HESO Magazine

Photography, Music, Film, Hitchhiking, Craft Beer – Cultural Pugilist

Author: Arnaud De Grave (Page 3 of 3)

Truffles Close up by Arnaud De Grave

Hunting Truffles – Il Tartuffo – Les Truffes

Hunting Truffles - Il Tartuffo - Les Truffes

Truffles Close up by Arnaud De Grave

Arnaud De Grave has hunted underground for Shiitake Mushrooms in the Kiruna iron mines mushrooms. He has hunted, harvested, cleaned and cooked the potentially fatal Coprinus Comatus. Now he’s on the hunt for the infamous truffle…

Umberto Eco, in his masterpiece Il Nome Della Rosa (The Name of the Rose, Harcourt 1983 for the English language version) mostly know by mere mortals from the eponymous film (1986), starring Sean Connery as Sir Guillaume of Baskerville, and a young Christian Slater as Adso the novice monk), presents the truffle as a fruit (black or white with the latter supposedly having a more powerful flavour), found in open-forest and particularly seen in the Benedictine terroir which is where the novel takes place. Umberto makes one of the abbey monks say that it is a pain in the arse to find — granted the monk, Severinus is well named, master herbalist of the abbey, uses a less flowery language — because truffles hide underground, more secrete than a typical mushroom, so that only a select few, by God of course, and animals with a prodigious sense of smell, can detect it. And these godly creatures are, yes, pigs. The main problem is described as being how to restrain said pigs when they smell out a truffle, for they instantly want to devour it. Adso, as the narrator, then proceeds to recall a later memory describing the lengths some gentlemen, captivated by this rare treat, would go to hunt truffles. Much as they would hunt fine game, following pigs as they would have followed carefully bred hunting hounds. Funnily enough he makes a joke because of the similarity of sound between “truffle,” “el tar-toufo” in Italian and “der Teufel” in German, meaning, well, the Devil… I cannot recommend enough reading that book.

Hunting Truffles – Il Tartuffo – Les Truffes

And indeed, truffles, “les truffes” in French, whatever their colour is (opinion, and prices, vary on that matter), are a delicacy that some people are ready to go to some length to savour. Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, famous French gastronome from the 18th century called them “le diamand de la cuisine” (the diamond of the kitchen) and who am I to disagree? I recently got my hands on some grams of truffles and enjoyed some recipes, part of my grand plan to extract myself from society and live in a small cabin in the mountains for some time … To be fair, my mom and dad did the buying though we all did the cooking, and of course the eating.

We bought about 50 grams as prices that day were 1000 euros per kilogram at the market (it could reach up to 4000 euros per kilogram at a retailer’s shop). For American and English readers, that’s a lot of money per ounce, pound or stone or whatnot. The dictionary says: “a unit of one-twelfth of a pound troy or apothecaries’ measure, equal to 480 grains (approximately 31 grams)” so you can do the math. Heh.

Hunting Truffles - Il Tartuffo - Les Truffes

Truffe Noire du Périgord via Wikimedia Commons

Ok, let’s stop feuding and talk about truffles instead. One should technically call it “tuber melanosporum” but we’ll stick to truffle. It is a mushroom, a real one, only it flowers underground, from one to fifteen centimetres (a couple of inches, dammit!) Anyhow, the mushroom lives at the foot and amongst the roots of certain trees: oaks and hazels. Actually truffles live in symbiosis with the trees. And that is a problem for truffle gatherers, because they need “something” to tell them where to dig. This something, as stated in the introduction in accordance to Umberto, is the legendary nose of a hog. However, even if truffle hogs are naturally able to detect the truffle, they also have the tendency to be quite uncontrollable and they almost live to eat them fungi! Therefore nowadays people train dogs, and some of the older people in the business apparently prefer to use a specific fly (Suillia Gigantea or Suillia Fuscicornis). One might ask oneself why the pigs (and particularly the sow) are so attracted to the smell of truffle. Well, there are rumours stating that the smell of truffles is quite similar to the smell of boar’s saliva, which is a very strong sex pheromone for the female pig. What does it say about us being so keen on eating these things due to their strong flavour? I prefer not to mull to much over it.

So. We got the truffles. Now we want to eat them!

The two recipes we did are the following, a pretty simple one and a more elaborate one. One evening we made scrambled eggs with truffles (“brouillade aux truffes” in the dialect of Southern France where I happen to be living now), one cannot really get simpler. Then, the next day, salad of luke-warm lentils and soft-boiled egg with truffles (“Salade de lentilles tièdes aux oeufs mollets et aux truffes”) which turned out to be fancier but actually less enjoyable …

Lets start with the complicated one (for 4 people):

  • 250g of lentils “du Puy” (that’s the green ones)
  • 50g of black truffle, if possible fresh (i.e. not from the freezer, nor dried)
  • eight quail eggs
  • a soup spoon of white vinegar, one of Xeres’ vinegar, three of sunflower oil
  • some thyme, laurel, two small shallots, some chives and persil
  • one carrot
  • a coffee spoon of mustard (Dijon of course!)
  • salt and pepper

First you have to cook the lentils as usual, with no preliminary soaking, in 3 times their volume in water, with the diced carrot, laurel and thyme. They should not be overcooked, but keep a bit of a crunch, though not too much. Man, that sounds like one of my grand-ma’s recipes: “cook it just enough, not too much, well, you’ll see …”

While that is happening you can soft boil the eggs. Here I have to say that I’d use regular hen’s eggs, not these damned quail eggs, as they are a pain to have soft-boiled and honestly I do not think that the taste difference would be very strong, so just get eggs on the small side. And indeed we didn’t manage to get them soft-boiled but nicely done (as can be seen in the pictures) but it was another pain to peel them. Quail’s eggs are for snobbish posh people, French up-nosed bastards, period.

When the lentils are done they should be mixed with a dressing whisked together out of the remaining ingredients on the list.

Finally the truffles, thinly sliced or shaved, should be spread over the eggs which should have been cut in halves so that the yolk can flow down over the lentils. For a nice presentation it is recommended to make some sort of a nest with the lentil salad.

Well, it was not that great!

Hunting Truffles - Il Tartuffo - Les Truffes

Truffles with Scrambled Eggs

I mean, do not get me wrong, it looked nice and all, the lentils salad is delicious, eggs were good (if not soft-boiled), and the truffles were tasty. However, the savour of the truffles was a bit lost amongst the rest and I sort of feel it was a waste. That’s up to you I guess …

Anyhow, for the easy one it is, well, fairly easy: you crack open the eggs, mix them, and let the truffles soak in the egg mixture for a while. Then you cook them in a pot (not a pan!), with plenty of butter, but take good care of using a fork to prevent the mixture from transforming into a tortilla! A bit of crème fraîche mixed with it can help to make it smooth. Some people say that the trick is to have the truffles sit with the eggs before, like, in the same box, like, overnight, like, so they can mingle. They will all have a nice chat, maybe some will get horny and rub against one another, hopefully not of the same gender, and at the end the eggs will smell like truffle! Pretty amazing, huh?! One has to admit the thing has quite a powerful smell. And, to my disbelief, the eggs indeed smell, if faintly, of truffle even if the shells were still in pristine condition while the rubbing took place. I was baffled, to say the least.

So this was my experience with truffles, I thank you for your attention and will let you find a pig, some flies or train a dog and go hunt some of your own. If you are an adventurous scientist type you can have a look at the genome of a Perigord black truffle, which was released in 2010. And without further ado I say Au revoir.

HESO Photo of the Week by Arnaud De Grave

HESO Photo of the Week from Arnaud De Grave

HESO Photo of the Week by Arnaud De Grave

A native plant of the area, this part of the land has been under restoration for 2 years already

Cultural river bank restauration in Lillooet, BC

In Lillooet, British Columbia, about 250 km north of Vancouver, I was involved in helping a small group of First Nations’ volunteers from the Sekw’el’was tribe and some conservationist scholars who had been working to restore a riparian (i.e. a piece of land close to water, a river, a lake, etc. Here it is the Fraser river banks) piece of land in their community. First Nation is the official name native people from the Canadian part of Northern America call themselves, and the T’it’q’et First Nation band lives in Lillooet. For a number of years they have been removing traces of non-local invasive plants, removing traces of sub-culture (such as 4-wheel drive access, drunk driving and unauthorized fires) and try to put this specific piece of land back in its original condition. Land has multiple ecoservice and spiritual value for First Nations, especially riparian zones, and often it is surrounded by highways, power plant, etc. This one is also situated very close to modern “civilization” artifacts, but when one is inside it, one can feel nature coming back. It is a very slow process: weeding, re-creating wildlife habitat, seeding and planting specific species, etc.

In addition to the overall cultural and pedagogical experience of a field trip with the class of Forestry from UBC, this day taught me one thing: if one wants to have an impact one shouldn’t vent about one’s powerlessness but start doing something, even if only local, for inspiration comes from action. I was happy to help planting some shrubs and berry trees, and sharing time with the volunteers for a couple of hours.

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave (HESO Magazine)

The Simple Art of Gnocchi

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave (HESO Magazine)

The Simple Art of Gnocchi © Arnaud De Grave

Driving through Europe this past summer, north to south, from Copenhagen, Denmark to Casteil, France (basically Spain) is a long, beautiful trip which takes around ten days. Granted, I made a few stops along the way. One of the stops was at my grandma’s, in Lorraine, France. Grandma is about eighty-nine and still lives alone in her apartment and, oh my, can she cook!

She is Italian by birth and came to France when she was two years old, her parents fleeing the rise of fascism spreading throughout Italy. Long story short, living through World War II and the rest of the 20th century, she became a maestra in cooking, both Italian and French styles alike. She can make a stew that would leave your mouth watering for days, using only a bit of this and that left in some corner of the fridge–stuff that one would think twice before giving to the dog. Or the hog for that matter.

And that one day when I slept at her place on my journey south, she made gnocchi. Is that plural for gnoccho? It does not actually matter at all as one usually doesn’t eat only one, let alone make only one. Like spaghetti I guess.

We had a nice morning together preparing the gnocchi. Actually, she did the preparing. I was sipping coffee, taking pictures, asking silly questions and learning about her youth and all during World War II and such. Eventually we had an equally nice lunch with some family who arrived later.

The Simple Art of Gnocchi

But enough of my blathering and on to the recipe:

  • 500 Grams Potatoes (“the good kind” said she, although what the good kind is wasn’t very clear to me, although you would notice when it is not the good kind…)
  • One egg
  • Flour
  • Wooden Cutting Board

That’s it. When she told me the ingredients I thought, “There must be a trick.” And there is. Apparently the tricky part is to use the correct amount of flour. And she says, the best way to make homemade pasta, gnocchi and such is on a wooden board, not on a plate or plastic or anything like that. And above all you must use your hands!

Now get down to it.

Boil the potatoes whole with the skin, as it does help to keep the potatoes from taking too much water inside them. Anyway it is not too hard to peel them afterward, but do use a fork as they are hot potatoes when they come out of the water (breaking news, huh?) and you need them luke warm to perform the rest of the recipe.

Mash the potatoes with some modern instrument which is more advanced than just a fork (I know, I also make my mashed potatoes with a fork because I like to have a few lumps in them…), but for gnocchi you need them as smooth as possible. Have a look at the pictures to see what I mean.

On the wooden board make a volcano of potatoes and break the egg into the center of it, add a bit of flower and start mixing everything with your hands, yeps, with the hands! I already said that.

Now is the tricky part: progressively add more flower while you mix, as if you were making bread, but do not use too much! Grandma’s typical advice: “Put some of it in, but not too much, just enough.”

When satisfied take some of the dough (can you call that a dough?) and shape it as a long, er, thing with the diameter of your choice, like say your thumb. Then cut this thumb-sized dough in small bits. Put a bit of flour on top to avoid it sticking everywhere.

And now for grandma’s secret: to have the gnocchi shaped and textured properly (the right texture being important for them to keep the sauce on top of them) you need to use a cheese grating device. Who would have thought?! By rolling them inside the cheese grater you’ll create the slug-like shape and the intricate surface features that will capture small amounts of sauce. Of course it requires a bit of training to achieve a suitable size, shape and texture but, hey, you have all morning right? Anyhow if you do things properly your sauce must have been cooking for four to five to six hours, plenty of time to play with the little slugs of dough…

Cooking them is easy, in a very big pot of boiling water (salted) they are ready when they start floating. You can use a “passoire” to get them.

Now serve in a big plate with grated parmesiano, and a healthy glass of Italian or French red wine. Buon appetito!

Christiania: Interview with Charlotte Østervang

Christiania: Interview with Charlotte Østervang

Christiania: Interview with Charlotte Østervang

Christiana – Helga © Charlotte Østervang

Walking with Charlotte Østervang in Christiania is an experience in humility. She knows, and is known, by almost everybody. And she interacts with them with gracefulness and kindness. One can see she is loved there. One can also see she loves being there. Over a period of four years Charlotte conducted a project that concluded recently with the publication of a book and an exhibition in the heart of Copenhagen, Denmark. It will be quite difficult to explain the concept of the “hippie town” Christiania in a few words. This place, a gigantic art/hippie squat of village proportions, played an important role in the freedom of expression in Europe for the past thirty years or so. The history of Christiania is also seeped in illicit drugs. Marijuana and hashish are trafficked freely on one street, but urban legend holds that the area also became involved in hard drugs, possibly pushing this utopian experiment into a place of darkness. For various reasons the government has been eager to normalize the place, and from an objective standpoint, one could witness a steady decline of the original spirit in recent years.

Charlotte’s work, however, does not focus on politics. Her book contains ninety-five portraits of the people of Christiania, together with a short text telling their story. It is nearly impossible not to note the irony of having these pictures displayed in the centre of Copenhagen. Even after discussing it with her, I still think the exhibition is somehow weird. Maybe allowing the exhibition was a bold political and demagogic move from a part of the government, while at the same time another faction is really trying hard to get rid of the “free city.” Whatever the case, Charlotte’s amazing work got the coverage it surely deserves.

Christiania: Interview with Charlotte Østervang

H42: Your work is part ethnography, part photography. What is your background?

CØ: In my younger days I tried many different things, but portraiture has always been where it ended up no matter what I did. I was educated in an art school in Prague but I wasn’t sure about how to develop my photography. Christiania made me the photographer I am because I was more interested in Christiania and its people than in photography per se. My dream had always been not to put myself inside a box but float inside photojournalism, portraiture, art…

H42: How did you learn the techniques of photography?

CØ: At school I learned large format camera, which I brought up here to do architecture photography. And I got caught up in that slow way of doing things. I fell in love with this therapeutic way of letting the images slowly develop on many levels. I also thought it was good for this project because Christiania is a slow place. Working this way, you meet people and get to know them. It wouldn’t have worked with big, new digital cameras. I think I really made the right choice, also because when setting up my equipment, people saw it as a kind of old fashioned theater.

I just biked around waiting to see a spot that I liked, a person whom I wanted to take a picture of, a story I wanted to tell... Click To Tweet

H42: You used a Polaroid back, right?

Christiana - Unoderne © Charlotte Østervang

Christiana - Unoderne © Charlotte Østervang


CØ: Yes, I chose that type of film (Polaroid Polapan; out of production) back in 2004 and fell in love with it. It’s not really easy to work with because you have to put the negative in water and all kinds of stuff like that. But you don’t have to go to the developer; you are independent in a way. And also I could give a Polaroid to the people, which really made it popular. I am happy to have used this slow film (25 iso): the person being photographed really had to concentrate on the shoot. The aperture was 8.0 and very often the shutter speed was 1/8th of a second. “Don’t even breathe” was what I told them. But it has such rich tones; it’s wonderful to work with.

H42: What is your failure to success ratio? How did you choose the final pictures?

CØ: There are ninety-five pictures in the book and I shot about three hundred. For example, the first three years I shot three pictures with each person. We never disagreed on the one that should be selected when I got back to them. It’s all about a little thing with the eye, or the way you stand. It’s really small things but it makes a huge difference in the end.

H42: Can you describe your workflow method?

CØ: I just biked around waiting to see a spot that I liked, a person whom I wanted to take a picture of, a story I wanted to tell… Then I’d ask if they wouldn’t mind standing for a portrait. I’d set the equipment and ask for ten minutes of their time. The talk actually developed from the picture. To write the stories, I’d find them again and go to their house, sit and talk while drinking coffee. I started taking pictures of the people that I knew and then slowly worked my way deeper into the community. And when you are in the street making that kind of theater, people get to know you. People talk, they know their neighbor had a picture, etc. I came back again one year later to get the permission/signature to put the pictures in the book and exhibition. And then I realized I needed more for the stories, because pictures are not enough for me. So I went back again to conduct interviews. I’d get home to write and go back the next day and we’d work on it together to finish it. And now I am back for the last time to give them the book! I’ve visited about five or six times…

H42: So one day you woke up and said, “Hey, I’m going to do that stuff in Christiania”?

CØ: Yes! [laughs] Actually it was a Saturday night. I remember biking around, asking permission to shoot and everybody was shrugging: “do whatever you want, anybody can take picture if they want to…” Outside of “Pusher Street” (the street where people deal hashish), people don’t care. Actually, they find it interesting. Because they are people who are proud of what they are, the life they have. I also met the cultural chairwoman and asked her feelings about it. I had been dreaming about this project for five years already–one of those projects you keep talking about and nothing happens. I also wanted to use it as an educational journey in photography, which is much more important to me than a school diploma. I started with an Avedon phase, as you see in the beginning of the book. Then I went to the USA. Unfortunately he had just died and I never got to meet him. Then I took a course at the International Center of Photography and I met Shelby Lee Adams. He mixes genres and his portraits are so rich with stories. I really admire his work. I also worked with Antonin Kratochvil from Czech Republic. I traveled in Eastern Kentucky with Adams and worked in New York City with Kratochvil. I learned a lot during this half year, mainly their approach and their way of thinking. So I went back to Christiania for three more months of shooting, knowing then that I should show their real background to tell the story. It made it much more complicated: now I had to know the people and their relation to the area. Before, when I was working with a white background, I was standing at the drugstore and just picked up people. The whole thing could have been done in three weeks. It also became more interesting with this opportunity to bike around and knock on those old wooden doors full of mysteries. Then I went back to America again, to see the same people and host an exhibition there. Then back to Denmark to shoot again…

H42: You also mentioned you actually lived in Christiania?

Christiania - Shack - © Arnaud de Grave

Christiania - Shack - © Arnaud de Grave

CØ: Yes, I borrowed a house for the second and third shooting season. I later sold my apartment, bought a caravan and placed it next to Christiania. I was spending a lot of money to educate myself and do this project; my financial situation was a complete disaster. I could earn freedom by selling my apartment and starting all over again. It was fantastic to move to Christiania because that was when things really started to happen. I was scared though, about what the Christianites would think about me trying to work my way into Christiania with a caravan. When I placed the caravan at the edge of Christiania, they started coming out of the woods, asking if I wanted some help, to come to their house for heating. Then I continued living there, to follow all the meetings and the politics. It was both great and awful. I lived there during their worst year because of this enormous external pressure they experienced from the government. It has been awful to see such hatred when you come down to the political scene. It struck me hard but it was also good for me to see another side of it.

H42: How come you finished it up with this exhibition in central Copenhagen? From an external point of view it looks like a political statement from the commune. It looks demagogic to me…

CØ: Everybody can apply for the square, so anybody can put on a photographic exhibition there. But it is kind of funny, and I like the teasing in it, because the administration that is affecting Christiania is actually just around the corner. The people working to remove Christiania walk everyday in front of the exhibition, and I invite them into the caravan for coffee everyday when I see them. Since 2002, the government and police have been working very hard to tackle the hashish problem, but in a very narrow minded way that fails to involve Christiana residents and take their interests into account. They have done a lot to create bad headlines and negative stories in newspapers, and now Danish people don’t have the same tolerance and interest in the place.

H42: I particularly like the fact that this political situation doesn’t show in your work…

CØ: Yes, that makes me proud. It is an exhibition for everybody, showing the people’s face of Christiania. But my motivation was not only artistic, because the reports have been very manipulating. The government made and showed fancy development plans for Christiania, as if they were trying to look at the situation carefully. But they didn’t. So my work is some sort of silent provocation, a silent riot act.

H42: Finally, what has been your greatest reward?

CØ: When going back to Christiania with books, like I did before, not phoning, just going there, the reaction of the people showed me my project was a gift to Christiania. Even the toughest guys took the book to their heart and said they were going to give it to their family. So the biggest achievement is the acceptance and respect I got from the people I photographed. The second biggest is the exhibition location and the fact that I put the caravan there. No newspaper wrote about the book, and I get my reviews from the street, as nobody knows I am the photographer. Also the reaction of the people displayed there is fantastic. They often come and stand looking at themselves. It is very touching. They listen to what people say about them and sometimes say: “Hey, it’s me.” They end up being photographed again next to their picture. It really gives the exhibition a depth I was not thinking about.

H42: It wouldn’t happen in a gallery!

CØ: Exactly, it starts in the morning with the office people and goes to the school kids and housewives. Then come the tourists and some drunk people. I get a huge variety of people. It is going to be difficult to go into a real gallery again!

Charlotte’s website: Oestervang.dk

Christiana website: Christiania.org

Book Information:

FRISTADEN Christiania 2004-2008
Photography and text by Charlotte Østervang
Bastard Books
(dist. & sales: Verve Books)
ISBN 978-87-92359-13-1

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