A few days ago, when summarising my promised major ‘grump’, I half promised something about a chocolate cake and onion soup from one of my favourite food blogs. I’ve made the cake; so far I have only bought the onions. My excuse is the ‘snap’ of cold weather – it’s stew and dumplings time, yippee, but more of that later, below.

Some time ago I gave the recipe for what has been my favourite chocolate cake, called Reine de Saba, but this one from My French Heaven promised to be equally delicious and a bit simpler to make.

Stephane's own picture of his cake, a 'grab' from his blog 'My French Heaven'

Stephane’s own picture of his cake, a ‘grab’ from his blog ‘My French Heaven’

I didn’t get it quite right, mainly because Stephane the author said bake it in a “pie pan” and not knowing quite what that meant I used the only square cake tin I have (about 20.5cm square) and it clearly wasn’t big enough, so the cake came out much deeper than in the picture. This meant it didn’t bake in the 20-25 mins suggested and it could probably have benefited from a rather lower oven temperature, which would have given the centre time to cook before the outside overcooked (The Reine de Saba is deliberately left with the centre undercooked).

All the same, even my attempt is a delicious cake (my wife, my partner chocoholic, agrees) and I’ll get it right next time. Stephane suggests you eat it with ice-cream, but this cake merits a superb ice-cream and that, as far as I’m concerned, means home made. No time for that so with a cup of (Yorkshire) tea as I write this I’m eating it alone; as a ‘pudding’ this evening it’ll be with double cream.

I have to admit, when I first thought about writing about this cake I fantasized about winning Stephane’s prize for the blogger bringing most people to his blog – a few days in his “B&B”, which I’m certain really is a French Heaven. But seeing all those foodie bloggers with hundreds, even thousands, of followers I knew that really was just a fantasy.

However, if you don’t know it already, do go to his blog for a real Frenchman (who writes real English!) writing about real French food, with some great photography too (so it was a debate whether to follow him from this blog or from my ‘photography’ blog).

Now to stew and dumplings and another of my favourite food blogs. I was really surprised to find that the author of ‘homemadewithmess‘, writing about stew and dumplings, said she had never made dumplings and didn’t have any suet in the cupboard.

Beef stew and dumplings, my answer to Thursday's frosty weather

Beef stew and dumplings, my answer to Thursday’s frosty weather

If you’re thinking that mixing something as British as stew and dumplings with a French cake is odd, think again. In the UK, if we think suet, we think Atora. This was developed by a Frenchman in Manchester in 1893. It is said that he developed it having seen his wife struggling to cut up blocks of suet; I know the feeling – there was no Atora in Romania when I was there so, to introduce Romanians to the light, fluffy balls which we know as ‘dumplings’, I too struggled to grate lumps of suet from the market.

I’m not going to give a recipe for stew – just brown the meat, add onion, carrot, parsnip, swede, pearl barley and lentils by the handful, cover with stock and cook till the meat is 20 minutes from done before adding the dumplings (in fact, in this one I chucked half a bottle of the beer I was drinking at the time, but it could have been red wine if that’s what I had in my hand – not drinking while cooking is a sin). The basic dumpling recipe is still on the Atora packet – I generally add some sage, fresh-ground black pepper and a handful of rolled oats. This week we had it with steamed Savoy cabbage and the wonderful ‘Anya’ potatoes which I’ve only ever found in Sainsbury’s.

This meal is one of the abiding memories from my childhood. Struggling up the long hill from primary school, perhaps up to my shoulders in snow, opening the door of the one up, one down back-to-back cottage in which we lived, to smell and see a large enamel bowl in the hearth of the cast-iron range, full of stew with big, puffy floating dumplings.

The stew might have been beef or lamb, but most often rabbit as then it was the cheapest. My mother, a war widow with three young boys to feed, often did not know where the next meal was coming from, but it was always there.

Much as I would like it, I cannot make the lamb stew described by homemadewithmess as my wife will not eat lamb, but beef stew with dumplings is one of her favourite meals since I introduced her to it. Romanians, in fact east Europeans in general, do have dumplings but they are a much heavier concoction of semolina and egg – in Romania they’re known as galuste (the ‘u’ and the ‘s’ are other Romanian letters so it’s pronounced gu-loosh-tay).

For what promises to be a heavenly French onion soup, watch this space.

A deep thought minute

click     to     click                   is time enough

the wind raged sea             calmed

I haven’t published a haiku, I haven’t written a haiku, for some time.

What I have found is that, for me, composing a haiku requires a certain state of mind, a calm which has been missing from the recent hustle and bussle in my life, mainly catching up on some work projects which had slipped. But there has also been the attempt to get back into film photography, some of the hassles and frustrations of which I’ve been documenting on my other blog, grumpytykepix. And then there are some aspects of everyday life in the present-day UK.

The work catch-up is almost complete. I have finally accepted that getting back into film is not going to be a easy as I thought. And the irritation of so many things imposed upon us, mainly by politicians and the mass media, is being resolved by writing about them (even though my promised ‘grump’ on this blog is, as yet, only in draft).

I’ve been fascinated by a picture published some time ago on one of my favourite photo blogs, ‘Shimmering Grains’. It showed what seemed to be a calm, almost ethereal, scene of the sea. In fact, it was taken during a gale but the sea has been calmed by a long time exposure. A perfect illustration of the oft mis-voiced ‘quote’ – “As tyme hem hurt, a tyme doth hem cure”, Chaucer; or “Time is the healer of all necessary evils”, Menander.

The picture above is a screen grab; the original picture is at:

http://shimmeringgrains.com/2012/10/23/long-exposures-by-the-sea/

But if you find beautiful photographs of things natural therapeutic, I’d recommend following this Swedish photographer’s blog.

I’m about half way in drafting the promised post on my disappointment with what Britain has become – basically since Tony Blair became prominent on the scene (until which time I was a life-long Labour supporter). I guess it’s going to get me into quite a bit of trouble with many people, but perhaps not as it’s likely not that many people will read it.

I’m prompted to find time to complete it by many recent events, among which:

  • being told I could not take photographs of my teenage nephew playing football;
  • my subsequent weekend in Germany where I freely took pictures in a children’s playground full of children and their parents without complaint (I have put just one, of my grandson on my classic camera/film ‘photo’ blog – grumpytykepix);
  • children taken away from foster parents because they were members of UKIP (I am not, by the way, a UKIP supporter in general);
  • looking through a recent GCSE maths paper and finding I could do the first five questions in my head in less than a minute (I haven’t ‘done’ maths for over 50 years);
  • Bradford metropolitan council’s insistence on allowing hundreds of new houses to be built in an area which simply cannot support them (in fact almost anything Bradford Council has done in the past two decades);
  • the appalling treatment of elderly people in the NHS;
  • the increasing ‘regulation by tick box’ in vital areas like care and education;
  • the appalling fall in journalistic standards, in general but particularly at the BBC (and the schoolboy antics introduced into many otherwise interesting and ‘serious’ programmes);
  • … there are a few more.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll succeed to do a post or two on more enjoyable things, like food and cooking – especially as I’m really keen to try a couple of recipes (onion soup and a chocolate cake) on one of my favourite ‘cookery’ blogs (actually more than that), ‘My French Heaven’.

This post is an apology to many of those I follow, for a lack of ‘likes’, ‘comments’ and ‘views’, and to some of of those who follow this blog. I wondered why almost all the posts I followed seemed to have disappeared but, keen to get my new classic film photography blog (grumpytykepix) up and running, I hadn’t followed through.

Picture of my grandchildren, Alicia and Ewan

What’s the picture got to do with it? Nothing, but a blog without a picture isn’t very attractive I think so I’ve just picked up my desktop pic to brighten things up (my grandchildren – Alicia and Ewan).

What had actually disappeared were the ‘subscriptions’, so I was getting no email notifications of new postings. What I did to cause this might be of interest to others so here it is.

This blog was linked to my usual personal email address and having followed quite a few very interesting blogs with subscriptions to email notifications of new posts I found my inbox was becoming a bit overwhelmed (not helped by one guy – no names – who made over 20 posts in one day!) and was missing important personal messages.

So, I created a new email specifically for this blog and transferred everything to it. What I didn’t know is that the subscriptions were not transferred – the subscription notifications to my personal email stopped, but did not appear in the new ‘blog email’.

Today I found the time to look through the list of blogs I follow and saw that almost every email box was marked ‘Never’. I’ve just changed all the ones which are not photographic specific to ‘Instant’ and have instantly received a load of notifications. Great!

Those which are photographic specific, which I’m not already following from grumpytykepix, I’m now going to follow from that photo blog and get the notifications of new postings sent to the email address which is specific to that blog.

Hope that makes sense.

So, delighted to see all of you who I thought had ‘disappeared’ have been as active as ever – sorry to have missed out but back on track now.

Picture showing minimal geometry of the National War Museum, Manchester

Imperial War Museum, Manchester

I decided not to post this on my photo blog (grumpytykepix) as this was taken on my Lumix GF1 as I was attending a seminar at the museum for work, so carried digital. I’m endeavouring to reserve the other blog for film and classic cameras.

I usually prefer to photograph the natural environment but the built environment here is quite astounding and well worth a day. It made me determined to go back some day with film.

I’ve tried to minimise the effect here, but originally this picture showed up the distortion in the Lumix 14-42mm ‘X’ lens but I guess if anything was going to this is it.

This post isn’t about photography, and it’s rather late for a weekly challenge, but having been out of posting for a while I couldn’t resist using this recent weekly photo challenge to show why where I live makes me happy, and to learn how to make and insert a gallery (which is what the WordPress posting was about). I live in a village called Menston, on the upper southern slopes of the lower Wharfe valley in Yorkshire, just on the edge of the enormous Leeds/Bradford connurbation.

The first picture is the view I wake up to every morning, that from my bedroom window. There isn’t always a rainbow of course but we do get more than our fair share, I guess because we are looking approximately north so the sun is traversing right to left through the day. The colours and shadow patterns change not only with the seasons but with every minute – it’s a constant delight. More about each picture under the gallery.

I wanted to respond quickly and take photos specifically for this challenge so all the pictures are taken on my little pocketable, early digital Contax SL300R T*, one of the (too) many cameras I have which make me happy too (I’ve recently created another blog specifically for my photographic interests – grumpytykepix – and hope to start posting regularly on that soon). All the pictures in this post were taken over a period of two days. I really like how clicking on one of the gallery pix brings up a slide show of them all.

The hills over the top of the houses in the first picture are the northern slopes up from the river Wharfe. The river down in the valley is about 5 minutes in the car, with the lovely little towns of Otley, to the right, and Ilkley, to the left, about 10 and 15 minutes away respectively. A few minutes into real country as you will see in later pictures, but the magnificent city of Leeds is only 15 minutes away on the regular train from Menston station, a five minute walk from home – the best of all worlds.

The second picture is the view from our living room windows, over the village park, which look south so have sun all day; another constantly changing scene usually teeming with children and many dogs with their owners. If you look carefully in the centre background you’ll see why we don’t need a clock – if I had zoomed into it you would see clearly the time on the clock tower of the once notorious Victorian High Royds psychiatric ‘hospital’ (“Menston” to most locals – we live with it!) – now luxury flats.

Underneath the clock picture, top right in the gallery, is the scene I wait for on my journey home from my two day a week job in York. Driving back along the A658 I crest the hill leading down to the A65 Harrogate/Leeds road and there it is – the Wharfe Valley – dominated here by the torr Almscliffe Crag (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almscliffe_Crag). I’m about 15 minutes from home.

Continuing home, I cross the river at Pool, climb Pool bank then turn along the high ridge – known as Otley Chevin – running along the south side of the valley, (http://www.chevinforest.co.uk/)(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otley_Chevin). The magnificent view in the fourth picture, with again the Crag dominating in the distance, is a 20 minute climb on foot from home, 5 minutes in the car. A short distance behind me as I take this picture is Leeds-Bradford airport, the UK’s highest, and another great convenience as it’s about 3 hours door to door for me to visit grandchildren near to Dusseldorf (and there’s a bus direct to the airport from home, so no car-parking fees!). No, aircraft noise is not a problem – though my wife wouldn’t agree about the 7am flight on a Sunday morning (I don’t hear it!).

Fifth picture: Even closer here, the first sight of our flat, across the park, windows on the right, first floor. A minute and I’ll be home.

Half an hour walk or so in the opposite direction from the Chevin are the rocks shown in the sixth picture, the famous Cow and Calf which overlook the town of Ilkley. Like Almscliffe Crag, this is a favourite spot for would-be rock climbers to develop their skills, though most visitors just go for the great views and a pint in the nearby Cow and Calf pub (or an ice cream or coffee from the car park (free!) cafe seen on the right).

If you return to Menston by car you can take the road into the village seen in the seventh photo. In the middle distance is the Chevin and if you look carefully you might see the long hill climbing to the top which I take to go to work – 2nd gear for Lofty the camper.

At the bottom of that hill, so half the climb from home, is one of the many great pubs around the village – called appropriately enough the Chevin. Here it is, eighth picture, on our Sunday 14th October walk. The road you see twists down the side of the Chevin through woods to reach Otley and there’s a great small camp site on the right for visitors.

But, ninth picture, we don’t make the climb to look at the front but to sit in the garden at the rear with, for me, a pint of an excellent Yorkshire beer (Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, another happy, brewed in nearby Keighley where I went to school) and an excellent cider for my wife Petronela – both of us wondering at the view.

Hopefully, if I manage to crack getting back into medium format rangefinder photography, I’ll be posting some better pictures from 6 x 9 of the wondrous scenery of where I live on my ‘photography blog’ – grumpytykepix. But maybe the few ‘snaps’ here will show you why where I live is ‘happy’ for me.  

The temperature has been 41degC (106degF) in the shade, rather more in the sun. The whole country has been starved of rain and the harvest is forecast to be half or less of what is normal; many smallholders will have close to no harvest at all. Prices of vegetables and fruit will rocket and a lot of Romanians will go hungry.

Many Romanians, including my family, have shut themselves inside and complained about the heat. But you know about mad dogs and Englishmen, no doubt. Coming from the appalling summer in England I was determined to get some real sun but I did, for once, wear a hat.

Rain in Iasi, Romania - street photography

I went into the town centre in bright sunshine. The sky darkened, lighting ripped it apart and, a few paces from shelter, the heavens opened and I immediately had a power shower. Within two seconds or less I was soaked. We might say it was bucketing down; the Romanians have a similar expression: “ploua cu galeata” –  ‘it’s raining with a bucket’ – and it was.

I sheltered in a hotel entrance and was quickly joined by several very wet Romanians. Every one complained about the rain.

Then we were joined by a gipsy boy, maybe 17 or 18.

“Decand a plouat, arata frumos” – “(how long) since it rained, it looks beautiful”, he said.

And it did.

Photo: Fuji Superia 200, expired film. Olympus XA (35mm, f.2.8 F-Zuiko). Long hand-held exposure. Probably f.5.6. Commercially developed and scanned in Iasi, Romania.

I am not by nature a city dweller, I much prefer rural life. However, it has been a real pleasure to return briefly to the city where I lived, and taught English, for several years in Romania. The city is Iasi (pronounced ‘Yash’ – in Romanian the ‘s’ has a comma under it, rather like a cedilla, and so has the sound ‘sh’), which is a major city in north east Romania with the country’s oldest University.

Fountain in the Palas Mal park, Iasi, with the Culture Palace museum in the background

One of the pleasures of living in Iasi was that artistic culture was very much alive and to share in it cost very little, but the downside was that many of the facilities were very run down. Today, many of the buildings are being renovated, some almost complete. The building in the background in the picture above is ‘Palatul Culturii’ (The Palace of Culture), in fact a museum. The Romanians cleverly allowed a developer to build an enormous shopping mall, together with a delightful park (pictured below), only on condition they undertook the renovation of the museum building, an enormous and incredibly costly project. It is now almost completed.

Entrance to the Palas Mal park, Iasi

When I visited the park, complete with carousel, it was full of families with young children, courting couples, older couples, all looking happy and contented in a green and colourful environment despite the severe drought which has made much of Romania look like a desert. (When I left Romania in 2004, this area was also a desert of waste ground). Looking up through the pierced copper roof of a cupola on a lake in the park, seeing the ‘biscuits’ stamped out from the sky, prompted my ‘sky biscuits’ picture haiku, posted on 3 August.

Carousel in the Palas Mal park, Iasi

Nearby is the church of St. Nicholas, which was renovated some year ago. It is the church in which I was married and where I went on many Sundays to listen to the magnificent choir, at Easter, and at Christmas to hear the wonderful Romanian carols.

St Nicholas's church, Iasi (Sf Nicolae Domnesc)

The ‘Filarmonica’ (Concert hall) was almost a ruin when I went every week throughout the ‘season’, a season ticket costing less than £30 for more than 20 concerts! Every five years this included all the Beethoven string quartets performed over several weeks by a magnificent Iasi quartet, ‘Voces’, whose playing reminded me of the renowned ‘Amadeus’ quartet (I have vinyl LPs of the complete cycle played by them at home in UK). Now the concert hall has been renovated and looks magnificent.

The 'Filarmonica' concert hall, Iasi, and poster advertising performances of Shakespear's 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

In the foreground of the Filarmonica a poster advertises Shakespeare – A Midsummer Night’s Dream – outside the nearby ‘Teatru National’ (‘national’ theatre), a smaller version of the theatre in Vienna but just as magnificent now that it is almost completely renovated.

Something which impressed me about Romanian high school pupils – 12 to 18 years old – when I lived here was that I could stop one at random in the street and ask them to quote me a line of Shakespeare and at least 9 in 10, probably 99 in 100, would do it flawlessly, often not one of the most quoted ones. What would the proportion be in the UK? I doubt better than 1 in a 100, if that.

The 'national theatre', Iasi, with street banner advertising opera

Another banner across the whole street outside the theatre advertises opera (and I do not have to remind opera lovers that one of the world’s leading ‘divas’ now – Angela Gheorghiu – is Romanian).

Talking of pupils, below is a picture of one of the three high schools at which I taught English in Iasi – Colegiul National which was founded in 1826 and remains one of the top two high schools in the city.

The 'National College', Iasi

It was becoming twilight when I reached Piata Unirii (Unity Square), which celebrates the unification of the different regions to become Romania in 1859 (Transilvania became a part of Romania in 1918). Dominating the square is another magnificent building – the Hotel Traian.

Grand Hotel Traian, Iasi, at twilight

Nearly ‘home’, I passed by what was the only antique shop in Iasi when I lived here – in what was in the distant past the city’s main street – Str. Lapusneanu. A model galleon in full sail sits in our living room back in the UK; I bought it in this shop, which lights up the wares in its window in the evening.

The antique shop window in Str. Lapusneanu, Iasi, in the evening

Buildings in this street are now being renovated and a gigantic protective cover reminds the people of Iasi what they have and need to protect, as said to them by one of the country’s most renowned historians, Nicolae Iorga, a superb writer, who was assassinated by fascists in 1940.

Protective cover over a building in renovation, with quote from Nicolae Iorga, Romanian historian

“These are our historic monuments, so many, from the beginning until 1850, so full of value both materially and in an historic sense, with their surroundings devasted, with everything destroyed, with the patina of age covering each, so varied and original in which is seen what they were. Where you see it, recognise it, respect it and raise them up, if you have the strength, from the ruin and disappearance”. (My translation, not perfect but hopefully adequate). Nicolae Iorga, 1871-1940.

It’s taken a long time but the rebirth has begun.

All these ‘snapshots’ were taken on a Panasonic GF1 with 14-42mm Lumix G ‘X’ lens. I may be able to get some C41 black and white film (Ilford XP2) developed and scanned here towards the end of next week, but colour and ‘conventional’ black and white will have to wait until I’m back in the UK.

I got pollen

I got nectar

I got freedom

Who could ask for anything more?

         With deference to George and Ira Gershwin

Earth to earth   to dust

Twist   scream  turn    yet now return

Games in the graveyard

.

……………….

Grass is greener     where?

Bare footed     treading    careless

Leaving litter here

.

_ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _

I said in a post or two ago that I wanted to try to create both picture and haiku together rather than a picture prompting a haiku. Walking through a local churchyard this morning I had the first opportunity. The sandals were not placed there for the picture – I discovered them just as they are pictured. The haiku were not complete when I took the pictures but the idea was there. I worked on them a little once I saw the pictures on the screen.

Both pictures taken on a Panasonic GF1. I’d have preferred black and white film for the first but then I wouldn’t have been able to post it today.

My photo package for Romania has changed a bit since I posted the debate with myself a few days ago. The change was mostly prompted by two almost incredible bits of luck. I was hoping for one of the 100 £1millions on Euromillions on Friday evening and I did win – £2.68! More about the bigger luck at a later date, now I must finish packing.