We took a break. Just a night away, out in the middle of nowhere. Continue reading As Local As It Gets
Doco Dom and The Lady Deming have been visiting old haunts in France, and returned with a gift for lucky old me: a big-ass garlic grappe from Lautrec, the town famous for its stinking roses. I was, of course, deeply appreciative, but I was left with a slight problem. Now I have to do the stuff justice.
Garlic is the friendliest stuff with which to cook. The papery coating is the perfect defence against the heat of the oven, and a roasted head of garlic is a brilliant accompaniment to just about any savoury meal. Simply lop the top off, splash over a little oil, and cook for half an hour in a medium oven. The honey-coloured, mellow-flavoured paste that results when you squeeze out the cloves is a delight.
But we can do better than that. Keeping it French, I decided to snag some lamb shoulder, and put together the ideal slow-cooked meal for a lazy Sunday.
I'm a recent convert to the ways of the slow-cooked shoulder of beast. It is, to be fair, a dish that requires time. I could get my act together before leaving for work and pop a cut into the slow cooker, I suppose. But really, this is a weekend dish, designed for a bit of kitchen puttering. Particularly if you're smart, and do the potatoes at the same time.
Preheat your oven to 130C, and get on with the lamb. I had a half-kilo lump which will easily serve TLC and I with leftovers. Season it thoroughly, then get garlicking. Skin a whole head of the lovely stuff (it's easiest to bash it with the flat end of a knife or cleaver–the flesh will pop free from the papery husks) and nick off the hard stem. Then make deep incisions into the lamb with a sharp knife, and stuff the cloves into these pockets. Try to make sure they go all the way in. Don't be shy. Shove 'em in there.
Now to the spuds. Potatoes boulangère is the way forward here: layers of potato and onion, moistened with stock and flavoured with the copious fat from the lamb. You need a mandolin to do this properly. No, not the stringed instrument, you fool, the terrifying cross between a knife and a guillotine that has shortened many a chef's finger. Finely slice a couple of onions and four or five big potatoes. And grab some herbs. Thyme is traditional, but rosemary also works brilliantly.
Now to build. You can use a roasting tin, but I find a good deep casserole works just as well. Butter it well first. Pop a layer of potato in the bottom of the pot, then onion, herbs and a grind of salt and pepper. Then repeat, layering spuds, onion, herbs and seasoning until you've reached the top. If you're using Pyrex, then you get to see the result of your labours at the end. Check out this work of art.
Then all you do is slosh over a couple of ladlefuls of good stock, pop your lamb on top of everything and shove it in the oven. Then wait, which is probably the hardest bit. Five hours cooking time, slow and low, letting the fat gently render out of the lamb and into the boulangère, giving the garlic time to mellow and soften. Cook it for long enough and the cloves will actually melt into the meat, although I like the notion of squidging the soft garlic around on the plate.
When that five hours is finally done, let the meat rest for twenty minutes, then shred it. If there's a bone on the joint, it should slide free without complaint. Serve the lamb and potatoes with a simply steamed green veg (we had broccoli). You shouldn't need gravy as the boulangère is still quite sloppy. But don't let me stop you from sloshing a little mint sauce on the side.
The whole thing is is rich, herby, rib-sticking. There's nothing harsh about it. Hell, you don't even have to chew that hard. On the day the clocks went back, it was the perfect way to usher in the cooler months.
The Robin Hood Beer Festival is a must for any fan of the fine art of brewing. It takes over the grounds of beautiful Nottingham Castle for a long weekend in early October, usually catching the last of the sunshine before England succumbs to the soft rains of autumn. The Festival has been a lock on the Beeranaut's diary for quite a few years now, and 2014 saw a representative quartet (Super Sam, Rev Sherlock, Charmin' Ciaran and myself, El Conojito) jump on the train and hit the Midlands.
Now, I could spend a long time raving about the quality and choice of beer on offer, and let's be straight up here: The Robin Hood Festival has a larger selection than any other gathering in the country, and that includes the Great British in Olympia. Given the choice, you should be heading here rather than the big shed in London. The surroundings are nicer, the beer is better and, most importantly, the food is amazing. There'll be plenty of bloggers out there talking about the beer. Me, I'm peckish. Let's take a look at the food.
The thing with the Robin Hood Fest is that we're almost more excited about the grub than the beer. We know we're guaranteed a good feed at a reasonable price. We're not talking about duff burgers or a soggy cone of chips here. The scran at Robin Hood is top notch.
It never seems long after we head up the hill to the main marquee before we gravitate to the deli stand. It's lunch-time, after all. This is a shared concern between The Cheese Shop, which is normally based in the Flying Horse Arcade in Nottingham itself, and Melton Mowbray's own Mrs. King's Pies. I dream about the porky goodness encased in a lovely crumbly hot-water crust. A half-pie with a dab of mustard will set you back £2, and set you up for the afternoon. You will note that greedy Conojito had a salami on the side. Dense, meaty and utterly delightful. Rob's top tip: put a whole pie back to pick up for later, along with some choice cheeses. You have to check out the smoked stilton.
While you're picking up treats, head to the Merry Berry stall and snag some chocolate for the significant other. These guys do a roaring trade at the bigger food festivals (they were at Olympia this year) and specialise in creamy buttons and spicy dark chocolate. TLC insists I bring her back the white chocolate with lemongrass. I have a thing for the Scorpion Death Chili Chocolate: absurdly hot, with a burn that just keeps building. Try it, but have a glass of something to hand, because that bad boy is gonna sting.
After an afternoon's connosieuring of fine ales, the hunger struck and we Beeranauts wended our way down the hill to the food stands. Tempted as I was by the maple and beer-glazed bacon, something more substantial was needed. Memsaab, a local curry house of distinction, was serving up good grub for the geezer on the go. A heaped punnet of curry and rice was £6 and it was money wisely invested. Beef Madras or Chicken Tikka Masala, both beautifully spiced and fall-apart tender. If you ask nicely, you can have a bit of both. Don't be embarrassed if you feel the urge to lick your tray clean. Lord knows, I wasn't. Memsaab also did amazing wraps of grilled marinaded meat. I had one of those later in the day. Hey, I was hungry.
As the sun started to ebb and the crowds started to grow, we knew it was time to vacate the site and find a quiet hostelry. For one thing, we'd been on our feet for six hours. But we needed one last snackie to get us on our way. A bowl of duck fat roasties from the appropriately named Duck Fat Roastie company did the trick. Deeply savoury, crispy, crumbly in the middle, intensely addictive. A big bowl was £3, and was enough for 4 greedy boozy blokes. The scraps at the bottom were the best bits, but the whole thing was deliriously good.
A quiet pint at the Castle Rock Brewery tap by Nottingham's thoughtfully restored train station and we Beeranauts considered the ales of the day. The hits for me were Oakham's Citra (which you can get in M&S, in a slightly rebranded form), Enville's Cherry Blonde, which was the essence of a Cherry Bakewell in a glass, and Nottingham Brewery's own Centurion Porter. But I don't think I had a duff drop all day. Not bad, considering there were over a thousand beers to choose from and I was going purely by instinct.
As ever, The Robin Hood Beer Festival was the best of all possible worlds for the discerning Beeranaut: good beer, great food and a fantastic atmosphere in lovely surroundings. It's probably the highlight of my beer year, and its growing popularity shows that I'm not alone. Maybe see some of you there next October?
And we're back. After a long hot summer, in which the last thing on my mind is sitting in X&HTower's screening theatre (plush and opulent though it may be), the weather has turned appropriately autumnal. Time to close the blinds, fire up the projector and dig into the teetering pile that is the Unwrapped archive.
Today's choice was informed by the fact that Peter Strickland's The Duke Of Burgundy has lit up the Toronto Film Festival. Time to look at the movie that brought his name to the public eye: Berberian Sound Studio.
Plot dump approaching, topped with the red flag that is the Spoiler Alert.
Gilderoy (played with twitchy reserve by Toby Jones) is a renowned dubbing mixer, who is hired by an Italian sound studio to help rescue an Argento-like horror film that has run into problems. He quickly finds that the environment, people and material are hugely different to the world of pastoral documentaries and children's programmes that he knows, and quietly begins to lose his mind…
Shot on a tiny budget on location at Three Mills Studio in East London, Berberian Sound Studio is a prime example of a film-maker getting the most out of his environment. There's no questioning the authenticity of the production design, and the attention to period detail is astonishing. If you're a fan of old film gear, be prepared to fangasm now. I was especially pleased to recognise an Albrecht sound follower: a piece of kit that I still use on a near-daily basis.
The action is kept completely indoors. There isn't an exterior shot in the film, adding immeasurably to the airless, claustrophobic atmosphere. It's all artificial light, pools of darkness, empty corridors.
The word that kept springing to mind while watching the film was Kafkaesque. Gilderoy is an outsider, floundering in an environment in which he doesn't understand the rules, where he keeps making the wrong impressions. His efforts to reclaim expenses are thwarted as the accounts department claim there's no record of him flying to Italy in the first place. As his work in sound-designing the film starts to become an ordeal, the walls and dark rooms of the Berberian Sound Studio start to look ever more like those of a prison—or an asylum.
Let's make one thing clear, directly from the lips of Santini, the maestro behind The Equestrian Vortex, the movie on which Gilderoy labours. This is not a horror film. Sure it takes plenty of cues from the mise en scêne of giallo. Just look at the black gloves of the never-seen projectionist, the pumping, Goblin-like soundtrack from Broadcast. The film is full of attractive Italian voiceover girls, of just the kind that would find a horrible end in yer typical Eurohorror. But if you're looking for gore, best keep looking. The only things to see the edge of a blade in this movie are the fruit and veg that Gilderoy attacks to provide the sound effects for Santini. We don't even see a single frame of the film itself that the diminutive sound engineer reacts so strongly against. That being said, the sight of a witch being vaginally violated with a red-hot poker, the scene that causes Gilderoy the most problems, is one that I could do without.
Strickland's refusal to bow to expectations as to what Berberian Sound Studio is or how events in the film pan out have led many to view the film as a frustrating experience. I understand that. The film is deliberately slippery, dodging away from genre tropes and formula story beats. Santini isn't an anagram for Satan, however hard you try to make it so.
The trouble with slippery things is, of course, that they're hard to grab hold of, and Berberian Sound Studio remains opaque, asks far more questions than it answers. How much of it is real? Are we, as is suggested at the end, simply watching a film within a film? There's no definitive answer, and loose ends aplenty. It famously divided opinion right down the middle when it was screened at Frightfest in 2011. Even now, synopses of the film differ wildly and are mostly inaccurate, pitching the movie as proto-giallo when it's nothing of the sort.
Which brings us to the 64,000 lire question—was Berberian Sound Studios worth Unwrapping?
Yes, it was. Difficult but tought-provoking, it's at once a treatise on the craft and sheer hard work involved in getting a film made, and a warning of the cost that the process can exact on you. The people that Gilderoy encounters are, for the most part, monstrous. One of the ADR actors even goes by the nickname 'The Goblin'. Gilderoy, the very image of the innocent abroad, has no chance amongst these creatures.
As a stylistic exercise Berberian Sound Studio is a storming triumph, and there's enough going on to keep you watching, and guessing, until the end. And indeed after. Enter without expectations, and you just might find yourself ensnared.
It takes six hours, if you're prepared to drive with little in the way of breaks, from the gates of X&HTowers to Seahouses, the jewel of the Northumberland coast. Readership, I'm here today to tell you: it's worth the trip. Continue reading Will There Be Kippers, Then, For Tea?
The Northumberland Coast. Border country. North of here, and you're dealing with rebellious Scots. It is a place where the air and light are pure, where the skies are a riot of stars at night. The people are warm and generous. The food has the tang of the sea air, and the richness of the fertile land from which it has been harvested. And the sights… well, I'll let you judge for yourselves.
We are in The North, and in this point in proceedings, I don't wanna go back.
in which yr hmbl whatever teases out his feelings on the new series by writing about them.