Grandma’s cooking capers

I am on grandma duty in my daughter Serena’s London home, while she celebrates a late birthday high tea with husband, Jon, at Claridges.
My three grandkids – two boys aged 8 and 6 and a three year old grand-daughter – are poised to do what they love – play endless computer games or watch television, but their mother forbids any such activities.
“Grandma is here from Australia and you must spend time with her,’’ she announces flouncing out the door looking like a fashion model.
Yikes! I am thrown on my limited grandma skills. Reading? Won’t work with the three of them. Games? Ditto. Ah cooking sounds the ideal solution. ”We will make dinner,’’ I announce. “French pancakes and boeuf bourgignon!”
“Wow!” the boys exclaim. “What if we film you for Youtube, grandma?’’
How could I refuse such enthusiasm, especially with three hours to fill before their mum returns. And so Samuel sits a fancy small video camera on the lounge armchair and six-year-old Angus becomes cook’s assistant. Josephine is the audience.
Making the crepe mix is a breeze – flour, eggs, milk, a dash of oil and some sugar – and Angus weigh and line up the ingredients.
“Action!” cries Samuel and I begin to speak to him, teaching him to make crepes. And I do what I say, I whisk the mixture until it changes colour, and I discover I am enjoying myself. I am feeling pretty smug until a little voice caught on film cries out…
“I don’t want crepes, grandma’’, says Josephine.
But we are unperturbed…and continue on with the main course – Boeuf Bourgignon. We gather plates from cupboards and once more line up all our ingredients.
There is a very shaky start when I become tongue-tied trying to say “Boeuf Bourgignon’’ in proper French accent as my French teacher would expect. My third attempt sounded about right, and luckily, the whole process of making this tasty authentic French recipe went much more smoothly.
800 grams of chopped braising steak, two onions, three big mushrooms, 1 chopped carrot, bay leaf, one cup of beef stock (made the day before from marrow bones) and a bottle of Cote du Rhone fullbodied red wine – all chopped, sliced and lined up.
And there before the camera I toss steak in a plastic bag with two tablesppoons of plain flour, herbs, spices of choice salt and pepper and I turn around and sauté the meat in a frypan on a hot hotplate. I put it into a large saucepan – and I tell the camera a casserole will be fun if cooking in oven. I sauté onions, like I have done for 30 years of my life, until they are transparent, but not brown and add carrots. I add beef stock to pan and add it all to meat, returning the saucepan to the stove. The best bit, though, for the camera is sploshing ¾ litre of red wine into the saucepan. Soon it is boiling and I turn it back to simmer for 1 hour. Then I test the meat and add the mushrooms. I explain all of this to the camera and as a dash of originality and because I am in London, I make packeted Yorkshire pudding and plop them in blobs on the top of the dish. Another 15 minutes later, it looks superb.
My cameraman zooms in to take an aerial shot of our masterpiece.
We make ourselves pancakes in the interim with lemon and sugar and congratulate ourselves on how great they taste. “They’re as good as the ones I have tasted in Brittany,,’’ I tell them. And it’s true. The pity of it is that the parents, returning from their posh afternoon tea are too full to really enjoy our food.
However, when we gather to see Samuel’s You tube on the telly, it is a gem even if I do cut an unhip, unglamorous figure of a granny cook – without makeup and without an apron. Yet, for all its amateurness, it is a charming piece of film which captures the joy of grand-parenting and bonding with grand-children – as well as the joy of cooking.

Gerard Depardieu – mauvaises manieres

He is probably the most famous face on French films, yet Gerard Depardieu’s recent rude outburst against fellow French actor Juliette Binoche reeks of sour grapes.

The star of 50 films, Mme Binoche is also one of the foremost French actors of her generation and was awarded the coveted best actress award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

But to Depardieu Juliette Binoche is “nothing’’.

In an ashtonishing outburst, he said in a frank interview : “Please explain to me what the secret of this actress is meant to be? I would really like to know why she has been so esteemed for so many years. She is nothing. Absolutely nothing.’’

Binoche won the award for best actress at CANNES for her role in Abbas Kiarostami’s Copie Conforme (Certified Copy). But 61-year-old Depardieu is dismissive citing a string of her female peers: “Compared with her, Isabelle Adjani is great even if she’s nuts. Or Fanny Ardent – she is magnificent. But Binoche? What has she ever had going for her?’
And he reiterated “She is nothing’’.

His extraordinary rant continued when he attacked French Film director Leos Carax, who cast Binoche, 46, in Les Amants du Pont Neuf . “ Carax needed six years to shoot the film with Binoche, which turned out not even to be a film but just a piece of shit.’’

Experts had other opinions pointing out that the big difference is that Binoche has an Oscar and Depardieu does not despite his unparalleled prolific career in French film.

London – a real life Monopoly board

Life in London is like living on a Monopoly board, stationed as we are at the Royal Air Force Club on Piccadilly for the next two days.
I arrived yesterday and took a taxi from Heathrow to Mayfair where I slept off jetlag at the stylish accommodation in Chesterfield House rented by long-time friend, Adelaide lawyer, Diane Myers, who is also holidaying here.
Olivier, my French-Australian husband will join us in early evening and we are to stay at the Club. It’s a balmy summer’s evening as monsieur rolls my suitcase along the road into Park Lane, past the iconic Hilton Hotel, veering left into Piccadilly and a few footsteps later abutting the popular Hard Rock Café is our destination.
The Club sits opposite The Green Park and just across the road, we can walk into its lush canopy of greenness to visit Buckingham Palace.
It is pure upper crust Britishness in the heart of London, and oozes RAF memorabilia with walls covered with precious wartime artworks of aircraft depicting how Britain’s fighter pilots and brave airmen in their Spitfires saved England beating back the mighty German Messerschmidts in the Battle of Britain.

We are privileged to arrive on an important day – the 70th anniversary of when Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime leader said those amazing words “Never has so much been owed by so many to so few’’ in a tribute to the RAF which defeated Hitler’s plans to invade Britain andpushed the Luftwaffe back across the Channel.
Dinner is an adventure as we take the first left turn off Piccadilly into Down Street, an idyllic London street , all pristine cheek by jowl Victorian town houses. All glamorous with bay windows, ornate Victorian doorways, painted railings, hedges and window boxes spilling with summertime flowers.
We are in search of an iconic London pub or a quaint British restaurant, but take a left instead of a right as instructed and find ourselves in a throng of Islamic men pouring out of a meeting house on to the pavement in such numbers they spill onto the roadway.
Oops! We back track and turn right happily finding ourselves amidst embassies, any number of restaurants, quaint corner buildings of iconic British pubs milling with young people, coffee houses and a delicatessen.
This is Shepherds Square, a small square in Mayfair and we explore alleyways which runs this way and that before we find a quaint restaurant with bubble-glass paned windows. It is the only restaurant without any diners at the tables outside.
Monsieur wants to sit on the pavement, I peep inside the restaurant L’Autre, to find it empty but for a table occupied by four Londoners.
“We don’t want French in London for goodness sake,’’ I say.
But he points out that the signage also says it is Polish/Mexican, so we venture in. It is beautiful, low ceilinged with gnarled old English exposed timber beams, a fireplace, ledges jammed with old empty bottles and the walls decorated with black and white pictures of 1940s film stars.
A restaurant with a French name, serving Polish and Mexican fare in London’s posh Mayfair with 1940s decor. It beckons.
The waiters are Polish and pretty soon we have piping plates of delicious Borscht with authentic dumplings of various fillings, potato and cheeses and sauerkraut and mushrooms, being the most memorable.
Monsieur had lamb shank and shows with delight how the meat falls neatly from the bone.
“Why Mexican?’’ we ask when it is established the waiter and waitress are recent arrivals from Poland.
“This has always been a Polish restaurant since the 1940s and opened just after the war,’’ the waiter says.
“Not all the Polish officers were killed at Katyn,’’ adds my knowledgeable French hubby. Some fled to London and formed their own fighting squadron for the Allies here.’’
The waiter adds that in the 1960s the then owner added Mexican dishes to his menu when a Mexican embassy opened closeby.
We are joined at a nearby table by a large, buxom brunette of “l’air du Mexicaine’’ appearance ordering Mexican fare and pretty soon, a party of three young Londoners breeze in, bubbling with levity – to reflect the truly multi-cultural nature of London today. It is a delightful entrée tour London holiday.

Red buses, red telephone boxes and black taxis

RED double decker buses, red telephone boxes on streets and countless boxy, black taxis lined up at Heathrow Airport. It must be London.
The wonders of air travel dawn on me as I take a bright blue taxi and pull up outside Chesterfield House,in Chesterfield Gardens, Mayfair where my Adelaide friend, lawyer Diane Myers is expecting me this morning. I am to sleep off jetlag and then we are to lunch like ladies at British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant in Claridges Hotel in Brook Street, Mayfair.
The renowned hotel is like one big flower bower with groupings of pink gladioli in tall vases together with bowls of pink hydrangias and peonies on each surface – hall tables, a grand piano, mantelpieces and pedestals. Their stunning effect is magnified by the mirrored walling alongside the gracious curved staircase.
The hotels vestibule is packed with guests enjoying late morning tea beneath an awesome central chandelier. A lone harpist plays as we weave through the throng into Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant. It is defined by a book stand of all his cook books.
Three courses here of limited choice costs 30 pounds and wine is extra. Diane and I have bonded through years of friendship as single women and remarried a few years ago within months of each other, and we celebrate all of this with champagne.
My choice of entrée is surprising. One large ravioli of rabbit and crayfish, sitting in a bisque with peas and baby broad beans.
Our accent attracts attention and pretty soon the restaurant manager enquires if we are pleased. We comment on the gracious waiters and ask if Gordon is in the kitchen. “Oh no, he has three restaurants in London, but he comes in once a week to taste and inspect preparation of dishes,’’ says Andy Downton.
“We would love to see the kitchen,’’ I cheekily suggest.
“By all means when you have finished your meal,’’ he says.
My main course is Label Anglaise Chicken with summer truffle consommé – with the truffle inserted under the chicken’s skin. I peel off the skin, (my dietitian has forbidden chicken skin) so I scrape every piece of the black gold into the consommé.
After a sweet dessert of ice cream and chocolate mousse, we follow the general manager into the kitchen where a heap of chefs and assistants scuttle about like disturbed rabbits around a host of pots and plates. Three black waiters are standing alongside us awaiting their orders.
They are very young men, not surprising considering Andy, the GM is only 30. We don’t meet Steve, the executive chef, but do note that the executive sous chef is black and works as if he is on skates.
“We serve about 130 meals each seating on Fridays and Saturdays for lunch and dinner,’’ says Andy.

Despite the busyness around us, we talk about how British food culutre has evolved to become sophisticated led by personality chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Rick Stein.
Everything about Claridges is a divine experience of beauty and opulence.
The ladies’ toilets are pure prettinesss with art deco rose garlands hand-painted around the ornate freezes; where a black uniformed maid switches on the taps as soon as we re-opened the toilet door.
On our way out, the harpist, who must have heard our chattering when we entered the establishment asks us if we are sisters and tells us he is from Queensland. He asks if he could have a photograph taken with us and says London has been his home for many years but he still feels Australian.
“I miss Australia,’’ he says, the epitome of professionalism strumming away, his back to the grand piano. He thrusts us his card and we learn his name is Kevin Lee, professional harpist and pianist.
And believe it or not as we swing through the entrance doors, the rotund doorman also picks up our accent and in the same broad Aussie twang asks where we come from. “Adelaide’’ we say in unison. “What suburb?’ he enquires again. “Belair,’’ I say. “Really! My mum lives in Elliott Avenue.””
I look at him, astonished, and say “I live off Gloucester – the next street across.’’
“Wow!’ says the doorman with his tall black hat and tails. We learn his name is Brenton. “Do you know Pammie Wall? she was here last week. She lives in Springfield,’’ he continues.
“Yes, I know Pammie, well, She is holding a luncheon in October when I will be speaker,’’ I reply.
“Then do you know her good friend, my grandma, Eve-Lynne Otto?’’
I can hardly believe this conversation is unfolding outside Claridges in London.
Eve-Lynn is the auntie-in-law of my sister, Anne and I know her well through charity work in Adelaide. “My sister is married to her nephew Ken Otto; he is a cousin of your mother,’’ I exclaim.
“I know Eve-Lynne really well and bought one of her paintings a few months ago,’’ I comment.
But then, a fellow cleaning the revolving doors scolds him for talking and he rushes to open a taxi. “See you later,’’ he calls.
That’s Adelaide society for you, even on the streets of London. Much closer even than six degrees of separation.