Saturday, 29 November 2008

Red Planet Scriptwriting Prize

Survivor seems to be the key word for me this week, as I received notification that for the second year running my script was not shortlisted for this wonderful prize; positive footnote, 1) they let me know 2) they personalised it with the name of my script.  I thought this was a nice touch as in most cases of non-selection you are left wondering if your work is just propping up a wonky desk somewhere, or acting as a doorstop.  Onwards and upwards.  Like the true pro that I hope I am becoming I shall learn from it, revisit the concept and structure, along with the dimensions to my main character's arc and hold onto the fact that I have managed to secure a couple of writing 'gigs and talks' for 2009.  Also, my good friend and editor Gilli, would like two more articles from me for early 2009.  Yayy... 

I am also planning the 2009 film networking event I currently run called 'Prequel to Cannes' by way of a ruthless review, including the full title.  It needs to be ramped up with more heavyweight opportunities for those looking to move their careers forward, so between myself and some of the film agencies and organisations, we are hoping to provide a more focused, industry led event.  Watch this space.  

I guess the lesson this week is 'How to survive and enjoy it'...  
Next week I shall be feeling sorry for myself as I will be in hospital on Monday having a tooth extracted under general.  (Unless of course they said under the General... in which case I shall start worrying now).

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


Survivors the drama...
If you think you are having a bad day and have become somewhat immune to all mention of the credit crunch, then in an attempt to cheer yourself up a bit, why not tune into the new drama on the beeb called Survivors.  Devoid of mortgage or loan repayments, the characters have discovered the world is their oyster, assuming of course you can find a fleet of 4 x 4's, enough petrol to enable you to gad about for a bit of unorthodoxed retail therapy, a gun and a couple of chickens.  (Footnote: I am not having a pop at the series as I think it is fab, a very well crafted script from the novel... so far)

It triggered in me an instant memory when just eight years ago I was dragged around Sainsbury's for some war shopping; following our decision to stand side by side with our buds the Americans when we followed like sheep and invaded Iraq.  Now I'm not known for my political viewpoints and I do not intend to start now, but I was whipped into a frenzy by my dear Mother who, with the thought of the last war (as in II) still firmly imprinted on her mind and a handful of useful war recipes lazered into her spleen, she wanted to be first in the queue before rationing kicked in. Armed with two trolleys I commenced loading them to order like a looter who had won a thirty minute trolley dash on the first day of a Harrods' sale.  I was pleased I could still extend my elbows so far out to keep others at bay, whilst keeping a vice like grip on each handle and loading with my feet.
I was instructed to load the likes of essential supplies that an every day domestic war goddess has lying around in her larder, like five gallon drums of water, shampoo, deodorant, soap, toothpaste, pulses, dried peas, pasta and rice, Oh and syrup sponges, flour, syrup of figs, semolina, sugar, fray bentos, spam, corned beef, meat pies in a tin, brown sauce, baked beans, tinned soups, jellies, evaporated milk, sardines, liquid paraffin and volumes of powdered egg.  £250 later along with a car load of processed food, most of which we have never eaten in our lives, I did my dutiful daughter bit by pointing out that if we survived the germ warfare and the tsunami which would be triggered by the whole nuclear shebang imploding underwater, it might just mean we could be living on our own island as the entire contents of our store cupboard re hydrated in an instant and fused to the texture of a comet; but looking on the positive side at least we would have our own food mountain.  If we armed ourselves with hand drill or hammer, we could chisel our way through for several years, assuming the sinews in our arms still had some movement left from the war shopping and hadn't been fried to the texture of elastic, or we could just give that up and lick our way to oblivion.

I had visions of spending many a night sitting around a candle, exchanging recipes of 101 things you could do with a Fray Bentos meat pie but was robbed of the pleasure when the s*** hit the fan and it was revealed that the weapons of mass destruction turned out to be a packet of dried egg left over from the last major war (as in II)...  I appreciate this is an irreverent viewpoint and my apologies to those who do in fact live under the threat of everyday war initiatives, but I hope you see my point.

Two years later when it started to become a possibility that we might outlive the shelf life of the £250 worth of black market carumba sitting on the shelves of our domestic war goddess larder, I decided to throw it all out in tact, still with the unsolved mystery on my mind of how to put powdered egg to good use and having only managed to reach number five on the list of the 101 things to do with a tin of Fray Bentos meat pie... For your benefit, in case you find yourself in the same situation, I shall list them below, but if anyone has any other innovative ideas then please feel free to add to them ready for next time.  Don't hold back.

101 things to do with a tin of Fray Bentos Meat Pie
1)   Daily exercise lifting the tin to decide how to cook it without gas or electricity and replace on the shelf for tomorrow
2)  Weekly exercise by throwing forth as a Frisbee and retrieving at speed before the other marauding neighbours know you have a tin left and place back on the shelf for tomorrow
3)  Combo of Practicality and exercise:  Using the tin like a monkey to crack open the nuts in their shells so you may ingest your daily protein, AND replace on the shelf for tomorrow
4)  Check that it is still in date and replace on the shelf for tomorrow
5)  On Sunday hold said tin over the candle to heat, until the tin becomes too hot to hold, then when cool replace on the larder shelf for... Oh who knows when

By Day five you should have shed enough weight to win slimmer of the year award (unless of course you have eaten the whole packet of powdered egg and belatedly remembered the saying 'you stuff you puff') AND you will feel secure in the knowledge that you still have nine months left on the sell by date to think of the other ninety five things to do with a tin of Fray Bentos Meat Pie.  

I shall sign off now as I have to go darn my knickers in preparation for the next apocalyptic threat to mankind.  

In the words of Ringo, love and peace, peace and love...
Foxi... xx

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Some days are much better than others

Today is one of them.
It was a good day today.  A meeting with the Arts Council and the sense of a job well done.  They don't come around that often, so when they do I feel I have to make the most of them.  With a new contract for some freelance work under my belt, I walked through Poole high street lit by the overhead Christmas decorations, which moved like trapeeze artists dangling on wires, suspended between buildings and swinging from post to post.  

Usually by now, the streets would be alive with the sight of scurrying Christmas shoppers grabbing bargains and struggling with interesting packages and bags, racing homeward to hide them in secret places, away from the prying eyes of the miserable hungry and protesting children clinging to their arms.  Ordinarily they would pass enticing windows full of Christmas promise, whilst the smells from the street food hawkers cooking burgers and hot dogs, fill their nostrils but not their stomachs.   

Yet amazingly today, the streets are virtually empty.  The temporary ice rink with its rising clouds of ice cold mist, throw a hollow echo to the sounds of 80's disco music tinny and shrill, as the discs warble on a cheap machine.  In all my shopping days I have never witnessed such a wilderness, a stark reminder of just how hard times are and how sparse it is going to be for many this Christmas.

My mind drifts back to many a Christmas eve.  I have always had the house filled with at least 40 good friends and family, children playing flutes and pianos, violins, guitars and the clarinet are interspersed with the sound of excited chatter, even the smallest child frightened to fall asleep lest they should miss some exciting event.  The house rang with the sound of laughter and merriment but above all it peeled with Love.  Piles of food from sticky chicken wings (not sourced from Iceland), meat balls in paprika sauce, blanquette de veau, a homemade glazed ham - sliced of course - and the smell of mince twists (mincemeat in filo pastry with whole candied cherries doused in Maderia). As I invariably ran out of time, somewhere in the drawing room was a stack of all the Christmas magazines and cookbooks I had consulted in an attempt to change the menu from last year and seek new inspiration.  My paprika meatballs were always a must though.

This year I was sorting through my Christmas range of old publications, when I came across a simple dessert cream, which was actually there to advertise a new double ball whisk.  The editor of Good Food, Orlando Murrin, was smiling back at me from the pages of the 2001 edition, his broad welcoming smile evoked happy memories of a fabulous week spent in Devon;  Orlando was my tutor at this year's food writing course at the Arvon foundation.  So for you here is his Christmas Orange Brandy Cream...

Orlando's Christmas Orange Brandy Cream (page 198 for anyone who still has a copy of Good Food 2001)

A quick and delicious alternative to traditional brandy butter.  Work time 10 minutes, serves 8 - 10.

300mls double cream
finely grated zest of 1 orange  (Foxi: my new friend Caro would be excellent at extracting this)
3 tbsp brandy
3 tbsp golden icing sugar
3 tbsp orange juice

* Pour cream into bowl
* Add orange zest, brandy and icing sugar
* Whisk until light and fluffy
* Gently fold in orange juice with a spatula
* Serve as soon as possible
Delicious with mince pies or Christmas pudding

Ahhh... exhale.... tomorrow is another day...
Foxi xx

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Cattern Cakes, Lace and Research for a new film script

Cattern Cakes and Lace
Following on from some extensive research around the Lace industry in Devon, in preparation for my next film script idea, I revisited an old favourite cookery book of mine called Cattern Cakes and Lace.  It is a book of a calendar of feasts and I am not even sure if the book is still in print as it dates back to 1987 and was written by Julia Jones (no relation) and Barbara Deer.  It celebrates a series of feast days and comments on why or how they originated, followed by more than a good recipe or two.

I quote:
'November 25th St. Catherine's Day:
Cattern cakes (so called after a corruption of the name Catherine) were, as I explained in the preface, the unlikely catalyst that produced this book, bringing together as they do my interest in festivals, food and lacemaking.

St. Catherine of Alexandria, reputedly one of the most intelligent and beautiful women of her day, was martyred in 310 AD.  her fame reached Europe with the returning Crusaders and the Catherine wheel firework and Catherine or Rose window were named after her.

St. Catherine was taken up as the protector of young unmarried girls, and it was believed that maidens in need of a husband could crown her statue with a wreath of greenery on this day for their prayers to be answered.  The wheel of her death also became the emblem of spinners and lacemakers, for whom St. Catherine became a patron saint.  On her day, lacemakers would hold their annual holiday.'

So here are Julia's authentic recipes one savoury and one sweet:

Rabbit Casserole:
4 rabbit joints
8 oz cooked ham (thickly sliced)
2 medium peeled carrots
8 small peeled shallots
1 pint milk
half a teaspoon of salt
black pepper
quarter teaspoon of grated nutmeg
Fresh parsley
half an ounce of cornflour
2 extra tablespoons milk
half an ounce butter

* Wash the rabbit portions and pat dry
* Arrange in a heatproof dish 
* Dice the ham and slice the carrots and put these into the dish with the shallots
* Heat the milk in a pan
* When it has boiled pour over the rabbit portions 
* Add the seasoning
* Cover the dish and cook slowly until the rabbit is tender (approx one hour)
* Transfer the rabbit portions and vegetables to a clean dish and keep warm
* Strain off the cooking liquid into a clean saucepan (add any of the onions or veg caught in the sieve back into the dish)
* In a small dish, mix the cornflour to a smooth paste with a little cold milk 
* Pour the paste into the strained cooking liquid and stir well, keep stirring for at least three minutes until it comes       to the boil and  thickens
* Remove from heat and add the butter for a glossy look
* Pour over the rabbit and vegetables and garnish with a good handful of freshly chopped parsley

Cattern Cakes:
9 oz self raising flour
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 oz currants
2 oz ground almonds
2 tsp caraway seeds
7 oz caster sugar
4 oz melted butter
1 medium beaten egg
A little extra sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

Oven:  200 degrees C/400 degrees F/Gas 6

* Sift the flour and cinnamon into a bowl then add currants, almonds, caraway and sugar and
   stir until evenly mixed.
* Add the melted butter and the beaten egg and mix well to form a stiff dough.
* Roll out on a floured board into a rectangle (approx 12 x 10 inches)
* Brush the dough with water and sprinkle with the extra sugar and cinnamon
* Roll up like a swiss roll and cut into slices approx three quarters of an inch thick.
* Place the slices well apart, onto a greased baking tray and cook for 10 minutes (or slightly less in fan oven)
* Remove and cool on a wire rack and sprinkle with a little extra caraway seeds if you like

Julia concludes this section by saying:

'St. Catherine's Day was also chosen to honour good Queen Katherine of Aragon, who was patron of local lacemakers during her imprisonment at Ampthill.  The story goes that the Queen, after hearing the sad plight of the women of Bedfordshire, ordered all her lace to be burned and commissioned new, in order to give work to the local industry.  A certain bobin lace was named 'Katherine of Aragon's lace' after her, and , thereafter, lacemeakers would set aside a small sum of money to provide cakes and tea to be enjoyed on this day.  Festivities would be held in the evening and a meal of boiled, stuffed rabbit and onions was served.'

So now we know...
I have made both dishes in the past but if you are squeamish about using rabbit (as we were because Jo had dear old Toffee, a watership Down bunny with wide eyes and charm) then you can use chicken thighs, although from memory the cooking time was slightly less by about 15 minutes.  The Cattern cakes however, herald the onset of autumn and fill the kitchen with a perfume that can only announce Christmas is coming.


Monday, 17 November 2008

Lesson number one

Read the F.....g manual...

I knew I would be cringing from my attempts to blog before the week was out.

Lesson one... double check the heading relates to the content, regardless of interuptions.

This is the disclaimer, reference and justification to the reluctant gardener inference.

Continued from Saturday.
Having spent a delightful Saturday breakfast of home made croissants and blackcurrant conserve with James, my writing soulmate and good friend, I returned homeward to deal with the minefield of wild poo that had appeared on my lawn with increasing volume over the week. My life couldn't be more polarised within a day if I tried.  Well someone had to clear it all up, so armed with marigolds, basic implements and wearing flip flops, I waded into the lawn to pick my way through the offending piles of evidence, which proves that at night my lawn turns into a central meeting place of tawdry animal latrines only upstaged by those highly reported in the LA times.

Now before you all question why flipflops, I work on the principle that my hardened festival trekking daughter, who has 'done' them all (festivals that is) knows it all... but don't tell her I said that. She insists that flip flops mean all you have to do is flip off your flops and hose down your feet.  Jo has walked past mud people writhing on the filthy floor in abject pain without anaesthesia, whilst a chain of equally mud covered individuals attempt to remove an inverted suctioned wellie with a vice like grip sporting the strength of a clam, in the hope that some kind soul will return the favour.  So flip flops it was....

Hence, tying in with the heading of my previous post 'The reluctant weekend gardener'.  No reclining for me with feet up, chocolates open, reading a birthday present treat by my body double Dawn French and her 'Dear Fatty' but a down to earth reminder I now know why women marry... so they can send their licenced goods forth with bucket and spade; or if you've had a blast of an argument, minus the marigolds AND the spade...

Explanation  over...  note to self... in future don't serialise, get it right first time... and consider finding husband before next autumn.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

A weekend post from the unwilling gardener

After speaking with Kristen from London, my new found friend from my recent Arvon writing course and blog guru, I am taking her blog advice and launching into the unknown with my very first post,  taken from a slice of an email I sent to her.

I have named my blog 'The Sifting of Ashes', after a script I have written about two sisters and their personal journey of self discovery.  The story is full of revelations about their parents' past lives and the secrets which were so carefully papered over in an attempt to maintain the impression of a stable married life.

Sifting through the dust of yesteryear, making patterns of what went before and shaping what is yet to come, is how I see my own 'Sifting of Ashes'.  So to those who are interested, welcome, and to those who seek a temporary distraction from what they ought to be doing, glad to oblige...

So I start along this nervous road, like a novice time traveller  attempting to make sense of the world and where I fit in.

The image I have selected for the moment is at the heart of me.  I have to live near water in order to function.  It draws and controls me like the ebb and flow of the moons cycle, without it I wither, fail to function, dry up and cease to be.  Dramatic maybe, but I know this to be true.

So this image shows the walkway down to my beach hut, it is just out of shot on the left and facing the sea.  The simple beach hut cooking facilities mean that all the meals I prepare there have to be uncluttered, stripped  back to their core, good ingredients, simply prepared and as everything has to be carried down a steep chine, transportable.

One of the dishes my friends and crocodiles love the most, is my pan fried fish (depends on which type according to the time of year and availability), coated in well seasoned flour, embalmed with a mixture of Rosie's herbs and once cooked, baptised with lemon and served with a simple side salad of colourful leaves, washed down with iced Sancerre served in the thinnest glass.

There, tis done, my first entry, which no doubt I will look back upon further down the line and find cringeworthy, but the journey has begun.  More later.