not have to assume when enjoying an olive maison.

Posted in 2016, Digital photography, Emotion, Expectation, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Garden, Humour, Mediterranean food, Memory, olives, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

never mock a turtle….

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Having been in it too many times, soup and I have seen the best and worst of each other. Soup follows us through the seven ages of our lives from the first toothless food experience of puréed baby food to the penultimate moments, when sans teeth once again, although dental implants will change that Shakespearean assertion, soup once more becomes the only option. During teenage years, when boarding school food was deemed intolerable, tins of Heinz Tomato Soup were, at times, my sole nourishment. Such soup had the quality of being able to be drunk cold directly from the jaggedly opened, pre ring pull tin whilst the violent red of the soup concealed, momentarily, the blood welling from the cut lip or tongue. Lunch with the parents in provincial hotels, on outings from school, provided an introduction to a paradox that would often feature in later life. That of apparently being offered a choice, in this case from the contents of an upholstered menu, yet noticing, as the BrownWindsor soup, that had been ordered on your behalf was placed ceremoniously before you, that this freedom has been subtly usurped which sleight of hand you will come to recognise as one of life’s leitmotifs. Soup served as my early alimentary atlas: minestrone from a packet was Italy, muligatawny was India, chicken noodle was China and onion soup was France…admittedly a limited atlas but at that time my palate was less enquiring than my genitals. I’m not entirely sure which souplike dish it was, a second helping of which Oliver Twist hungered, but a memory, a highly untrustworthy ally at this point in my life, leads me to believe it was “gruel”, a rare example of onomatopoeia in a noun defining a food stuff. There is indeed something cruel  in the grim fuel that is gruel. Among the many cookery books on my shelves there is a small book, reprinted from the 1877 original pamphlet, which is entitled:

A PLAIN

COOKERY BOOK

FOR THE

WORKING CLASSES

by CHARLES ELMÉ FRANCATELLI

…within whose pages are several recipes for gruel which show it to be a soup like dish consisting  of groats or oatmeal boiled in water. Sugar can be added for sweetness or butter and some sort of spirit for the savoury version. It is likely that the cook at Oliver Twist’s establishment was neither convinced of the need for any embellishment on the simple oats and water version nor concerned with the alleviation of hunger. Happily I have never been so hungry that I would relish such food, let alone a second helping, and for that I count myself extremely lucky…however, this is not a hunger awareness post, a need that is ably filled by the ever more extreme displays by a legion of “celebrities” without which, it would appear, the public conscience would not be pricked and which displays I consider to be the “gruel” of entertainment: something to be stoically endured, hopefully without a second helping. This post came about through my reflections on the qualities of truly flavoursome, yet straight forward bowl of vegetable soup that I produced from a handful of ingredients. When making soup I try not to forget Elizabeth David’s caveat – “….the soup pot cannot be treated as a dustbin……. the creative urge in the matter of embellishments is best kept under control.”

Posted in 2016, Childhood, Childhood memories, Cooking, Digital photography, Elizabeth David, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photographic Prints, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Instagram….a new departure

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I’ve recently started putting pictures on Instagram and it occurred to me that some of you might be interested in seeing some of my pictures without the ranting that accompanies my pictures on this blog. A short time ago I made a foray into Facebook but quickly found that it didn’t agree with me or, in truth, that I didn’t agree with it. When I’m cooking, working, walking or writing there are moments when I see something that I want to share and, even though I have little faith in the phone as a camera, the images that I take with one have an instant appeal in the way that I used to enjoy with the now outdated ( or now very expensive ) Polaroid film. The real pleasure is seeing the images that are being produced  by my friends and acquaintances who work in the business of food and food photography as well as amazing photographers throughout the world. Here are a couple of images that I’ve posted recently and which may give you the taste to have a look at my stuff on Instagram.

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Posted in Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, French countryside | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

burning question…..

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Atavistic memories of the word “incinerator” recently started to shuffle around the corridors of my mind but the events surrounding that word remain in soft focus. There was a point in my childhood when several parts of our family shared a house which had, as I remember, a very extensive garden with alleys and paths that led to various sheds, green houses and lean to’s around which steamed piles of noble and ignoble rot. Somewhere in those nether regions lived the “incinerator”. The often heard recommendation to “put it in the incinerator” seemed to be a cure-all for a surprisingly wide range of household and garden problems yet, as a child, I don’t remember witnessing our incinerator incinerating. In a golden age when a link between “health and safety” had yet to be realised I can only imagine that this exclusion must have been imposed because it was considered “dirty” and “dirty” was quite bad. The adults of our world had just lived through a world war so safety in the garden wasn’t a priority which meant that living one’s childhood in that era was an exciting time full of finding, falling and fear. At that time, the sockets in electric wall plugs were round and of a width to allow the insertion of a small child’s finger, a temptation to which I succumbed on occasion with no lasting effect, although maybe I’m not the best judge of that. Were we more resistant to electricity, I ask myself, or was I just a bad conductor. The latter seems more likely as, let alone conducting, I couldn’t sing a note in tune on account of which, during my years at prep school, I was relegated to emptying the dustbins during choir practice. Dustbins, or the shape of them, bring me back to my new acquaintance with incinerators which I believe will be fruitful and lasting.incinerator2_0010 The incinerator in question, which belongs to our neighbour, is to be found close to his atelier, by a wall against which is stacked a multitude of rusty things that must not ever be thrown away as they may well be the vital components of something that is not yet needed but may well be essential in the not too distant future. This “atelier” is equipped with every sort of tool or machine imaginable providing him with the means to mend the broken or to create the new, which ability is in the remit of all “paysan” farmers who often do not have the wherewithal to pay others for services that they are quite capable of doing for themselves. They are also quite parsimonious, a word which I like very much but which will never be used to describe my own nature by anyone who has more than a fleeting acquaintance with me. Rubbish you may say, and in this case you would be right.Rubbish and its sorting, or triage, is the point of this post. The rubbish collection service here in the Vendée is extremely precise about which sort of rubbish should go where. This precision is sadly not reflected in the printed edicts with which we are supplied and which, with the help of competent graphic artists, illustrate into which sort of collection container should be put each sort of refuse. It appears that manufacturers are creating new sorts of container at a speed up with which the illustrators cannot keep. Should a container of the non illustrated type reveal itself to be in one of the variously coloured semi transparent sacks provided for its particular collection then, the appointed collector, will leave it by the roadside thus brilliantly creating rubbish which is the direct opposite of his mandate. To add a little sharp seasoning to this inconvenience, the collector will attach a sticker to the abandoned sack which states that something in that sack contravenes the list of that which is allowed but, annoyingly, not clearly defining the culprit. This led me into a Kafkaesque charade which involved emptying the contents of the sack on the ground  and, with the illustrated edict in one hand,  trying to decide which morsel of the misshapen crap lying before me could be the offender. So now, with the aid of my new friend, the incinerator, I burn the fuckers.

Posted in 2016, Art photography, Bad Habits, Digital photography, Emotion, Farming, France, French countryside, Landscapes, Memory, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

playing it safe….

Living where and how we do acts as a prophylactic, a spiritual condom that shields us from the reality of the ever more imaginative madness of mankind. Growing old in peace is not an unreasonable expectation yet it is becoming an increasingly rare luxury and one that we, here in La Moussiere, are, presently, lucky enough to enjoy. Donald and Boris, both fine examples of the perambulating gargoyle, are currently competing for Buffoon of the Year which competition, being that Daft Donald may soon gain control of the world’s greatest arsenal, may be the last of its kind. But, ignoring the desiccated rhetoric and big swinging dick posturing of Boris and Doris, I shall swiftly segue into the life and death of local marine molluscs which interests me more and which I refuse to spell with a “k”..madness lies that way, Mr Spellchec. Unlike the majority of food stuffs, molluscs retain their good looks right up to the moment when they enter that last great seaway, the alimentary canal, in which they gently transmogrify into that which will most certainly hit the fan if either Boris or Doris have their misguided (Boris) or insane (Doris) way. I mention this concern with appearance as I feel that  lambs, pigs or beef cattle look so much more winsome, charming or handsome when frolicking, mud rolling or grazing than does the dismantled version of those same creatures when bloodily displayed in the car crash that is the butcher’s window. Mussels and clams look as sculpturally beautiful in their habitat as they do in the serving bowl and it may be said crayfish and lobsters most certainly gain in beauty after a bath in boiling water. The same cannot be said of liver or kidneys which clearly benefit from concealment within a handsome hide. However, this is just a matter of opinion as is the need to build a wall to stop Mexicans entering the US or the decision to wave a frayed flag for an even Greater illusion of a Great Britain than already exists in the minds of the far right in the deep South of England. It was interesting to note that, according to Radio 4 this morning, the cartoons in the Sunday newspapers ridiculed the blonde bombshells but there was no sign of any such disrespect to Mr. Murdoch and his fragrant bride.

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Posted in 2016, Digital photography, Farming, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Photographic Prints, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Shell shock…..

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During my lifetime the word “simple”, or should I say its inference, has become the antithesis of that which I originally understood. My schooldays were passed in those halcyon days before society had become so cowed by the pinched face of PC that we lost the joy of speaking freely. I remember being told that conjugating the present subjunctive of βουλεύειν was simple, that algebra was simple, that doing what I was told was simple and if I couldn’t understand that, then it was clear that it was I that was simple. At that point I hadn’t associated”simple” with either “easy” or “stupid” in the same way that I took no offence when the headmaster referred to us boys as perambulating gargoyles as I had no idea what he was talking about and it made us laugh. My memories of those times are joyful as they were a time of innocence in the true sense of the word as we lacked the wherewithal to be anything but innocent; very like happy people before the missionary arrived. I was vulnerable to sticks and stones but immune to subtle insult.Time passes, dull innocence is left crying for “Mummy” and we create about us, like a snail’s shell, an individual armour which we call our personality from which, depending on the strength of the armour, we can bear the brunt of hurled insult and, putting our heads above the parapet, chuck a few back with impunity. But the shells have been impounded by PC and we are revealed as the defenseless, thin skinned beings that we really are.  I ‘m not sure how I got side tracked but it was about shells that I intended to write. As long as I’ve cooked, I’ve made pastry and as long as I’ve made pastry, however good it may have tasted, I’ve always felt that it was a bit too thick. I am going to dismiss from my mind the diatribe that is festering therein on the subject of day time television mainly because, having roundly condemned it, it would then fall to me to explain what in the fuck I was doing looking at it in the first place. Suffice it to say the lapse became an epiphany. The words “roll it out so it is very thin….thin enough to see through” were followed by the presenter holding up the rolled out pastry to the beams of sunlight coming through the window of his kitchen and the pastry was illuminated, as was I. This Pauline conversion happened but a couple of days ago and since then I’ve been cooking and rolling a lot. The tarte fine aux pommes, in the picture above, is a wonderful thing to behold and to eat. The recipe is uncomplicated and the dish created is the epitome of simple food….that’s how I use the word now….and the result makes me very happy.

The recipe for the tart is from Stéphane Reynaud’s wonderful book “Ripailles” but the pastry recipe is taken from the equally wonderful “Bistro Cooking” by Patricia Wells. I have to admit that I’ve reached the point where I find that I exclusively use the pastry recipes from that book as they have never, to this point, let me down.

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I’ve added, below, an old picture of me and some friends on holiday before the arrival of PC…and the removal of our shells.

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Posted in 2016, apples, baking, Bistro, Childhood, Childhood memories, Cookery Writers, Cooking, cous cous, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, harmony, Humour, Pate Brisee, Patricia Wells, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Recipes, Stephane Reynaud, tart, tarte fine aux pommes, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments