a good collective noun


The south facing kitchen is illuminated by rays of bright, low autumn sun which are in part diffused by the rideaux on  the window whilst the open door creates a geometric gash of gold on the tiled floor. There is very little sound save for the buzzing of a solitary, weary wasp, unexpected at this late time of the year, as I sit down to a light lunch which would have been described by my grandpa as a “drop of sardines”. This collective was a favourite of my maternal grandfather who was Portuguese and who lived with us from when I was first conscious of people to the day I left home for good in 1966. I had left home for bad in 1962 but glandular fever had stopped play so I was forced to limp back to the bosom of my family. My father was not overly happy about the return of his prodigal as he felt that once breast feeding was no longer a necessity then sons should go out into the world and find their own bosoms in which to nestle. However, it was during this fitful interregnum that I spent some time with my grandfather, then in his early 90’s, and became familiar with his delight in tinned sardines; a last gasp link with his beloved Portugal. Having lived in England for the previous 70 years his grasp of English was extremely firm save for some eccentricities that I’m sure he employed to annoy my father, who had never quite understood how or why my grandfather had been in his house for the last 30 years, but which were wasted as my father was also deaf. I have few interesting culinary memories from my early years as eating was considered as fuel and so, as a subject of interest, entered family conversation as often as the current style of my mother’s knickers. One of those few memories came to mind this morning which is why I was sitting before a “drop of sardines” au Grandpere which he served in the only way that our family’s Spartan larder would allow – a couple of fillets of sardines with oil from the tin ( the only good ingredients), malt vinegar, some slices of tasteless tomato and white bread on a white plate. My current version consists of millésime sardines, thick slices of very good tomatoes, vinaigre de Xérès, good olive oil and very good bread. There is no doubt in my mind that he would have eaten them like that, as a young man, in his home town of Olhao in the Algarve,

Posted in 2017, Childhood, Digital photography, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Olive oil, Photography, sardines, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

grape shot….

My mind was elsewhere as the sharp knife in my hands surgically removed the seeds from a large bunch of  putative “seedless” grapes. I was reflecting on whether Beulah’s response to her mistress Mae West’s request for a peeled grape would have been the same as mine and if  “Fuck off and peel your own grapes” would have found its rightful place in the trove of great Hollywood quotes but, frankly, I didn’t give a damn as before me lay a mountain of grapes still to climb, an unplanned ascent to which I had been unwittingly led by the nose. It seemed but a short time ago since I had returned home, flushed with pride at the thriftiness of my shopping, a senseless oxymoron to my former self, and was proudly offering up a heavy bunch of pale green grapes to my lady wife with the intention of eliciting from her a whoop of excitement by relating to her the pittance that I had parted with to bring home such a luxury, but which vainglorious moment was denied me by her smooth exit from the kitchen with an over the shoulder smile and a mouthed “grape tart”. Within the term “thrifty shopping” there are several meanings and one of them dictates that the ingredients thriftily purchased should be those from which a set of  predetermined dishes can be prepared and this being the case, apart from grapes, those ingredients needed for the creation of a successful grape tart were signally absent. Occasionally good fortune goes to the wrong address and I most certainly had not heard the door bell nor had I noticed any other indication of his presence until I opened the fridge door. Was one to be glancing at a list of ingredients for crème patissière the first of those to appear on that list would be 3 separated egg yolks and those 3 separated yolks were there, sitting in a white cup in the chilled white interior, still slightly quivering from having just been placed by the invisible hand of good fortune who had also had the foresight to provide frozen puff pastry and, in a cupboard nearby, some good vanilla but, in the way that good fortune is never quite good enough, had forgotten the essence of crème patissière: full cream milk. Most milk in France is not real let alone full cream, it is UHT and for most of the time I neither care nor, indeed, notice. On the other hand the French are allowed to have lait cru, raw unpasteurised full cream milk which would cause health and safety, on the other side of La Manche, to head in droves for high cliffs from which to hurl themselves onto the rocks of worthiness. Meanwhile, far from Lemmings Leap, in a nearby village, there is a shed within which is a 24/7 dispenser of  fresh, chilled lait cru, the essential building block for any form of worthwhile custard by which I mean the smooth, pale pouring sauce called creme anglaise or the dense crème patissière that enhances so many toothsome examples of the patissière’s art.

I should make it clear I have never cared for “custard”, by which I mean that overly sweet, bright yellow condiment of the English nursery, so I’m loathe to accept that crème patissière, which I like very much, is a member of that benighted family; but, as we can’t choose our family, all is forgiven.

Posted in 2017, baking, Childhood memories, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Good luck, grapes, Humour, Lait Cru, Luck, Milk, Photography, tart, tarte aux raisins, tarte aux raisins, UHT, Uncategorized, Writing, yolks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

darkly sweetly madly…..

” …we’re in the soup” ” in a bit of a stew” “there are too many cooks” “the salt has lost its savour” “it only takes one rotten apple” “our goose is well and truly cooked”. Being that the cooking and eating of good food accounts for a siseable slab of the mighty virtual rock upon which I have created a mental safe room as protection, from what I perceive as a world gone rogue, it occurs to me how odd it is that so many of the idioms that relate to that great pleasure should be the ones that augur ill. At those time when I watch over onions that are slowly melting in olive oil, a process that removes tears and creates  savoury sweetness, I wonder how it is that great writers and composers primarily choose tragedy and misery from the à la carte of life whilst steering clear of  dishes that contain too much laughter or happiness and, above all, my favourite dessert, a happy ending. We, the public, are shocked each day by reports of appalling cruelty by man to nature, nature to man and man to man and yet, after a punishing day filled with worthy petition signing and tweets of disapproval, our appetite for fictional horror and cruelty will have been whetted yet again. Considering the extreme skill and care that is taken in the special effects kitchen to ensure that the first cut will be the deepest and will indeed be seen to be just that it is little wonder that we produce such talented torturers being that our diet of horror and pain has been so instructive.,,,,by this time I was so upset that I could hardly cut another plum into quarters without thinking of William Wallace. All that was left for me to do was to drop the drawn plums into a sweet pastry case, sprinkle with sugar and raspberries and place the lot in the oven for 45 minutes…..I wanted to get it done so I could settle down to the first episode of Rellik…..a gentle tale of serial killing with hydrochloric acid as the weapon of choice….which must have made for a madly busy special effects kitchen.

This wonderful tart is a recipe of Nigel Slater’s with which I have taken certain liberties. In his recipe, below the picture, you will notice that he makes his “pie” in a pie dish whereas I have used a tart tin with a removable bottom as I have never had success with a pie dish…not the pie dish’s fault. I also used a different pastry recipe but that was only from force of habit.

Posted in 2017, baking, Cookery Writers, Cream, desserts, Digital photography, Humour, Nigel Slater, Photography, photography course, Plum and raspberry lattice pie, Plums, raspberries, Recipes, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

et dieu crea la reine claude…

As I ate my five hundredth greengage of the day I began to ponder on aw and awe and concluded  how awful, meaningless and fucking annoying is the current use of awesome as a superlative particularly if Oh My God is used to preface such a declaration. Oh my god these greengages are awesome. See….it is fucking annoying. Anyway, because  greengages are so awfully addictive and toothsome they find it very hard to get from the orchard, in my case shopping basket, to the kitchen and, harsh as it may sound, they have only themselves to blame. Of all the varied members of the family plum, save for the  golden mirabelle, the greengage never fails to please and it is this impossibly seductive quality that impedes their progress from bough to kitchen to oven and in my opinion that’s how it should be….I have a feeling that god created the greengage just after he had successfully completed what has remained as the finest piece of spare rib cookery which was to be known by posterity as Brigitte Bardot….certainly a more attractive view of the garden of Eden and one could not find a more apposite symbol of irresistible sinfulness than the greengage…together with his previous creation. Having declared my love of the raw fruit it may come as some surprise that I indeed managed to preserve a few of my treasures which I put, uncooked and without any adornment or creme patissiere, into a sweet shortcrust pastry case and cooked for 30 minutes in a hot oven……and there it is in the picture below. In my heart of hearts I can’t really see why I did it….it does taste good, particularly when it’s cold and is served with thick, yellow creme fraiche….but should I have to hand a bowl of ripe fruit fresh from the bough there is little question that I would say to the snake…”I’ll have one of those, in fact as many as you can get hold of and, by the way, do you by any chance know a girl called Brigitte who I believe lives around here”.

Posted in 2017, Autumn, Baking, Cooking, creme fraiche, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Fruit, Garden, greengages, Humour, Photography, photography course, Religion, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

juggling on radio…..

A blindfolded man is given a glass of dark beer to taste. He tastes the beer, licks his lips and nods in approval at which point the blindfold is removed causing the subject of the tasting to smile and say “….but I hate Guinness”; so ran a very popular commercial sometime in the misty past. Such was my experience with Richard Olney’s “Simple French Food” being substituted for the glass of Guinness. The blindfold was omitted for the same reason that juggling acts never succeed on radio. I have owned a copy of this book for a long time and yet, on account of some capricious prejudice, I have easily resisted any temptation to cook any of the recipes therein; until yesterday, that is, which is entirely due to doing something that I very much dislike doing…..looking at newspapers. There was a time in my life when I read newspapers with the same addictive urgency that led me to smoke several packets of cigarettes each day. I needed one or the other, preferably both, in my hands if my hands and mind had nothing specific to do at that moment…sitting on the underground, sitting on the lavatory, sitting on a bar stool, sitting in the studio, sitting in a restaurant…they were constant companions. Neither of them have been part of my life for a long time now but they have been replaced by the equally habit forming internet which is in my hand when I’m sitting on the underground, sitting on the lavatory, sitting on a bar stool, sitting at my computer, or cooking in the kitchen which is when, yesterday, I read Rachel Roddy’s Guardian food page which featured a Richard Olney recipe. A “con” of the printed newspaper was that one could only express one’s disagreement with an editorial opinion by the long, tedious, and thankless task of writing a letter to the editor whereas a “pro” of the current internet newspaper allows us, Trumplike, to make an immediate and, more often than not, ill considered comment directly to the author of the piece which, in my ill considered way, is what I did. I mentioned that “Simple French Food” was as far from simple as I could imagine and that the recipes appeared long, convoluted and unnecessarily demanding and not in the spirit of blah, blah, blah which comment clearly asked for, indeed demanded, a simple, crisp “whatever” in reply but which received a kind and persuasive suggestion that it may be worth trying.When one hears such words from the mouth of La Roddy one knows it fucking well will be worth trying and so I did and here’s the recipe……do it. I should mention that my on line conversation with Rachel brought comments from other  people who had wonderful things to say such as this” “All that said, recipes are like belts: you can tug them snug or wear them loosely, and in time take them off completely, cooking by eye and nose with the chance that your trousers might fall down”

Posted in 2017, aubergine, aubergine, Cheese, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cream, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Eggs, Excellence, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, goat cheese, Mediterranean food, Photography, Photography holiday, Rachel Roddy, Recipes, Richard Olney, Ricotta, ricotta gratin, tomato, tomatoes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

bulgari blackberries

……………. absurdly expensive jewellry should come equipped with thorns…..

Posted in 2017, Art photography, blackberries, Blackberrying, brambles, Digital photography, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French countryside, Fruit, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

several hours before the mast ……

As an archivist I would make an excellent document shredder. I have been a professional photographer for 50 years yet, from the paucity of hard evidence confirming that boast, it would be easier to believe that there is intelligent life in the White House. It was only after writing yesterday’s post, in which I recounted my après-photography antics in a darkened room that left me well lit but severely over exposed, that I had a dim memory of seeing one of the “outs” from that shoot which accounts for the image above and which suggests that I was not always a food photographer ….doesn’t it? We left on the Sloop John something or other which was in fact a beautiful old wooden ketch. On board were the skipper and mate, the model and me and my assistant. On the near horizon was a huge motor yacht that the agency had also wisely hired on board of which were the art director, copy writer and other important folk together with much of the production of Reims and Cognac which they had wisely mixed together in order to create clarity in decision making. Those on the motor yacht would watch over us and send us messages indicating what they thought would look good. As this was many years before mobile phones I can only image this was done with flags or bottles with messages within. The flags would not have worked as the skipper of our yacht was blind, which would also render useless the messages in bottles, and so, as in wars and politics, we just blindly buggered on. The point of the shot was indeed very finely honed….in concept. The picture was to be part of a campaign to launch Femail, a supplement to that beacon of truth and honesty, The Daily M…can’t bring myself to write it. My particular endeavour was to portray a fab young lady in yellow gumboots as a hoary old sea dog in sole charge of her own destiny…..there she was at the helm of a 36ft sailing boat, eyes fixed on the distant shore which was good as the skipper behind had seen his last distant shore some time ago and I personally felt that we were in deep shit. I, in fact, was in a black rubber suit strapped to the gunwhale which is no more technical than it is painful and just kept taking pictures and dreaming of the day when I would be food photographer.

Posted in 2017, Art photography, Drinks, Excellence, Excess, fashion, Humour, lifestyle, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

I think I’ve heard this one before…..

Eating outside at night is clear evidence of summer; being comfortable and warm whilst eating outside is clear evidence of a perfect summer night. It only takes one forgetful old man repeating a well worn story for the umpteenth time to bring such a night to its knees, begging for mercy. So here I go. It was a warm and gentle night and the photographer said to his assistant “come for a swim, assistant” and the assistant said “but I have no swimmers” to which the photographer said “bollocks, you can swim in your pants and I know a secret route to the swimming pool through the maze of corridors in this very expensive and exclusive hotel”, where we were staying because we’d been shooting a highly paid advertising job and the client was paying, “enabling us to reach the pool unseen” and so saying walked boldly through an unmarked door into the heart of the packed restaurant whose clientele were now like frozen figures from a Bateman cartoon as they looked in amazement at the man in smart black underpants with a folded white towel over one arm, starkly lit by a flaming crepe Suzette, like a disturbed waiter who had spent his tips on drugs. By this point I am alone at the table, Jenny and our friends having left out of fear that I might remember some other oft repeated tale……so it was left to me to eat the best part of a perfectly ripe Reblochon with a bunch of sweet, dark skinned grapes and good bread…..a very good night, I thought.

Posted in 2017, Art photography, Cheese, Digital photography, France, Fruit, grapes, Humour, Photography, photography course, Prints, Reblochon, Still life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

keeping a lid on it…


I dislike fridge door stickers a lot. They, like limpets on a boat’s bottom, appear out of nowhere and multiply. Fridge door stickers, limpets and flies may well come from the same family. Summer time is indeed here and the living is easy but it is not little babies that are spreading their wings it’s a monstrous horde of flies and I….I am bored of the flies. Keeping flies off the food while cooking demands the skills of a retiarius …I enter the kitchen to the roar of the extractor and washing machine to be confronted by a host of flies…. moving silently on the balls of my feet around the arena kitchen, armed with nothing but a fly swat and net, I relentlessly dispatch winged opponents one after another yet on they come: mine not to question why, mine but to kill a fly. There is an edge to cooking with, should I say in the company of, flies; an edge that does not allow an unguarded moment, an edge that demands that one forgoes the pleasure of self congratulation on taking a shimmering gold frittata from the oven,  an edge that demands that a lid be put on it at once, an edge that says that nothing edible may be left uncovered for a moment.  My summer kitchen has become a culinary seraglio wherein reside warm tarts and frittatas, veiled odalisques beneath their protective nets which reveal to the inquisitive eye but a diffused and featureless image  save for those unguarded moments when a net is left carelessly drawn aside as in the lewd picture above.

Frittatas are much of a muchness meaning that their muchness depends on how well balanced were the ingredients and seasonings, how good were the eggs and how patient was the cook. The frittata that is the subject of this piece would not have seen the light of that summer’s evening but for our neighbour’s generous and unexpected gift of six fresh eggs, an extraordinarily favourable exchange rate, in return for our donation of a bag of stale bread to be gnawed on and pecked at by her, soon to be dinner, rabbits and chickens.

Courgette, thyme and Parmesan frittata
This particular version, which used all six eggs, fed two hungry people. I’m not sure if that’s too many eggs for two people but if you think it is, use less.
Slice a large courgette into rounds, season lightly with salt and pepper and cook them in butter in a frying pan until they soften and start to take colour. Meanwhile beat the eggs in a large bowl…season and add fresh thyme leaves and a generous grating of fresh Parmesan. Pour the egg mixture over the courgettes and gently push the edges with a wooden spatula to let more of the mixture touch the hot base of the pan. Leave the pan on a low heat for 5 or 6 minutes, kill any flies that come near, and then put the pan into the middle of a preheated oven at 190C. Watch through the oven door and take it out when it looks right to you. Serve at room temperature with a green salad…..small chunks of parboiled new potatoes, roasted in olive oil with some unpeeled garlic cloves and then sprinkled generously with finely chopped fresh parsley are also very good.

Posted in 2017, Cheese, Cooking, courgette, Courgette, Digital photography, Eggs, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, French countryside, Herbs and Spices, Parmesan, parmesan frittata, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Salad, Still life, Thyme, thyme, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

the man from Marseille…

A small tart of tapenade, mozzarella and tomatoes in shortcrust pastry

Our local supermarket’s male employees tend not to be slim, suntanned and, above all, smiling; nor do they wear their hair in the mini ponytail once popular with hipsters and now de rigueur with rugby players but yet there he was….the man from Marseille, purveyor of olives, chillies, pistou, tapenade and confit d’ail, illuminating that bleak nether world that lies between the checkouts and the exits, a purgatory where souls become aware of what they have just spent and that they themselves are spent and yet the day stretches out before them still. In this heart of greyness stood a wooden table laden with so many huge glass bowls in which lay piled the most beautiful fruits of the Mediterranean indolently bathing in golden olive oil. When confronted by a plethora of good things, good things in the way that Jane Grigson wrote of things that she thought to be good,  I try to carefully consider which of them I greedily want and which of them I need and, if I conclude that I do indeed need one or some of them, I painstakingly assess which one or ones they may be. Then I take them all….or I would if I could. Shopping for food, be it in a shop, market or, sadly and more usually, in a supermarket, is one of my great pleasures and, as with all my great pleasures, financial probity is my watchword; it might be worth mentioning at this point that in my working life I would regularly receive compliments from my bank and my many suppliers mentioning my “outstanding balance”, indeed, I think I can say without fear of contradiction that few people, apart from the Great Blondin, would have received more.

small jars of black olive tapenade, amber pistou de poivrons and ivory purée de confit d’ail

After several seconds of deep reflection I had narrowed down my selection to but a couple of dozen essential larder items and a few other frivolities…which I quickly rejected on mentally assessing the worth of the loose change in my hand..”be sensible, Roger,” I said to myself “olives and stuff like that can’t cost much” went my thought process ” they grow on trees..and this isn’t a shop, it’s a table, but still, leave out the frivolities, stick to essentials”.
“How much will that be?” I asked, confidently holding out my hand in the palm of which nestled the equivalent of a six year old’s weekly pocket money. Odd how fast a smile can disappear….and how fast I became a mind reader capable of understanding “daft old cunt” in one of the more obscure Marseille patois.
When I returned from the cash machine I handed over a king’s ransom ( not a very important or well loved king it must be said) and left with three little bags of essentials. There is a happy ending to this story and here it is:

A small tart of tapenade, mozzarella and tomatoes by me

For tarts like this I always use a pate brisée from Patricia Wells’ “Bistro Cooking”…but use what you like, although I definitely would advise shortcrust over puff pastry for this tart.
175gms ordinary flour
105gms cold butter, cut into pieces
pinch of sea salt
3 tbsps of iced water

Put the flour and butter in a food processor and process for about 10 secs until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the iced water and then pulse 6-8 times until it starts to come together. Do not let it form a ball. Remove from the processor and place on grease proof paper. Flatten the dough to a disc, wrap and refrigerate.

For the filling:
I just made a small tart with some left over pastry so it’s up to you to decide on quantities for the filling. The idea is to line a tart tin with the pastry and chill it for 30 mins. Then spread tapenade over the base of the tart. Take some creme fraiche, beat grated Parmesan into it and spread a layer over the tapenade. Scatter torn lumps of mozzarella over this, season with black pepper, and then add a layer of slices of real tomatoes, by which I mean tomatoes with good flavour that are not full of seeds. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Cook in a preheated oven of 200C for approximately 45 minutes.

Posted in 2017, baking, Cheese, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Jane Grigson, Mediterranean food, Mozzarella, mozzarella and tomatoes, Olive oil, olives, Parmesan, pastry, Pesto, Photography, Provence, Recipes, tart, tart of tapenade, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments