Thursday, December 31, 2009

THE MAYORS AND THE MAYOR GALLERY

To buy a picture from Freddy Mayor you not only had to know him, but be liked by him. Otherwise there was no hope. And if you were friends, you were friends for life.
His gallery prices were reasonable. And should you have to sell one of his pictures, you always returned it to Freddy - always.
I can not recall either how or when we first met. But I do remember when I bought my first picture from him.
So I must have known Freddy for some time just to be admitted to the inner sanctum of the Mayor Gallery, then at 14 Brook Street, London, W.1.
The gallery was small. There was a picture or two on display in the window, and one or two beyond. Public, interested in art, might venture in – but not too far in, then leave.
You had to pass through an inner door to meet the owner. That passing over the threshold was, in itself, somewhat of a privilege.
On gaining entry, Freddy would be seen at his desk, probably working out which horses to back for that day. The smell of fine Havana cigars enhanced the air. He would be surrounded by a selection of wonderful works of art both large and small, for Freddy Mayor had one of the most perceptive eyes in the art business. Each painting would be of the top flight – among the best, and sometimes very avant garde. For he was a pioneer of modern art.
Besides having a fine eye for a painting and an appreciative eye for a pretty girl, he possessed an absolutely lousy eye for a horse. If he would be on a bad streak, he might back each horse in a race to be sure of a winner (which seems rather a good idea to me).
I was clearly a bit flush with cash at the time, and in work, either designing or painting scenery in the theatre (ice shows paid well, and when working on ice I wore my wartime pilot’s sheepskin-lined boots to keep my feet dry and warm).
So it was that, on the 16th of February 1956, I was allowed into the holy of holies. There I saw a lovely little Matthew Smith painting (a study for a larger one, and originally given to the British consul, William Ashcroft, in the South of France), and bought it for £145. After that I expect Freddy and I went out for a Guinness or lunch. When really flush we might also visit Carlins to select a box of Havana cigars, where they opened several boxes for you to smell before you bought. And you were given a fine cigar on the house to smoke on your way home.
I still have the receipt for that painting from THE MAYOR GALLERY Ltd with its 2d stamp over-signed by Freddy. I treasure it.
Over the years I continued to buy from the gallery – a Paul Nash, two Edward Burras, an Henri Gaudier-Brezska, and bronzes by Lynn Chadwick and Kadishman – each now worth a small fortune to their present owners. For reasons of solvency, all, except for a bronze dog, were returned to the gallery for re-sale.
In a 1960 exhibition of drawings, done on a yearlong voyage around the world in 1958 and 1959, I entered the world of Cork Street art galleries for the first time, exhibiting at the Reid Gallery there. Most were sold, with some more going to Japan for a 1961 exhibition in Osaka. I then used one hundred of them to illustrate my Mudlark Press account of the trip - “Harbours, Girls and a Slumbering World”.
Nearby, in Cork Street, was the most recent Mayor Gallery, now run, internationally successfully, by the late Freddy Mayor’s son, James.
In 1969, James came to a show I had at the Qantas Gallery (The Relief of Kut), in Bond Street nearby, where he bought one of The Nine Logs from the Tigris. It was a jetsam paddle, withdrawn from the Thames in Limehouse, in a way that those of our army might have done from the Tigris when they were besieged by the Turks in Kut during 1916 (in what was Mesopotamia, now Iraq). On the paddle was inscribed “God Punish England”, a common graffito in that distant Arab land. So I was delighted, in this creative way, to rekindle my association with James Mayor and his Mayor Gallery - and Cork Street.
In either Freddy’s or James’s day the idea of me ever exhibiting my work at their gallery would not have entered my head, their offerings being so exalted.
In 2006, when I abandoned writing books and articles and returned to painting after a writing break of 25 years, James Gould, the 20th century expert on English art at Christie’s, South Kensington, saw my 1954 painting of “The Shed”, Chelsea Football Ground, and asked if he could sell it at his auction house. It went for an enormous sum, re-establishing me as an artist of that period.
I continued to work, now with pastels, depicting my ideas in shape and colour of the garden, the shadows of aircraft, and the relationship of yacht sails and boats’ hulls on land. As it took some 55 years for my early stuff to come to light again, so these, I thought, might, with any luck, do the same in the distant future.
So, in 2009, it came as a complete and wonderful surprise when James Mayor offered me a November/December show of Aircraft Shadows at his Cork Street Gallery.
With nice words written for it by James May (television writer and Top Gear presenter), Geoff Cowart, (editor of h&f News) and Christopher Neve (art critic and author), and a piece in Aeroplane, the show did splendidly well – making me, in the process, both a 20th and then a 21st century painter.
But most of all, it is the connection with the Mayors and the Mayor Gallery that pleases me the most.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oven extras

When baking meat or casseroles in the oven, there will probably be unused space available. I like to use it.

COOKING OTHER DISHES IN THE OVEN WHEN IT IS IN USE FOR ROASTS OR CASSEROLES

You will need:
Baking pans that can be covered and your choice of ingredients
Olive oil
Pepper and salt
Vinegar
An herb

In your baking pan, or pans, you could put chopped onion, chopped garlic, chopped apple, chopped tomatoes, chopped potato, chopped aubergine, chopped celery and on and on. But it is best to cook a single ingredient, or two, possibly three. A grand mix becomes a sort of ratatouille. And those of us who have lived in the country and had a surplus of vegetables and cooked them all together for the freezer and later use, will know how very bored one can become with the result.
Always start these extra-oven dishes with olive oil, some vinegar, pepper and salt. Add your chosen chopped ingredients.
Add an herb (one is better than lots), though I do sometimes use Herbes de Provence.
Before covering the tin with another of the same size, or foil, turn over all the ingredients with the fingers to coat the contents completely with the oil, vinegar, herb, salt and pepper mixture.
You may want to check the contents and turn them over at some point during the cooking, but most will be ready to eat without attention when the main dish is ready.
Besides my regular mixture of mainly peppers and onions, two other dishes have recently been great successes.

One of my favourite first courses (hot, warm, or cold) is aubergine in tomato and onion. Generally made in the slow cooker, this can be cooked very successfully as an oven extra.
Into an oven dish that can be covered with a lid, another dish, or foil, put chopped onion, olive oil, chopped garlic, pepper, salt, and a little vinegar. Just cook this until the onion is transparent. Add the contents of a can of chopped tomatoes. Stir it around. Now cut small aubergines into two down their length and place them, cut side down, in the onion/tomato mix. Cover and cook in the oven. They may not take quite as long to cook as stews, roasts and casseroles.

The other recent success had been Brussels sprouts. Trim them, and then coat them with olive oil, pressed garlic, pepper, salt and vinegar. Cover and oven-cook.
Should you be cooking a stew or casserole in the oven, and have some sprouts handy, place them on top of the ingredients. Cover and cook. Even those who can’t stand sprouts may well come around to liking these.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

Aircraft Shadows

EXHIBITION OF PAINTINGS AT THE MAYOR GALLERY, 22a Cork Street, London W1X 1HB (Tel. 020 7734 3558)

From the 24th of November 2009 until 18th December 2009, I will be showing my AIRCRAFT SHADOWS series of paintings at the most prestigious Mayor Gallery www.mayorgallery.com)in London.

Being satisfied with sales of early work at Christie’s, and thinking of the present work in the long term (well, after all, the Christie’s choices were painted 50-60 years ago), I was both surprised and more than delighted when offered this show.

This means that I will be rather busy painting, compiling lists, framing, and all that goes with a show, to be writing much in the blog. But I will bring previous blog pieces up to date in respect of robin life and pot-gardening experiments.

Exhibition details will follow on both this website and that of the gallery, where pictures on show will be posted shortly before the exhibition.

Recipe: aubergine Kefalonia

One of the great pleasures of foreign travel is to test local recipes and, if delicious and unable to find out exactly how they were cooked, try to reproduce them at home with ingredients that are readily available. This one comes from a Greek island in the Ionian Sea, and made more or less to a recipe provided by a hotel receptionist. It is a simple way to cook aubergines and has become one of my favourites. The result is rich and filling. I serve the aubergines as a hot hors d’oeuvre in winter and cold in summer.

AUBERGINE KEFALONIA

You will need:
Aubergines
Olive oil
Onions
Canned chopped tomatoes
Vinegar
Sugar
Pepper and salt

In a frying pan, later to be lidded, cook plenty of chopped onions in olive oil. As soon as the onion pieces are beginning to become transparent add the contents of a can of chopped tomatoes, a dash of vinegar, a pinch of sugar, pepper and salt.
Stir this around to form a sauce. Then add small aubergines that have been halved lengthwise, skin side up. Very small aubergines, now often available at market stalls, are ideal for this dish. If using large ones cut them down their length to form chunky pieces.
Put the lid on the pan and cook the aubergines slowly in their sauce for about 30 to 40 minutes (I use a lidded electric frying pan at its slow cooking setting), adding water if the sauce begins to dry up. They are ready when quite soft all through.
Lift them into a serving dish or arrange them on to individual plates. Serve hot, warm or cold.
French type bread to dip into the juices is almost essential.

Recipe: Beef - sliced, marinated top rump

Do not think that a slice of top rump must be fried or grilled (thickening the air in your kitchen with lots of fatty droplets) and then divided. Another way to cook it is this way, being very quick, clean and delicious.

BEEF – SLICED, MARINATED TOP RUMP

You will need:
A slice of top rump
A marinade of your choice – a normal one being mainly oil, vinegar, (garlic), (chilli), pepper and salt, and a herb or herbs of your choice – fresh or dried. For a spicier, barbecue-type of marinade try oil, tomato ketchup (this will have vinegar in it), paprika, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, chilli, pepper and salt.

Divide your slice of top rump into, say, 1 ½” (4cm) strips. Then cut across these strips, forming the thinnest slices possible.
Marinate the meat morsels in a mixture of your choice (see possible list above). They can now stay covered in the refrigerator for hours to days.
To cook, just fry them very quickly in a pan, and serve with mashed potato, with possibly a green salad or a vegetable of your choice.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Chicken and Parsnips

When parsnips are at their best in the late autumn and winter, this simple dish uses them with chicken to form a delightful stew.

CHICKEN – CHICKEN AND PARSNIPS

You will need:
Oil
Onions
Garlic
Pepper and salt
Flour
Chicken leg and thigh
Parsnips
White wine
Chicken stock cube.
A herb, like rosemary. Tarragon or thyme

In a casserole or saucepan on top of the stove fry garlic and chopped onions in oil of your choice until the onion pieces are transparent. Sprinkle a little flour over them and stir it in. Add pepper and salt.
On this mixture place chicken pieces – a leg and thigh will do for two. Keep the skin on and bones in.
Pile on peeled and cubed parsnips – two fairly large ones should be enough.
Add a glass of dry white wine and then water to almost cover. Crumble in a chicken stock cube if you feel inclined to do so. Now add a herb of your choice – placing it on top.
Boil it all gently for half an hour. Discard the herb if on a branch. Extract the chicken piece(s). Skin and bone them when cool enough to do so without burning your hands. Discard the skin and bone. Chop up the chicken meat and return it to the pan.
That’s it. You can continue the cooking on low heat for some time, thus always being sure that the dish is ready and hot when wanted at the table.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Aircraft Shadows Exhibition at The Mayor Gallery, London


Avro Lancaster Drift Scale (vertical)


From 24 November 2009 until 18 December 2009, Jim will be exhibiting at The Mayor Gallery, 22A Cork Street, London W1, a series of eight large and 32 small pastels entitled Aircraft Shadows.

TV presenter James May writes: 'There is a great deal of sentimentality in aviation art, but this exhibition avoids that trap.'

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A voyage through Europe, September/October 2009

Margreet is the main driver when we go to mainland Europe. I am the map-reader.
So I had prepared for our voyage through France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and France once more by buying the latest maps, deciding on our route, and compiling a list of reference numbers, dates, hotels and all the rest.
Then Margreet came home with a satellite navigation gadget.
We programmed it to take us to our first hotel in Belgium – magic.
With James May’s cat, Fusker, wanting to jump into our car unnoticed at crack of dawn (he loves cars like his master), we drove for a Dover – Dunquerque crossing of the Channel. Our satellite lady’s voice gave us initial directions, which we dutifully took, only to find that we use a better way out of London from our house.
But the gadget soon realised that we were not to be bullied and that we had our preferences when navigating through our own district.
So, with altered and now correct instructions we were dulled so deeply into believing her instructions that I abandoned my usual job of map-reading and left it to her to tell us what to do.
When approaching the Channel Tunnel she insisted that we go there. But we wanted Dover. Whereupon she became so confused that she started to direct us any-old-where, and even back to London.
Sat-Nav magic does not always work. Now we were to see where she would take us when reaching France.
On the boat she (“Olga”, because she is a spy in the sky and Olga Poloski was a beautiful spy) thought that we were still in England. But she soon got the hang of Europe and directed us beautifully to our hotel in the main street of Hoogstraten, in northern Belgium.
She bleeps when we are about to enter a speed camera zone, but does not know of long phantom traffic jams. And her accent with town names baffled even Margreet, who speaks all the lingoes thereabouts.
The town centre of Hoogstraten is dominated by an enormous, double onion-domed tower on a 1320s to 1330s church. This edifice is constructed of pink and white bricks – looking most impressive, if somewhat mottled.
It was our first day abroad, and it is not until arriving and having a drink at a roadside bar that one realises that one is in a foreign country with foreign customs and tastes.
In Hoogstraten we heard jackdaws (no longer in our part of London) above and watched cyclists riding like mad on cycle paths below them, knowing that bicycle-riding has priority and right of way over pedestrians and motorists. So we watched ambling pedestrians, wildly speeding cyclists, cars being parked with aplomb, busses, and a constant stream of tractors and industrial trucks, all beneath the chatter of those jackdaws on the streetside, in trees and on red-tiled roofs.
From afternoon until nine in the evening and probably beyond, we were astonished to see so much farm machinery and farm activity passing through the centre of a town. Huge tractors rushed from one side of town to the other with trailers of covered loads. Was it harvest urgency on the move for such a long period of the day? Sometimes we caught a glimpse of what appeared to be loads of finely-chopped, dried grass. Was this for some specialist cattle feed, or was it for silage?
We ate the kind of dinner I love – 3 courses (scallops, rare lamb chops and cheese) with copious quantities of Chilean and South African wine – none of which we chose – all included in the price of the meal. One eats well and over a long period of time when abroad. So we walked to our bath and bed in a slightly serpentine manner, being very careful indeed when climbing the high treads and steep stairs favoured in that part of the world.

23 September 2009
Except for the refrigerator in our bedroom that kept cutting in and off during the night, the Hostellerie de Tram, in Hoogstraten, turned out to have been an excellent choice for food, comfort and friendly (family) ambience.
When setting off for The Hague, Olga, our satellite guide, told us to turn left when, to retrace our steps to the motorway we would have turned right. We trusted Olga, and she was right, guiding us painlessly to our Mövenpick Hotel in Voorburg, once a Roman town but now part of The Hague.
It was during a morning beer that information reached us that an early painting of mine sold for a handsome sum at Christie’s. That called for another drink.
This new idea for restaurants of offering a number of courses and wine of their choice for a fixed sum, is a good one. It had worked beautifully for us in Hoogstraten. So now we were delighted to accept the same arrangement at Griff , in Voorburg. The food was good, if rather over the top with Nouvelle Cuisine, effusive waiters, and the wine from South Africa, the USA and Australia, all excellent. But in the small print on the menu the wines were charged for as extra. The bill, therefore, was exorbitant – especially as the wine was charged for at £6 a glass – a good idea for the restaurant perhaps, but not for us. So when perusing such a menu in Holland be careful.

24 September 2009
I have written on The Hague before – and about the food at the Fat Kee Chinese restaurant (at Gedempte Gracht 23, where, if you don’t mind chicken bones, order, phonetically, Kip Paiper and Sout). Then there is the wonderful late 19th century Panorama Mestag, the No.1 tram from Scheveningen on the sea through The Hague and on to Delft, and a sex shop where I hope my drawing in the dark will eventually pay for their modest entrance fee.
The Mövenpick Hotel, where we had chosen to stay, is an international (anywhere) hotel, splendidly appointed in its rooms and plumbing. The management had the stroke of genius and fun to supply the bathroom with a small, yellow, red-beaked, plastic duck – the kind that coated the sea somewhere by mistake and swam away the length and breadth of the oceans. It now brightens up our bathroom in England.
The Dutch, I have noticed, are inclined to mix up their food before eating it. This combining of ingredients on the plate seems to please them. But when Margreet and I stopped for an early morning coffee and roll in Voorburg (hardly a place for refreshment seems to open until late) it was, I suppose, no surprise to see on the snack menu the following ingredients as a filling for a roll, called, appropriately,”Breadroll Terrible”: Liver, ham, salted beef, meatsalad, egg, vegetable salad, picalilly (sic), mayonnaise, ketchup and onions. That should have set up a Dutchman for the day.
Do we, in England, Anglicise foreign dishes? We may do. I hope not. The Dutch certainly do. Take that far eastern delicacy satay – slivers of pork, threaded on to a stick, grilled over charcoal, served with a light peanut sauce, and bought by the number of sticks wanted. The Dutch turn it into lumps of meat on a stick, covered with glutinous gravy. Or take liver. The Italian fegato is cut very thinly and cooked in butter or oil for seconds, and flavoured with lemon juice and sage. The Dutch (even in an Italian restaurant) serve great lumps of overcooked, connective-tissued liver, covered with a thick, rich onion gravy.
Dutch appetites are enormous. They are a large people. So they are far too generous with their servings for the likes of us.
We enjoyed a pleasant aperitif of white wine in a bar that one would hardly choose from others. It was a bar of noise – or several noises. Beneath the railway main line, with the sound of trains above occasionally drowning out conversation, cars passing close by, Sinatra singing in the background and parakeets above, somehow combined to make it a very pleasant place for a drink.
Sound mixtures and levels may be quite pleasant or, like noise from running a tap in our bathroom, high pitched enough to make it quite intolerable for Margreet.
Whereas in England leaves on trees were still mainly green, in mainland Europe, especially in areas where it had been dry, autumn leaves were turning colour and falling in the path of our car.
In The Hague, from clumps of tall trees, the raucous chatter of parakeets was to be heard. So they are thriving in Holland as well as in England. And it was interesting to watch these birds from high up in our 6th floor hotel room, where I was able to see that they fly surprisingly quickly over a considerable distance, but quite often change their minds about direction as they go.
Being in a country of flowers, and especially tulips, market stalls were offering a myriad choice of bulbs and winter-hardy plants. The flower stalls were crammed with every kind of bloom – regardless of season or country of origin. These were being bought already made up as arrangements for a vase or, if chosen individually, expertly gathered together to make a display to take home. The Dutch certainly know about horticultural matters, this being very evident at a quite charming garden centre next to the Mövenpick Hotel in Voorburg. It could have been a discerning person’s private garden.
Margreet found that shopping for clothes in a Voorburg shop was quite satisfactory. In one, an assistant asked her if we were just married, so happy we were in each other’s company.
The Dutch kiss three times when greeting or parting. In a crowd, one sometimes is in contact with the moisture left on cheeks by predecessors. I have wondered how often diseases are passed on by these friendly gestures.
There is another national trait that I have noticed. The Dutch write the figure 8 in a different way from the English. Theirs starts going down left, crosses over above in the middle, and finishes by going down right – if that describes it.
We were in The Netherlands for Margreet to take a short course of brain training. My father (born in the late 19th century), who took my brother away from school because he was forced to do lessons when he should have been playing sport, believed in three important maxims in life. They were Observation, Recollection and Retention – maxims that apply today. From Margreet’s course it seems that nowadays imagination and creativity are held to be of almost higher importance than academic prowess.

27 September 2009
And so to Bad Bentheim, a small town in Germany, noted for its spa waters and world-renowned stone (its formidable castle and the Statue of Liberty rest on it).
A short way out of town my Dutch in-laws have bought a house on a holiday-home housing estate as an investment. It is an extremely clever concept house, constructed quickly and made with the considerable use of man-made materials. It, like its neighbours, is set on a concrete platform in a constructed landscape, layered and hillocked from a plain slope. On this the houses are positioned at different levels within a system of cleverly constructed gullies to channel away storm water to keep the building platforms dry.
The houses themselves have much the same look to them, but differ in size and external decoration. And although situated very close to each other, give a certain feeling of privacy, even though there is very little when sitting outside to eat or drink on the extended concrete slab.
With a central command office, the owners must allow their houses to be rented out for part of the year for several years, rental being guaranteed by the management. So, because of this, the furnishings in each extremely well thought out configuration of rooms, must be of a straightforward, neutral and robust variety – chosen from what is on offer by the management.
They are very modern houses, incorporating the latest technology in installed equipment. Quick to construct (I hear that the roof of quarry tiles was lifted, whole, into position), is this the way houses will be constructed in future?
The large project was designed by a Dutchman and, being near to the border with Holland, has attracted many Dutch participants.

28 September 2009
And so, in a slight fog, we helped to tidy the house for the next renters and made our way south through Germany.
Olga was wonderful, as finding our hotel in Koblenz would have been mightily difficult without her.
Our hotel, Diehls, bordered the Rhine, and our room overlooked the water.
Unless one was devoted to the study of size and design of barges, sightseeing craft and river cruise ships, interesting shipping was non-existent.
We took an ancient cross-river ferry (we were the only passengers) to the main shopping centre of Koblenz, where we ate excellent schnitzel – there being, as far as we could see, no sausages on any menu – but pizzas galore.
Then an hour’s gentle pleasure-boat trip up the Rhine and just into the Mosel and back, aided the digestion.
We were surprised to see that waterborne traffic on the Rhine kept to the left-hand side of the river. And then they seemed to all be steering on the right hand side, then sometimes both - with no sound signals given. Just why there are not more accidents on the river is hard to understand.
Although the Rhine is supposed to be much polluted, I saw quite a lot of ducks and swans on it – and a cormorant.
There was another flow of clean water to hand. It had happened before, but in less salubrious circumstances, in France. The scenario is this: When glass screens are used instead of shower curtains, it is difficult to reach the water-control mechanism for running a bath.
Plumbing custom dictates that when the shower is turned off, the system reverts to water coming from the spout to fill the bath. So, if this mechanism fails, stretching in to turn on the bath water often results in a shower from above, soaking you and/or the bathroom – clothes and all.
So the only way to fill these baths when just the shower works, is to put the showerhead into the bath and turn on the water.
If the pressure is high, it is necessary to hold down the shower head and pointing way – or it will jump around like a frightened snake and shower you and/or the room once again (Deutchland, Deutchland wasser everywhere).
That is all I have to say on the matter – except that hair-dryers also make (as Margreet discovered) for my case, fairly good clothes dryers.

29 September 2009
This was to be our last full day in Germany and we had not yet enjoyed their much-renowned sausages.
The day before, a lady, who ran a kiosk by the Rhine, told us of a place to go – Altes Brauhaus, Braugasse – in the old part of Koblenz. Her advice was excellent. We ate their home-made sausages, sauerkraut and mashed potato, and drank the excellent local beer (Königsbacher Pilsner). The place, decorated in white and blue for the forthcoming Octoberfest, was also as it should be – the warm colours of aged wood, iron framed and scrubbed pale wood tables, hospitable, and with highly efficient waitresses and contented customers.
We bought further German fare of smoked pig and sausage to dine on in our room, as we had been disappointed with the aggressive service and far too expensive wines in our hotel.

30 September 2009
Having left our unjustifiably expensive hotel, the only redeeming feature of which was our room’s expansive view of the Rhine, we headed south to Strasbourg. With regular stretches of autobahn under repair, we passed the Maginot Line (of which nothing was visible), into France, and on to Strasbourg. There we had a most excellent lunch of Alsace choucroute (cooked until quite soft with sweetish wine and juniper berries) with red and white local wine in carafe (both wines cooled).
After Germanic weight, the professionalism, food, lightness of touch, and even friendliness of the French were in evidence. And for myself, with hardly a word of German at my command, I could just communicate, almost as if I knew the language.
Whereas it used to be that costs in mainland Europe were cheaper than in the UK, now it is the opposite. Food, clothes, shoes, meals, and even some hotels are dearer. Beer in Strasbourg was excellent, 33cl of it costing the same as a pint at home. An ordinary bottle of Alsace in a grocery store, however, was £11. One just had to accept the high prices and get on with it.
Strasbourg boasts that it is the only city in France to have an advanced cycle path network. It may be. But in the centre this meant that there were a few stencilled pavement signs depicting a cyclist and a splayed-out man. No-one seemed to know who had priority, and where. The result was that the pavements were shared by those on foot and those on cycles. Advanced chaos would have been a more apt description than advanced network.
Waterborne tours of any city with extensive canals are generally interesting. The Strasbourg tour included the use of two locks, one being in the heart of the Petite France district where millers and tanners lived and worked in the 16th to 17th centuries. Their half-timbered houses abound and water rushes through and beneath ancient mills and over sluices. The tour reaches the European Organisation buildings that display considerable areas of heartless glass sheet.

3 October 2009.
Strasbourg possesses a fine tram system, with vehicles that resemble Eurostar trains with large windows. Their tracks are separate from the road, and crossed by cars only at junctions.
Olga was woken early for our return drive across France and was probably as sleepy as we were, because we kept getting lost, with her telling us to U-turn several times, and even directing us on to areas reserved for trams.
And it was a little of the same confusion from her when we arrived at Dunquerque after a 6 ½ hour drive through France, Luxembourg, Belgium and France again. Here, the autumnal wind off the sea almost blew us off our feet as we searched for a nice place in which to eat.
It is my custom, sometimes to Margreet’s disapproval but often to her delight, to ask a local (be it waiter, pedestrian, shop assistant or whoever) where we should eat locally, reasonably, and well. This I did in Dunquerque, accosting a man about to enter a block of flats. He gave us two places from which to choose, one being near to our hotel on the port. So, at La Réserve, we drank carafe wine and ate as well and as imaginatively as at any place during our two weeks away. It was a delightful gastronomic conclusion to our continental voyaging.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Latest Sale

'Girl Bathing by a Bridge over the Loddon River' - details to be found here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Exhibition of paintings at the Mayor Gallery, 22A Cork Street, London, W1

EXHIBITION OF PAINTINGS AT THE MAYOR GALLERY, 22a Cork Street, London W1X 1HB (Tel. 020 7734 3558)

From the 24th of November 2009 until 18th December 2009, I will be showing my AIRCRAFT SHADOWS series of paintings at the most prestigious Mayor Gallery www.mayorgallery.com)in London.

Being satisfied with sales of early work at Christie’s, and thinking of the present work in the long term (well, after all, the Christie’s choices were painted 50-60 years ago), I was both surprised and more than delighted when offered this show.

This means that I will be rather busy painting, compiling lists, framing, and all that goes with a show, to be writing much in the blog. But I will bring previous blog pieces up to date in respect of robin life and pot-gardening experiments.

Exhibition details will follow on both this website and that of the gallery, where pictures on show will be posted shortly before the exhibition.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Robin life

ROBIN LIFE - update

Robin life baffles us, and just when we thought we were beginning to understand a bit of it.
Let us start with Mrs Robin (Erithacus rubecula melophilus), a bird we taught first to feed on cheese bits from the flagstones in front of our shed, then from the floor inside our shed, and then from my knee.
Her mate appeared each spring to do his bit, even sometimes taking cheese from my knee to help feed his young. Then he was gone - until the following spring. She was once more our resident bird, guarding her territory in the leaner months for food.
One year, when our resident pair were feeding their young in a nest box attached to the rear of our London house, a strange robin appeared. He saw what went on in the local robin world and came immediately to my knee for cheese. With these morsels of Cheddar he wanted to help feed Mrs Robin’s young – but was repulsed. But he was an insistent bird and was eventually allowed to take part in the feeding process. So now we had three birds coming to my knee for cheese, as part of a mixed and balanced diet.
This new bird had the unusual habit of hovering in the doorway of our shed before entering. So we named him Hoverbird.
The young flew, Mrs Robin’s mate left, and so did Hoverbird. We were back to normal, with Mrs Robin in charge of the territory.
Then Junior appeared. Junior was a fine-looking young bird. We presumed that he was one of Mrs Robin’s brood. It was not long before Mrs Robin left and Junior took over. He was a lovely fellow, who would eat from my knee and, if a bit full, would sometimes sit with us to pass he time of day, always looking us straight in the eye. He was fascinated with Margreet’s feet, especially when her red-painted toenails were exposed. Like his mother, he, as with all robins, had an eagle eye and, even from our shed, might suddenly dash to the other end of the garden to grab a spider.
One day he appeared at our shed door and surprised us by hovering. Had he perhaps reverted to his youthful habit of hovering? In this case Junior might have been the grown-up Hoverbird.
But no. This was indeed our original Hoverbird back – and after an absence of two years. Junior had now left.
Hoverbird, as he was before, a rangy bird, thin, a bit scruffy, upright, full of nervous energy. He appeard to be shy with his hovering habit but, becoming more at home again, would fly straight in to my knee, eat more than Junior did and, standing tall, has a watchful eye on all the goings-on in our shed. When Margreet is not there he will spend time looking at her empty chair.
Why do robins suddenly come and go, one taking over from another? Do they have some form of agreement? There is no sign of fighting. And there is little sign of territorial conduct, although they exercise their right (if they are quick enough) to eat dunnock food when cheese bits get thrown out to these shy birds when they beg for it.
We taught one robin to eat from my knee (and sometimes Margreet’s, too) and three others have learned from her and have copied the habit. So they are observant and learn from other robins.
We are very lucky to have such friendly and lovely-looking small birds to enjoy and observe. But understanding robin lore is not easy for a human.
For almost a week the garden was bereft of robin activity. Then one appeared – a new one, named “The New Boy on the Block”.
On day one he perused the garden, settling to eat food from the small tray where only hemp and sunflower seed is offered.
On day two he was getting closer to the shed.
Day three saw him entering the shed.
On day four he was eating bits of cheese from where I put a supply, and eating cheese bits from my adjacent knee, but not landing on it. He had learned all this on his own – not having had other robins to copy.
Then the weather became cooler and we were less often in the shed. But cheese bits disappeared with regularity from the open shed, taken from the place where I leave small morsels for robins. Who was taking it?
Then came a spell when robins were conspicuous by their absence. But in mid October a brand new one appeared. We dubbed him “Handsome” as he was very keen on his appearance, loved a drink, followed by much splashing around in the bath. But he was very shy. A lively fellow, he investigated the territory with zeal, even turning a leaf over to see and eat what was beneath.
Although he was clearly intent on making our garden part of his winter territory, he was not at all sure if our tamed dunnock posed a threat to it. So sometimes he would break off from his eating (mainly) spiders to chase off the shyer one of the two.
Naturally we had to train our new resident. The first move was for him to find out that morsels of Cheddar cheese tasted good. These bits were thrown well out from our shed on to garden flagstones. Then the bits of cheese were positioned nearer to the shed door. And after that a bit of cheese was placed outside and some just on the floor inside. In he came. Now it was time to place a morsel or two on the floor and more on the box of bird food right next to my knee. He is now eating from there, where we can have a good look at him and he can get used to our voices. But he is still nervous when close to us.
With winter in the offing, that is where the matter will rest – until the spring, when I hope he will still be here and ready to come to my knee for cheese with which to feed his young.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Vegetables in pots 2009

(Latest developments)


VEGETABLES IN POTS (Latest developments)

I wrote in this blog last year of my experiments with growing vegetables in pots in my London garden. Now, in the spring of 2009, a new idea has come about with the purchase and delivery of 3 plastic sacks for growing new, salad, and main crop potatoes (the bags being 17” or 43 cm. tall and 14”or 36 cm. in diameter, and supplied with 5 seed potatoes for each sack).
As my London garden is small (4 paces by 16 paces) and with potatoes not to be planted in the same soil for several years, the compost filling would have had to be replaced each year. And where would I put the spent compost in a mostly paved garden?
So I decided to use the sacks for (roughly) the rotation of crops, retaining their compost filling – being a mixture of my home-made compost mixed with the contents of grow bags – the latter being excellent in quality and obtained at a minimal cost.
Wanting only new potatoes, which are very special to eat and hard to obtain early in the season, I will use the 3 bags for: sack 1 (BEANS) for dwarf French beans, radishes and dwarf Italian courgettes, sack 2 (ROOTS) for early potatoes (Swift) followed by a planting of carrots and beetroot, and sack 3 (BRASSICAS) for radishes, Swiss chard and leeks. The correct rotation has been plotted on paper for the next 3 years.
I will write on the results and conclusions.
Although this summer’s experiments will be dealing mainly with the success or failure of the three rotation sacks, these can not be divorced from other vegetable-growing in the garden. Even flowers are connected to the ensemble, providing colour, light or shade, and flexible design.
So, beside the sacks, I am experimenting this year with growing potatoes in ordinary black plastic buckets (with drainage holes and crocks). As last year, there will be broad beans in buckets, asparagus in a large pot (mainly for the foliage), parsley in a pot, thyme in a pot, sorrel in a pot (having over-wintered well), salad leaves in pots, leek seed in a pot (to be planted in sack 3 when handleable), tarragon in a pot, fennel in a pot, a globe artichoke in a pot (decorative), tomatoes in last year’s ground (now soaked with dilute Jeyes Fluid because of possible blight), mint in a sunken bucket, rosemary in a pot, sage in a pot and, new this year, autumn-planted garlic in the ground and shallots in the ground (both in a limited space – but they do not need much.
For fruit, there is the productive and trouble-free black wine grape (Triomphe d’Alsace) giving shade beneath an arbour and fruit along its 73 metres length around and about and back and forth around the garden’s walls, an espalier-trained Morello cherry growing on the north-facing wall from daffodil-planted ground and, in pots nearby, a fig, a pear and an apple.
I am trying yet again to grow mistletoe on the apple, binding in the seeds beneath bark with string. These experiments were coated with rubber solution as protection from the elements. To blend the pale string bindings in with the colour of the bark, they were then coated with soil before the rubber solution set.
For the decorative aspect, there is an earthenware trough of spring crocus and snowdrops. Pots of tulips and lilies will give small blocks of bright colour. Impatiens (busy lizzies) will give masses of colour throughout the summer months, with fuchsias and geraniums (pelargoniums) providing the same.
Roses (The Reverend F. Page-Roberts and Typhoon – the latter, in my opinion, being best rose ever) grow from earth in a corner of the garden.
The winter-flowering cyclamen will become dormant in their pots, as will the generously-flowered mahonia.
On the kitchen window sill is a splendid jalapeno chilli (having flowered and fruited summer and winter), the last year’s Bolivian begonia corm to grow again (it did not), and an aloe vera.
So, as spring appears and leads to summer, there will be a lot to watch and look after. What an interesting year of pleasure lies ahead.

THE BEGINNING OF MAY 2009
It is the rotation growing of vegetables in the three sacks that is my main interest – not only as information for those with limited space on a balcony or small patio, but also for the pleasure and interest of the blind.
To make good use of the compost soil in my three bags I planted radish seed in about one quarter of bags 1 (BEANS) and bag 3 (BRASSICAS) for an early crop They have made rather too much leaf, and thus taken up too much room. I have only harvested a few radishes so far. They were sliced and effectively added to a lettuce salad.
In bag 1 (BEANS), two dwarf courgettes and three dwarf French beans have established themselves well (having all been started in pots on my kitchen window sill). So, having bought a new packet of dwarf broad beans to replace those in a bucket that had either failed to germinate or been eaten by mice, I put three seeds in among the radishes to grow through and provide a crop later than those growing in buckets.
In bag 3 (BRASSICAS) The Swiss chard seedlings do well and will be thinned. Then, when radishes have flourished and been eaten, leek seedlings (doing well in a pot) will go in where the radishes grew.
In bag 2 (ROOTS) not all the early variety of potato (Swift) came into leaf at the same time. So at least three layers of compost were added to cover those early enough to push leaf upwards through each layer as it was added, and also on those as yet unseen. The interest now for this bag will be to see how productive will be the “pushy” potato plants as opposed to the “un-pushy” ones.
Carrot and beetroot seedlings do well in a pot. Some will be transplanted (with newly sown seed) into the 2 (ROOTS) sack after all the new potatoes have been harvested. Just when that will occur will depend, I am told, on when the potato plants start to produce flowers. So I may have to delve down to harvest the “pushy” new potatoes before the “un-pushy” ones. We will see when the time comes.
Everything else in the garden, as mentioned at the start of this piece, is doing well – except for the asparagus in a large pot. We should be harvesting one or two edible spears by this year, but none appeared, except for four seedlings that I planted, as seed, in the pot last autumn. I often wonder why more than one variety of a plant in a pot only produces one of those varieties successfully. Is there a fight beneath the soil where the strongest prevails?
There will be a future reports.

THE THIRD WEEK IN MAY 2009
I will abandon the growing of radishes in rotation sacks. They make too much greenery and not enough radish. They just take up too much room.
We harvested one bucket of new potatoes (Swift) by turning the bucket upside down on the garden table to harvest the spuds and return the compost to the bucket for Butternut Squash plants. Its four spent potato seeds were composted with their haulms (an action discouraged in the gardening world as it might propagate blight).
The crop was surprisingly good, giving a feast of new potatoes for two. But I will look for a tastier variety than Swift for next year.
So, growing potatoes in a bucket is a success. I will leave Swift potatoes in their ROOTS sack until later, to gain size and, I hope, taste.
Dwarf courgette and dwarf French bean plants do well in their BEANS sack.

FIRT WEEK OF JUNE 2009
We tipped out the second bucket of (Charlotte) potatoes. From its four seed potatoes we obtained 2 ½ pounds of splendid new potatoes. Half of them we boiled and, with melted butter, mint and a little vinegar, served them to guests in the bowl above their hot cooking water. Warm and buttery, and held by guests over paper napkins, they were a huge success.
So planting new potato seed in ordinary black plastic buckets (with crocks and drainage holes) is a real success story.
Having composted the radish from the BRASSICAS sack, I planted leek seedlings next to the young plants of Swiss chard.
I found that planting these young leeks deep in holes (made with the handle of a wooden kitchen spoon) was difficult because of their dangling roots. My sister (who knows about these things) told me to trim the roots with scissors and cut off the tips of the plants. This I have done, wondering if there will be any difference between “dangly” and “trimmed”.
` Now comes the most interesting part so far concerning my rotation sack experiments. Delving down through light compost to harvest new Swift potatoes, grown solely in my ROOTS sack, I was surprised to find, instead of a much larger crop than those grown in buckets, a much smaller one. And, as rather expected, more potatoes formed where compost had been added several times when green haulm showed through than where the seed potatoes had grown straight up through compost before green leaf ever emerged.
Elsewhere in the garden all proceeds as hoped for. Dwarf beans and squash plants do well in the buckets of soil previously used for growing new potatoes. Dwarf broad beans are flowering well, also in buckets. There are several pears and apples fruiting well. The Morello cherry crop is a small one. Lilies are about to flower. Lettuce, rocket, and sorrel leaves are harvested as wanted, and when a variety of lettuce is about to go to seed its stems have been composted and new seed planted in their place. Tomatoes grow well on a wall.
Main summer colour is provided, as always, by masses of busy lizzie flowers. Herbs do well, except for tarragon, which does not seem to like life in a pot. The pieris, Forest Flame (oh, what a wonderful small garden bush), changes its costume month by month. Two fuchsias come into flower to add colour. The lavender in a pot grew rather lopsidedly, but makes growth from its base and from the cuttings put in beside it in the spring. When it has flowered it will be cut right back. I should have been fiercer last autumn. The globe artichoke, grown in a pot for its leaf will be abandoned. As will the fennel plant.
A great success has been the campanula, ever since it was given to me as four plants and then crush-planted in a small trough. Each time it has flowered profusely and then been sheared right back. And after every cutting-back it has taken almost no time to grow more leaf and flower again.
I will add to this survey later in the summer.

FIRST WEEK IN JULY 2009

Although my crop rotation sacks do well, with French beans (courgettes and broad beans not so well) in one of them, good Swiss chard (White Silver) and leeks in another, and fine carrots and beetroot in the third (planted after the potato “crop”), I have come to the conclusion that next year the three rotation sacks will be abandoned in favour of six black plastic buckets with crocks and drainage holes. They will be more moveable, easier to handle, separating the crops and, for decorative purposes, will not necessarily need to be near to each other.
It is interesting to note that the plastic sacks were bought last year solely as sacks for growing potatoes, and were no good at it – those grown in buckets doing much better. I was not alone in being greatly disappointed in the sack method.
I learn that in medieval times rotation of crops had already been discovered to offer great benefits, but in a four-year rotation, with one being a fallow year.
Changes in the rest of my small garden have been the abandonment of strawberries in their elegant, open top clay pot with lipped holes in the side. The straggly strawberry plants have been replaced by ordinary pelargoniums (geraniums) in the open top, and trailing pelargoniums in the side holes. This has already become a colourful, central focal point. The strawberry crop was never much to speak of, and will not be missed.
I have bought more grow bags for their peaty compost filling, and found, when bringing them into the house that they fitted very snugly across the doorway, so might be ideal for house flood-protection should that ever be necessary.
My two-year-old jalapeno chilli plant started to form irregular-shaped chillies and will be abandoned (it recovered). It will be replaced with a chilli plant (of unknown parentage) bought at our local fête/dog show (this was abandoned).
I keep ginger root in a fruit bowl. Two of these lumps started to produce growth in the form of green spikes. So they have been planted in compost outside in a pot. Will they flourish?
A self-sown common foxglove was a great success, growing from a pot of pelargoniums. Bumblebees loved it, falling out of its flowers like drunken sailors out of a pub. After seed pods were formed in place of its flowers, I cut it into sections and attached these to vine wires above where I grow foxgloves on purpose – hoping that its seeds will dry, fall, and self-sow like its parent.
The mahonia that flowered and scented the garden in winter, formed clusters of blue berries. These have now all been eaten and enjoyed by blackbirds. The plant’s only drawback is its spiky leaves which, when fallen and dry, can penetrate the skin when handled.
Children love to watch our robin feeding on cheese bits from my knee. When living in the country I always grew a sensitive plant (mimosa pudica) to amuse child visitors. Touch the fern-like leaves and the plant reacts immediately by folding up its leaves tightly together. I must try to find a packet of its seeds, but I may be too late this year. Having grown it in the past in a lean-to greenhouse, will it grow outside in a London garden, I wonder?

MID AUGUST 2009

I was disappointed early in the year with the asparagus grown in a pot. But seedlings, possibly planted two years ago, have produced a fine crop of fronds. These have been tied to a centrally placed bamboo to forma whispy tree. So I have regained hope in harvesting a few token spears next year.
I was told that transplanted carrots would not do well. And they have not. Some did turn into stunted carrots with a bent-up root tip. Those planted from seed (after the potato failure) look well.
The new potatoes that did so well in black plastic buckets were replaced with French beans (fair, but not great) and butternut squash (making lots of flowers).
Soon after we ate our good but rather bland new potatoes, some early English-grown ones appeared in the market. These were delicious. They were Maris Bard. I will grow that variety next year. They even did well when slow-cooked in a stew, holding together well. They are of a nice oval shape with pure white flesh.
Lettuces, though satisfactory, have been replaced by rocket, which has already provided me with plenty of seed for next year.
As for those much-vaunted sacks, French beans and courgettes were a complete disappointment. Swiss chard has done well, though. And leeks might work.
The garlic and shallot crop, planted close together in garden soil, produced a poor harvest.
It is noticeable to every gardener that certain crops do well in some years and not in others. This must depend mainly on climatic conditions. So a failure this year might produce a success the next. It looks this way with my tomatoes (which caught the blight last year).
A kitchen window sill chilli plant (Naga), bought in Brick Lane (so favoured by the Bangladeshi community there) has grown into a fine looking mini-tree, and is covered with embryonic chillies. It looks, though, as if these might all mature at the same time, when one really wants a plant to provide a constant succession of chillies, like my jalapeno bush.
This year’s large crop of grapes mature unevenly.
The sensitive plant failed to germinate from seed outdoors, but has done so on the kitchen window sill.
Two ginger plants thrive in a pot outside, forming good spikes of leaves.

EARLY SEPTEMBER 2009
I usually cut vine leaves away to expose wine grape bunches to sunlight. This year I left a top hamper of leaves, partly in the hope that passing birds would not see the fruit, and partly because the compost bin was too full to cope with all the extra material.
Fusker the cat had reduced the pigeon count, as he is particularly partial to cornering them and extracting their feathers. Other major grape predators are starlings, of which there are few about this year. Even our robin (Hoverbird) has been grabbing a small red grape or two – with his expert hovering technique being ideal for the job of extracting a small ripe one from a hanging bunch – later to cough out the pip.
So the prospects of a good harvest were excellent, weather conditions throughout the spring and summer having clearly been ideal. And so it turned out to be.
From red grapes (Triomphe d’Alsace) in near perfect condition we made 5 gallons of must, which even showed signs of fermentation as we stripped the grapes from their stems. Our dunnock, for some reason, enjoyed the harvest, running around beneath us as we were cutting off bunches of grapes and filling fermentation bins.
The remainder of the grapes, consisting of the later-to-ripen white Seyval Blanc, Fragolino (Strawberry Grape) and a few still-ripening reds, should all blend well to make a good rosé at a later date.
Elsewhere, tomatoes flourish, as do salad leaves. Busy Lizzies have recovered from an unusual set-back, with the pink variety taking over from its companions of several colours.
The pot of asparagus continues to please me in its tied-in-tree-like form. Its flower buds are now in evidence, so we should get a later display of red berries.
We harvested our three pears, but not yet the fivet green apples – both from single-stemmed trees grown in pots.
I’m thinking of using those pretty useless potato sacks for climbing beans next year.

Friday, July 31, 2009

To Dieppe, 24 July 2009

A few days before leaving for foreign parts one begins to think of what to take in the luggage, and to look at a list of “reminders”.
A glance before leaving this last time revealed, quite naturally, no mention of “teeth”. Had there been I might have taken more serious notice of a slight tooth ache that was being subdued by the application of neat TCP.
At the same time I should have connected the facts that, even to me, my breath smelled strange, and that I had a bad tooth.
A day before we were due to leave it felt as if the offending tooth was rising from its painful socket. Moreover, whenever I closed my jaw the protruding and painful wisdom tooth was the first to make contact with others.
We go to France to eat – among other things. So to be unable to enjoy French food without pain was a prospect not to be contemplated.
Margreet almost forced me to visit the dentist for an emergency appointment. She was absolutely right to do so. The tooth was extracted to my great relief.
Less one tooth (the first ever to have departed my jaw) we set off the following day for, unusually for us, a summer crossing of the Channel.
Because of the crowds of parents and children, coupled with the sea of rollers being funnelled into the Channel from the Bay of Biscay on a westerly wind, for Margreet to have booked a cabin was another piece of wisdom aforethought.
I write about Dieppe quite often, the changes over the years, the restaurants, people and history, because the town is really our second home in France – a home without the hassle of actually owning a house abroad.
We were last there barely four months ago. The changes in that short space of time were considerable for such an unchanging port. The recession had arrived. Shops (many) had closed and been re-opened by other hopefuls. Sales were in progress everywhere – and at the height of the holiday season. The place, mid-week, seemed to be only a little busier than in winter months.
The cancaillerie, where we bought Pro Ven Di soap, taps for our mother of vinegar jars, and accoutrements for winemaking and bottling, had closed for good.
Piles of scrap metal sat waiting on the dockside, waiting for times when steel would be more in demand – the gathering rust not making a lot of difference to its value. And on the quayside near to where the ferry pulls in to dock, the usual few piles of ballast were now enormous, with aggregates unwanted for building work.
And yet, a change of quite unnecessary expenditure was to be seen outside our favourite bar, the Café de la Paix, at the very hub of port and town activity. A monstrous bronze sculpture had been placed where before had been a hump roundabout. It depicts three mutilated women. Perhaps an awful disease had struck down the females of France in our absence and been commemorated. Or is it that, as I have been told, French men rather fancy crippled women. Who knows?
On the optimistic side, bars and restaurants were doing great business, like the New Haven, where it was necessary to book a table at week-ends or take a chance and arrive before 7 o’clock or after 9.
As a spectator sport, to see human kind and sheer efficiency of waiting and restaurant organisation, I can think of few places better to do it than at the Tout Va Bien Brasserie on a busy week-end evening or lunchtime.
On market day (Saturday), the main thoroughfare was packed with people and goodies. So there was certainly no sign of recession there.
And to relax after a good meal on a still summer’s evening, there are few more spectacular places for food to settle than to stand on the rounded seaside stones to watch an orange sun slide slowly into a deep blue sea, leaving behind a few coloured clouds. But in Dieppe it is often windy, and wet, too.
That dark blue sea must have been full of mackerel, because Maqueraux Mariné was on most menus. But scallops (the speciality for the seamen and diners of Dieppe), were resting safely on the sea bed, being out of season (15April – 15 October).
A bonus point on this visit was that a small booklet, called “The Taste of Dieppe”, was back, with its original author, Peter Avis, in command.
The booklet told us each year about where to eat and much more about the seaside town and its environs.
For some reason or other he had been no longer the author of it. Now he had regained his rightful place as a genuine informer of vital information for the interested tourist. Copies are available at no cost from the Tourist Information Office in the centre of town.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Wine Age

We buy low priced Champagne in France and leave the bottles untouched for at least a year, if not several more. This modest laying down of wine works wonders with Champagne.
But, when celebrating something the other day, a bottle had slipped through the net and had become oxidised (loss of charm and a bit heavy, coarse). So the wine was turned into excellent Champagne cocktails (usually made with cheaper fizz) with the addition of sugar, Cognac, Angostura Bitters, and one drop only per glass of real vanilla essence – and ice.
So the subject of laying down wine surfaced.
Most wines nowadays are made to be drunk soon after being purchased. This means that they have been made quickly in stainless steel at minutely controlled temperatures, micro filtered and sulphured. Those with a high alcohol content will keep longer, but most might as well be drunk right away.
Wines that will improve by being laid down are distinguishable by their region (mainly Bordeaux and Burgundy in France), price (high), and cork.
Close inspection of the cork may tell you more about the wine than bottle shape, price or label. Wines that the producer considers to be worth ageing will use long (real) corks that will be branded with the maker’s name, château, and often date (classy white Burgundy is sometimes an exception, where unbranded corks and swapping can occur).
A bottle with a short cork, granular (agglomerated) or horrible plastic, will tell you that you might as well swill down the contents right away.
Laying down wines will have been made with longer contact between juice, pips and skins, rested in oak barrels, and barely filtered, if at all. This all costs money and people’s time – hence the cost. The reds will contain raw tannins that pucker the mouth.
So, for how long should you lay down these wines, and in what conditions?
The conditions do not matter a great deal – whatever you are told to the contrary. I have kept wine for years in many places and conditions, but have never allowed the temperature in which they have been kept to rise or fall quickly.
In February 1968 I imported a hogshead of Bilbainas Rioja from Spain and bottled its contents – 350 bottles when I lived in London’s dockland. It may already have had up to 4 years in cask. Cellar book comments that I made in ’69, ’70, ’73 and ’77 all note that the wine, delicious when bottled, improved splendidly. At 10 years in bottle it was as good a wine as first class claret. For its second 10 years it remained a good wine but faded away slowly.
In 1968 I bought 8 dozen Château Cantenac Brown 1959 from J. Lyons Wine Cellars at the Hop Exchange, London, where all bottles were returned to be cleaned, filled again, and labelled by a little old lady with glue paste and brush. (She also labelled cheap Hock with grand labels for royalty.)
The wine was the best I can ever recall having tasted. Tested for note-taking in ’68, ’70 and ’72, it was still wonderful and with years in hand. In 1979 (20 years old) it was “…still a good glass…” But in 1993 (32 years old), commenting on the very last bottle, it was “…way beyond its wonderful self, still smelling nice and with good initial taste, but a lost finish”. I added to the note: ”Farewell dear old friend”.
These wines were part of my wine learning curve, and before many of the modern style wines entered the market.
Serious laying down of wines has now mainly become a rich person’s game. But it is worth an experimental try by buying a few bottles of the same wine and making notes when consuming one of them each year.
I have seen Australian reds, and especially whites, improve with bottle age, but mainly before they started to ape the lighter wines of Europe. It would be well worth the experiment of keeping some full flavoured and alcohol-ridden wines from both new and old worlds.
I count myself most lucky to have lived through and been interested in this product of the grape in an age (certainly the 1960s) when good claret was still a modestly-priced, everyday wine.
The choice of wines presently available is huge and wonderful. There must be plenty that won’t break the bank and be worth testing over time.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Potato Pancakes

A Jewish method is one of the quickest, easiest, most economical and delicious ways of cooking potatoes. So the recipe is very useful if you have reached home late, nothing is immediately available to eat, and you are hungry. Use these potato pancakes on their own, with other vegetables, with fried eggs, bacon, chops, hamburgers, cold meats, corned beef or fish fingers, etc.

POTATOES - POTATO PANCAKES

For these you will need:
Potatoes
Pepper and salt
Oil, dripping or oil and butter
Onion (optional)
Cheese (optional)
Egg (optional)
Nutmeg (optional)

Heat a generous quantity of olive oil, cooking oil, or a mixture of oil and butter in a frying pan. Now, on to a plate or into a bowl grate well-washed potatoes. It is not necessary to peel them. Add pepper and salt, and a little grated onion if desired. Do not at this stage delay or the potatoes will discolour.
Spoon the mixture into the hot oil and flatten into small, thin pancakes. Make absolutely sure that each is separated from its neighbours. Cook until brown beneath and then turn them over until glowing brown on both sides. Drain the oil from each and, if thought necessary, place on kitchen paper to drain further.
Some grate the potatoes into a bowl and add salt, later squeezing out the moisture before dealing with them. Others grate cheese into the bowl before adding an egg and the grated potato. Nutmeg is sometimes added to these pancakes.
Serve with what you will.

*****


The following is, like the pancake recipe above, simple to make, and delicious to eat with drinks.

POTATOES – POTATO PANCAKE FOR DRINKS

You will need:
An egg
Grated cheese
Olive oil
Pepper and salt
Flour (plain or self-raising)
Tabasco (optional)
Dijon mustard (optional)
A grated potato

Into a bowl break an egg. Add a little water and whisk. Now add half that volume of plain or self-raising flour. Whisk again. Now add half the present volume of grated cheese (any). Put in some milled pepper and salt. Add a little Dijon mustard and a shake of Tabasco, if they are at hand. Now grate in a peeled, medium-sized potato.
Mix what you have together and put it into a frying pan containing hot olive oil. Flatten it out with a spatula and turn down the heat to its lowest. When the underside is glowingly brown, toss or turn the pancake. Cook until quite done – about 20 to 25 minutes in all.
Place the pancake on to a board and cut it into small squares. Eat the morsels when hot.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Meat Loaf

My first experiences of eating meat loaf were in America early in the war when I was a refugee and not yet old enough to join the RAF. Those experiences were not happy ones.
My kind hosts ate meat loaf about once a week, cooking a rather solid lump of compressed, baked mince.
When I found myself with some frozen minced steak, and wondering what stroke of genius I might apply to it, meat loaf came to mind. Would it be possible to form a recipe that might become a regular and delicious dish for the house menu’s repertoire?
What turned out was quite delicious when hot, but very dull when cold. So the problem was not so much about how to make meat loaf as how to use it up when cold.
Frying it crumbled with mashed potato was not at all bad.
Frying thick slices in flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs turned out to be a splendid way, and delicious.
Cooked rather as one would use corned beef in a hash proved to be excellent – especially when the taste of caraway seeds came to the fore.
My sister, who had been to the dentist for an extraction and was advised not to chew solid food for a while, found that the meat loaf melted in the mouth.
And my last experiment was to turn thick slices into a mousseau – by resting them in a vinaigrette with added chopped onion, capers, chopped cornichons, pickled peppercorns and chilli.

MEAT LOAF

You will need:
Minced beef
Butter
Bread crumbs
Pepper and salt
Dried herbs and spices with which you feel happy (I used oregano, paprika and turmeric for colour, methi leaves, chilli, celery salt, dill, thyme, caraway seeds and Dijon mustard). The choice was made only because they happened to be handy at the time.
Eggs
Milk
Ice

Grease a bread tin and, if you feel like it, line the bottom and sides with something like Parma/Serrano ham or bacon.
Into a large bowl put minced meat (it does not have to be beef. It could be a mixture of minced meats. Add half its volume of breadcrumbs (the bread I make crumbles well, but crumbled crumb from a drying sliced loaf would be fine).
Add dried herbs, with a little turmeric and much more paprika - both for colour. Add a dollop of Dijon mustard, pepper (milled if possible) and salt.
Now add beaten egg (probably two). Stir it well. I start with a spoon and then use the hands. You may need to moisten it all with milk - to form a soft paste.
Place the mixture in the bread tin and flatten it.
Now, apart, press into the heart of the mixture two lumps of ice (about the size of small walnuts). Cover them over. These will keep the loaf moist.
Bake the meat loaf for about two hours in a medium oven - with foil on top to keep in the moisture.
When cooked, turn it out on to a board. Slice it, to be eaten with mashed potato or pasta.
This is a very economical dish.

Note:
Making a meat loaf happens to be a giant leap toward making a splendid Paté/terrine. Just substitute minced fat pork and liver for the breadcrumbs. Use thyme, or something else, instead of the herbal mixture, and moisten with a spirit instead of milk and ice cubes. I bake it in a bain-marie (tray of water) uncovered. This is a great dish for a party.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Age

I have been watching cricket at Lord’s ground with two friends. One complained that I had not written a blog recently, except for an update on growing vegetables in pots for those with little space and for the blind (sorry, but I have been on a roll with painting). And they both, I feel, are curious about the vigour of someone of my age (84) and are pleased to see me still alive each year.
I still run to catch a bus (with a rather stiff and creaky gait it is true), am artistically productive and imaginative as I have ever been, do all the cooking in the house, write, and enjoy life to the full. Having written a lot on wine, the drinking of it remains a great pleasure and, in the process, absorbing much healthy goodness from it.
As I think of these matters, it must be stressed that I am an extremely lucky person and, I suppose, possessed of an easy-going nature.
A matter that has been much in my favour has been the ability to chop and change careers, with one leading seamlessly to another. This successful switching depends mainly on having a creative mind.
From schooling (what there was of it) I became a pilot. And when the war ended I started in medicine (scotched by TB), stage designer, landscape artist, traveller and illustrator, sculptor, writer of books and articles, and back to being a painter – with lots of little bits in between.
And all along I have brought up children, run gardens, run houses, cooked for all and sundry, as well as creating two small, experimental vineyards.
And I have been lucky with marriages. In the first I was expected (and delighted) to run the home and family as my then wife fought for fame and fortune, and for the second I found myself with an absolutely lovely person.
I was born (1925) at just the right time. I remember the great depression (which has left me with a sense of parsimony) and how to live through it in the country, where we grew our own food and learned country ways and lore.
In my most virile years, contraception was beginning to be mastered and venereal disease temporarily conquered.
My life at that time might now be termed promiscuous, but it wasn’t. One simply went to bed with girls as a nice way of getting to know them. That was the way of it. I had what others called my mini-marriages.
My sex life has continued unabated, though recently declining with age – Viagra having extended it.
Of course, being my age means that health issues have come and gone. As a young man I had TB, which returned later when I was a medical student. Cure had to be left to nature, which didn’t work for many, but did for me – there being no remedy at that time. And in my later years I had prostate cancer (cured by radiotherapy), heart disease (cured by pills, with digitalis once being the key to success), and one eye going phut.
Since being left to look after myself in a country cottage during school holidays I learned not to be afraid of the dark, to walk silently, and to cook – a skill that continues, with hardly a dish repeated in favour of experiments. Exceptional successes are added to my sizeable computer-held cookbook, to accompany the best from my two published cookbooks.
Besides writing a blog, which is mainly on cooking and travel, I continue with an autobiography, started many years ago when I began writing and had capacity beyond a weekly column and still a good and fresh memory to rely on.
My paintings, done in the 1950s and 1960s sell at Christie’s – sometimes for a lot – and my recent work in bold pastel have started to sell well – mainly through the internet. With these I consider that I am not greedy, with postcard size at £50, up to A4 size at £195 - £250, and A1 at £1,950 – all with reductions for friends and family.
I take less pleasure from travel, hating airports, and great pleasure from my small London garden and the birds who use it (a robin eats from my knee).
So I say to my Lord’s friends: here is a new blog, and being 84 is wonderful (fingers crossed).

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Monday, May 04, 2009

Endive and avocado salad

I often wonder why endive (chicory) should be so expensive in England and so cheap in France. So on our mini breaks in Dieppe (usually to buy wine and eat well for a few days) we bring back a quantity of this crisp, blanched vegetable. A popular dish is to wrap ham around a piece and braise it. I like to dip the pieces into a variable vinaigrette mixture and eat it that way. This salad method of using endive maintains its crunch and adds another flavour and texture. It looks nice, too.

ENDIVE AND AVOCADO SALAD

You will need:
Endive
Avocado
Vinaigrette

Make a vinaigrette in a bowl, using oil, vinegar (or lemon or lime juice), salt, pepper, and a little icing sugar, and possibly dry English mustard, Dijon mustard, or horseradish. Mix it well.
Cut across the endive(s) and add the pieces to the vinaigrette. Toss it all around.
Put the coated endive on plates or in bowls, and on the top place slices of peeled avocado.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Chorizo and Mash

I was in the Portuguese quarter of London to buy capers and, after an excellent coffee and two of those lovely custard tarts in which the Portuguese specialise, carried on to buy the spicy edition of chorizo sausages.
These have a high paprika content, are spicy, very red, and shiny.
At home I made a rather liquid mash with floury potatoes, using plenty of butter and milk, as well as pepper and salt.
Pushing the chorizos slightly into the mash in an ovenproof dish, I baked the combination for about half an hour.
The result was chorizos at their best and mash that had been infused with the paprika colour to form a delightful pattern.
This is a simple, tasty and exotic dish, and is a favourite.

CHORIZO AND MASH

You will need:
Spicy chorizo sausages (one per person)
Floury potatoes
Butter
Milk
Pepper and salt

As described above, make liquid mash and into it press chorizo sausages.
Bake the resultant dish in the oven for about half an hour.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Meat and decoration in France

In early 2009 one can say without hesitation that France is an expensive place in which to eat and drink. Of course the current exchange rate is of no help to those from the UK travelling to mainland Europe for a break and, especially, to enjoy good wine with good food.
Even without the reckoning of an almost parity exchange rate, prices in France are noticeably higher than in 2008.
Be that as it may, one goes to eat and drink well, and if one is prepared to eat the best food, the price of it is probably a lot less than comparing like with like in England. And when eating out in France there is no point in not making a good meal of it – especially in Dieppe, where the fish landed is so fresh that it may well be jumping around a bit on the fishmonger’s slab.
Moreover, if not used to eating so heartily, a good lunch will fill one up so much that a modestly priced picnic is all that is wanted in the evening.
The price of restaurant wine is always on the high side, but carafe wine is still not exorbitantly priced – though a good bottle certainly is.
For picnic wine and wine to take home, the best buys by far are in German owned supermarkets. There it is possible to buy wine from French abroad for very little – the French deeming that wine from elsewhere is not drinkable, and is priced accordingly.
But I am getting around to French meat, which is nearly always on the tough side, but tasty.
You wonder just how to tackle a piece of meat on the plate that is interlaced and surrounded with stringy bits. Quite rightly, a sharp, serrated-blade knife is always supplied when steak is ordered.
The first operation is to cut away all the connective tissue and put it to the side of your plate. Then there is no point in trying to eat a normal sized piece of what remains. No. The meat must be sliced as thinly as it is possible for you to contrive it. This has the advantage of making the meat both edible and tasty. And it will tide out the meal as you will surely not be in a rush – or shouldn’t be.
We have now eaten and returned to our room – in our case the same room that we have booked for years.
I have always thought of our 3 star hotel as a bit seedy and not really up to its star rating.
Perhaps since we were last there the star-inspector had called and demanded an update. And so it had occurred.
French ideas of decoration are not quite the same as ours. Plumbing, for instance, is done in the main by sculptors, not plumbers. Pipes are liable to weave about a bit, sometimes forming real works of – well, amazement in the eyes of a spectator.
Our room has only a vestige of this order of pipework. But the tragedy of this upgraded change is that the landlord (who should have retired, but hadn’t) had all the bidets in the hotel torn out and cast away. If you are used to the hygiene offered by this ancient and most sensible French invention, it was a tragic idea.
Well, out they went, but the pipework holes they had once used remain as holes. Surely they were not left for – well, rodents. No, of course not. But it looked a bit like it.
Radiators remain as before – useless. In the cold weather one must order auxiliary heat in the form of an electric stove. The passageways outside the room, on the other hand, were really warm.
The bathroom floor had been re-laid with what appeared to be black marble or slate. And very handsome it was. But the surface was also as cold as the previous tile flooring. This meant that wherever one stood on it with bare feet in cold weather it was necessary to place a mat or towel on the floor for comfort.
Paintwork had been done immaculately. But the bathroom door, which had always been too large for its frame and never closed properly, was at last free of peeling paint and re-done – except for where it met the floor. There nothing had changed. Broken ply facing still remained – and unpainted.
New curtains were splendid, and up to its 3 star rating, as was the new mattress and properly filled (bits of rubber) pillows. But instead of blankets that could be added or subtracted according to the temperature of the time of year, lay a duvet. Now, am I the only one who finds that a duvet provides too much warmth when covered by it, or none at all when one escapes it?
The old television screen that was liable to impede one’s path in the middle of the night had been replaced by the flat screen variety, which tucked away nicely. But although there were now many more television channels to watch, all were in French or dubbed French. In a hotel that caters for so many foreigners, how is it that no other programmes in other languages are made available? But we must remember which country we were visiting – mustn’t we? Vive les Français. Vive La France.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Butter Brilliance

We were about to embark for France when I noticed that the cap of one of the gas burners in the kitchen was slightly misplaced. I put my finger on it to return the metal disk to its rightful position, only to find that the burner had not been extinguished and the iron casting, heated by its surrounding flames, was crisis hot.
I jumped in agony as the tip of my left index finger burned to a frazzle.
Now, when I was young, in the early 1920s, and our doctor. Dr. Daley, lived several miles away and made up all his medicines in a shed in his garden, the home cure for burns was butter. And the results were magic when this every-day substance was applied by my mother.
So, without hesitation, I stuck my finger into a slab of butter, and kept it there for a few seconds to make sure that the burn was coated thoroughly. The pain was considerable. I worried about possible inabilities for our stay in Dieppe.
Every so often I returned to the refrigerator to re-butter my finger.
In an hour or so the pain had subsided and I saw that the end of my digit was almost white. It had a hard covering of dead and senseless skin.
Would it be possible to use my hand in the normal way? Yes, it would.
The pain went and, instead of a blister and a painful end to the finger, I had a hand with a perfectly useable and painless extremity.
There was no blistering, no pain, and the finger, now without sensitivity at its tip, was in use as normal.
Five days later the dead skin of the burn started to fall away. Scissors, deftly used, cut off the dry edges attached to living flesh.
Now, in place of the dead skin, newly exposed pink skin started to firm up and regain sensitivity.
There may be lots of solutions to burns, but by God, for this immediate cure, butter, as an ancient country recipe for pain relief and recovery, could hardly have been bettered - even in this medically advanced age of ours.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Vegetables in pots (latest developments)


I wrote in this blog last year of my experiments with growing vegetables in pots in my London garden. Now, in the spring of 2009, a new idea has come about with the purchase and delivery of 3 plastic sacks for growing new, salad, and main crop potatoes (the bags being 17” or 43 cm. tall and 14”or 36 cm. in diameter, and supplied with 5 seed potatoes for each sack).
As my London garden is small (4 paces by 16 paces) and with potatoes not to be planted in the same soil for several years, the compost filling would have had to be replaced each year. And where would I put the spent compost in a mostly paved garden?
So I decided to use the sacks for (roughly) the rotation of crops, retaining their compost filling – being a mixture of my home-made compost mixed with the contents of grow bags – the latter being excellent in quality and obtained at a minimal cost.
Wanting only new potatoes, which are very special to eat and hard to obtain, I will use the 3 bags for: sack 1 (BEANS) for dwarf French beans and dwarf Italian courgettes, sack 2 (ROOTS) for early potatoes (Swift) followed by a planting of carrots and beetroot, and sack 3 (BRASSICAS) for Swiss chard, leeks and lettuce. The correct rotation has been plotted on paper for the next 3 years.
I will write on the results and conclusions.
Beside these sacks I am experimenting this year with growing potatoes in buckets (with drainage holes and crocks). As last year, there will be broad beans in buckets, asparagus in a large pot (mainly for the foliage), parsley in a pot, thyme in a pot, sorrel in a pot (having over-wintered well), salad leaves in a pot, leek seed in a pot (to be planted in sack 3 when handleable), tarragon in a pot, fennel in a pot, a globe artichoke in a pot (decorative), tomatoes in last year’s ground (now soaked with dilute Jeyes Fluid because of blight), mint in a sunken bucket, rosemary in a pot, sage in a pot and, new this year, autumn-planted garlic in the ground and shallots in the ground (both in a limited space – but they do not need much.
For fruit, there is the productive and trouble-free black wine grape (Triomphe d’Alsace) giving shade from the arbour and fruit along its 73 metres length around and about and back and forth around the garden’s walls, an espalier-trained Morello cherry growing on the north-facing wall from daffodil-planted ground and, in pots nearby, a fig, a pear and an apple.
I am trying yet again to grow mistletoe on the apple, binding in the seeds beneath bark with string. These experiments were coated with rubber solution as protection from the elements. To blend the pale string bindings in with the colour of the bark, they were then coated with soil before the rubber solution set.
For the decorative aspect, there is an earthenware trough of spring crocus and snowdrops. Pots of tulips and lilies will give small blocks of bright colour. Impatiens (busy lizzies) will give masses of colour throughout the summer months, with fuchsias and geraniums (pelargoniums) providing the same.
Roses (The Reverend F. Page-Roberts and Typhoon – the best rose ever) grow from earth in a corner of the garden.
The winter-flowering cyclamen will become dormant in their pots, as will the generously-flowered mahonia.
On the kitchen windowsill is a splendid jalapeno chilli (having flowered and fruited summer and winter), the last year’s Bolivian begonia corm coming to life, and an aloe vera.
So, as spring appears and leads to summer, there will be a lot to watch and look after. What an interesting year of pleasure lies ahead.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Artichoke Soup

The following is a wonderful soup, but with a snag to it - or perhaps you might think it to be an amusing bonus. The fact is that this particular root vegetable (Jerusalem artichoke), when cooked in almost any form, creates a great deal of air in the stomach and gut. (I am told that we produce, on average, 3-5 litres of internal air in 24 hours.) And as this air has to escape somewhere, and as a rule choosing to exit in the downward direction, it can cause embarrassment, laughter, or pain. However, I read somewhere that asafoetida (or asafoetide), if used in the cooking of artichokes, would prevent the usually excessive egress of air from the body. Powdered asafoetida, gained from the dried resin of a plant, is used in Chinese medicine and Indian dishes. I owned some, tried it, and threw it away, mainly because of the foetid part of its name. On hearing about its wind-reducing properties I tried to buy some more, but Indians in three shops visited had never heard of it. Eventually I did manage to buy a packet from a Greek grocer. Volume experiments using a minimum quantity were disappointing. Using the maximum recommended ruined the soup (which afterwards was turned into a strong mulligatawny satisfactorily) and might have reduced flatulence. Asafoetida may, however, respond more happily to your own metabolism and help to reduce artichoke-generated air.

ARTICHOKE SOUP

You will need:
Butter
Jerusalem artichokes
Onion
Potato
Pepper and salt
Stock, or stock and milk

To make it “special”, you will also need:
A few scallops
Milk
Egg yolk
Single cream
Paprika

Melt a large lump of butter in a saucepan, and in it cook a chopped-up onion until it is soft and transparent. Add a dozen or so well-scrubbed and cut-up artichokes (they are usually knobbly and difficult to free of adhering soil) and a chopped potato or two. For a pale and finer soup, peel these vegetables. For a rustic one, don't bother, just chop them up. Season with pepper and salt. Cook for a little longer and add stock, or stock and milk, to cover generously. Boil this very gently for about half an hour. The vegetables will then be soft.
Now you have the choice of eating the soup as it is in its rough and ready form, liquidising it in an electric blender, or putting it all through a hand-operated soup Mouli. I prefer the last method. Test for seasoning and serve.
To turn it into a special, dinner-party piece, peel the vegetables before making the soup. Then poach a few scallops in a little milk for only a few minutes. Add the milk to the soup. Cut up the scallop meat. Add this to the soup. Thicken with an egg yolk whisked with some single cream. Then heat it to the desired temperature, but do not boil. Serve with a sprinkling of paprika over each plate full.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chocolate enhancement

I sometimes feel that milk chocolate is either too sweet or has not enough nuts and raisins in it. Here is what to do. The result is both filling and satisfying.

CHOCOLATE ENHANCEMENT

You will need:
A large slab of milk chocolate or one with nuts and raisins in it
A smaller slab of plain chocolate
Nuts of your choice, like peanuts, roasted cashews, almonds, pecans, or others
Sultanas or currants

Into a basin resting on a saucepan of boiling water put broken-up pieces of plain and milk chocolate.
Add nuts, whole, or broken up in a pestle and mortar, and sultanas or currants.
The chocolate will take a little time to melt. When it has, stir it all together with a spatula and scrape it out from its bowl on to greaseproof paper (or its like) in a baking dish. Spread it out to the desired thickness with the spatula and, if you feel like it, press the edge of the spatula into the chocolate to form rough squares when it has begun to re-set.
Allow the chocolate to cool and set, ending by placing it in the refrigerator.
When cold and solid, lift the chocolate mass from the greaseproof paper. Then break up the chocolate into smallish pieces. Keep them in a lidded box in the refrigerator until wanted.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Simple Soup

I think that it is almost essential to have a winter soup on the go. This one is warming, filling, nourishing, economical, and simple to make. Like most soups to which you may later be inclined to add bits and pieces over days, or even weeks, it is best to get into the habit of bringing it to the boil every day, as some items tend to ferment if left in a warm environment. If the glorious world of soup-making is new to you, start with this one.

VERY SIMPLE WINTER SOUP

You will need:
Butter
Onion
Potato
Stock cube
Pepper and salt

In a saucepan or pressure cooker put a large lump of butter (be generous with it). Melt this and add chopped onion (quantities will be according to the final volume wanted).
Cook the onion slowly until it has given off its initial strong smell and become transparent.
Now add potato, chopped into small pieces.
Crumble in a beef stock cube or two (again be generous).
Add pepper and salt, then liquid to about twice the volume of your ingredients.
The liquid used is generally water. Start with it. But tea (from the pot or unadorned) is a fine addition, and non-wasteful. Leftover water from boiling vegetables or pasta is good and, again, non-wasteful.
Boil the soup until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked through and soft.
Later on you may want to make soup with other things, but start with the above. Then, hopefully, if not already addicted to soup-making, you may have been converted to the pleasures it has to offer.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Chicken Dog

Two dogs enlivened our lives as children in the late 1920s and early 1930s. They were a cairn, called Bunty, who gave birth to Kennel Club pedigree puppies that we were loath to part with, and Ben. He was a black cocker spaniel.
My father, though badly wounded in the recently ended First World War, ran a chicken farm at Silchester, a walled Roman town in the south of England, positioned between Reading and Basingstoke on the Hampshire/Berkshire borders.
Ben was not only a much-loved house dog but a working dog, too – a chicken dog.
When my father wanted a bird for the oven or sale, he would herd chickens into a corner of their run, where they would squawk and flap, probably knowing that one of their number was to end up as food in the near future.
Having selected the required bird, my father would point it out to Ben with his finger – rather as a pointer dog would point with his nose. Ben would then slowly and quietly enter the mêlée and rest his paw on the selected bird, pinning it gently to the ground. Off would scamper the rest of the flock. My father would then gather up the desired chicken from beneath Ben’s paw.