Through the drawn curtains it was clear that dawn had drawn to a close some time ago. Drawing a deep breath, I drew back the duvet, fell out of bed and, drawing on what little remained of my heavily overdrawn will power, I drew myself up to my full 5″ !0″9″8″….whatever, with the full intention of drawing a bath. Drawing water is never easy which is why I opted to draw a bath. Clean draws were in the drawer which I instinctively drew on to avoid drawing eternal shame on the family as a dirty drawed corpse should I unexpectedly be drawn to an early appointment in Samarra under the merciless gaze of Johnny Public who are never backward in drawing conclusions ..which is not easy either.
There’s very little point to this post apart from sharing with you a moment, in that half sleep half waking world, when I was disconsolately contemplating the drawing in of the evenings, which heralds the “w” word, and which simultaneously made me aware of the variety of meanings for the word “draw”. Being badly drawn in times gone by could have resulted in the executioner being sent on a retraining programme or, conversely, Holbein would have ended up being very badly drawn if Henry had felt that he, himself, had not been sufficiently well drawn. Cowboys will hide in draws, a little known fact that might have inspired Brokeback Mtn, to ambush the stagecoach as will 22 men in whites stand in the sun throwing a ball hard at one another until a draw is declared which is the draw of the game. Looking drawn will draw sympathy whereas a crowd is often drawn around someone drawing and so it could go on if I didn’t draw a halt to the proceedings. Just to add some reason to this rambling I would like to mention that I am in the final stages of putting together a new website and shop for my photography, drawing and digital painting which should be on line at the beginning of September. At last, time to draw breath.
I have no argument with this nomenclature save that it should serve as an umbrella title for all forms of ‘metics, ‘matics, ‘metrys and ‘bras. The quantity of water displaced by two fat men in a bath would only be of interest to the people in the apartment below and questions entailing trains bursting out of tunnels are too much for an adolescent mind whose days, and particularly nights, are spent dreaming of the moment when the answer to this sticky problem will be revealed to them and, more importantly, by whom. Would it be x? or would it by y? and why would it be y rather than x …..why not x + y.. or x/y and mental puberty was born.
Cups and spoons are familiar objects in every kitchen and it was this familiarity that concerned me yesterday as I stared in vain and in anger at a recipe defining the precise measurements of ingredients that I would need in cups and spoons. The charm and, above all, practicality of both cups and spoons is that both cups and spoons vary enormously in shape and size. With that in mind it beggars belief that some Pilgrim Mother, bereft of her scales, had an ersatz Eureka moment in which she declared that recipe measurements should henceforth be measured in cups and spoons; more exactly, her personal cup and spoon. Behaviour such as that can, and should be, defined as mental arithmetic. Legend has it that her fellow Pilgrim Mothers hung a large, red letter A around her neck : AVOIRDUPOIDS……
Le pain quotidien….give us this day our daily pain. The spinning signs on the pavements emblazoned with PAIN in fluorescent lettering still bring a smile to my face. It would indeed be a pain to be denied my daily bread and I relish the custom of this country, indeed the law of the land, that bread should always be readily available to its citizens and visitors on each and every day of the year. I’m sure that the same is true of each and every country wealthy enough to undertake such a promise to its inhabitants for which I’m sure we’re all truly grateful. However, my mind’s eye is focused on the customer leaving the boulangerie with a warm, crusty baguette the centre of which is wrapped in a neckerchief of white paper leaving the ends exposed to be be broken off and eaten on the way home. That is the bread for which I am daily grateful for it is more than bread; it is an ideal. Our nearest boulangerie sells bread. It sells four or five different “pains” and a typical range of baguettes, pains longues and ficelles. There is also a gesture of patisserie and, on occasions, good chocolates. The point is that is sells bread and not rows of fucking panini and other cellophane wrapped sterilised lumps of dough filled with whatever the zeitgeist demands. It gives me my daily bread, which I will take home and eat with stuff that I have, like and trust, and not my daily game of listeria Russian roulette.
Which broadside at sandwich shops and their ilk segues neatly into “the day we found we had run out of bread and the shops were shut”. I take great pleasure in baking but I’ve never baked bread. The precision of bread making, which is made to look so imprecise and free style by good bread makers, is what has put me off as well as the fear of making really awful bread. The moment that the lack of bread became real was Damascene. In the dazzling light of the moment there appeared a packet with a strange device “Pain Blanc – Mélange de Farines Boulangeres” and the die was cast. I must have bought this packet of very ordinary supermarket proprietary brand bread flour as some sort of insurance against starvation as I would no more buy artisan bread flour than I would expensive green gumboots.
The recipe was printed on the side of the packet which I followed religiously…..on reflection, quite the opposite of religiously as that would require blind faith which is not recommended as an adjunct to successful baking however well it works for martyrdom. And it worked miraculously well….I hope that salves the wound I have inflicted on the religious among those who might read this.
The recipe is as follows:
500gms flour ( whichever white bread flour you are using)
300ml warm water
2 sachets of bakers yeast
2 soup spoons of sugar which gives colour to the crust .
Mix the salt, the yeast, the sugar and the flour in a bowl. Make a well in the middle and pour in the warm water.. Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon and then work the dough on a floured board for a good 8 minutes. Cover the bowl and leave in a warm place for 30 mins. Flour the board generously and flatten the dough on the board and form it into a square, with 20cms edges. Fold the four points into the middle and do the same with new 4 points. Turn the dough over and form into a round shape ( a boule). Put the boule on a lightly oiled baking tray, cover with a tea towel and leave to rise for 40 mis. Turn on the oven 15mins before the end of rising and set to 210C. When the rising time has elapsed put the baking tray with the boule in the oven, with as small bowl of water on the baking tray. Leave to cook for 40 -50 mins.
I should point out that I have no idea whether the recipe works with any bread flour or if it has been created specifically for Super U Pain Blanc. I’m averse to writing technical recipes as I’m not a recipe tester but someone who loves cooking. It s also a reason why I feel nothing but sympathy for those who decide to write cookery books as it must be particular circle of hell into which I do not wish to enter.
I was following my list religiously. The washing tabs, washing up liquid and several other household items were in the trolley, their names dutifully ticked off on my list which is less of an aide memoire and more of a memoire replacement. I think I first heard the voices as I was searching for soda crystals: had Joan of Arc heard these voices it would have saved a lot of trouble because they were the voices of American comedians saying “fuck” quite a lot and the voices were coming from the PA system and not from Heaven. Old Britpop and trashy Europop, which I love, are the usual fare for background shopping musak in this supermarché ( I added the accent to work up the French atmosphere) so the change to aggressively funny New York comedians was a surprise. Owing to the current allied invasion of France it is not unusual to hear announcements in English but the manager’s decision to go for an edgy comedy show could be thought of as innovative but history, or his boss, would call it insane and show him the door. My list was long and I can’t remember being conscious of the voices for the full duration of my shopping but each time I heard an expletive followed by canned laughter I was surprised that only I seemed surprised. And then I was pushing my trolley through the car park and unloading it into the boot of the car. As I headed for the trolley parking station my surprise turned to disbelief that any management would decide to pump out what seemed like Richard Pryor on meths in the car park of their establishment as though a cheery “fuck off” would be a excellent bonjour or aurevoir to their regular clients. Sitting in the peace of the car, it being electric there is very little noise, I thought I’d ring Jenny to let her know I was on my way home and it was then that I noticed my phone was talking American to me….loudly. I now know how Podcasts work and I hope everyone at Super U enjoyed the show,
I have recently been reading a novel by William Boyd in which one of the protagonists, a brilliant piano tuner, speaks of a certain sequence of chords and harmonies which, when played by a virtuoso, would, without fail, bring tears to the eyes of a listener. Certain combinations of tastes and textures have a similar effect on me save that I internalise my tears saving the ” I must have something in my eye” for moments such as this piece by Michael Kamen that always does it ….https://youtu.be/GA2FOVlNb6Q…..I’m blubbing at 1 minute 6 secs into the music.
Anchovies, capers and olive oil are tastes that create a gustatory chord that leaves not a dry eye in the house. Yesterday, flicking through images on Instagram, a simple shot of anchovy fillets on buttered bread had the “tears” welling up and before you could say ” I could really do with a plate of that stuff, maybe on buttered toast and with something else to kick the flavour button a little bit more” I was in the kitchen slicing bread and thinking. This is where “toast” came into the equation and where it was soundly rejected, despite the success of the book and the show, in favour of a small black frying pan and a spoonful of olive oil. Bread quickly fried in olive oil is as good as a plate on which to lay anchovy fillets and capers but, for the sake of a good picture, I weakened and used a traditional ceramic one. The addition of slivers of preserved lemons, which I’d just bought for a tagine that I’m about to make, was a good move and, after a couple of mouthfuls, I realised that I’d need my handkerchief as I appeared to have got something in my eye.
With the arrival of “summer” I’ve started drawing again. In previous summers I have found that the simple pleasure of being in the garden, warmed by the sun and surrounded by colour has made me want to draw. This year’s pale imitation of a summer has been enervating but, to my surprise, despite the cold and rain, the pleasure of making drawings has, like the rest of nature, returned from its winter migration.
If anyone should be interested. prints of these images are available on canvas or as giclée prints.
I’m one of the easiest people in the world to talk to which means that it’s a rare waking moment when I and I are not chewing the fat which term is far from apposite as I and I is vegetarian. It’s not a question of advancing years or retreating sanity that brings me into such close communication with myself as I’ve talked to myself for as long as I can remember which is an unreliable time frame with regard to memory as I instantly forget the names of people to whom I’ve just been introduced. That aside, there’s no one I would rather cook with than myself as it precludes any criticism or I told you so’s which are disheartening when I’m clearly fucking up as was the case when recently making Creme Caramel. I say “clearly” but what is now clear is that the clear errors were not apparent to I and I at the time although we were congratulating each other on a job well done as we unwittingly sank deeper and deeper into the moving sands of the dessert.
“If you’re feeling brave, tip the sugar directly into a thick bottomed pan and let it melt over a low heat”…challenged the author of the chosen recipe. Madness, I said to myself, and myself replied “If this is madness then I am a friend of folly” and tipped the sugar directly into the pan. Gently swirling the pan from time to time produced a warm brown bubbling caramel, as you can see from the picture above, and both I and I were confident that it was right…….boiling sugar does not lend itself to tasting and I was sure that once upon a time I had had a sugar thermometer by I couldn’t remember where I or I had put it so the caramel was tipped into the waiting dish where it quickly set into a perfect dark mirror. To my and I’s mind the difficult part was over. All that was left to do was pour a rich, vanilla flavoured custard over the dark mirror, put the dish in a bain marie and thence to the oven for an hour.
The hour passed reasonably quickly as one of us danced embarrassingly to jazz music from a French radio station whilst the other hid his face in his hands wishing he was with anyone but himself. The timer thankfully blew full time and the Creme Caramel saw its first moment of daylight and, without question, it was a ringer for the dog’s bollocks….why do I say things like that I said to myself who in turn said ” you’ve got fucking Tourette’s, that’s why”. At this point you may wonder what could be wrong with this paragon of a pudding and it was only after the recommended 12 hours chilling in the fridge that its true character came to light. The Rothko like surface of the pudding, as seen in the picture above, had become a pale, wrinkled covering and a spoon dug in revealed a far too thin layer of custard and a rather bitter caramel…..an altogether acquired taste. Our post mortem concluded that the caramel had cooked for a couple of minutes too long and it also dragged out another couple of truths which I thought I had safely hidden from myself. First of these was the sin of halving a recipe under the belief that it will work as normal and, adding injury to insult, only halving certain parts of the recipe. ….and there was no vanilla sugar in the custard as one of me had forgotten that there was no more in the cupboard.
I have talked myself into a replay next week once I have found the thermometer ( or me or myself chooses to make the caramel the easy way with water) and when the vanilla sugar cupboard is fully restocked.
There are, currently, a plethora of wonderful workshops that specialise in overhead shots of beautifully propped and carefully prepared and presented food…………………………….
but my upcoming workshop is not one of those.
The programme that I’m proposing for this workshop is about “looking”. About looking at the work of other photographers, about looking around us, about looking until we get to see something to photograph, until we can’t stop seeing things to photograph. About finding the picture inside a picture that had been invisible until one “looked” again. Which means that we’ll be out and about in small villages or in seaside towns or in the open countryside….wherever there are pictures. And when we’ve taken pictures we’ll look at them on Photoshop and pull the pictures out their shells.
“Looking” can be exhausting and thirsty work so be assured that in my life and on my workshops we eat and drink extremely well. Matt and Emily Clark, our hosts, our both wonderful cooks and, happily, France is full of good wine. The workshop is based in a comfortable villa on the edge of the forest of Mervent pictures of which are in the gallery below:
There are still places left on this workshop so now’s the time to contact either me directly ( email@example.com) or by going to www.biginfrance.co.uk where you can find our workshop under the drop down menu of Photography Courses.
The sun is out and the skies are blue as we rush towards Spring which makes it a perfect moment to book one or two of the remaining places on my May Workshop here in the Vendée. Contact me directly or have a look at the options on the Big in France website.