Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Blackberry and Apple Crumble.

Like all good women, Lady Magnon has urges. Recently her 'urge' has been to make a Blackberry and Apple Crumble. The weather has cooled slightly (now below 30 C), the Bramley apples are beginning to fall, and the Blackberries are thick on the vine.

It does look as if she used a chainsaw in its preparation, but let me assure you that this was heaven on a plate! If you are having the same 'urge' as Lady M, may I suggest that you only ever use Bramley apples for your crumble; one made with any other variety would be half-hearted and sinful.

Bon appetit!

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Monday, 30 August 2010

Sakineh Ashtiani.

Let he who hath not sinned, cast the first stone!

Just about everyone in the Free World knows that Iranian Sakineh Ashtiani has been sentenced to be stoned to death. Yes, we all laughed at the stoning sketch in The Life of Brian; but this is the REAL THING.

In 2006 Sakineh was found guilty of adultery and given 99 lashes. After false accusations in an entirely separate trial she was accused of the adultery having taken place prior to her late husband's death, and the stoning sentence was delivered in her absence; even though she had already received her Qu'ran designated punishment.

The young lady above (with the placard) is demonstrating on the streets of London; openly and shamelessly threatening the British non-Muslim world. I think she might be better employed looking to the welfare of her fellow Muslim sisters, who face daily threats of barbarism from both judicial and religious leaders, back in her own less tolerant homeland.

It only needs a few evil words from a rejected suitor, and she could find herself facing the same unjust and disgusting punishment as Sakineh.

I wrote in my sidebar that 'I make no judgements'. Well I'm breaking that promise because I (like so many millions across the world) feel so strongly about the plight of Ms Ashtiani. Please do whatever you deem possible to help this poor woman; and quite probably thousands of other women like her.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Sunday Dream: Istanbul.

I've made a last minute decision to visit Istanbul.

We'll be staying at the fabulous Sultanahmet Hotel in the old city, overlooking The Blue Mosque.

One of the great delights of Istanbul is, of course, the gastronomy. In Sultanahmet, near the tram stop, there is a line of superb 'koftecisi' (kofte restaurants), where for just a few £'s one can eat plates of grilled kofte with 'piyaz' salads of onions white beans and carrots. The only problem is making the decision about which restaurant to visit. Usually we plump for the Tarihi, where we ask for an upstairs table with views over The Blue Mosque. The food is excellent.

Lady M insists that we'll visit The Covered Bazaar, and The Spice Bazaar. Shopping is never far from her thoughts, and we'll arrive with near empty suitcases to allow for her whims. She'll buy expensive fragrances, spices, and pages of gold leaf. She'll look for antique carpets, rugs, and silverware. And no doubt she'll give in to pushy traders, and return with jewelry, leather goods, and silk scarves.

Now, who can we find to look after our Freddie whilst we're away? OK, maybe we'll go next month, or even in early spring. Oh, dammit; I'll just go on looking at the pictures in the travel brochure!

S W France is supposed to be lovely at this time of year!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Cro Defies Scrump-Death.

Yesterday afternoon I was out scrumping; as one does. Of course we have our own apples trees, but ours are mostly later varieties.

Suddenly there was a creaking sound; then a dreadful rush/crash. This nasty thing fell just inches from me.

Luckily, I'd already managed to fill the front of my T Shirt with apples, before the wretched thing nearly flattened me.... Phew!

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Friday, 27 August 2010

Call me Joe.

I bought this strange little book for Lady Magnon back in 1997.

I'm not really recommending it, because it's both badly written and badly constructed (sorry Ms Summerscale). However, if reading about a bizarre wealthy dare-devil lesbian is your thing, then this is the book for you. You'd certainly be surprised by the list of her famous lovers!

Joe Carstairs was one very strange woman. The 'doll' (dare I call it that?) on her shoulder is Lord Tod Wadley, her companion. She had his clothes made in Savile Row and his shoes made in Italy. He had his own set of golf clubs, a pistol, a bible, his own toys, and a working wrist watch. Nothing was too much for him.

Her adventures on Whale Cay are fascinating; and her whole life extraordinary. A true British eccentric. If you're interested, try your local library.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Nightmare on Cro Street.


I've covered this story before, but here is an example of how bloody annoying these Digger Wasps can be.

At the top of our stairs is a spotlight. I kept on hearing a high-pitched buzzing coming from the vicinity, so yesterday decided to spray some Bug-u-Hate into the lamp. At once a long black evil-looking Digger Wasp came out and flew straight for the open Velux.

When I removed the bulb, THIS is what I found. At least 4 nests (one I broke), all of which contained grubs and an assortment of dead, or paralysed, spiders.

We first experienced these little blighters last year, and this year they've become a real nuisance. I'm just wondering what it'll be like in 2011.

Their earthen nests do no permanent damage, but they've got the whole of France to build them in, and I'd prefer that they chose somewhere else.

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Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Breaking away.

This superb, small-town, coming-of-age, movie, 'Breaking Away', is now over 30 years old. And I've still never met anyone who has either seen it, let alone admired it.

'Breaking away' is about a bunch of post-school adolescents who are searching for their way in life. They live in Bloomington Indiana (USA) where they just hang around, or go swimming in a disused stone quarry.

One of the group, Dave (played by Dennis Christopher), is a cycling fanatic, and the film centres around his obsession with Italy, his botched attempts at wooing girls from the local university, and eventually a team cycle race.

If you haven't seen this film (which is more than likely), then may I recommend it for a wet sunday afternoon. It's not life-changing, but you will not regret your viewing.

I think Dennis Christopher's done a few bits since, but this is certainly the job for which he'll be remembered. A good film. Funny, simple, and tells a watchable story.


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Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Midnight Swim Anyone?

This beautiful picture of the pool (and full moon) was taken yesterday by our Canadian guest Diane Miller (she of 'The Miller Collection'). As she's always hoping to add to her already extensive collection, Cro is being on his best behaviour (for a while).

Ms Miller is an exceptionally fine photographer (she told me to me say that), and I thank her for allowing me to use the above.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Other People's Junk.

Yesterday saw one of our biggest local 'boot sales', at the small nearby town of Cazals. It was HOT, so we arrived reasonably early and spent a pleasant couple of hours just mooching around under the shade of the trees.

This was the haul. An ancient copper (I think) finial for the tower, a chain-pull bell to go beside the new gate, a 6 bottle wine carrier, a wire egg basket, a Ricard water bottle and two glasses, and a couple of rusty Moroccan 'thingies' that we'll convert to take candles.

At about £12 (€15) the finial was a lot cheaper than the terracotta one that I was going to have made. And, hopefully, will add that extra feeling of 'age' to the tower that I'm looking for.

Some pretty classic purchases, n'est pas?
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Sunday, 22 August 2010

The Sunday Story: Silent Visit.

I had a friend (let's call him David), who lived alone in a small rented cottage miles from his nearest neighbour. David was a wood turner; he made very beautiful bowls.

One morning, as he'd done so many times before, he went to the kitchen to make his breakfast of toast and coffee, and when he lifted the kettle, to put it on the gas, he found the water to be piping-hot. In the washing-up bowl was a used cup. He knew that he hadn't left it from the night before; he never did. And anyway, it wasn't HIS cup; it was one that had been hanging on the dresser.

David first checked the house; there was no-one there, and nothing had been stolen. Then he checked the two doors; they were both still locked. He checked the windows; nothing had been either forced or broken. He checked outside; all was as usual.

I must add that my friend David is a big guy; not the sort to be easily spooked. But this incident upset him so much that he left the cottage quite soon afterwards, and moved closer to civilization.

He talked to the local police about the intrusion, but no-one did ever solve the riddle of his silent visitor.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Jemaa el Fna.

My yesterday's posting about 'Cumin' made me dream about my visits to Morocco.

One of the world's most extraordinay sights, and experiences, must surely be Marrakech's Place Jemaa el Fna.

By day it's filled with Snake Charmers, Story Tellers, and an assortment of Bizarre Merchants. By night it converts into a huge open-air restaurant, where individual stalls compete for business by chanting, drumming, and filling the air with wonderous smoke-filled aromas.

The food is superb. Everything is freshly cooked, reasonably priced, and served with great gusto by crisply white clad cooks. Do click on the picture above to enlarge.

There are certain things in the world that are definately a MUST. May I suggest that this is one.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Cumin.

How many culinary discoveries have really changed your life?

One of mine was when I first tasted Cumin (ground Cumin in particular). I was simply amazed. I wanted to know what it was, how it was used, where it came from, where did one buy it, etc, etc. I knew at once that my whole concept of flavours was just about to change. Europe's doors had suddenly been flung open, and I could see a whole new world beckoning.

At first I rubbed it into whole chickens and roasted them, so that the house became full of its delicate warm musty aroma. Then I married it with olive oil to flavour fried mixed summer vegetables; which our children loved. Eventually certain fish were given its blessing and I was whisked away to the shores of Essaouira and beyond.

If I was limited to just one spice in the house, it would have to be Cumin. To imagine my life without it now is, well.... unimaginable!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Our New Old Barn.

The one thing we've always lacked at the cottage is storage space. So to kill several birds with the same stone, we've bought an old Tobacco Drying Barn, a bit of Surrounding Land, and, most importantly, PRIVACY (more about this anon). That huge tree on the edge of the land (which is right behind the cottage) is a magnificent Oak, and will certainly, in time, become home to a TREE HOUSE.

The barn itself is not the best in the world, but it's spacious, well built, and Termite free. On the two long sides, just above the stone walls, there are swivelling flaps that open to allow air to circulate. We have no plans for the barn (or for the land), but no doubt in time it will dictate its own use. For the moment I shall replace any missing boards, give it a coat of something black (it should be black), erect a couple of exterior Barn Owl boxes, install some guttering, and maybe bung in a concrete floor.

Maybe I'll grow some maize, or, I suppose, I ought to grow Tobacco! Any not-too-time-consuming suggestions would be extremely welcome.

The reason for the dodgy pictures is that I took them at 6.30 am when it was still not properly light. Don't ask; I was simply impatient!

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Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Fruit Glut.

This is just a miniscule amount of the grapes we have growing against the house. Some will certainly end up as juice, but several wheelbarrows-full will be confined to the compost heap; otherwise they simply attract hornets.

Just look at our Quince. It's really LOADED this year, and I think I'll have to remove some of the fruit, otherwise by the time they triple in size, and turn yellow, I can see branches being broken all over.

The Bramley (our cooking apple) has gone completely bonkers. The branches are already touching the ground, and there are 'windfalls' everywhere. Even so, there's hardly space for more fruit on the tree.

We moan when we have late frosts in spring and all the fruit is destroyed, but what ARE we going to do with everything? I hate waste, but other than trying to give the stuff away, I see no alternative but the COMPOST HEAP.

Sad isn't it, but we can only eat and preserve so much! 2010 will go down as 'A Year of Plenty'.

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Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Muscat.

One of the lesser known wines of France must be this Muscat de Rivesaltes.

As you can probably see by the picture, Lady Magnon and I drink it in very small quantities, and very cold. Just the thing for elegant early pre-dinner drinks.

Muscat is always over 15% Alc, and (so they tell me), accompanies Foie Gras to perfection. The bottles are somewhat fancy, but, happily, the contents are always good; its quality is highly controlled.

Generally I'm not a fan of sweet white wines (I can't stand Sauternes, other than as a post tooth-brushing mouthwash), but a little cold Muscat on a warm evening... just the ticket. I think it's always worthwhile having a bottle in the fridge.
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Monday, 16 August 2010

Progress Report.

Yes, I know it looks like a pile of concrete blocks at the moment. But, believe me, it will look great when finished. I've just put in the front step, and did you notice the arrow-slit?

My next serious job is the ceiling. In the next few days I'll visit my nearest saw mill and order one 4 metre, 20 by 20 cm, beam, and about twenty 2 metre, 10 by 10 cm, joists . The big beam goes across the middle, and the smaller joists span out either side. Then it's a matter of ensuring at least three rainless days to put on the plasterboard (or whatever) ceiling, and put up the woodwork for the roof. Then when all is covered with a special reinforced plastic, I'll be able to breathe a little easier before tackling the laths and tiles. I have yet to order the tiles (he's on holiday), but 'my man' assures me that he can make them within a week or so. They'll all be hand made.

In some ways I see this as my 'tomb stone'; proof that I existed (other than my paintings). And, as with all follies, it's going to be here a long time, so it has to be right. The plants are also very important; we know there will be Wisteria, and a Vine, but I shall need to consult widely (I know very little about such things) . I'm hoping that at least 60% of the surface will be covered in creeping flowering greenery.

We have guests for a couple of weeks, so I'm going to take a rest from building. Time for some skin to grow back on my hands.

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Sunday, 15 August 2010

The Sunday Story: Tea with DH & IH.


This picture, by David Hockney, is of Peter Schlesinger (his boyfriend at the time) getting out of a swimming pool in Los Angeles. The pool was owned by an American gallery owner (called Nick), but you knew all that!

I'd been to David's 1970 retrospective at London's Whitechapel Gallery, and he'd invited me for tea that afternoon.

David lived in a first floor flat, in a rather dour and unassuming house in Powis Terrace, Notting Hill, but the inside was quite different. He'd managed to buy the first floor flat of the house next door, and had knocked the two into one, creating a huge space. His studio was large and airy, and on the day of my visit he was working on a painting of a couple in The Luxembourg Gardens with their backs to the viewer. I don't think I've ever seen the finished job.

When it came time for actual tea, David reeled off the most staggering choice of different flavours; predictably I chose Lapsang. The tea was made, and served, by the lovely Peter (seen above getting out of Nick's pool), who was wearing an apron and not much else.

It's possibly worth noting that on the day of his invitation, David's studio was totally empty (other than the job he was working on). Later that same week I was invited to tea by artist Ivon Hitchens at his ramshakle Sussex home; the place was piled high with framed paintings. David sold everything as soon as the paint was dry; the great Ivon presumably didn't.

When I left Ivon, his wife gave me a huge peony, but by the time I'd reached home it had completely fallen apart; beauty so fleeting. Ivon died not long afterwards; David, of course, is still going strong. I like to think that I keep the Ivon approach to life alive; I have a garage-full of unsold paintings.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Rat.

Haddock's is really starting to over-produce. We've already been dumping things on the compost, simply because they were too big or had a sight blemish. It's amazing how blasé one becomes about one's own vegetables after having waited so long for them to arrive.

This is the second lot of Ratatouille that I've made. I might, from now on, just make courgettes in tomato sauce, and aubergines in tomato sauce. They tend to be more useful.

The store cupboard is starting to fill anew, just as last years stock runs out. That's as it should be!


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Friday, 13 August 2010

Monster Vine.

Quite near our house is an abandoned vinyard. It must have been abandoned about 50 years ago as it is now mature woodland, with even some trees already dying.

However, vines are persistent devils, and many still grow there. Recently, one edge of the woodland was cut back to halt its encroachment into a chestnut plantation. Several trees were cut back, and much slashing and mowing performed.

One of the ancient vines must have been destroyed, but it has now grown back with renewed vigour. I have lived with, and around, vines for nearly 40 years, but I have never seen leaves like these before. I placed my mouse on it, just for the photo, to give you an idea of its size. It actually measures 13 inches across. It's HUGE.

Are we about to be taken over by MONSTER VINES?

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Thursday, 12 August 2010

Dora Carrington. 1893-1932.

Photos of Dora Carrington are rare, but here she is holding a cat that looks remarkably like our Freddie.

Dora Carrington (known simply as 'Carrington') was, with Vanessa Bell, one of the better female painters of England's early 20th Century. Although not an actual member of London's Bloomsbury Group she will always be associated with them; and especially with Lytton Strachey.

Her 1916 portrait of writer Lytton Strachey (above) along with that by Henry Lamb of 1914, are perhaps the two most iconic portraits of that early Bloomsbury era.

Carrington was an ex-Slade girl, and became an essential member of London's fashionable bed-hopping bi-sexual intelligencia of the 1920's. She had affairs with members of both sexes, but her real love in life was the homosexual writer, and intellectual, Lytton Strachey. When Strachey died in 1932, she felt betrayed and rejected, and could no longer face life without him. It was claimed at the time that as he lay dying, his final words had been that he'd always wanted to marry her (this is probably false). He left her a large sum on money in his will, but this did nothing to console her grief, and she committed suicide a couple of months later.

Carrington never really bothered to sell her work, and hardly ever bothered to sign it either. She ended her life as one of England's most neglected top-rank female painters; and even today, with a popular film having been made about her life (Emma Thompson played Carrington in the 1995 film), she is still generally ignored.

If there is a period in English Art where 'Englishness' is personified, it is within the period of Bloomsbury's influence, where intellectualizing was far more important than commercializing. Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, and Carrington were all responsible for this attitude, and much of that influence still lingers on today, especially within the extensive English Art College world.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

It's late.

I normally rise at 5.30; 6.00 at the latest. But last night we had some friends around for dinner, and I've lost a couple of hours somewhere.

Looks like it might be a little bit cooler today; not a bad thing for getting on with certain outdoor jobs.
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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

It Doesn't Stop.

Take a few tables and benches, stick them under the shade of a huge walnut tree, add a bunch of neighbours and some sunshine, and, Hey Presto, we have all the ingredients for a six hour marathon eat-fest. Another neighbourhood street party makes its debut.

We assembled at 12.30, chatted, drank Pastis, and greeted those we hadn't seen for a while. Then at about 2 pm we sat down to eat. We compared each others patés, grilled a pile of merguez, and tucked into mountains of brochettes. Somehow time just floated by, and we continued until 6.30.

The children all behaved perfectly (wheelbarrow rides were provided by teenagers), the adults became noisy, and France seemed even more attractive than it's been for the past 37 years. Does life get better than this? Not for me it doesn't.

I hate to mention this, but at 7.30 we left for our second BBQ of the day! Diet again soon.

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Monday, 9 August 2010

Haddock's brimeth over.

It's the time of year when everything seems to come in a rush, and the only way to cope is to preserve. The tomatoes are just beginning to over-produce, the aubergines are plentiful, the peppers dripping from their plants, and courgettes are just everywhere. It's time to make Ratatouille.

I don't bother with recipes. I simply take equal amounts of the above mentioned vegetables, cut them into cubes, and cook until of the right consistency. Depending on my mood, I add olive oil, red wine, salt, pepper, dried herbs, garlic, basil, chilli, etc. Then I sterilise for 45 mins and leave the bottles to cool in the sterilising pan.

We still have a few 500 gm jars from last year, so those are being used up as quickly as possible. When the tomatoes become really troublesome, I shall also be doing aubergines in tomato sauce; a wonderful standby for stews, curries, and casseroles throughout the winter. All I need now are a few 36 hr days.

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