Behold! a giant am I!
Aloft here in my tower,
With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
And grind them into flour.
And while we wrestle and strive,
My master, the miller, stands
And feeds me with his hands;
For he knows who makes him thrive,
Who makes him lord of lands.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (abbreviated)
For all their seeming impracticability in today’s landscape there is something wonderful about an old windmill. The gentle revolution of the sails slowly turning the massive millstones, the runner-stone on top of the bedstone, sails, belts and cogs working together to produce finely milled flour.
Lined with a soft patina of flour Whissendine mill produces only organic flour, wheat and spelt. The miller, Nigel Moon, mills slowly in the traditional way. The grains need to be kept cool when milled and speed produces friction which produces heat. Too much heat and vital nutrients are lost. Modern mills with their steel rollers are efficient only in that they are fast. Stone milled flour has been found to be higher in thiamin than steel rolled flour.
Spelt (Triticum Spelta) is an ancient grain with recorded use dating back approximately 5000 years BC. Related to wheat it is however much lower in gluten and many people who have difficulty with wheat bread and pasta find that spelt does not cause the same reaction. It is an original grain, unmodified and disease resistant. Spelt contains more protein, fats and crude fibre than wheat and its high water solubility mean vital substances are quickly absorbed by the body. It is however lower yielding than wheat flour which caused a decline in commercial popularity. In 1850 in Germany in 94% of cereal acreage was spelt compared to 5% wheat.
Nigel has been a miller all his life and has rebuilt Whissendine windmill from the 1980′s onwards. Built originally in 1809, there is always something to renovate or repair. This seemingly bucolic way of life is a labour of love, not just for milling grain but for the windmill itself.
The light inside the mill is wonderful. With three windows on each floor and soft white walls the interior has a natural sepia tone throughout. The raw images were converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro accentuating softness and subtlety and producing timeless still life images that could have been taken 100 years ago.
I knew I wouldn’t be able to change lenses once inside so used only my Tamron 24-70 f2.8. Just as well – my camera needed a really good dusting off once outside and reassuring that manufacturers stress the weather and dust sealing of their cameras – in this case Nikon D800.
But the proof of the pudding (in this case the bread) is in the recipe. Less finely milled than mass produced spelt flour, Nigel’s flour produces a deliciously nutty loaf with a wonderful crumb and texture.
Spelt Date & Walnut Soda Bread
- 450g spelt flour
- 20g honey
- 7g fine sea salt
- 8g bicarbonate of soda
- 5g cream of tartar
- 350g buttermilk
- 60g chopped walnuts
- 60g chopped dates
- pre-heat the oven to 200°C
- sift the flour into a bowl with the honey, salt, soda, cream of tartar, dates & walnuts
- make a well in the centre
- pour in the buttermilk, mixing with one hand and working from the side of the bowl inwards, turning the bowl the opposite way
- the dough should be soft, but not too wet and sticky
- as soon as it holds, turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly into a bowl and place on a lightly floured baking sheet
- cut a deep cross into the top of the loaf all the way to the bottom
- bake in the middle of the oven for 40 minutes
- the bread should sound hollow when tapped on the base
I have a problem with vanishing apps, one minute they’re there, the next they’re not. Sometimes they just go walkabout – migrating to a different screen, or else they just vanish altogether into what I assume to be the app equivalent of a black hole. Years ago it was biro’s which vanished seemingly off the face of the planet, in the 21st century it’s apps.
I’d had enough and decided to use a screen lock. With a choice of three – pin number, draw a pattern on the screen or face recognition I foolishly opted for the latter. It seemed simple enough, just lift the phone up and let the camera recognise my face. It worked during the daytime but I’m in the habit of picking my phone up when I wake in the morning. Apparently I don’t look the same! To be fair I agree with my phone, it’s not a good look and I barely recognised myself either…drawing a pattern works in a nicely non-judgemental way and doesn’t leave me feeling depressed before I’ve even got out of bed in the morning.
If this is a downside of technology, I was reminded of the upside a couple of weeks ago when my grandson came to stay. I took him fishing – his first time – and bought him his own rod to get him started. My dad used to fish with cane rods, my first rod was a basic glass fibre job with a reel which kept me occupied more with untangling line than catching fish. M started with a carbon fibre carp whip. Incredibly light, sections just slide out and no reel. Very sensitive and perfect for catching crucian carp – which the little tinker did, by the bucketload; 50 to be precise. Not bad for a soon to be 7 year old. I’m hoping I’ve got him hooked and he will get the same mix of peace and excitement fishing has given me over the years.
When we had finished fishing we made catapults…
After he’d gone and still feeling nostalgic in a late summer kind of way Karen and I went plum and blackberry foraging to make jam. It looks like it’s going to be another good year. I’m truly indebted to Erica at North West Edible Life for tips and advice on making low sugar, pectin free jam. Last years jams were too sweet, this years are more in line with the Bonne Mamman softly set and slightly tart jams. Erica makes some great suggestions for spicing up jams too – no recipes here this time, she explains it so well there is really no point. Go blackberry picking (and anything else you can lay your hands on) and head over to her blog for spot on jamming info.
The clematis montana had finally revealed its true identity and announced its plans to take over the garden. However a swift rear-guard action with pruning saw and secateurs saw the upstart subjugated. Luckily for the clematis it is one of my favourite plants and will live to fight another day – this time heading west along the fence and over the arbour at the bottom of the garden. In fact new shoots are already breaking from old wood, this is one tough cookie of a plant. The later flowering clematis are putting on a good show; I don’t know the name of this ‘alpina’ type clematis but it’s very pretty and lightly scented too.
The demise of the clematis however has freed up 12 feet of fence between the clematis heading west and the hydrangea petiolaris and honeysuckle heading east. Which gives me an opportunity to correct a serious omission in the garden – roses; in particular scented and fragrant climbers and ramblers.
One of the very best climbers is the diminutive flowered Blush Noisette. This soft pink flower, about the size of a 50p piece packs a serious punch in the fragrance stakes! I knew I wanted this particular rose and a visit to Peter Beales stand at the Hampton Court flower show saw the job done.
Honestly I thought that was all I had room for but Blush Noisette is not such a big rose and the David Austin stand was next to Peter Beales…
Wollerton Old Hall is an outstanding climbing rose with lovely soft peony type heads in soft apricot. Repeat flowering (like the Blush Noisette) this is a ‘musk’ rose with a strong scent of myrrh.
I could just write about flowers but suddenly thought of a neat segue into food – rosewater. Some years ago we used to make Turkish Delight to add to our selection of hand-made petit fours and I always loved the softness of this recipe compared to, well the real thing if you like which tends to be firmer and have a bit of a ‘chew’ to it.
Turkish Delight appears to date back between 250 – 500 years depending on the source and like so much food history much of the information may be apocryphal. What is consistent across stories though is that the name Turkish Delight was coined by an 18th century English traveller. The correct name is rahat lokum and the etymology suggests locum is a corruption of a Turanian word meaning morsel, and rahat is a Turkish word meaning peace or contentment. A morsel of contentment then!
A confectioner named Haci (pronounced Hadji) Bekir is credited with creating rahat locum in 1777 and it is still a family business today, albeit now several shops and a factory. There is a depiction of Haci Bekir making Turkish Delight painted by Preziosi which hangs in the Louvre. The recipe has changed over the years – early versions were made with grape molasses and flour. It’s probably fair to say its popularity grew after winning a silver medal at the Vienna Fair in 1873.
Haci Bekir weighing out candy (often assumed to be Turkish Delight), painted by Vittorio Amadeo, 5th Count Preziosi (1816-1882.)
- 14g leaf gelatine soaked in cold water until soft
- 114g water
- 272g sugar
- 34g cornflour
- 100g rosewater
- 10g glycerine
- a few drops of red food colour
- cornflour and icing sugar in equal quantities to keep the cut Turkish Delight in
- heat the water and sugar to boiling point
- add the gelatine, stirring to dissolve
- add the glycerine and food colour - carefully - 3 to 4 drops should give a pretty pale pink colour
- mix the cornflour with the rosewater and add, whisking
- turn the heat down and simmer gently for 10 minutes
- skim any scum off the surface
- pour into a lightly oiled tray and leave to set overnight
- cover with cling film, but DO NOT let the cling film touch the surface - it sticks!
- the next day turn out onto a cornflour dusted board and cut into cubes
- keep in a generous amount of cornflour / icing sugar in an air-tight container, in a cool place
- will keep for several weeks but will gradually harden as it dries out - still good, but better fresh!
- although the tray is oiled you will still need to 'help' the Turkish Delight out of the tray, it won't just slide out - this is normal.
- dipping your knife in cornflour helps prevent sticking when cutting.
- makes 24 2cm sq pieces.
When I want to create a recipe for Taste and Light I begin at the shops. I’m looking for ingredients that cry out ‘take me home and cook me!’
Which is why I came home empty-handed from our local, global (if that isn’t oxymoronic) retailer yesterday. From the feeble ‘market stall’ with the name of ‘my’ local greengrocer (aka store assistant) to the asparagus from Peru and spring onions from Mexico inspiration was replaced with frustrated emptiness. What a soulless way to shop.
What is going on in the UK? I accept that there are many ingredients that can’t be grown in the UK but spring onions and asparagus? In July? Food miles was obviously yesterdays buzz-word.
So I didn’t cook that day and instead waited for the Saturday market in Oakham. With a proper greengrocer and a proper fishmonger. The Cornish mackerel looked far to good to ignore and they are always such good value.
That bit sorted I moved next door to the greengrocer stall. Corn on the cob still in its natural packaging – just right for grilling whole. The tender kernels protected by the papery leaves and the char-grilling imparting a smoky loveliness that is perfect in a salsa – summery and simple. Try doing that with neatly trimmed and cleaned sweetcorn in a plastic tray from the supermarket!
A few tomatoes still on the vine and a cracking bunch of spring onions. The parsley was an afterthought simply because it was such a fresh bunch I couldn’t resist. How much would I like? Oh, about that much please. The bunch divided my portion was put into a brown paper bag. Now that is a greengrocer!
Putting up a sign in a supermarket does not make a greengrocer, what cynicism.
I do love salsas – I had a simple tomato and fresh basil one on toasted sour dough for lunch, so simple and so perfect. This corn salsa has a few more ingredients and a touch of chilli and plenty of fresh coriander – perfect with mackerel. This salsa is low in oil too, to allow for the oiliness of the mackerel which is cooked dry, in a non-stick pan. Apart from cooking the corn (which pretty much looks after itself) it is a really quick and simple recipe.
Cornish Mackerel with Char-Grilled Corn Salsa
- 4 fresh mackerel butterflied or fillets, all bones removed
- Salsa - serves 4
- 1 fresh corn on the cob
- 1 medium tomato skinned (blanch in boiling water), deseeded and diced (concasse)
- 1 spring onion finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped coriander (cilantro)
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1 small red chilli finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt to taste
- simply place the unwrapped corn on the griddle and cook gently, turning frequently for 1 hour (see photograph)
- Allow to cool, unfold the leaves and discard
- slice the kernels into a mixing bowl and add the rest of the ingredients
- leave to sit for 30 minutes before serving
- heat a non-stick frying pan
- season the fish on the flesh side only and place in the pan skin side down
- use a spatula to gently press the fish flat in the pan to give an even golden colour
- cook for a few minutes and then carefully turn over and cook the other side
- serve immediately with the salsa on the side
- Mackerel is an oily fish - using a non-stick pan allows the fish to cook in its own oils
Soft shell crab
is one of those wonderful treats available fresh briefly each year when the animal sheds its old exoskeleton and is for a short while particularly vulnerable whilst waiting for the new shell to harden. At this stage it is possible – and delicious – to eat the whole crab, legs, claws the lot without the need to crack the shell.
A visit to Mitch Tonks’ second (and less expensive) eatery, Rockfish, in Dartmouth last week had them on the menu crisply fried (the only way to cook them) in a soft brioche bun with sweet chilli sauce, coriander and mayo – boy was it good!
They also had cockles from Leigh-on-Sea on the menu, which is where I was born. It’s great to see a childhood memory claim its place on modern menus – the Olive Branch have them too.
I have happy memories of dad taking my sisters and me down to the cockle sheds on a Sunday morning for a dish of cockles seasoned with ground white pepper and malt vinegar which we ate sitting on the sea wall. It’s probably the taste of the vinegar and the grains of sand that seemed to be ever present I remember most – this was Essex food at its most basic and I still love cockles!
Burgh Island from Bantham beach
It’s funny how the simplest of meals can provoke such fond memories. In the case of the cockles it was dad, my sisters and the smell of seaweed. Another time it was eating a simple meal of viande des grisons for the first time in Switzerland – sitting at a cafe overlooking the ski slopes on a sunny over-saturated day. We had cooked dinner the night before for Prinz von Hohenlohe at the Dracula Club in St Moritz and were on our way back to London. Whenever I’m asked if I have a favourite meal this moment is always near the top – interestingly above a visit to elBulli many years later.
This preamble is in fact an excuse to show some holiday photographs – how else can you get them seen? I fully except that holiday snaps are only really of interest to the person who took them! There is however a recipe for soft shell crab at the end…
The south Devon coast is extremely beautiful and photogenic with the towns of Dartmouth and Salcombe particularly so. The lanes in the South Hams district are something else. Single track with passing places most of them are ancient and very deep. The dry stone wall and earth sides vary between 6 – 10 feet in height and are vertical gardens of bracken dotted with foxglove, vetch, campion and many other beautiful wild flowers. Which is just as well as driving through them provides only the briefest of glimpses of the surrounding countryside.
Kingswear from Dartmouth
The town of Dartmouth faces Kingsear across the River Dart and glows in the evening sunlight. The beach at Bantham offers fine views across to Burgh Island and the art deco hotel – reached at high tide by sea tractor.
Two of my favourite shots though are the scruffy dinghy with the crushed can of McEwens lager and packet of cigarettes in the bottom and the boat builders workshop. The later looks as if it has not changed in decades whilst the dinghy provides a wry contrast with the expensive cruisers and yachts dotting the harbour.
The recipe is very easy – there is no preparation for the crabs at all. If not available fresh there are several fish companies that provide a mail order service. Brioche is easy to make but the dough should be made the day before. They can be made even further ahead of course and frozen. Little blini pans are a good size and shape to use – we’re looking for a burger shape rather than the traditional fluted side brioche with top knot.
Tempura batter is quick and easy to make – the icy water gives a crisp batter. If using tap water try adding a few ice cubes as part of the water weight. By the time you are ready to cook they will have melted and kept the batter nice and cold. The mayo recipe is here - just swap the watercress for spring onions.
Soft shell crab brioche burger with sweet chilli sauce
- 4 soft shell crabs (serves 4 as a light meal - ideal with a few chips on the side)
- Brioche (make dough the day before): makes 4 small buns
- 2g dried yeast
- 12g water
- 125g strong (bread) flour
- 3g sea salt
- 19g castor sugar
- 1 egg
- 75g unsalted softened butter
- Spring onion mayonnaise - see previous post and substitute the watercress for 45g finely sliced spring onion
- 150g water
- 80g granulated sugar
- 25g finely chopped red chilli (more or less depending on taste, chilli variety and personal preference)
- 6g finely chopped fresh ginger
- 5g tamari soy sauce
- 2g sea salt
- 20g fresh lime juice
- 10g cornflour dissolved in 30g cold water
- 1 egg white light whisked to 'soft peak'
- 50g plain flour
- 25g cornflour
- pinch salt
- 100g very cold water
- Oil for deep frying
- lettuce leaves
- fresh coriander
- fresh lime wedges
- cream the yeast, water and 5g of flour. Leave in a warm place for 30 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling and clearly active
- Using a food mixer with the paddle or 'K' beater combine the yeast starter, the rest of the flour, salt, sugar and egg
- Beat for 5 - 10 minutes until elastic
- Add the butter and beat again until the dough is smooth, elastic and shiny
- Place in a sealed container and refrigerate overnight
- The following day divide the dough into four rounds and place in lightly oiled pans or tins
- Leave to prove in a warm place until double in size (3 - 4 hours)
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C
- Brush the brioche with a little beaten egg yolk and milk and bake for 20 minutes
- combine all the ingredients except the cornflour / water mix, bring slowly to the boil whilst stirring and cook gently for 20 minutes
- Remove from the heat and quickly stir in the cornflour / water mix (make sure the cornflour has not settled out on the bottom)
- Return to the heat and simmer for 5 minutes
- Stored in a sterilised jam jar this will keep for weeks in the fridge and can be used as a dipping sauce for prawns or a stir fry)
- sift the two flours into the egg white and add the salt and water
- mix lightly - lumps of flour are fine, don't knock the air out of the egg white
- Rest for 10 minutes before using
- heat the frying oil - it is hot enough when a piece of bread dropped in bobs back to the surface immediately
- Dry the crabs on kitchen paper and dip into the batter
- Place carefully into the hot oil and cook for 5 minutes until golden and crisp
- Drain on fresh kitchen paper and season with sea salt
- Slice the brioche buns in half and layer with lettuce, mayo, coriander and sweet chilli sauce
- Place a crab on top, put the lid on and serve with a chunk of fresh lime skewered through the bun to hold everything together
- This recipe would also work well with fish fingers, crispy prawns and squid
was constructed in the early 1970′s – by damming and then flooding 6 – 7 square kilometres of the Gwash valley. Built to provide drinking water to the cities of Peterborough and Leicester, two hamlets, Middle Hambleton and Nether Hambleton were removed prior to flooding. Upper Hambleton – now just Hambleton remains atop the peninsula that divides the north and south arms of the water. The reservoir covers an area in excess of 3000 acres and is the largest single body of water in England by surface area – Kielder Water in the Lake District is deeper and has a greater volume of water.
Having lived in the area for just 15 years, I’ve never known Rutland any other way, but talking to one of my neighbours a few years ago who used to farm in the valley, it became clear that the construction caused a lot of concern, unhappiness and displacement. Rutland itself covers an area of 380 sq kilometres and is England’s smallest county whose motto multum in parvo or ‘much in little’ exemplifies this beautiful part of the east midlands.
was very nearly lost to the water too, but was saved following public appeal. At least the top part was. The lower part was reinforced to protect against the water and the top part is now a museum telling the story of Rutland Water.
Photograph by John Wright – LRWT
One end is a nature reserve run by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust in conjunction with Anglian Water and is a haven for birds and bird watchers. The highlight of each year is when the ospreys return to breed from their wintering grounds in Africa. Re-introduced about 10 years ago if you are lucky (and patient) you may catch sight of one of these beautiful birds of prey diving and plucking a fish from just below the surface of the water. A reversible back toe enables the bird to manoeuvre the fish in its talons so it can be carried ‘torpedo’ fashion lessening wind resistance.
The two sailing clubs, one each on the south and north shores take up the middle to the dam sections of the water with a mix of dinghies, day cruisers and windsurfers – I sailed here too for many years with quite a few capsizes!
The 26 mile cycle track that surrounds the water is especially popular in summer, at times it can almost get too busy and we prefer to cycle the lanes in Rutland instead passing through pretty villages along the way.
The 4th major activity at Rutland Water is fly fishing – the reservoir is home to both brown and rainbow trout which grow to a decent size (the one in the photograph weighed 7lb) and they can be bought either from the anglers or from the fish stall at Oakham market on a Saturday.
Which brings me (eventually!) back to food. Walking along the north shore in February trying to catch some late afternoon light and play around with a panning technique I thought I’d cook and write up a trout recipe, forgetting the season was closed and I would need to wait a couple of months, which then became four…
When I eventually got my trout there were so many other good things in season to go with it, starting with Tallington asparagus. Grown 15 miles away it is sold in the Lord Nelson in Oakham. A bit random perhaps…I’ll have a pint of best, a packet of crisps, oh and a bunch of asparagus too! Tesco were selling asparagus from Peru – nice one Tesco!
English watercress is also at its best now and the market sells proper bunches not supermarket packets of stalks with a few leaves, a pet hate. I do wish they would sell watercress properly – by the bunch.
too are in season now and the air is heady with their sweet fragrance. I used last years elderflower vinegar in my dressing and scattered the flowers over the salad along with some chive flowers. I love using edible flowers, they give such a summery freshness to food.
The trout I bought was not quite as big as the 7lb beauty above but it was a very respectable 3½ lb brown trout and I wanted to keep it simple and summery.
Wafer thin radishes, shaved fennel, cucumber and local asparagus dressed with elderflower dressing and a trout caught just a few miles away served with fresh watercress mayonnaise – summer on a plate.
Poached Brown Trout with Watercress Mayonnaise
- asparagus, blanched
- shaved fennel
- thinly sliced radishes
- thinly sliced shallots
- 50g elderflower or rice wine vinegar
- 50g olive oil
- 1g sea salt
- 10g sugar
- 1 large egg yolk (16g)
- 10g Dijon mustard
- 10g fresh lemon juice
- 150g sunflower oil
- 2g sugar
- 30g finely chopped watercress
- sea salt and freshly milled pepper to taste
- Make both dressings and prepare the salad before poaching the fish.
- do not scale the trout and leave the skin on the fillets (this keeps the trout moist and leaving the scales makes it easier to remove the skin when cooked)
- heat a pan of water to 60°C, add a splash of lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt
- add the fish and cook for 10 minutes maintaining 60°C
- remove the fish carefully and leave to cool - peel the skin just before serving and sprinkle with Maldon sea salt flakes
- combine all the ingredients in a clean screw top jam jar and shake well - dress the salad just before serving
- combine the egg yolk, mustard, lemon juice and sugar
- add the oil gradually in a steady stream whisking quickly to create a thick emulsion (it is the lecithin in the egg yolk that does this)
- stir in the chopped watercress and season to taste - serve with the trout
- salmon can be used in place of trout - cook for 20 minutes instead of 10
calls for many additional skills within food photography! A recent commission for Kaleidoscope Publishing involved photographing clear packaging against a black background whilst maintaining the profile and detail in the packaging without distracting reflections and artifacts. The logical step would be to use cutting paths in photoshop, but with care it can be done without this extra process.
The primary reason for my involvement was to present food in the packaging that looked great but kept the focus on the packaging. Easier said than done as my natural inclination is always to put the food first! Attention to detail is paramount – every prawn in the correct position, the ham curled just right! I’d also lie to point out that all the food was completely edible – no tricks for the camera, that’s not what I do – or want to do. We ate very well over the three days!
The brochure, which is nearing completion, is for Sealed Air – part of the Cryovac brand and a global producer of packaging solutions for over 50 years, so I was truly delighted to be offered the project.
The images shown were actually three days work in my studio, with the client. This could be quite intense but I was fortunate to have in Chris, the most delightful customer and a real pleasure to work with, happy to help with anything including the washing up – no pot washers employed at Studio Stewart!
The slimmest image is the correct size for the catalogue and the negative space to the right of the images is to allow room for the individual, and empty, packaging shots with catalogue reference numbers etc. The page will open in thirds revealing images in an eye-catching way that is designed to reflect the quality of Sealed Air products.
Something I’m quite pleased with is my new flash drive USB cards to supply clients with their images. These credit card size 4GB drives look so neat I used the opportunity to turn them into business cards as well! Isn’t technology amazing? My first computer had a 120 MB hard drive…The TIFF files for the Sealed Air images are over 200MB each!
I appear to be ‘all cooked out’ at the moment. Perhaps teaching cookery three days a week is taking its toll. It will be the end of the college term 19th June and I am hoping to get my mojo back over the summer. Last month was a good month for photography assignments too – more food, all of which had me yearning to photograph something different for a change.
I love the countryside in the spring – there is so much to look forward to. Starting with snowdrops in February, daffodils in march, blackthorn blossom followed by hawthorn – or ‘Foam of May’ / ‘Bridal Foam’ as it used to be called given that springtime was the traditional time of year to wed. Magnolia followed by lilac and then cow parsley and bluebells – the delicate beauty of English please, not the more substantial Spanish variety which look like straggly hyacinth…I choose to ignore forsythia altogether; its sickly yellow is far too harsh for soft spring light.
I can day-dream in the countryside too, something I’m really good at – it’s official, my maths teacher once wrote on my report “Robin is in the class physically but not mentally. The most persistent day-dreamer I have ever met”. Finally, I thought – I am good at something! My parents took a slightly different view…
Karen and I were walking alongside what’s left of the Oakham to Melton Mowbray canal the other Sunday and spotted what looked like a female mallard with a different species of duck. This duck had a blue bill, golden eye and a little tuft – only noticeable in profile but definitely a tuft. Now I would call that a ‘blue billed duck’ given that that is the most noticeable feature but apparently it’s a ‘tufted duck’.
All of which gave rise to another train of thought whilst we were having breakfast this morning. The last few Tuesday evenings Karen has been meeting up with the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (she is their membership officer) to listen to and identify bird song. Last week they were at Rutland Water where there are a lot of ducks (at this point I should say ‘stick with me – this is leading somewhere’, but to be honest it isn’t really, so if you are bored at this point, just look at the photographs instead) and many of them look very similar to each other so why don’t they cross-breed? Dogs don’t seem particularly fussy, labrador you say? yes I know I’m a border terrier, but hey, it’s spring!
Female gadwall, mallard, shoveler and pintail are all brownish birds with brownish bills so how does it work? Does the drake sidle up to the duck and whisper ‘gadwall?’ out of the side of his bill – to which she replies ‘possibly, depends who’s asking’…Anyway, the tufted duck we saw was definitely not with a female tufted duck – I’ve checked. He was with a mallard so maybe it does happen and I’ve been too busy day-dreaming to notice…
The other thing that caught my eye was the campion. I love wild flowers but they do tend to be quite small, so a macro lens is great for revealing their shy beauty. Another lens I love to use for flower photography is the 35mm Lensbaby Composer Pro although it can be a real sod to get the point of focus where you want it. The upside is lovely, soft, out of focus edges that create a slightly surreal, dreamy look.
The hosta leaves are plants we have had in pots for years. We bought them from a hosta specialist – Mickfield Hostas and the golden leaf is called ‘June Fever’ and the green one ‘One Man’s Treasure’. I forget the name of the other, they are all beautiful.
The cups in the triptych with the striped tulip were made by my daughter, Jessica. I hope she will be able to get her potter’s wheel out again one day when she has more time, she is very in demand as a yoga teacher – she has a lot of talent. Biased you say? Of course, but it’s true!
Tea pot by Jessica Stewart
The photograph of blue irises below is not mine at all, it was taken by a friend Olga Van Sanne. I think it’s a stunning abstract and wanted to share. All the other photographs are mine. (This is the first time I’ve published someone else’s photo on my blog!)
Iris by Olga Van Saane
Food Photography Story Boards
Something I find particularly interesting is how essentially disparate images can be linked together to tell a story. A recent assignment at the Olive Branch was to photograph food for an upcoming magazine article. However, in-between food shots I had the opportunity to wander around with my back-up camera and a Nikon 1.8 50mm prime lens capturing snippets of kitchen life that say as much about the Olive Branch as the food does.
The Beech House, opposite (and part of) the Olive Branch is a luxurious place to spend the night after a meal at the Olive Branch (I know from first-hand experience). As much thought goes into breakfast as any other meal, with home-made jams and marmalade as well as freshly laid eggs from the five araucana hens that Sean keeps behind the pub. The hens are significant – they epitomise the philosophy behind the pub, local ingredients as much as possible, home-grown even better supplied from the vegetable and herb beds created last year, with the greenhouse built this spring.
The relaxed nature of this country pub belies the thought and work that goes into creating memorable food and this is where I find story boards so appealing. The beautiful food on the plate is the end product and to photograph just that, is well, fine, but a series of images exploring all aspects of the process provides a narrative that puts the final product into perspective.
Cooking is essentially about people – that is why we do it in the first place – and a true chef is a craftsman. To capture the concentration on the faces and the hands doing the work is, to me, an important part of food photography.
Writing about, and photographing my own food has taken a back seat of late, I imagine that over the summer when I am not teaching cookery I will have more time to devote to this. I must say though, that I enjoy the way ‘taste and light’ changes and evolves. I have a couple of photographic projects in mind that will continue this journey. One of these projects involves a brilliant local potter who has made some plates for me. Another one would be more portraiture based with my daughter and her yoga students, but I have to persuade her first – and work out a food angle to tie in ‘taste and light’! I have no idea if this blog appeals in the same way to people who have been following me for a couple of years or not, I hope so, but it seems an honest approach that reflects how my working life has changed. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!
The Wicked Witch is rapidly rising star on the local culinary scene. Established for barely two years I have no doubt that national recognition is inevitable given the skill and creativity in the kitchen and the quality of service front of house.
Chef Dameon Clarke has great experience and talent – including spells at Cruise and Tetzuya’s in Sydney; at the time rated the fourth best restaurant in the world. Dameon has also cooked in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia before returning to Britain to work with Michel Roux Jr at Le Gavroche and Gary Rhodes in Edinburgh. Dameon is from Leicestershire, so he has returned home (well nearly) to add another superb restaurant to the East Midlands.
These guest chef fine dining experiences at New College Stamford are a fantastic opportunity for the level 3 students to work with talented and creative chefs at the top of their profession, who fortunately for us are local to the college. The level 2 students had the benefit of working front of house with the Wicked Witch General Manager Domenico D’Angelo.
The benefit to Stamford locals is clear – fantastic food in the college Gallery restaurant which has a relaxed atmosphere within a stylish room, and at a bargain price! A lot of work goes into providing these opportunities for the students – Dameon and his assistant gave up a full day and evening to work in the kitchen with the students, Domenico the evening to work front of house. Principal lecturer Phil Matthews works tirelessly to build these valuable local connections that clearly benefit the college enormously, and hopefully will benefit our local star chefs when the students graduate and begin their own career – perhaps ‘adventure’ is a better word – as the chefs of tomorrow.
Real Food Photography
With my photographer hat on, these evenings provide a great opportunity for some candid ‘hands on’ people shots as well as food photography. I find the best way is to work with two cameras, one set up as a ‘studio’ camera and the other for ‘action’ shots, that way I can deal with food shots and people shots without changing settings or lenses. Good shots come and go in the blink of an eye when working in a kitchen and preparation is key to getting the shot.
For my studio setup I use a Nikon D7000 with a Tamron 90mm macro lens. I also like using a Nikon 50mm prime but have found for this type of food I like to get in close for the detail and the Tamron macro is great at this. I use a tripod and set the ISO to 100 – with this setup time is not an issue and the low ISO gives sharper images.
For shots ‘on the go’ I use a Nikon D800 full frame body coupled with the Tamron 24-70mm image stabilized lens. With a fixed aperture of 2.8 throughout the zoom this is a fantastic lens for difficult light / action shots. The D800 handles tricky lighting superbly – I have achieved excellent results with the ISO pushed to the max, 5000! For this evening however, an ISO of 2000 and the aperture wide open at f2.8 gave me a fast enough shutter speed to capture some nice shots with minimal noise. When shooting in my studio for clients I’ll use the D800 for food shots, but if I need two cameras on the go for location shooting the cropped sensor D7000 is a fantastic choice. www.realfoodphotography.co
Wild mushroom consommé parmesan foam, parmesan sandwich, tomato marshmallow
52° salmon, parsnip root puree, salt-baked cauliflower, curry emulsion
Crispy chicken wings, borage flower, spring peas, stuffed morels, wild garlic
Loin spring lamb, crispy sweetbreads, textures of carrots
Pink grapefruit jelly, grapefruit aspume
Macerated Yorkshire rhubarb, vanilla meringue, white chocolate powder, custard jelly