I enjoy cooking. It’s an extension of my love and appreciation of food, and a certain mindfulness of my health and what I eat. It began for me when I took it upon myself to cook my folks a paella recipe from my Mum’s Corden Bleu Cookery Course magazine collection. Talk about jumping in the deep end. I don’t know what it was like really, but they were appreciative. I must have been twelve or thirteen.

Although I had been cooking at that time in the Boy Scouts at camp. Over a camp fire and mostly involved boiling tinned beans, tinned vegetables, and potatoes, and frying sausages and eggs. The regular apogee of our culinary tasks was to bake a cake, in an old biscuit tin oven covered with earth. Needless to say, results were random and variable. I think I owe a great debt to my time as a scout.

Anyway, the point of this is should I blog about my cooking? I’m of two minds on this but yesterday I had a go at a Bobotie which turned out well, and so, while the oven’s still hot…

The Bobotie.

We ate our first Bobotie earlier this year. We were at a charity quiz evening and a South African friend had cooked a huge Bobotie for everyone to have at half-time. (Someone else had prepared a veggie alternative but I can’t remember what it was.)

Some say the Bobotie is South Africa’s national dish. It is a red meat dish, spicy, fruity, slightly sweet and its peculiarity is it’s topped with what is essentially an egg custard before baking in the oven. One good thing is that, after looking over about twelve recipes and videos, apart from the meat, custard and bread, the choice of ingredients varies as many times as there are cooks. So this was my take on the dish, it’s for two people,

The “Curry” Paste

Firstly, prepare the curry paste (some use shop bought Madras powder or paste, so you get an idea). I went the home blend route, using a pestle and mortar.

First grind up the hard ones; a pinch of caraway seeds, a pinch of coriander seeds, 2 dried juniper berries, the seeds from 3 cardamom pods.

Next grind in the medium ones, chopped; 1 medium red chilli, 2 peeled garlic cloves, 1 tsp grated ginger, some fresh coriander stalks

Finally mix in the powdered ones, a good heaped teaspoon each of; cumin, turmeric, cinnamon and a little sea salt and ground black pepper.

If it seems too dry, as mine did, add a little vegetable oil (rape seed, olive etc.) Then give it a good smell: you should get the character of the spiciness right away.

The Spicy, Fruity, Nutty Meat

Next cut the crusts off a slice of bread (I used sourdough), place it in a bowl and cover the bread with a half cup of milk, breaking the slice a little to get it all under. Leave to soak. Preheat the oven to 160 C.

Next, finely dice a large onion. Heat a large pan and melt 25g of butter, then cook the onion until soft and slightly coloured. Add your spice paste and mix in and cook through for a few minutes.

Add 250g of minced beef, breaking it down into the smallest pieces as it cooks. When it’s browned, drain and squeeze the bread slice and add the bread to the mix, breaking it up into crumbs as it cooks. Cook for another 5 minutes, then add 3-4 teaspoons of sweet chutney (I used Mango chutney), and all the fruit, nuts and carrot. Mix and cook for another 5 minutes on a lower heat.

The Baking (with Egg Custard Topping)

Transfer the mix to an oven proof dish and pat in down firm and evenly. Beat an egg and add half cup of milk (you can use the milk the bread was soaked in), whisk into a custard and carefully pour over the meat mixture. Decorate with a couple of bayleaves and pop it in the pre-heated oven, 160 C, for about 30 minutes. The topping should be slightly set and coloured.

As you see, I served it with some fragrant boiled basmati rice, simply cooked with one whole clove and three pierced cardamom pods. Also a chopped cherry tomato, radish and onion (scallion) salad (or salsa). Bon Appetite.

Ingredients for two people.

250g minced or ground meat (beef or lamb)
1 large onion, diced small
25g butter
1 slice bread
1/2 cup milk
4 tsp sweet fruit chutney
1 small grated carrot (or apple)
8 dried organic apricots, chopped
8 whole almonds, chopped
1 tbs raisins
1 large egg
2 bayleaves

1 rounded tablespoon approx. of curry paste (see above) or equivalent curry powder.

Prep. time about 20 minutes (allow more for first time)

Oven baking time, 30 minutes. Fan oven, 160 C (no higher else the custard may split)

Notes and afterthoughts; grated apple seems the popular choice in recipes but we didn’t have one so hence the carrot, which was okay but next time I’ll make sure I have an apple.

The almonds don’t feature in most recipes but our friend suggested them and they worked really well, providing occasional delightful crunchiness and nuttiness. They’re staying in.

I used a fresh chilli which while offers more fruitiness, which I like, sometimes doesn’t provide enough punch. Though this dish isn’t supposed to be full on curry hotness, maybe a little more chilli might be required.

It’s a relatively simple dish to prepare, I think I’ll enjoy cooking it regularly. It is like comfort food.

Posted in Foodie | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


Popcorn resurrected.

I see from my Pinterest pins that I’ve clocked up nearly 200 films since May, when I opened the account. All these had been found, randomly, on YouTube. A number of the earlier ones have been removed, which is a shame. They may be available later, or elsewhere, I don’t know. Anyway, here’s four from my more recent viewings,

Stalingrad: Dogs, Do You Want To Live Forever? (1959 German)

Well, I didn’t think Germany made films about the Third Reich as early as the 50s, – too soon? – but here is one. Neither hype nor sentimentality here though, and don’t be put off by the title; it may sound like something Tarantino would dream up, but it is actually a paraphrase of an historic quote made by Frederick the Great, King of Prussia.

It’s a story of ordinary soldiering which probably happens in any war anywhere in history. A battle not just against enemy onslaughts, but in securing the basic necessities of life in dire conditions, whilst maintaining sufficient faith in your side’s cause.

An idealistic young lieutenant, Wisse, is assign as intelligence officer for the 6th Army, a unit of allied Romanians on the Eastern front of the German push into Russia. On arrival, he acknowledges that the situation isn’t good, the Russian army is stronger than reports told and on top of this, his immediate superior, Major Linkmann, chooses not to see their true plight and is stubbornly intransigent in his beliefs in the superiority of the Germans.

As the title suggests, it all culminates in the battle for Stalingrad, a messy, chaotic and forlorn affair, and, as history tells, it didn’t end well for the Germans.

Inadequate People (2011 Russian)

This fairly recent Russian film is a nice find. The central character, Vitaly, is deeply troubled by an incident in his past. His psychoanalyst encourages him to begin afresh in Moscow. There, he begins a new job working under a sexually harassing female boss. In his new apartment block, he finds his neighbours are a single mother and teenage daughter, and in the latter he sees an affinity with his own recent outlooks on life.

In true Russian spirit, though maybe that’s just stereotypical, the subject is a dark and pessimistic one, mental vulnerability. However, all the noir-realism of the story is blended wonderfully with dry, often sarcastic, wit in the film’s dialogue, in particular the lines given to Vitaly and his teenage spar, Kristina.

And with some of the more bizarre antics of the psychoanalyst and the boss, this must be Russian comedy. I really wished I understood Russian! Still, the subs are well written.

The Naked Island (1960 Japanese)

No subtitles required for this: the peculiarity of this film is that it contains no dialogue whatsoever, even though it’s the story of two working parents and their devotion to their two young sons. Instead, we watch their coming and goings; the parents always at toil, the sons at play, accompanied by the incidental sounds around them; the sea, the boats, the birds, and the occasion visceral expression of joy or pain.

The family make a tough hand-to-mouth living as sole farmers on a small island off the Japanese coast. Filmed in black and white this gives it an even greater sense of remoteness, though most of the story looks to take place in the heat. I found it captivating, and then is tragedy, disillusionment – if that is possible – and reconciliation with life. A beautifully shot film.

Le Mari de La Coiffeuse (1990 French)

I think the French take lighthearted romantic drama seriously. This is a great example of the kind, comic, mostly, ever so slightly absurd, and slightly sorrowful in the end.

It begins with a small town small boy who develops an innocent sexual infatuation with the local barber, a bosomy middle-aged woman. His feelings become so deep that he tells his family his ambition in life is to one day be the husband of a lady barber, much to the chagrin of his father.

He eventually gets his wish, in middle-age, and gets it in spades! The couple are as happy as pigs in clover. However, happiness can overwhelm those with fragile temperaments and be its own worse enemy. Or so this story would have you believe.

Posted in Popcorn | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

those albums

Taste by Taste

The legendary Jimi Hendrix when asked in interviews, what does it feel like being the best guitarist in the world?, would say he didn’t know, the interviewer would have to ask Rory Gallagher.

I found this out quite recently though by watching Youtube. When I bought this, only my fourth or maybe fifth album purchase, Rory Gallagher was just a name to me, his current solo album, Deuce, was talked about at school. I found it in a box of secondhand records in my local record shop, its orange and black screen print style cover art caught my attention. Taste? Never heard of them. The reverse side listed the songs and the three band members. The guitarist was Rory Gallagher, it was a snip and I took it home.

It was okay but, truth be told, it wasn’t played that much: I had other favourites and I was beginning to collect albums fast, buying records, new or secondhand, and borrowing those of friends and putting them on tapes. We have to move the story on a couple of decades before I rediscovered it and found a deeper appreciation for it.

By that time, we’re big into CDs and I have a good player and a fair collection of albums across different genres. My records (vinyl if you like, though we never called them that), remained in boxes, under the stairs, all but forgotten. Then a recession hit, jobs were lost and I went on the dole. A few years before this, we’d moved into an old cottage which had a stone shed in the garden. As our cottage was heated by two wood stoves, I spent whole days in the shed chopping wood. Soon I remembered I still had my old record deck, my first amp and a couple of old speakers so I rigged them up in the shed, in an old wardrobe there to protect them from dust, and I dug out my old records. Taste by Taste became my favourite rediscovery during those months, it was punchy (plenty of upfront bass and wild drumming), punky (Gallagher’s raw sounding guitar style) and bluesy in a kind of rock and roll way. Best of all, I could hear it above the noise of the chop saw.

After five months things returned to normal: steady work, no time to chop wood, and back to the sofa and CDs. In my first week back at work, I went out and bought a CD edition of the album but it was up against stronger competition. Its context, chopping wood in a freezing cold shed, was gone. So, is it any good today?

It’s well produced. The opening chord, electric, as hard as nails, made my heart leap. The bass and drums are as I remembered, out front. Gallagher’s guitar cuts as raw as ever. If there’s one weak link in the chain, for me it’s his voice. It’s not an exemplary rock singer’s voice, nor does it possess much soulfulness. It’s a mild Irish voice.

The album could be divided into three styles: the fast and furious, punky numbers, the country-blues rock numbers, and Hail. I don’t know but to me Hail sticks out like a sore thumb, it seems incongruous, a solo performance, lyrically odd, possibly an impromptu filler. I mean, it’s not awful, it just doesn’t sit well with the other numbers. But it does suit his voice.

As do the bluesier ones, Catfish, Leaving Blues, Sugar Mama and I’m Moving On, although there is some straining in places, overall they suit his voice. Incidentally, he didn’t write any of those four, they’re all arrangements of old standards and a country song. As for the faster numbers, if it wasn’t for Richard McCracken and John Wilson, bass and drums respectively, pushing them along nicely, maybe nothing could be said about them. An interesting listen, a bit of nostalgia gratified, and back in the box it goes.

Blister On The Moon
Leaving Blues
Sugar Mama
Born On The Wrong Side Of Time
Dual Carriageway Pain
Same Old Story
I’m Moving On

Posted in Earwax | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


This blog hasn’t had much attention in the last couple of years but I thought it would be a pity to let it go. Early this year I began another blog which is more about me, however I hadn’t noticed the setting is “Private” until a week ago. No wonder traffic stats were low. Fortunately it gives me an option to transfer some art related posts from there across to this blog by way of giving this one a second life.

However, I’ll have to suspend the popcorn thread as I stopped the subscription to LoveFilm some time ago. Though not intentionally to preserve the thread, I have continued watching full length films by YouTube, and have saved these on a new Pinterest account under “B-tube”, so named because most of them are old and rare films. This, I have found, doesn’t make them bad and though I haven’t rated them in any way, only the order in which I’ve seen them, they are all worthwhile in some way – a few that were not, I didn’t bother to save, or really watch to their end.

Finding watchable films on YouTube isn’t straightforward though it is free. Like the proverbial London buses, none come and then three appear at once. And sometimes, due to copyright infringement mostly, they can disappear as quickly. There are times when I think I’ve reached the end yet a little patience and perseverance reveals another small batch of gems. Then it can be a bit addictive.

Maybe later I’ll post about some of the more notable ones from the collection, as I recall them.

B-tube @ Pinterest

Posted in Popcorn | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Qu Leilei @ Ashmolean

The Ashmolean, Oxford, isn’t my favourite gallery after today. Their display lighting is abysmal. For the first five minutes I thought there was something on my glasses. I gave them a good wipe with the little bit of cloth they put in the case but it didn’t make any discernible difference. Gloom prevailed like a permanent twilight.

Maybe the exhibits would be better lit. They were but the lights were all wrong, hideous reflections and uneven illuminance everywhere. And the space in gallery room 11, China was just inadequate for displaying the larger works of contemporary artist Qu Leilei.

What a beautiful artist he is though. I was, as they say, blown away by the life drawings. This is what I’m into and these are some of the most touching I’ve seen. The nudes range from small, simple line sketches in black ink with some colouring and some medium sized brush and ink sketches in the Chinese line style.

Then there are several huge, life size and double life size nudes in brush and ink using a more painterly style, layering dilutions of ink to build up tone and form, from light to deep shadows, the background to the figures being an intense and rich blackness.

Qu is also known for his large format studies of hands in brush and ink. There are two pieces on show here, The Future Remains In Our Own Hands, depicting a child’s hand cradled in an adult’s, and Friendship, two pairs of clasped hands, those of the artist’s wife and those of his friend, Michael Sullivan. Sullivan is also the subject of a portrait painted in the same technique (included in the brief slide show below).

The remainder of the show comprises landscape ink sketches, mixed media work, calligraphy and some pieces seemingly of a political nature as comments on Chinese militarism. In spite of the poor lighting and inadequacy of the room for displaying wall-hung art, I think this exhibition would be a joy to anyone involved in life studies, and in particular working with ink. He’s set a high bar to aspire to.

Slideshow comprises in order,
Kneeling Girl | ink on paper, 2001
Portrait of Michael Sullivan | ink on paper, 2012
Standing Nude | ink on paper, 2016
The Future Remains In Our Own Hands | ink on paper, 2014
Friendship | ink on paper, 2012
Reclining Nude (Danae) | ink on paper, 2016
Qu Leilei in his studio (photo)

Posted in Art | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

those albums

Pretzel Logic by Steely Dan

Walter Becker’s death recently had me thinking about old albums.

Some people can hang on to their musical tastes over decades. I see these grey old blokes in the crowd at Status Quo gigs in their tour t-shirts, ecstatically jumping up and down; have they not listened to anything else in those years in between youth and old age? How in love with music are they?

Since Youtube, and more lately Spotify, I’m often searching for an old song I once liked only to be dismayed how bad it sounds to me now. Really I’m talking about “rock music”, the music of my youth, guitar bands, basically, usually fronted by some screaming white vocalist. I also used to listen to “soul” but that still sounds good, so it’s just my taste for rock music that’s gone. These are just odd songs revisited; I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a whole album.

So, Walter Becker’s death had me wondering if those albums I used to love still had something to say. Naturally, I’d start with Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic, a masterpiece in its day and one which I thought of as a perfect album – an album without highs and lows, one with a kind of mood theme, and produced without an ounce of fat (no fillers).

I first heard the opening song, Rikki Don’t Lose That Number at school in “Christmas Entertainments” (this was a comedy sketch and music show put on every year by the entertainments society or stage club or theatre incorporated or whatever they were called). I think the band was called Double Diamond, which was the name of a crap beer, the kind that was anathema to the campaign for real ale. If I’m right, then I’m sure the lead guitarist was a teacher and the other four members were pupils (one of which has made a successful career as a professional pop musician).

The people who invented Google hadn’t even been born, so I don’t know how easy it was to track the song down then. I may have been told it was Steely Dan’s by someone in the know, or I may have heard the original on the radio sometime after. Then it was a matter of hot-footing it to the record shop and seeing which album it was on. I bought Pretzel Logic on the strength of that one song.

How to describe the album? It was unusual compared to most rock albums of the time that I don’t know if it is rock by rights. The songs seem more intellectual than most though the lyrics are somewhat obscure. I’ve heard them described as musical short-stories, each song, compact by that day’s standards, features its own protagonist, often if not entirely in the noir genre of storytelling: shady characters, down-and-outs, dealers, misfits and crooks. It’s distanced further from standard rock fare by its hints of jazz influences – Charlie Parker, Horace Silver and, of course, Duke Ellington’s East St. Louis Toodle-oo. There’s also occasional funkiness and use of horns.

It had to be at least twenty years since I last listened to Pretzel Logic from beginning to end. I think it remains a good album; timeless, as they say. And to me it’s still one of my “perfect albums”, consistently good without highs or lows.

Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number
Night By Night
Any Major Dude Will Tell You
East St. Louis Toodle-oo
Parker’s Band
Through With Buzz
Pretzel Logic
With A Gun
Charlie Freak
Monkey In My Soul

Posted in Earwax | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

ah, little Pluto, it’s so good to see you

imageWhen I was small, my grandfather would buy me the weekly journal, Finding Out. I remember it well. It was an educational magazine for young minds, dealing mainly with the sciences, geography, history, and the modern world, and which, if you chose to, could “build into an encyclopaedia”. (I think that could have been the phrase used in the promotional ad., though there were others – Knowledge for one, which Granddad bought subsequently – which may have used it instead.)

As required of any successful magazine, not least one aimed at children, it was packed with images. But not photographs, at least none of the ones I had. They were provided entirely by illustrators and artists. Photos, as an alternative, at that time with the technology available would probably have been too expensive. I hoped to find some examples on the web but so far have not. It’s a pity as I have a vivid recollection of some of the illustrations; a portrait of The Beatles (actually for an explanation of electric guitars); mythical and folk-lore creatures (the tokoloshe, the necromancer, the essential distinction between malevolent elves and merely mischevious pixies); landscapes of the planets (and moons) of our solar system. So vivid are these in my imagination that I needed to see them again for real to reassure myself of my recollective sanity. In particular I wanted to find an example of one of my favourite series of illustrations: landscapes on the other planets and moons in our solar system.

Over a number of weeks, each edition’s back cover would carry an artist’s impression of a view from a different planet’s surface. The illustrator’s brief seemed to have been 90% carte-blanche imagination and just 10% knowledge of astrophysics. It was pure science fiction. Most of our neighbouring worlds depicted were nice places you could visit wearing a 24tog anorak, light sun cream and, for prudence sake, a second pair of socks. They had often what looked like benign, breathable atmospheres. Wispy cloud trails would drift over high mountains over which moons would rise, or set. Maybe the sky would be rendered in an odd hue of red, yellow, or green. It was totally wrong, though it made me wonder. I wonder now, whether I remembered it incorrectly. That’s why I needed to see one once more. No luck so far.

This is the 60s I’m writing about. It’s seems odd to think that that time is closer to the year of Pluto’s discovery than it is to the present day. The seed that those magazines planted in my imagination has flourished, really without me being conscious of it. I find myself utterly fascinated now with the images from space telescopes and probes, and what it all means on a human level. Actually, I find the whole thing incomprehensible: the distances, the speeds, the sizes. All, to an ordinary bloke on Earth, is nonsense. Yet fascinating because of it. It kicks science-fiction into the Kuiper Belt. Why should we bother with that when the real science easily overwelms the capacity of the ordinary mind? I used to think that science-fiction was unbounded, limitless in the human ability to imagine what could be beyond reality. But now I realise it isn’t. It’s just the opposite.

Posted in Stuff | Leave a comment