bushel or merkin ?…

My feelings about markets and merkins are synonymous. Dazzled and aroused by the mouthwateringly  sensual display, there is still the nagging suspicion that all is not as it should be. I cannot help but question if it is going to be quite as good as it looks whilst wondering what light it is that they are they hiding beneath their bushel or merkin.Let us be clear,  I have high hopes of what may be concealed within the one and behind the other yet, as in all dissimulation, there is a high probability of disappointment or, as the French say, “deception”…which is probably the right word when used in its English form as deception is traditionally the market trader’s stock in trade. The market shows out and the merkin conceals yet a peach is a peach is a peach…or not, as only a bite of a truly good peach will tell you. Adam found this out the hard way and there was but one lone stall in the market at that time. A stallholder’s outstretched hand offering me a taste of her wares is clear evidence that Eve’s selling technique still holds sway and that the market is packed with Adams willing to sell their souls for a dozen oysters or a bag of cherries. It’s the simplicity of the exchange, the take it or leave it, the hustle and the bustle and the way that the eye denies good judgement that captivates me. This market thrives under the colours and flavours of every race and creed under the sun….well, mostly from under a French colonial sun which shone on many more places than I had previously imagined. A woman tending huge pans of eels in parsley and stuffed snails exchanges pleasanteries with her neighbour who is flipping chapatis to serve with freshly made korma. Garlands of Spanish chorizo and espelette peppers frame a view of Vietnamese and Senegalese stalls selling their traditional foods and all this is implanted into the framework of a traditional French market whose ingredients are known to us all. Even to penetrate the inner sanctum of food stalls entails struggling through a near impenetrable ring of traders selling baskets, cloth, jewellery, wine, clothes and kitchen utensils….I just can’t get enough of it and it only happens on a Sunday morning…no wonder the churchs are empty. I’m happy to worship here but…..

U boat pens seen from the bridge leading to La Pallice

U boat pens seen from the bridge leading to La Pallice

….the market of which I speak is on the wrong side of the tracks in La Rochelle. The tracks, the wrong side of which it finds itself, still lead to the undamaged U-Boat pens built by the slave labour of the Todt Organisation during WWII. Would it not be wonderful if Palmyra had proved as immune to high explosives as has this grim monument to a period when mankind surpassed its previous limits of beastliness and cruelty; however high the bar of horror was then set, there are those today who would surpass it…

Posted in 2015, Art photography, Digital photography, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Markets, Photographic Prints, Photography, Shopping, Sunday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

That’s total scallops!..


It is hard to imagine that the man in this picture, well known forhis even temperament, could be so tormented by an intransigent still life, otherwise known as dinner, and the vagaries of a camera self timer: and yet, it had all started so well. The kitchen had been calm: a culinary temple wherein was being performed that ancient ritual whereby man, with the aid of fire, transforms sacrificial beasts into lunch or dinner. Beasts, in this kitchen, are not necessarily four legged nor even, for the most part, scallops_provencal_0005legged at all. The red and bloody beast beneath my knife was completely free of any ambulatory appendages  but was no less a beast for the lack of them: the two thick meaty slices cut from this tomato, a native of my neighbour’s potagère, were to be the turf upon which would be placed the surf; a tsunami of coral edged scallops flecked with the green of flat parsley and the ivory of slivered, buttery garlic. Tomatoes in a hot oven for 30 minutes topped with scallops pan fried in butter with parsley and garlic:the plan was so simple and so we steamed quietly on towards the iceberg. It is said that we humans perform a great many of our normal functions unconsciously; driving a car is such a moment when each combination of movements between hand, foot and eye are not individually considered yet occur at the right moment…..for the most part. As I took the very hot tomato dish out of the very hot oven my automatic pilot was pouring a glass of red. Without his aid I performed a masterly fuck up of prestidigitation which resulted in a proportion of the hitherto perfect roast tomato slices being scattered over the open oven door whilst the dish containing the remains had taken on the look of a gaping wound of the sort that, in a hospital drama, would prompt our surgically masked hero to quietly intone “I’m going to have to call it…”. I, on the other hand dug deep into the mine of arcane profanity from where I conjured monstrous conjunctions of scallops fornicating with the inept cunts who had constructed the oven on whose door I was currently burning my arm.


I have long held the view that cosmetics have no place in cooking and this dish of scallops slavishly upheld this principle making me wonder whether minimal makeup might occasionally override the bare faced approach in future forays. However, as I have told myself over and over again, looks are not everything and this dish is very good indeed. As a footnote, it might interest you to know that I found the recipe in a favourite cookery book of mine – “Classic Conran”- and I have only just noticed that the recipe is illustrated with a few ambivalent black and white pictures, unlike the other dishes in the book which are glamourously portrayed in mono saturated colour, and which show little or nothing of scallops and tomatoes…could the well designed Conran fan have been hit by the very same shit that hit mine?

Posted in 2015, Baking, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Drinks, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photographic Prints, Photography, scallops, seafood, Terence and Vicki Conran, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Coeur de Lyon

Rather than writing I’ve been laying on the beach in La Rochelle which is the order of things in August. Summer lassitude together with the limitless produce of the season limits the demand on time spent in the kitchen which, in turn, has given me time to overhaul my photography website. Hope you like it.

Posted in 2015, Art photography, Digital photography, French countryside, Photographic Prints, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

French Farce…


Stuffed peppers have steadfastly kept their place in my pantheon of “least favourite dishes” As I grow older I have found  so many “least favourite dishes” that I am searching for a new duo of comparative and superlative to replace “lesser” and “least”; I have considered options such as”slightly lesser”and ” not quite least” but, as in my feelings on being tortured, degree is not as relevant as the generalisation. I don’t want to be tortured to any fucking degree at all…I just don’t want to be tortured. And I don’t want to eat mac and sodding cheese nor any form of invalid tuna bake that makes the urine scented corridors of retirement homes seem like  wild flower meadows  or even so much as let the tip of my toe cross the threshold of a Maccursedonald: which horrors are just the tip of a towering iceberg of offending dishes and culinary crimes amongst which is the previously mentioned “stuffed pepper”. Stuffing is an unpleasant enough word,which in culinary speak brings to mind the stale dried herb flavour of the pallid  lump, akin to a gobbet of ambergis, that is traditionally forced into the body cavity of the festive fowl on which so many hopes are heaped, all to be shattered as the overcooked, flat batteried bird is presented to a now seriously pissed and argumentative once happy family.But there are occasions when a light stuffing, rather than a full blooded shag, will do nothing but good for a pepper, particularly one that is to be roasted. I’m never quite sure why I buy those unpleasant nets or cellophane tubes containing a red, yellow and green trinity of capsicums. I think it must be that it saves me from going through the French supermarket ritual of personally weighing and price labeling one’s fruit and vegetable purchases whereas the pre packed option allows one to forego that particular trial. Had I been planning to make a ratatouille I would have carefully and individually selected each pepper and each other vegetable that I planned to use. Should a pepperonata have been on my mind, I would only have been considering the red peppers and so on. So the reason for this unlikely choice remains obscure and maybe it’s because I carry in my mind an image of burnt edged multi coloured peppers that lie drunkenly collapsed with the heat of cooking and the richness of the olive oil that they have greedily drunk which is linked to a remarkably simple recipe, appositely named “Baked Peppers for a summer lunch” and is to be found in Nigel Slater’s “Tender”.


There are slight differences between my dish and the recipe, one of which was forced on me, one contrarily added and one forgotten at the last moment. The peppers are halved, emptied of their seeds and other bits and laid in an oven proof dish. It is suggested that a few, halved cherry tomatoes are put into the peppers but, having no cherry tomatoes, I used some chopped tomato. Mr.Slater’s recommendation, that anchovies were to be left out, I ignored and took to be a misprint. There was no mention of scattering cloves of garlic in the dish ( I don’t know what the editor and type setter were doing, but certainly not their job) and the whole thing is then seasoned and drizzled ( a word that may well be entering the previously mentioned pantheon) with olive oil: cook for 45 minutes in a hot oven. Nigel recommends a clever idea of blitzing basil leaves with olive oil to pour over the cooked dish which I forgot to do and which sounds wonderful. I blame this omission on my full leaved, green and healthy basil plant that sits silently on the ledge OUTSIDE the kitchen window which, being out of sight, I forget to use on every occasion: on the other hand Basil has found his rightful place in the sun where he remains happy and, for the moment, unplucked.

Posted in 2015, anchovies, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, family, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Nigel Slater, peppers, Photography, Recipes, Shopping, summer, Supermarkets, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

one can never be too thin or too chocolatey….


melting_choc_0002Cooking with chocolate demands judgement and judgement demands evidence. My lips were smeared with compelling evidence as I marveled at the simplicity of this glossy tart. The first cut had no need to be the deepest as no tart before had adhered with such zealous commitment to Wallis Simpson’s maxim. This tart is as rich and as thin as a tart can be; yet shuns  the mask of cosmetic good looks, unlike many similar tarts, whilst retaining that essential, yet elusive, quality of intensely good taste. The first mouthful had me wondering how there was no Queen Wallis…maybe Edward was unwilling to share.



This recipe is a bybrid from the pages of Stephane Reynaud’s “Ripaille” and Patricia Wells'”Bistro Cooking”. As with many enjoyable moments, there is no exact formula. I would tell you to make the shortest, sweetest pastry; chill it for a good hour or two and then lay it out on a flat oven tray and sprinkle with crushed hazelnuts. Roll up the edge, prick the base and cook for about 25 minutes in a hot oven (200C). Meanwhile melt good dark chocolate, butter and cream in a bowl over hot water. Pour this mixture into the cooked pastry case and let it cool. Whisky or whatever can be added to the chocolate although I didn’t as I like to keep as far away from whisky as possible….most people who know me would agree with this caveat.

Posted in 2015, Baking, Chocolate, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cream, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Hazelnuts, Humour, Nuts, Patricia Wells, Photography, Stephane Reynaud, tart, Thin chocolate tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

the best legs in Lyon….


The streets of Vieux Lyon take on even more charm when seen through the legs of an unusually good Côte Rôtie. Its goodness is guaranteed as it has been selected and poured by Georges dos Santos, a man who is regarded internationally as one of the finest cavistes in the world and a man in whose miraculous cave, a cave spared the abstemious temperance of Aladdin’s,  I was happily standing, glass in hand, one evening last July. The occasion was called “work” which may well be the reason why food photographers proliferate at a rate akin to that of  bloated lips and protruding buttocks. If food and wine be the music of photography, play on, give me excess of it. And so it was….Georges played on, as is his wont, and I had excess of it.


Georges is possessed of that nature which is in direct opposition to sound business sense which, to my mind, is invaluable to lovers of pleasure: invaluable, not as an asset but as a prerequisite. An inability to separate pleasure from work makes Jack a poor but happy boy. As I stood with Georges on the threshold of one of the caves behind Antic Wine, his celebrated shop, which was filled with thousands of bottles of grands crus he told me of the greatest fear that he had for his business ….himself: and he was smiling as he said this, not at the irony, but because the idea filled him with delight.


Posted in 2015, Art photography, Digital photography, Drinks, Excellence, Excess, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, grapes, Humour, lifestyle, Photographic Prints, Photography, Uncategorized, Wine, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

when first we flatten to deceive…


At this time of year Nature conspires with men to produce a contrariness in the flattened versions of some stoned fruit. A peach is a peach when it is suggestive; when its curves make one smile with greedy lust; when the sight of the soft fuzz on the peachy skin takes us sighing back to summers of our youth. It is hard to resist touching the shapely “jolies fesses” of the traditional peach; to gently press the warm flesh to confirm its readiness for the next step that will end with juice dribbling and finger licking. That is the peach moment; we have been inpeached. As with so many things libidinous the French language hits the spot – “j’ai la peche d’enfer” which literally translates as having the peach of hell, a truly wicked peach, a peach of a wicked peach but means, quite simply, “I’m feeling great…couldn’t be fucking better”…on a la peche. So, round sexy peaches are the business yet, sitting right next to them in the fruity seraglio are these little flattened, doughnutty dudes. Hard to take seriously but, as the song says “….never make a pretty woman your wife..” and one bite of this belle laide will put you straight. Flat peaches are dribbingly good: they have an intense peachiness that comes at the cost of not getting the wolf whistles but with the benefit of having admirers and addicts kneeling and begging for more. I am mad for flat peaches and I bought a whole tray of them for 2€; has there ever been a better purchase…apparently New York didn’t cost much but who wants a big apple when there is a bear market in flat peaches. The downside in bulk buying of ripe peaches in hot summer weather becomes almost instantly apparent…they’re not for the long haul so eat up.


Among the many benefits of the photography courses that I have run over the past few years is the quality of the food blogs of the alumnae. One of these is Emma at Fork and Pixel who is not only a wonderful cook but was also Highly Commended in the 2015 Pink Lady Food Photography Competition which is no mean achievement. Check out her delicious recipe for Peach Melba Squares. My version is Melba free as I had no raspberries but was still delicious….I still had to eat a lot of flat peaches so it is safe to say that “moi, j’ai la peche d’enfer”.



Posted in 2015, Baking, cake, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, peaches, Photography, summer, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

breaking eggs badly…the box set


As a cook, it is not unusual for me to find myself uncomfortably perched on the pointy bits of the dilemma which involves guessing an egg’s age. Not unlike ourselves, eggs of different ages behave very differently and I find that I can misjudge  the age and behaviour of an egg quite as easily as I can misjudge the age and behaviour of  my fellow human beings  Living in the country has been a great help to me in respect of both of these failings as the date of an egg’s emergence is noted in pencil on the shell and there are not many people. However, individual egg dating is only evident when I buy, beg or borrow eggs from one of our neighbouring farms which is not every day…if indeed that was the case, I would have an egg mountain or be egg bound, which sounds like Westward’ho but isn’t and what few people there are here would hide from me which has set me wondering if there are in fact, or more precisely in hiding, more people here than I imagine. The two ages of egg that interest me are the age of easy separation, which in the human only depends on having someone from whom to separate, and the age of hard boiledness which is the eggage when the shell will peel off with ease after boiling..only Caligula or H.Lector would be an authority on the human equivalent. My relationship with egg white, as I have mentioned at other times, is strained and unreasonable: it is not unlike Henry VIII’s fickle attitude to wives’ heads and their continued attachment. There are boiled eggs, the mere sight of whose “white” will induce gagging, whereas I can stand at a bar on a market morning sipping a glass of muscadet and happily chomp on a lightly salted, hard boiled egg, a small basket of which it is not unusual to find perched on the “zinc”. The eggs that you see in the opening still life of this post, dated 15/7, would, by yesterday, have been ideal to be hard boiled but, following an unerring sense that allows me to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, I chose to ignore their clearly marked age and treat them as adolescent ova whose albumen and yolks would be only too willing to separate from each other and in so doing allow me to transform one half of their eggy gestalt into soft sweet pillows of meringue. It is hard to imagine that any ambitious young egg would be able to resist such a career move but, as you know, these were not thrusting youngsters but old dodderers whose albumen and yolks were bound together for eternity, to whom separation was anathema. Never was the adage of the impossibility of making an omelette without breaking eggs so clearly illustrated, and that is what they inevitably became:a perfect liaison of their elements bound together with fresh herbs from the garden together with tomatoes, whose scented ripeness declared them unmistakably as fruit  and hot, sweet butter. An omelette is the perfect solution for a person who plays roulette with eggs..


Posted in 2015, Boiled eggs, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Drinks, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Hard boiled eggs, Humour, omelette, Photography, Uncategorized, wine, Writing, yolks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 42 Comments

the miller’s wife’s tale…


The red herring has not been seen on the perambulating hors d’oeuvre trolley since the early days of Mao’s influence, when all things red were de rigueur. And there it is; my fallacy is neatly laid in your path to divert your attention from a very ordinary plate of food giving me the chance to massage your virtual sensory papillae with a mouthwatering encomium in praise of the classic bistro hors d’oeuvre of herring and warm potato salad/ harengs aux pommes de terre. Last year I spent some time in Lyon engaged in the arduous task of photographing some of the excellent restaurants that abound in that centre of gourmandise. Until that visit I had not encountered the saladier Lyonnais which is an hors d’oeuvre of Pantagruelian proportions. The exemplar of this traditional dish is to be found at the celebrated bouchon Lyonnais, La Meunière, where, on the occasion that I ate lunch, no fewer than 8 huge bowls of different salads were presented at the table, 4 of which are evident in the middle picture, bottom row, of the La Meunière compilation below.
Skipping a beat, I will quickly move on to share with you a passage, from a book that I am currently enjoying, whose sentiment ( the passage not the whole book) goes some way to explain my pleasure in restaurants such as this and in simple dishes such as harengs aux pommes de terre:”Complementarity is a deep mystery about taste just as it is about people.There is a profound unity-in-plurality when one meets a spirit that vibrates at the same frequency as one’s own..” A bit poncy, but you get the meaning: certain people, places and foods immediately resonate with me in a very pleasurable but unexpected and undefineable way…the reverse of this principle is even more powerful. The recipe for this dish is simplicity itself and just requires that the correct ingredients should be put together carefully and eaten in the right spirit. In Lyon I drank a delicious light Beaujolais with this hors d’oeuvre, but in the heat of the recent days, when I made the dish at home, I substituted a chilled glass of white and, of course, good bread.

Salade Harengs- Pomme de Terre La Meunière – from Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells

250gms small new potatoes – waxy.
4 fillets of Hareng Fumê Doux (smoked herring /not the very salty sort. If too salty soak in milk for a bit)
Handful of chopped fresh chives
Ground nut oil, rapeseed or some such mild oil…not olive oil.
Plunge the new potatoes, in their skins, into salted, boiling water and cook for about 15 minutes or until they are only just cooked.Drain the potatoes and cut into quarters or smaller pieces. Cut the herring fillets into similar size chunks. In a large bowl, mix together the warm potatoes, herring and chives lubricating the mixture with oil. Leave for a bit to let the flavours permeate.

Posted in 2015, Bistro, Bouchon, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Drinks, Emotion, Excellence, Expectation, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Patricia Wells, Photography, Recipes, smoked herring, smoked herring and potato salad, Uncategorized, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

getting into Camus..


I have no compunction in firmly closing a book and returning it to the shelf if I am not enjoying it or, indeed, if I simply do not like it. On one such occasion, when I was very much younger, finding myself so disengaged with the words I was reading,  I threw the book out of the window of a moving train. We grow older and sillier and in that silliness our compass becomes less fixed, meaning that we can meander backwards and forwards through time finding new pleasure in things we would previously have shown the window. I have to confess that I have never found the wonder that is enjoyed by so many in the plays of William Shakespeare. During my school days I read, studied and indeed successfully answered questions on a handful of his works and on leaving school worked a summer job at Chichester Festival Theatre where the finest Shakespearean actors plied their trade. I am now neither keen on actors nor Shakespeare. Maybe I have haven’t had one that I liked. The same may be said about artichokes. They have a very sophisticated reputation in good restaurants as an hors d’oeuvre and they look as though they were designed by an architect but, as with WS there’s an awful lot to plough through before you get to the good bit. I cannot bring myself to use the name Globe Artichoke because of the Shakespearean overtones so I will continue with the French nomenclature of Artichaut Camus…a writer who I remember enjoying very much when I read a couple of his books whilst I was at art school but I have no idea why: it may just have been because he was French. It has to be said that these huge artichokes have another quality that attracts and that is their cheapness. Elizabeth David is someone who I do enjoy reading ( maybe if Shakespeare had included more recipes I would have warmed to him) and it was a small piece in her seminal work “French Provincial Cooking” that set me to preparing this simplest of all suppers. The piece caught my eye, not only because I had looked up “artichoke, things to do with” in the index, but also because it was not just a recipe but a description of a dinner she had enjoyed, some 50 years ago, at La Mere Brazier in Lyon, a restaurant that I myself visited last year. Ms.David had eaten saucisson en brioche, sole meuniere and poularde en demi deuil, a daunting affair, and was wondering how on earth she would manage an artichoke heart topped with a slice of foie gras that was to be the next course. As it turned out, the artichoke heart was served as the simplest and lightest of salads although, I have to admit, I could not have dealt with preceding three courses let alone considered an artichoke salad before cheese and dessert.


For this salad each person should be served a whole artichoke heart and therein lies the only fly in this particular ointment. The artichoke in the opening picture is in a large le Creuset casserole and there certainly isn’t room for another in there…which makes me think this is a supper for one. Thinking of the logistics for preparing this dish for six people makes me want jump out of the window of a moving train leaving the book on the seat. Back to preparation. Cut the stem off and then cut off the top of the artichoke. Put the prepared artichoke into a casserole of well acidulated and salted water, bring to the boil and cook for about 40 minutes. Drain and cool the artichoke, but don’t let it get cold, and then remove the outside leaves and the choke, leaving you with the tender artichoke heart. Put some good salad leaves, such as mesclun, onto a plate and dress the salad with oil and lemon ( or maybe some tarragon vinegar),place the heart on top and drizzle with the same dressing. It’s worth a try…if you don’t like it, chuck it out of the window.

Posted in 2015, arichoke heart salad, artichokes, Bistro, Bouchon, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Elizabeth David, Foie Gras, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Memory, Olive oil, Photography, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments