WHAT l KNOW AND MY NEW NOVEL…

“I loved it! This is a great story with a wonderful concept and excellent background.” Readers’ Favorite 

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As they continued slowly down the centre of the aisle Omri resumed his photography taking pictures of each of the six apses, of the ceiling, of the floor and the seating and then the stairs leading up to the transept and the choir.They passed behind the raised altar and stared up at the cupola before arriving at the two marble slabs denoting the tombs of Franco and de Rivera, about ten yards apart.‘So where exactly is our object?’ asked Omri in a lowered voice.‘You’re standing on it now’ Alex said looking at the slab beneath Omri’s feet. ‘You’re right on top of it.’

 

The Ark Mosaic Continue reading “WHAT l KNOW AND MY NEW NOVEL…”

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ULTIMATE PORKY COMFORT (delicious, bangers and mash with onion gravy and mushy peas)

For the no doubt many of you who for whom egg-sucking and grandmothers comes to mind when seeing this recipe, my sincere apologies. My excuse for publishing what must seem such a basic and obvious recipe is simply the mounting number of quite awful plates of food purporting to be bangers and mash I have been obliged to eat in recent times – mostly due to the treble scourge of fruit “enhanced” sausages non-pork sausages and “parsley mash”.

Regular readers of this blog will probably have seen my fairly recent post on cottage and shepherds pies (https://adamhalevi777.com/2017/03/16/no-raw-mince-please-sorting-out-your-cottage-from-your-shepherds-pie-and-how-to-make-the-genuine-articles/). The other two standard “British classics” currently finding favour across the globe are fish and chips and bangers and mash. The steady advance of the latter dish is aided by the fact that British and Irish pork sausages (at least the massed produced varieties) are becoming increasingly available, especially (but not exclusively) in those lands with significant British and Irish diasporas. Subsequently, and unlike with shepherds and cottage pie, it’s quite possible to get authentic bangers and mash anywhere from Singapore to Santiago de Chile.

Talking of all things “authentic”, my followers will know that in culinary matters I am something of a stickler – not say a pedant when it comes to authenticity.  And so far as bangers and mash is concerned there can only be one type of banger; the traditional British Isle pork sausage.

This is not to say that there is not a fair range of sausage types within that definition – from high-end handmade Cumberland coils and Lincolnshire links to the humble massed produced so-called “butchers” sausages produced by firms like Walls, Richmond and the big supermarkets – and they all have their merits, mostly depending what mood you and your fellow diners are in. Speaking for myself, if I’m feeling like a meaty, herby sausage I’ll cook up a batch of Lincolnshire sausages made by my pucker local butcher, with a 90% plus meat content and little-if-any filler or rusk. On other days however, I’m just as likely to have a hankering for the type of unctuous sausage I fell in love with in the canteen of my first art college, with as little as 50% pork content and loads of rusk.

The only constant I insist upon, in either a posh or the factory-produced sausage, is that it is basically plain, seasoned pork, with perhaps, just a touch of herbs such as sage or thyme.

Pork sausages with exotic inclusions such as onions, apples and even berries have no place in a classic bangers and mash, and as for sausages made from alternative meats, or even no meat at all!! Culinary blasphemy!

Beef, venison, wild boar, chicken or even Quorn sausages and mashed potatoes might be perfectly pleasant dishes (although I have my doubts), but they do not a classic “bangers n’ mash” make. Venison and boar in particular, lack the fat content essential for the production of a lush, juicy banger.

In any event, here is my take on the British and Irish classic, made with posh sausages on this occasion, plain creamy, buttery mashed spuds, and with their equally crucial accompaniments of rich onion gravy and mushy peas• (the current cheffy trend for minted, crushed fresh peas is another culinary evil to avoid)…

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Ingredients (for 2 people):

  • 1 tbsp of plain oil
  • 4 – 6 pork sausages
  • 1 large onion roughly sliced
  • 1 tspn plain flour
  • 1 tspn made up English mustard
  • 1 tspn Worcester Sauce
  • ½ litre / 1 pint of heated rich meat stock
  • 1½ lbs floury potatoes – peeled and cut up into medium dice for boiling
  • 2 oz unsalted butter
  • 5 fl oz single cream or full fat milk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 can of mushy peas

Illustrated recipe

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1) Preheat oven to 190° c (170° c fan). 2) Bring the potatoes to the boil and then simmer until soft. 3) Heat the can of mushy peas on a very low light in a non-stick pan, stirring often and never allowing to boil. 4) Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan on a low heat…
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5) Gently fry the sausages on a low light for about 20 minutes until nearly cooked…
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6) Remove the partially cooked sausages from the pan and place them on a wire griddle in a small roasting tin and put in the oven for about 15 minutes…
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7) Meanwhile, raise the heat under the pan to medium-high, put in the sliced onion and fry until soft and starting to go brown at the edges. 8) Add the flour to the onion, stir in thoroughly and cook for a further 2 minutes…
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8) Add the stock to the onions, together with the mustard, Worcester Sauce, stir well, making sure to thoroughly deglaze the pan. Test for seasoning and adjust if required with salt and pepper. 9) Make the mash.
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9) Remove the cooked sausages from the oven – their skins should be lightly caramelised and crisp.
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10) Plate up and eat accompanied by a big red, a pint of ale or a large mug of strong English tea.

∗It’s possible to make one’s own mushy peas using dried marrow-fat peas, but they never come out as well as the canned varieties.

SKATING (AND DANCING) ON THICK ICE

We’re now back on our finca here in southern Spain for the Easter / Passover break (and a happy whichever one you may or may not celebrate), and in our case, dozens of farming chores of varying degrees of arduour. In other words, time is precious and I can only devote the bare minimum of it to this post, which will be mostly about the pictures. Fortunately, during our recent spell in Jönköping (Sweden) something particularly picturesque and photogenic occurred, in that the local Lake Vättern froze over. While the main lake itself was covered in great chunks of ice and snow drift, its small tributary Lake Munksjön, around which the center of the town sits, became a perfectly level and smooth outdoor ice rink. This proved a great winter tonic for the locals who seem at their happiest when on skis and especially on skates. The resultant images of impromptu ice hockey games, ice fishing and townsfolk simply strolling across the lake reminded me of paintings by the elder Bruegel.

I hope that these “gouache” enhanced pictures (taken with all I had to hand – my iPhone) give some sense of the stark-yet-charming beauty and drama of the scenes, of both Vättern and Munksjön…

 

 

THE HERETIC SAVES THE DAY – or, how I came to paint the James Street Mural…

General ViewAs an amateur student of history, one of the phenomena I’ve noticed is how human nonconformities sometimes transform into mass consensus. It is perhaps one of the great historical ironies that people and ideas which start out on the margins of society, once adopted by society, have a tendency to marginalise the people of the existing consensus who previously marginalised them. This is a pattern common to all fields of putative human coexistence, which more often than not results in the followers of the usurped consensus being persecuted by the holders of the new. These persecutions are usually most obvious and brutal in the areas of religion and politics but they happen with equal intellectual ferocity at a cultural level.

In the 1960’s and 70’s Saint Martin’s School of Art was one of the world’s high temples of the-then recently adopted art consensus of Abstract Expressionism.

Abstract Expressionism developed out of the near-century old grand consensus of Modernism, in a similar way to how a reformed religion develops out of an existing ancient religion, with similar intellectual tensions and conflicts resulting – albeit without the physical violence.

Thus, when in 1978, a callow 18-year-old “classical” modernist, realist painter misguidedly found himself stuck for three years in the beating heart of western European Abstract Expressionism, his creative life was always going to be something of a struggle.

That young aspiring artist was me, and my time at Saint Martin’s School of Art was in fact, one long battle of wills between me and a group of teachers who almost* to a man and a woman regarded me as a hopeless heretic from the start. My overall experience of being “taught” comprised a mixture of verbal bullying – in an attempt to bend me to their will – and / or complete indifference to my work when these efforts eventually failed.

But one day in the Spring of 1981 during my final term at the school all that changed, when I was paid a rare visit to my studio by my 3rd-year head tutor John Edwards, who came bearing a surprising request.

The Greater London Council (now defunct) together with the construction company, Myton Taylor Woodrow were looking for a student artist to paint a temporary street mural to jolly up a large hoarding in James Street, Covent Garden during the area’s major refurbishment. They wanted a student because they only had £100 on offer for the commission, and they wanted that student to be from the local art college, which was Saint Martin’s. However, they also wanted the mural to be figurative, and that was where I came in.

Edwards was typically honest with me, and admitted that when first approached by the GLC he had suggested one or other of his star students in Abstract Expressionism, but when they insisted on a figurative artist, the only person he could think of was me. While there were a couple of other representational heretics in our year, Edwards told me that he thought I was the only one with sufficient mastery of grand scale painting to handle such a large mural.

With just a £100 to spend and two weeks to execute the project, I was tempted to refuse what was a virtually impossible commission. But the certain public exposure of painting a mural in a bustling London street adjacent to Covent Garden Opera House was an opportunity too good to turn down; so much to John Edward’s and the school’s relief I accepted.

With half the £100, I employed two of my fellow student “Modernist heretics”† to help me with the huge physical task of covering so much white hoarding in paint. This left me all of £50 with which to purchase the paint itself, the brushes and rollers and plastic paint-mixing buckets. The only paint I could afford in sufficient quantity to finish the job was the cheapest industrial emulsion, and because of the time constraint, it had to be quick-drying “matt”. In other words, this was hardly going to be a Michelangelo or a de Rivera so far as colour intensity was concerned.

In the end, the subject matter of the painting was as much determined by these extreme material and time limitations, as it was by the unusually wide configuration of the street “canvas”. And so I came up with the idea of all the highlights of the Book of Genesis, with each chosen episode “bleeding” into the next. With only a few days to make a scale sketch and then just five days (London weather permitting) to execute the actual mural I decided to go with a kind of Chagall-meets-comic strip approach, allowing for quick, strongly drawn cartoon outlines coloured in with simple large blocks of colour.

As things turned out, the weather was unusually kind for May in London, and the three of us completed the mural with hours to spare.

All things considered, including the lifeless paint, it looked pretty good, and graced James Street for about the following two years. It received favourable reviews from the London and Jewish press and was probably my first claim to 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps more importantly though, it earned me the appreciation of my school and its tutors for the first and only time, and I’ll never forget John Edward’s response upon viewing it; “You know Adam, I’ve often wondered why we accepted you at Saint Martin’s, but seeing this, all I can say is that I’m bloody glad we did!” Even heretics have their uses I guess?

*David Hepher and the late Henry Mundy were glorious exceptions to this general dereliction of tutorship, and for that they both have my undying gratitude.

Danny Gibson (now a brilliant printmaker) and Robert Lewenstein (the most gifted portraitist I ever knew).

 

A PARADISE LOST, AND ANOTHER “REGAINED…”

One balmy September morning back in 1983, my then-girlfriend and I were incredibly fortunate to have the Generalife (the famous gardens of the Alhambra Palace in Grenada) all to ourselves. In the years since, I must have visited the Alhambra half-a-dozen times but never again been anything like so lucky. In fact, on each successive visit the palace complex was becoming increasingly crowded until the final visit, when the experience resembled more being in the London Tube at rush hour than a gentle amble around one of the most serene man-made outdoor spaces in the world.

These days, people wanting to visit the Alhambra complex have to book a slot, similar to the system adopted by the authorities at Saint Peter’s in Rome, but all this really achieves is a regimented crush as opposed to a free-for-all melee.

While I wouldn’t wish to deter those visiting Andalusia for the first time from seeing one of the architectural and horticultural wonders of the world there are, dotted about the state other beautiful Moorish influenced gardens which still offer the kind of serenity the Generalife was designed to inspire. My favourite of these is the garden of the old castle (or Alcazar) of Seville.

In stark contrast to the mathematical perfection and order of its famous Granada rival, the Alcazar garden in Seville has a relaxed, informal and even ramshackle quality which has a calming effect the moment one enters its precincts. Even in the height of summer, its mature old trees, elaborately arched follies and numerous ponds and fountains offer a tranquil and fragrant, shaded refuge from the extreme heat which afflicts the city. It’s a fabulous place for a spot of contemplation and meditation away from the concerns of everyday life and thus also a fantastic place to sketch and paint.

I made the pen and ink pictures presented here in the early 1990’s during my second visit to the gardens. I’ve often found that deeply coloured inks have an immediacy and fluidity perfect for capturing scenes of exotic nature, man-planted or wild, as I hope these images confirm. And I’m guessing they do, as they comprised the major part of a sell-out exhibition in London later that year.

Seville Alcazar ExitSeville Alcazar Garden Arched FollySeville Alcazar Garden Folly ArchSeville Alcazar Garden Iron GateSeville Alcazar Garden Pond and CypressesSeville Alcazar Garden Small Fountain

THE BAR MITZVAH GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING (or how I discovered the great British outdoors and seriously good British food…)

In April of 1973 I became 13 and was subsequently bar mitzvahed (yes, it is a verb in the Anglo-Jewish vernacular) . The event itself was typical of most traditional bar mitzvah celebrations, and followed the orthodox coming-of-age for boys format in most respects. This included all the usual suspects vis-à-vis the presents I received – except for one wonderful surprise gift. Unbeknownst to me, my mum and uncle (her brother) had planned a five day visit to the Lake District especially arranged around two of my passions; of landscape photography, and far more importantly, an abnormally precocious love of gastronomy.

Since my first visit to France three years before I had developed an unusually sophisticated palette in a juvenile, so much so, that it formed almost as important a part of my early teenage years as more typical factors such as a parallel ever-growing fascination with members of the opposite sex.

Many reading this now, especially non-British readers might be surprised that my mum and my uncle didn’t take me back to France, or to Italy or Spain, or just about anywhere in the world beyond the British Isles – if not for the photography element of the trip, certainly for the cuisine component. And while it is undeniable that in that dark long-ago of 1973,  a full decade before the reawakening of fine British gastronomy, good British food was hard to find, there did exist a few pioneering outposts of fabulous British cooking.

Of all the pioneers manning these few gourmet mission stations none played a more heroic role in the resurrection of fine English fayre than the formidable Francis Coulson at his famous Sharrow Bay Hotel on the shores of Lake Ullswater  in Cumbria, in north western England. Since 1948, ably assisted by his life-partner, Brian Sack, he reminded the British of the fact that their countryside and its surrounding waters comprised a national food larder as rich as any on the planet. Furthermore, he devoted his life to demonstrating  exactly how make the best culinary use of that copious store cupboard.

When mum took me to Sharrow Bay in 1973, Coulson was in his pomp, both in regards to his international reputation and the output from his hotel kitchen, and thus I was one privileged bar mitzvah boy! Not that the my rabbi back in north London would have approved, but to this day, my first taste of a Cumberland sausage, in the heart of Cumbria, at our first breakfast remains one of the many abiding and formative food memories of those fantastic five days. Manx kippers, and fried duck eggs were other breakfast wonders but after days walking along the lake shore and up and down the local fells it was the suppers that really sent me into bouts of ecstasy. “I’ll never forget” is possibly the ultimate cliché, but I can’t think of any other way to phrase my first experience of British game in the form of Coulson’s famous roast grouse, and the intense redcurrant jelly accompaniment. Other gamey wonders included saddle of hare and the finest venison stew I was ever to taste – at least up till now, and as for the Herdwick lamb chops and the trout, fresh from the lake itself cooked to perfection. And then the steamed puddings – simply the lightest, most unctuous, most well-crafted puddings in the universe. And I could go on, and on.

But oh, I almost forgot! There was also the photography, and while sadly for you, I can’t share the experience of the Sharrow Bay’s phenomenal kitchen, I can at least reveal something of the stunning scenery in which it sits. I’ve rendered these ancient images (originally taken on my trusty old Canonet 28) in a watercolour style, which I believe faithfully captures the dramatic beauty and changeability of the Ullswater environment.

In the mean time, anyone reading this with a curiosity for traditional British food at its finest or the majestic wonder of Lake Ullswater and its surrounding countryside, could do a lot worse than saving up for a few days at the Sharrow Bay – the best Bar Mitvah gift or any gift for that matter, ever!

 

TWO (and a big white dog) AGAINST THE WORLD…

Last March I published a post describing how we became stranded in Boulogne sur Mer for eight months (https://adamhalevi777.com/2017/03/31/boulogne-blues-the-story-of-how-we-became-stranded-for-six-months-in-the-famous-french-channel-port/) and in which I promised to follow that up with a record of some our  subsequent Boulognaise tragicomic adventures. However, one of the many modern problems associated with a life lived in three disparate European locations is that portable hard-drives often end up in the wrong place. As now for instance, while I am currently in Sweden, the hard-drive containing 99% of my pictorial material is in Spain. This unhappy situation will continue until I and the hard drive are once again reunited in March.

Dido and Aura 1

The significance of this lack of pictorial record is that my posts for the forthcoming five weeks or so will be more sparingly illuminated than usual. Thus, the main visual record of our eight hysterically grim months on the north-west coast of France will have to wait.

Fortunately, I do still have access to some interesting and evocative pictures from that time, like the two presented here which in a way sum up that bleakest episode of Dido’s and my 29 years together more graphically than a thousand well-written words ever could. Someone once said I think, or at least should have said, that there is a profound pleasure in melancholy, and perhaps that is why so many of us are often just a subtle mood-swing away from that condition.

Both Dido and I, if not our canine companion Aura, were feeling particularly melancholic the Sunday afternoon I took these shots early in our Boulogne sojourn as we stared out longingly to the English horizon. It was Sunday blues in every sense and the only thing missing from these shots is the dull stench wafting across the sands from the nearby fish canning plant. Nevertheless, when I look at these images now, whether because of our sweet Maremma sheep dog staring down curiously at a lug-worm, or the fact I’ve been so fortunate with my life partner(s), I can’t help but smile.

Aura 1

Funny old thing, life.

Israelis at large…1977-1991

One of the things I’ve really been enjoying here in Sweden is playing with all my new toys, including my aforementioned fabulous slide scanner. It’s main purpose is to get my years of artwork digitally recorded and logged, but it’s also helping me rediscover thousands of my old general photos.

Between 1977 and 1991 I visited Israel about a dozen times and I never went there without at least half a dozen rolls of high quality slide film.∗ The pictures included here (presented in no particular order) cover most of those seventeen years and present a portrait of a diverse and multi-textured little nation.

∗Cameras used: Canonet 28 and Nikon FE / Film used: Kodak Ektachrome and Agfachrome.

DRY SUBLIME – gouaches of the Atacama

With only ten days to pick our olives and prune around a thousand vines, among many other farming chores here on our Andalusian finca, this post has few words and is all about the pictures. Suffice to say, I always felt the dry chalkiness of thickly applied gouache was a perfect medium for expressing the tonal aridity of the fabulous Atacama Desert. As ever, I hope all of you who pass this virtual way agree! Wishing all my visitors, readers and followers a 2018 as epic as the incredible Chilean desert itself…

 

 

MONOCHROME MEMORIES OF A COLOURFUL DAY IN THE PARK

My continuing trawl through thousands of old slide films for scanning is proving to be  not merely a trip down memory lane, but more a long voyage of haphazard, bitter-sweet (mostly sweet) rediscovery.

Because the films are all mixed up in no chronological or subject order , the experience of going through them is somewhat dreamlike in its lack of thematic anchorage. One moment I’m back in my childhood town of Edgware looking into the eyes of my first girl friend; the next, I’m hurtling down an Italian Alpine ski slope with the Martini ad music playing in my head before finding myself on a ferry in the middle of Puget Sound.  By the time I’ve completed a couple of hours scanning I feel emotionally jet-lagged. And so it was the other day when I came across one single complete black and white film of a lazy April bank holiday spent in Regent’s Park around 1983.

However, unlike so many of the mostly hazy memories evoked by this process, I found I recalled this particular day in almost every detail. For whatever reason that day is a vivid memory and being suddenly confronted by visual images of it was akin to being back there in the park. And, even more mysteriously, the fact the photos were monochrome merely crystallized my recollections .

For all of that, whether or not they are worthy of illustrating one of my posts, I am not so sure. However, if this does turn out to be simply an exercise in self-introspection, I do hope my that my regular readers and followers will indulge me this once. After all, at their core, these posts form an autobiography, and as such it would be incomplete without memories as colourful as this – albeit, in black and white…

POSTER ART AND MOVIE MUSIC…clever ephemera or fine art?

In 1992, at an exhibition of my poster-style paintings, someone remarked to me in a disparaging tone, ‘you know Adam, these sort of pictures are to fine art what film music is to classical music…’ She meant the observation as an insult, and at the time, although I basically agreed with the premise of her analogy, I felt duly insulted. But soon afterwards I realised that it was her intent and her tone that had upset me, not her premise.

The fact was, I had always been a huge admirer of film music and its composers, several of whom I believed then, and continue to believe today to be geniuses in their own right, every bit as accomplished in their own way as their “classical” contemporaries (after all, what will be more listened to in a hundred year’s time, Elmer Bernstein’s score to The Magnificent Seven, or Pierre Boulez’s “explosante-fixe”?). So, having my work compared to movie tunes was for me, in its purest sense, a unintended  complement.

Sure, it can be argued that poster artists are merely creating visual mood music to the given theme, but that is no bad thing, and if executed well, and with feeling, a great poster can be at least as impressive an image as any piece of “pure” art. Ultimately, as with the best film music, if the piece lives on in the memory and has the power to stir deep feelings then surely this means it is good and worthy art.

However, unlike my commissioned advertising work, my  non-commissioned posters were a bit like movie music without a movie. And some time after this particular exhibition an album of exactly that type of music called Eternal Echoes was released by that greatest of British film music composers, John Barry (Lion In Winter, Zulu, You Only Live Twice, Midnight Cowboy, Born Free and The Ipcress File to name just a few masterpieces). I was initially quite dubious, but then, after listening to the record, I realised that it worked in exactly the same way as my “free” posters, with bags of atmosphere, lyrical content and just enough emotion to stir the blood.

As things turned out this style of work became my most enduring, heavily influencing the pictures I am making today  (e.g. see my work now available at http://artcatto.com/artists/adamgreen/), and my love for movie music continues unabated.

Here are a selection of posters with architectural themes, another post, of more “human-centric” works will follow shortly…