Sunday, 7 March 2010



Well.  On the 29th of January Charissa and Tedd arrived from Florida.  On the 31st of January we went for a drive of 2,500 miles and got back on Valentine's Day.  And then we all went to Cambridge and picked up some other People We Know - and a few we didn't until that day.  Over the next three weeks there were always people sleeping on floors, in Cambridge or St Albans or London.  Often they were me.  Rarely just me.  There were folk songs and whiskey at 3am.  There was charades in a room with 6 nationalities, 12 or so people and around 30 degrees of various sorts.  The kind of game where C19th literature of any of 5 at least cultures would be guessed instantly and references to popular culture led to 10 minutes of head scratching and incredulous cries of 'that's a FILM?'.  There has been poetry and cellos and theatre and home made bread.  And photographs and home developing.  And concerts and gigs and alwaysmusic, written or sung or chosen with purpose always by people I know.  There have been black tie parties and rainy walks around London for art galleries and cake.  There was a WEDDING.  There have been strangers who became friends never to be forgotten. Old friends and new friends and new places and thinking and the watching of the spring.

And today is the first evening I'm spending alone in my house since the 28th January. 


I'm not done yet.  This is a lull between Trips.  There are more friends here this week, and there are Plans for Dublin in a few weeks.  The prospect of spending time with yet more of the best people in the world makes everything wonderful.

I'm feeling peaceful.  I've had a crazy month or two - in a different way from the ones before.  There have been adventures of all the best kinds, in contrast to angst and aching and a freezing of the limbs that characterised the time before.  I feel spring cleaned and awoken.  There's a whole world full of things to see and do.  I have been trapped in this house; it has been awkward and cold and dark and confused, and now it is full of possibilities again.  There might be Paris (three months, to learn) and San Francisco (three or six weeks, to know).  But those aren't the point really.  The new beginning that I have needed for half a year or more feels like it might be here, despite the fact that I still have no prospect of a job in the nearest future.  2010 is finally here.  I finally feel that I can look at 2009 with objectivity, and see its pure highs and lows without feeling them all at once.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


This is a shot from my very first ever roll of film I developed myself.  Ilford FP4 Plus (125 speed) was already my favourite film, and I just became more in love with it than I was before.  I don't like the graininess of faster film, I'd rather just try and adapt my photography to suit.  I like being able to get the kind of clarity I achieved on the rose petals here and contrasting it with the softness of the out of focus tulips.  At least, today that's how I feel.  I have a couple of rolls of 400 I'm playing with at the moment.

This roll is from my Minolta, since Graham's Voigtlander is sick at the moment.  I had been a bit nervy about another roll of black and whites going through the Minolta, because the ones from the last roll (which granted sat about for too long before it was developed, and was 400 speed as well) came out a bit anaemic for my taste.  These?  Contrast is great!  There are a few smudges on them and the odd little crease, but so far no scratches AT ALL.  I can fix the smudges (by polishing the negs) and sort of like the creases (see left hand side of first shot).  The hard scratch lines across my shots when I've had them developed by shops with machines were making me sad.  These gentler and more organic imperfections I mind less.  Probably mostly because I made them myself.

Developing is FUN.  Not difficult, it's just a question of measuring out chemicals and jiggling things for the right length of time.  It's exciting though - you go into your bathroom and keep the light off and carefully block up all the gaps around the door with towels, then you pry your film out of its pregnant canister.  You wind it onto the reel, hoping that it won't get stuck.  You shut it into the tank, and turn the light on.  Then there's the arcane bit with the chemicals.  And then you can take the lid off and rinse it.  And can unwind the sticky negatives from the reel and hang them, using hairgrips, from a piece of string tied between the light fitting and the curtain rail - and you can look at the shots!  And try and work out which ones are the good ones and which ones you really like...


There are quite a lot of variables in developing, in terms of times and temperatures as well as film and chemicals and so on.  I'm so looking forward to doing more.  Though I have just had it pointed out to me that the film I've stuck into the Minolta just now, while still be B&W, requires a different not-so-easy-at-home process.  Bah.  Need to finish it quickly and put another one in.  Which means I will have to send it away.  Which means it'll get scratched.  Which is very irritating.


All of this is Tom's fault.  Well.  It's sort of Graham's fault as well, that I was interested in doing my own development at all, and his fault that I have a scanner.  But it's TOM'S fault that I have kit and chemicals and confidence to try for myself.  Thanks Tom and Graham!


Monday, 1 March 2010

Playing with cake.

David Lebovitz writes my favourite food blog of the internet.  There are competitors, it's true, but I love David's style, his pictures, his character and his beautiful recipes.  He's a guy from San Francisco living in Paris, which makes for amusements all by itself.  When I was there the other week I explored a few places more or less entirely on his recommendation.  I was also haunted by the exciting sort of feeling that I might run into the guy - Paris and its food has become so tightly linked to him and his writing in my mind.  (Actually, he was away while I was there, but still...)  He has worked as a professional chef, and now seems to make a living from writing books and blog posts.  When I am busy or on holiday and my feed reader goes berserk and tells me I have 800+ unread items to go through, his posts are some of the few that I make sure I read before hitting the 'mark all as read' button.  [I keep meaning to send him some suet and a proper recipe for mincemeat next Advent, rather than the Delia one he tried which makes no sense. ]

I haven't made a great many of his recipes, it has to be said, mostly because I don't make dessert that often and that is his speciality.  However, when I AM looking for something sweet, it's definitely a go to sort of place.  I trust his recipes to work, unlike quite a lot of the internet.  I recently adapted this recipe to christen my ice cream maker, and it was divine (all I did was switch the milk chocolate for dark and leave out the pepper, nice though it sounded, because I wanted something to go with ginger-chilli caramel sauce and pepper was an unnecessary extra...).  I have plans about using this macaron recipe on the next batch of ice cream's left over egg whites.  Determined to crack macarons.

 One thing I'd had my eye on for ages though was just a simple recipe for chocolate yogurt snack cakes.  That doesn't even link to his site, but to someone else's (also a great blog, by the way, but it doesn't suit me quite the way David's does).  It comes from a book of his which I've just purchased.  I've made them twice now, the first straight up and the second time adding a soft centre.  I found them a little dry, that was the thing.  They're good as a base, and they have a great crumbly texture, but they didn't come out as moist as I want in a muffin - which could well be explained by my use of low fat yoghurt.  I also had two open jars of Nutella (or store own brand variant) in my cupboard, product of living in a house that nobody actually lives in for more than a month or two at a time at the moment.  So...I froze teaspoons full of Nutella on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof the night before I wanted to bake.  I followed the recipe and made the batter.  I half filled the papers, poked in a chocolate-hazelnut ice cube and covered the it over with more batter and baked as directed.

(Was still having camera issues at this point. Not sure why everything I took that day was out of focus...)

They came out brilliantly, particularly when still warm with a spoonful of crème fraîche.  Now I need to find other things I can use to make soft centres for muffins.  I could make an ordinary ganache with chocolate and cream and flavour it all kinds of ways, then freeze and bake like this, but I want to work out a way of doing it with something like lemon curd.  No idea how that might work though - either the freezing or the cooking of lemon curd.  It's sort of a delicate concoction.  But if I could figure that out, there's a whole world of fruit fillings out there, too.  Jam is too sweet I think, at least for me.  Apple puree is pretty easy.  Hmm...

Cooking for the jet-lagged.

I actually thought really hard about this.  You kind of have to, if people are going to do you the honour of travelling 4,349 miles (7,000 km, 7,654,240 yards, 275,552,640 inches, 699,903,706 cm) to stay with you.  What would I want to eat when I'd been on a plane for all that time?  Nothing complicated.  Nothing unfamiliar.  Something sustaining but not heavy.  Real Food, to counteract fake plastic plane food.

Chicken Stew, with Homemade Bacon, Leeks and Mushrooms...

(Every picture I took of this meal turned out to be out of focus, hence they're all going to be tiny...)
I love stew.  I've said this before.  This might not be a quick meal to prepare, but it's not complex.  It's amazing what happens when you just leave something in the oven for a while.  

For about 6 people, or 3 with masses of leftovers
1 of those packets of thighs and drumsticks that have four or so of each - free range, obviously.  Or 1 whole free range chicken, jointed, if feeling energetic. Bone in is important, but frankly any sort of chicken portion would be fine
250g bacon lardons
3 large leeks
450g mushrooms (any field sort - chestnut or mini portabellos would be extravagant)
500ml good chicken stock, either home-made or using an organic cube
3 or 4 bushy sprigs of thyme
50g butter
Olive oil, black pepper

Prep the veg.  Cut the darkest green parts off the tops of the leeks and about half a centimetre off the root end.  Slice them in half lengthwise and fan each half out under the tap to clean it.  Slide the  leaves back together and slice crosswise into centimetre slices.  Cut the mushrooms into quarters unless very small or very large.

In a large heavy casserole, melt the butter with a splash of olive oil to keep it from burning.  Gently fry the leeks without colouring for around 20 minutes until soft.  In the meantime, in another pan over high heat, brown the chicken with a little olive oil in batches.  Remove to a plate.  Turn the heat down and without cleaning the pan fry the bacon until coloured on all sides and the fat is beginning to run.  Remove to a plate.  Fry the mushrooms in the fat that ran out of the two meats.

By now, the leeks will have softened.  Turn the oven on to 150℃. Combine as best you can the chicken, bacon, and mushrooms with the leeks in the large casserole.  Tuck in the thyme sprigs and add a generous grind of black pepper.  Don't add salt at this stage, unless you know that the bacon you're using isn't that salty - my homemade had plenty for the whole dish.  Pour over the stock and top up with boiling water (and maybe a glass of white wine) until the meat is virtually covered.  Bring the lot to the boil and then put it in the oven for around an hour.  Test to see if the meat is falling off the chicken bones, it might need another half an hour.

....with mustard mashed potatoes to soak up the juice

Mustard mash is my favourite sort.  I loved mashed potato when I was a kid, it was my favourite sort.  It even beat roast.  Still does.  One of those other things I learned to make when I was very young, along with custard.  Sunday lunchtime in my mum's kitchen aged around 8.

For 6 or thereabouts
6 large baking potatoes, peeled and diced
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled
As much crème fraîche as you can fit on a dessert spoon (optional, you could use greek yogurt or just leave it out)
50g butter
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp grainy mustard - I have some that's JUST grains, no mustard liquidy stuff, which is very mild

Put the potatoes and garlic in cold water with a pinch of salt and bring to the boil.  Cook until soft right through.  Drain and mash with the butter.  Add the crème fraîche and stir, and as much milk as required to bring it to a smooth consistency.  Season to taste with mustard, salt and pepper.

I could eat mashed potato and the juice from the stew together forever.