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Posted in Blog Stats, Culture, Food, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

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Dear Mr. Stravinsky

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

In May 1953 Boston University proposed to commission Igor Stravinsky, by then living in Hollywood, to write an opera with Dylan Thomas, who was staying in New York, and had a few months to live. They met in Boston, and Stravinsky recalled the occasion in Robert Craft’s book Conversations with Igor Stravinsky:

His face and skin had the colour and swelling of too much drinking. He was a shorter man than I expected, not more than five feet five or six, with a large protuberant behind and belly. His nose was a red bulb and his eyes were glazed. He drank a glass of whisky with me which made him more at ease, though he kept worrying about his wife, saying he had to hurry home to Wales ‘or it would be too late’. I don’t know how much he knew about music, but he talked about the operas he knew and liked, and about what he wanted to do. ‘His’ opera was to be about the rediscovery of our planet following an atomic misadventure. There would be a re-creation of language, only the new one would have no abstractions; there would be only people, objects, and words. He promised to avoid poetic indulgences: ‘No conceits, I’ll knock them all on the head.’ He agreed to come to me in Hollywood as soon as he could. Returning there I had a room built for him, an extension from our dining room, as we have no guest room. I received two letters from him. I wrote him October 25th in New York and asked him for word of his arrival plans in Hollywood. I expected a telegram from him announcing the hour of his aeroplane. On November 9th the telegram came. It said he was dead. All I could do was cry.

Here’s the letter Thomas sent Stravinsky after that meeting:

The Boat House, Laugharne
Carmarthenshire, Wales
16th June 1953

Dear Mr. Stravinsky,

I was so very glad to meet you for a little time, in Boston; and you and Mrs. Stravinsky couldn’t have been kinder to me. I hope you get well very soon.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the opera and have a number of ideas – good, bad, and chaotic. As soon as I can get something down on paper, I should, if I may, love to send it to you. I broke my arm just before leaving New York the week before last, and can’t write properly yet. It was only a little break, they tell me, but it cracked like a gun.

I should very much like – if you think you would still like me to work with you; and I’d be enormously honoured and excited to do that – to come to California in late September or early October. Would that be convenient? I hope so. And by that time, I hope too, to have some clearer ideas about a libretto.

Thank you again. And please give my regards to your wife and to Mr. Craft.

Yours sincerely

Dylan Thomas

Perfect Porridge

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 12, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Lady Claire Macdonald writes in the Daily Mail:

I was browsing around Marks & Spencer when I found myself staring at the shelf in front of me. It was crammed with pots and pots of ready-made porridge.

I’m passionate about porridge. So I’m thrilled that it is enjoying such a revival.

McDonald’s is branching out with bowls of it. And supermarkets are crammed with every flavour imaginable.

With temperatures plummeting and snow falling, it’s the perfect time to enjoy the original comfort food. It’s filling, it’s nutritious and it’s full of health benefits.

Porridge has the proportion of protein needed for repair and growth in the body and boosts the immune system. It’s also rich in soluble fibre, which has been shown to lower blood cholesterol.

It’s high in vitamin B6, which promotes the feel-good brain chemical serotonin. And the slow-releasing carbohydrates in oats sustain energy levels.

Porridge has always been a fantastic fast food. But it fell out of favour when we became too busy to wash up the hideously sticky pans. That is no longer a problem – use a non-stick pan.

My first introduction to porridge came soon after I arrived in Scotland as a young bride.

I was staying in this fantastic old house where our fellow guests were the judges of the piping section of the Highland Games.

I watched in fascination as one of the three – a sprightly looking man in his late 70s – proceeded to eat porridge for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I realised then how seriously the Scots take their porridge.

There’s even an annual porridge-making competition in Aviemore. Traditions abound. Some people will only eat their porridge standing up. Purists swear that porridge should never be eaten with anything other than a dash of salt. Others insist on eating their porridge washed down with whisky.

And then there’s the question of how you stir your oats. Traditionalists use a spurtle – a stick specially produced for porridge stirring.

You can understand why the Scots are so passionate about their porridge. It was their staple diet for generations. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s followers went into battle at Culloden with slabs of cold porridge tucked under their tartan cloaks. They lost, but they still swore by their porridge.

While other nations were tucking into pasta and rice, the Scots were eating porridge slabs: oats mixed with water and salt, allowed to go cold and then sliced into pieces.

Porridge is easy to make. You just need the right ingredients and the right equipment.

Oats come in four main sizes: pinhead, fine, medium and coarse. Freshly harvested oats contain 14 per cent moisture, so they have to be dried and toasted to develop their flavour.

You don’t need milk – porridge has its own creamy consistency. I love heaping demerara sugar on my porridge. It is so versatile you can add anything: bananas, strawberries, honey. And there are so many other things you can do with oats – such as add to crumble mixes or coat fish and chicken.

90g pinhead oatmeal
100ml full-fat milk
10g butter
15g sugar
cinnamon and nutmeg to taste

Soak the pinhead oatmeal for 12 hours and drain off excess water.

Put the oatmeal in a pan with the milk and simmer gently, stirring occasionally until the oats have softened (approx 20-25 mins). Then beat in the sugar, butter and spices.

Kinloch Lodge Hotel special porridge recipe by head chef Marcello Tully

Brown Bread: Keith Floyd

Posted in Food, Obituaries with tags , , , , , on September 16, 2009 by Robin Gosnall

Keith-Floyd-006

“I’ve not felt this well for ages.”

Sad news of the death of Keith Floyd. What a great character. All these celebrity TV chefs should be grateful to him for their current high profiles.

I loved the way he used to introduce each recipe as “another cooking sketch”.

I’ve just watched the Channel 4 documentary in which Keith Allen spent a weekend with Keith Floyd at his home in Provence – which was shortly to be taken from him in a divorce settlement. What strange synchronicity that it was shown the night of his death.

It is a fascinating film, Floyd is clearly not a well man, but his opinions and manner are as forthright as ever – the language is not for the faint-hearted, especially when venting his spleen on “celebrity chefs”.

It is also quite sad, Floyd being deeply moved by the arrival of the estranged daughter he hadn’t seen for ten years – a set-up by Floyd for the camera? Probably, in the hope that the presence of a TV crew would aid a reconciliation. Sad too, as Keith Floyd had aged so much since I last saw him. He said he sought solace in alcohol because he was often lonely. He was a great character and had a warmth and humanity about him despite the rough edges. He will be missed.

I hope Channel 4 will show Keith on Keith again, do try and watch it if you can.

The quote I’m left with is from the very beginning of the film, where Floyd says:

“I probably drink more red wine than I should, and smoke more than is good for me, but it’s my life and that’s the way I want it.”

The darker side of this attitude to life is pointed out in the Daily Telegraph obituary:

At its worst, his bon vivant style and turbulent relationships had seen him come to rely on whisky. With a bottle in the bedside table, “I felt I had to have a few large glasses before I could even get downstairs.”

R.I.P. Keith Floyd 1943-2009

Cranachan with raspberries

Posted in Food with tags , , , , , , , on July 11, 2009 by Robin Gosnall

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This dessert is dead simple and it’s full of flavour. You can use any soft fruit really, but raspberries are associated with Scotland. I have tried using Drambuie instead of whisky and it also worked pretty well.

60g medium oatmeal
150g raspberries
600ml double cream
4 tbsp runny honey
4 tbsp malt whisky

Scatter the oatmeal on a baking tray and toast in a low oven or under a medium grill until golden. You’ll have to watch it closely or it may burn.

Blend 50g of the raspberries in a liquidiser until smooth. Whip the double cream until stiff, then stir in the honey and whisky and mix well but do not over-whip. Fold in 50g of the oatmeal, then carefully fold in the raspberry purée to form a rippled effect.

Spoon the mixture into glass coupes or a serving dish, then scatter the rest of the raspberries and oatmeal on top.

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