the miller’s wife’s tale…

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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.
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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.

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

250gms small new potatoes – waxy.
Salt
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..

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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.

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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

TV or not TV…

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I have never eaten a TV dinner and for that I feel I am the richer; on the other hand, nor have I had a TV supper with Grayson Perry for which I may well be the poorer. My knowledge of TV dinners is limited but I have in my mind’s eye the image of a tin foil tray on the surface of which there are a series of indentations, each conceived to hold one of the ingredients of that particular meal and each molded into the manufacturer’s idea of the shape of that ingredient. The same experience may be  enjoyed on an aeroplane but the catering options in a long metal tube packed with anxious people travelling at hundreds of miles per hour several miles above the earth’s surface are considerably more constrained than making supper in one’s kitchen of an evening…which is what I was doing yesterday. Breadcrumbs have become a favourite ingredient of mine not only because they transform simple dishes but also because there is always good bread to use up.  Last night their job was to get under the skin of a gargantuan tomato and, with its cohorts of parmesan,oil, parsley and seasoning, transform it into a glorious supper, for one, to be eaten whilst watching a show that, at this time of year, I religiously follow….”Long summer evening in the garden with the sun going down”..if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it highly. There’s a small blackened roasting tin that has been with us for as long as I can remember which seemed perfectly suited  to not only cook my supper but also to act as serving dish and plate combined which is reminiscent of the fucking horrible thing of which I was speaking earlier..but, owing to the simplicity of the one single indentation which wisely had not been modeled on any one particular ingredient and, more importantly, contained the most amazing roast tomato stuffed with mozzarella and breadcrumbs and all it’s olive oil juices and stickiness …it was not that thing and it looked good on my table in the garden as I watched the show and ate and drunk until it was night.

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Posted in 2015, Baking, Cheese, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Mediterranean food, Photography, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

never listen to Harry S.Truman..

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The weather here has been very hot indeed and so, today, when finding it too hot , I followed  Harry S. Truman’s maxim and got out of the kitchen. At that moment, it occurred to me how wonderful it would be to have a summer kitchen. A very short time later it occurred to me that the idea was infinitely preferable to the fact. For a simple man the act of conception is too diverting  to allow for thoughts of consequence but, clearly I had not had enough to drink,  as I quickly saw the flaws in the dream. The structure, however rudimentary, would take up a large part of our very small garden and, being purpose built, would be unsuitable for anything but cooking so would stand empty for most of the year save for Molly and his prey. Much as Molly enjoys a roast chicken, I don’t think he’s up to cooking his own yet.  However, whilst the dream held sway, I got as far as carrying, to the proposed site, a selection of ingredients that I planned to use today and tomorrow. I photographed them and carried them back into the kitchen where it was very much cooler than I remembered.

 

 

Posted in 2015, Cooking, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Prints…a far better thing.

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When I first came here, some 15 years ago, I was still shooting with film which had to be processed in the nearest professional E6 laboratory….which was a two hour drive away. With the processing time and the drive back, the day was gone. The magic of digital photography has allowed me to carry on producing pictures, from the heart of the French countryside, and Photoshop has given me the magic of the darkroom without the gloom and the chemicals. Because of these wonders I have amassed a great quantity of pictures but, up to now, had not found an efficient and attractive way to share them with people and to offer them for sale in a professional way. In recent years, through my son Sam Stowell, I came to hear of the Print Space in London and, on researching them, was very impressed with what I saw.They have now opened The Hub, which acts as a gallery where photographers, such as myself, can show and sell their work. Print Space produces the prints, be they giclé or C-Type, on a wonderful range of papers (including Hahnemuhle) and, if you so choose, offers a multiplicity of framing options and sorts out delivery…a total package.

Currently, I have only organised one gallery of seascapes but I am busy putting together a variety of different galleries which will feature those things that make my life such a pleasure..food, photography and France.

Posted in 2015, Digital photography, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Photographic Prints, Photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Beefheart

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The long awaited day has at last arrived. The tomatoes that I purchased this morning taste of tomato rather than water. It is a moment that I relish each summer and my celebration today will  be for the coeur de boeuf rather than the tearing down of Marianne’s blouse as the mobliberty_crop tore down the walls of the Bastille, which, if it achieved nothing else, predated the first topless beach in St Tropez by 150 years, give or take a decade, and may well have inspired Rudi phrygian capGeinrich. I have also noticed that in some imagery Marianne appears to be wearing a ripe, red tomato on her head  which shows the French compulsion to eat well, even when they are revolting, whilst confirming that Marianne had wisely gone shopping for the first good tomatoes of the season even though she had a pressing engagement involving the freeing of the downtrodden later in the day. History has shown that revolution must be the least successful of all political shifts. France remains a country run by the rich and privileged few and although America claims to be the land of the Free it lives by the maxim of everybody having a price which precludes the thought of anyone, let alone lunch, being free. Leaving revolution to the revolting it should be noted that we have not yet arrived at the tomato season in its full pomp but, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, this is not the beginning of the end but it is certainly the end of the beginning .

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Big, fresh, sexy tomatoes are unquestionably summer food. Being so full of their own flavour they need very little addition, if any, but conversely relish so many: well considered combination of ingredients such as anchovies, olives, breadcrumbs,parsley, Parmesan, goat cheese, olive oil and garlic raise the already delectable to the sublime. For some reason I can’t attribute the following recipe to any single person and, on reflection, it’s not so much a recipe as an instinctive treatment of this seductive fruit.The nomenclature “beef heart” becomes evident on cutting one them in half: the opentomates_provencales_0015 face of the tomato bears little resemblance to a fruit or vegetable, rather a chunk of blood red meat. Once cut in half, dig out a chunk of the soft flesh so that a hollow is left in each half of the tomato. Prepare a stuffing of fresh breadcrumbs and herbs: I strip the crust from yesterday’s baguette and crumble the bread into the Magimix with the addition of chopped flat parsley, grated parmesan, the chopped tomato that I previously removed, seasoning and some olive oil to lubricate the mixture. Process to oily breadcrumbs, stuff the tomatoes to overflowing and put them in an iron pan which, at a later point, will be going into the oven. I start the softening of the tomatoes on the hob and, when the good smells start emanating from the pan, I put the pan in a  hot oven for about 45 minutes or until everything feels right. If the breadcrumbs start to burn, put some silver foil over them and carry on cooking. This simple dish is a revelation only needing good bread and a well dressed salad to make a perfect supper….several glasses of wine are optional to some but essential to me.

Posted in 2015, Baking, capers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Flat parsley, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Herbs and Spices, Humour, Mediterranean food, Parmesan, Photography, Recipes, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

getting up….

tomatoes_apricots_0019Warm scented early mornings with bare feet on smooth tiles are the longed for moments. Like childhood summer holidays each day is fraught with the fear of this contentment passing, of being returned to the pleasant from the sublime. The hot night has filled both the house and the garden with dizzy perfume from apricots, jasmine, honeysuckle and melons and the early birds sit quietly as the sun comes up sparkling through the fan of water that jets from the hose onto the tense flowers bracing for the flat heat of the day as do I. Later it will be too hot to be outside so I’ll cook and prepare the sort of food that befits this long breathless day.

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Posted in 2015, apricots, Breakfast, Childhood memories, Cooking, Emotion, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Garden, Gardening, melons, Photography, summer, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

not getting it……

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There’s something clearly very sexy going on here. Fruit can’t help being sexy because that’s what they are. They’re the fruit of some tree’s loins and they look like sex. The one moment that I remember from Ken Russell’s film, “Women in love”, was the celebrated fig eating scene which, although I had read in reviews that it alluded to sex and thus was ready to react suitably so as not to appear like a naive twat which I was,  didn’t mean as much to me then as it does now. In 1969 there was little chance of me associating a fig with the one thing that I thought about continually and of which I could not get enough. Maybe if there had been more fresh figs in post war Sutton, and less jam roly-poly, the allusion would not have been wasted on me. I’ve been told that time is a great healer but, finding myself with the keen sight of a bat and the teeth of a basking shark, I think that time has been over optimistically reviewed, probably by the same man as recommended “Women in Love”.

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I try to avoid using the word “love” when writing about food mostly because I find it nearly as annoying as “Oh, my God” ( the abbreviation is so annoying that I’m not going to give it page room) but not quite as stultifying as “Yum fucking Yum”. Fruit of very nearly all denominations brings me close to using the word as I find it as irresistible and satisfying as was the fig to Alan Bates and Co…but they were acting and I’m not. Summer fruit gets better when it’s warm and even better when the hot sun, such as the sun today, draws forth the perfume and coaxes out the juices from all those stoned fruits. I’ve just made this small tart of nectarines and apricots which sit on a layer of ground hazelnuts, creme fraiche, sugar and vanilla …..turn over, action.

 

Posted in 2015, apricots, Baking, Cooking, creme fraiche, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Memory, nectarines, Photography, Sex, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 62 Comments

on doing one’s duty …

 

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Whenever I hear of duty and the honour bestowed on those who, when called to it, perform it without question, I am whisked back to a much earlier time when, early each morning, I was to be found perched on a lavatory in a crumbling country house deep in the Worcestershire countryside. Our raw boned Scottish headmaster, a ringer for Thring in Ronald Searle’s “Molesworth”, was of the belief that the first thing opened each morning by a child in his charge should be his bowels. This quotidian dump was known as “Doing one’s Duty” and to ensure that evacuation had indeed occurred, a burly matron stood outside the lavatory door, her trained ear cocked to confirm the expected sounds that would signal success in order that a tick might be placed, next to the current incumbent’s name, in the impressive Duty Register that lay open upon her heroic folded arms. Failure, as with the Light Brigade, was inconceivable which resulted in most of the boys being able to mimic the sounds of various styles of defecation in the way that freer children can imitate bird song.  Ours was an ear for a turd song. It was eggs that moved me into that train of thought this morning or rather the lack of them at that time of my life. Nothing that bound was served in the refectory. It was a system that produced alumni with highly educated bowels together with a skill that would have made them a fortune in the music halls, if they had still existed, or on “Britain’s got Talent”, which had yet to be created.

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Notwithstanding Thring’s admonition on eggs and all things eggy, eggs and I have become well acquainted without them making me any less dutiful than I was in my adolescence. Moreover, with the arrival of summer they become essential ingredients for summer cooking and eating. Without them we would be bereft of mayonnaise, aioli, oeufs mayonnaise, cheese or crab  soufflés, meringues, oeufs mollets, salade Nicoise, eggs with tarragon in aspic and, a favourite of mine, thin cold omelettes such as the omelette aux fines herbes in the picture. This was a truly summer dish as the omelette was made with the egg yolks left over from making meringues, which were eaten with a pile of raspberries and thick, yellow creme fraiche. A very delicious way to enjoy these small, cold omelettes is to make five or six of them, each slightly different …let us say that two may be flavoured with Parmesan, two with fresh tomatoes and two with courgettes..and then pile them on top of one another to make a layered omelette cake. Cut slices as you would a cake…..Caroline Conran showed me this idea many years ago and it has never failed to please.

Posted in 2015, Caroline Conran, Childhood memories, Cookery Writers, Cooking, creme fraiche, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Herbs and Spices, meringues, omelette, Photography, raspberries, Uncategorized, Writing, yolks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

keep it clean, Roger….please..

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Whilst driving through the countryside this morning I was momentarily overcome by the unalloyed happiness that is afforded me by just being here. It’s the way that each day is spent not looking forward but just looking. An edible metaphor would liken each day to taking lunch in a favourite restaurant that offered a simple set menu with no choices. Occasionally there will be disappointment, occasionally there will be severe diarrhoea but most days I will thoroughly enjoy at least three of the four courses, which is standard fare in any bistro or cantine offering menu ouvrier, and on occasion all four. I have started to chew each day thoroughly before I start the next. The metaphor has more than a hint of truth as we eat at home from a very similar palette, although our own palates lost their taste for meat some time ago: mine still allows the occasional slice of butchery but it is rare….as is the cooking. Yesterday I had potatoes  and eggs with which to conjure….washing_line_0012as I look up from my writing I see the washing line stretching across the pool to catch the end of day rays. A still, white sheet is embroidered with the shadow of an olive tree, each leaf of each branch clearly drawn, black on white, the whole reflected in artificial swimming pool blue…the blue whitener.

Back to thoughts of food for supper. The choices that I have been busy denying come thick and fast when I am writing because writing reflects reading which reminds me of recently read words that have moved me. Alan Bennet’s “Writing Home” is, like the pool, something that I have been dipping into regularly over the past few weeks as summer starts to make a fist of being who it says it is. His piece on Andrew Motion’s biography of Philip Larkin has made me spit out my wine with laughter, made me wonder at the fluency and ease of his prose and made me lament the loss of the emotive “cunt” to the spoken English language. The zeitgeist would seem to find racial prejudice preferable to the abomination that Messrs Bennet and Larkin both use with care and wit….and back to the potatoes. Nigel Slater is more careful with the written word and it is from his pen that I give you the recipe for this mouth wateringly good recipe….with which we had oeufs mayonnaise and a very good tarte au citron for pudding.

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Recipe by Nigel Slater from “Tender. Vol.1”

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Posted in 2015, Bad Habits, Baking, Bistro, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Nigel Slater, potato, potatoes, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments