Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Year in Books - March

My Year in Books choice for February was H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald and I absolutely loved it. 


It is not a book I would have automatically been drawn to and if you told me it was a memoir about falconry I would probably never have picked it up. But it is our village book group choice for this month and I always try to read the choices if possible as I am often pleasantly surprised and this was a case in point. It is part memoir, part biography about the training of a Goshawk but it is also a study of coming to terms with grief, relationships and life, set against the most beautiful writing about nature and wildlife. I can definitely recommend it.

I also read Room by Emma Donoghue which was one of my Christmas presents. It is the story of five year old Jack, who lives in a single locked room with his mother, told through his eyes. At first I thought I wasn't going to enjoy it and it isn't a comfortable read but I found it powerful, heart breaking, uplifting and compelling all at once. It was difficult to put down.
 

For March I have chosen The Foundling Boy by Michel Deon. Translated from French, it is about the life of a baby abandonded on the doorstep of Albert and Jeanne Arnaud. It is set in Normandy between the two World Wars and it is also a village book club choice. I'm only two chapters in and at the moment I'm not warming to it but I often struggle with translations, plus I'm reading it on my Kindle and I always seem to take a few chapters to get used to the Kindle again... I still prefer to have a real book in my hands. So I'm optimistic it will improve... And I'll report back next month!


Have you read any of these? What did you think? Or can you recommend something you've read this month? Would love to hear from you.

Joining in The Year in Books with Laura at A Circle of Pine Trees


Monday, 2 March 2015

I Baked a Brick!

I had all sorts of ideas for using up the passion fruit curd... Swirling it through ice cream, using it to top a cheesecake or maybe a lemon tart... But I opted for cake. I was going to make a tried and tested almond sponge and sandwich it together with a marscapone cream and the curd. But in looking for different ideas I came across a recipe for passion fruit cake. A buttery batter swirled though with the curd before baking. Sounded just what I was looking for.

 
Maybe I baked it too long because it didn't seem cooked after the allotted time so I gave it an extra 10 minutes... But it came out very dense, heavy and rather dry. A bit like a round brick really. Not one of my better efforts! So in the end I cut it in half and sandwiched it with the cream and curd anyway it an attempt to moisten it. 

 
It looks a lot better than it tasted!
 

Actually, to be fair the taste was okay... Mostly because the curd tastes so good, but the texture left a lot to be desired. Not that there is much left... With the three eldest boys all home plus my Mum here for lunch on Saturday, they didn't leave much. In fact it's gone... every last little crumb!
 
 
But I wish I'd stuck to my original idea... Or better still, made the cheesecake. But I'll know next time.


At least the cookies that I made to take with us on a visit to my youngest son on Sunday were a success! And it has been good to have a weekend of family time.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A Passion

Despite all good intentions to keep some balance in my life, things just seem busier than ever and just as I feel I'm on top of one thing something else comes along. The exhibition was well received last weekend and my workshops went well, but no sooner than I came home on Sunday and unloaded my car, I was planning the next class and desperately trying to finish the large commission that has been looming since the end of last year. Bags remain unpacked and there are no visible surfaces in my work room... It's crazy! And don't even get me started on family stuff! Usually when I feel under pressure I find solace in the kitchen and a couple of hours cooking or baking sorts my head out but I've not even being doing that lately. With less of us at home and less time to entertain, that means less of us around to consume the results so I haven't been bothering. I'll cook the evening meal but that's about it. But I miss being able to lose myself being creative in the kitchen.


But today I've taken some time out... I've done mending that has been sitting on my bedroom stool since December (one button and a hem and I've not even found time to do that... no kidding) whilst watching the Comic Relief Bake Off on i-player. And as I watched the lovely Martin Sheen produce a perfect Pavlova with passion fruit and lemon curd I remembered there were a couple of rather strange yellow passion fruit in the fridge. They came with the veg box and to be honest I didn't really know what to do with them... Strange things with gloopy insides that look like some sort of sea creature when emptied with peculiar little tentacles!
 

There was not enough to make a straight passion fruit curd so I combined them with lemons and made some passion fruit and lemon curd, fiddling a bit with a couple of recipes to get the results I wanted.


And here it is... Less than an hour of happily pottering in the kitchen and I've got two jars of the most sublime tasting curd. Which I can now use in some baking over the weekend when eldest son is coming to visit... Although I confess it does taste rather good straight off the spoon so I'm not sure it will last that long!
 

Should you feel the need for a little passion in your own life, this was my recipe:
 
Gina's Passionate Curd!
 
You will need: 2 large passion fruit and 2 large lemons, 200g caster sugar, 100g unsalted butter,
3 eggs (beaten) and a heaped tablespoon of cornflour (This really helps to stop the eggs scrambling!)
 
Method: Scoop out the insides of the passion fruit and press through a sieve, extracting all the juice. Throw away any pithy bits but reserve the seeds. Add the juice of the two lemons to the passion fruit juice. You should have between 200-250 ml. Add more of either juice to get the correct quantity. Stir the cornflour and sugar together in a large pan. Add all the remaining ingredients and whisk over a very low heat until the mixture thickens. Don't be tempted to turn the heat up or you will end up with fruit flavoured scrambled eggs! Pass the curd through a seive to remove any suspect eggy lumps. Stir in the passion fruit seeds and pour into jars. This does make quite a tart curd so feel free to increase the sugar if that is more to your taste.
 
This makes two generous jars plus a spoonful or two for tasting! The jars will keep in the fridge for a week or two.
 

And now I feel a little bit of balance has been restored, my passion for baking has been indulged.... And we've got something delicious to eat. Result!
 
Back to that commission now...

Friday, 20 February 2015

Part Time Blogger

I seem to have become a part time blogger! There was a time when I could turn out three or four posts a week no problem but these days it's a struggle to manage once a week, if that. Since I was last here I had a super day at the V & A... Nothing to show for it but I enjoyed learning more about egg tempera... And no, I have not managed any more painting! But I will!

I have been busy finishing off these shoes...


Spectrum, the group that I mentor, were invited to exhibit at Textiles in Focus, a three day show that takes place in  Cottenham each February. As part of the exhibition we have all put in work that came from a joint project called "Thinking outside the Box". Members of the group could start with any type of box they liked but had to create a piece of textile artwork from this. I chose to work with a shoe box and made shoes for Frida Kahlo... Part of an ongoing body of work based on the Mexican artist.
 

I was inspired by a quote from Frida... In 1953 following the amputation of her foot, she wrote in her diary the following words...


So, I made fantasy shoes to be her "Wings to Fly". This is my display at the exhibition which opened today.
 

But this is not all there is to see... There is fabulous wearable art from my friend Gill.
 

Super quilt and panels based on gardens and ironwork from someone else you might know...Jill.
 

Gorgeous colours from Jenny and Margaret.


And these stunning cushions... From Jill again... she's so clever! And that is just a small taster of what's to see at the exhibition.
 

As well as exhibiting I have been teaching at the show too, so spent a whole day this week just putting together kits for stitched needle cases. The first class this afternoon went well and there is another to come on Sunday.

 
We also woke to water pouring down the light fitting into our dining room this morning... but the less said about that the better! (problem now fixed and everything is drying out before the ceiling gets repainted. The entire house smells damp!)
 

But on a cheerier note, as so many of you sent good wishes... I'll finish with a photo of the newly weds... James and Lizzie by the Rialto bridge. I've just realised that I've become a step-mother-in-law!


Have a good weekend!

Friday, 13 February 2015

Five on Friday

This week I had the last lesson in my five week course on egg tempera painting... so it seemed like a good topic for Five on Friday. Five weeks and five little paintings! To be fair there are six but I don't like one of them so you're not seeing that!


1. In our first lesson we learned about the pigments and the various binders that are traditionally used. The binder doesn't have to be egg but we were using egg yolk mixed with wonderful powders with names like Terre Verte, Ultramarine and Cadmium Red. Our first little project was an illuminated letter and I chose an A. Yes, I know I've shown this before but I was quite happy with this as a first attempt!


2. We were still tracing designs given to us by the tutor at this stage, and as I had finished my first one at home in the second week I painted a D.... Probably my favourite so far. (Before you ask why an A or D... these were the only choices!)


3. Although I was enjoying painting the letters I was keen to try the paints and techniques on something I had designed myself and so my third painting was this teacup. It is still only a couple of inches high and in the style of the illuminated letters. It is far from perfect, and already just a few weeks later I would do it differently.
 

4. In class we progressed onto gesso panels and painted designs onto these little roundels. The gesso surface feels completely different to paper, drinking up the paint as it is applied. My first attempt (on the reverse... the one you won't see) was very patchy and I wasn't happy with it but I quite like my second attempt.


5. After class this week I came home and worked on another illuminated letter... A little surprise for a friend. This one was just a bit larger than the others and I thought that would make it easier but no! Much harder to paint the longer straight lines! 
 

It has been a really enjoyable course, especially as it was something I have wanted to learn for a long time. I would love to continue and do more - I have a small postcard sized gesso panel and intend to try an icon at some point. But the problem is actually finding the time. I aspire to be as good as my tutor Juliet. I know I am not happy just "dabbling" ... I'm too much of a perfectionist but don't think I can spare time for serious study and practise... not just yet anyway 
However I am rounding off this five week course by treating myself to a day out at the V & A today where I am attending a lecture on art techniques all about egg tempera... It seemed fitting!
 
Joining in with Amy and Five on Friday... do go and check out the others taking part today.
 
On a completely different note, my stepson James is getting married today... the two of them have flown off to Venice on their own for a very private ceremony. Congratulations James and Lizzie!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Technicolour Dream Coat!

Several years ago I fell in love with this crochet jacket in one of the Rowan magazines (no. 48). I couldn't resist the colours...
 

I bought several balls of rather gorgeous felted tweed yarn and started at the beginning of one cuff


Like I said... That was several years ago!... Well, maybe two years... Or possibly three... Or even more! It did grow fairly quickly when I actually picked it up and did it, but the trouble was I would leave it to do something else and then put off picking it up again as I needed to completely reread the pattern to find out where I had got to everytime.
 

But over the past couple of weeks I made a concerted effort to finish it... And then started to think about all those ends to sew in...


And boy, there were a lot of ends!


But finally last week it was finished and I think I like it! In my head it was going to transform me into the beautiful model in the magazine. Am I the only one who does that...?
 

So a bit disappointed it to find it hasn't transformed me into a supermodel and is still just me... but in a fancy jacket!  But it is a very warm and cosy fancy jacket.
 

 And now I might actually get around to finishing one or two other projects that have been hanging around for more than a year or two!

Monday, 2 February 2015

The Year in Books - February

I'm not sorry to see the end of January. It feels like such a long month! On the plus side, the long dark mornings mean plenty of reading time. I tend to wake early and if I'm really lucky, I get a cup of tea in bed and that's when I'll get half an hour or so reading time before I get up. I'm hopeless if I read at bedtime and can't remember a thing I've read!

My Year in Books choice for January was The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I really enjoyed this book and felt transported to 17th century Amsterdam. It had a strong story that was well told, but by the end I couldn't really see the point of the miniaturist. Hard to say more without giving too much away but I didn't think the dolls house etc added anything to the story other than add an element of intrigue and mystery that never was solved or revealed to any degree of satisfaction. Or maybe I'm missing something? If you've read it I'd be interested to know what you thought. But that said it didn't detract from what I thought was an excellent read.


Prompted by the wonderful alchemy of mixing pigments with egg yolk for my egg tempera painting, I have also started to re- read  Colour, Travels Through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay. This is part travelogue, part memoir and part story telling as it charts the history of the various different colour pigments used by artists and dyers over the centuries. An easy, informative read that I'm enjoying all over again.


I also read in January Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healy. I picked it up in the bookshop on a whim and end up reading it in just four days it was so hard to put down. It is a sort of mystery story but the narrator is an elderly woman with dementia which sounds depressing but it's not. It's clever, funny and sad in equal measures but compulsive reading. I loved it.


I'm trying to finish the Colour book before I start anything new but my choice for February's Year in Books is H is for Hawk, a memoir by Helen Macdonald, which I'm very much looking forward to reading.


I better hurry up though... February always whizzes by after the long days of January. Are you reading anything good this month?
 
Linking with The Year in Books by Laura at Circle of Pine Trees