Effortlessly beautiful…


Effortfully is a word that I have only recently encountered and I can’t think why that should be. On reading it, in a novel, the word surprised and charmed me and I thought that it might be the invention of the author. A moment’s research denied him this acclaim whilst confirming my own lack of vocabulary. The word attracted me because its antonym is so often used to describe things that, in truth, require a great deal of effort. To be effortlessly falling through the air is not surprising but the suggestion that someone looks effortlessly beautiful would be to discard the effortful work of hairdressers, personal trainers and the legion of professional beautifiers that bring this effortless state into being. On the other hand, these leeks managed it by having their outer leaves removed and lying in a pan of oil and wine. Very like Cleopatra in a bath of asses’ milk but without the bobbed hair.

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French rarebit…


It is said that a bad workman will blame his tools for bad workmanship. Not being a workman in any sense of the word, yet today finding myself at hard labour, I was more catholic in my apportioning of blame and included the weather, the day of the week, the place of work and the person or reason that had caused me to be working in the first place. Today I have been lifting, digging and pushing a wheelbarrow full of the heavy things that I had previously lifted and dug whilst the love of my life reminded me of the catalogue of torment to come. Each time that I have engaged in manual labour I have contemplated the adage concerning the satisfaction to be derived from hard work yet my experience of such satisfaction remains unrequited. I warm to Thomas Edison’s observation that opportunity is missed by most people as it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work and few people, outside of our celebrated English sporting heroes, have missed as many golden opportunities as I. The one positive that I have taken from manual labour is that, unlike writing or image making, I can foresee its end. Today the end duly arrived, earlier than was foreseen by my forewoman, but she succumbed to the old Navajo trick of my kneeling, begging and pleading ( pace Woody Allen). Once out of the orbit of self induced misery I was able to activate the basal ganglia circuit, firing up the pleasure neurons which quickly had me making some lunch. I would love to know the recipe for basal ganglia but it must be American as they can’t pronounce basil. Any way, it needed to be quicker than ganglia, so I opted for cheese on toast. Having recently been in receipt of an electricity bill I noticed that we were being charged money for using the electrical appliances in the house so toasting or grilling would not be part of this dish. A pan with some olive oil and enough heat beneath it makes a very good sandwich of melting Cantal cheese which has been piled between two pieces of pain au levain. Nearly worth going to work for…..now for a close up:



Posted in 2015, Art photography, Cheese, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, fireplace, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Garden, Humour, Olive oil, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Toast, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 57 Comments

who killed coq Aubin?



There are but a few bottles that remain untouched from my wine cellars of yesteryear. I am miserly with them but there is a limit to the wisdom of such miserliness when the object of one’s affection has a finite life span. Had the remaining wine in question been an outstanding grand cru, still in its pomp and with many more years of life left in it, then it would still be reclining on its rack where I could admire and fondle it to my miserly heart’s delight..but it wasn’t. What it was was a very good wine, a 1999 Saint Aubin “Les Castets” Hubert Lamy which had been more than a little compromised by being moved from pillar to post, and indeed from country to country, since it’s purchase in London in 2000, but it wasn’t , by any stretch of the imagination, an “intouchable”.st.aubin_112758 Last weekend I was contemplating what I should  cook for a family lunch to celebrate the beginning of another year of my life. In my case, such contemplation revolves around the bookshelves. Glass of wine in hand, I glance along the spines of old favourites occasionally plucking one out and flicking through the pages to see if some memory is resurrected, some new enthusiasm kindled. The monumental “Ripailles” by Stéphane Reynaud, with its upholstered cover and silk ribbon page marker, is a book that gives me pleasure just to hold in my hands and through whose pages I never tire of rummaging. On this occasion my eye was caught by the words “coq au Chambertin”. Not coq au vin but, gloriously, coq au Chambertin. There is a group of stellar wines, all astronomically priced, that include the word Chambertin in their nomenclature, such as Gevrey-Chambertin, of which the simple Chambertin is not a member: although the right one can be a very good wine indeed. My Saint Aubin was certainly its equal and so the die was cast. Coq au Saint Aubin would be dinner. There are many and varied recipes for coq au vin, and I have tried a fair proportion of them with varied degrees of success. For some reason I had never tried Stéphane Reynaud’s and I can assure you that it is the one that I will contrive to use henceforth. Simplicity in the wording and layout of a recipe seduces me unfailingly. I am aware that there is often the necessity for wordy recipes that involve a series of complicated and appetite reducing operations and like Odysseus, the well known mutton chef*, I remain deaf to their Siren song. Let others graft while I groove.
(*could “mutton chef” be the origin of the rhyming slang ” Mutt and Jeff” for “deaf”)
This is the recipe from the wonderful “Ripailles” by Stephane Reynaud. If you haven’t got the book, get it.

coq au chambertin


Posted in 2015, Art photography, Chicken, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Drinks, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Photography, Poultry, Stephane Reynaud, Uncategorized, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Not dropping my knickers whilst shopping….


I like to feel that I eat seasonally  but, to be honest, I’m not sure what that means. My knowledge of the arrival and departure dates of fruits and vegetables is, at best, rudimentary and at worst, notional which failing I blame on memory and shops conspiring to confuse a tired old mind by stocking the fruits of all seasons in all seasons; so, on seeing a box of small and perfectly formed purple artichokes in the shop I assumed that the season for such artichokes must be upon us. Sticking to my seasonal ethic, I bought one. I should have bought more but that only became clear later. The one that I bought, destined to be but a photographic model, did not figure on the clearly defined shopping list in my hand,  so to purchase more would have stretched the thin elastic of our budget to the point where my financial knickers would have been around my ankles, which look I have never considered to be a crowd pleaser.


On the other hand, the purple artichoke is very much of a crowd pleaser. Her good looks are self evident, but her beauty extends far deeper than her skin. The more attention you pay to her in preparation, the more she reveals. What I was looking for in this beauty was more than good looks: I was looking for heart.Elizabeth David  speaks of a famous salad of artichoke hearts and foie gras and her trepidation at the thought of such a rich salad being served as a palate cleanser after a mighty dinner at La Mere Brazier.


As luck would have it, or as very fine judgement in the kitchen would have it, this was not the case. The dish that came to the table was the simplest salad of a single, warm artichoke heart, on a bed of green leaves, dressed with some olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. Very pretty and pretty wonderful as I found out for myself, in humbler surroundings, yesterday.


Posted in 2015, Art photography, artichokes, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Elizabeth David, Excellence, Foie Gras, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Good luck, Humour, Luck, Memory, Olive oil, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, sea salt, Shopping, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Eating my words….

“..and the word was made flesh” was a phrase, my education having been charged to Roman Catholics, that I often heard yet understood not at all. Words became my friends early on and they would have been even more welcome had they been edible. Eating had not yet become a pastime in those post war days: food was rationed, eating occurred at scheduled times and I treated food solely as fuel. Getting enough fuel was the problem to which I devoted endless ingenuity. In my pre pubescent years food held sway in my imagination to the point where I remember defacing the title on my Shorter Latin Primer so that it appeared as the Shortbread Eating Primer, which creative editing was thoroughly worth the six strokes of the cane that was deemed a fair punishment for such a flagrant display of greed. As the years passed my mind divided its time between food and sexual fantasy until, by my mid teens, food was totally forgotten as there just wasn’t room for it in my cerebral seraglio. It was not until my late twenties that I was introduced to a sort of  food  which bore little or no resemblance to that which I had previously known. It was a coup de foudre…I was in love. The love of food and cooking is invested with the core qualities of true love in that it sustains those with whom it is shared whilst simultaneously giving pleasure. With words and food in mind I have started to reflect as to how I would overcome the problems of understanding a menu, or indeed shopping for ingredients, in a land whose language was unknown,or at least unfamiliar, to me.

14Lunch al fresco Provence copy

As I count myself among the worst travelled people in the world this has presented me with problems that I had not previously considered. I say “worst” rather than “least” as I have indeed travelled but completely failed to take any notice of  these exotic destinations while I was there. I tended to spend my holidays in the hotel to which I had travelled where I passed my time wondering as to why I was frittering away my money in some far flung fleshpot when I knew I was quite capable of extreme frittering in the comfort of my own home and that without the misery of the airport experience.  Whilst some web sites and businesses may use online translation software there is an abundance of signage, menus and other documentation that suggests that many do not, which omission leads to the most creative examples of nonsense writing, outside of the works of Lewis Carroll. It may be true to say that the majority of translations from one language to another, unless undertaken by academics with a deep and exhaustive knowledge of both languages, are at best loose and at worst comical. This misunderstanding is not limited to places off the beaten track as I have come across hopelessly inept translations even in the cosmopolitan French riviera where, in an Armenian restaurant, I saw some extraordinary translations from French into English such as “let us pepper and mussels” for “moules au poivrons” which is a perfect example of someone misusing a dictionary to create nonsense. It makes me think that “Fritto misto mare” could be translated as “frittering in a sea mist” at which I am very accomplished.

Computer generated translations can be even more arcane as this recent invitation to participate in an auction of photographic prints for charity illustrates: ” As a plastic festival-goer photograph, would you like to take part of this exceptional event and offer one or several of your food photographs to put them on sale? In this capacity, we inform you that this rummage sale is only looking for the emphasis of your work: the auction results of a rummage sale aren’t published therefore your rate won’t be changed in a good or a bad way.” It’s the miraculous fashion by which words, that I recognise, are so rearranged as to be so close to having a meaning whilst avoiding that all important purpose with the aerobatic agility of a fat man, silkily airborne at the moment of slipping on a banana skin, that takes away my breath. It is this verbal prestidigitation that leads me to be more confused by the translated instruction manual for a new TV set, manufactured somewhere such as Taiwan or Korea, than ever with any food situation. Trying to make a machine function according to instructions created and translated by another machine that has been operated by someone with little or no knowledge of my language is too Kafkaesque for most people…and me. Food, on the other hand, can be assembled without resorting to a handbook. It matters not a fig/viikuna/fica/incir/fik or feige what the sign on a box of figs says because you can see the figs/viikuna/ficas/incirs/fiks and feiges in the fucking box: so figs can safely be on the menu and so it goes on. Somehow food can be worked out in whatever language but it’s the other parts of life that are so confusing and so easily translated to mean exactly the opposite of that which was intended. The remarkable Gerard Hoffnung, in his letters from a Tyrolean landlord gives a wonderful example of how the letter written with the aid of a foreign language dictionary can end in tears whilst the following piece, that I found on the internet, shows how a computer generated translation takes us into a world hitherto unimagined by the traveller.

Getting There:
Our representative will make you wait at the airport. The bus to the hotel runs along the lake shore. Soon you will feel pleasure in passing water. You will know that you are getting near the hotel, because you will go round the bend. The manager will await you in the entrance hall. He always tries to have intercourse with all new guests.

The hotel:
This is a family hotel, so children are very welcome. We of course are always pleased to accept adultery. Highly skilled nurses are available in the evenings to put down your children. Guests are invited to conjugate in the bar and expose themselves to others. But please note that ladies are not allowed to have babies in the bar. We organize social games, so no guest is ever left alone to play with them self.

The Restaurant:
Our menus have been carefully chosen to be ordinary and unexciting. At dinner, our quartet will circulate from table to table, and fiddle with you.

Your Room:
Every room has excellent facilities for your private parts. In winter, every room is on heat. Each room has a balcony offering views of outstanding obscenity! You will not be disturbed by traffic noise, since the road between the hotel and the lake is used only by pederasts.

Your bed has been made in accordance with local tradition. If you have any other ideas please ring for the chambermaid. Please take advantage of her. She will be very pleased to squash your shirts, blouses and underwear. If asked, she will also squeeze your trousers.

Above all:
When you leave us at the end of your holiday, you will have no hope. You will struggle to forget it.”


Posted in 2015, Digital photography, food, Humour, Illusion, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

full English……

EPSON scanner image

Here’s wishing for a full English victory at Twickenham today….even though, in truth, I rejected the fry up for some very good Italian coffee and a French croissant:)

3Cafetiere & Cup

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and now let’s hear it for the Greens …..


Through the good graces of the internet and television I have been able to quickly become intimate with kings, of all nations across the ages, and through this intimacy I can confirm that familiarity has bred contempt. Conversely, although I have seen and experienced at first hand the unpleasant side of its nature, I have nothing but admiration for the now and future cabbage. I am neither royalist nor republican but I am a human and as such I can live without kings or presidents but not without food and as there is very little in the governance of today’s world that is to be admired I am plighting my troth to the soil and the sod and the good things which it produces which in turn support our lives. Of all the topics suggested by the Walrus, when chatting to his lunch, none seemed as dull as “kings”. Shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, why the sea is boiling hot and whether pigs have wings are all subjects conducive to a long chin wag with a glass of wine or two and perhaps several oysters but I’d pass on kings….unless it was a royal flush: I am fully aware of the possible fun to be had by replacing one vowel with another in the verb preceding the word “kings” and how apposite that would be when linked to the royal flush.


Today’s cabbage will be tomorrow’s soup and that soup will be rebollita, the recipe of which I was recently reminded whilst thumbing through my copy of Anna del Conté’s “The Classic Food of Northern Italy” for which I did the pictures some 20 years ago: although I see from Northern Italythe current paperback version on Amazon that my cover shot has been replaced with a lighter, brighter image than my original dark and moody picture that was then the zeitgeist. The basic ingredients for this soup, beans and cabbage, provide a link between Tuscany and the Vendée for me. Beans and pork were the mainstays of Vendéen peasants and the fields around the farms are full of cabbages during the winter months. Although our provincial supermarket did not offer the cavolo nero, which is the sine qua non of rebollita, ribollita_editit did offer a very good looking chou pomme, which, being irresistible in name and looks, I bought. I am including the whole of Anna del Conté’s recipe, which includes her careful notes about the preparation of this dish. It’s hard for me to imagine someone not making this rebollita after reading her words.,,,because I am, as you can see from the picture on the right..rebollita
You may have noticed that the recipe has come to abrupt halt which has happened because I failed to scan the final moments…impatience was my undoing. I shall write the final steps…as follows:

“Measure the bean liquid and add enough water to make it up to about 1.5l. Add to the pot and bring to the boil.Cook over the lowest heat for about 2 hours. Check seasoning and leave until the next day. The next day, mix in the whole beans. Heat the oven to 180C. Slice very finely enough onion to make a nice thin layer all over the surface of the soup. Put the pot in the oven and cook until the onion is tender: about 1 hour. Rub the bread with the garlic cloves, then roast under the grill. Put the bread into individual soup bowls and ladle the soup over it. Dribble the remaining olive oil over each bowl.”

Posted in 2015, Anna del Conte, Art photography, Cookery Writers, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Italian food, Olive oil, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Ribollita, Soup, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Vendee, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Peanut envy…..


Occasionally I am led to rethink my personal food prejudices but the addition of “jelly”, a term that I have never fully come to terms with in this particular context, to peanut butter is not among those occasions. Such a sublime and handsome teatime treat as a crusted slice of grilled cereal bread liberally spread with an impasto layer of peanut butter, smeared on as by John Bratby* with a palette knife, would be improved to the same degree by the addition of a layer of “jelly” as would be the Venus de Milo by the addition of a strap on. Having said this, I have a feeling that there will be strong support for both of these options.

*John Bratby’s paintings were so thick with paint that it was said that he only knew when one was finished by weighing it.

Posted in 2015, Art photography, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Grape jelly, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Prints, Toast, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 63 Comments

The cat’s bollocks and other tales…..


The woolly hat pulled down around my ears efficiently protected them from the chill of the biting wind but failed miserably in filtering out the piercing cries of an enraged cat in a cage being carted off for castration. Molly, the cat in question, might appear to be an unlikely candidate for castration which only goes to confirm the foolhardiness of judging anything by appearances, names or, indeed, covers. When he was a tiny kitten, some 6 months ago, we had pored over diagrams of cats’ genitals whilst holding him up by his tail in order to make a clear decision as to his Molly or Manliness. The diagrams were simple and seemingly foolproof. A male was designated by two black dots, one above each other, in the form of a colon whilst the female was symbolised by an inverted exclamation mark. Following this foolproof system we, clearly far beyond fooldom, named him Molly. At the moment of writing, Molly, should be groggily awakening from a drug induced slumber filled with dreams of pussies which is where they will remain henceforth. I on the other hand, desperately clinging onto the equivocal mantra of things hurting me far more than they’re hurting you, came home and cooked Cock Robin: fooled again by the punctuation, Robin is no cock.

Exhausted from innuendo, all that remains is to tell you how good is a simple roast chicken. “Roast Chicken and other stories” by Simon Hopkinson has a place on my shelf of most used cook books. His view that a good cook will produce a good dish from even the scrawniest chicken whilst a bad cook will produce a bad dish, even if using a chicken from Bresse, is one to which I subscribe. The chicken in the picture is a Label Rouge chicken, not from a smart poulterer, but from our local Lidls. To prepare it I carefully slid wedges of butter under the skin of the breast and filled the cavity of the bird with a quartered onion and a bunch of snow covered sage branches from the garden.chicken_roast_0006 Once trussed, I poured some olive oil over the breast and thighs and liberally sprinkled the bird with sea salt and ground black pepper and placed the bird on a rack which sits in roasting tray, in which I poured a couple of glasses of water. The bird goes into a pre heated oven at 21oC  which is turned down to 190C after 20 minutes. A further 40 – 45 minutes of cooking, with occasional basting, will produce a well cooked bird. I also take the time to place pieces of cooking foil over areas that I feel are browned enough. The cooked chicken should be left to rest for a good 30 minutes which gives one the time to reduce the delicious juices in the pan. This with a green salad, some good bread and glass of wine is the dog’s …….which reminds me, I must go and pick up Molly.

Posted in 2015, Chicken, Chicken, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Dreams, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Herbs and Spices, Humour, Olive oil, Photography, photography course, Poultry, Recipes, Roast Chicken, sage, sea salt, Sex, Simon Hopkinson, Uncategorized, Wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 62 Comments

A table on Oleron..a new print on canvas…

Table in Oleron_0004

A reminder that, if not summer, then at least spring is on it’s way. This is a print on canvas (120x80cms) which is the first in a long line of images that will find its way into the Prints on Canvas gallery. The picture below gives an idea of scale. Table in Oleron_0006

Posted in 2015, Art photography, Photography, photography course, Prints, Still life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 22 Comments