a fistful of phalli….a posy of violettes..

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This is a good example of a gratuitous food shot: a waste of time and space,,,but quite funny. In a recent post I wrote disparagingly of white asparagus; those fat, firm, and pallid phalli which serve to testify that however much size may matter, it still may not taste very good. When I tapped out that particular tirade I had forgotten about their slightly more obscene pink tipped cousins, known as “violettes, a large bunch of which we received as a gift from good friends when they came to lunch at the weekend. These delicately coloured spears exude promise. They are like perfectly formed breasts; supremely desirable and unbearably tempting yet, in the end, so limiting in what can be done with them….such is the way with asparagus. Forget thoughts of covering them in cream or putting them in decoratively crimped pastry, for in that direction lies only disappointment. That which they do need is loving care. Hold each stem at both ends and gently bend it until it breaks, discarding the root end. The remaining stem must then be gently pared to remove the thick outer skin.

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I have an asparagus cooker which I never regret buying even though I rarely cook asparagus, although this may now change owing to my new found relationship with Violet. Put the basket of prepared asparagus into the asparagus cooker which has been filled with cold water to a level just below the tips of the spears. Cover and bring the water to the boil. The spears will be cooked in about 20 minutes, which seems a long time but in my experience it’s what they need. Serve them cold with a good mayonnaise or warm with a sauce made from crushed hard boiled egg yolks, salt, pepper and olive oil. The latter is fantastic and once tried will not be forgotten. Strawberries are very good as pudding and have the same sexual overtones that suit asparagus very well. For some reason I thought that this beautifully pale asparagus would not cause the infamous asparagus pee…..I was wrong.

Posted in 2015, asparagus, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Hard boiled eggs, Olive oil, Photography, sea salt, strawberries, summer, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Lifting the lid on strawberries…

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I blame longitude for the problem. The problem that I refer to is the intensely enervating sensation that comes upon me when I watch hyper enthusiastic television presenters being “excited” about everything and anything. Why am I looking at them at all, you may ask, and I refer you to my opening words. I am in the habit of watching the early evening news on television which affords me little pleasure but gives me a chance to shout abuse and obscenities at influential people without appearing before the beak. Because of this affectation I tend to be alone when watching as Jenny wisely finds more pressing things to do in another room. Were I to be watching the 6 o’clock news in England there would not be a problem as I would never be watching it. As it is, I’m watching the 6 o’clock news in France which is shown at the more sensible time of 7 o’clock which means that I will be watching and berating as I go back and forth from the kitchen where  I will have started to prepare supper which will be eaten at about 9 o’clock. As the hour of the news ends so begins a maniacal half hour of non stop talking, teeth and laughter ….laughter that has to be dragged from its hiding place like tree stumps or wisdom teeth by presenters clinging on to their livelihoods whilst glum talented folk watch from the sofa awaiting the cue that will allow them to fulfill their agents’ demand of promoting their latest offering. Like a rabbit caught in the headlights I stare with a dreadful fascination at the bollocks unfolding on the screen. Sometimes I am saved by the smell of burning from the kitchen which brings me to my senses and lets me escape the Medusa experience. Yesterday, a wunderkind chef was beating a snare drum as child chefs presented their labour saving ideas for the kitchen and I, in my turn was beaten and snared. One of the ideas involved removing the green bit from the top of a strawberry by inserting a drinking straw at the pointed apex of the fruit and pushing upwards , as in the photo above…brilliant. I was excited……but only for a moment.

Posted in 2015, Bad Habits, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Lunch with Molly…

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Molly and I share similar tastes in that we both very much like roast chicken and sardines which Jenny does not. In a well ordered ménage à trois, as is ours, such a problem is not insurmountable being resolved by the simple expediency of Molly and I taking lunch together whilst Jenny and I dine in the evening. Lunch was until recently something that I remembered from a past life. At one point in that past life I can remember being a master of lunch, which was an event that often filled the best part of a working day. If one was good at lunch it meant that only the meanest portion of time was allotted for work. The inevitable result of that equation has become evident since coming to live in France, a land which celebrates the restaurant lunch with a near religious fervour and where my lunching habits have foundered on the rocks of penury. Mr.Micawber would feel vindicated and eternally grateful that his fictional existence had saved him from yet another person joining the host of spendthrifts waiting to give him a good kicking for being such a prescient clever dick. My return to the lunching habit has been brought about by my recent acquaintance with manual labour. A loaf of bread and a jug of wine is apparently the lunch time menu in Xanadu should you be building a pleasure dome in a cavern measureless to man but, in my dotage, the jug of wine would have me on my knees quicker than a bag of cement on the shoulder or, as P.G.Wodehouse succinctly wrote, being struck behind the ear with a stuffed seal. Speaking of seals, it is apposite that sardines are high on my list, and Molly’s, of lunch time favourites. My Portuguese grandfather was keen on tinned sardines and would use the strange collective term, ” a drop of sardines”, when he fancied them for his supper which statement surprised me, not only grammatically, but also in their selection as food for the evening. The main thing is that Molly is particularly keen on sardines and, surprisingly for a cat, seems to very much like olive oil….as do I. So lunch is simple sardines in olive oil, good bread and butter and a big salad of mache and rocket…..only sardines for Molly. Interestingly, for a lunch companion, Molly prefers to eat from a bowl on the floor. In moments of excess, in years gone by, I often spent a certain amount of time on the floor at end of a long lunch so it’s not for me to criticise the eating habits of others. On the other hand, Molly does prefer to sit on a stool in the kitchen to eat a bowl of biscuits before going to bed in the outhouse.

 

Then of course there is roast chicken…but more of that another time.

 

Posted in 2015, Art photography, Digital photography, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Olive oil, Photography, sardines, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

..as I sat out one Spring morning….

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Coffee in the peace of an early morning gives me that time to reflect and prepare myself for the day. The season has changed which means that this morning I enjoyed  that moment in the warmth of the early morning sun. It matters not a jot that tomorrow it may rain as this morning was perfect.

Posted in 2015, Breakfast, Coffee, Excellence, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Garden, Pears, Photography, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

la veritable pissaladiere and other lies….

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That which some believe to be an unimpeachable truth will always be questioned or pilloried by others who believe that their own version of that unimpeachable truth is clearly so much truer than the other unimpeachable claptrap. At this time our society is so at odds with one another that the only common ground  we share may well be the declaration that Coca Cola is the real thing, which truism suggests that the nuclear family of man only exists on the edge of the very worst scenario of fusion. But, before we self immolate, I have something to say about onions which does not include the world being a great big one which concept makes sense only in the amount of tears that are shed upon it. On the morning in question it only took one quick look in the fridge and a glance at the vegetable bowl on the worktop to tell me that my options were limited but within those limits resided the makings of a delicious but controversial dish. As with the recipes for bouillabaisse and cassoulet, there is little agreement as to the identity of la veritable pissaladière. Pissala, a Nicoise condiment, is hard , more correctly, impossible to make unless one is an inhabitant of the area so, being fresh out of poutines, my pissaladière is made sans pissala. It is also made without a base of bread dough,  is not garnished with olives and suffers the indignity of the addition of a thin layer of an intense tomato sauce. So, nothing like pissaladière you might say  for which insult I would have to wrap the whole tart around your face….that’s how we proceed on the great big onion. No wonder it’s a vale of tears. However unveritable as an echte pissaladière this tart may be, it is a veritable delight in the mouth which is the whole point of cooking….isn’t it…I don’t want to have to hit you again so let’s just agree…that’s diplomacy. The veritable secret of this tart is the time spent melting the onions, with plenty of olive oil,  in a thick based pan. This can take, and indeed took me, over an hour of gentle stirring, prodding and swearing at the intransigence of the onion family for taking so long to melt into a bronzed sweet savoury perfection. During this process I had prepared a disc of shop bought, puff pastry by incising, with a sharp knife, a circle just inside the outer edge of the pastry and then cooking the pastry in a hot oven for about 20 minutes. The pastry, now with a puffed up outer edge, cooled on a rack as the onions softened. A small amount of very good tomato sauce remained from a pasta dish enjoyed the night before and that remnant was spread as a thin layer on the pastry before spreading the melted onions on top. The tart went back n the oven for a further 20 minutes and when it had cooled I garnished it with anchovies and capers. If not veritable , certainly very good….and probably much better than your version…or yours…

 

Posted in 2015, anchovies, Baking, capers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Mediterranean food, Olive oil, olives, pasta, Photography, puff pastry, seafood, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Still waters…eaux de vie..

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This man is disappearing. When I came to France, some 14 years ago, he and his brethren were part of the fabric of country life. He is a “bouilleur ambulant” or a peripatetic distiller; a bringer of joy and a creator of eaux de vie. The laws and réglementations of France are labyrinthine in their sinuous complexity so you should be aware that any statement or suggestion of rights or entitlements that I make should be taken with a pinch of salt or whatever takes your fancy. It appears that if you have fruit trees or vines you can distill, brew or vinify to your heart’s content but to be a bouilleur ambulant you need a little more than a bunch of trees: you need a bloody great alembic on wheels so that you can perambulate through lieux dits , agglomerations and petites cités offering your services, but only by word of mouth. No doorstepping is permitted which should be a blueprint for democratic elections. I heard it on the grapevine should be our watchword. The bouilleur will pitch his tent near a stream, fire up the boiler and patiently await his custom: it is never a long wait. Often a long queue but never a long wait. Tractors and cars draw trailers bearing large, tightly lidded plastic barrels filled with very ripe ( not rotten) plums, pears or apples which will be transformed by the magic of distillation into calva, and eaux de prune or poire.

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The process has a simplicity that is disarmingly comprehensible which means that it is as distant from a micro technology as is Uranus from mine….which is a long way. Fermenting fruit is poured into the huge vat which is sealed. At that point distiller and fruit bringers move to the back of the tent where, lit by the flames of the open furnace door, they break bread, drink wine and maybe cook some oeufs au plat in a pan over the hot ashes. At a later unspecified point in time the bouilleur will open a tap in the side of the apparatus and out will flow crystal clear and deeply scented eau de vie. Since then, although I have tried many local eaux de vie, none have manifested what I can only describe as an intense inscape of the essence of pear and plum that I experienced on that day. It was a microcosm of time that I had nearly forgotten and I’m glad  I remembered.

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Posted in 2015, apples, Art photography, Drinks, Eau de vie, Excellence, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Fruit, Humour, lifestyle, Memory, Pears, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

I’m glad the rain does not raineth every day..

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…but I stifled a cry of pleasure as I awoke to the welcome drumbeat of heavy rain which sounded like a heavenly annunciation that I would not be spending my day, as a latter day Sisyphus, endlessly filling and emptying a wheelbarrow with sand and cement. So now, I sit as a stranger at my keyboard, regularly casting nervous looks over my shoulder to confirm that the blessed rain, as seen through my office window, shows no sign of abating. In a comparatively short time I have been conditioned away from writing, cooking and, above all, taking pictures. My back aches less and my fingers are beginning to articulate without pain. How quickly we adapt. Maybe this only comes with age as I have distinct memories of my first efforts at being a “labourer” in the early 60’s. I had not long left boarding school and, although equipped with a rounded education, was not worldly wise. As was the tradition in those heady days I had “left home” and was living in a depressing “bed sit”. Earning money has never been my forte but an effort had to be made to pay for my new found liberty and I duly presented myself at Hampton Court Municipal Water Works where I had been told that there were openings for “labourers”. Not having any conception of what “labouring” entailed the first day’s work came as a surprise. One lasting memory entails unloading a lorry of bags of cement. I had no idea what cement was, let alone how much it weighed, so I happily joined the line of men waiting to be given a bag of cement from the lorry. It didn’t seem too taxing a job, from a distance, as the man on the lorry easily lifted a bag of cement and placed it on the shoulder of the waiting man who then strolled off chatting affably to his mates about fucking this and that as everyfuckingthing was somefuckingthing, but this lingua franca was new to me at the time. And then it was my turn and I smiled up at the man on the lorry who smiled back at me whilst putting a bag on my shoulder that was apparently filled with lead weights. My knees buckled and I was immediately much shorter. I was on my knees. I was fucked. I was fired. I do remember that labourers had good breakfasts as I spent my wages on one such “fry up” as I  joyfully returned to the liberty of my depressing “bed sit” to listen to a man called Bob Dylan who had just made a record that celebrated being a “rolling stone” which seemed to be a pretty good career choice and which I felt needed looking into.

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Posted in 2015, Art photography, Breakfast, Childhood memories, Digital photography, Eggs, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Fried eggs, Humour, lifestyle, Memory, Photographic Prints, Photography, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 56 Comments

colour prejudice?

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A little white teacup covered in cling film is a permanent resident in our fridge. On closer inspection it will be found to contain three bright yellow egg yolks nestling together.The cup of egg yolks is a clear indicator of the household’s sugar intake as they are the leftovers from meringue making. Wasting not, yet still wanting is the problem. Nigella has a very good recipe for an egg yolk sponge cake, which I have often made and which, by its very nature, only serves to increase our sugar intake. Most recipes for left over egg yolks involve sugar in their metamorphosis into something good to eat and I don’t want to eat that much sugar….and I find it nearly impossible to throw away food. I have always found the concept of the egg white omelette to be anathema as it reminds me of narcissistic Hollywood actresses, which term I use as a generic rather than a definitive as such stupidity is not limited by geography, who weigh food before it is put on their plate yet I have never really considered making an omelette with the yolks alone. Maybe I thought it would all be just a bit too yellow: but what more could one ask of an egg, colourwise, than to be as yellow as possible. As I could think of no other good reason for this reticence , and not wanting to be adjudged colour prejudiced, the three yolks summarily  joined some caramelised onions and crisp cubes of fried potato that had been waiting patiently for a unifying agent in my pan. This is a filling and satisfying lunch that got me through yet another afternoon of mixing cement. I’m starting to understand why there is a national shortage of housing….it must be so fucking boring building them.

Posted in 2015, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Nigella Lawson, omelette, Photographic Prints, Photography, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 58 Comments

A fosse, a fosse, my kingdom for a well behaved fosse…

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With such a charming soubriquet, the War of the Roses must have smelled sweeter than did our kitchen this morning. Rustic plumbing may have its charms but, so complete is their concealment, I have not yet had the chance to be introduced to them. The old adage “out of sight, out of mind” does not apply to the storage of human waste when a chink in the armour of its concealment allows its presence to be pungently and nauseatingly in mind. After 15 years in the heart of the country my senses are attuned to the to the high and the low notes of a wide range of animal shit and, what is more, they are charmed rather than offended. Animals seem to spend a great deal of time with their noses in their own and each others bottoms ( the same may be said of humans but I have long forgotten this, which may be counted as one of the advantages of advancing years) whereas television advertising is replete is with products that promise to make us, our clothes, cars and dwellings  smell of anything but our bottoms. Having said this, the plumber has successfully done his work and returned us to that pleasant world that is filled with the seductive perfume that is produced by cooking sweet pears in a crisp pastry case. This is a wonderfully simple recipe that revealed itself to me at the end of a long day of physical drudgery. I had four pears, very little patience left and a copy of Nigel Slater’s “Kitchen Diaries II” next to my glass of wine. Scanning the index for “pears” quickly revealed the ideal dish: ” A Simple Pear Tart”. Simple as this recipe may be, and it is, the description takes up a full page of the book, so I will give you a précis. Part of the thrust of this recipe was Nigel Slater’s choice of the sloping side American pie tin with a perforated base, which he had bought back from Williams Sonoma in NY, as opposed to the normal straight sided French tart tin. I happened to have one of those very tins myself, so the die was cast. His pastry is very good:
75gms butter 75gms golden caster sugar
1 egg yolk 150gms plain flour
a little milk
Cut the butter into small dice and put it into a food mixer. Add the sugar and beat for at least 5 minutes to a smooth, thick cream. On a low speed, add the egg yolk, then the plain flour. Bring it to a soft rollable ball with a couple of tablespoons of milk.
Turn the dough out onto a well floured board and roll it out into a disc large enough for the pie dish. With the help of a rolling pin, lift it up and place it on the pie tin, pushing it into shape. Chill for half an hour.
Just peel and chop the pears into 1cm chunks. Melt 15gms butter in a pan and add the pears. Stir them in them butter and add 3 heaped tablespoons of muscovado sugar. Cook until the pears are meltingly soft. Pile them into the lined pie dish and cook for about 40mins in a 180C oven.

The pie/tart is delicious but I cannot understand the advantage of using this pie dish as it seems impossible to extricate the pie from the tin after cooking. I shall return to my  old faithful from whom I regret being led astray.

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Posted in 2015, Baking, Cookery Writers, Cooking, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Fruit, Humour, Nigel Slater, Pears, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 44 Comments

A feeling that our market may be just a little too Common..

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Green asparagus seems to be a rarity in our part of France which surprises me as it features on the menus of many local restaurants at this time of year whilst, in the shops, it remains as rare as an interesting conversation about the election. It may be that our bucolic little corner of France is so deeply rustic that, in the infuriating policyspeak of the retailer, “there is no call for it”. I have called loudly for it, but answer was there none.The best that one can hope for is to grab one of the few bundles of green spears that appear, momentarily, among the piles of fat and pallid sex toys known as white asparagus. Maybe this part of the Common Market is too common for the delicacy of fine, green asparagus, although I’m pretty sure that the word “common” is not in favour with the politically correct. “Posh” is, but “common” isn’t. A good example of would be “Posh Spice” as opposed to “Slightly Less Common Spice”, the latter being positively proscribed….do not go there. Moving on; when one is lucky enough to fall upon a bunch of the green stuff there is, in this season,  the added pleasure of knowing that, nearby, will be piles of the most delicious young potatoes from the Île de Noirmoutier. Potatoes such as these make perfect partners for green asparagus, particularly if gobs of melting, sweet butter are included in the equation…these flavours trumpet the arrival of Spring and bring a smile to my face.

Posted in 2015, asparagus, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Humour, Photography, photography course, potatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 50 Comments