I was very upset to come home to find a book has slipped and pushed Jessica’s teapot onto the floor – it’s one of my favourite pieces of hers. The handle was in four pieces. Kinsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer mixed with gold dust. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise. As a philosophy kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. “The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject”. Amen to that!
The repaired handle was embellished along the cracks with 23 carat culinary gold leaf which I just happened to have in the kitchen – as you do! Jessica and Livi used to call me ‘daddy fix-it’ – still doing it!
Photography assignments have been good over the summer, one of my favourite – which hardly feels like work – has been for chocolate manufacturer Barry-Callebaut. I have worked for them several times now and will cover their annual conference in London this month. They have ‘chocolate academies’, 16 globally, where they run training courses. Below are a few images from a couple of workshops I photographed.
I have been busy teaching too, including working with a group of Downs Syndrome adults on Monday mornings. Especially rewarding, this happy group will at some point need some basic cooking skills, if or when they leave home and move into their own accommodation the council will provide £25 a week for food. If they can’t cook they will exist on crisps and sandwiches.
I will also be teaching again at New College Stamford, Wednesday evenings 6.30 – 8.30 starting September 23rd. I haven’t put the course together yet but it will be titled ‘Cooking with local ingredients’. I would love to see some familiar faces there! I’ve missed it, recipe development rather took over from December onwards, but that is much quieter now.
It’s a snappy title isn’t it? I had to dig deep for that one and it just sounds so boring! WordPress SEO won’t like it much either. In actual fact it was one of the best assignments as a photographer I’ve had this year. Melton is dubbed the ‘Rural Capital of Food’ and the brief from the council was to capture different facets of the borough that would look appealing in a series of business guides they are compiling designed to attract new business to the region. I agreed four days to do the work although it was nearer seven in the end – I admit I’m not the best business person in the world, but I had the time at the beginning of June and it is my time so I can do what I like with it – a happy client is more important to me than charging for every minute. If I was that way inclined I’d be a lawyer or similar…
I loved the variety with this assignment for Melton Borough Council. Skateboard park, town centre tea rooms, Brooksby Melton College, walkers along the Grantham canal, elderflower infusing with organic lemons at Belvoir Fruit Farms (cordials) Close Park in the town centre and Belvoir brewery. Farming, food, recreation and business. The industrial estates were the most challenging to photograph. There is not so much that appeals and I did my best to make them look someplace a business might want to work.
Dorothea Lange photographing ‘to order’ for the US Farm Security Administration in the 1930’s believed that’ to know ahead of time what you’re looking for means you’re only photographing your own preconceptions, which is very limiting’. I wouldn’t disagree but then the challenge is to capture a preconceived image in a unique way which is what I have tried to do. Photographing in businesses was interesting too with the odd helpful person suggesting what they thought would work well in a shot. I really like to be left alone to get a feel and then photograph, but in the food businesses I had someone with me at all times which is a very different kettle of fish than having the freedom to roam.
There are 22 images below, the finished work produced 270 from about 700 photographs.
Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb was apparently repeated by radio actors to simulate crowd noise, which in my case adds weight to the adage ‘you learn something new everyday’! I love rhubarb from the first, fat buds elbowing their way through cold March soil to the pink, tart stems cooked in a crumble or roasted in the oven and eaten with Greek yogurt and meringues.
Originally from Siberia, rhubarb has been cultivated for its root from at least 2700BC, which was used to treat liver, lung and gut ailments. Marco Polo is attributed with introducing the plant to Europe in the thirteenth century for medicinal use. Rhubarb is a member of the rheum family of plants, the origins of the name are Greek, Rheon Barbaron meaning from the lands of Rha – the Greek name for the Volga river. The leaves are toxic, containing oxalic acid and should not be eaten although there is little evidence to suggest doing so may be fatal.
Rhubarb stems became a popular food in the late eighteenth century, possibly in an attempt to get some of the benefits of the root into the body. The benefit of ‘forcing’ rhubarb was discovered by accident and increased its popularity. Covering the crowns with compost in the winter helps the development of long, pink stems with a finer flavour – some refer to this as Champagne rhubarb. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the growing conditions in Yorkshire were found to be perfect and the rhubarb ‘triangle’ of Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford became the centre of a global and highly profitable trade in rhubarb stems. Trains carrying the stems to London were known as ‘rhubarb trains’. Special sheds lit by candlelight are used to ‘force’ the rhubarb to grow these long, slender stems.
This year I made both rhubarb jelly and rhubarb jam – two very different things and both delicious. Rhubarb jelly is easily made using chopped cooking apples, skin, core, pips, the lot and at least an equal amount of chopped rhubarb – the thinner and pinker the stems the better. Heat gently in a large pan until there are enough juices to help stew the apple and rhubarb without catching on the bottom of the pan. When all is cooked to a pulp scoop into a jelly bag or large piece of muslin and leave to drip overnight. Most recipes for this sort of thing then tell you to add a pound of sugar for each pint of juice. This invariably makes something too sweet – it is a good thing to enjoy the tartness of rhubarb balanced by sweetness, not swamped by it. I add sugar to taste – it is as simple as that. Add a little, heat, taste, and repeat until you are happy with the result; it is the pectin in the apples that will set the jelly. The sugar is a preservative but if you are prepared to store in the fridge once opened you can get away with much less sugar than most recipes advise.
Boil the liquid rapidly – use a pan far larger than the amount of liquid you have and watch it! Jams, jellies and marmalades take a particular and mischievous delight in boiling over the minute your back is turned! When the mix starts to look syrupy it is generally close to being ready. Turn the heat off and spoon some onto a plate. Leave in the fridge to see if it sets. This is always a bit trial and error, take your time, personally I like a light set – the flavour and colour will be much better than a jelly that is overcooked. Flavorings can be added at a late stage – fresh shredded ginger, grated lemon or orange for instance. Jam jars must be clean and used hot out of the oven – 150°C for 10 minutes – lids as well, is long enough. Bring the jelly or jam back up to boiling point and fill almost to the top – you want as little air in the jar as possible – screw the lids on tightly and listen for the satisfying sound of the lids ‘popping’ as the remaining air evaporates.
Rhubarb jam is even easier, chopped rhubarb – about 1″ pieces – and jam sugar, which contains pectin. Use double the amount of uncooked rhubarb to sugar, mix and leave overnight. There will be enough liquid in the morning to start cooking. Follow the guidelines above remembering to stir almost continuously. Cooked like this the rhubarb will catch easily on the bottom of the pan. This is delicious on toast, scones, with ice cream, in Greek yogurt, in an quick crumble, in a fool, in fact I’m going to have some now
A neighbour knowing I like to photograph pheasant shoots mentioned that there would be racing pigeons in Oakham on Saturday. Now I know it is not quite the same thing but I was intrigued and went along. To be honest, I did not realise that pigeon racing was so popular. The ‘Up North Combine‘ had about 30,000 pigeons to release (pigeon fanciers say ‘liberate’) and is one of the largest combines in Europe. Where I come from in Essex it is just dog racing and ‘going to the dogs’ is still very popular. Working mans horse racing I guess.
The pigeons are looked after well and are sleeker and fitter than their wild cousins. Each week they are driven further from home as their strength increases during the racing season with some eventually flying home from Europe!
Now it is tempting to offer a pigeon recipe at the end of this blog but in the interests of good taste and the kindness shown to me by Steve, the ‘chief conveyor’ who gave me a book and a freshly laid pigeon egg (bet that bird got home a bit quicker!) – I’m not going to.
Of course you don’t have to use a goose egg to make a curd, lime, lemon or any other flavour (I’m going to try gooseberry in the summer). However we have a surplus of goose eggs on the allotment since the two females have started laying and they are not so popular as the duck and chicken eggs. The general view is that they are too ‘rich’. I’m not sure about that, but they are large – about 100g minus the shell.
Unfortunately the gander, Galahad, has now entered his testosterone fueled teenage period with distinct psychopathic tendencies. He has attacked three people now and his bite is as bad as his ‘bark’ – he won’t let go and has quite a grip. All of which makes for a somewhat wary exchange between us when I open up in the morning to let the geese and ducks out into the larger run for the day. He’s fine with me but I think the protective stick might have something to do with it! The problem now is that every time I see him I think of roast goose…The picture below is a carefree (minus testosterone) Galahad late last summer.
The two geese are looking quite bedraggled as well, Galahad has left muddy foot prints on their backs and pecked the feathers from the backs of their heads down to the skin as he hangs on to mate. You’d think he’d be a happy goose, but he’s just grumpy as hell. I think it’s time to re-name him, the chivalrous ‘Galahad’ has become acutely inappropriate! The chickens by comparison are a joy, friendly souls that scratch around my feet and lay nice clean brown eggs.
I made a lemon curd for the first time only quite recently, and liked it so much I thought it would be a good way to use up some goose eggs. It’s a bit like making a hollandaise sauce, the mixture must be cooked gently over a water bath to avoid scrambling the eggs and the process takes about 30 minutes of constant stirring. Sounds like hard work? I thought so and used a higher heat to cook the eggs quickly but using a stick blender with the puree disk attached instead of a wooden spoon to keep the mix smooth and scramble-free. I needed to reduce the heat and switch to a whisk as the curd thickened but it cut the time in half. I used less sugar too and an extra lime because they came 6 to a net, not 5 and I wasn’t going to have a solitary lime rolling around the bottom of the fridge for the next few weeks! The amount of juice is dependent on the limes anyway so it’s not a precise science. Which is pretty much how I teach cookery and I have to say I’m missing teaching adult education classes a lot, recipe development has meant I haven’t been able to commit this year so far, but hopefully by September I’ll be able to again, if they still need me!
The recipe is from Diana Henry’s book Salt, Sugar, Smoke (how to preserve fruit, vegetables, meat and fish) and it’s a lovely book but feel free to modify the recipe as I have done!
I nearly forgot to say what I did with the finished curd – spooned it over thick (Total) Greek yogurt – boy is it good!
In this day and age of faster and cheaper it is reassuring to see fish smoked slowly and carefully overnight and over oak chips, the same way it has been done for 7o years at this particular factory – Keith Graham in Grimsby.
“The majority of smoked fish cured today is in modern kilns, but for a hundred years fish was smoked in traditional smoke houses. The traditional smoke houses which have survived in England are mainly found in Grimsby where the main developments in the process took place. For generations smoked fish was referred to as “cured”, but with the advent of mechanical kilns traditional smokers adopted the term “smoked” to emphasise that their process was entirely dependant on the smoke produced from the smouldering embers of wood shavings. Mechanical kilns are merely electrically heated using a minimal amount of smoke in their process. However, Kiln curers also adopted the term “smoked” for their process to mask the difference between the two products. This has made it necessary for the original process to be known as “traditionally smoked”. No region has a greater tradition of expertise in this process than Grimsby which is why the port has been granted special recognition by the European Union for it’s long history of curing. Grimsby Traditional Smoked Cod and Haddock are now protected by a PGI (Protected Geographical Indicator) meaning only fish cured in the traditional process can be called Grimsby Traditional Smoked Fish.”
As well as the quote above the link will take you to lots more interesting information on the history of fish and fishing in England after the war – in particular the rise of the fish finger!
What is so important to me though is to see first hand the pride and care that the small number of people who work in this grade two listed factory take with this most simple of products. The fish is filleted by hand (not at the factory) and carefully selected before brining for a brief 10 minutes in a light salt water solution. The fish is then draped over speights before being stacked on horses. Around about 11am the speights are hand-loaded into the chimneys one man stood above another, climbing the chimneys (20 of them) and passing the speights up to be stacked on the ledges. Today they are clipped on to safety points as they climb – an innovation that dates back only 5 years!
The fish will smoke overnight with the chimneys drawing in cool east coast air to ensure the fish is ‘cold smoked’ yielding a light creamy / beige colour and superb flavour the following morning. In the case of the smoked haddock (which is my favourite) the fish is mainly Icelandic hook and line caught with Norwegian stock used when Icelandic suffers a seasonal dip. All of the supply from this particular factory is destined for Waitrose in the UK – and nowhere else.
I used to poach smoked haddock, but actually in the factory they microwave it under a plate to taste – and it cooks very well! I don’t have a microwave so instead bake it on a lightly oiled tray in a hot oven (180°C). This method preserves all of the delicate smoked flavour and firm texture – it only takes a few minutes – the fish should be slightly undercooked. Bridget the Indian Runner duck donated another of her wonderful eggs to go with it and although creamed leeks are a perfect accompaniment I had neither so used what I had, cabbage and a light velouté made using some fish stock I had in the freezer, a little salt and pepper – that’s it. Keep it simple and taste the haddock!
Footnote: Talking of doing things traditionally and slowly I bought a ‘new’ camera this week. Made between 1979 and 1984 the Pentax ME Super film camera has an all metal body, feels lovely to hold and apparently was considered a very good camera in its day. £10 from a charity shop. Next stop rolls of film and developing chemicals.
On Sunday last I taught a lovely couple at my home the basics of fish preparation and cookery. We had a variety of fish to work with including sea bream, skate, clams, lobster, crab and the star of the show, arctic char. This most northerly fresh water fish is found in deep, cold glacial lakes and is a close cousin of salmon and lake trout. The fish we had were from farmed stock in Scotland.
Once filleted we had plenty of fish to steam, poach and cure as gravadlax – or gravlax, both are correct. Literally ‘buried’ salmon, this Scandinavian method of preserving fish initially involved a light salting before burying in the sand above the high-water mark to lightly ferment.
Being rather short of sand, and tidal waters for that matter, in Rutland, we settled instead for the ‘johnny come lately’ method of curing in salt, sugar, cracked pepper and dill. Now this was a dish I used to make on a regular basis when a young head chef in London and it used to fly out the door. It’s a great ‘little earner’ too because once a side of salmon has been cured it aspires to the status of smoked salmon – which customers expect to pay a premium for.
In all that time, never once did I use a recipe – judging by eye how much salt, sugar, dill and pepper to use. I realised (before we started cooking, obviously!) that this approach would probably not inspire confidence in my clients ability to replicate the dish again after making it with me; which would defeat the whole point of making it with them in the first place. So I researched a recipe which was remarkably similar to how I remember making it 25 years ago. Turned out I’d been using a recipe all along, who would have guessed!
1 side of salmon (about 1kg) – skin on and bone free!
1 tbsp peppercorns (black or white, depending on preference)
70g caster sugar
50g coarse sea salt
If you are at all nervous, just cut the recipe in half and make a smaller quantity first time.
The easiest way is to put the peppercorns, salt and sugar in a pestle and mortar or a coffee /spice grinder and give a little whizz / pound. Don’t grind to a powder, about the size of coffee granules is fine. Chop the dill coarsely and mix with the dry ingredients. Coat the salmon from head to toe (flesh side, not skin!) and place into a food bag or wrap tightly in cling film. Refrigerate for 24 hours minimum and 48 maximum. Anywhere in between is fine. Excessive curing dries the fish out to much.
Scrape off the gubbins on top (but don’t be too pedantic) and slice as thinly as you can – like smoked salmon; well as smoked salmon should be, not how the pre-packed stuff often is now which is too thick.
You will have a little bounty of salty sweet fishy juices remaining which you must turn into a mustard sauce to accompany. Take a large fresh egg yolk and mix with a generous tablespoon of this elixir, a good dollop of wholegrain mustard and slowly drizzle rapeseed or sunflower oil whilst whisking furiously to emulsify the mixture. In effect you will end up with a mayonnaise. Taste and add more fishy juices and mustard if you wish. The gravadlax is delicious piled on thinly sliced spelt soda bread – there is a recipe several blogs back.
I had a lovely thank you email from my clients ‘the hands on teaching was perfect along with your very calm, clear and simple explanations meant we will remember most of what you showed us’ which I think is a complement apart from the bits they’ve forgotten
I couldn’t decide which photo to use and I didn’t have much fish left having eaten most of it before thinking it would make a good post. One was natural light only on a gloomy day and the other used a Bowens daylight balanced beauty dish – neither are great, but I was hungry and didn’t want to spend all day on it!
Other news this week – I have a double page spread coming up in the May edition of the Shooting Gazette!
OK, I admit it. This post is not remotely concerned with food. Obviously diet is extremely important when you teach and practice yoga (as it is generally of course!) but this post is purely portrait photography without even my usual tenuous link to food. I have a feeling this post and the last one may well set a trend for 2015 with occasional forays back to simple food recipes. Let’s face it – there’s no shortage of really good food blogs out there and I like to think I’m developing all the time as a photographer and am not restricted purely to food because that’s how I laid out my stall three years ago. Three years this month actually. So a very big hello to Michelle – if she’s still reading this rambling discourse – hang in there Michelle, you were my first ‘follower’ and new ones are rarer than hens teeth!
For the portrait shots I cropped closely around the head to avoid too much variety in background, paying close attention to capturing catch-lights whilst achieving a ‘buoyant but neutral’ head-shot with a ‘natural rather than artificially posed look’.
However,I did still want to see individual character and my directions to my subjects were to ‘look relaxed and not think about the camera – just gaze into the distance and look how you are feeling’. Probably not the best direction in the world and this worked better with some more than others. A few of the images are a little more serious than I would have liked, but I assume that’s how they were feeling. There is quite some variety in eyes and mouth and as David Bate points out:
“An expression can have a dramatic impact, even with the slightest movement of the eyes or mouth. The mouth is read as smiling, sad, angry, gaping, pout etc. Eyes can seem ‘alive’, ‘glaring’, ‘seductive’ etc”. (Bate 2009, p.74).
All of my subjects had a clear idea of how they wanted to look in their photograph, some were naturally more relaxed and this shows clearly in their image. Given that these are all yoga teachers I wanted to capture a ‘peaceful and serene’ feel within each image. Yoga is a way of life for these teachers and I wanted them to look how I imagined they saw themselves in this role; helping people to restore / maintain calm and balance in their lives.
I guess you can tell I didn’t know what to title this post, maybe I should have written it first! It’s a series of images I took last year late August at Whissendine windmill. My third visit in as many months I knew that I wanted to focus on the windows arranged over six floors. The mill has such a beautiful light that creates this gorgeous sepia tone – the images are as shot, I haven’t added filters during processing. When the millstones are still the mill is very quite and peaceful, cobwebs heavy with fine flour curtain each window and the millers tools and implements find convenient resting places on the stone sills. I wanted to try and capture not just how the mill looks, but how it makes me feel. I wonder if I’ve managed to communicate this feeling or not? As part of my Open College of the Arts course I’m researching and studying many photographers and it’s made me learn to appreciate narrative within series of photographs. Although the composition is towards the windows the exposure is for the mill, the windows become pure white light illuminating the interior, so is it about the windows, the mill or the light?
I’d like to think that this series of images ties in with my other blog here, rather more than Taste and Light – but it’s still food related, sort of?
I used a tripod this time to compose carefully rather than increasing ISO to negate camera shake. Although modern DSLR’s are supposed to handle ISO very well I find that anything above 1600 introduces unacceptable noise. This can be rectified afterwards but at the cost of softening the image. So fixing one problem creates another. Lens was Tamron 24-70 f2.8, there is no option to change lenses once working – there is far too much flour in the air. All the photographs were taken within a three hour period, the light was different in each window as I worked my way around this circular building.
At this time of year daylight makes a grudging appearance, clinging to the night like a shy child clinging to its mothers skirts. January is not the best month for me – I really feel the lack of daylight and on a gray day no sooner has the feeble light plucked up enough courage to dimly illuminate my day than the darkness asserts its authority again. It’s not great for photography either. I know we do have some crisp sunny days but they are still short! Which makes it all the harder to get out of bed in the morning – especially Sunday! What this time of year is good for though, at the weekend, is leisurely brunches!
These scotch pancakes are quick and easy to make, virtually gluten free – replace the spelt flour with more gluten free flour and they would be completely gluten free. I like to add some spelt though as it adds a nice nutty flavour with a bit more texture; gluten free flour is very fine. The spelt flour from Whissendine windmill is not too finely milled and is all the better for it – it tastes wonderful and I’m grateful to the miller, Nigel Moon, for keeping this traditional craft alive. I like to buy my flour from him at the windmill and he always has time for a chat too!
Dry cured smoked streaky bacon is delicious with these pancakes, the whole lot drizzled in maple syrup, golden syrup or honey. I quite like butter on mine as well…Children generally like making pancakes too and because they are quite thick they find them easier to make than the thin variety – although without the fun of trying to toss them as high as the ceiling!
This recipe makes about 10 pancakes – enough for two to three servings. Do check the use by date on your baking powder. It’s the sort of ingredient that hangs about at the back of the cupboard past its best! It looses its active properties very quickly as its use by date approaches – throw it away and buy fresh. These pancakes should be light and fluffy, not flat.