Expat Food


Curry Time

One of the undeniable truths of being an expat is that there are just some foods that you yearn after and I am no different, I would not necessarily describe myself as a “foodie” but I love to eat and I love to cook and as we grow some of the most fantastic produce it has ever been my pleasure to consume it is only natural that I eulogise it here.

Traditional Hungarian food is wonderful, it is rich and hearty fare that serves as fantastic fuel for a day working the land, but there are flavours from your upbringing that you dearly yearn for and there are but two options; “Red Cross” parcels from family and freinds or you step up to the plate and recreate those flavours and textures from back home! We really do prefer the latter, it may sound odd to the folk reading this that have never visited the UK but Indian food is incredibly popular back home, they are flavours that are part of food memories going back as far as I can remember and I have spent many a day working on getting the flavours I recognise into my attempts.


Sausages

We do not stop at a good old “Ruby Murry” though, I was bought up in a family of butchers and the good old fashioned British “Banger” or Sausage is something that life would be much poorer without. The Hungarian sausage is a very varied beast, from the Hurka to the Kolbasz they are all very tasty but still not what you would choose to have on a sandwich when you have a hangover, although they do make a great “toad in the hole”. Naturally there is only one thing to do, roll up your sleeves and get stuck in, the picture above is my effort at the Great British “Banger” and they are superb, the quality of Pork that we buy over here is quite simply spectacular and you can buy natural sausage skins in any village shop. Fortunately I had a great teacher in the shape of my Uncle George to show me how to link sausages when he paid us a visit and I may very well be biased but these are the best sausages I have ever eaten 😀


Hand Raised Pork Pie

My latest creation from “Blighty” is the traditional hand raised English Pork Pie (above), how difficult could it be right, the perenial picnic favourite of Britain? You would be surprised, I made a large one a while back for my wifes Birthday as it is one of her favourites and it takes a couple of days to get it right, at least a day making the stock for the jelly, then the preparation of the 3 cuts of pork, belly, shoulder and some nicely smoked bacon and finally the hot crust pastry (I hate making pastry) combining lard with butter, boiling water and flour.


Hand Raised Pork Pie

I used a recipe from the River Cottage Meat book by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall which is an absolute must have for devout carnivors, at almost 550 pages long and not filled with pointless pictures it contains fantastic recipes and great background information! I changed up the recipe a little so that I could hand raise two individual 1lb (450g) pies but essentially the recipe is as follows:

Pastry

  • 450 grams plain flour
  • 150 grams melted lard (blood temp)
  • 125ml boiling water
  • 75 grams Butter
  • 1 Teaspoon salt

Filling

  • 600 grams pork shoulder (5mm cube)
  • 150 grams fatty pork belly (chopped as fine as possible)
  • 150 grams smokey bacon (chopped as fine as possible)
  • Seasoning… salt, pepper, sage, bay leaf, cayenne pepper

Jelly
Many people do not like the Jelly in a pork pie and find the concept of a meat jelly odd, but it is nothing more than a very good meat stock, we never throw any bones away from our roasted meats and save them in the freezer for making stock. All good stock really should end up being a jelly when it is cold and only turns to liquid when it is heated a little so for me it it is not all that strange.

Cooking
Bring all the elements together, egg wash the pies then cook them in an oven at about 200°c for about an hour then let cool a little, you need to heat the stock so it is pourable and then feed it into the cavity of the pie through the hole you create in the top to allow the steam to escape it is full.


Hand Raised Pork Pie

All you have to do then is try and wait until it is cooled properly and you have a Melton Mowbray style, or Magyar Mowbray Hand Raised Pork Pie, time consuming but another triumph for the expats not able to get food from home in their corner of Hungary and we will be consuming with our Anglo Magyar/Indian pickled Cucumber and Damson Chutney which wipes the floor with anything Branston produce. Unfortunately a lack of patience to tuck in meant that the pie was not perfect, my laboured stock did not have chance to set but there is another one in the fridge that hoefully will be good, still tastes great though!

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Teaching is tough!


Debrecen University

Winter is meant to be a time for rest and relaxation for us but as yet this year we have not stopped and this last week I embarked on an unexpected foray into the world of teaching photography.

If you have been following me on either Twitter or Facebook you may have seen that I was approached a few weeks ago to give an individual some photography lessons. It was somewhat of a surprise e-mail to receive, but it was an enquiry from a guy who is from Buenos Aries in Argentina who was spending winter in Debrecen and wanted to spend some time improving his photography skills but was struggling to find lessons in a language other than Hungarian. We arranged to meet up in Debrecen for a beer over lunch to see if we could formulate a plan that would work for both of us as I live 100km from Debrecen.


Tracks

Martin described himself as a casual photographer when we met who wanted to be able to take better photographs with his shiny new Canon 60d (which proved to be a fantastic camera), much like most people he said he had read countless books and watched endless hours of videos but much prefers to learn by doing things rather than reading about them.

Now my camera goes with me pretty much everywhere I go, much to the chagrin of my wife, and I love taking pictures but I have never had any formal training and have never really formulated what I know and how I work into a process. So after I agreed to spend sometime with Martin and show him some ideas that maybe able to help him in getting a little more out of the camera my thoughts very quickly entered the realm of “what on earth have I done”!


Marbles

The weather over here in Hungary at this time of year is a little unpredictable which made formulating a plan really difficult, so I had opted to try and do a few product type shots like the marbles above to try and show the links between shutter speed, aperture values (F-Stops) and ISO settings and how taking control of the yourself rather than allowing a camera to make decisions opens up a whole new avenue of photography and really is not as complicated as it sounds.

So the morning of Martins first lesson arrived and I had a fairly restless weekend trying to put together in my own mind what I do and how I do it. The weather had seemed to take a turn for the better and the skies were amazing, lots of textures and shades and a really interesting light which meant we maybe able to head out in the afternoon, unfortunately the moment Martin arrived in the village it started to rain and the skies darkened considerably. After a brief coffee we started taking some simple product shots with some off camera lighting and it was immediately obvious that teaching someone something that you do on auto-pilot is really difficult. Having said that we quickly worked out a way to communicate ideas and got some pretty cool work done and Martin seemed really happy with what he was learning.


Local Pub, Pusztakettos

The day then took on a bit of a twist that I had not planned but proved to be extremely productive, we started shooting some photographs in very testing conditions, initially with our log burner, playing with fire, which is always fun and then out at our local Pub at Pusztakettos (above). It really was about exploring the limits of how much light a camera can capture and how to maximise it and how much you can recover in post processing. We had a great discussion about moving to capturing images in RAW format rather than JPEG, essentially JPEG processes your picture for you and then discards a host of information that it does not think is important (hence the compression), unfortunately that means when you are working in testing conditions you have no way of getting back some of the dynamic range if you allow the camera to process into JPEG.


Reformatist Temple Kunhegyes Hungary

The teaching experience really was not what I expected and I doubt it was for Martin either however I think we both went away from lesson one with a little bit of something that we did not have before. My “student” is heading to France Skiing this week and is really enthused about getting some better shots from his camera on a consistent basis. I am looking forward to catching up with him when he returns and we are hoping for a little snow to head out to an old Communist Era Military airfield not too far from home and then meeting up with my wife and his girlfriend at a local thermal spa. It also spurred me on to get out and start taking some more pictures as I seem to have lost my enthusiasm over the last few weeks!

On a slightly different note we are hoping to head into Budapest one day next week for a wee sample of the Christmas market and maybe even some Ice Skating in the grounds of Vajdahunyad Castle, I am sure there will be plenty of pictures to come!

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Public Art-How do you like yours?


Stockton Infinity Bridge at sunrise

If you read my previous blog you will know that I recently took a trip back to the UK and thought I would take an opportunity to take some photographs of something a little different! Unfortunately due to travel delays, a lack of a Tripod and typically depressing weather I did not spend much time taking photographs however I did stumble upon something that came as somewhat of a surprise.


Temenos by Anish Kapoor

The image at the top of the page is the sort of thing I had planned to photograph whilst I was in the North East and it is the glorious Infinity footbridge in Stockton on Tees, however the marvelous Temenos (above) by Anish Kapoor took my by complete surprise! I have to admit I had no idea what it was at the time and stumbled upon it, if it is possible to stumble upon something that is longer than a Jumbo Jet and taller than Nelsons column, whilst I was taking some photographs of the 100 year old Transporter Bridge in Middlesborough. I have to say I was captivated and took dozens of images of this piece of work it is huge and dominating but in its own way almost delicate in its appearance. Anish Kapoor may not exactly be a household name but he is a tremendous and well known Indian born British sculptor who is arguably most famous for the Chicago Cloud Gate or Chicago Bean (pictured Below).


Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor
© Clio85 | Dreamstime.com

Whilst I was processing my photographs it got me thinking about the role of public art,this piece, Temenos is the largest piece of public art in the UK (for the moment) and will form part of the worlds largest public art project once the other four installations are complete. Naturally something this big and costly is subject to a great deal of criticism, this for me is what Public Art really should be, there should be no ambivalence, there should be no way for it to be ignored. How many times do we amble around the towns and cities that we live in and not really notice what is around us, I guess it is just the “modern” way of being and things need to be loud, proud and brash to be noticed and this wonderful piece will certainly not be passed without you being forced to at least acknowledge its existence if not pass comment.


Temenos by Anish Kapoor

The only thing that is a real shame about this wonderful imposing piece is its location, sandwiched between the riverside Stadium, home of Middlesborough FC and the Transporter Bridge in an area of the city that would not make you feel warm and fuzzy after dark is a terribly shame. The area is apparently up for renewal and should look great eventually however this piece would look amazing perched in front of the town hall in Birmingham City Centre or spanning Trafalgar Square, but no it is hidden in a part of town that only gets visitors when a football match is on! I am sure many would disagree and prefer their “street art” to be a lovely statue of the good and the great of which ever particular town and city that it is positioned in, for me I find that sort of thing lazy it may very well be a fitting tribute but it certainly does nothing to challenge and engage the average passer by.


Temenos by Anish Kapoor

For me Temenos is beautifully proportioned, it fits right into its environment, it is surrounded by huge things like cooling towers, the Riverside Stadium and the wonderful Transporter bridge (below) and in its environment it is the thing that stands the proudest and shouts the loudest and I for one would love to see more of this and less of the lazy public art that swamps the towns and cities of the UK. Anish KapoorA has also been commissioned to produce a work that will dominate the London 2012 Olympic skyline that will no doubt draw more disapproving tuts from the naysayers and to Anish I say well done and more of the same please kind sir… I do however doubt that our little Hungarian backwater will be getting a Kapoor piece at any time in the future.


Middlesborough Transporter Bridge

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The Prodigal Son

As you may have noticed I have not put up a new blog in a couple of weeks, I received a little bit of bad news from the UK about an accident my mother had; she is OK but has two broken wrists to contend with now so I decided to make an overdue trip to visit!


Delayed Again
© Dipego | Dreamstime.com

It has been three and a half years since I have been to the UK and whilst excited to be catching up with some friends and family I was a little anxious about the journey as I knew that I would miss my wife terribly, however I packed my bag and left home at midday on the 9th of November at arrived at the airport just as planned! From there on in the journey went downhill, I would say rapidly but nothing happened rapidly over the next 6 days! I was sat at Budapest airport and the delays on the departure board just kept on racking up, with a connecting flight to the UK booked for that evening things were not looking good. Well my fears proved to be correct, we landed at Munich and I raced off the plane to find out that, whilst also delayed, my ongoing flight to Birmingham had left 10 minutes before.


Sleepover

As you can see from the image above, I was certainly not the only person left in the unenviable position of having to spend a night on a put me up in the departure lounge of Munich Airport. I should have landed at 22:40 UK time however I was still in a queue at the Lufthansa service desk at 1am Munich Time, eventually I got transferred to a flight the following morning and given 2 €10 vouchers for Mcdonalds, I have spent 3.5 years eating the freshest of produce and wonderful home cooked food and now my dinner for the evening and breakfast was to be the joys of MaccyD’s, joy of Joy. However I was starving so I joined the impossibly long queue and got myself a burger and some drink and returned to the airport hoping to grab me a bed that the fire brigade were delivering, what do you know I was too late for that too… So I spent the night not sleeping perched on a bench reading my Kindle trying not to think about how on earth I was going to plan my onward travel. I got to about 5am and returned to the “M” place for some breakfast before getting into the internet cafe that was due to be opened at 6am, despite my frustration and lack of sleep I even managed to do my civic duty and feed a homeless guy who was sheltering inside the square in front of the airport as it was bloody cold. He approached me for money or cigarettes, having neither I explained in broken German/English that I had a Mcdonalds voucher that I can not get any change from but he was welcome to spend what ever was left over from my breakfast (it turned out to be more than I actually spent), I certainly did not feel quite so generous in a couple of hours time!


Breakfast
© Gualtiero Boffi | Dreamstime.com

I returned to the terminal went to the interweb cafe type thing as I do not have one of the uber-duber phones that take your blood pressure and access the internet, infact our telephone makes phone calls and sends SMS messages and in all reality is only used as an alarm clock to let us know what day we need to take our bins out! I managed to get on Facebook and update a few people on how things were going and essentially moan a lot, I also planned my onward travel based on my new departure time. I passed through customs again managed to get out the duty free shop only to discover that my transfer flight was also delayed due to fog… There was only one thing to do and that was have a beer, it was just after 7am however I had eaten and as far as I was concerned I had not slept and therefore it could not be morning and to early to drink!!! My plane was delayed by 3 half litres of beers and fortunately that enabled me to sleep quite well to my final flight destination of Birmingham. You may think that sounds like a terrible trip but it gets worst, I got to the coach station shwre my trip to the North East was booked only to discover that the next available coach was an hour off, “excellent” I thought, wrangled a bit with the management staff and managed to pursuade them not to charge me for a new ticket, sat down and all of a sudden… You guessed it delayed aghain, another 2 bloody hours. I finally arrived at my my hotel at 22:00 hours a full 35 hours after leaving my tranquil home.

It was great to see friends and family again and was really good to spend time with my Mom although I do wish it was under nicer circumstances and I even managed to take some half decent pictures when I was not at the hospital (which I am sure will appear here in the near future). However the journey was anything but fun, in fact I would go as far as saying it was the most horrendous journey I have ever had to make and to top off the 6 day trip back to the land of my birth I also experienced two delayed flights on my way home although I did manage to reduce the 35 hour journey to 21 hours and managed to split that with an evening chatting with good friends in a pub in Birmingham City Centre!


Breakfast

The good news is that I am back home now, the bad news is I have spent all of our money as someone seemed to have doubled the cost of everything since I was last in the UK over three years ago! So now I am putting my feet up with a glass of home brewed wine hoping for snow, because when the snow comes even if I tempted to go away again I cannot 😉

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Happy New Year!


Carrot Harvest!

It may seem very premature to be wishing folk a Happy New year but since we moved to Hungary and started living the good life the arbitrary celebration of the passing of a date in a calendar seems increasingly out of place! December 31st or January 1st for that matter represents just another day in the middle of winter, we have not been sitting around since August Bank Holiday awaiting our next statutory break from work, we have had our feet up for a couple of months and our plans for next year already pretty firm. We celebrate our own little New Year when the final crops are collected, we have planted up our Garlic for next year and the land is prepared for a new season, for us the passing of time has defniately become cyclical as opposed to linear. It is a truely magical way of life, not without its own challenges and frustrations but being a slave to mother nature is infinately more rewarding than being a slave to statutory holidays, overtime, an office desk and mobile phone!


Home grown produce!

Mother nature has been exceedingly kind to us this year and we experienced far fewer difficulties than we did the previous year when we lost most of our tomato and potato crops to blight. This year we managed to harvest in excess of 500kg of vegetables including some 200kg of tomatoes and 150kg of potatoes, now many would say what on earth do you do with 200kg of tomatoes? We on the other hand are keeping our fingers crossed that it is enough, it takes 4kg just to make 1.5litres of tomato ketchup which is an essential part of the morning egg buttie ritual not to mention a key ingredient in sweet and sour sauce! Freezer space is now at a premium and we are stuffed with frozen strawberries for a taste of summer in the depths of winter, lord knows how many litres of tomato pasatta and enough curry sauce to provide us with plenty of take away curries (well as close as we can get anyway) throughout the long cold months. The year has not been without disappointments, after a storming year in 2010 for all things capsicum this year has been terrible, none of the seeds in the polytunnel really took and by the time they did the growing season was over and our sweetcorn developed an ugly and ultimately fatal fungal disease, but other than that we will be eating from our own produce well into next years growing season.


A glass of wine anyone!

It’s not just the vegetables that did well this year, our fruit harvest was also a bit of a stunner, we did not really take full advantage of our plums and cherries but the 70kg of Strawberries really went down a treat. Now with all this fruit we could easily consume our “five a day” but where would the fun be in that? We do regular exercise, get lots of fresh air and eat exceptionally well so, there can be no harm in producing the odd bit of plonk to cross over to the naughty side 😉 So we may have produced a little more than the odd drop but the Elderflower Champagne back in spring went down a storm and I am currently enjoying the happy accident that is Strawberry Champagne whilst Julie is supping some homebrew Scrumpy. Still to savour we have Cherry wine which will be good to go around Christmas which was fantastic a coulple of years ago and just to be a little traditionalist we also have a “few” litres of Red Grape Wine which should be drinkable around next March.

As the rest of the world eagerly awaits an appropriate time to celebrate new year I will raise a glass of strawberry champagne and wish you all a Happy New Year and I will get on with working out our next rotation of crops… Best get a move on though, I have only 4 months to get it finished 😉

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Not working quite so hard!

Things have definately quitened down for us a little now that we have our winter wood chopped so we have a little time to relax, unfortunately things are a little barren in the fields and the weather is a little changeable so heqading out with the camera is not really my first choice at the moment. It is however a good time to practice some product photography and tie that in with a little bit of cooking to while away the lazy days of winter. I have been working in with a new light tent that I purchased recently that I will right a review of in due course but I have been toying with some reflections when shooting objects place on glass with solid colour backgrounds.


Coffee and Walnut Muffins!

The image above was taken with my new Canon EF – Lens – 50 mm – f/1.8 II – Canon EF that I wrote about in my previous entry and I am still more than impressed! It was shot at f6.3 to get the depth of Focus and the muffins were put on a glass sheet with a black backdrop in my light cube and I used two flashes at either side to light the shot. Unfortunately I had to do a bit of work in photoshop to be able to get the black all the way back to black. The shot below was set up identically with a red back ground with a purposely narrower DOF f4.5 to isolate the muffin from the cup o’joe and to blur it into the background a little! I really do have to work a little at getting the images out of the camera a little neater as these required a little more effort in photoshop than I would like but nothing that coupld not be fixed, now time to give them a whirl in the wonderful world of the Microstock photography market and see how they fare 😀


Coffee and walnut muffins with extra coffee!

Thats the photography stuff done so whats the recipe I hear you say… Well I suppose I could share, they are actually very tasty and relatively savoury but I think next time I would reduce the salt a little and also increase the amount of walnuts, especially as the walnut tres over here have had a bumper harvest this year and we have been given tonnes of them!

  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
  • 1/2 cup hot water
  • 1 cup whole milk or 1 cup cream
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup lard, melted (or veg. oil)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

I like recipes like this real simple, mix all the dry ingredients together and then add all the wet ingredients and mix until just amalgamated and throw in the oven at 200°c for twenty minutes, boil the kettle make coffee and sit down and relax with that smug feeling!

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Working Hard

The middle of October represents a ceremonial finish for us, my wifes birthday is the time where psychologically we feel as though we are done and we kind of begin to wind down fairly quickly and this year we celebrated with a night out Budapest, I set the camera aside and we went on a bit of a trawl through the streets of the big city. We had a great time ambling through the streets but I came across a bit of a bargain that was to good to ignore in a used camera shop on a back street, a pristine Canon 50mm f1.8 II so although it was my wife buffday I thought I would treat myself and I am very much impressed.

I got mine second hand and very cheap but this is a fantastic lens for canon EOR Digital SLR Cameras and for a bucket load less than £100 I am wondering why it took me so long to get one. Ok the build is not great but it is light focuses quickly and is a great deal sharper than any lens than I currently use and the fact that it has an apperture of f1.8 means that it opens up a whole host of new options for me.

As I say work really has taken over at the moment at home but I put my new toy to the test whilst I was out chopping wood over the last couple of days and have come up with some great shots with little effort that have all been accepted by Microstock sites so my new toy is already clawing back some of what I spent on it 😀


My Chopper!

As I mentioned work has been a little tough recently so I have been very quiet here, chopping shifting and stacking a couple of tonne of Akacia wood is not everyones idea of a good time and it bloody hurts but there is a great deal of satisfaction spending a couple of days and generating what you need to keep you warm throughout the cold and harsh Hungarian winters. My hands are now covered in blisters and the occasional cut and my body feels like I have been run over by a bus, but it is feet up time and I will be spending the next 4 or 5 months blissfully relaxing in our rural paradise!


My Chopper!
The opportunity to be able to get shots like this that I have tried on numerous occasions but struggled to get the shutter speed because I would need to either push up my ISO or aperture too high is like striking gold for me and using that smaller aperture means I can get a much shallower DOF blurring my not too pleasing face, hell if a lens can make a picture of me that sells it cannot be all that bad, and I sold a copy of this picture within hours of it going on line yesterday afternoon. Important note: Not all models need to be pretty 😉


Below is a 100% crop showing the level of sharpness of the image straight out of the camera with no sharpening or retouching, click on the image to see the full and uncropped image:

My Chopper!

Canon EF – Lens – 50 mm – f/1.8 II – Canon EF

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