A question of toast……

I have recently been reading a novel by William Boyd in which one of the protagonists, a brilliant piano tuner, speaks of a certain sequence of chords and harmonies which, when played by a virtuoso, would, without fail, bring tears to the eyes of a listener. Certain combinations of tastes and textures have a similar effect on me save that I internalise my tears saving the ” I must have something in my eye” for moments such as this piece by Michael Kamen that always does it ….https://youtu.be/GA2FOVlNb6Q…..I’m blubbing at 1 minute 6 secs into the music.

Anchovies, capers and olive oil are tastes that create a gustatory chord that leaves not a dry eye in the house. Yesterday, flicking through images on Instagram, a simple shot of anchovy fillets on buttered bread had the “tears” welling up and before you could say ” I could really do with a plate of that stuff, maybe on buttered toast and with something else to kick the flavour button a little bit more” I was in the kitchen slicing bread and thinking. This is where “toast” came into the equation and where it was soundly rejected, despite the success of the book and the show, in favour of a small black frying pan and a spoonful of olive oil. Bread quickly fried in olive oil is as good as a plate on which to lay anchovy fillets and capers but, for the sake of a good picture, I weakened and used a traditional ceramic one. The addition of slivers of preserved lemons, which I’d just bought for a tagine that I’m about to make, was a good move and, after a couple of mouthfuls, I realised that I’d need my handkerchief as I appeared to have got something in my eye.

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Drawing in the garden……

With the arrival of “summer” I’ve started drawing again. In previous summers I have found that the simple pleasure of being in the garden, warmed by the sun and surrounded by colour has made me want to draw. This year’s pale imitation of a summer has been enervating but, to my surprise, despite the cold and rain, the pleasure of making drawings has, like the rest of nature, returned from its winter migration.

If anyone should be interested. prints of these images are available on canvas or as giclée prints.

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Lost in the dessert…..

I’m one of the easiest people in the world to talk to which means that it’s a rare waking moment when I and I are not chewing the fat which term is far from apposite as I and I is vegetarian. It’s not a question of advancing years or retreating sanity that brings me into such close communication with myself as I’ve talked to myself for as long as I can remember which is an unreliable time frame with regard to memory as I instantly forget the names of people to whom I’ve just been introduced. That aside, there’s no one I would rather cook with than myself as it precludes any criticism or I told you so’s which are disheartening when I’m clearly fucking up as was the case when recently making Creme Caramel. I say “clearly” but what is now clear is that the clear errors were not apparent to I and I at the time although we were congratulating each other on a job well done as we unwittingly sank deeper and deeper into the moving sands of the dessert.

Sugar Caramelising

“If you’re feeling brave, tip the sugar directly into a thick bottomed pan and let it melt over a low heat”…challenged the author of the chosen recipe. Madness, I said to myself, and myself replied “If this is madness then I am a friend of folly” and tipped the sugar directly into the pan. Gently swirling the pan from time to time produced a warm brown bubbling caramel, as you can see from the picture above, and both I and I were confident that it was right…….boiling sugar does not lend itself to tasting and I was sure that once upon a time I had had a sugar thermometer by I couldn’t remember where I or I had put it so the caramel was tipped into the waiting dish where it quickly set into a perfect dark mirror. To my and I’s mind the difficult part was over. All that was left to do was pour a rich, vanilla flavoured custard over the dark mirror, put the dish in a bain marie and thence to the oven for an hour.

Creme Caramel as it came out of the oven

The hour passed reasonably quickly as one of us danced embarrassingly to jazz music from a French radio station whilst the other hid his face in his hands wishing he was with anyone but himself. The timer thankfully blew full time and the Creme Caramel saw its first moment of daylight and, without question, it was a ringer for the dog’s bollocks….why do I say things like that I said to myself who in turn said ” you’ve got fucking Tourette’s, that’s why”. At this point you may wonder what could be wrong with this paragon of a pudding and it was only after the recommended 12 hours chilling in the fridge that its true character came to light. The Rothko like surface of the pudding, as seen in the picture above, had become a pale, wrinkled covering and a spoon dug in revealed a far too thin layer of custard and a rather bitter caramel…..an altogether acquired taste. Our post mortem concluded that the caramel had cooked for a couple of minutes too long and it also dragged out another couple of truths which I thought I had safely hidden from myself. First of these was the sin of halving a recipe under the belief that it will work as normal and, adding injury to insult, only halving certain parts of the recipe. ….and there was no vanilla sugar in the custard as one of me had forgotten that there was no more in the cupboard.

I have talked myself into a replay next week once I have found the thermometer ( or me or myself chooses to make the caramel the easy way with water) and when the vanilla sugar cupboard is fully restocked.

Posted in 2019, baking, Bistro, Cooking, Creme Caramel, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, Excellence, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Instagram, Recipes, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

“Looking….Seeing” a photography workshop

There are, currently, a plethora of wonderful workshops that specialise in overhead shots of beautifully propped and carefully prepared and presented food…………………………….
but my upcoming workshop is not one of those.

The programme that I’m proposing for this workshop is about “looking”. About looking at the work of other photographers, about looking around us, about looking until we get to see something to photograph, until we can’t stop seeing things to photograph. About finding the picture inside a picture that had been invisible until one “looked” again. Which means that we’ll be out and about in small villages or in seaside towns or in the open countryside….wherever there are pictures. And when we’ve taken pictures we’ll look at them on Photoshop and pull the pictures out their shells.

“Looking” can be exhausting and thirsty work so be assured that in my life and on my workshops we eat and drink extremely well. Matt and Emily Clark, our hosts, our both wonderful cooks and, happily, France is full of good wine. The workshop is based in a comfortable villa on the edge of the forest of Mervent pictures of which are in the gallery below:

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There are still places left on this workshop so now’s the time to contact either me directly ( stowellr@gmail.com) or by going to www.biginfrance.co.uk where you can find our workshop under the drop down menu of Photography Courses.

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Spring break in France….

The sun is out and the skies are blue as we rush towards Spring which makes it a perfect moment to book one or two of the remaining places on my May Workshop here in the Vendée. Contact me directly or have a look at the options on the Big in France website.


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Mouthwatering print offer….£40 for 4 prints…FREE shipping worldwide.


Each print is 5″ x 5″ and is produced by the Print Space in London for  The French Print House and can be found by clicking on Tasting Menu.

This offer only lasts until the end of March ( Midnight March 31 2019)

Posted in 2019, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On heat……

There is an incremental development in both success and pleasure, when cooking on open wood fires, that depends on the near divine alignment of fair weather, the freshest and finest of  ingredients and, above all, on the design, construction and viability of the installation upon which one will be cooking. Last Thursday, the last day of February, was as a perfect day in June although the arc of the sun was that little bit lower and the softer light created long shadows with deeply saturated colour. Therefore, the first of the suggested trinity, the weather, was beyond reproach and, if the February weather was June, the ingredients were July: Chateaubriand, épaule d’agneau, shortrib, aile de raie, cod, poussins, quails, fennel, beetroot, green radish, kohlrabi, shallots, bok choy, aubergines ….we were submerged in a sea of mouthwatering possibility. The extensive and brutalist outdoor kitchen, furnished with fire pits and grills, perched on a hill overlooking a patchwork of forest and farmland which is the Vendéen bocage, completed the trinity.

And then the fires are burning, the fat is spitting and the spits are turning. We, in the words of Mr Tarantino, are getting mediaeval on, if not the asses, then the shoulders, fillets and ribs of a variety of meat and fishes. There is something very visceral and stimulating in this style of cooking. The various dishes being prepared are not concealed in lidded pans nor hidden behind closed oven doors; they are twisting and turning, charring and caramelising behind a curtain of flames and smoke: this is beyond theatre, this is an eruption.  The surprise is that such delicate cooking emerges from this sizzling, smokefilled maelstrom.

This is world without egg timers and oven gloves. this is a world where looking, smelling and tasting are the yardsticks. Everything is hot and fingers act as thermometers while the words of Marco Pierre White ring in our ears “God would not have given you fingers if he didn’t intend them to be burned”. Down in the fire pit, away to the side and clear of the flames, sit large foil wrapped packages filled with beetroots and heavily spiced cauliflowers.
As the fires die down, after a long day of photography and cooking, and the dishes that were created in the fire and the smoke are served on simple white plates on the long oak table in the cool of the house, it takes a leap of faith to remember that this delicacy was forged in a raging inferno.

The man behind the pans and in front of the flames is Matt Clark who, together with his wife Emily, runs an exciting outfit called Big in France which offers a multitude of cookery, photography and yoga course from their properties in the Sud Vendée, near to the Atlantic coast of France. I think you’d enjoy it.

Posted in 2019, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Sharp Dresser ….#4 in the series Kitchen Art

The Kitchen Art series is growing apace with plenty of different sizes and prices for limited edition giclée prints on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag art paper. No.4 in the series, “Sharp Dresser”, was inspired by the wonderful table knife that I found at Emmaus, a charity outlet which has a branch in every town in France, and which has such slick and dapper lines that when I lent it against a simple tranche of goat cheese it immediately took on the look of a 30’s slicker in a brown Derby.
Have a look at the Kitchen Art series on The French Print House and, while you’re there, check out some of the other stuff.

Posted in 2019, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Photography, photography course, Photography holiday, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Kitchen Art #3 from the French Print House

An irresistible play on words that was not resisted. It would seem so, but there is some small piece of reasoning behind the word play. The etymology of the word onion reveals the Latin noun “unio, unionis” as a possible derivation and the Latin noun “unio” translates into English as “a single large pearl”. With that in mind, together with the blue of the string and strands of “hair”, I was drawn inexorably to choose “The Pearl with an Onion Earring” as the title of this, the third in my new series of Kitchen Art giclée prints.

All the details and prices can be found at The French Print House.

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Kitchen series …No.2….Broken Home

Nature’s own food packaging fascinates and, deservedly, will feature on more than one occasion in my new series of limited edition giclée prints for The French Print House. “Broken Home” is the second in the series and I am busily working on a third image.

“Broken Home” is printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag Fine Art paper and is available in 4 sizes ranging from 3ft x 2ft to 20ins x 16ins with prices from £120 to £40 ( without VAT).

Shipping is FREE Worldwide.

Posted in 2019, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, French Print House, Giclée Prints, Hahnemuhle art paper, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments