Dear Heart

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Photos  © J.Lowe 2009

Despite my desire to create a different kind of food blog, I could not resist the following surrogate posting in the interim.

How could I resist the offer of a deer heart from my good friend?  I had asked for the liver but his arrow went straight through it, turning it to mush.  Considering the fact that this dear friend is both a hunter and a photographer who recently lost sight in his seeing eye, my desire to create something from his travail was foremost in my mind.

It is quite something to hold a heart in one’s hand.  A deer heart is quite large, almost the size of my ‘should have been a piano player’ large feminine hand.  It is firm and cold.  It continues to bleed.  It is fascinating, especially when it comes to dissection.

I couldn’t but help to think about my own heart whilst I cut out the ventricles.  It was so clean and firm.  My heart would not look like this surely, for all my life and times entailed?

I set about photographing my heart.  Wherever it was it bled.  It continued to live in my house as I moved it around from scene to scene.  Only when I cut into it and took control of it, stuffing it with domestic objects, placing in a cooking vessel and providing it with heat did it relinquish control over me.

That was until it came to be cooked and for the sake of integrity I had to eat it.  Then the psychology came into play.  Cut, fork, eat.  Oh.

The taste was surprisingly clean and fine.  Not unpleasant. Had I been in the company of others I may have eaten more but alone in my house, heart on a plate, I felt scared.

Here it is, a heart.

Pomegranates

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All photos © J.Lowe 2009

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I rarely think to use pomegranates in my cooking and I need to address this
shortcoming. Why overlook such a health giving, versatile ingredient that has been in
this world for about 5000 years?  The brilliant ruby seeds provide glinting eye candy in
desserts, salads and aromatic stews. The blood red juice turns jellies, cocktails, syrups
and glazes a stunning, tantalizing colour and provides a bitter sweet taste.

There is something darkly sensual about this fruit. Itʼs curiously exotic, pregnant with
seeds, unashamedly bloody and an alluringly luscious deep glossy red, like the mouth
of a harlot. To handle the pomegranate, to extract the seeds and feel the slippery arils, to suck them in and taste the sharp sweetness is really rather erotic.  It’s no wonder there is mention that the tree in the garden of Eden was actually a pomegranate tree.  Who wouldnʼt be tempted by such a provocative fruit?

When shopping for pomegranates, choose heavy smooth fruits and at the same time
pick up a bottle of pure pomegranate juice to augment your recipe if necessary. Itʼs a
great pantry staple. Use it in making salad dressings or marinades, add a splash to a
vodka martini or a glass of champagne, thicken it by reduction and the addition of sugar
to glaze ribs, pour over ice cream, just drink it or use to dye your knickers pink!

Before I continue with a recipe (which is not something I commonly do in my blog posts, preferring to simply write and let the idea of the dish capture interest rather than provide a presciption to my readers) you should know that the instigation for this post came from foodiefights.com

I signed up as a potential contestant for their 12th food challenge and was picked to
compete alongside the following fine bloggers:

Bake-Off Flunkie
Bite Me New England
Felice in the Kitchen
NomNomNom Blog
Om-nom-nomnivore (Lazy Sumo)

The challenge is to cook something showcasing two ingredients chosen by the
foodiefight hosts from suggestions sent in.  Since pomegranates are now in season and
I rarely use them I thought it would be an interesting suggestion for an ingredient.

It ended up being chosen, along with semolina flour.  I found and adapted a recipe from tesco.com called

Yogurt Cake with Pomegranate Syrup.

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So, read on, enjoy and check out foodiefights.com to see how we all performed in this
challenge.

Ingredients:
3 cardamon pods
4 oz semolina flour
4 oz all purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

6 oz superfine sugar

5 oz low fat natural yogurt
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
10 fl oz pomegranate juice
1 pomegranate (but buy a few in case some are light on seed count)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Crush cardamon pods, remove the seeds (discard the husk) and grind them in a pestle
and mortar. Place in large mixing bowl.

Add to the bowl the semolina flour, all purpose flour, baking powder and 4 oz of the
caster sugar. Mix together well.

Beat the yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence together (I used an electric hand mixer)
and add to the flour mixture, blending until smooth. Pour into a well greased 9” cake pan
and bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden stick inserted into the middle of the cake
comes out clean.

While the cake is cooking, put pomegranate juice into a saucepan and heat to boiling,
turn down to a slow boil and reduce by half. The recipe says to add the rest of the
sugar at the end and just dissolve it but I wanted the syrup thick and sticky so I added
the 2 oz of caster sugar while the liquid was boiling and reducing. This way I got a
lovely syrupy mixture.

Remove the seeds from the pomegranate(s) and add to the syrup. When the cake
comes out of the oven, allow it to cool, turn out onto desired plate and pour the syrupy
sticky goodness all over the top.

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In addition to the Tesco recipe, I also made a yogurt cream to serve with the cake.
1 cup low fat natural yogurt
1/2 cup plain low fat cream cheese
juice and zest of one orange

Mix all the above ingredients together and serve in a bowl alongside the cake. The
bright, citrus note of the orange melds wonderfully with the deep sweet syrup and the
dense vanilla and smoky cardamon cake.

(It did occur to me to put the cardamon seeds in with the syrup. Perhaps the next time I
cook venison or lamb Iʼll try that as a glaze for the meat)

The resulting cake is dense, moist and fragrant, not overly sweet. It would be good
served plain as a breakfast cake with coffee but by adding the syrup, the resulting
dessert is a veritable crown of jewels.

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Polenta

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Photograph © Derek Richmond 2009

polenta_ka5480So Autumn is almost here.

As the colours of the landscape begin to change and the smell in the air starts to get musty, my food wants to get richer in flavour and heartier in substance.  Goodness knows how long the winter will last and whether the world will freeze over and I’ll be left standing on an iceberg wishing I’d eaten that last piece of polenta.(recipe)

You can buy ready made polenta at the store but it’s an unsurprising, shiny, slippery, sausage of a package that has absolutely no character and really, quite honestly, it’s just so much more satisfying to make it from scratch.  It also happens to be rather good exercise.  Much like making gougére, one has to vigourously stir the pot otherwise you’re left with a lumpy mass.  Once cooked I like to spread it in a shallow baking dish, dot it with butter and season liberally.  It is essential for me at this point to add lots of cheese, preferably gooey stinky cheese or sharp hard cheese.  Put it in the oven and watch the cheese metamorphose.

If you make too much for dinner, save it for breakfast, fry in butter and serve with a runny egg and some hearty sausages.  That’ll be sure to keep you going during the ice storm.

The Invisible Flower

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Photos © Derek Richmond 2009
figska5322

The fig, in season now, is one of the first fruits cultivated by humans and predates the story of the birth of Christ by about 9000 years.

I don’t remember when I first had my taste of fig but I do remember my father planting a fig tree in the garden, stubbornly in the middle of the lawn.  We later learnt that a fig tree likes to grow with some constriction, perhaps against or wall or planted in amongst some rocky earth.  Our tree still grows today,  quite large and fruiting a little.  We won’t move it.  The tree stands awkwardly and stubbornly proud in memory of Martin.

My other memory of figs is a tree across the street from a friend in London.  Much to her consternation I would carry a step ladder to the fence and scrump the plump, luscious fruit.  Only the offerings that hung on the public side of the street would I take, is that so bad?

Dried figs; figgy pudding; figs soaked in wine, brandy or marsala; figs in bread and butter butter pudding; figs with cheese or fig salad, drizzled with honey on some bitter leaves with toasted pine nuts and mozzarella.

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The English figure of speech, “I don’t give a fig”, relates by way of a Bengali proverb, perhaps to the fact that the flower of the fig is invisible (the flower is actually the fruit inside).  One says it to mean, ‘I don’t care’  (I don’t see you).

But I do care, I care very much that you like figs and you must eat them with abandon in season.

Sardines

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Photos by Derek Richmond © 2009

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Sardines.  One thinks of them in a flat can in oil or water.  Or if you live in a busy city then one thinks of them as human beings packed into the subway or bus.  My perfect idea of a sardine is fresh, glistening like an oil slick, smelling of the sea.

Fresh sardines are such an easy meal and so good for you.  An oily fish full of omega 3 that partners well with lemon and parsley, potato salad, frittata and a crisp bottle of white wine. Perfect Summer feast.  Holidaying in Southern Spain whilst in my twenties beget me many a meal of sardines.  Standing at the bar fumbling Spanish, ordering tapas, everything caught that day, grilled simply, ate quickly.

I don’t know if or when I’ll ever return to that place in Spain but my memory of it endures, along with another of a hill top restaurant where we would go for brunch.  Ajo Blanco, a cold garlic almond soup, with frittata and bread.  Looking out over the pool and across the soft valley, morning fog in my head, sweet garlic taste and cold fresh eggness in my mouth. Life, oh joy.

A recent trip to Isaac and Stein fish wholesaler in Chicago landed me some sardines.  I brought them home, split them and removed the backbone (pretty easy, they are a soft fish) made a stuffing with breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper, preheated the broiler and threw them under, turning once for maybe 15 minutes total cooking time.

I like to keep the heads on my fish, some of you won’t.  I like to see the creature afore me, make friends with it as such, eye to eye.  You can of course remove the offending member if that is your wish.  However, be assured, be close to what you eat, know it like you know yourself.  I hope you know yourself.

Warts and all.

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Easter Fare

I am in London on a brief visit to spend a few days with my mother who has just come out of hospital following neck surgery. She has a rather impressive line of staples in the back of her neck that would put Frankenstein to shame.

Today, Easter Sunday, we were treated to a cooked roast lunch, plated and delivered to our door by our lovely neighbour, Christine. Roast Lamb with mint sauce, roast potatoes, steamed carrots and runner beans, all gorgeously moistened by rich gravy. A dish of poached home grown rhubarb, gooseberry and blackberry, sweetened with sugar and accompanied with custard followed. We sat, the two of us, in Mummy’s crisp white bed, surrounded with the Sunday papers and the phone constantly a ringing.

What yum and how relaxing.

However, shame on me for not carrying my camera wherever I go. In my desire to travel light, so too is this posting, sadly imageless. So I leave it to your imaginations. Good old English grub in bed on a dreary day with much love and comfort.

Happy Easter.

Rations

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All photos © Derek Richmond 2008
Tinned sardinesDerek Richmond, a multi-faceted, cerebral and sensitive photographer who consistently spurs me on to think about creating personal work outside of my mostly full-time styling career engendered this post.  Given a precious Saturday or Sunday I curl up at home or in the bookstore and let my brain run amok, forgetting the travails of daily life to immerse myself in mental masturbation.  In thanks to him I post this blog entry.

Browsing through food magazines, trying to come up with said concept for a new photo shoot I came across a double page of two adverts; one a very foodie Jamie Oliver ad and the other showing a dirty post meal plate (I forget the advertiser).  For some reason this juxtaposition struck me and I began to think about the have’s and the have nots. In the strange way one’s mind works I started musing upon rationing in England during WWII.  It occurred to me that no matter what material riches a person might have had, the lack of available food created a democracy amongst people.  The following series of images were borne from this idea.  Basic foodstuff (tinned sardines, smelt, corned beef, evaporated milk, canned spinach, smoked fish, jello) juxtaposed with luxury  material items.  Enjoy.

gucci smoked fish

vintage glass spinach

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smelt and chance fly

evap

corned beefchicken feet

What to do with a glut of vegetables and sniffles

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All photos © J. Lowe 2008

Oh woe is me, I have a cold.  I awoke Sunday morning with the sun streaming in my window and I felt wretched.  Before deciding to spend the day wallowing in self pity, which is a perfectly acceptable option mind you, I instead chose to deal with the matter in a more British stiff upper lip fashion.  I have a glut of food in the fridge which are in need of far more attention than my poor self.  I also have another of my lovely organic chickens and what better than chicken to feed the sniffling soul?

Mini Bartlett pears from Kismet Organic Farm, apples, purple potatoes, garlic and red onions are the Michigan bounty before you.

Now what to do with the chicken?  Since I love to take pictures as much as I love to cook I wanted to let the chicken do its’ thing whilst I concentrated on photographing the rest of the meal.  A one pan wonder of roasted goodness seemed ideal so I took my box of bounty and added curry powder, star anise and cardamon.  I need something fragrant to filter through my stuffy nose.

Bake chicken at 425 for half an hour then turn down temp to 325 until internal temp reads 165 then let it sit for 20 mins.  Baste it every 20 minutes.  You can cook the vegetables and fruit all at once in the pan for some great caramelised stuff or for prettiness, cook them separately and garnish afterward.

Aioli

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Photographs © Derek Richmond 2008

Quail eggs seem rather posh.  Is it that a thing so small and expensive must be for the special and precious of this world?  Petit fours, tartlettes, canapés,  these diminutive dishes remind us of the upper class. 

Growing up in London and speaking rather proper English led others to assume I was posh and came from money.  Far from the fact, I came from modest beginnings, though did have rather superior taste thanks to parents who read well and paid attention to the world around them. At a young age I was introduced to the idea, if not the direct experience, of fine things.

Visiting Harrods was considered part of my education.  This gargantuan department store is sadly no longer the epitome of high class purveyance it once was.  Their food displays were a sight to behold and staff gave every customer their gracious time and attention.  Nowadays Harrods is a theme park.  But, it was where at 6 or 7 years old I came across this perfectly adorable child sized foodstuff, as precious and as diverse in appearance as my collection of marbles.

Quail eggs are creamy and delicate and delicious.  They are also beautiful to look at.  Once cracked or cooked and peeled, the interior shell colour is such a calm blue, the kind of hue I should like to put through my hair when I am old and gray.  

I digress.  I bought a dozen quail eggs and because my mood was “in for a penny in for a pound”, I decided to make some aioli also.

Aioli is a mayonnaise made with egg yolk, garlic, lemon juice and oil.  There is nothing quite like fresh mayonnaise and the process is ever so easy given a half hour of contemplative dribbling and pounding with a pestle and mortar.  I followed Rick Stein‘s recipe from his book ‘English Seafood Cookery’.  He allows for the use of a food processor as an alternative to the pestle and mortar which I will too if you lack the latter but I hasten you to purchase one for it more simply returns you to the process of cooking.  

Rick Stein’s Aioli

8 cloves of garlic

2 fresh egg yolks

Juice of a quarter lemon

A good pinch of (coarse sea) salt

12 fl. oz of good virgin olive oil (I find extra virgin to be a little too bitter so I combine it with sunflower in a quantity of 2/3 to a 1/3)

Reduce the garlic to a puree with a pestle (this process is aided by adding your coarse sea salt at this stage), add egg yolks and lemon juice and beat in (with a whisk) the oil in (a very slow and) steady drizzle.(the additions in parenthesis are my additions to the recipe instructions)

I also added chopped fresh dill.

In researching aioli I came across a book that I will buy.  Richard Olney wrote ‘Simple French Food’ in 1974. He said, “By knowing and accepting rules, one frees oneself of rules’.  This is surely the basis of cooking and the crux of creativity.  

Know what you speak of and then speak your own mind.

Magic in Michigan

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Photos © J. Lowe 2008

In planning a road trip to take me around northwestern Michigan and into the Upper Peninsula, I stumbled across some reviews on tripadvisor.com of a b&b in Northport on the western peninsula called the Old Mill Pond Inn.  These are snippets from some of the user reviews:

“our wives were actually frightened to stay there’

“straight out of a horror movie”

“something is definitely amiss at the Old Mill Pond. Run!!! “

“This is a FABULOUS and eclectic feast of a destination!”

Isn’t diversity great?  Sadly, most people in this world are really annoying and should just stay at home getting fat or fit in front of the television.  

The owner of the Old Mill Pond is David Chroback, an artist who has lived there for 25 years and has run his B&B for about that long too.  He also caters food and organises all sorts of events in the area.  As I travelled around visiting various farms and wineries, I would mention his name and people’s faces would light up with recognition.  By all accounts he is deeply respected by many people for miles around.   

I spent three nights at the Old Mill Pond Inn.  On approaching the driveway I was greeted by a replica Beefeater in his sentry box, self – proclaiming redundancy and in the distance on the lawn, a large breasted, bra and panty clad wooden cut-out woman declaring herself ready to whip me into shape.   The house and garden is an eclectic and passionate series of vignettes. He has amassed collections of objects, from the glittering to the kitsch, primitive to iconic, wacky to interesting.  David’s home and the six rooms he has for guests are a veritable circus of ideas.  With delightful irreverence, he moves gently and generously through the world creating magical scenes, gesturing opinion respectfully and shunning conformity politely.

    

Our breakfasts on his wrap around verandah were beautiful and delicious. 

French toast croissants, a delicate omelette, blueberry pancakes, each dish decorated with fresh fruit and a garnish from his beautiful garden.

      

He has an ingenious way of growing tomatoes in a hanging black bucket, using pipe and connectors as the means by which to hang the heavy receptacle.  Second year round he admitted is the much improved version.  Anyone with a spot of outdoors, be it acreage or balcony, could grow themselves a tricolore salad or a marinara dish by this method.

My experience at The Old MIll Pond Inn reminded me of how straight and narrow life can be sometimes.  I used to live in a town where the lawn police would come and stake the ground if the grass was over a certain length.  I don’t have a garden at all now, I just have 2 lovely window boxes full of herbs.  I’d kind of like a garden again some day, preferably roof top and I’ll be sure to remember David’s palace of imagination.

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