The one where cake-work hampered any culinary experimentation this weekend.

Damn those chocolate roses taking forever to make!  I have made them hundreds of times before, and out of various ingredients.  This time I made my own Belgian chocolate plastique, the method being pretty easy, but the quantity not so much!  I have a lot of roses to make though!  I’m guessing I will be done by Wednesday.

Of course, this completely impeded the plans I had made to finally attempt my own version of Kouign Amann.  This was one pastry that, although I had read about, did not taste until my most recent trip to Paris.  An exquisite pastry that originally hails from Brittany in France, it’s perfectly flaky, unctuously chewy, glistening with caramelised sweetness and filled with salted buttery goodness.

I have no choice but to attempt to recreate it and share it’s magic with my friends and family.

Alas, it will have to wait until next week at least as I know it will be a labour of love, but rest assured I will be back with my Kouign Amann adventures soon!

Pick your own Kouignettes @ Georges Larnicol in Paris

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In the meantime, as I am on a roses break because my palms need a rest,  I thought I’d use my fingers instead and tell you a little more about another of my passions.

I am pretty much inseparable from the  kitchen.  I feel comfort when there is one in the vicinity. It’s my place of serenity, creativity, joy, pleasure, gathering; a symbol of togetherness and love….. It’s the Holy evoke-r of fond memories and creations (the good and the ones that need some tender love and attention to be made better!)  Oh and the place I almost always take over. (I’m sure my family and friends will vouch for that!)

Just as much as I am inseparable from the kitchen, in recent years I have gained a new appendage.  It’s pretty big…and totally sexy to me.

My mind is not even close to being as dirty as yours.

Now is a good time to be removing your mind from the gutter.   I am talking about my camera, of course.

Although, throughout my life,  I have always been involved in something artistic in one way or the other- from ceramics, painting, screen printing to sugar art, I didn’t consider venturing into photography until my early 20’s.  I now know how awful this is to say, but I never really acknowledged or understood it to be a form of expression with much value.  For me, doing something practical such a picking up a pencil to sketch to create a picture, constructing a sculpture from clay, structuring a dish that activates your senses are all things that I deem to be artistic/creative/exciting and ways to express how I feel.

I’d never been exposed to photography at school, but at university, there was a friend I lived with on a photography course and she would talk about her work and always have her camera with her-  ready to capture a moment.  I remember thinking, sure it’s great; you learn the technical skills you need to use a camera manually, and use a dark room and of course you must have a good eye to be able to take well composed photos, but I never understood the way you could make something yours.   The image that you’re taking of that woman, what does it say about you?  I could understand how a painter made a portrait their own with their emotions being revealed through their brush strokes, but how did a photographer do with with the photograph portrait of a person? This was at a time when the girl I was living with would only use film as digital, although it had been around for quite a while, it was not favoured by students (if I remember correctly).  I had a digital camera, in fact I still have that one in a drawer somewhere.  It’s travelled with me to too many places for me to give it up.  I’m sentimental like that.

My love for photography was born the first summer I spent in Madrid.  I had decided to take a year out of university and go and learn Spanish.  With the summer semester ending, I made this decision on the spur of the moment and within a couple of weeks I was in Madrid.    During my first week there I met some wonderful people in my school from all over the world- teachers and students.  It was a blast.  Not very many people were there for as long as I was, so there was always an influx of new people coming into the school which was great.  I made a number of close friends, but there was one in particular.  A girl from New Jersey.  We clicked quickly and ended up spending most of our free time together.

Christine had a film SLR with her, a Nikon I think, and a keen interest in photography.  I found her camera to be cumbersome and big, and didn’t understand why she wanted to take that around with her over taking a compact one like mine as we wandered the streets.   Over the weeks she showed me why and that’s when I started to understand and this is when my love affair with photography began.

We were planning to visit galleries and museums because we both had an interest in art.  She told me about this event that was happening over the whole city- PhotoEspana and said that we should go.  We looked it up and found that there were exhibitions all over the city in galleries, museums, hotels, metro stations- you name it.  Every district had some photography exhibition relating to that year’s PhotoEspana theme.  The theme that year was Femininos.  You guessed it- it was all about women. :)

But in every context.  It was amazing and insightful.  I learnt more about photography, photographers, women, men, pain, suffering, love, beauty, emotion and so much more I cannot describe , in the 6 week run of the exhibition that I could have ever imagined I would learn in such a short space of time.  It was beautifully done.  I have been back a couple of years after that in the summer to go to attend it as it happens every year, but that year has remained my favourite.

From then, it pretty much became a part of my life.  I started to explore…I dug out my father’s old SLR and became trigger happy as I experimented with different styles.  My favourite has ended up being candid street photography. I love the story you can tell with a single image. * The picture at the top is one I caught during the Royal wedding in London last year.  The aftermath @ Buckingham Palace where a woman who had enjoyed all the celebrations decided to face all the television studios in hope that they would give some coverage of her missing dog.  She was brilliant!*

At present I use my photography skills for work sometimes, but in the way the kitchen brings me a sense of peace and serenity, my camera makes me feel the same way.  When I travel or have spare time, I love wandering streets as invisibly as possible, and finding, capturing and getting lost in moments of other people’s stories.


And to Jams & Chutneys…..

OK, so this year I decided I was going to make proper use of our fruit trees. In the past I have occasionally collected some plums and apples and made various cakes and tarts, but nothing more. This year I was determined to experiment and actually use as much as I could.

*Experiment is the key word here :) *

I was really happy this year because the green gage plum (Reine Claude plums as they call them in France (I think)) trees yielded some good fruit. We thought the gardener might have murdered their fruit producing abilities when he pruned them last because I’m pretty sure that we had very little or no fruit from them last year. Suffice to say this year I got more than enough! I actually love greengages more than the Victoria plum variety. They have this rich musky sweet flavour, but not sickly sweet. Also I love the golden coloured jam they produce (especially when it’s got tiny specks of vanilla in it too. Makes it look so pretty). It’s funny, when I was preparing the fruit for the jam- they were the last things that I expected would stain my hands. The reddy pink Victorias didn’t at all and I must have de-stoned about 8 kg of them. The greengages though- they turned my hands bright orange after about 6 kg! So bizzare considering that neither the skin or flesh are that colour.

Anyway I collected some last week when the weather was good-ish- as in the above picture. The picture below is when the horrible weather that more or less confirmed that we never actually had a summer struck. It made most of the good fruit (mostly the Victoria below and greengages) fall.

^ I was not happy. :(

Thankfully though, most of the apples have stayed where they are which means I have a little more time to collect them and make some of the chutney that I’ve planned. That is after I figure out what the different varieties are. I know one of the kinds of apple is Bramley- but the other green one and the red one I am not sure about. I would like to know because one of them doesn’t cook down into a mush and it would be handy to know what it’s called so I know to recommend that one for certain recipes!

I haven’t taken pics of the finished jams and chutney yet as I am still making some. When I have finished- tonight probably (for some of them) I shall take some pics. I am up to about 80 jars so far.

Today a friend brought me some of the last tomatoes from her garden. I am excited (sad, I know) because I have this tomato apple jam recipe that I really want to try out. I’m not sure how I’m going to flavour it yet though.

Anyway what I have made so far:

  • Victoria plum and vanilla jam with a hint of cinnamon.
  • Plain old Victoria jam because certain people requested to have it sans any messing about with.
  • Greengage and Vanilla jam (my fav)
  • Apple and bergamot jam with a hint of cardamom (idea courtesy of James <3)
  • Spiced plum and chilli chutney
  • Spiced fruit (basically a mix of all the fruits in the garden – apples, pears<– that were so annoyingly hard!, plums and greengages) chutney.

I added onion and garlic and stuff like that to both the chutney. My friend that brought over the tomatoes tried them both with some amazing mature cheddar I found on the weekend and loved them. Especially the second one. I think after about a month or so of maturing they will taste much better.

What I hope to make in the upcoming week or so

  • Quince and something jam (haven’t decided what yet, but I intend to get some quinces from my friend’s garden when they are ripe.)
  • Tomato and apple chutney
  • Apple chutney of some sort
  • And a jelly. I haven’t made a jelly ever and I really want to try. They look so pretty in the bottle. :)

Any other ideas for flavours and combinations I should try are more than welcome!