Thursday, 19 December 2013

Ho ho bleeding ho

Is it me or is Christmas more and more exhausting every year? I have got to the point of turning down invitations because I cannot imagine being able to summon the strength to heave my body off the sofa in the evening to go out. Let's face it, I'm only typing this now to avoid having to get up, go up about 12 stairs and prepare for bed, as that sounds like hard work. I know, it has been a really busy few weeks, and we are all suffering from the low-level pre-festivities lurgy that, just when we had been through an "up" day and assumed we were better, returns to leave us physically drained and inexplicably tetchy. I found myself properly upset the other night after the school's carol service, all because the queue for the mulled wine was too long and claustrophobic and we had to give up and go home. Inconsolable. And then there is the never-ending list of things to remember: presents to buy, things to post, cards to write, things not to forget to take to school and all the extra places to go and appointments not to miss. Exhausting.

You may - or may not - be glad to hear the urge to felt has not completely left me despite my last post. I was invited to the regional International Feltmakers' Association Christmas get-together on Saturday. That sounds very grand doesn't it, not at all like 5 lovely ladies sat round in a shop drinking tea, eating cake and having a natter over some messy wool. There were some treats there to behold: some beautiful inlaid felt panels in the style of those made in Kyrgyzstan (google it if you are interested: this is the home country of yurts, the coverings of which are handmade felt, and probably the home country of felting these days, and a really nifty technique of cutting out and inlaying two different colours), but more than anything a box full of little needle-felted animals, one of whom endeared itself to me so much that I just had to do a deal and buy it for my 6 year old's Christmas stocking (reminder to self: delete the photo before she goes sniffing about on the computer in the next couple of days):-


We were all given a brief to felt a secret Santa present for another member, costing no more than £3 in materials. Hmm challenge. I was tempted to take one of my felted Christmas decorations, but the felt concerned was frankly too poor quality for an International Feltmaker. So I made this little frippery:-

And in return I received the most adorable little toadstool, which doubles as a pincushion, made by the same lady who had made the beautiful little animals.

All in all it did feel pretty good to be back in the saddle. I felted a picture while I was there, but it was an amalgamation of several photos and I realise now that the perspective is all wrong and I either need to chop it in half or start again. Also with some crafty friends this morning we had a little felting session and made the tiniest Santa hats, only suitable for something with a tennis-ball-sized head. It will take me all my strength this Christmas to ensure it doesn't get jammed on the cat's head by one of the more malicious members of the family.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Despondency and longing

Well the last week has been a good one. A buzzing craft fair: some good old friends and a few new ones, lots of compliments, plus £120 to bring home and fewer Christmas decorations, and two of my small sea pictures gone. Then at Clevedon Art Club exhibition, another very good sale (my French view) and some cards too. Definitely an air of respect from fellow artists all round. Yesterday delivered 6 of my small beach pictures to Church House Designs and got wind of a possible sale of a felted vase I made a long while ago. Plenty of approval and good vibes. So why have I had this stupid feeling all week that I might be better off giving up? I know, I know, I am tired, run down, and have had enough of churning out small-price-tag craft fair items, but right now I feel that it would be quite nice to have a big bonfire of some of the leftovers. And for the first time in ages, I feel an urge to do some patchwork, finish a quilt I started about 18 months ago, and forget about anything to do with commercial art completely. I really don't know what has brought this on and I hope it passes quickly. Although actually finishing that quilt might be a good move.

I am on a lampshade-making wave at the moment. My friend Ruth from Quincy Lampshades has really started something. I have now made 6 and have the bits for making 4 more. Choosing the fabrics has been an interesting journey. I live in a very old house with stone walls and wooden beams, and lots of clutter, so I often find it is quite hard to buy things that fit in with the house rather than jar against it. Modern things only work here if they have a hint of the natural about them. I would love to go with a big Marimekko design or some really bright Kaffe Fassett patterns for these lampshades but it would mean rethinking all our living spaces and having a huge clear out. I was trying to convince myself (and, a harder job, the husband) that we could make a statement with some bold large patterns when I inadvertently discovered an utterly different range of fabrics called Eclectic Elements:-

And my advice for you, if you have an old dishevelled characterful house like me, is that these fabrics are rather lovely and fit in a treat. I think that this might well be what has got me back to thinking about quilts again, as suddenly I want to find a reason to use these again. I have been ordering the amounts I need for the lampshades and surreptitiously adding the odd 25cm in here and there, and even a little bit of other prints in the range, into my order, in the knowledge that I know they will be good for something some day.

Anyway no making at all for a bit, this week I have my PTA hat on and am up to my ears in Christmas Fair bits and pieces. I have been so focussed that life will officially end at around 2pm on Sunday. Maybe next week...



Saturday, 23 November 2013

Stupidity and Success

So from necessity it has been another week of making, making, making. I am slowing down now which means that a) I must be not quite so worried that I won't have enough things to sell at Crafty Birds and b) I am extremely tired. My dear Christian friend Laura prayed for me (as I've said before, I will accept any help that's going) and apparently God's verdict was that I needed a rest.

This week I met the lovely Holly, an A-level student with a burgeoning passion for textiles and Africa and we did some felting together. I was supposed to be teaching her everything I know, which of course really didn't take long. We did some experimenting with trapping things in the fibres; I had seen a felted dress with peppercorns in a book a while ago and so we raided my spice drawer. We found that peppercorns, coriander seeds and fennel seeds worked really well, cloves kept trying to escape and cardamom pods just ended up on the floor. As the felt was drying on the radiator there was a lovely smell emanating from it. And I quite like the look of it:-

This one was Holly's:-

(We were also experimenting with snipping through layers of felt to reveal different colours underneath, which explains the little stigmata on our pieces). I might try adding some peppercorns to my beaches when I feel like a pebbly effect. Sometimes you need a fresh pair of eyes with you to make you discover something new.

So what else can I show you that I made in the last few days? Well for a start how about these?


I really enjoy making these pebbly ones. I love the rounded shapes and I find the contrast of fuzzy felt and sharp fabric designs really appealing. And the colour combinations are pleasing, and endless. They look great in their frames. I don't know if anyone else will like them but I have four different ones now; I guess I will find out next Friday.

Have I got anything else to show you? Yes I have...

This one is going to Clevedon Art Club's exhibition, on the basis that if you want to exhibit something that might sell in Clevedon, better make it the Pier. Or, depending on how you look at it, the Taj Mahal on stilts. 

An update on two stories I've told you before: first the Belgian glasses were indeed a little too Eighties; I shan't be getting my prescription lenses in them any time soon but I am rather pleased just to own them in a drawer for old times' sake. And then the other story (this is daft, humiliating, annoying but ultimately really really positive): I'm not sure if you will have seen that I submitted a picture online for the selection process of the forthcoming RWA Open Exhibition quite a while ago. I never held out any hope for it after I'd done it. This was the picture:-

There was a set date when the online system would show whether or not submissions had been selected. I marked the date on my calendar and when it came to the day, I quickly looked, bleary-eyed, in the midst of children's arguing over breakfast and senile cat howling under the table, and saw "N/S" which I took to mean "not selected". No surprise there. Move on and forget.

So I couldn't quite understand why last week I had an email inviting me to a private viewing for selected artists only. I checked online again and this time in big letters it said "SELECTED". Huh? I rang them and sure enough, yes it had been selected. And then, as the artwork all had to be delivered to the RWA on the previous Friday, it was now too late and I entered a new category of "selected not hung" (as usually 10 or so artists do each year for one reason or another), and now there was nothing that could be done. And apparently this weird "N/S" did not exist, I could not have seen it. I put the phone down with eyes filling up. What on earth had happened? I can only imagine that I must have looked too early or got distracted and misread it. Bloody idiot. How stupid. The embarrassment. What a waste, how different could life have been after exhibiting at the RWA? And then, after a few hours of grieving, how lovely to have been selected, to have this little secret (well OK, you know now too) and to know that I had Success, on the quiet, and that I can bask in that until next year and do it properly next time. Which leads me to wonder: is it better to have Success and have to follow through with all the responsibilities it entails, or to have Success and do nothing whatsoever with it except to know it? Maybe I'll find out the answer next year...

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Coming full circle

The creative urge has been upon me. Either that or the fear of an empty table with nothing to sell at a craft fair, and a horror of missing out on the opportunity of Clevedon Art Club's exhibition. So I have been making and making and making. Some things are very clearly more suitable for the exhibition:-

And some things have been very obviously Craft Fair items:-

And then we have one or two in-betweens; I am not sure what to think yet. After stitching my felt onto a couple of canvases I bought, I've had an experiment with two new frames: floating canvas frames. What do you think? I quite like them, but husband, being a husband, doesn't like them at all and is spouting practicalities about gathering dust.

These leaves started life as brooches for Crafty Birds but a) I wasn't convinced anyone would want to wear one and b) I was just sad that they didn't turn out as beautiful as the ones on Dog Daisy Chains, for whom I have a new-found respect. But I quite like them all together like this (although again husband doesn't). The other frame was for this:-

I keep humming and ha-ing about swapping the colours over, but probably won't. 

Other than that I am ridiculously excited to have just won something on Ebay: an old 1980's pair of glasses from Belgium. Oh dear how crazy do I sound now? Let me explain: in 1989 when I had a year in Belgium, I used to walk through a beautiful old shopping arcade nearly every day and I always passed an optician's in this arcade, and would gaze in at the artful display of Lafont glasses wistfully. Those glasses just seemed the pinnacle of style and they came in every colour and finish you could imagine back in 1989 when coloured glasses were all the rage - although these were definitely classier and more toned down than your English Timmy Mallett's. Eventually I saved up all my spare cash for a term (£130 which was some feat back then) and, armed with a British eye prescription helpfully written out in several different formats, I went in and got the ones I'd been lusting after for months (despite the optician trying to persuade me in a very Belgian manner that some other ones might "make my face look more cheerful"). I loved them. So how sad I was, just a couple of months later, when I left them on a bus and they ended up on a journey to Great Yarmouth on their own, never to return. I don't know why I've been thinking about that episode again for the first time in years but I did get a glimpse of myself in my 5 year old glasses recently and realised how awful they are (this time husband says they are good, heaven forbid we should agree on anything). So I went on a quest and found the very same Lafont glasses, just one pair, going on Ebay from an old Belgian shop clearance, never been worn, still with the "Jean Lafont Paris" written across one demonstration lens. Not the same colour (my old ones were a speckled chestnut, these are a marbled dark grey) but the very same style and for old times' sake I felt obliged to bid. And for the grand sum of £15.44 including postage to the UK, I have won them. Of course they will probably be terrible: I wonder if they came in different sizes? What if the plastic has decayed over the years? How about the fact that my face has definitely decayed over the years in between and could certainly do with "looking more cheerful"? Maybe the opticians here won't be able to fit lenses in them? And, the dreaded, what if they fit and suit me but they just look really dated and I look like Su Pollard in them? Do you know what? I don't care: I have just had closure. And I don't even have to wear them. Ha. 


Monday, 4 November 2013

Pebbles

So the creative streak is back into play again. I managed to get a bit of surreptitious felting and sewing done over the weekend in the end and have been doing a bit of finishing off and framing today. And I think very modestly that it's gone pretty well. It's good to be back in the proverbial saddle. Still plenty more to make though, if I am to have a fairly decent table full of wares at the Crafty Birds thingy at the end of the month.

So I started with a bit of inspiration from our trip to Lyme Regis: one of the cards I bought:-

I love the shapes and colours. It is tiny intricate work: each of the squares on the right is just 1 inch across. For felting, and for my sort of machine stitching, I needed it to be on a larger scale. So I gathered together some old pieces of pre-felt (and made some more, lovely variegated pieces) and then cut out ovals and started felting two pieces, both on a black background. I was quite pleased with the results after the felting process:-



But I had more planned for them. Next off to my old patchwork fabric stash (I was inspired by the use of different fabrics in the card I'd bought), and then to some stitching. And this is what I ended up with:-

With this one, I have sewn it onto a plain stretched canvas. I personally think the simplicity of it works very well (and it echoes the plain white wooden backgrounds I saw at Claire Hall Glass the other day). And it should be a good budget option at the upcoming craft fair.


This one fitted perfectly into a little white box frame I ordered a while ago, again a little cheap one. Meant to be. I am quite pleased with their "pebbliness" and the colour schemes and hope that I'll be able to sell them. I also hope that k3n, were she to stumble across this, would not take offence at me copying her lovely card; I hope that translating it into my form of textile art has not made it into too much of a rip-off. Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that. 

Friday, 1 November 2013

Seeds

It's been quite a positive week in terms of my felting. Not that I have managed to do any. Nor that I have had any particularly positive anythings. But there are some seeds in my head that have started germinating and it feels like some very healthy roots and shoots are growing.

We had a long weekend in Lyme Regis. Fabulous food at the Town Mill Bakery. Please do go there if you are ever nearby. Then good fossil hunting. I have been hatching a plan to make a felted picture of a fossil for some time and although I don't feel the project is getting any closer, the vision in my head is getting stronger. And I sneaked out on my own and wandered into a shop and bought a felted card by Helga Starck. I had a connection with her work and said to a lady in the shop that I make similar things and showed her one of my business cards, and very gratifyingly she said straightaway "ooh like Rosiepink!" which I took to be a huge compliment. I saw some of Helga's striped rectangles of needle-felted wool, mounted so simply. That sowed a seed. And then I found a lovely textile exhibition in the Town Mill. And I bought a beautiful quilted and machine-embroidered card by K3n (Kathryn Chambers) which has helped me to have another little idea sown in my head. And for my final piece of inspiration this week I visited Claire Hall's studio in Backwell one evening this week for a North Somerset Arts meeting, and this time I saw some more wonderful simple mounting: tiny glass landscapes that had been stuck onto rectangles of MDF that were painted white, and which had a little hole drilled into the back for hanging. What a good idea. Another seed. What about attaching my little pictures to stretched canvas? I am determined to make a good productive start to the next term when it starts on Monday. Lots of felting. Lots of stitching. Lots of framing. Lots of creation. Lots to get out there. I have at least two things to think of: Clevedon Art Club exhibition at the end of November (I need something big and competent to make a splash with) and at the same time a stall at Crafty Birds in Backwell, a Christmas craft fair. Not something I would normally think of doing, but if I make a lot of small and cheap bits and pieces, little pictures, cards, maybe even the odd brooch, I might surprise myself.

So now I just have to get through the weekend before I can start...

Sunday, 20 October 2013

That Lampeter feeling

Life is a funny old thing. The other day I was on the ubiquitous facebook and I stumbled upon a group on there of people celebrating being at my university in the 1980's. This group has 400 members and you might think this odd, but I probably know at least a third of them. Oops that's given my age away. It is - or was - a tiny university in the middle of rural west Wales and people generally did know everything about everyone as there was nothing else to do there. Looking through people's comments and more importantly the dodgy photos (both the grainy yellowed old ones of people whose faces suddenly seemed as fresh in my memory as people I see now, and then the modern reunion photos of generally fatter, balder, slicker people I could hardly recognise) brought back a whole world of memories and I was in a time warp, back in the Students' Union bar with my feet sticking to the floor, a sickly taste of too much beer in my mouth and the smell of fags so bad that the only way to not get bothered about it was to smoke as well yourself. I spent hours immersing myself in the past, well into the night. I even found a dreadful photo of myself on there, with 1980's spiky hair and a waistcoat my mum had knitted for me. And the more I looked, the more intense the memories became, fabulously happy ones of great friendships that seemed everlasting (none of which I've actually kept alive), laughter and hopefulness for the life ahead. A moral superiority rooted in being 19, invincible and having no idea of the real world, and all living together in halls in an isolated campus, aware of nothing except the much quoted fact that we were in the top 10% (or 1%, depending who you were talking to) of society. It was great. It was as if we had invented life itself. And then there were other memories: the more shaming ones, the ones that came from being young and vibrant and hormonal and all holed up together in halls in an isolated campus with barrels upon barrels of subsidised booze. Not comfortable memories. The memories of being too young to have any sense of responsibility for your own actions. It makes me realise how daft it is that we think we are adults when we hit 18. There was so much growing up to do for many years after that, for me at least. And so much hurting - both getting hurt and hurting others. I don't know when it was that it finally got ingrained into my psyche that you get out of life what you put into it, and that you must treat people as you would like to be treated yourself. But I'm very glad it's there now. I saw a sentence a couple of years ago that for me now sums it all up: "Be kinder than necessary: everyone is fighting some kind of battle".

Anyway this afternoon I got accepted as a member of this group and posted my first post on there, reintroducing myself. I've had a couple of good responses so far; it's a little nerve-wracking as it feels like some kind of judgement of what kind of an 18 - 22 year old I really was. Was I the self-centred vacuous one or the life and soul of the party? Or a bit of both?

It's now one week left until half-term holidays. I am not relishing the thought very much as my boy has, since turning 8, become argument itself, like PMT gone mad. It is apparently a documented phase that boys go through. And in the meantime I really must see if I can get some art done before the end of term...

Friday, 11 October 2013

A rainbow in my garden

Exhausted. Absolutely exhausted. It has been a really full-on week. After the fatigue brought on by the PTA event on Sunday (a thorough success and many more than the 65 promised punters), I thought I would recuperate by turning in on myself and focussing on a relaxing art project. I could see from the weather forecast that I had a good five days of non-rain and I had a box of 3000 or so mosaic tiles, so there it was. The first two days were great: time for self-contemplation at the kitchen table, making small 30cm sections of mosaic on sticky mesh that would link together once stuck on the wall. The last three days were hideous: I had forgotten that ultimately mosaic transforms from a pleasing exercise in colour and art into a testosterone-fuelled DIY project with filthy tile adhesive and grout. And of course a race against time with looming rainclouds. So as I was there outside smearing the tile adhesive about, totally alone, I could hear in my head every man I know sniggering at me: "Why is she doing it like that?" "A stockpot and a tablespoon?!" "Not enough adhesive!". And sure enough the voices in my head were right: not enough adhesive. The next day I had to go along the wall picking off the wobbly tiles (around half of them) and daubing more adhesive on each tile and sticking them back on, gently swearing and despairing. Cooking, children's homework and personal hygiene have fallen by the wayside as an obsession with weather forecasts and grouting techniques took over (I saw on one website a suggestion that putting the grout into a piping bag with a fine nozzle can be good for ensuring it gets properly into the gaps - but this time the voices told me that if anyone should see me icing my grout into the wall, I would be the laughing stock of the village for a long time and so I reluctantly put the piping bag away). And finally today - about three hours before the first drizzle - it was done. And that's when the exhaustion hit. But I do still have the energy every so often to drag my aching body (is there such an ailment as Mosaic Neck?) up the steps to the back garden to admire my handiwork...
 And from the other end...

I like the "hot" end best; it goes beautifully with some autumnal leaves out there but there was no camera angle that could get them both in the same picture...


There was also another bit of creativity this week; I did have some energy to make some more lampshades, after last week's lovely bagful from my friend Ruth. And this time, instead of using the kit she'd given me, I followed her video and the results and the process was so much better. She needed me to confirm that the kits are rather shoddy and that her method is far superior. Seriously, if you are ever thinking of making your own lampshade, do steer clear of the cheap kits out there and go to http://www.quincylampshades.co.uk and sign up for her video instructions. I know she's a friend but it was so much more satisfactory, a joy rather than a nailbiting car crash. And here is my latest creation:-

which in turn reminds me of my bed and the book I could be reading, all tucked up...

Friday, 4 October 2013

Ups and downs

I have been really enjoying reading Belgian Waffle's blog recently; she (unlike me) has taken to writing something witty every day, and always starts with her "downs" and ends with her "ups" of the day. I try very hard but can't ever be that witty, plus I haven't had the time or energy to write every day; nevertheless I might try the ups and downs thing today to see how it goes...

DOWN

That dreadful PTA has been so painful this term. Why do I still get drawn into remaining the Chair? I am heading the food and drink section of a council-run bike treasure hunt that starts and ends at school on Sunday. Which in itself doesn't sound too bad. Except that we have absolutely no idea how many we will be catering for. Not a clue. The people from the council were originally bandying about figures in the thousands; a couple of months later we were told something between 300 and 600. We bargained on catering for 400. This morning I was given the number of people who have actually registered in advance and it was 65. This PTA lark is like having your teeth pulled. I seriously need to spend some more time in that school to remember why I want to do this.

I seem to be incapable of going to bed when I'm tired. I take a bit of yawning as a sign that I need to get the iPad out and do some internet searching for something longwinded and open-ended. Then I get into bed an hour and a half later and can't work out why I am so gloomy the next day.

Maybe linked to the above, I have a terrible desire to do nothing. I cannot get any enthusiasm together for anything. Other than futile internet time. Is it time for hibernation? Only the fear of very publicly failing at all the things I've put myself up for is keeping me going. And I've put myself up for quite a bit at the moment (the PTA cold sweat above, North Somerset Arts Committee (aargh I'm manning a stall for them at Made In North Somerset tomorrow for a while, no idea what I'm meant to be doing), various craft and art projects I've mouthed off to people about).

UP

Building work and window fitting are both having their final fling. And the final part of the garden makeover is all down to me: I have ordered nearly 3000 mosaic tiles of every colour imaginable and will soon be making a piece of art 26cm wide and over 4 metres long to fit on top on a wall. I think I only need around 2700 tiles but some of the ones I've got in the post have been a bit dull. I am thinking rainbow. I might be rubbish at gardening but I can at least think of other ways of bringing some colour to my garden.

I have had a treat of a day today. My friend Ruth of Quincy Lampshades asked me to test out some lampshade-making kits and I was very keen to give it a go. So I spent many more hours than necessary deep into the night doing internet shopping for fabric and picked a lovely bag of goodies from her and today my good friend Laura and I set to work, well actually fitting in some work between coffees, cakes, lunch at the wonderful Bird in Hand and some good talk. And we ended up with some really good results (although I dread the thought of Ruth seeing the scruffy insides):-

I am rather pleased with my big cabbage lampshade (even though I broke the light fitting rushing to put it on), having always in the past been of the persuasion that lampshades need to be white and plain. I have the ingredients for two more smaller ones, and I have the inclination to spend a few more hours on the internet picking the perfect fabric so more might be on the way...

I ought to end with a really big up: there is a little girl whose appearance on the scene is bringing everyone I know in the village so much joy. Florence is just 12 months old but is causing quite a stir. We hadn't even met her and she didn't know it, but on Monday she had most of us at a baby shower with a tear in our eye and that amazing feeling in the hairs on the back of our necks. My dear friends Jenny and Pete are in the process of adopting her and it is quite the happiest loveliest story ever. Jenny was worried she might not warm to her at first but it seems to be proper love at first sight. It is both a happy ending to a story and an exciting new beginning. Welcome Florence!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Success! And some cookie information

Well it was a success. I spent a few hours wondering if I was about to wake up. I went to see the very lovely Lorraine from Church House Designs in Congresbury on Friday and within a very short time she picked out 5, yes 5, pictures that she would take. I keep wondering whether I dreamt it, but the pictures definitely aren't here any more. And she is interested in more. I spent the whole journey home hyperventilating. Good feeling. Hope they sell. I wanted to tell you about it straight away but the exhilaration subsided into exhaustion and a weekful of daft petty but time-and-energy-consuming errands.

I have been working on a few more pictures on and off. I have started some of more of my little tall thin sea pictures to put into frames for the gallery as Lorraine was very keen on the idea. She also liked this one and will probably have it, once I've got round to framing it:-


It is based on a place in France I know but actually isn't that place any more as the hill turned out to be much steeper than the one in my head. I have never done one with the waves going in a different direction before and it was a struggle to know where to stitch, and even more so where to sew beads. But I am pleased with the result. Even if it isn't quite the place I had intended.

The manic cake-baking for workmen continues. I have given up on a pledge I made with myself last week and made the same one twice for them: the rather lovely Norfolk apple cake (great cake but there's something a bit weird about it: I spent 18 years in Norfolk and never remember eating an apple cake there ever). The appreciation of several workmen of a good cake is very heartwarming. Today I felt the urge to cook something Bulgarian. Not something I've ever wanted to do before, but I have my reasons. One of the workmen, the fastest, hardest-working and the least likely to complain, is half-Bulgarian and I felt some trepidation when he lent me his Bulgarian cookery book after days of talking about food. I leafed through it over a weekend and half-heartedly copied the least unappealing recipes, all three of them. I ignored the tripe soup. But walnut and honey cookies sounded OK. So today I thought I'd give it a go. I adapted it a bit because it looked a bit spartan and I was a bit wary of making an ex-Soviet bloc breezeblock of a biscuit: so double the honey (by accident) and instead of the oil suggested, I used melted butter. And you know what? They are great. Really moreish. Really easy to make. Everyone loved them, even my fussy picky spoiled children. They will become a regular in our house I think. Admittedly they do look a bit dull and worthy, don't they? But in that way that central-European biscuits often seem to look a bit boring, they can often be tastier than some prettier concoctions we know. So here, thanks to a strange book by a Mr. Atanas Slavov and a half-Bulgarian guy with a Spanish name, comes my version of...

(I can't believe there were only 4 left to take a picture of, shocking gluttons)

Bulgarian Walnut and Honey Cookies

10oz plain flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons honey
4oz caster sugar
1/2 cup melted butter, cooled slightly
1 teaspoon baking powder
Walnut halves

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4, 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F. Mix all the ingredients except the walnuts until a big firm ball of dough develops. Shape the dough into balls the size of a small ping-pong ball, and place on a greased baking tray, spacing them apart by a few centimetres. I think I made around 18. Top each with a walnut half if you wish. I did some without to let my nut-allergic boy have some, and topped some with pecans because I'd run out of walnuts. Bake for 15 - 20 minutes. Put them straight onto a cooling rack. My friendly workman got really excited when I told him what I'd made, tried one and at the first taste said "Yes!" and started talking about his grandmother making them, with a faraway look in his eye. I don't know why I feel proud to have made something that a Bulgarian granny could have knocked up, but I do.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Art once more. Oh dear.

Two themes for this week: cakes and art. I had forgotten I had art to fit into my timetable, it has been so long. The cakes have been a constant since my last post: the nice man in the garden was so appreciative of the gateau breton, and has been working so hard that all cakey calories get instantly burned off, that more cakes were needed. It has turned into a matter of pride that I do not give up and serve anything bought, and as a result since my last post I have made blueberry and vanilla cupcakes, carrot and ginger cake, chocolate cake with butter icing and jam filling, blueberry muffins and tonight an apple cake. I think I might have forgotten one more but you get the picture. I have window fitters here as well now for the foreseeable future so I can't see it stopping yet. Plus I have a boy's birthday cake to make tomorrow as well as party cupcakes in the shape of minions from Despicable Me for this weekend.

The art is another matter. It has crept up out of necessity this week. First of all I had my introduction to the North Somerset Arts committee on Tuesday. I must confess to being out of my depth here. I was for a start a bit daunted by some of the names in the room with me. Then badly underqualified in terms of experience and knowledge when it came to discussing committee members' roles. I just about managed to redeem myself with one teeny suggestion but I still feel like a bit of a buffoon when I think back on it. Let's hope things improve with time.

Then came the matter of the Royal West of England Academy's Open Exhibition. Submissions have to be in by Friday at 5pm. I thought I might just give it a go. Nothing I have hanging about seemed to fit the bill so I got cracking. It had to be a beachy one as they are the ones that come from my heart. I made one loosely based on a photo, hated it, and made another one, more in line with my usual. Then I went back to the first and started stitching into it while it was still damp. Will I be the first person ever to take my sewing machine to be repaired due to rust damage? Anyway then cue my friend Jenny, who with a fine arts degree, is better qualified to judge these things than me. She thought the more abstract the better so I focused on the second one, put the lines on, a few beads (still not sure if this is too craftsy) and there we have it. A good photo of it, a naff title, and there it is, submitted online. Submission fees paid. I can concentrate on framing later.

Only one problem: now it's done I feel once more the buffoon. How preposterous to think I can submit a silly bit of felt whizzed up on my kitchen table, to such an acclaimed exhibition. I must get back into my hole.

But not yet. One more utterly daunting art-related thing to go yet this week. I had an email from someone from Clevedon Art Club. The visitor's book from the recent exhibition had a comment asking me to contact someone. Not just anyone but someone with a gallery. How lovely. How exciting. How flattering. So tomorrow I will be loading up my boot with all the art I have to sell and going to Church House Designs in Congresbury to chat to a lovely-sounding lady. For the third time this week I have to pretend to be a serious artist. I wonder if I can pull it off this time. Or maybe it's time to stick to the cakes.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

A Breton cake to help us get back to reality

The last full week of the school holidays is almost done. I am starting to plan some little bits of me time for next week; we just have Monday to go and I know I'll be spending that day with a great friend so I am on the home run. Sorry if I am sounding a bit selfish; we have had some fantastic times in the last few weeks, but I have also had some real challenges with two small people who would really rather the other one wasn't there. Last year they were good friends at this point but this year our best days have definitely involved time apart. They even had a fight when one of them found a ladybird in the garden and the other one wanted one too. Anyway I am brewing a good list of solo projects for the near future:-
  • Buy a new raincoat.
  • Look into new warm winter coats.
  • Autumnal and wintry clothes in general (I am two sizes smaller than I was in February).
  • Investigate knee-high boots. Before I wasn't able to zip them up as my calves were a tad too hefty (what an undignified admission to make, doesn't that sound attractive?) but I have high hopes this year.
  • Creativity - get making some felt, and lots of it (of course).
  • Music: listen to lots. Buy some new things. Dance around the kitchen when nobody is around.
  • Clear out all unnecessary emails. Nobody needs 2911 items in their inbox. Maybe it will clear out my head too.
It has been a busy last week, trying to see everyone and do everything that we hadn't managed before. I had forgotten that ages ago we'd asked our friend the very cheap but erratic builder if he could dismantle the big pergola in our garden that has been collapsing under the weight of its own overgrown grapevine, and the brick barbecue and remodel the whole area a bit. So when he turned up out of the blue on Tuesday with someone who would be doing the work, it was a bit of a surprise. A cake would be needed. And I had just the recipe. For two years when we've been to Brittany, we have been beguiled but also baffled by the delicious "gateau breton", a beautifully sweet cross between a cake and a shortbread, with the distinctive taste of Breton salted butter. I've looked up recipes before - mainly in an attempt to find out if there were ground almonds in it as child number one is allergic to nuts. It turns out that it contains no nuts but sadly the most popular recipe online for it was Nigella's, which was very very wrong as she is adamant that you need unsalted butter for it (I am tempted to make an ill-judged strangling joke here but will refrain). This year I had a stroke of luck. When we go to France I always buy far more French magazines than necessary, in an attempt to feed the poor starved section of my brain that deals with, and longs for, foreign languages. I spend hours in magazine shops, much to the bemusement of the rest of the family. This time among other things I picked up one all about food in Brittany, and there inside was a whole section about the gateau breton and the first ever world gateau breton competition, held recently. And sure enough, there was the recipe from the  "free recipe" winner (there were two sections: one with a prescribed recipe and one for people who had their own tried and tested). So on Tuesday, with a house full of children and a hungry-looking workman in the garden, I gave thanks to Maryvonne Jaffrezic, the winner, and grabbed all the things I needed...

Gateau Breton

450g plain flour
380g salted butter at room temperature
25g sugar
125g light brown soft sugar
5 egg yolks, plus 1 more for glazing the top
1 capful of dark rum
A few drops of oil

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees or Gas Mark 6. Take a 24cm round cake tin and grease it. I lined mine with baking parchment too. Put the flour and sugar in a big bowl, make a well and put the egg yolks and rum in the hollow. Mix, then add the butter bit by bit. Work the dough with your hands for five minutes (I found this really messy as it tend to stick to your hands. Ignore the phone when it rings). Put the mixture into the prepared cake tin, spread it out and smooth it down well with a spatula as much as you can (this isn't easy as again the mixture just sticks to your spatula). Then mix up the last egg yolk with the oil in a cup, take a pastry brush and paint the egg mixture all over the surface (I found that this brushing helped to smooth out the last of the peaks left by the spatula). Finally we come to the decoration: this is easy if you've seen a gateau breton before but hard to explain if you haven't. Take a fork and draw straight lines on the top with it, around 2cm apart. Then do similar lines at an angle to the first lines, so that you have a diamond pattern on your cake. Some small fork marks around the edges (as if it were a pie), and you are done. Put it in the middle of the oven for 50 minutes, watching the colour: it needs to be darkish but if it's looking too brown, cover it with foil. The magazine is keen to mention how well this cake keeps: sailors would often take them away on long journeys. Ours is still doing well after 5 days but I don't think it will be around long enough for me to comment on the fortnight they mention in the magazine, and definitely not the fourteen months vintage that someone in there testified to having once tasted. But it is a rich and large cake - if unassuming in this age of cupcakes, icing and cake toppers - and if it were not for the nice man in the garden who expends enough calories digging and lifting to easily justify two slices of it every day he's been here, I dare say it would last a good 10 days. Sorry I forgot to take a photo of it whole, but there was an urgency about it...


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Love and the sea...

Home again. It has been a long, hard couple of days and this is one of the only downsides of going to our part of Brittany: leaving the house around 10.30, having to kill time until the night ferry from Roscoff (admittedly we have got this bit down to a child-friendly tee with a day trip to the local zoo followed, I'm ashamed to say, by dinner at the Buffalo Grill, a bizarre and very popular American country and western chain that is a curiosity of French culture), then a dreadful night's sleep in a cabin with two over-tired and yet over-excited children, wake up calls at around five in the morning then driving back to get home at the time most people are thinking about what to have for Sunday breakfast, and then having to kill another day without killing eachother. But it is worth it. That's how much I love it there.

On the drive home this morning it suddenly occurred to me that it was usually my time for a morning swim, well, usual for the last two weeks anyway. The thought of it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I will miss that so much. Imagine as a taster starting to walk down to the shore on a beach with only birds' footprints in the sand:-


Imagine then that off to the left the sun is shining and leaving blinding sparkles on a small stretch of the sea. A few weeks ago I was baffled about why for me putting beads on the right hand side of the sea in my pictures felt so wrong, and while I was away I realised that it is all based upon my first-thing-in-the-morning swim here and where the sun is at that point. Imagine too that the sea is usually calm and clear and you can see through the water around your feet and occasionally spot a shoal of tiny fish or a little crab scuttling. Imagine though that everything is a little bit fuzzy, just because you haven't bothered to put in your contact lenses yet. Imagine the cold around your legs, enough to make  you think of turning back, but not as bad as the ribbing you would get if you went back indoors still dry, or the shame of the thought of any strangers watching you give up. So imagine the final immersion, the gasp-inducing cold followed by a warm internal glow a couple of minutes later, all bleary-eyed sleepiness gone from your existence. A shower, a pain aux raisins and a coffee and all is good in the world.

Coming home today was also hard because I had to find about my two exhibitions. First the one in Nailsea: no sales but apparently some interest. So the Clevedon Art Club one was doubly tense and I felt a little emotional in my fatigue as I was driving there to pick up my pictures; should I give it all up if it hadn't gone well? I was wondering if any had sold but more pressingly had any of the four even been selected to be exhibited? What if nothing had even been on show? Well it turned out there was not a lot to be concerned about: all four had been in the show, and one had sold! And weirdly, aptly and tellingly the one of the beach where I was on holiday had sold:-

 

And that feels good. Odd that I had made it so many months before and yet had to wait until I was back on that beach for it to get sold. Great that I hadn't taken it with me to try and sell over there, which would never have been easy. And proof once again that love of something in a picture comes through and appeals to other people. Must do more sea pictures...

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Thoughts from Loctudy

Life is good at the moment. We are eating the best food that I can think of, the weather is just perfect for messing about on the beach with a dip in the sea every few hours and we haven't had to think of organising outings yet other than for topping up our food levels. Just to give you a feel, this is the view from the house:-
 
Well that is at high tide; this is the view at low tide:-
 
We can see the Glenan islands on the horizon, and the sea is near enough when the tide is high for us to hear it in our beds. The dark rocks on the left are covered in two things: seaweed and further away mussels, hundreds and thousands of them, big and juicy and luscious. My six year old and I picked some yesterday and cooked them up. I was studiously ignoring the fact that nobody else was gathering them and also ignoring the old "R in the month" adage (it must be Arrrgust). At the back of my mind I had visions as I was cooking them in their garlic, butter and wine of having to get up in the night to a puke-covered child but all was good and they are some of the most delicious mussels we've ever eaten.
 
There is so much to be glad of here. It feels quite stupid to be writing about some supermarket-bought tomatoes but just look at these and then look me in the eye and tell me they don't excite you:-
 
I started off just using them in salads but then they came into their own with some dressing, a hint of garlic, some buffalo mozzarella (sorry it wasn't something French, some mild goat's cheese would have been great too) and some fresh basil torn up. And a crispy fresh baguette to mop up the juices.
 
Other things to be glad about:-
  • Swimming in the sea. At all times of the day. With children or without. With slightly bemused (and melodramatic about the cold) husband or not. Most of all first thing in the morning when it feels like I'm the only person for miles, really bracing cold water to wake me up, some energetic swimming then floating flat on my back absolutely still listening to the womblike watery noises in my ears and looking up at a deep blue sky with the occasional wispy cloud.
  • Langoustines. God they are good. To be able to go a mile down the road and buy them alive and fresh off the boats at 5.30 in the evening, then get home and cook them (2 minutes in a big pan of boiling water with a handful of salt, just cover with a lid really quickly so you don't have to see them waving for help) to eat with mayonnaise, a baguette and something cold and alcoholic from the fridge is just magnificent.
  • French markets. So much amazing produce, so little time. So many things to see. So many things to eat. I wish I could show you more photos but the internet connection is not up to it. 
  • Kouign Amann: the Breton speciality, a kind of cross between a cake, a doughy croissant and a toffee, who could imagine a better combination of butter, sugar and flour? I would be so fat if I lived here.
  • Spending most of the day in nothing but a swimming costume. It's kind of liberating. There is definitely something quite good about getting halfway through cooking your ratatouille (with ingredients all bought at Le Guilvinec market) and realising you are still wearing your swimwear.
More to come soon, but only if I can get our internet connection to behave better. Maybe there is a reason to go home.



Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Two exhibitions

So let me get my plugging over with first: ironically I will miss both as we will be in Brittany, but I have been delivering artworks to two places for exhibitions. So as well as having my deckchair design exhibited at Clevedon Pier until 20th August, there could be two more to visit if you are in the area. The first starts on Saturday and runs until 24th August at Clevedon School; it's Clevedon Art Club's Open Exhibition. There is (unfortunately!) a selection process by three judges so it is possible that nothing at all of mine might be on show, or at best four of my favourites could be out there and for sale. I'm hoping I'll hear from someone but otherwise I will have to wait until the day after it's finished to find out. Tense times, I will be gutted if nothing is selected. The other one is White Star Gallery's pop up gallery at the Tithe Barn in Nailsea on 24th August from 10 until 4; I will have 5 bits and pieces all waiting for new owners. Exciting stuff all round but a bit odd to be missing it all; it is a bit like handing over your children to someone whose babysitting skills are untested and then finding out the children have had star parts in the nativity while you've been away, and you never even saw a photo of it.

Busy times meanwhile. School holidays meander on and we are getting into our stride. I feel just slightly less bad-tempered and as long as I get no ambition to achieve anything more substantial than a home-cooked meal, a quick shopping trip (made possible with bribery) or a journey to deliver some pictures for an exhibition, all is on an even keel. I think we are all learning how to live with eachother with no respite. I had a rare moment of peace this morning. After watching a few of the BBC's German season programmes (I am now weirdly nostalgic for Germany, yes, Rick Stein, I too ate very very well there when I spent a summer working in a hotel on the Baltic coast many moons ago, although I also ate one of the worst things I've ever eaten, Birn Bohn und Speck, a local speciality of green beans, pears and streaky bacon all boiled up together until it was khaki, and after watching the car programme I feel slightly fonder of my new German car than I was before, and probably foolishly I don't think a family holiday in Germany would be that bad an idea) I had downloaded some Kraftwerk and today I thought I would listen to something while clearing away the breakfast things. Who could have imagined that after a good hour of very loud sibling rivalry, "Computer Love" would suddenly induce utter silence and an intense spell of flicking through books? I just had to put it on again to see if it would continue, and it did. It was as if a cool fresh breeze had gone through the house. So I just had to open my big mouth: "Do you like this music?" And the answer? "No it's weird".

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Bad parenting, and the perfect Baba Ghanoush

I really should be a better mother. Recently I have got so used to being on my own during the days that I am finding myself getting properly grouchy after 9 days of school holidays. Granted it has been a gruelling schedule and we haven't had much downtime as yet. I need to find my groove: need to mellow out, need to ignore the bickering, stop planning such elaborate meals (did I really want to joint a chicken and make it into a tagine this evening when it was actually the children's bath time and they were trying to put on a play?), get a bit more positive. And if in doubt maybe some earphones and an iPod could be good if I feel like I'm going to blow.

Looking good on the art front though. The deckchair exhibition at Clevedon Pier is fabulous, really beautiful, and by a bit of a fluke my deckchair is, to my eyes, in pride of place compared to all the others, between two windows: it had to be moved out of reach as within the first half hour it became clear that everyone felt the need to touch it. The felt has been reproduced so well that people really thought it was 3d. It actually looks better than the original. I have been to see it twice and have a feeling I will be drawn back there very soon. I also might be taking part in two more exhibitions coming up soon, although I will ironically be on holiday for both: one by Clevedon Art Club from August 10th to 24th, at Clevedon Community School, and one at the Tithe Barn in Nailsea, a one day pop up gallery on August 24th. I am quite relieved to have these to take some of my framed pieces to, not least because I was starting to think about whether I had the nerve to see if I could sell my Brittany beach picture to a nearby gallery while we are staying in France, but now I have somewhere far less scary to take it, and a place where I am possibly more likely to sell. Let's hope.


Cooking has been interesting recently even if a bit stressed when intermingled with requests to help with mask making and breaks to referee fights. I made a huge, really huge chocolate cake in the shape of a Moshi Monster for my now 6 year old's birthday party, so that it almost looks like I am a good parent to an untrained outsider:-


If you are interested, I got the recipe from Belleau Kitchen and a very fine chocolate cake recipe it is too, although a) it was as big as I could possibly make in my very biggest bowl (and that's BIG) and I had enough extra mix to make an extra loaf sized cake to put in the freezer, and b) it was so lovely and moist and soft that it was a pig to cover with a layer of butter icing before I put on the ready to roll icing. It's weird how you need to have a cake with a rather stale and dense consistency to make a really decent child's birthday cake. This one did have a bit of lumpiness about the surface of the finished article because I just couldn't get the buttercream layer entirely smooth. But it just about held together and was extra good for having a layer of vanilla butter icing and Bonne Maman Berries and Cherries jam in the middle for a hint of Black Forest.

I discovered the secret to a good Baba Ghanoush the other day. If you haven't had it, it's an amazing creamy, smoky aubergine dip from the Middle East. A bit hummus-like but more dreamy. And I think it wins a prize for being the dish with the most beautiful name ever, doesn't it sound lovely? Years ago I tried to follow a recipe for it by putting a whole aubergine in the oven but it was just plain sad. But the lightbulb moment came when we bought a new barbecue recently. For years we have put up with a pathetic excuse of a barbecue from Ikea. The results have been so poor that I have found myself wondering about the masculinity of my other half from time to time. But not any more: we have turned to the testosterone-fuelled world of the Weber and I do like a bit of testosterone. Weber are so manly they even have their own app full of recipes and hints and tips and although I despised myself for it I couldn't resist downloading it. And it was there, for the first time in years, that I saw a mention of the rather effeminate-sounding Baba Ghanoush. And it turns out that barbecuing is the secret. As you are barbecuing other things, or even afterwards, while you're eating more meat than any human needs, put a whole aubergine on the barbecue and let the skin blacken. Turn it several times so that it's shrivelled and blackened and soft on the inside. I actually forgot about our aubergine and retrieved it sheepishly the next morning. This is my adapted version:-

Baba Ghanoush

1 aubergine, barbecued (see above) and cooled
1 dessertspoonful tahini
A good squeeze of lemon
1/2 a clove of garlic, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
A pinch of ground cumin
A pinch of smoked paprika

Peel the skin off the aubergine (you should be able to do this with your fingers but a knife might speed things up). Chop it up roughly and whizz up in a blender with all the other things. You can add some chopped parsley too if you have some. Chill it for a while to let the flavours mingle. Serve with some hot pitta breads and with some other mezze if you are feeling like making a meal of it. Wow.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

My New Year's Eve

So following on from my last post, yes it's been really feeling like New Year's Eve for the last couple of days. School has now finished, academic year over and so is my year in my head. I know that there won't be much time in the next few weeks for contemplation so better get it over with now. Normally that New Year's Eve feeling is an unpleasant and maudlin "What have I achieved this year? " followed by a sad sigh and another glass of wine to dull the senses. Yesterday was a terribly emotional day with school finishing; youngest one's teacher leaving, and an overwhelmingly hot day and a tearful leavers' assembly; by the time I picked them up from school there seemed to be more people crying than not, which all in all added to my end of year gloom. But actually today I am thinking about that hideous question "What have I achieved this year?" And actually it's not too bad. This time last year here was the situation: I was crippled by gloom induced by a small girl who would express her displeasure or insecurity on a daily basis by pooing in her pants. I didn't even know the extent to which it had properly depressed me. Little did I know that almost exactly a year ago today she would decide to make that a problem of the past, just as her amazing teacher had predicted she would. I had done a little bit of embroidery on my few felted pictures but the idea of taking it to a different level and trying to sell any hadn't even occurred to me. So a year on and the gloom lifted; the seed of selling my art was sown in my head last August; in October the idea of doing North Somerset Arts Week was proposed to me; in November I felt strong enough to put myself forward as Chair of the school PTA; straightaway  thrown into the fire I had to organise the school Christmas Fair for December and raised over £2000 for the first time ever. The momentum grew and the preparation began for my Arts Week. I had no inkling that I'd end up volunteering to coordinate the Nailsea artists for Arts Week and of the lovely people I'd meet in the process. I sold 9 or 10 pieces in Arts Week and had leads to quite a few more jobs from it, as well as my first felting workshop (by the way the stick insects I acquired that night have come back to stay for the summer holidays and once again I am stressing about finding privet for them to eat). More PTA events, more money raised. A competition for a design for the fabric on a deckchair won. And today I had a little cherry on top of the cake. I had a call earlier this week asking if I'd like to go to a meeting about becoming a committee member for North Somerset Arts. I can't really remember mentioning to anyone that I'd be interested, but somehow they knew. And so now, over the course of a chat outside a cafe over a decaf cappuccino, I've been invited to become one of the committee, and got a lead about an exhibition in Clevedon I might be able to take part in, and there you have it. What a funny old year. What have you achieved this year?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Felted writing

I don't know what made me think of trying writing in felt. I have been trying to get one of the classes at school to each write a postcard for their teacher who's leaving school tomorrow for a new job, and then stick them all into a book. The book is now full, and I was wondering what to put on the cover, and then it came to me.

I knew that using cut out pre-felt (half-felted wool) would be possible for the fat letters, but using yarn for the joined-up "good" was a gamble as it could have shifted badly or wrinkled up in the shrinking process and end up illegible. Luckily it didn't. I am however pretty sure that my letter formation isn't up to the exacting school standards. I hope she'll forgive me. The book looks great though:-

But bear in mind that my contribution is nothing compared to what some of the children have done for the inside of the book: beautiful declarations of love, kind wishes and memories of lovely things she has done with them. It is fascinating how different every child's (or parent's?) idea of "Please ask your child to write or draw something special for Miss N" can be. Just one made my eyes water: one parent had written about how the teacher had "neautered" their son. I can only hope that "nurtured" is what was intended as I've never heard of castration being part of a teacher's remit.
 
Not much on the recipe front this week: too hot for proper cooking and not much eating inspiration. I wish I was more comfortable in extreme heat. Actually this is an odd week all round; as my children go further into the education system I've found that my outlook towards the year has changed. Now for me September is when the year begins and when I have new resolve for new projects and a better way of life. Similarly now has become a rather maudlin and unsettled time, in a way that I used to feel about New Year's Eve: "What have you done all year?", "Another year older", "What's it all about?". Yes we all need the summer holidays and I am looking forward to two weeks in Brittany more than I've looked forward to anything for a long time, but I will miss the hubbub at school, the people I see there that I won't necessarily see outside school, and the routine it brings. Time on my own during term time gives me a space to dream and have hope. I really must sort out my life. 



Friday, 12 July 2013

Gazpacho and a tiny beach

A productive day so far: another small picture finished and dispatched to my brother along with the four other ones from my last post, dinner sorted out, a repaired PA system delivered back to school after an unknown person fiddled with the back of it and broke an aerial and a socket (allegedly during the PTA summer fair), four loads of washing put away and a coffee in the sun with friends (although one has just alerted me to the fact that we walked out of the pub garden and completely forgot to pay for the coffee; I do hope the wanted posters aren't up around the village yet. Must remember to put it right on the way back to school).

First the picture: the last of my little tiny ones. This time I have done some high-density beading in just one small area; it must be relief at reverting to my usual beading on the left-hand side:-
 

I am really looking forward to dinner; it is the best ever meal for really hot days - cooling and refreshing, yet gutsy and satisfying. I mentioned before that I have been doing the 5:2 diet (5 days of eating what I like and 2 of fasting with just 500 calories a day, every week) quite successfully for a while and although I normally hate calorie-counting, today is a fast day and you might be pleased to hear that this only has 164 calories in a serving:-
 
Gazpacho (wish I could pronounce it properly; it grieves me that my children come home from school uttering strange Hispanic words when it is practically the only western European language I haven't learned. Mental note to self: Must Find Someone to Help Me Learn Spanish)
Serves 2
 
6 medium tomatoes (or 270g), peeled and de-seeded
1/3 cucumber, roughly chopped
1/3 pepper, roughly chopped - it should be a green one but I only had red today
1/4 red onion, roughly chopped
A very small clove of garlic, roughly chopped
1 1/2 slices stale bread, broken up
2 1/2 tablespoons vinegar - it should be sherry vinegar but I only had white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
250mls water
 
Not much to the method: put it all in a pot and blend until it's soup. Check for seasoning: it might need more salt. If it tastes a bit boring, you might need a tad more vinegar, red onion and/or garlic. Chill it thoroughly for a couple of hours as there's nothing worse than one that's room temperature. But make sure you cover it with several layers of cling film so your fridge doesn't end up stinking of raw garlic and onion (as indeed your breath might after you've eaten it). I really despise recipes that suggest country-hopping for ingredients as it offends the purist in me, but here goes: on non-fast days I love this with either some cool mozzarella gently broken on top, or grilled halloumi on the side, and a drizzle more of olive oil on top, and some rosemary focaccia to go with it. It's also probably worth mentioning that once I had an enterprising salad in a French restaurant, comprising lettuce and the usual salad ingredients, succulent big prawns and a scoop of gazpacho sorbet in the middle, so I suppose you could freeze it in an ice-cream maker. Yum. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

I won!

Well there is some exciting news: I won the deckchair competition! In case you hadn't read it before, I entered one of my pictures into a competition run by Clevedon Pier; 24 winners would get their design printed onto 2 deckchairs, one for the artist to keep and one to be auctioned for charity, and I am one of those 24! The deckchairs will be in an exhibition at the Tollhouse Gallery for a while so that should be a good bit of publicity and it just feels so good. Here, in case you haven't seen it already, is my design:-


I can also now reveal another little job I was working on last week. It was a birthday present for my dear friend Jenny and I couldn't mention it earlier as I know she pops in here every so often. Last year she took some fantastic photos of a storm on a beach near her Devon home:-



And I immediately wanted to do something based on them for her. It felt a bit risky as stormy skies can so often look terrible in pictures, and the colour scheme was uncharted territory for me. I couldn't ever get the lovely reflective qualities that were in the photos but I did my best to do them justice:-


Actually now seeing it so close to the photos, it looks a bit poor, but on its own I was rather pleased with the textures and the rustic colours, and there is something reminiscent of layers of rock formation in it for me. I am still not sure about the sky. But Jenny is happy and that is what counts.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Small fry

All is good again in Short Lane. It feels like ages since I've been able to show you any new pictures I've felted, but, hurrah, today's the day. This has been a great week for getting back on with it again and it has been very therapeutic after the PTA trials of earlier. "Small" has been the big theme this week; after Arts Week you might remember, if you've visited before, that my brother had asked me to come up with some small pictures to fit on a card 6" x4" for his lovely framing shop and gallery Artfellows. His idea is to sell a piece of art on a card, with the option of a mount to go with it, and/or a frame, so it has to be small. This has been a challenge as I hadn't appreciated just how long the merino wool fibres I use are, and although there is a certain amount of shrinkage every time I do some felting, 6" x 4" is really teeny in felting terms. So a few weeks ago when I thought I could make a quick daisy and a dandelion clock, it took a good hour of rolling to shrink them down to the required size, and to be honest I'm still a little concerned they might dwarf the card behind. This week I managed at last to finish stitching the daisy:-
 
 

It is a sister to the dandelion clock I've shown you before:-
 

Then I thought I'd do some of my favourite beach scenes. I've done one rough-edged one (still to be finished), but also this time for two, to make life easier - and also because some people prefer it - I didn't stress about the size and cropped them after the felting process. Here is the first:-


And here is the second:-


This last one is a bit of an oddity: it might look fine to you but I have tried something new with this one and it is playing tricks with my mind. It is the first time I have put the beading on the right-hand side. Doesn't sound too ground-breaking does it? But the weird thing is that every time I look at it, after a few seconds I've found I've subconsciously turned it upside-down and then wondered why the sky is the wrong colour. When I took photos of it, the resulting pictures were, yes you've guessed it, upside-down. Why do I need the beads to be on the left? I need to get this analysed...

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

PTA or PITA?

It's been hard to summon up the strength to write for a few days, and to find something interesting to write about. I was completely taken up with the school summer fair last week; I averaged around five and a half hours' sleep a night because the details kept waking me up. Everything else just had to wait. On the day the rain held off and actually everything went pretty much swimmingly. It's weird how a lot of effort in the build up to an event can make your eyes well up when it actually happens. I thought I could be clever and count the cash in the evening, filling out a spreadsheet as I went along - bad move. I'm sure I knew the golden rule of never messing about with excel when you are really tired, or in a hurry, or after alcohol, but I thought I was invincible after such a good day. So I carried on, despairing of how long it took to break even and then getting really badly upset at the final result, oblivious to the fact that I'd put the tombola profits into the expenses column and messed up the bar row altogether. How could the total be so low? Where did it all go wrong (as if £1359 was so wrong)? During that long night I was in the Apprentice; I had several people hauled into the boardroom but I was really wishing to be sacked myself. On Sunday it all came good and I could announce a much healthier profit. It has been an emotional journey and when a couple of people suggested that the fact that everyone had had a great time was more important than the money (after my third idiotic email announcing a new total), it felt like a knife turning in the big open wound that I now think all PTA chairs must have on their shoulders after a few months. How can just organising a school fete turn into such pain? In the process I have found myself questioning aspects of my existence: what was I doing this for? Is it that I am just trying to give something back to the school that has done so many good things for my children, or am I trying to carve myself a niche somewhere, trying to belong somewhere I can never belong? Am I trying to get approval from some unknown body? Attention-seeking? Is it really that people can't help because of their jobs, or is it my management technique? Do I need to get a proper job so that I too can say it in the future when someone asks me? Could I use my qualifications and get the linguistic part of my brain working properly for the first time in years? Would that bring me happiness? What do I want to do with my life? And down to the more mundane - do emails really work, or am I just typing requests for help out into a void, only to echo back to me like a voice in a bucket? Why would anyone want to put themselves through all that? I am carrying mental scars that will take a while to heal. I need to toughen up or get out.

Anyway I notice that I have more people coming to read this since I wrote my pad Thai recipe so it makes me think I need to do more recipes. Let's face it, more people need to eat dinner than want to see my feltings. I have been back to the felt a bit this week; more to come on one piece soon as I can't show you it yet, but also I have finally sorted out the commission for my friend:-
 
 
And I have been cooking. It has been good therapy after the traumas of the last couple of weeks. I had a difficult time deciding which recipe to tell you about today. It could have been a lemon drizzle layer cake that I made for the teachers who helped out at the school fair but that's already on the net here; suffice it to say that on the second day the empty tin came home with not a crumb left, and just a post-it note inside saying (in very teachery joined-up writing) "Thank you! It was delicious xxxx" so it can't have been bad. Or it could have been an amazing middle-eastern aubergine thing a bit like Imam Bayildi that I made to have with grilled halloumi, some fantastic smoked hummus I got from Waitrose and a tin of those weirdly named Greek "Giant Beans" in tomato sauce, with hot pittas. But no, this morning I have made a rather good salad to take round to my Arts Week friends for lunch. I hate beetroot and am not too good with broad beans, but both appeared in my veg box that was delivered yesterday. And it tastes great:-

 
Beetroot and Broad Bean Salad
 
4 beetroots, peeled and chopped into 8 pieces each
About 20 pods of broad beans, peeled and outer skins removed
A few handfuls of lettuce
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
Juice of 1/3 lemon
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper
Pinch of mustard powder
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
75g feta
A few mint leaves
A few parsley leaves
 
Boil the beetroot for about 20 minutes or until it is tender, drain. Boil the broad beans until cooked - I had some big and some small so I did the big ones for 5 then put the small ones in and boiled them for another 10 minutes. Drain and add to the beetroot. Meanwhile heat a heavy frying pan with the pine nuts in until they start to brown. Add the cumin seeds to the pan and when you get a big puff of beautiful toasted cumin flavour, tip the pine nuts and seeds into a ramekin to stop them burning. Make a dressing with the lemon, vinegar, salt, pepper, mustard and olive oil and pour over the beetroot and beans, and stir. Chop the mint and parsley and stir that in too. Get a serving bowl and put your lettuce in it, then top with the beetroot and beans. Crumble the feta over the top and finally top with your pine nuts and cumin seeds. Accompany it with a quiche and some other mystery items that you know your friends will be bringing. Dig in with said friends, while you are getting a lot of painful things off your chests together.