29 Jul 2012

Potato Salad and Ernest Hemingway

My reading one year whilst on holiday was 'Islands in the Stream' - by Ernest Hemingway.  I really can't remember anything about the storyline - I just remember I enjoyed reading it at the time and the thing that stuck out most for me in the book was Hemingways' descriptions of food.  In particular Potato Salad - and now, whenever I make it - it takes me right back to that book and that holiday.

Traditional Potato Salad
"I'll pass you up the rifle and get the hell back to those potatoes.  The boys like potato salad, don't they?  The way we fix it?"
"Sure.  Roger too.  Put in plenty of hard-boiled egg and onion."
"I'll keep the potatoes good and firm.  Here's the rifle."  (Islands in the Stream)

Hemingway used to say that he preferred writing when he was hungry because it was good discipline.  Whatever it was, I expect that it made his descriptions of food and drink more potent.

Certainly these are scattered throughout 'Islands in the Stream' and if you can read a book without craving a fresh onion sandwich or a cold gin-and-tonic, then you probably have a healthy immunity to your appetite.
French potato Salad - using shallots and white wine vinegar
There is something about salty sea air, warm sun and bracing surf that somehow makes lunch seem incomplete without potato salad.  Part of Hemingways' genius was in making such connections for those who read his stories.
Spanish potato salad (Ensaladilla) using a mixture of vegetables
adding olives and sherry vinegar
There are many different ways of preparing Potato Salad - but the one that suits my taste which has been perfected over the years is - the simpler the better.  Potatoes, Spring Onions, Hard Boiled Eggs and chopped Chives mixed together with Mayo and a little Salad Cream and sprinkled with Paprika.

The French add olive oil, mustard and shallots with thyme - the Spanish add vegetables, olive and sherry vinegar.

The secret is to chill it for a couple of hours before eating to let all the flavours meld together.

"Boys seem to be doing all right" Eddy said.  "We've got fish for dinner already."
"Sounds fine.  How's that potato salad?"
"It isn't cold yet Tom."
"Eddy you like to cook don't you."
"Damn right I like to cook.  I like going in a boat and I like to cook.  What I don't like is rows and fights and trouble." (Islands in the Stream)
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So there you have it - whenever I make potato salad I think of Ernest Hemingway - funny how the mind works isn't it?

(The first part of the book takes place in Bimini in the Bahamas - take a look at the video and see how fabulous it is)

24 Jul 2012

Home-made Wine and My Uncle Silas

Last weekend the 'beloved' was rummaging round in the shed and came across an old beer crate - to his surprise when he turned it round it was full of bottles of wine - my wine - my homemade wine.  At one time I would turn anything into wine - and what he found were the last few bottles that I was saving for posterity.
Okay - I know that sounds strange - you don't very often see the words 'home-made wine' and 'posterity' in the same sentence, but there is a perfectly sensible explanation.

I was influenced by a a chapter in the book My Uncle Silas by H.E. Bates - called 'The Return'. This is a book of short stories  based on the life of a real person.

Bates's Uncle Silas figure, and many of the lineaments of his character, were based on a real person named Joseph Betts, the husband of H.E. Bates's maternal grandmother Mary Ann. Betts lived in a village in the Ouse Valley, was born in the early 1840s, and lived to the early 1930s. The figure he portrays is Rabelaisian and robust, a true countryman of pithy and rogueish character, simultaneously earthy and whimsical, crabbed and wicked, yet full of humour and "strong original devilishness."

 Inseparable from the text are the illustrations of Edward Ardizzone, which perfectly and brilliantly capture the gnarled quality and sly charm of the subject.

Two series of the short stories were adapted for television. The first aired in 2001 and the second in 2003. They featured Albert Finney as Silas.

But I digress - what is the connection between my home-made wine and My Uncle Silas you might ask.  Well in the last chapter of the book Uncle Silas has died and his nephew has returned to his old home for a last look round.  He sees it has all changed

"As I went up the lane to the house I looked for the old sign of things:  smoke rising from the chimney; the old summer bird-scares, age-green hats on sticks and inside-out umbrellas and twirling shuttlecocks; scarecrows made up of odd legs of Silas's pants and bell-bottomed trousers and the housekeeper's ancient hat and chemises; the ladder in the late apple trees; the bonfire filling the garden and the spinney and the fields with smoke that hung in sweet-smelling clouds under the pines and the golden cherry leaves.  I listened for the cluck of Silas's hens and the grunting and rooting of the solitary sow he had always kept in the black sty under the elderberries at the garden end.  But it was very quiet, oddly silent everywhere.  I could hear nothing."

The nephew tells a few lies to the new owner and manages to make his way into the cottage and down into the cellar where Uncle Silas used to keep his bottles of home-made wine.

"We were in the cellar.  And suddenly I breathed.  It was like the breath of another world:  the wine and the dampness, the musty odour of ferment and dust and spider-webs.  The walls were yellow in the candle-light.  Big shadows fell and ballooned over them as I raised and lowered the candle."

The nephew finds the last of his uncle's bottles of elderberry and cowslip wine and pretends they are vinegar and harness oil and sneakily makes off with them.  The only inheritance he has from his beloved Uncle.  I wept buckets when I read the last couple of chapters and decided that I would keep the last of my wine in the shed - so that when I am dead and gone - whoever lives in our house next - will find my wine and wonder.  Wonder who the person was that had lived here before and why on earth would they leave behind a few bottles of Parsnip wine and a few bottles of Elderberry.  Now you know!

Out of curiosity the 'beloved' opened a bottle of Parsnip to see what the 1984 vintage tasted like.  We were both pleasantly surprised - it was clear as a bell and looked and tasted like white wine should, maybe a little too sweet but definitely fruity and drinkable.  So there you have it  - if you have a few parsnips going spare - turn it into wine - and maybe keep one for posterity just as I have!  CHEERS!

If you are interested in H.E.Bates check out this post here that I wrote some time ago
about book foraging and my collection of his books.

22 Jul 2012

Flora and the Zephyrs

  I came across this intriguing painting the other day and wondered what the story was behind it.

Flora and the Zephyrs - John William Waterhouse
Flora and the Zephyrs
John  William Waterhouse


charcoal study

John William Waterhouse's  Flora and the Zephyrs takes its subject from Ovid's Fasti, which is a verse chronicle of the Roman calendar, and which incorporates the mythologies and historical legends of Rome where they can he associated with specific times of the year. Waterhouse's painting shows the moment when Zephyr first set eyes upon and fell in love with Flora, as she gathered flowers in the fields with her maidens and children.  He flies down to her, accompanied by his winged companions, and captures her by casting a garland of white flowers around her.
Flora and the Zephyrs was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1898 with Ariadne (private collection),

John William Waterhouse: Ariadne - 1898
Ariadne was the daughter of King Minos of Crete
  which showed the sleeping figure outstretched at the moment of her abandonment by Theseus. Two years later Waterhouse showed the Awakening of Adonis,

 where again the main protagonist seems hardly aware of the unfolding drama.  Waterhouse's paintings after the turn of the century were to become blander and more oblique in their storytelling, and seldom again did he achieve the psychological tension and sense of frenzied excitement of Flora and the Zephyrs.

John William Waterhouse
was an English painter known for working in the Pre-Raphaelite style.
He worked for several decades after the break-up of the Brotherhood, borrowing
stylistic influences not only from the earlier 'Pre-Raphs' but also from his
contemporaries the Impressionists - his artworks were known for their
depictions of women from both ancient Greek mythology
and Arthurian legend.

Probably Waterhouse's most famous work
The Lady of Shallot
Waterhouse had been suffering from cancer for some time and in 1916 while he continued to work on The Enchanted Garden
The Enchanted Garden
he was approaching the end of his journey.  A beautiful planter decorated with grapevines, deer and birds (of a type that may be found in an enchanted garden) now rests upon the slab that covers the Waterhouse gravesite at Kensal Green Cemetery.
"The painting makes a fitting epitaph - for what is the work of Waterhouse - if not an enchanted garden"!.
John William Waterhouse died on 10 February 1917 before the painting was finished.

His art continues to bring joy and inspiration to many.
I have used two of his paintings to illustrate  a post on The Scented Garden - Roses here on my other blog Ramblings from Rosebank

15 Jul 2012

Crust and Crumb

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Bread is my downfall.  I love sandwiches, all types of sandwiches, and anything on toast - beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheese - bring it on!  Every week I make bread, although nowadays it is in a bread-making machine.  I dribble and drool at the bakery section of the supermarket at all the lovely shapes and different types they sell.  There aren't many days in my life when I haven't eaten bread in one form or another.  If I pass by a real bakery - I am lured in by the smell of fresh bread and stand there indecisively trying to decide which to pick.  The crusty large white tin loaf or the small wholemeal with oats scattered on top - or maybe a few rolls, baps, cobs.  And what about lovely cotttage loaves.  The list is endless.


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I particularly like artisan bread which is a little bit rustic and is described as hand-crafted bread, using no artificial ingredients or preservatives - with all the different flavours, nuts, seeds and fruit which can be added.

 Then there are the Italian breads like CIABATTA 
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and what about all those lovely French BAGUETTES

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 This is described as the BEST BREAD EVER - Take 1 French loaf and cut in half.  Spread thickly with butter and place on a baking tray in a hot over for 10 minutes until the butter is melted and soaked into the bread.  Remove from oven and place under the grill till the butter starts to brown and blacken.  This is when the flavour really kicks in, when the butter colour changes.  Slice into strips and serve immediately.  (Taken from The Pioneer Woman.
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The best bread for me is crusty, moist and slightly chewy.  When we used to visit my Grandma as children I have vivid memories of  bread rising in a 'pansion' at the side of the fire with a clean tea towel over the top .  She used to make 'barm' bread, large round flat loaves with floury dusted tops that tasted lovely and yeasty.

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I mean - what could be nicer than a bacon sandwich on a Sunday morning, no fancy ingredients, just bacon - with perhaps a fried egg included - and a dollop of brown sauce.  It has been the undoing of many a vegetarian!
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So I say, three cheers for bread - the staff of life for hundreds of years - and I don't mean white sliced  'pappy' bread in a plastic bag - I mean the real stuff. 

See here for the history of bread.

8 Jul 2012

The Simple Things In Life

When we were young - life was simple.  The older we get the more we make life complicated for ourselves.  Here are a few simple things that make me happy.
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Reminiscing about old times with your closest friend

Everything we possess that is not necessary for life or happiness becomes a burden, and scarcely a day passes that we do not add to it (Robert Brault)

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 Having a good laugh

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone.  The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of the non-essentials (Lin Yutang)
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Receiving an unexpected compliment

You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need (Vernon Howard)

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People watching

“This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.” (Susan Polis Schutz)

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Having a good hair day.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away

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Occasionally indulging in your favourite food

This is my wish for you: Comfort on difficult days, smiles when sadness intrudes, rainbows to follow the clouds, laughter to kiss your lips, sunsets to warm your heart, hugs when spirits sag, beauty for your eyes to see, friendships to brighten your being, faith so that you can believe, confidence for when you doubt, courage to know yourself, patience to accept the truth, Love to complete your life.

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Getting lost in a good book

One day at a time--this is enough. Do not look back and grieve over the past for it is gone; and do not be troubled about the future, for it has not yet come. Live in the present, and make it so beautiful it will be worth remembering.

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It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen. Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so. You feel like running, but life is on a stroll. .

3 Jul 2012

A Favourite Fairy Story - Rapunzel

As a young girl I used to go and stay with my cousin's family for a week during the school holidays - she had a Grimm's Fairy Tale Book and my favourite story was that of Rapunzel which I used to re-read every time I visited.  Something reminded me of that just recently but I couldn't remember much of the story, so I looked it up and this is what I found.

A lonely couple, who want a child, live next to a walled garden belonging to an enchantress. The wife, experiencing the cravings associated with the arrival of her long-awaited pregnancy, notices a rapunzel plant(or, in some versions of the story, rampion), growing in the garden and longs for it, desperate to the point of death. On each of two nights, the husband breaks into the garden to gather some for her; on a third night, as he scales the wall to return home, the enchantress, "Dame Gothel," catches him and accuses him of theft. He begs for mercy, and the old woman agrees to be lenient, on condition that the then-unborn child be surrendered to her at birth. Desperate, the man agrees. When the baby girl is born, the enchantress takes the child to raise as her own, and names the baby Rapunzel. Rapunzel grows up to be the most beautiful child in the world with long golden hair. When Rapunzel reaches her twelfth year, the enchantress shuts her away in a tower in the middle of the woods, with neither stairs nor a door, and only one room and one window. When the witch visits Rapunzel, she stands beneath the tower and calls out:
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair, so that I may climb the golden stair.
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Upon hearing these words, Rapunzel would wrap her long, fair hair around a hook beside the window, dropping it down to the enchantress, who would then climb up the hair to Rapunzel's tower room. (A variation on the story also has the enchantress imbued with the power of flight and/or levitation and the young girl unaware of her hair's length.)

One day, a prince rides through the forest and hears Rapunzel singing from the tower. Entranced by her ethereal voice, he searches for the girl and discovers the tower, but is naturally unable to enter. He returns often, listening to her beautiful singing, and one day sees Dame Gothel visit, and thus learns how to gain access to Rapunzel. When Dame Gothel is gone, he bids Rapunzel let her hair down. When she does so, he climbs up, makes her acquaintance, and eventually asks her to marry him. Rapunzel agrees.

Together they plan a means of escape, wherein he will come each night (thus avoiding the enchantress who visited her by day), and bring her silk, which Rapunzel will gradually weave into a ladder. Before the plan can come to fruition, however, Rapunzel foolishly gives the prince away. In the first edition of Grimm's Fairy Tales, Rapunzel innocently says that her dress is getting tight around her belly (indicating pregnancy; in subsequent editions, she asks the witch (in a moment of forgetfulness) why it is easier for her to draw up the prince than her. In anger, Dame Gothel cuts short Rapunzel's braided hair and casts her out into the wilderness to fend for herself. When the prince calls that night, the enchantress lets the severed braids down to haul him up. To his horror, he finds himself staring at the witch instead of Rapunzel, who is nowhere to be found. When she tells him in anger that he will never see Rapunzel again, he leaps from the tower in despair and is blinded by the thorns below. In another version, the witch pushes him and he falls on the thorns, thus becoming blind.

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For months he wanders through the wastelands of the country. One day, as Rapunzel sings while she fetches water, the prince hears Rapunzel's voice again, and they are reunited. When they fall into each others' arms, her tears immediately restore his sight. In another variation, it is said that Rapunzel eventually gives birth to twin boys (in some variations, a girl and a boy). The prince leads her to his kingdom, where they live happily ever after.

In another version of the story, the story ends with the revelation that the witch had untied Rapunzel's braid after the prince leapt from the tower, and the braid slipped from her hands and landed far below, leaving her trapped in the tower.

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Can you remember a favourite fairy story from your childhood?