Centurions in the Rain

We cross the traffic in London Rain

En route to our separate trains

My son now looming like

An armoured warrior

By my side

Dwelling on an earlier crossing

When I was the shield

A frail child lost in my arms

Willing with all my heart

That he would be well

He catches me out with

“Bye, I love you.” and

“Take care, Dad!”

I smile then turn away

My tears invisible in the Rain

Spicy Crisp Broccoli

I find this a great accompaniment to richer curries as, done properly, it retains the fresh clean flavours to cleanse the palette between mouthfuls.

Ingredients:

A good sized head of Broccoli, a little over a lb in weight, and make sure the florets are dark green.  Cut the florets off and don’t waste the stalk.  Finely slice it into thin rounds.

2 tbsp light oil [I have had good results using Rice Oil with this]; 3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced; 2 tsp cumin seeds; 2 fresh red chillies, de-seeded and sliced into thin rounds; 1 heaped tbsp gram [chickpea] flour; 1 tsp ground cumin; 1 tsp ground coriander; 1 tsp ground cardamom; 1/2 tsp sea salt;  3 tbsp water.

Mix the gram flour, salt, ground cumin, coriander and cardamom together in a small bowl.  Use a largish frying pan, with a lid, and heat the oil.  Add the cumin seeds, chilli and garlic, then stir-fry for a couple of minutes, taking care the garlic browns but doesn’t burn.  Then add the broccoli, turn up the heat and stir-fry for about 3/4 minutes.  Turn the heat down low and add the gram flour mixture, sprinkling it evenly and stirring it in.   Add the water and stir then cook for a further 6/7 minutes.  Serve immediately.

apanē bhōjana kā ānanda!

Becoming PICASSO – Paris 1901

The Courtauld Gallery, though limited by the restraints of its location in Somerset House, has managed to mount a wonderful exhibition in just two rooms, displaying a major turning point in Picasso’s career.

He went to Paris for the first time in 1900, and in 1901 he returned aiming to win an exhibition. The precocious 19-year-old Spaniard was at the time relatively unknown outside Barcelona, but he had a broader reputation for his prodigious output of paintings.  He was introduced to Ambroise Vollard, a dealer who had sponsored Paul Cezanne, and Vollard immediately agreed to a show at his gallery.   Picasso returned to Paris in May with around twenty paintings and little over a month to produce enough work to fill the exhibition.  The some 64 works [and possibly up to 75] displayed at Picasso’s first Paris exhibition had been completed by working at a feverish rate, often all night, to finish them in the weeks leading up to their showing.  He sometimes completed 3 canvases in a day.  On June 24, 1901, the first major exhibition of Pablo Picasso’s artwork opened on the Rue Lafitte, Paris, known for its avant garde art galleries.  The Vollard show was a success, despite receiving only a few reviews, and launched Picasso’s career in Paris .

Several of the paintings from this original exhibition were displayed in the first Courtauld room, and they show a swathe of influence from Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin and Van Gogh.  None slavishly copied but the influences and even warm humourous homage are very evident.  Picasso sense polarizar 001

Street scenes, prostitutes and Can-Can dancers all form familiar reference points to turn of the century Paris and clearly show a precocious talent.  But despite this, events, and his own desire to be an innovator and not just a talented follower took his art in new directions.

The suicide in February that year of his close friend, Carlos Casagemas, who had accompanied Picasso to Paris led to him producing a new genre all his own.  These are grouped separately in the second room and show his ability to take astonishing new paths  As a prelude to his now famous ‘Blue Period’, the strong, bold, clearly outlined figures appear solitary, even when together, set in  plain, pared back, surroundings.   The series of drinkers at cafe tables, such as Harlequin with Companion, are extraordinary, and The Absinthe Drinker echoes a life ruined in its shadows and lines of bold green.  Some, such as Girl with Dove and Mother and Child, show a less clear style and were not, for me at least, particularly attractive or interesting.

Harlequin_167pxThe Absinthe drinkerSeated_Harlequin_167pxchild with dove

All in all a well staged exhibition drawing together many of Picasso’s key works of this life changing period.  The ability within this one gallery to contrast these pictures with the outstanding collection of Impressionists displayed in other rooms showed that “Becoming Picasso” was an uneven progression from Post-Impressionist style with Spanish overtones, to one of melancholic contemplation in blue.   As an exhibition I consider it an unqualified success!

Sun Blushed Tomatoes

My fellow Gastronomers will remember that I extolled the virtues of Sun-blushed Tomatoes in my Focaccia Recipe, but I know they aren’t easy to find, even in relatively good Delis.   That gave me a mission!  I asked around several good cooks of my acquaintance and one finally turned up trumps with this simple recipe.

Ingredients:

About 30 small RIPE cherry tomatoes  [A good tip is to look out for reduced price punnets near their sell-by dates in Supermarkets or better still at the end of the day in your local market.  These have usually just got to the fully ripe state.  Don’t buy ‘ Cherry Tomatoes on the Vine’, they are ridiculously expensive, and what do the others grow on for heavens sake!!]; 2 level tsp sea salt; 1/2 level tsp demerara sugar; 1 heaped tsp dried oregano [lemon thyme works well too]; 3 generous tbsp good Olive Oil.

English: Super Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes

English: Super Sweet 100 Cherry Tomatoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pre-heat the oven to 200-220 degrees C, 180-190 if a fan oven.  Halve the tomatoes and set them out close together, cut face uppermost, on a baking tray.  With the Olive Oil in a small bowl mix in the salt and sugar.  When dissolved add the dried oregano.  Carefully pour the mixture onto the tomato halves ensuring that each has its share.  Carefully place the tray in the upper part of the oven, check it’s up to temperature, then turn it off!

Leave the tomatoes in there all day, or prepare them in the evening and leave overnight if you anticipate needing the oven during the day.  When they are cooled you can [if you think they’ll last that long!!] put them in clean jam or olive jars and drizzle over them another tbsp of your Olive Oil for each jar.

A good idea is to make a nice ‘Rustic’ tag and tie it on to the jar, then you’ve the perfect thing to take to any ‘Foodie’ friend the next time you’re invited there for lunch or supper!

Shakespeare’s Sonnets – first published this day in 1609

There are 152 to choose from but this I think is the one, at least for someone special……..

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines, a
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:
But thy eternal Summer shall not fade,
Nor loose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time though grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

Pappardelle Con La Coniglio

A quick, simple, cheap, and most importantly, delicious meal for 4.  If you have a local butcher where you can find fresh rabbit, use them.  You probably know that rabbits were always hung outside butchers with at least one paw still on, and that this was because anatomically rabbits are almost indistinguishable from cats……..  Plus supermarket rabbit is generally sourced from China……..  Why buy something of doubtful quality that has been sent thousands of miles instead of supporting local shops?

Ingredients:

14 oz Pappardelle pasta [rippled edged ribbon-like pasta which is wonderful for holding all the wonderful sauce!]  You can use Tagliatelle  if you must, but try to find it instead – and you’ll never eat Tagliatelle again!  1 lb minced Rabbit, preferably organic.  You are very unlikely to find this is the supermarket but if you’ve cultivated your friendly local butcher [if not, why not?]  he will at least clean and section it for you.  If you cannot mince it, strip and chunk the rabbit meat into small pieces;  2 cloves of garlic, not sliced, just peeled and bashed flat!; 1 large onion, sliced and diced; 1 or 2 sticks of celery, chopped, including the leaves; 2 rashers of unsmoked back bacon, sliced into strips; 3 glasses of dry white Italian wine, 1 for the meal, 2 for the cook…..; 3 tbsp Olive Oil, sea salt and black pepper.

Heat the oil in a large casserole or thick bottomed saucepan, with a lid.  Add the onion, celery and bacon and cook gently ’til the onion is softened and browning then add the garlic and cook, stirring for another 2 mins.  Then add the rabbit and cook for another 5 mins.  Turn the heat up briefly and add the white wine.  As soon as it has boiled off, turn back to simmer.   Let it cook away for 30-40 mins, keeping an eye on it, stirring regularly, and if necessary adding a little more water or stock to stop the sauce from thickening too much.  Check and add a little black pepper if needed.

With your pasta water at a rolling boil, add a little olive oil and sea salt, then ease in your Pappardelle.  Cook ’til ‘al dente’, then drain well.  Fold into your sauce and serve immediately.

Buono Appetito!

Barocci – Brilliance and Grace

Barocci Poster

On Monday, having recovered from my Italian foray at Fizzano, I went to London to see the incredible Barocci exhibition at the National Gallery.

Little known outside Italy, as there are, astonishingly, only two Barocci pictures on public display in the UK, Frederico Barocci was a celebrated painter of the late Italian Renaissance.

The National Gallery must be congratulated in their bringing together of 47 of his works in a glorious well arranged display in their Sainsbury Wing.      Though the pictures were wonderful enough in themselves, I found myself captivated by his working sketches, mostly in inks and pastels but some fully worked in oils.

brocci madonna pastel barocci hand study barocci child study

He worked largely alone, with few pupils, and consequently many of his pieces took over 5 years to complete.  His meticulous drafting and inspired use of vibrant colour bring a vivacity and fluidity of movement seldom found even amongst the Great Masters, especially in draperies and clothing.   His imaginative compositions lead the eye irresistibly to the focus of the picture, without appearing in the least contrived such is his mastery.  His introduction of servants, workmen and others, often with bottles, bowls or tools, lend a sense of commonplace reality even to the sacred.

barocci last supper

His version of the Last Supper is just such a masterpiece.

The exhibition is only on until the 19th of May, but if you can possibly get there I would exhort you not to miss it.  One of the very best exhibitions I have ever visited.

Relais Riserva di Fizzano

sunset at Fizzano  There are places which one visits and, because of the occasion, they assume magical proportions in our memories. Riserva di Fizzano however is magical through and through all by itself!

The occasion they hosted was a wonderful wedding between my eldest son and his delightful Italian girlfriend, which brought together both our families for the first time.

Italo Zingarelli, the gifted Italian film producer, bought the borgo of La Macie  in 1973 and built up an excellent winery in the midst of the Chianti Classico area.  Along with the vineyards came the derelict hilltop Mediaeval village of Fizzano.  Italo’s brother Fabio, an architect, was set to sympathetically  restoring the village, which now provides 19 super apartments, plus a restaurant and an unobtrusive pool surrounded by vineyards and rolling Tuscan hills.

The staff were unobtrusively helpful and consistently cheerful, with nothing being too much trouble.  The restaurant, which perhaps unsurprisingly hosts cookery courses in the winter, served some of the best Italian food I have ever eaten.  And, believe me, I have eaten some in my time!

I am intending to return in October, just in time for the first pressings from their Olive groves, have another tour of their winery and shamelessly indulge myself yet again!!

My photos don’t really do it justice so I suggest you take their tour.     http://www.riservadifizzano.com/index.en.php

Blakeney Point

A Perfect Day

We saw the birds swooping and darting
Or rather they saw us
Protecting their young by feinting
And weaving, tiny boxers with
The sky their ring

I remember the water, icy cold
The waves soaking our jeans
I remember your laughter
Warm and delicious
Like our Spiced Berry

Sand between my toes
Struggling with socks
You were off over the dunes
I remained, alone and thinking
She really is a lovely lady

Walking on, making a find
Samphire so salty it bit my lips
I’d rather it had been you
Back to the car, back to the station
I drove home thinking of you