Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Delicate Omelette for One

I have had an omelette pan for years. It never goes near water and is cleaned with kitchen paper. Yet I hardly ever use it for some reason – unless I am eating alone and a simple omelette seems to be an ideal dish. This recipe is such a delicate one that the ingredients, other than eggs, are minimal. It is not like a normal omelette, being slightly related to a pancake


You will need
Pepper and salt

Into a bowl break two large or three small eggs. Add a dash of water and some pepper and salt. Whisk it.
Cut a shallot in half (you only need a little). Peel off the skin, and chop it up as finely as possible. Add the shallot to the whisked egg and whisk again.
In a frying pan or omelette pan melt a good lump of butter – slowly. Turn the pan around until its bottom and lower sides are coated with melted butter. Pour the excess butter into the egg mix and whisk it yet again.
Pour the egg mix into the pan to cook, making sure that the pan is well coated with the egg mixture and that the heat below it is at a minimum.
Now chop up a very small tomato (one of those little oval ones is ideal). Sprinkle the tomato bits over the omelette that is cooking in the pan. It will look rather decorative.
Leave the omelette to cook through very slowly. It will be ready when the edges are just turning up and the top still moist. Depending on the amount of heat used and thickness of the pan, this will take roughly eight minutes. So keep an eye on it.
With a plastic spatula (so as not to scratch the surface of a proper omelette pan), fold the omelette in half and slide the result on to a warm plate. It is ready to eat.
Divided into two, the omelette will make a small but tasty first course for a couple about to eat more. Double up the ingredients and it becomes a main course.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


I have just heard from an author in Ireland, asking if I knew of anyone from the days of the Raj who might know of the recipe for Kedgeree. My mother was such a person and kedgeree was a breakfast staple in our house in the country. When my grandfather was knighted by King Edward V11, he sent my mother out to India where his other daughter (my aunt) was married to an army officer. One of my mother’s names was Hyacinth. She must have been a pretty lively person as she was known as “The Hilarious Hyacinth of Hydrabad Sind”. As for the recipe for Kedgeree, it was as near to the following as makes no matter.


You will need:
Rice (that’s not sticky)
Smoked haddock (cooked for a short time in milk)
Pepper and salt

Boil the rice (it can have a little turmeric added for colour if wanted) and drain it well.
To it add flaked smoked haddock, chopped hard-boiled eggs, pepper, salt and plenty of butter. 
Stir and serve.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Ham or Bacon with Brussels Sprouts

In the refrigerator was a piece of ham or bacon, wrapped tightly in plastic. It was my turn to cook. Also in the refrigerator’s vegetable drawer was a packet of already trimmed Brussels sprouts. I had learned before that sprouts went wonderfully in a stew. So, instead of soaking and then boiling the ham, before making a parsley sauce with the cooking water, I decided to cook the sprouts at the same time as the ham and thicken the sauce. The result was delicious and simple – just how I like recipes to be. Here’s how to do it.


You will need:
A lump of ham or bacon
Brussels sprouts
A stock cube
A little white wine

In an iron casserole that’s not too large for the meat, put your lump of ham or bacon in water and soak out most of the salt that will have been preserving it. Discard the water.
Put oil in the casserole and add chopped onion and garlic. Cook this through until the onion is transparent. Now add flour – say a heaped dessert spoon full. Stir this in. Add pepper but not salt (there should be enough in the meat). Then add a crumbled stock cube of some sort.
Place the meat on top of the onion mix and surround it with sprouts. Add water with a little white wine to almost cover. 
Bring to the boil and cook this dish very slowly for about half an hour.
Extract the meat and carve it into slices. Cover these with the sprouts and their liquor. It really is as simple as that – and quite delicious.


Monday, December 07, 2015

SOME RECIPES End of 2015

I have been so busy with art work recently that I needed a mental rest, and what better way to do this than to write.
My last two blogs, after quite a break when Margreet changed computers to Apple from Windows, were on the dangers of flying and Francis Bacon. Now, with our alternate cooking weeks in operation, and Margreet having solved enough of the information involved in a new computer language, one or two interesting recipes have come to the table. I intend to offer one per week.

With my present regime of cooking every other week, there have sometimes been leftovers to deal with. This situation always taxes one’s ingenuity and makes for a lot of fun. Here is a first course example when a cauliflower went unused and an avocado was in perfect condition.


You will need
A cauliflower
A ripe avocado
Pepper and salt
Capers (optional)

Cut away any green leaves from the cauliflower. Now cut a deep cone into the cauliflower from its base to extract the core..
Break off all the florets into bite-sized pieces, cutting away excess stem. Put them into a bowl. This part can be done well before the first course is wanted.
Shortly before the dish is ready for the table, slice the avocado from stem to stern, hit the stone with the blade of a knife, twist the stone out from the flesh and spoon out the pulp into a separate bowl. Discard the skin, but not into the compost bin or heap. They do not rot down.
Now mash up the avocado flesh with a fork, adding quite a bit of vinegar, pepper and salt, and some capers if you feel like it.
When ready to eat, mix the puréed avocado with the cauliflower florets. Coat them well – until each has a greenish coat.
That’s it. This is a crunchy and appetising start to a meal.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Francis Bacon and how we met

I was going through a box of old documents to find details of my early flying experiences and found an envelope addressed to me at my London bank from Francis Bacon, to whom I had just sold a studio house in the country. The roughly torn envelope contained two letters from him.
In 1958 I sold where I lived beside Chelsea Football Ground in London and was about to set off on a round-the-world voyage of discovery and drawing, when I thought I should still have some sort of root in England as a place to which I could return. So I bought (I think for £425) a tumbledown wreck of a cottage on the Berkshire Downs at the end of an overgrown lane that led from the village of Chieveley, north of Andover.
I bought it from the cottagers next door, a Mr and Mrs Rampling. He was still surviving from being gassed in the First World War, and she looked after him and cultivated a most beautiful cottage garden that looked like a colourful Victorian watercolour.
They had no plumbing, so the contents of the bucket in a small garden shed went into a trench to feed the following year’s runner beans.
Mrs Ramp and I made friends immediately. And, in her only gardening book (a Victorian one that recommended Cannabis for London gardens), she found an engraving of my rosarian grandfather, looking up at tall, spiky, eremurus flowers, on which he had written a chapter. So we established our mutual love of gardens and country lore. She was to keep an eye on my wreck of a house when I was away, and put a man’s hat in a window to deter intruders.
A year later I was back, had drawn up plans, and when Mrs Ramp and I had decided that conditions were safe, I telephoned the Newbury Fire Brigade and told them that there would be a blaze at Chieveley and not bother to attend to it. I put a match to the downwind corner of the mangy straw thatch and was glad to see the last of the verminous place reduced to smouldering rubble.
The house I built in its place, with a Polish builder, would have a gull winged roofline, but I could only afford half of the wing – but anyhow laid foundations for the complete building.
The end result was an innovated structure, there being just one large, glass-walled studio room with a floor of marble washstand tops, saved by me over years for such a project, one internal balcony, and only one bedroom with a bathroom, WC and bidet. Downstairs was a cosy living room with open fire, a separate WC and an under-floor heated kitchen. No plumbing pipes of any sort were visible as they were all concealed within a central column. Air was ducted in beneath the floor to feed the fire, and a parallel chimney ducted in fresh air, which was heated by the main chimney alongside to supply warmth to the bedroom. The structure was of lovely, red, handmade bricks, and internal surfaces were of the unevenly coloured pink plaster that was applied initially. Provision was made for a conservatory, but never implemented. That was the house.
Outside was an ancient well, hand cut through chalk. It was so deep that a pebble dropped into it took some tome to splash into the water below. And so cold was its almost transparent water that we would haul some up in a bucket to keep the beer cool during house construction.
It was a lovely house, isolated, quiet except for the noises of nature, and where birds would even roost in my bedroom.
I grew fat. I struggled to get back into the swing of painting after a year’s worth of drawing around the world. I tried paint, then moved on to collage. At least the latter did help, and although I was not all that pleased with the results, some have now been sold at Christie’s saleroom and been bought by private collectors.
I felt that I was vegetating too much and becoming too introspective. It was time to move on – and to London.
I spoke to local estate agents. They were in accord. No one would buy a one-bedroom house. So I advertised in The Daily Telegraph.
One reply to this advertisement was from a Francis Bacon. I enquired if he happened to be the painter. He was. The year was 1964.
Francis arrived alone. He took to the place immediately, as the internal walls were much like the paint surfaces in his work, and a soft platform surrounding the living room ideal for himself and his subjects. Negotiations took place, with me trying to get a painting as part of the deal. The Marlborough Gallery would not allow it. The sale was completed with, if I remember correctly, the gallery paying.
I must have sent him some seeds, so his first letter was to thank me and invite me back to the country for a day or a weekend. I went for a day.
I remember walking into the bare studio to see a small table on which sat champagne and raw kipper fillets and onion for lunch. The scene was an austere but colourful still life. We got on very well, deciding that “chance” was one of the most important aspects in the creation of a painting.
He spoke of how people thought homosexuals lived in a twilight world. “What absolute nonsense,” he said. “We certainly do not.” 
As we talked, George Dyer, his companion at the time, draped himself on the said platform in a languid, greased-hair pose. He hardly spoke. I occasionally see a Bacon painting of George, which was obviously done when he reclined in the corner of that room. 
I had left a little art there in the form of door paintings. For a Japanese guest I had painted one with cherry blossom. Francis did not like it. On the other door I had painted, very freely with my previous theatre-painting skills, bookshelves with books. This he loved. We parted great friends.
The other letter he sent me was to discover how often the septic tank should be emptied. He was about to sell the house (March 1966) and the new owner wanted to know. This was strange, as I had heard that an inebriated Francis gave the house to George Dyer and that George had put it up for sale almost immediately. Anyhow, George committed suicide not long afterwards – perhaps richer for the sale.
I was never one of Francis’s coterie, but whenever he saw me on the street he would come to talk.
I did go to one of his parties in Reece Mews, South Kensington, where the American author, James Baldwin, was a guest among other notables. I had expected to see a rather Bohemian crowd in his scruffy studio place, and was surprised to find so many smart young men in city suits as fellow guests.
So that’s all I know about the great painter, other than information from countless books and catalogues.

I consider myself very lucky to have met and been friends with so nice a man.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Danger in the Air

There have been recently several nasty air accidents. Danger has returned to flying.
To me it has always been dangerous, although I was often unaware of it.
Through my uncle, who flew in a record-breaking Christmas airmail flight from Sydney, Australia, to London in 1932, Kingsford Smith, the pioneer Australian pilot, was going to land in a field next to our house to take us up. We laid out a T in white sheets to indicate wind direction but, being somewhat unreliable, he never turned up.
However, he was to fly us children (I was 7 years old) from Croydon Aerodrome in April 1932, but the tail skid on his aeroplane had broken. All was not lost. A friend of his flew us over London in a Klemm Bat, an early, low cantilever winged German aircraft. I wore my cap back to front to stop it being blown away by the slipstream, and held on for grim death, there being a rough seat and nothing to stop the passenger from rattling around or falling out.
Flying like that was never thought to be dangerous as we took off and landed on Croydon’s very wet and muddy grass surface. Parked nearby were those lovely Handly Page biplane airliners with four engines with their four bladed propellers strung between the wings. They flew from Croydon to Paris, landing in any large field for repair if anything went wrong. Flying was very much in vogue, very modern, but by today’s standards very primitive.
I loved aircraft, flying, and First World War tales of bravery in the air, and all that went with this new dimension to my life.
Allen Cobham’s Flying Circus had come to Rye. I was taken to the field by my father. A short flip over the sea was 5/-, and with a loop included, 7/6 pence. I had the 7/6 pence worth. It was in an Avro Tutor biplane. And then I flew in a Gypsy Moth from Christchurch.
The 1939-1945 war came. I went to the USA as a refugee until old enough, in 1942, to return by convoy across the Atlantic to join the RAF.
Until there were training facilities available for my pilot training, I took a job first as a farm labourer and then as a prop-swinger at RAF Theale, near Reading.
The latter job was ideal for me. It consisted of starting Tiger Moth (DH 82) biplane engines by swinging the propeller.
I placed chocks in front of the wheels (Tigers had no brakes) and shouted “switches off, petrol on, throttle closed ”. Then the prop was spun around a couple of times to fill the cylinders with a petrol mix and I would shout “contact”, spin the propeller, and jump backwards as the engine started. The switches were positioned outside the fuselage so that prop-swingers could see them and know that they would be safe from being sliced up by the propeller when the switches “off”. The chocks, on rope, would then be pulled clear and the aircraft would taxi to the take-off point. 
There was no meteorology then, so an instructor would fly a Tiger up wind for a while to see what kind of weather was approaching the airfield and be safe for learners. As the second cockpit was usually empty, I was often taken along and given instruction on how to fly the aeroplane. Soon I was doing all the flying. It came naturally to me.
Sometimes other aeroplanes would land at Theale. So I was able to fly in other types of aircraft – like an Oxford, Anson (devils to start their two engines), Dominie and Auster.
The Auster was a small AOP (Air Observation Post), high wing spotter aircraft, flown by my brother-in-law. He was in the Army and flew Generals around battlefields.
For that kind of flying there were no rules like the ones we were being taught. So, by taking off cross-wind or in any direction he felt like, made him somewhat unpopular with those in charge of the airfield.
The slow Tiger Moth biplanes were safe. Even when I flew my first solo flight from a farmer’s field at RAF Shellingford, no one seemed to crash and kill themselves.
As a trainee (U/T) pilot I was posted to Coastal Command’s RAF Davidstow Moor in Cornwall, where 281 Squadron flew twin-engined Warwick aircraft. They had a specially moulded lifeboat slung beneath the fuselage.
For operational experience I was taken along on sorties over the Bay of Biscay to search for baled-out aircrew. Had we ever found any we would have dropped them the lifeboat beneath its six parachutes. Our chances of seeing anyone in the Bay of Biscay were pretty slim, despite our square method of search.
My job aboard, while others were looking down toward the waves, was to look out for German Focke-Wulf Condor aircraft. These flew from Brittany to attack convoys. They were massively armed with depth charges and cannon, and no match for our collection of Browning 303 machine guns. I did see one Condor before any of its aircrew saw us, so we escaped. I suppose that flying like that must be rated as being extremely dangerous, but one never thought of it at the time.
I probably flew there with my present picture framer’s grandfather. But his logbook at the time we were together at Davidstow recorded student pilots like me as “passenger”, and not by name. I suppose that had we been brought down by the Germans and lost our lives I would have been traced.
My 20 hours flying from Davidstow was, in fact, the only operational flying I did in the war. When I was awarded my wings in Oklahoma, the war in Europe was at an end.
But learning to fly in America was quite a different matter as far as air crashes and danger were concerned. I wrote off a lovely PT19 Cornell (not my fault I must add) and quite a few of our number crashed AT6 Harvards and were killed.
Those were pre-radar days of dead reckoning navigation when low cloud and fog were regular killers.
At that time I could not envisage civil airlines being successful. Wartime crashes and deaths had become commonplace. So, why would people willingly risk their lives to travel by air?
Then, post-war, such progress was made in the reliability of aircraft, engines and navigation, that flying became very much safer.
And now, once again, through circumstances that seem to be almost out of our control, flying can occasionally be very dangerous indeed.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

James Page-Roberts CV (July 2015)

Skip this CV for my blogs (below)

James Page-Roberts was born on the 5th of February 1925 in the Roman town of Silchester.
Educated at Wellington College and Taft School (USA).
Joined the RAF in 1942.
Having been invalided out of the war as a pilot, he became a medical student at St. Thomas's Hospital. After a recurrence of tuberculosis, he studied art at the Central School of Art under Bernard Meninsky, and then theatre design. Having completed the design course at the Old Vic School under Margaret Harris, he painted scenery at The Royal Opera House with Clement Glock and designed for repertory, touring shows, children's theatre and television.
            Returning to his primary love of painting, he exhibited in many mixed exhibitions, like the Society of Marine Artists and Wessex Artists, and in London galleries, such as The Leicester Galleries and The Redfern Gallery. He held one-man shows of landscape and people in landscape at galleries in London's Gallerie de Seine, West Halkin Street, The Reid Gallery, Cork Street, The Qantas Gallery, Bond Street, besides shows at The Central Library, Cambridge, and The Kintetsu Gallery, Osaka, Japan. His painting of Tower Bridge and the Pool of London in 1954 was bought from The Leicester Galleries for the National Collection via the Tate Gallery committee of Sir Robert Adeane and Sir William Coldstream..
            Finding that he was adding more and more sculpture to his various exhibitions of paintings and drawings, he was working toward a show of large works in elm wood when a broken wrist, sustained in a car accident, put an end to the project. Now, unable to sculpt, he turned his attention to writing, penning over 700 articles for magazines and newspapers (including the Financial Times), mainly on the subjects of wine and vines.
            He was several times the subject of Jeanine McMullen’s BBC Radio 4 programme “A Small Country Living”.
            He is the author of "Vines in your Garden" (Argus Books), author/illustrator of "The Best Wine in the Super Market" and the first three editions of "The Best Wine Buys in the High Street" (Foulsham), author and part illustrator of "The Oldie Cookbook" (The Carbery Press), author/illustrator and part photographer of "Vines and Wines in a Small Garden" (The Herbert Press/A & C Black), "Wines from a Small Garden" (Abbeville Press, New York/Bloomsbury), its second edition translation into Dutch, "Druif en wijn uit eigen tuin" (Schuyt, Haarlem), "Guide to a Dockland of Change" (The Mudlark Press), "Canary Wharf and Sights from Docklands Light Rail" (The Mudlark Press), "Dockland Buildings Old and New" (The Mudlark Press), "Cooking in Docklands Past and Present" (The Mudlark Press) and "Harbours, Girls and a Slumbering World" (The Mudlark Press).
            In the early 1960s he bought a warehouse on the Thames in Limehouse and converted it to two studios, wanting to live in the district from which he had worked on coasters as a supernumerary. This turned out to be the first warehouse in Docklands to be converted into living accommodation.
            One-time member of the Circle of Wine Writers, he is a member of The Society of Authors.
            Referred to by Punch as a Reformation man, and even 'new age man' by the BBC, he has behind him considerable experiences in life. These include: volunteer fireman, farm labourer, prop-swinger, RAF pilot, medical student, art student, matelot supernumerary, scene painter at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, set designer for the theatre and television, designer for children's theatre and television, house designer and builder, world traveller, painter, fruit picker, house husband/father, vineyard owner and vigneron, sculptor, author, illustrator, sound and television broadcaster (the subject of two Gardeners' World programmes for BBC2 and also for Southern and Cable Television), photographer and publisher.
            The author now lives with his Dutch wife, Margreet, on the borders of Hammersmith and Chiswick, London, where he has returned to painting (pastels, small and large) after a break that consisted of two years of sculpture and 25 years of writing. The subjects of his pastels are his garden, the shadows of aircraft, the relationships between the hulls of ships in and out of water, kites and landscape recalled. He continues to write a Blog ( from which there are links to his paintings, sculpture and books.
            In 2006 his 1954 painting of Chelsea Football Ground sold for £33,600 at Christie’s Salerooms, South Kensington, London.
            Since returning to painting (pastels) he had a very successful exhibition, entitled Aircraft Shadows, at the Mayor Gallery in Cork Street, London, from November 23rd until December 18th 2009. 
            At Christie’s, in December 2010, a 1964 painting of Tower Bridge with a ship offloading was sold for £7,500, and a collage with paint for £2,250, the latter joining a collection where it replaced a Matisse on the wall. He has sold through the Offer Waterman Gallery. He continues to sell with success to private collectors and at Christie’s.
            On June 2, 2014, as Guest of Honour, he gave the opening speech at Guildhall Art Gallery where 17 of his paintings were exhibited in the Tower Bridge: A Celebration of 120 Years exhibition (exhibition dates 2 June 2014 to 26 April 2015).








Tower Bridge from Bermondsey Wharf 1954.

Windows 95

As my followers know, I write a blog when I suddenly think that a subject interests me – and I hope you as well.
            So, during, or in between paintings, I switch on my Windows 95 (floppy 3 ½” disk) and write about my thoughts.
            Then, after several checkings, it is printed out. More alterations and checkings ensue. Finally, Margreet corrects the hard copy (she is wonderful at making suggestions and finding typographical errors).
            The next move is for me to transfer the material from my computer to a 3 ½” floppy disk. Each piece is held back in the floppy until we decide to release it. Then the disk is placed in a slotted gadget that connects with her more modern but difficult Windows 7 to be released into the ether.
            Well, her Windows was coming to the end of its days and needed to be replaced.
            I had just sold a couple of paintings so offered her a replacement as a birthday present.
            The process of choosing a new computer took a month or two. Confusing and conflicting advice and opinions were taken from every quarter. Prices were compared, as were countless other considerations.
            Finally, already owning an Apple iPad and iPhone, she settled on an Apple Mac Book Pro.
            We bought it at the John Lewis department store, whose excellent expert came (at a thoroughly worthwhile price) to transfer data from Windows to Apple and to  install and discuss the new system.
            The result was to Margreet’s great satisfaction. She had chosen correctly.
            But with a new computer there are inevitably lots of troubles and queries. The operators at John Lewis’s helpline initially did not help, but did later. And a word or two by telephone with their installer solved more outstanding difficulties.
            In case my floppy disk would not work with the new electronic device, we  “broadcast” all my old computer’s reserve blogs before the changeover.
            Not even the Apple expert knew if Windows 3 ½” floppy disks, with their attachment gadget, would work with Apple Mac. But they did.
            People may laugh, but my Windows 95 was made to last, bless it. And as Margreet gets to know her Apple Mac, we are returning to our computer normality of a marriage between ancient and modern technology.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Wine 2015

I have written a lot on wine professionally – columns, columns and columns on it.
            So that when tasting some 2000 wines a year, writing on the subject was easy – well, it could have been easy if done in the way that many wine writers can, and do, by just describing wine (mainly ones offered for free or at merchants’ wine-tastings). For readers this is pretty boring – especially when you actually want to drink the stuff and not read about it. And when I read these columns and want to go out and buy some bottle or other, the purveyors have either run out of stock or not even known about what was recommended.
            So to make wine writing interesting it had to be incorporated into a story of some sort. That was, for me, the pleasure of telling about wine in a fun kind of way.
            Now I am just an ordinary punter, buying wines from many sources and often, I fear to say, being disappointed – even with the higher priced wines when expectations have matched the cost.
            The new discount stores of German origin do us proud. Their cheapest wines are quite drinkable, but their more expensive ones tend to disappoint.
            Red wines (as opposed to white) from any source are diverse and varying in character. Chilian reds have quality as a rule, as do those from Argentina. Australian reds have, in my opinion, fallen off. They were once robust and full of punch. But they now tend to ape European wines. Or, perhaps, with the popularity of roving Australian wine-making experts, European wines are aping the new Australian wines. Anyhow, like South African wines, there are plenty of good ones to be found if you look around. And, after it all, it’s just a matter of taste anyway.
            We now rather like the reds from Ribera del Douero, and from farther down the river where it passes through Portugal on its way to the Atlantic, the reds from Douro. We seldom go wrong with them. Lower Rhônes, too, are favourites, as are those from Puglia in Italy.
            Ordinary claret from Bordeaux, is mostly a lot of rubbish – especially to one who learned about the wines from that region when the 1960s were château wines, splendid, and plonk – plonk prices that is. Then I didn’t necessarily know the châteaux, but certainly the years. The best that I ever tasted though were the 1959s. Lyon’s Wine Cellars, at The Hop Exchange, where they bottled from cask and re-cycled all bottles from clients, sold Château Cantenac Brown at the then heady price of 7/6 a bottle that did me proud. Their re-cycling methods were to immerse and rotate the bottles in a huge tank of boiling water that soaked off the labels and cleaned the bottles. I know that bottles should be, and are, sterilised, but the alcohol in wine does that anyway. It was here that I saw the labels from cheap Hock being soaked off to have royal be-crowned labels substituted.
            Sugar is often added to wine to increase the alcoholic content (often against the rules) – especially in years of poor weather. But now 13%, 14% and even 14.5% wine is becoming commonplace, often much to the detriment of the wine. When I looked after a villa in the south of France in the early 1950s, I would take containers to the local purveyor of bulk wine in Grasse to have them filled. There, red wine was offered at 10%, 11% and 12%. I generally bought 10% as the weather was hot and the wine, besides being a pleasure to swig was thirst quenching as well.
            Having witnessed quite a lot of skulduggery in the wine world, we might as well join in. I often blend wine (which many wine-makers do anyway) and am not averse to adding some red wine (not much) to white wine to make rosé. Champagne-makers do so, and it was common practise with cheap rosé in the past (and, perhaps present). The extraordinary thing is that this seems to improve the white no end. And the result is happy summer drinking outside – en carafe!
            Whatever happened to Bulgarian wines? They were a wonderful introduction to wine in my youth but, probably due to politics, hardly feature nowadays, The conditions in that country for making fine wine are wonderful.
            White wines, with the prevalent use of cold fermentation, seem to me to be much of a muchness. New Zealand whites give me a faint reminder of when in far off days I made excellent sparkling wine from elder flowers. But New Zealand whites, like English, can be a bit too expensive.
            I do like screw tops, but miss corks – the latter telling as much, if not more, about the wine inside the bottle than what happens to be printed on the label.
            Wine can be taken far too seriously and tends to engender snobbery. It is a God-given way of civilised enjoyment (abused at times). And as for rules, if there are some they are there to be broken.           

As we are changing from Windows to Apple computers, there may be a delay with my blogs until we have sorted it all out. Wish us good luck. I expect we will need it.


There are not many more pleasant ways of passing a summer’s day in England than watching cricket in fine weather
            In front of you is a large area of grass, dotted about with men or women dressed in white.
            Around the field are spectators who watch avidly, yet go off to lunch and return from formal dining or picnic well after the game has restarted after the interval.
            Cricket is a physical game, a psychological game, and a mathematical game. If you are good at all those you could become either a cricketer or a knowledgeable spectator. If not, like me, you can just love the game, enjoy the skills or ineptitudes on show, have a very nice time watching only the best, and for the rest of the time reading the daily scores in newspapers to keep in touch.
            It is a game that encompasses people from all walks of life, with very seldom any violence, but sometimes inebriation. Matches can be exciting, but more often a bit boring and attritional. During those doldrum times there is a lot to occupy one’s mind and eye.
            The weather has a strong bearing on the game – its techniques and result. And if you were an airman, like me, the cloud formations, types, and wind direction, occupy the mind and give the pleasure of prediction.
            Then there are the spectators – English at their most English, regardless of their origins. Rowlandson and Hogarth would be in their element depicting the English cricket spectator. Exaggerations of facial structure in those 18th century faces of theirs that we think to be a bit grotesque and exaggerated are much in evidence among a Test Match crowd. And spectators’ dress, even formal dress, is also exaggerated, and sometimes most stylish.
            Hats can be of any shape or colour, and are much needed in sunny weather. These are worn mundanely or with style, from Panama to cloche.
            Near to me one day was a man with a simple black cricket cap on his head. Every 28 seconds, give or take four or five seconds, he took it off to scratch his scalp of sparsely-growing grey hair, then to run his fingers through it like a comb, before replacing the cap on his head. This continued for as long as I took notice of it.
            Dull-looking food often comes from browning Tupperware boxes to be accompanied by red or white wine – sometimes Champagne. A man in front of me consumed an entire bottle of the latter before his lunch, drinking from a plastic wine- glass.
            And then, of course, there is the nodding off. Whatever the intensity of the game, the effects of alcohol and/or the customary afternoon nap, will take its toll. Bodies slump, heads drop. A wicket falling wakes the dozer from slumber for that person to start clapping, not knowing exactly why or what happened on the field of play.
            Aeroplanes, birds (I once saw a pair if ospreys circle high when passing overhead) are useful objects on which to concentrate when batting is slow.
            And when the lunch interval is reached, a pint of cold beer restores the spirits and engenders animated cricket conversation among friends.
            No wonder that this either elaborate or simple game, in all its newly adapted styles, binds together so many races and ages of civilised people.

Sporting Guns

Quite recently I came across someone who organises shoots in wintertime. So I have been reminiscing about a few of my shooting experiences, some of which I may have mentioned previously in my blog.
            Shoots can be rough shoots where a few friends and a dog or two walk the hedgerows and copses in an effort to make birds fly and become targets for the usually country-bred marksmen.
            These are pleasant winter walks to exercise the muscles, take in the fresh air,  and to give the dogs a run.
            Should a pheasant or two be bagged, it would be destined for the oven or pot soon afterwards, and much enjoyed.
            In my family’s home in the country these pheasants were hung up in the larder by two of their tail feathers. When the birds fell to the floor they were ready to be cooked. So they were often very high, ripe, and maggoty. But that was the taste for game in those far off days. I cannot recall if it was mine.
            At that time I had a small “garden gun”. This was a bolt-action .22 bore and had little cartridges that disintegrated when the tiny shot, with the charge behind them, left the barrel. The guns were made, I suppose, for keeping the rat population under control. I loved that gun, as young boys do.
            One day, out of season and with my parents away, I saw a pair of partridges walking in the vegetable garden – and shot them. Very unsporting, out of season, and not flying, there was hell to pay in the form of the back of a clothes brush on the bottom.
            Later in life, and with a 12 bore shotgun inherited from my father, I had joined a rather smart “cocks only” end of season shoot on a friends estate.  Actually I much preferred being a beater, as this involved orderly walking through woods and tapping one’s stick (mine was of bamboo and made a good noise when using it to strike a sapling or tree) to make pheasants fly toward a line of guns.
            Anyhow, next to me on this shoot was a man who was, or had been, running Purdey – probably the smartest maker of sporting guns in England.
            He saw my gun and asked about it. It was a William Evans.
            On inspecting it he almost went into a rage. “William Evans! That’s one of the worst things that ever happened to Purdey,” he said. “William Evans should never have left us.”
            William Evans had left Purdey to set up on his own (“William Evans late of Purdey”) almost a hundred years earlier. Such is sporting memory and gunsmith history.
            My father, just before the First World War, after graduating from Wye Agricultural College, went, under Government sponsorship, to Egypt (then our Protectorate) to irrigate and grow things with Nile water in the desert – or something of that order.
            As he had omitted to take his gun, he asked his father, the great rosarian, then Vicar at Stratfieldsaye, to send it out.
            My father’s name and his Cairo address were put onto a label, and then glued to the leather gun case. George V stamps were added before the gun was posted – just like that. Try posting a gun to Egypt in these troubled times.
            I loaned the gun to the Home Guard on joining the RAF during the war.
            The cartridges then had candle wax mixed in with the shot. These were to become lethal projectiles at close quarters when and if the Germans invaded our country.
            But the gun was neglected (they do need constant and careful attention) and the barrels had become rusty by the time I managed to recover it.
            The barrels failed the “proof” test, so I had to replace them.
            The makers, William Evans, gave me a price, which, in impecunious times, was so expensive as to be quite out of the question. So I obtained quotes from the Army and Navy Stores and others.
            During this process I learned that all barrels were made and fitted at the same factory in, I think, Birmingham. Then they were returned to the gunsmiths for adornment and finishing.
            So I went for the cheapest replacement offered, which was at Gamages – a large department store at the time. They were perfect (full choke left barrel as ordered) – but without provenance.
            I gave the gun to a son, who, when stringent security regulations came into force, decided it was not worth the trouble and sold it at auction.
            None of us had any use for it any more. But that gun had a history, some of which must still be stuck to its leather case.

Monday, August 03, 2015

a Malaiavitz

An unsigned Malaiavitz came up for auction at Christie’s. I had always wanted one of his works, but certainly could not have been able to afford it.
It was typical of his oeuvre, yet, in its way, unique.
            In a viewing at the auction house I thought it to be about a foot square and having the general appearance and colour of driftwood.
            The frame was probably made from the drip at the base of a painted door.
            The colours, faded as if being washed by sea waves over time, were mellow.
            The design of the work within the frame was indistinct. But in its abstract kind of way it was quite delightful. I wanted to bid for it.
            Now, Malaiavitz’s work sells generally from between fifty thousand pounds to five hundred thousand pounds. So I had no real hope of acquiring it unless it was a fake – a “wrong-un”. And a fake most dealers and collectors clearly thought it to be – except Christie’s.
            The auction house had done their research, and so had I. We both knew that Malaiavitz had been on a ship in the war that had been torpedoed in the tropics. And we knew that he had survived and lived as best he could as a sort of Man Friday on jungle fruit and vegetables. Saved by sailors on a passing ship as skin and bone, he died not long afterwards.
            An artist of his reputation and merit would not have spent all his waking hours in searching for food on the island but would have created more than a shelter for himself out of branches and palm fronds. He would have created art.
            This particular work had almost certainly been made from a once colourfully painted driftwood door. I had a very good look at it on the wall at Christie’s – even asking if I could take it down for further examination. No modern saw marks were to be seen. Its construction was somewhat crude. There was more than a bit of primitive art to it. And it was lovely.
            Christie’s catalogue mentioned the shipwreck and Malaiavitz’s time on the desert island.
            I suppose because of its rather vague provenance there were, most fortunately, only two bidders – myself and another man. He dropped out, and I got it for the ridiculously low price of five thousand pounds.
            I might mention that this was of my own doing, Margreet keeping well out of the matter – possibly disapproving of my extravagance.
            Anyhow, I got my Malaiavitz and put it up on the wall of our staircase where it looks lovely but not at all like other pictures around it. It glows in a way that ancient masterpieces can do.
            Then Christie’s came back to me and apologised for selling the picture as genuine when, in their newly considered opinion, it was not.
            I could keep the work and they would refund the money that I had spent on it.
            I now had my delightful (and free) Malaiavitz. And if it is not a genuine one it is still lovely. And should someone have been responsible for faking it, he or she was as good an artist as Malaiawitz himself.
            And then I woke up. It was all a dream.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Lemon

We bought a lemon tree in a pot, I think because a neighbour said that not only were they very productive but that the fragrant flowers attracted bees and bumblebees.
            Our tree, which I transported back from the garden centre on a bus (attracting comment and some awe), bore one large, fully formed lemon at the end of a branch.
            Alone, this fruit, in its bright lemon livery, looked rather out of place in our garden. But we were proud of it. After all, lemon trees are hardly native to England.
            The lemon had to be dealt with in some way in case it rotted and fell to the ground. And it had to be given the very best of usage – in a sort of celebration if you will.
            I had just sharpened all the scissors in the house, so the kitchen pair, being the nearest to the lemon tree would seem to be the ideal harvesting tool. But the lemon was so well attached to its branch that the scissors were of scant use. Bending and cutting worked in the end. I now had this lovely fruit in my hand to use as best I could.
            I knew that there were some uncooked, greeny-grey prawns ready for use in the freezer. They were unfrozen.
            I grated our lemon’s peel into a frying pan, adding two pressed garlic cloves, some salt, and a good lump of butter. The prawns went on top.
            Ready to eat them, the pan was heated gently. The butter melted. The prawns were then stirred, to coat them with the garlic/lemon peel mix.
            The tails were the first bits to become pink. Then the prawns themselves followed suit. They were turned over for a few seconds. Then we ate them, with our very own lemon peel enhancing the flavour of the dish to its huge benefit.
            Now I had to deal with the bald lemon – zestless - devoid of its outer skin.
            We like to drink whisky sours. I believed that the juice from our large lemon would do for two glasses of it.
            So the lemon was cut. There were no pips in it and it was bursting with juice.
            This juice was divided between two large wineglasses. Some dissolved sugar was added, then Bourbon whiskey, and finally, lots of ice.
            We ate handsomely, and drank a whisky sour toast to our lemon tree and its first and very enjoyable lemon.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Garden Again

I hate to plague you with more aspects of my gardening. But in our very small walled garden, where I know most movements of nature in plant and bird life, I am still surprised each year.
Of course, every year is different in plant and animal life. Some items do well, others not. Even our star variety of a rose, Typhoon, was slow to get going and to flower this spring, when its cuttings in the soil below did so well that I have a new rose to give to a friend and one extra for myself. They will be dug up and find their new homes come Christmastime.
What has been astounding is our “screen” of autumn-sown broad bean plants.
            Old records of mine tell that successful crops of beans depend on the abundance, or not, of bees and bumblebees to pollinate them. This has been demonstrated once more by our October-sown crop of Aquadulce beans that grow from woven plastic “tubs” of soil.
The beans grew to some 8’in height (miraculously with no black-fly infestation), well supported by bamboos and string. When bumblebees appeared, areas of the abundant display of lovely flowers that they frequented produced beans. When there were no bumblebees – no beans. (Only one honeybee was ever seen.)
But just the display of those delightful flowers was a wonderful spring sight, and the crop of beans, when formed and harvested young - delicious.
So how will I be able to attract bumblebees early next year for better fertilisation when my neighbours, in a very restricted alleyway of gardens, do little to produce honey-providing flowers?
Well, it was not until I allowed my sage plant to flower that bees and bumblebees (in particular) discovered that our garden had something very tasty to offer them. They just loved those sage flowers.
So next year a pot of sage will hang among the broad bean flowers – in the hope that both bees and bumblebees will of benefit to us all and be happy.
The only snag will be that sage flowers come a bit later than the strong, autumn-sown broad bean flowers. So I will try and hasten the flowering of my pot of sage by setting the plant on a sunny windowsill in early spring. If Chelsea Flower Show gardeners have control over the timing of nature, why can’t I have a go as well?

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A Country Wedding

Invited well in advance, we had time to frame a gift picture from the “Ship Shapes” series and buy rail tickets to a family wedding near Christchurch in Hampshire.
            Arriving at Waterloo Station, we were surprised to have our voices drowned out by the noise from an Um-Pah band from Munich. Just why they were playing on an English station concourse was a mystery that remained unsolved. But it did make rail travel somewhat more interesting.
            A panorama of top-hatted and morning-suited men, and women in skin-tight dresses with disk hats perched on the side of their heads and shod in the highest of heels, appeared also to be on their way to a wedding. But no. We learned that they were heading for a day out at the Ascot horse races.
            After a leisurely journey picnic of foie gras and then cheese and pickle sandwiches – both downed with cold white wine and then red, we reached our harbour-side hotel. Here we were installed in a pokey room, where the window led directly, and at arm’s length, on to an unadorned, stucco-faced wall. Some action was needed.
            Moreover, The array of electric tumble-switches was so complicated that even help from a hotel receptionist failed to solve all the problems – one being scorching heat in the internal shower room cubicle and this room’s inability to extract air.
            Margreet, being Dutch, unlike the English who tend to exert stoicism and acceptance in life, arranged that we would have a far nicer room for our second night’s stay.
            We strolled around the verge of the tidal Christchurch Harbour, that was pleasantly clear of the usual kiss-me-quick seaside adornments.
            An unusual sight was to see off-shore dredgers lifting sand from the sea bed.
            A winter storm had swept a quantity of sand along the coast and away from its original and rightful position. This sand was being reclaimed, and returned to where it belonged.
            Unaware of the reasons for such an operation, it seemed, to the casual observer, to be a rather expensive way to reverse the course of nature.
            The noon wedding in our hotel was conducted by a Scotswoman who, in her address, mentioned “our country”. Presumably, now that our two countries are redefining themselves, she meant Scotland.
            There was a break before the “wedding breakfast” at three o’clock in the afternoon. And after the three course “breakfast” there was a rest gap before evening disco dancing in the hotel’s basement. This was a huge success with the children of the wedding, who had been acting and dressed for a smart occasion and could now, at last, go wild with much noise and acrobatic dancing activities.
            It was here that we wished the bride and groom well, said our farewells to family, and were able to retire and sit by our new room’s balcony/window to watch darkness fall over the harbour, and to sip wine left over from our railway picnic.
            Fading evening light, seen through the branches of an ancient cedar tree, and with gulls moving silently inland from sea water at dusk, we relaxed after a well-ordered country wedding that had a charmingly parochial Hampshire/Dorset flavour to it. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Dream Word

I’m sure that I have written on dreams and why I dismiss them immediately as being fiction and nothing of consequence. Forget them. Waking is a pleasure.
Then there is the matter of small problems becoming major ones in one’s dreams and night-time thoughts. Forget them. Waking is a relief.
My dreams often make me run things, usually way beyond my natural abilities - which is stressful. There again, forget the dream. It is a pleasure to get rid of them on waking and return to a simpler life.
But I have occasionally made a point of remembering a funny dream to tell and laugh about.
And a recent dream was interesting enough to remember. In it I was reading the headline of an obituary concerning a foreign lady (I think American) who had been living in England. It was such a simple line, and said it all so succinctly.
How could that description be bettered with more words? “Outlived by her charitable work”. How nice.
But who wrote that obituary headline? I was full of admiration for the anonymous scribe.
And yet… It was my dream.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A World of Silence

For some reason, my excellent hearing aids were beginning to screech at me (and bystanders). So off I went to my local hospital’s audio clinic where they kindly diagnose and rectify trouble.
            I was told that an excess of ear wax was the cause. A nurse told me to use sodium bicarbonate liquid ear drops for five evenings, then a monthly regime of olive oil. I was pleased.
            After a day or two a hint of deafness appeared. On the fourth day I woke in the morning to find that I was almost totally deaf. I had suddenly entered a completely different world, one lacking an essential and vital sense.
            I walked silently to do my normal morning ablutions, realising, as I conducted them, that I was much reliant on sounds in the normal course of events. Was my electric shaver on or off? Did the lavatory actually flush? Were any taps still running that might flood the place? Sound is needed in such matters.
I made breakfast. Had the kettle boiled? Had the toaster worked? Did the key unlock the back door? Had I locked it again?
If Margreet shouted into an ear I might just understand a bit of what was being said – to some mutual amusement. But I could speak normally. Conversation was one-sided.
I chose to walk to the audio department once more, taking the river path where dogs didn’t bark, bicycle bells not work, seagulls flew silently and aeroplanes throttling back to land at Heathrow might well have been engineless gliders.
When I reached the very busy rush-hour roadway, cars and lorries passed by silently, as if all had at last been converted to electric or hydrogen power (this really would be progress). To cross the road was rather frightening without the guidance of sound. I had to look both ways several times.
Back again at the hospital’s audio department, with sign language and pen and paper, the verdict was that I had a conglomeration – or something – of wax that should be extracted as soon as possible. But, as a specialist member staff was unavailable to operate their microsuction machine, I was to take two busses to a walk-in clinic some distance away.
            Without sound communication I was given a map on which the bus numbers were written. So off I went, only to be asked the way, when I, myself, was rather lost in a soundless world.
            Near to my destination at last, but unable to see the walk-in clinic, I showed my rather indistinct map to a passer by who was a foreigner (I felt like one, too). But then a young lady came to my aid, and although I could not understand her instructions, her pointing out directions was enough.
            At the clinic, the nurse and I could see the funny side of the situation, but their de-waxing facility was not to be used on patients like me who took warfarin.
            So, unheard by me, she made an appointment with those at my original audio clinic for a “micro” de–waxing in a few days. No time of the day had been fixed. That information would come by telephone to my home. But as I would be unable to answer it or even be able to listen to the message, was there anyone who could take the call? Margreet could, and did.
            One ear did suddenly come partially to life a day later and we could converse. But this did not last for long.
            I write this on a silent keyboard.
            Having to cope with deafness permanently must be dreadful. Sound, which we take for granted when combined with our other senses in the normal way, would, if deprived of it, diminish one’s enjoyment of life considerably – and other people’s, too.
            Now that I have experienced deafness first hand and in coping with it – even momentarily – has been an enlightening experience. And in doing so, it has been a fascinating challenge – and sometimes a most amusing one. Those of us with this faculty intact should be very grateful for it.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Garden update, Spring 2015

The more that I see it happen, the more I am convinced that two varieties of the same plant in the same pot doesn’t work. The stronger will dominate to such an extent that it will probably kill the other.
            Three times have I planted asparagus in the same pot (forgetting the name of the previous kinds) and each time I have expected spears of the previous variety to re-appear. But no. Even my new lot of seeds have taken and sprung up, but of the old varieties there has been not a sign.
            This state of affairs has happened with other plants, like lilies and shrubs. I should really know better by now and give each variety of plant its own pot to prevent this under-soil battle taking place.
            Our main success so far this spring has been our autumn-planted broad beans. Actually I planted four kinds in each container to see which turned out to be the strongest. It was Aquadulce. Their leaves drooped after each frost but recovered quickly. They have grown to nearly 6’feet (no blackfly), producing lovely columns of black-eyed white flowers (they are tied to bamboos). Bumblebees have done their bit in pollinating the flowers to produce lots of lovely little beans - so far.
            Our fourth sprouting of mistletoe appeared from the bark of our single, potted apple tree – four years after I “planted” the seed.
            A lemon tree (well, a small one in a pot and re-potted) sustains two lemons with more to come. As it is making some vigorous new growth, it must be happy – though it does look rather out of place in an English town garden.
            Not all saved runner bean seeds have taken. But they were planted in pots of rather freshly made compost, which may have been a bit too strong for them.
            A lovely fern appeared from the soil of a hydrangea pot, and has taken upon itself to cover and hide our two fruit tree pots. How did it get there? How did it know that I wanted that cover?
            Making compost each year naturally increases the volume of soil in a small and mostly paved garden. So from a nearby demolition site I managed acquire a stretch of Victorian coping bricks, and with them made a low wall to accommodate a deep bed of soil for used soil to be invigorated with compost and re-cycled thereafter.
            With a small section of cast iron Victorian water main, acquired when the cast iron pipe in our road was replaced by a plastic one, I now have two local 19th century items in the garden.
            I sing the praises of a rose called Typhoon, which is extremely difficult to find, for some strange reason.
            As it was much admired by a nearby resident, I put a couple cuttings of it in the ground two years ago. They took and grew. During the winter they retained their leaves when all others fell. In the late autumn I will be able to give this local lady one of the roses. The other I will pot-up and keep for myself.
            We will both be lucky with these roses as the variety is vigorous, disease-free and flowers (show-bench quality tight red buds becoming orange and rather blowsy as the summer progresses) the summer long. And it is scented, too. To me it is the best rose ever, and because I have grown these two examples of it from cuttings, there will no suckers to cut away.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Disappearing restaurants

Why do some of our favourite restaurants just close up and disappear?
            An excellent Turkish-kind of place nearby, where the food ordered arrived with several other dishes that were not ordered or charged for, became one of our favourites – phut - gone. It was replaced by a fish and chip shop where we ordered and then had to wait three quarters of an hour for our meal to arrive.
            A small Chinese place, run by a charming couple who would bring a live crab to your table for you to touch before it arrived cooked (was it the same crab?) lasted a while – phut – gone.
            A pub in the district where the manager’s girl friend made stupendous pizzas and served them with a free bottle of wine on Tuesday evenings, seemed to be a winner as the place was very popular. But not so – phut – gone.
            A Portuguese place, run by a family, who threw in an unusual bottle of wine if you ordered two main courses on certain occasions, lasted a while – phut – gone.
A tube trip away was another Portuguese place where the food was not only excellent but very reasonable in price. Their above average “house” wine was so cheap (by restaurant standards) that people flocked there. This “wine-without-greed” policy was a brilliant move by the owner who, sadly, retired – phut – gone. An Indian took over the premises.
An oriental restaurant owner where the dishes were cooked in full view and the white wine as high a quality as the food, clearly had difficulty in keeping his always charming staff. Perhaps the owner was a bit too attentive – phut – gone.
Nearby to where we live was a place that could easily have been a hotbed of Middle Eastern radicalism. Their food was cooked over charcoal in the middle of the room. The staff would stop all restaurant activity at prayers time. Then we might find ourselves sitting in smoke, coughing and with streaming eyes. We were often the only customers. It was a fun place and an experience. The food there was delicious. – phut (cough) - gone.
Perhaps these places were just too good value and their income could not cover the cost of staff, and ever-increasing rents and rates. Perhaps there are just too many restaurants in our district to justify the existence of so many. Are people eating out less? Or where they not run professionally enough? One way or another, we really miss them.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Food and drink meanderings

We like to celebrate (almost anything) with Champagne cocktails.
            We do not use the cheap Champagne that we lay down for a few years to  mature, but almost any other sparkling wine that seems at the time to be good value. In a large wineglass goes a slug of Cognac, a shake or two of Angostura bitters, some ice and the sparkling wine. Some sparklers might call for a bit of sweetening. Varying quantities makes for added pleasure. A much cheaper, summer long drink edition can be made with cider as the sparkling bit, ordinary brandy, and then the Angostura bitters and ice – but its not nearly as good.
            I had never thought that uncooked sweet corn, cut from the cob and added to beef stew, would be a delicious addition. But it is. Other stews benefit from this addition when sweet corn is in season.
            Any leftover mashed potato, that I usually fry with an egg for breakfast, is wonderful if turned into croquettes. Just add the yolk of an egg, stir, form balls or disks, coat with crisp breadcrumbs and cook on a hot, oiled surface.
            But before I even think of making croquettes, I now use cold, or warm mashed potato to surround scallop shells – like a wall. It’s quite a job to do, and time-consuming. But it is worth it when you fill the centre with chopped-up scallops with their coral, and over the scallop meat pour a white sauce to which you have added Dijon mustard, some anchovy essence (optional), a bit of a fish or chicken stock cube, and possibly grated cheese. I sprinkle a little paprika over the top. These delicious, filled shells can be frozen individually and then bagged up in the freezer for future use. Just unfreeze them (keeping them separate and upright as you do so), heat them through in the oven for 5-10 minutes and finally put them under the grill so that the sauce bubbles. I have done the same with dressed crab, but the crab flavour gets a bit lost.
            Another recent recipe (one that I have revived from years ago) involves belly pork. Bone and skin belly pork and cut it into thin slivers (well, as thin as you can manage, unless you can get the butcher to do it for you). Make a marinade of tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and chilli-con-carne powder. Add some pepper and salt and mix it up with the fingers. Add the pork slices and coat them well. This dish of marinated pork can now lie happily in the refrigerator until wanted (turning it over every so often). When its time comes to be eaten, allow the meat to reach room temperature and grill till crisp. Scrumptious, however served.
            Runner beans, purposefully left on the vine to become long and stringy, can be autumn harvested and then kept in a thin layer on a rack indoors. When the skins are dry and crisp, pod them. Allow the podded beans to dry further in a bowl on a window sill. When wanted to eat in the fingers (or with sticks or fork) with winter drinks, boil newly-harvested beans for 15 minutes in a pressure cooker, or dried beans for 30 minutes, drain them, and to them add some pressed garlic, olive oil and salt. Stir and serve. They are astoundingly good, and unlike other beans.
            Lamb chops marinated in mint sauce grill well and are tasty.
            Sliced tomatoes and ripe figs in a vinaigrette make a good combination for a first course, as does sliced cucumber with sliced avocado – again with a vinaigrette.
            To use oven space when it is being used for a main dish, put into an oven-proof dish chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers, garlic, capers, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. When cooked through, this dish can be eaten hot or cold.
            Also in spare oven space, and in an oven-proof dish, put sliced large tomatoes, or halved small ones with olive oil, vinegar, plenty of pressed garlic, pepper and salt with a coating of breadcrumbs. This vegetable dish can also be eaten hot or cold, but it does need cooking until the tomatoes are soft and shrivelled beneath their crisp topping. The dish will probably need to be taken out of the oven before the main dish is cooked.
            Both of the above dishes can have oil added and be re-heated under the grill.
            Another variation of this theme is to scoop out some flesh from a halved aubergine. Into this boat-shape put a mixture of your choice, making sure that onion (or shallots), garlic, and plenty of olive oil, go in with chopped tomato, pepper and salt. Think of adding flavours, like oregano, coriander, mint, capers, chopped gherkin and so on. Over-cook rather than under-cook.
            The above are small items that I have wanted to write about but have been too busy painting.

Friday, February 06, 2015

A Restaurant Lunch

There is a restaurant on a bus route or Underground that runs from us to where we sometimes go to celebrate. It is not an ordinary place, but a special, treat one.
            This time, with no special reason, we decided to eat there.
            It is a restaurant with no menu, where the food is provided by the chefs direct and just cooked from kitchen to table.
            The “front of house” lady is jolly, and speaks with a charming foreign accent. Lunch starts at one o’clock.
            We combine our visit to buy coffee in a nearby shop that smells strongly of its product. We buy a quantity, and have it ground finely for immediate use and for freezing for the future.
            With the usual hugs and kisses we were greeted at the restaurant.
            Sitting near to us was a couple of distinguished gentlemen of artistic demeanour.
            Being known, so without even ordering, a bottle of excellent Puglia Primitivo red wine was placed on our table. But we wanted to start with a glass of white, which was then poured for us – when I made a grave mistake.
            During and ever since I wrote extensively on wine, I carry a corkscrew in my pocket. This I used on the proffered bottle of red to surprise and amuse the bubbly lady host. The patron/owner appeared at that very moment and scolded her for not having opened the bottle at the time she poured the white wine. I apologised for my poor behaviour.
            We had probably only consumed the first two courses when a jolly crowd of six men appeared with full intent to also enjoy a gourmet lunch.
            The two distinguished men nearby asked us to slow down our consumption as they, like us, knew that there was lots to come and didn’t want to be rushed. We concurred – with words of friendship.
            So, with much pleasure in the enjoyment of good wine and food, we made friendly contact with the six closely related men, whose profession was to advise on climate control in offices.
            The meal proceeded – two, three, four, five, six courses. Then seven, eight …
            By this time we had become firm friends with the six, who were laughing, hugging each other, animated in gestures and in high, manly spirits. At one time they sang in unison as do football followers, but without alcoholic inducement, being just happy fellows on the spree.
            We had taken flyers of my 17 pictures in Guildhall Art Gallery’s exhibition of artists’ depictions of London’s Tower Bridge since its inception in 1894.We gave one of these to a neighbour of the six.
            The meal continued – nine, ten, eleven courses and onward toward the final one (no.15) of profiteroles.
            No course had been too much, all fascinating in their way – none that one would cook at home.
It came to coffee, when Sambucca was offered as an addition. Then, would we like a liqueur? We chose Limoncello.
As we rose to leave we engaged in conversation with the distinguished gentlemen, who turned out to be retired professors of chemistry and science – with one of them having once experienced a major “eureka” moment in his career.
With more hugs and kisses all round we left – full to the gills, to rather stagger toward our bus stop for home – and a digesting “feet up” as befits those of our increasing age.
Do lunches like this happen elsewhere, we wondered?