Saturday, March 27, 2010

An Acting Career

Now that there is a new Peter Greenaway film out (“Nightwatching”), I am reminded of my (distinguished) career as an actor.
For the Greenaway film, “The Cook, the Thief etc.”, I was invited by friends to join them and to act as a restaurant customer.
Driven to enormous studios in the suburbs, I spent much of the day at a table pretending to eat a pink crayfish. That would not have been so bad had the crustacean not been stinkingly rotten.
There was action around me as tableware was thrown about with explosive force and, I think, a fork shoved through someone’s cheek into their mouth. The latter action was contrived, with fake blood in full flow, by the visual effects and make-up departments.
At the conclusion of a long day’s acting (the whole day produced but five minutes of finished film) we were given fish and chips as payment and thanks.
When the film eventually reached the silver screen, I was, obviously, anxious to witness my skills as an actor. But sadly, I think, only just think, that I saw the back of my head. And I’m not even sure about that, either.
But I really have had a career as a serious actor.
My first job, having been to art school (The Central), theatre design school (The Old Vic) and the Covent Garden Opera House (as scene painter), was set designer in repertory theatre at High Wycombe.
Presenting a new set weekly, with reading the play, working out a floor plan, constructing a model, painting the scenery, installing the set and furnishing it with hired and borrowed items, was an onerous task, made tolerable by applause for my hard work as the curtains opened. Pay was minimal, but experience great.
Our cast was limited in number. In one scene of a play, two ambulance men were required to cross the stage with someone on a stretcher.
Our number could run to only one ambulance man, but not two.
So there I was, a genuine actor for a week, with my name in the programme – as second ambulance man.
So when I see a television drama or stage performance, I think to myself that I, too, was once an actor.
If I am ever asked to act again I will demand a better part – first ambulance man, perhaps.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Luck in France 2010

In life you need luck on your side – pre-ordained or by absolute chance does not really matter, as long as it is good luck, and preferably plenty of it.
We had just spent three nights in France, mainly to re-stock our wine supply, which gets depleted at some speed with our daily consumption, along with some generous entertaining.
And we also go to France to eat well, breathe in sea air, walk off excesses, buy food of various descriptions, and generally absorb a foreign way of life. Theirs is another culture with those in-built identities that seem as nature to them but of a separate past and present to us.
Our first stroke of luck this time was to find that our favoured “house” wine was “on promotion” – six bottles for the price of five. And it was cheap enough already.
With an anniversary celebration meal in mind we headed for a favourite restaurant, to find it closed for their annual holiday. But another place nearby – almost if not absolutely in a shed, was open.
We lunch early, which was fortunate as there was only one sitting, where clients (mostly workmen) arrived to eat at between mid-day and 12.15.
Here we were given a house aperitif (cider/cassis) and told to take as much as we felt from a most interesting spread of hors d’oeuvres.
Already we were clearly in luck.
We were then offered a choice from three main courses.
On our table stood a bottle of cold and delicious fizzy cider and a litre bottle of red wine. They were there to be drunk as we might see fit – and at no extra cost.
A lovely cheese board of local produce followed the main course, then a dessert and then coffee – total price £10.80 a head, with service, all inclusive. What luck!
We lunched there every day, feeling that we could do no better elsewhere – even in favoured old haunts.
There was still room in our car for more wine, the kind we buy at a separate supermarket, obtaining there old favourites for a modest sum as they are “foreign” wines to the French, and so not to their liking. It was lucky that the ones we wanted were available.
I have used the same hotel in France for probably 65 years or so, knowing the grandfather founder, son, and now daughter. They are as friends.
It so happened that recommending this hotel to neighbours in London at one time, we heard that they were given a discount on the price of their room – something that had never happened to me, and probably being their most long-lasting and faithful client.
So I jokingly made this clear to the management. When leaving for England, we were given a fine discount. I’m not sure that this was luck at all.
We were very early arrivals at the departure terminal in Dieppe, so were positioned in the front of a particular row of cars that were about the same height.
After some time, the overseer of boarding order pushed aside the lightweight bollard in front of our car and waved us aboard. Margreet switched on the motor to start and go. From beneath the bonnet came not the noise of a starting motor but one of angry ratchets.
General consternation broke loose as French port officials passed judgement on our mechanical failure and decided to hit the starter motor with a sizeable hammer to free the mechanism within it - without success.
Well, telephone calls were made to all and sundry breakdown services, and we were pushed aboard – last.
On the way to England I wondered why only twice in some 15 years of use had our splendid Toyota RAV 4 let us down – and each time the circumstances had been almost identical. It happened before (unsolved) in Santander when about to board the ferry back to Portsmouth, and now it happened again when waiting to board the car ferry in Dieppe to carry us back to Newhaven.
I solved the problem when lying down during the smooth crossing to England.
In both instances we had arrived well before the departure time. And although on each occasion the engine had been switched off, the electronics were still on and working, in the form of dashboard lights, radio, window-winding motors and such. And during that wait the battery had become drained of its charge, with not enough power remaining to engage the starter motor with the engine.
Others might well take note of this possible state of affairs.
Shortly before arriving at Newhaven I asked the Purser of our vessel to see if someone aboard could connect up our car’s battery with jump leads. If successful in starting the car it would save us from having to be towed off the ship or engaging the services of the now waiting AA breakdown man.
Being the last and lonely car in a dark corner of the vast car deck, jump leads were brought, connected, and the engine started. We were on our way.
So were we lucky to eventually get home unscathed, or unlucky, after such a spell of good luck, to suffer the indignities and embarrassment of mechanical (electrical) failure?
Perhaps good luck is always tempered with a little bad.

Mushroom Soup

Here are two methods of making mushroom soup – the first with dried mushrooms and the second with fresh. Both are excellent, the fresh mushroom one being the easier.


You will need:
Mushrooms, dried or fresh
White sauce or plain flour
Pepper and salt
A chicken stock cube

Dried mushrooms impart, for less cost, more taste to a soup than the fresh variety, though if using the latter their taste will be enhanced by turning them into soup.
Buy a small handful of dried, sliced mushrooms (porcini are best). Shake them well in a sieve to rid them of sand. Soak them for 24 hours. Extract the mushrooms and, with knife or scissors, cut them into small pieces. Keep the (brown) liquid, but decant it off any sand that has fallen to the bottom of the water.
Now make a white sauce using butter, flour, milk, water and the liquor in which the mushrooms were soaked Add the mushroom pieces.
You will want to add extra liquid in the form of milk, or a dissolved stock cube or two, to give the soup the desired consistency and extra taste.
Season as thought necessary - and serve. This soup, like the one below, which uses fresh, white, button mushrooms, is even better the following day.

Using fresh mushrooms:
There is hardly a simpler or more economical way to make a glorious soup than the following way when using fresh, white, button mushrooms.
Cut up a good size onion as finely as possible. Then do the same with fresh mushrooms – say as many as you can hold in cupped hands (or 250g). Both of these operations take time – but it is worth it.
In a saucepan melt a good lump of butter, and into it stir your chopped onion. Cook this slowly until the onion is transparent. Now add the mushroom bits. Continue stirring the mixture over heat, sweating them all together. Add pepper, salt and a sprinkling of flour – a dessert spoon at the most. Stir this. The mixture will now be quite tacky. Crumble in a chicken stock cube. Now add plenty of milk (1 1/2 pints will do), stir, and allow the soup to boil very, very slowly for, say 20 to 30 minutes. That’s it. And the result will be quite delicious, taste as if you have used cream, and be even better the next day. So make it the day before wanted if possible.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Tomato and ginger sauce for noodles

This is my simplification of Singapore Noodles, being a lot easier to make and much quicker, too. In fact, the sauce can be made well before wanted and heated up as the noodles are being boiled. So it is a convenient dish to serve up at a dinner party.


You will need:
Root ginger
Pepper and salt
Chopped tomatoes
Chilli sauce (like Lingham’s)
Noodles (preferably when sold in one portion squares)

In oil fry chopped onion until cooked, but not browning. Add to it plenty of chopped garlic and a good quantity of finely chopped root ginger. Then add pepper and salt.
Now tip in the contents of a can of chopped tomatoes and some chilli sauce (like Lingham’s).
Cook the sauce through for 5 minutes. Now add cooked prawns – halved if too large.
Boil the noodles in salty water as directed (3 to 5 minutes, probably). Drain them in a colander, cutting through them in the shape of a cross (with kitchen scissors) to make serving and eating them easier.
Add the noodles to the sauce (or vice versa). Stir and serve.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Chicken in foil

As foil is an insulator of heat, I seldom have a use for it. But here it is put to great effect – even though the foil is tending to keep the heat away from the chicken in its package.
From a Halal butcher buy two roasting chickens (quite cheap). At home cut off the four legs and bag them for the freezer and later use. Do the same with the wings, and then the thighs. Use these off-cuts for Indian or Thai curries at a later date.
Now cut off the double breasts (on the bone) from the carcasses. Use one or two for this dish (one double breast is more than enough for two people). Pressure cook the carcass bones for soup stock, should you feel like it.
Now we are ready.


You will need:
Pepper and salt

Lay out a sheet of foil, and on it place a double breast of chicken (on the bone). On this put two knobs of butter, pepper and salt, garlic (squeezed from a press), and a small branch of thyme and one of rosemary (these herbs both grow well in pots in the garden, on a balcony, or attached to an outside window sill).
Make a parcel of the chicken, folding over the foil to seal in the contents.
Lay the parcel in a baking tin, and cook it in a fairly hot oven for an hour.
Undo the hot parcel, and slice the chicken from the bone. Serve it with mashed potato, and possibly another vegetable, or salad, or what you will.