Orlando Gough

The other day in the Grauniad, under the headline DON’T KNOCK FAST FOOD (I confess to having immediately thought: I shall knock fast food if I want), was an article by the journalist Kathryn Hughes. Fast food is an interesting subject, with its inevitable class war connotations – chavs eating junk food while the fragrant middle classes pickle their own herrings; but her argument was strange: the middle classes, for example Mrs Beaton, originally promoted slow cooking as a way of encouraging attributes – patience mainly – which would make them good entrepreneurs. And now people who eat fast food are similarly upholding the capitalist system, so they’re doing an equally useful job. Er… what? (And what a bizarre argument to find in the Grauniad of all newspapers.) According to Hughes, a large section of the population doesn’t even have the wherewithal to cook slow food (really?); they’re more likely to have a microwave oven than an Aga (well, yes).

For a time we lived in the village of Southwick, just outside Brighton. It had originally been next to the sea, but a large part had been bulldozed in the 50s to make way for a spanking new road which was never built. So it had a strange lopsided feeling, despite being arranged around a charming green where our dog Nell once won Best Bitch. We rented a beautiful Georgian rectory from local self-made man and Harley Davidson fanatic Dennis Clark, owner of several lucrative care homes.

The Old Rectory, tick, with an Aga, tick.

My relationship with this cast iron behemoth was – to borrow a phrase from Gandhi describing his relationship with the British government in India – not a happy one. Cooking on it was as easy as navigating using a sextant. It was good, as you might expect, for extremely slow cooking and extremely fast cooking, but anything between those extremes, i.e. almost everything, was fantastically difficult – unnecessarily difficult given the invention of that splendid gadget the cooker. Baking a cake or cooking a soufflé involved a complex process of oven swapping, inserting and removing plates which might or might not have been sprinkled with water etc. To an Aga afficionado this is all doubtless a piece of cake, but I never got the hang of it, partly due to the fact that it’s impossible to smell anything that’s cooking in an Aga oven, so it’s correspondingly easy to incinerate it. Consequently the hot oven was like an ancient blacksmith’s forge, caked in unidentifiable carbon-rich slurry.

In the winter the Aga admittedly warmed the house, lovely; in summer the kitchen was like the engine room of a ship. Before cooking one needed to throw the windows open and strip to the waist. But the main problem was that the damn thing kept breaking down. In principle the solution was to ring up a specialist company in Horsham or somewhere, but their call-out fee was about £10,000, so Dennis, who was both thrifty and a handyman, would come round and futz around for several hours with screwdrivers and thermostats. And the Aga would either work or not work. If it did work there was then a frustrating fallow period of several weeks (or maybe it was a few hours?) while it heated up again.

For Dennis these sessions were surprisingly fruitful – they gave him a chance to infiltrate his house and check that we were treating it properly. Actually we treated it much better than he did. He once tried to dig up the beautiful floor of the back passage because he needed some bricks, and we more or less had to lie down in the passage, like protesters on the site of a proposed motorway, to stop him desecrating his own house.

After the Aga had broken down for the nth time and Dennis had put in the mth new thermostat, unsuccessfully, he lent us a microwave oven as a substitute. This was surely a category error, like lending a hockey stick to someone whose cricket bat has broken, or a hamster to someone whose dog has died. We completely failed to come to terms with this mysterious machine. We obligingly went out and bought a Marks and Spencer take-away Chinese meal, but made a complete balls-up of heating it up. I think we were afraid of a mini-Hiroshima, so the food never made it to more than a couple of degrees above room temperature. It tasted absolutely dismal, and we were probably lucky it didn’t poison us. As enthusiastic cooks this was a staggering level of failure, on the scale of a research scientist not being able to change a plug. We didn’t use the microwave again, and gratefully returned to the warm embrace of the Aga when it was finally mended.

Since then I’ve discovered that there are many beautiful uses of a microwave oven:

- for heating milk
- for cooking vegetables without compromising their nutritional value
- for fusing together the broken crepe soles of shoes (have to be careful with the temperature here I’d imagine)
- for exploding eggs (I think our friend Boyd was trying to cook the egg)
- for storing cheese (my father-in-law, who like us never got the hang of his microwave, used it as a larder – odd, since a microwave has no ventilation, and, you could argue, is basically the opposite of a larder)
- as a percussion instrument – it works as a complete drum kit, and the bell is useful too.

Meanwhile we have moved house, and use a completely standard cooker. I’m extremely happy with it. And continue to knock fast food without compunction.

Pictured: Salt baked veg, cooked in an Aga

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal.


Read more...

Nat Lucas

Elderflower blooms herald the arrival of picnic season, granting them the welcome of a whistled refrain in a songless city. Picnics are thought to have their origins in the practice of groups of women meeting in taverns, each bringing some solid food to contribute to a feast. I prefer to leave the conjuring of quiches in more capable hands and instead focus on providing the drinks. An aunt and uncle return from a walk with a wicker basket full of elderflowers gathered in Nunhead Cemetery. A few days later I am presented with a bottle of pale pink cordial. Immediately I face a dilemma. Should I construct a picnic friendly elderflower Collins, or should I stay true to my personal preference of avoiding longer drinks, and instead provide an elderflower martini? Unable to decide I try both.

Premixed elderflower Collins drinks are now so readily available that I saw one on offer in a metal-look ‘shaker’ while I was strapped into what I trust was a slightly less synthetic metal tube, on a no frills hop over the channel. I base my recipe on Diffords ‘Elderflower Collins No. 2’ which is distinguished from the ‘No. 1’ version principally by the exchange of gin for vodka. The most appealing part of making this for me is the inclusion of the Luxardo maraschino liqueur as of course, once you have the jar open, it is vital to check that the cherries have not gone off. I manage to restrict myself to just two. For many people, the inclusion of the lemon juice, the sinew of the drink that binds the elderflower to the spine of the vodka, makes this perfect picnic refreshment. Made of softer stuff, I find that the lemon slices through the drink like a cymbal in a string quartet and so move on to the martini.

In these times of austerity* I decide to make use of what I have readily available and create my elderflower martini with Black Cow vodka. Described as a ‘milk vodka’ because it is made from whey, this Dorset distilled spirit has a gentle roundness to it which does not lessen its impact. Sipping it neat is like easing a finger into a suede glove stitched by retired elves. To this I add Carpano Antica Formula – the bittersweet Italian vermouth, instead of the more usual dry vermouth. The resulting drink, dressed with a single floating rose petal, tastes of summer – grassy and with a hint of peaches.

Elderflower Collins No. 2:

2 shots Black Cow vodka
3 teaspoons Luxardo maraschino liqueur
1 shot elderflower cordial
1 shot freshly squeezed lemon

Shake with ice and strain into an ice filled glass. Top up with soda water and garnish with a lemon slice.

Elderflower Martini:

2 shots Black Cow vodka
1 shot Carpano Antica Formula
2 shots elderflower cordial

Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with a rose petal.

*Austerity used here in the sense of ‘without luxury’ of space. My drinks cabinet is a just-slightly-larger-than-A4-sized gap on the work surface between the refrigerator and the draining board.

Pictured: Elderflower by Barbara Agnew


Read more...

Andie Cusick

I saw him pacing through the bedroom and the lofts – like those sailors who can never shake off the habit of keeping watch and in the heart of some Breton retreat get up and dress at regular intervals to inspect an earthly horizon. Alain Fournier, Le Grand Meaulnes.

Twenty-one stripes, a boat-shaped neckline, three-quarter-length sleeves, in navy and cream… The traditional Breton shirt has spectacularly stood the test of time from its inception in 1858. Originally worn by French sailors in Brittany, the garment was designed as workwear – each element serving a functional purpose. The wide neck permitted sailors to dress quickly (as Fournier describes) and the horizontal stripes darting from arm to arm across the chest stood out against rough seas, allowing any overboard sailor to be hastily spotted. The length of the sleeves ensured no cloth would get caught up in the riggings of the ship, while the woven cotton could stand the inclement wind and salt water, at the same time retaining a lightness and ease of movement. To add a dash more historical context to this distinctive item, the 21 stripes on a Breton top also bear significance – representing each of Napoleon’s victories.

This sea-faring apparel didn’t become a fashionable item, however, until much later – around 1920. Its transition from utility garment to style staple began with the glamorous American couple Gerald and Sara Murphy who, having been introduced to the area by Cole Porter, spent their summers in the French Riviera. As fashion historian Amber Butchart recently explained on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, ‘The story goes that one day they went shopping in Marseille for supplies for their boat and found these striped sailor tops and distributed them amongst their friends. This sounds quite ordinary but when you think their friends were people like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Pablo Picasso – obviously real trendsetters – it took off from there.’

At the same time Coco Chanel, who often wore Breton stripes to Ballet Russes rehearsals, made them part of her fashion collection. ‘By the early 1930s it was really becoming a fashion staple, even donning the cover of French Vogue,’ added Butchart.

Since then the shirt the French call la Marinière has been de rigueur in every decade, gracing not just French artists and intellectuals but style icons across the globe, from Audrey Hepburn, Brigitte Bardot and Jean Seberg to James Dean, Patti Smith and Kate Moss.

The versatility of the Breton shirt makes it not just a classic piece but a garment that, for all its ubiquity, can be made one’s own. It can be bohemian, prim and pretty, slightly punk or pared down, while the colours, too, are no longer uniform: vivid red and white and aqua stripes are as recognisable today as navy and cream. Worn with a cropped trouser and ballet flats the Breton assumes a gamine air. Paired with belted, wide-legged trousers it channels Chanel. A boxy Breton with a boy jean is a lazy, insouciant ensemble that means, even when far from the Côte d’Azur, you can still make like a French ingénue.

Click here to view Toast’s range of Bretons

Pictured: Coco Chanel


Read more...
posted in: Read
Tags: , , , ,

by TOAST ( 05.06.14 )

Orlando Gough

Centenary fever! We’re facing a fusillade of First World War commemoration. And there are four years to go… Meanwhile, next month sees the centenary of an admittedly rather more minor fiasco – a series of 12 performances at the London Coliseum by the Italian Futurists Luigi Russolo and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti.

Marinetti published the Futurist Manifesto in 1909 – an intentionally provocative mixture of anarchism, fascism, disdain for the past, misogyny and glorification of machines. ‘Art can be nothing but violence, cruelty and injustice… We will destroy the museums, the libraries, every type of academy… We will glorify war – the world’s only hygiene – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women.’ Eek.

Soon after they celebrated with a backwards banquet in Trieste:
Coffee
Sweet Memories on Ice
Marmalade of Defunct Glories
Mummified Roast with Professorial Liver
Archeological Salad
Goulash of The Past
Explosive Peas with a Sauce of History
Dead Sea Fish
Clotted Blood Soup
Entrée of Demolition
Vermouth

According to the Futurists, existing Italian music was ‘mediocre, rickety, vulgar’. They wanted to introduce experimental sounds inspired by machinery. Luigi Russolo invented The Art of Noises – music made by intonarumori, acoustic noise generators, including The Gurgler, the Crackler, the Hummer, the Burster, the Whistler, the Rumbler. The first concert, in April 1914 in Milan, apparently caused a riot. This was followed by 12 performances at the Coliseum in June 1914, bizarrely as part of a variety evening which also included a routine by Vesta Tilley, the singing recruiting sergeant. Marinetti and Russolo’s contribution was a single work, in four parts, or ‘noise-spirals’. Audience and critics were profoundly underwhelmed. ‘The first of the ‘noise-spirals’ performed, The Awakening of a Great City… resembled the sounds heard in the rigging of a Channel-steamer during a bad crossing…’ Ironically, for a project called The Art of Noises, the main problem seemed to be that the music was almost inaudible.

Marinetti formed the Futurist Party in 1918. In 1919 it merged with the Fascist party; Marinetti helped to write the Fascist Manifesto, and became more and more reactionary, increasingly seduced by the politics of Mussolini.

In 1930 he produced, in collaboration with Luigi Colombo, a Manifesto of Futurist Cooking, and in 1932 The Futurist Cookbook, part Fascist propaganda, part excellent common sense, part exuberant provocation, part nonsense. It contains a ferocious broadside against pasta. Pasta, according to Marinetti, causes lassititude, pessimism and lack of passion. Spaghetti is not proper food for Italian soldiers. This predictably caused a furore. The Mayor of Naples weighed in: ‘The angels in Paradise eat nothing but vermicelli al pomodoro.’ Marinetti replied: ‘This confirms my suspicions about the monotony of Paradise.’ In fact it was nationalist propaganda designed to appeal to Mussolini; imports of wheat were on the rise, and Il Duce was looking to substitute it with a home-grown staple –
rice. Rice was ‘more virile, more patriotic, more suitable for fighters and heroes’.

A nasty nationalist thread, in fact, runs through the book. Marinetti wants Italians to stop eating foreign food, and he gives a glossary of specifically Italian culinary terms to replace insidious foreign ones, for example ‘polibibita’ instead of ‘cocktail’, ‘quisibeve’ for ‘bar’.

But then there’s a rather wonderful schtick about the future of food. Food must mainly appeal to the eye and the imagination; in fact some food should not be eaten, but only experienced with eyes and nose. (Shades of Satyricon…) Food should arrive rapidly and contain many flavours, but each course should consist of only a few mouthfuls. Remind you of anything? Nutrition is crucial. He rails against not only pasta but processed grains, the overcooking of vegetables, over-reliance on meat. Traditional kitchen equipment should be replaced by scientific equipment: ozonisers, ultraviolet ray lamps to activate vitamins, electrolysers to decompose ingredients into new forms, colloidal mills, autoclaves, dialysers, vacuum stills to cook food without destroying vitamins. Prophetic!

The actual recipes are quirky, but tend to be subversions of traditional recipes rather than genuinely visionary inventions: mortadella with nougat, pineapples with sardines, risotto with cape gooseberries, Italian Breasts in the Sunshine (almond paste topped with a strawberry, sprinkled with pepper). The most avant-garde recipe is for Chickenfiat: the taste of technology world is achieved by tucking a handful of ball bearings into the chicken’s shoulder. Elizabeth David, who approves of Marinetti’s common sense but is deeply suspicious of his politics, quotes several recipes in her Italian Cooking, including this one for Dolce Mafarka, a frisky but hardly radical rice pudding:

60g ground coffee
600ml milk
Sugar to taste
100g rice
The peel of a lemon
40ml orange-flower water
2 eggs

Cook the coffee in the milk, and sugar it to your taste; strain it, then pour in the rice and cook it (in a steamer) al dente. Remove from the fire; when it is cold grate into it the lemon peel, and stir in the orange-flower water and the eggs, mixing well. Pour into a mould and put it on ice. Serve with fresh biscuits.

Nice.

Marinetti’s ideas prefigured many later developments, and it’s tempting to claim that they were influential. There’s a thread from the Art of Noises through Varese and Cage to Stockhausen and electronic music. But one from La Cucina Futurista to Michel Guérard and Heston? It’s difficult to detect. The ‘destructive gesture of freedom-bringers’? ‘Scorn for women’? Well, those ideas seem to have made it through.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.

Pictured, a detail from Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Free Words, between 1914 and 1916


Read more...

Michael Smith

As someone who’s always been keen on clothes, I like to imagine I’m stylish; imagining myself as fashionable, on the other hand, makes me feel distinctly uneasy. I enjoy patting myself on the back for being a stylish fellow, after reintroducing the cardigan into my wardrobe when no one else was wearing them, for example, or on discovering what seemed to be esoteric drinks like dry sherry or the Campari spritz; but three months later I’d inevitably end up feeling like a bit of a dick when I’d realise everyone was wearing cardigans or drinking spritzes – I wasn’t acting on any innate, distinctive sense of good taste after all, I was just obeying fashion ever so slightly ahead of the herd.

We invest a certain importance in these distinctions between style and fashion. I’m fond of a famous quote by Quentin Crisp on the subject, but on reflection I don’t think it’s right: ‘Fashion is a way of not having to decide who you are. Style is deciding who you are and being able to perpetuate it.’ It’s an attractive thought, but one that quickly unravels once you start to unpick it – the truth is perhaps less black and white, more yin and yang: the two exist in a dance with each other, each with a little bit of the other one in their hearts.

When we polarise the two into opposing corners like this, style becomes a kind of elusive, unattainable ideal we look up to but can never quite grasp. ‘Only great minds can afford a simple style,’ says Stendhal; Plato’s chair could just as easily become Plato’s white cotton plimsolls, Plato’s brushed indigo shirt – impossible, untouchable ideals that exist somewhere above the times and the fashions. But of course in reality our sense of classic or timeless style is itself ephemeral and follows fashion – my grandfather’s sense of what timeless style was would be a far shout from mine, and a shirt cut to Beau Brummel’s eminently stylish tastes would look positively pantomime on a present day gent.

Like a river polishes a pebble, style evolves over time – the ideal collar of a shirt, the ratio of fringe length to ‘short back & sides’ (‘short’ being an entirely arbitrary quantity here), an item like the aforementioned cardigan coming back in from the cold so ubiquitously you presumed it had never left, a new heritage brand performing the confidence trick of convincing you you’ve always worn it – all imperceptibly small shifts in our sense of what’s timelessly stylish that in aggregate add up to a kind of fashion in slow motion.

If we imagine style as the high ideal at one end of the spectrum, then fashion’s relegated to the shallows of the other. To the great modern wits, fashion always comes off worst: ‘Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months,’ quipped Oscar Wilde. I remember recently showing an old friend from up north round Shoreditch. He was unfamiliar with the silliness and excesses of this square mile of London; we found ourselves laughing uncontrollably at the absurdity of the impromptu catwalk tottering up and down certain streets, at the rake-thin young men with raven black Joan of Arc bowl cuts in shit-catcher trousers MC Hammer would blush at.


Read more...
posted in: Read
Tags: , , , ,

by TOAST ( 09.05.14 )

Caroline Davidson on character and cloth in Émile Zola’s sensational novel

The grisly tale that is Thérèse Raquin caused quite a stir when it was published in 1867, its vivid scenes of adultery denounced as pornographic. The outcry did the novel no harm. A year later, in a long article published in Le Figaro, the critic Louis Ulbach described Thérèse Raquin as ‘littérature putride‘. The mud stuck and sales of the book went further up. But for its author, the 27-year-old Émile Zola, the critical failure of Thérèse Raquin was bruising. In a superbly unguarded, uppity preface to the second edition, Zola defended his book against attacks, maintaining that the ‘modest journalists who blushed’ when they read Thérèse Raquin had failed to understand it.

Grim scenes of betrayal, murder, torture and suicide were, explained Zola, not prurient imaginings but scientific outcomes. In Thérèse Raquin, Zola said his aim was to act the meticulous, analytical scientist – to study temperaments and not characters; to cut through the flesh of Thérèse and her lover Laurent to expose only blood, nerves and animal instincts. ‘There is a complete absence of soul, I freely admit, since that is how I meant it to be’, said Zola in the famously defensive preface.

Maybe this casting aside of soul as if it is some irksome intervening variable explains why, in spite of being set in a haberdashery, Thérèse Raquin is almost entirely devoid of references to threads, fabric and clothes. Literally superficial and often regarded as trivial, clothes are nevertheless – in books and in life – a route to, if not an expression of, soul and character. But in Thérèse Raquin the body of the eponymous villainess is ‘lost in shadow’ while her face, ‘a flat white shape pierced by one wide-open dark eye’, is described as little more than a mask. Men occasionally put down a hat; once, shortly after murdering her husband Camille, we know Thérèse is in a black dress. But characters are more likely to be wrapped in ‘sacred egotistical tranquility’, as is poor Camille, than anything with folds in it.

Zola does on one occasion refer at relative length to clothing – when describing the hoards of women and young girls who visit the morgue to gaze at corpses. They are fresh and rosy in white linen and neat skirts; they are fashionably dressed in silk dresses. One veiled and gloved lady wearing a ‘fine grey silk skirt and flowing mantle of black lace’ holds a cambric handkerchief to her nose. While Laurent visits the morgue to see the body of his victim, this lady visits the corpse of a stonemason who fell from scaffolding. Perhaps these fleeting characters, dressed, innocent and smelling of violets, Zola awards clothes as a means of giving life. It is not their natures on which he scores his scalpel.

The book visits very little else than the wretched inhabitants of Madame Raquin’s dingy haberdashery and the tiny flat above it. And so, for the most part, Zola resists applying symbolic treatment in his study of temperament. Existing in an early work of Naturalism, Thérèse and Laurent are merely organisms without reason or free will. Or so the young Zola would have his critics believe.

Perhaps Thérèse Raquin, in which both character and cloth are thin on the ground, is a curious book with which to start a series exploring the representation of character through cloth. Yet could Zola’s ‘scientific’ novel be the litmus test? If where there is no character there is no material, there may be much linen, lace and leather to ponder in the vast swathe of literature whose very fabric is the study of character. That’s one hypothesis. Let’s see.


Read more...
posted in: Read
Tags: , , , , ,

by TOAST ( 02.05.14 )

Orlando Gough

Whoa! Seven a day! And I’m not talking about Shane Warne. The new 5-2 diet: 5 portions of vegetables and 2 of fruit. It’s a tough one. Like most middle-class people I feel instinctively that my diet is fairly healthy (despite what is surely an addiction to plain chocolate Kit-Kats – must remember to check into the Priory, I’m sure they can sort me out), but I can’t claim to achieve seven a day more often than once in a blue moon. These are good times for vegetarians. We always suspected they might be morally right; then they turned out to be ecologically right; now they’re nutritionally right. How much righter can you be? At the same time fruit is taking a bit of a hammering; fruit juice, in particular, is the turkey twizzler of the moment, about to be hounded out of town (until the day that some bright spark discovers that it prevents Alzheimers, hangovers etc.).

This seven a day decree is a challenge – but not as much of a challenge as it must be in Chukotka, the far north-eastern region of Russia. Sarah Wheeler, in her wonderful book The Magnetic North, writes of a visit to Anadyr, the capital. In 1995, in one of the most profitable privatizations of a decade of profitable privatizations, Roman Abramovich and Boris Berezovsky bought the national conglomerate Sibneft. Abramovich registered his companies in Chukotka to take advantage of the generous tax laws. He was a fairy godfather for Anadyr, investing in buses and street lighting. In 2000 he was elected governor with a convincing 99% of the vote. Upset by the lack of decent restaurants, and being a fan of Bavarian food, he built a restaurant and flew in a Bavarian chef. Wheeler goes to eat in the restaurant, which features home-brewed beer and a live oompah band. She orders sauerkraut “with a Russian twist, the twist being an absence of cabbage”. A bit like playing cricket without a bat. Scurvy is still a problem in rural Chukotka.

What to do?

Last week I stayed at Klosterhagen, a delightful small hotel in Bergen, Norway. It’s in a square full of exquisite colourful 19th century houses, most of them built of wood. The hotel is on the site of an old convent. My room was in the eaves. It was the first hotel room I’ve stayed in which is roughly the same size as its bathroom. The overhead velux window didn’t want to stay open, so I propped it open with the remote control for the TV. When I woke in the morning there had been a ferocious rainstorm and the whole of the bottom half of the bed was soaked. The remote control, amazingly, still worked. The breakfast was the best breakfast I have ever had, as well as being the most nutritious. Absolutely everything is home-made: granola, yoghurt, bread, smoked salmon, cured trout, spiced trout, soused herring, tomato herring, semi-dried tomatoes, roasted beetroot with balsamic vinegar, pickled vegetables… My friend Olivia, with whom I’m working on a choral project in Bergen, came down to breakfast, and said, right let’s get to work. We tried everything, including a weird goat’s cheese which is shit-coloured all the way through, served with honeycomb – hardcore but delicious. Wafer-thin crispbread made entirely with seeds – lovely. Fresh orange juice. Fresh fruit. A cold breakfast in a cold climate – curious. But seven a day was suddenly a doddle. We were pretty much done and dusted by 10am.

I came back thinking this was surely the solution: the mighty nutritional breakfast. But of course there are two problems. One is cultural – in Blighty most of us are only slowly moving away from Sugar Puffs and toast (I’ve got as far as granola and toast, i.e. not very far); and the other is practical – the Klosterhagen breakfast is dependent on an army of people working their socks off. Are we going to start doing this for ourselves? Probably not.

But if you do fancy going Norwegian for breakfast, try this:

Take about 1kg of herring fillets, and soak them in white wine vinegar overnight. Drain them well. Make a mixture of 200g sea salt, 100g caster sugar, a few bay leaves, 10g each of peppercorns and allspice berries, slightly crushed. Pack the herrings between layers of this mixture. Put a plate on top to keep them submerged in the brine that forms. Keep them in a cool, dry place. They’ll be ready after a week, and will keep for several.

When you’re ready to go Norwegian, remove some of the fillets, and soak them in a half-and-half mixture of water and milk. Taste them after a couple of hours. (The soaking time will, obviously, depend on how long they’ve been in the brine.) Drain them and slice them up.

Mix them with some rings of fennel bulb, sliced as thinly as possible, some chopped parsley and a mustardy vinaigrette.

(There are many other excellent ways to use salted herrings. Jane Grigson is particularly good on the subject in her Fish Cookery.)

And this:

Take the leaves and stalks off a couple of bunches of beetroot. Put them in an oven-proof dish, sprinkle with olive oil, and add some fresh thyme and a few whole cloves of garlic. Season. Cover loosely with foil and bake for an insanely long time, two hours or more, in a 180C oven. Remove the beetroot, and cut them into chunks. Put in a dish and sprinkle over some balsamic vinegar and a little extra olive oil. Allow to cool.

Neither of these dishes are exactly instantaneous, but they might revolutionise your life – er, well, let’s not overstate it, they might make a minor difference.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.


Read more...
posted in: Do, Read
Tags: , , ,

by TOAST ( 25.04.14 )

Michael Smith

I remember noticing the style beginning to coagulate a little while before the financial crash, in the tail end of that age of aspiration, when it still seemed perfectly normal to eat out every night and go shopping in New York for the weekend. It was around the time the enclave around Broadway Market in Hackney had become the discreet epicentre of East End alternative cool; you could people-watch the early shoots of a sartorial change in the bohemian trendies who’d begun congregating there, going up and down the canal on their old fashioned bicycles, wearing Barbours, brogues, and an increasing number of beards. Not just the stubbly kind we were used to, these were full blown, horticultural, big bushy Bloomsbury Group beards, beards that evoked Eric Gill’s sandal-wearing utopianism, beards from an era before the baby boomers had set the template of post-war pop culture. Nowadays the world and his wife might have one, but these chaps stood out like sore thumbs, looked funny, even a bit lunatic fringe.

But the longer I looked, the more cool types I saw riding those trad bikes with the Brookes saddles, wearing those lovely heritage brands that used to be the preserve of Tory farmers. I’d been scratching my head for some time, disappointed by the era’s seemingly pathetic inability to produce any original style movements, in the way the previous century had done, time and time again, from Elvis and the Teddy Boys onwards. In my youth in the 90s, the most virulent strain of pop culture had a strong future-bound trajectory – new drugs, new music with electronic basslines and rhythms that seemed to be engaged in a kind of space race, hi-tech waterproofs and combats, air-bubbled trainers, a culture with such a strong forward thrust it seemed to be trying to achieve escape velocity.

But then that was a style from an era that believed in the future, a window of opportunity between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Twin Towers when it seemed like the laissez-faire Anglo-American model had triumphed against all the alternatives, and the future was bright, the future was orange.

We’re no longer living in such times. It gradually occurred to me that waiting for a similar style shift was maybe waiting for the wrong thing. Maybe the beards and the Brookes saddles signified a shift in attitude and lifestyle that was quieter, more modest, but no less interesting, in the sense it had moved the goalposts expected of such style “revolutions” away from variations on the themes of youth, drugs, loud music, and the forward-looking tendencies of an increasingly prosperous society. This early 21st century style seemed to be concerned with things outside these narrow parameters, concerned with things from before and after youth culture. Craft Beards and their associated style began as a shot across the bows of the crass, vapid aspirationalism of the Noughties boom years, a rejection of that shiny bubble culture some of us vaguely sensed must be heading towards a sharp pin. I remember, as the pin drew ever nearer, the visual arts stopped being flashy one-liners made with dead sharks or diamond skulls and started to look hand-drawn again, design started feeling less shiny, more domestic and even home made, food started telling us which farm it was from. But if this all had a distinctly fringe feel in the Noughties, then the crash and its continuing fallout has brought this style and mindset from the fringes into the mainstream, with Tesco and McDonalds adopting hand-carved typefaces on their packaging, and adverts for banks using folkey acoustic guitars to coax you further into debt.

But if the baddies have hijacked and appropriated these stylings, it’s because these stylings resonate so strongly with a sea change in our attitudes. We now appear to be living in a culture that has outlived its former ideologies. If the era of Neoliberal excess was ushered in by the collapse of Communism, then these days, like a car crash in slow motion, belief in the Last System Standing seems to be crumbling too.

In a culture where our trust in the bigger picture and the people who paint it has all but fallen away, beleaguered citizens of the contemporary conundrum are trying to short circuit the need for it; the crafty, beardy style is one symptom of this, an attempt to re-negotiate our basic and immediate social and economic exchanges, re-negotiate our consumerism, attempt to de-scale and humanise our consumerism from within.

We look for meaning in the imagined honesty and transparency of the locally sourced, the crafted, in things that bare the trace of the human hand – heritage brands, craft beers, or single estate, artisan coffee become more and more invested with ideas of integrity, authenticity and nobility in a larger society that seems to have lost these qualities. We have the romantic sense these things might just help to anchor our lives in some simpler sense of meaning, a basic transaction with nature, and also the rest of society, rooting us in both, an umbilical cord to the world in a rudderless society that seems to be heading for the rapids. And so the act of manual labour is also invested with a renewed sense of nobility and honesty. A Norwegian bloke who smokes his own salmon in Hackney is the stuff of East End urban legend. The ex-art students making the coffee have become barristas in those minimal, wooden and distressed brick coffee shops where all the information is hand written on blackboards in chalk, pouring the froth on the flat whites like it was Renaissance marbled paper.

The sparse beauty of these wooden flat white cafes is a good visual shorthand for this style of the era we’re in. It’d be doing it a disservice to imagine it’s an entirely retro style fixated with heritage: it’s not just a pastiche of some vague period before World War II, but with olives and Apple Macs – there’s a strand of modernism in the honesty-with-materials interwoven into this sensibility: I’ve noticed with enjoyment the recent vogue for showing off shit building materials like chipboard or breeze block in fashionable galleries and style bars. The Scandinavian version of this trend seems to cleave to a Calvinist’s invigorating and ennobling sense of a hard-won clarity through austerity, and there’s a beautiful purity in the precise and deliberate design aesthetic of their craft denim and crew neck sweaters which never threatens to descend into anything remotely twee. I have meetings with people I respect, and notice they have the same Muji notepads and pens as me, pens that look like chopsticks, clean, minimal design with a zen-like, sashimi-like purity. I tend to read a lot into all this.

This aesthetic seems like a valid and important expression of where we are and what we want out of the world these days. Our hopes and fears are embodied somewhere within it. Whether this style, or any style, has futurist or heritage-fixated tendencies is sort of missing the important bit: style embodies the spirit of the times, and this style embodies ours.


Read more...
posted in: Read
Tags: , , , ,

by TOAST ( 04.04.14 )

Katherine May is an artist for whom the aesthetic qualities of textiles are just a thread in the fabric of their life cycle. Through research, design and navigation Katherine unspools the stories behind and ahead of textiles, revealing the links between raw materials, objects and their producers. Here, Katherine gives us an insight into her work and one of the raw materials with which she works intimately: real indigo.

Textiles are our everyday and yet they are much overlooked. They are our clothing, our interiors and our building structures. They wrap our wounds. They are part of our identity.

My studio is a small attic room where I do weaving, sampling and designing and where I collect and store. Nooks and crannies are stuffed with thread, piles of fabric, sewing tools and bits of pencil. The room has lots of natural light and access to a roof garden where I grow my dye plants.

My interest in plant-based dyes deepened when I spent some time with the biodynamic grower, Jane Scotter. Working with Jane on her market stall, Fern Verrow, in Spa Terminus I got close to the plant cycles of the produce she grew and sold. I wanted to make links between plants and colouring textiles.

Indigo, often described as the ‘true blue‘ of natural textiles dyes, is associated in many cultures with magical and spiritual rituals – probably because of the processes of change it goes through. The leaves of the Indigofera plant are harvested and, after a series of steps, the compound indica is extracted. Even the dye vat goes through a process of fermentation, with the green water producing blue bubbles on its surface. Fabric dipped into the water turns blue as it passes through the bubbles and oxidises with the air. The process has spellbound people the world over. There is something beautiful about that.

Indigo connects me to the environment. If I am dyeing I go on the roof or into the garden. And because it’s a plant it connects me to a different element in the eco system.

For the London Design Festival I designed an installation called Water – Colour, with the aim of tackling water wastage in the textile industry. In the atrium of Hackney’s Arthaus Building, a former laundry, I dyed around 100metres of cloth over 12 days, recycling vat and rinse water as I went and hanging the cloth on washing lines through the five-storey building. The colour of the cloth went from dark indigo at the bottom of the building to almost white at the top. When the dyeing was done, the dye baths were replaced with sewing machines and I quilted the cloth. The project had a life cycle.

I went to a friend’s wedding with blue hands. After Water – Colour they were blue for a long time. But I wore a blue dress and painted my nails red. I’ve since invested in much thicker gloves.

Today real indigo is used only on a small, craft based level – by people like me. I grow some of the plants myself to help understand the process, but I produce only tiny amounts of indica from them. So, for projects like Water – Colour, I source the powder from an organic farm in South America. Synthetic indigo is widely used as it produces much quicker results than real indigo. But the chemicals used in processing it can be harmful to humans and the environments into which waste water runs.

I’m currently reading Indigo: The Colour that Changed the World, by Catherine Legrand, which is teaching me a lot about China’s indigo culture. Some 2000 years BC, there was a Chinese emperor who thought everyone should dress the colour of the sky. Indigo dye plants grew among vegetable plots, and dyeing occurred in the everyday – a family’s entire wardrobe ended up in the dye vat! The idea was that this connection with the sky would lead them to live peacefully.

There is something peaceful about dyeing cloth in the garden and hanging it on the line. I do it a lot and find it a particularly pleasing experience. It’s having that connectivity with the plant. The ground beneath your feet. The sky above.

www.katherinemay.com

Katherine May wearing the Fine Stripe Apron.


Read more...
posted in: Read, See
Tags: , ,

by TOAST ( 03.04.14 )

Orlando Gough

When my wife Jo and her partner Sally were running their knitwear business from a shop in Clapham in the 1980s, next door was a fish and chip shop run by Fanos Theofanos, or Frank the Fish. His parents had emigrated to England in the sixties. They spoke no English, and lived in a self-imposed ghetto. Frank, on the other hand, despite flaunting his Greekness, was an honorary Brit. His assimilation encompassed even the cooking of our national dish. He was an excellent neighbour, able to offer a range of services, from a plate of chips to the harassment of one’s enemies, a kind, thoughtful and essentially decent version of Reggie Kray. Every day a battered saveloy (a battered saveloy! Heck!) was posted through the letterbox. Jo and Sally would peel off the batter and serve the saveloy to their dogs. An indelible greasy mark appeared on the carpet, which was a worry when posh clients – even occasionally royalty – visited to buy the upmarket knitwear.

Since that time, fish ‘n’ chips, that quintessentially English dish, has just about survived the onslaught of a thousand competing foods – hamburgers, pizza, fried chicken, curry, chow mien, pho, Cornish pasties, falafels, sushi… It has even survived its own miniaturization into poncey canapés.

It’s a difficult dish to get right – the freshness of the fish, the composition of the batter, the nature of the fat, the temperature of the fat, the age of the fat, the kind of potato, the size of the chips, the cooking of the chips. Personally I’m almost always disappointed – the idea is better than the reality; except in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, where having queued for several weeks you can eat your meal on the sea wall, and in Padstow, Cornwall, where you queue for several weeks just to get into the town. Since the town on the opposite side of the river is called Rock, surely Padstow should be renamed Rick, or perhaps St Rick (more Cornish).

Fish and chips a quintessentially English dish? Maybe not, actually. It testifies to the British ability to absorb an enormous range of foreign influences (Kevin Pietersen, the cappuccino, bhangra) while ferociously spitting out stuff that we’re suspicious of (Abu Qatada, Lithuanians). Peter Gabriel versus Nigel Farage. At the moment Nigel Farage seems to be winning the battle.

Fried fish is a Jewish dish, possible Sephardic, possibly Ashkenasi, brought to Britain by Portuguese immigrants in the early 19th century. The obvious similarity to Japanese tempura is surely a coincidence, since Japan was severely isolationist at that time. Chips are from Belgium. Tomato ketchup? It might appear to be 100% American, but it was one of a myriad of catsups that were an important part of the British middle classes in the 19th century. They were a means of preserving perishable ingredients – mushrooms, tomatoes, lemons, walnuts, oysters, anchovies – while concentrating the taste by prolonged cooking in sugar, vinegar and spices. HP Sauce and Lea and Perrins are part of this lineage. The sweet-sour method and the spices surely suggest origins in the Far East, a result of the British mercantile adventure of the 17th and 18th centuries. Tartare Sauce? French, of course. Mushy peas, pickled onions? Our own invention.

Cooking proper fish and chips at home seems out of the question; you really don’t want to be futzing around with a deep fat fryer. St Heston gives a recipe which probably tastes marvelous but takes about 12 hours of ferociously hard work, as well as an investment in several hundred pounds worth of kitchen equipment (usual problem). Cheaper to take the train to Padstow. So in our household we follow St Hugh with his pesky domestic version:

Make roast potatoes, cutting them as small and parboiling them as long as you dare, roasting them in what seems to be an unnecessarily large pan. Ten minutes from the end, make space in the pan and put in a few bay leaves (an excellent addition) and some fish fillets – sea bream works well here.

This is accompanied by a pea puree: cook the peas in boiling salted water, drain them, and then whizz them up with mint leaves, pepper, and as much butter as you can absorb without artery breakdown; and tartare sauce: for four people, make a mayonnaise with 2 egg yolks, a teaspoonful of Dijon mustard, a tablespoonful of white wine vinegar and 300ml oil – a mixture of groundnut and olive oil works well. Add a scant tablespoonful of chopped tarragon, and a tablespoonful each of chopped parsley, chopped capers and finely chopped gherkins.

Serve this wrapped in yesterday’s Daily Mail, so that you can eat while reading HATE PREACHER LEAVES TAXPAYER FUNDED LIFE IN BRITAIN. WE SAY GOOD RIDDANCE etc.

You can read more of Orlando’s culinary tales in his Recipe Journal. Click here to find out more.


Read more...
posted in: Do, Read
Tags: , ,

by TOAST ( 19.03.14 )
preload preload preload