Apple marzipan cake

There’s something necessary about a cake at this time of year when skies are grey and the days seem short. The other day I went out into the garden and picked some of the large cooking apples from the tree which had turned a beautiful shade of red and decided to make a cake with them for my mother. It turned out really well and was also quite a hit on Instagram so, by popular request, here’s the recipe from an old edition of Brigitte. It’s really a cinch to make and I love how the sweetness of the marzipan is balanced out by the sharpness of the apples.

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Ingredients

200g/9oz. marzipan

100g/ 1/2 cup sugar

200g/ 14 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter

4 eggs

A pinch of salt

1 teaspoon almond extract

150g/ 1 and a quarter cups plain flour

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

800g/ 1 and three quarters pound apples

30g/1/4 cup cornflour

2 tablespoons apricot jam

50g/1/2 cup amaretti biscuits

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/ 350 degrees F.
Grease and line a 23cm springform tin

1. Roughly grate the marzipan and mix with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and beat everything together in the mixer. Beat in the eggs and almond essence.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornflour and baking powder. Fold in the marzipan mixture.

3. Peel, core and chop half the apples into quarters. Cut each quarter into slices.

4. Peel and core the rest of the apples and cut into small pieces.

5. Stir the diced apples into the cake batter. Roughly crumble the amaretti and add half the crumbs to the mixture.

6. Take the remaining apple slices and arrange attractively on top in a circular pattern (you can also make several small circles if you prefer).

7. Bake on the middle shelf in the oven for 1 hour 10 minutes. You may find like I did that after half the baking time is up, the cake is quite brown on top and needs to be covered with tin foil for the remaining time.

8. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

9. Immediately warm the apricot jam until bubbling. Brush over the hot cake and sprinkle over the remaining amaretti crumbs.

10. Leave to cool completely before taking out of the tin. The cake keeps very well for a few days at room temperature when wrapped in foil or clingfilm.

 

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On reading

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Few things have marked my life quite as much as French literature. It all began back in December 1999 when I travelled to Paris for the first time, taking the Eurostar with my parents. We rented an apartment for a few days on Boulevard Haussmann, very close to Galeries Lafayette and Printemps with their aquarium like windows filled with magical Christmas displays, and very importantly, close to where Marcel Proust once lived (but more about him later).  It’s a total cliché but I fell in love with the city of light, walking down the Champs-Elysées and admiring the trees wrapped in white and taking a trip to the Eiffel Tower late one night and seeing the twinkling avenues spread out beneath my feet. Unfortunately, my poor mother did not enjoy the experience as much as me and started coming down with the flu.

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The Café de Flore by Jeanloup Sieff

Confined to her bed for our last full day, I insisted on dragging my father off to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the area made famous by Jean-Paul Sartre and my idol, Simone de Beauvoir. Needless to say, the first destination on our pilgrimage was the Café de Flore where in my then non-existent French, I ordered “deux cafés” and was astonished when the waiter bought two tiny cups of coffee, accompanied by two glasses of still water, realising too late that it was café au lait I had wanted. While leaving the Flore, I spotted a wonderful looking bookshop next to it which had a large window display devoted to Marcel Proust. Not only did I go in but, despite speaking no French at all, I gathered up all seven volumes of ‘À la recherche du temps perdu’ and also Stendhal’s ‘Le rouge et le noir’, for the simple reason that I liked the title and the cover. Grumbling that it was ridiculous to buy so many books in a foreign language you didn’t speak, my father nevertheless was kind enough to pay for them and put the experience down to one of my many eccentricities. Years later, when watching the film ‘Frances Ha’, I burst out laughing at the scene where she talks about learning French just to read Proust because that’s exactly what I did.

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The famous portrait of Marcel Proust by Jacques-Émile Blanche

Through a mixture of dogged determination and Francophilia, I taught myself French, first through basic language courses, then by reading grammar books, then by tackling the classic novels. There was ‘Madame Bovary’ and Balzac’s ‘Le Lys dans la Vallée’ (very challenging for a beginner), Camus’ ‘L’Étranger’ and ‘La Peste’ and tons of Marguerite Duras until I overdosed. Sometimes I agonised for hours over the meaning of a sentence or the use of a particular tense, but I never gave up. I finally devoted myself to Proust in the university library, arriving as soon as it opened in the morning to get one of the single desks by the window which looked out onto the park. I began ‘Du côté de chez Swann’ and lost myself in the neverending sentences with their quirky syntax and labyrinthine constructions.  No other book has captured my heart and imagination like La Recherche and I spent the next ten years not only ploughing through the other six volumes, but also reading everything about it and its idiosyncratic creator.

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Henri Beyle, otherwise known as Stendhal

And Stendhal? The summer of 2004 before I moved to Annecy, I finally opened ‘Le Rouge et le Noir’ and fell in love with the book and its author, buying everything by and about him and even giving an awful presentation in French about his famous crystallization theory from ‘De l’Amour’ to other students at the language school (funnily, my friend from Frankfurt remembers little else about her time there, except my talk) and making a pilgrimage to his hated birthplace, Grenoble.

Today these rather battered books by Proust and Stendhal occupy pride of place on my bookshelf and although it has been years since I’ve read them, opening a volume still fills me with excitement and takes me back to that cold but sunny afternoon in Paris all those years ago.

All change

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Le rouge in all its lipstick forms

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Le (film) noir with Rita Hayworth as Gilda

If you regularly stop by here, you may have noticed something different. ‘Chimes at midnight’ has become ‘Le rouge et le noir’. In a way, I felt a little restricted by the original name, as if I had to call it that because of my Instagram account and I kept thinking that people would imagine it was only related to films and Orson Welles.

My friend Jan suggested exploring le rouge et le noir through different posts and then I thought it seemed like a more appropriate name for this blog, in light of the fact that I love all things red, particularly lipstick, and that film noir is my favourite genre.

I hope you will get used to the new name and I look forward to taking the blog in new directions which reflect the things I love most.

Venice, Part 3

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The third and final part of my photo journal from Venice.

Vicenza

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After heading down to St. Mark’s for my usual 7am photoshoot, I made my way to the railway station and took the train to Vicenza. It’s always a curious sensation seeing the lagoon alongside the railway lines and an even stranger sensation to leave the station and walk along normal tree lined streets with cars and buses. Vicenza is just 45 minutes away but feels like a different world. It was lovely to escape the crowds and walk leisurely through a regular city without worrying about getting lost or jostling with masses of tourists. Although I didn’t manage to see Palladio’s beautiful Villa Rotonda which lies a little outside the centre, there are many opportunities to admire his elegant facades and the highlight has to be a visit to his final project, the Teatro Olimpico which was not completed until after his death. Nothing from the outside can prepare you for the interior, particularly the extraordinary trompe-l’œil scenery which gives the illusion of great depth.

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From Italy with love

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Palladio

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Last days in Venice

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I miss the markets

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The equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni outside Santi Giovanni e Paolo

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The vast basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo

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At the Peggy Guggenheim museum

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Some photos from the Chanel exhibition at the Ca’ Pesaro, ‘The Woman Who Reads’. Highly recommended!

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One last view and then it was time to leave. A blue morning to match my mood.

Venice, part 2

IMG_1900 As promised, more photos from my trip. It seems strange to think I was there just one week ago – everything since my return has been rather chaotic and there’s a sharpness in the air and a real feeling of autumn here. I’m glad to be able to return to the beautiful skies and see the light of Venice again.

San Giorgio Maggiore and La Giudecca

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The interior of Palladio’s masterpiece.

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The view from the top of the campanile of San Giorgio.

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La Giudecca

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Santa Maria della Salute

Burano

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I love the brightly coloured houses and canals of this island, as well as its crooked wooden spire, but come early to avoid the huge numbers of people later on.

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Torcello

Just a short hop across the lagoon lies Torcello with its byzantine church, so beautifully described by Ernest Hemingway who stayed on the island while he was writing ‘Across the River and Into the Trees’. I loved seeing the stunning mosaics of Santa Maria Assunta, climbing the ramps to the top of the tower to look out over the watery landscapes around and walking among the Cypress trees and Oleander in this place which time seems to have forgotten.

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Isola San Michele

As ridiculous and morbid as it may sound, this cemetery on an island has been my favourite place in Venice since I first went there, back in 2009. It’s a refuge from all the noise and crowds, a place to sit and reflect. Taking the boat there from Fondamente Nuove always makes me think of Boecklin’s famous painting, The Isle of the Dead.

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Poetry left by Brodsky’s grave.

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I always find the sight of these ballet shoes tied around Diaghilev’s grave so moving.

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My favourite spot on San Michele.

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While waiting for the vaporetto to take me back to the mainland, I saw the most beautiful evening sky and knew I had to capture it.

Venice, part 1

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I left the apartment in San Polo in darkness each morning, scuttling past the street sweepers and those going to work to congregate with fellow photographers, armed with tripods, on the Rialto or Saint Mark’s Square, awaiting the moment when the sky would change from dark blue to an ever more intense pink, until finally the first golden rays touched the tops of the buildings. Walking back, I stopped to pick up fresh cornetti filled with jam, custard or almonds.

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Returning to Venice after four years, I rediscovered old friends like the St. Mark’s Basilica, San Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore, Caffè Florian, the Accademia Bridge, the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation and my favourite place, Isola San Michele, where Cypress trees stand like tapered church candles watching over the souls of Diaghilev, Stravinsky, Brodsky and my father, whose ashes my mother and I scattered on our trip there last time.

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But there was also the joy of seeing new places like Burano, Torcello and a day spent in Vicenza.

I became so used to the movement of the the vaporetti that I can still feel the sensation of being on the water three days after getting back, as if I had really become part of the city. When the moment came to leave, tears rolled down my face without knowing the reason why – perhaps moved by so much beauty or perhaps overcome by the emotions and sadness of four years ago. It’s impossible to describe all that I saw and felt there so I’ll share some photos with you in the next few posts which I hope will bring back good memories or inspire you to take a trip to La Serenissima soon as well.

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Pax tibi Marce, evangelista meus – Peace be unto you, Mark, my evangelist. The Latin motto of Venice.

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Il Ponte dei Sospiri

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First breakfast

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Dramatic view of San Giorgio Maggiore

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One of the mosaics located on the exterior of St. Mark’s Basilica

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At Florian’s

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Tartufo and, in the background, cioccolata calda

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When I left Florian’s, the musicians outside were playing Scott Joplin

Things I’d like to bring back

However much I like to complain that I was born in the wrong age, I can’t deny that there are certain aspects of modern life that I love like Instagram, blogging,  DVDs, digital photography and online shopping. Not everything was better in the past. But as a lover of vintage glamour and old films, you won’t be surprised to learn that there are quite a few things I regret the passing of and that I wouldn’t hesitate to bring back if I had the chance to. Here are some of them:

Double features

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There’s just something really cool about hanging out all day at the cinema, seeing two films which complement each other. The Pan-Pacific cinema had a double feature, plus a Disney cartoon and the bargain matinee before 5pm cost just 20 cents. I defy you not to feel nostalgic!

B-movies

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Which brings me to B-movies. There were films made on a shoestring budget, said to be of inferior quality and designed to fit into the second half of a double feature. Some of these weren’t great but a tiny budget meant directors had more freedom and needed to be even more creative to achieve certain effects. Think of the classic horror films Val Lewton produced like ‘Cat People’ (above) and ‘I Walked With A Zombie’ (and how much less interesting his A-pictures were), or ‘Stranger On The Third Floor’, considered today to be the first film noir or the brilliant ‘The Narrow Margin’ with Marie Windsor and Charles McGraw, below.

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Comfort and glamour on air travel

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I never knew the golden age of travel with comfortable seats, champagne, a huge amount of legroom and decent food on board. But when I had just moved abroad and started flying back to the UK, British Airways still had some tiny planes with single rows of window seats on either side, there were not yet any restrictions with liquids and you could check in less than an hour before take-off. It seems like a lifetime ago. Anyway, these vintage photos show that air travel could be luxurious – there was even a ladies’ powder room on board which should definitely be a standard feature on all flights.

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Railway porters

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Porter at a railway station, around 1960, by Bob Collins

Unlike air travel, for me travelling by train still retains a certain old fashioned glamour. Until you consider hauling heavy cases off and on, trying to get it into an already cramped compartment or struggling to lift it overhead. And then repeating all this when you change trains. To this day, it remains an inexplicable mystery to me why there are no porters to help you any more.

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Will Hay and Moore Marriott in the classic ‘Oh, Mr Porter’.

Hats

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I’m not a big hat wearer myself, for the simple reason that I’m not sure they really suit me, but I do love to see others wearing them, like in the photo above by Vivian Maier.Maybe if they made a comeback, I’d feel brave enough to wear them regularly too.

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There is a great scene in Jacques Tati’s ‘Trafic’ where the woman gets out her hat instead of a spare tyre from the back of the car.

Railway dining cars

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These featured in my post about vintage rail travel so it’s no surprise they’re here too. In the UK today, catering is limited to the buffet car if you’re lucky where you can get hot drinks in paper cups, sandwiches, chocolate and packets of crisps. If you’re unlucky, it’s a refreshment trolley which may or may not pass through the coach you’re sitting in. I love the idea of dressing nicely and having a decent meal at one of these tables while glancing out of the window at the countryside and towns whizzing by.

Pneumatic tube systems 

Truffaut Baisers volés chemin de la lettre pneumatique from Laboratoire des Hypothèses on Vimeo.

There’s a wonderful scene in François Truffaut’s ‘Baisers Volés’ where Jean-Pierre Léaud’s Antoine Doinel decides to send a pneu to the glamourous Fabienne Tabard, played by Delphine Seyrig. We see it through every step, from the posting of the letter and its insertion into the tube, the journey it makes through the network under the different parts of Paris and finally its arrival into the recipient’s beautiful hands. Of course, emails and SMS removed any need for this outdated technology but it’s hard to imagine them being used in a film to the same effect.