Friday 30 August 2019

Finding Joy in Painting

After writing three blog posts in the space of a single week I thought I might actually get back into a routine of regular blogging but alas I have been distracted. Instead of  all the things I actually need to be doing such as making blinds for our bedroom (We've been here nearly two months now and no one has actually complained about being able to watch our nightly ablutions... yet) or preparing for forthcoming embroidery classes this autumn, I have been painting.

About three weeks ago I signed up for a free week long art course hosted by artist Louise Fletcher. Several simple exercises designed to help find your unique artists voice alongside good sensible no nonsense advice and teaching. I had no idea that in just one week it would have such an impact.

It is no surprise to regular readers that I have always been creative whether through my textiles, baking cakes and even occasionally painting and drawing... most recently joining in with my Mum's classes. I know I can draw but my problem has always been one of confidence. I can follow instructions or copy a painting but have never believed I was any good at doing my own thing, working in my own style or listening to my own voice.

So at the end of the one week free taster I was so impressed by Louise's teaching, I signed up for the ten week paid course. And I literally have not stopped painting in every free moment. Everything you see here is the result of the exercises. None are meant to be finished paintings, most are just on scraps of paper or in my sketchbook, but instead they are explorations of paint and mark making.

And as there is no finished painting so there is no getting anything wrong. Instead it is just a wonderful voyage of discovery. We have painted to music, painted with limited palettes, even painted deliberately ugly paintings but each of them showing us what we do and don't like.

And so blogging may well take a back seat for several more weeks to come as I continue to dabble with paint.

And the neighbours could well continue to see us getting ready for bed every night as I  have no inclination to sew blinds when I could be painting instead. At least the mornings will be getting darker soon so we won't be waking up with the light at 5 am!

Friday 16 August 2019

Meat Free Friday

One of the major changes we can make as individuals to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce our meat intake and change to a more plant based diet. There is plenty of information available  as to why this is  not only essential for reducing greenhouse gases but also if we are to continue to feed the ever growing world population. 
You can read articles here and here if you want to find out more.
In particular the biggest culprits are beef and lamb, because of the way they graze and the additional methane they produce. Obviously it follows that if we are reducing our beef consumption then we should also reduce our dairy intake, although dairy farming is not quite so intensive as raising cattle for beef.

I am aware that drastically changing your diet if you have always eaten meat is not easy so as someone who has eaten a largely vegetarian and pescatarian diet for the past 25 years I thought I would share some of my favourite veggie meals in regular "Meat Free Friday" posts.

One of my favourite books for simple, easy to make but really tasty vegetarian dishes is The River Cottage Veg everyday book. I think I especially like it as it is not intended as a vegetarian cookbook but as a book to encourage us all to eat more vegetables. It's not in the least bit preachy but just full of amazing food that you really want to eat

For anyone who grows their own veg getting a glut of courgettes at this time of year is a bit of a given and over the years I have become somewhat of an expert at creating courgette based meals. I could feed you for a week on courgettes without ever repeating a single dish! So one of my favourite recipes from the book is a Greek inspired Courgette and Rice filo pie. You can tell it's a favourite by the amount of splatters on the page!

Admittedly it does involve using filo pastry which can be a bit of a faff but it's really not that difficult and putting the filling together takes just a couple of minutes.  If using filo is a step too far you could always replace it with a couple of sheets of ready rolled puff pastry. My Greek daughter-in-law makes a fabulous Tyropita (cheese pie) using puff pastry

You can find the recipe by clicking on the link here: Courgette and Rice Filo Pie.

I made it this week but didn't have fresh dill. Well, I thought I had fresh dill but when I took it out to use it had gone slimy in the packet (well before it's sell by date)... all the more reason to ditch the plastic and find sources other than the supermarket. I think my new garden needs a herb patch. But I did have some chives so used those instead and it tasted just as good as ever.

It makes a delicious pie that feeds four generously. It is excellent hot as the centre of a main meal and I particularly like it with some steamed carrots on the side. But it is equally good cold with a salad or part of a picnic. Because the rice magically cooks by absorbing all the  liquid from the courgettes it stays lovely and crisp too... No soggy bottom!

Let me know if you give it a try or you have any tips of your own for reducing your meat consumption. Even if everyone started by replacing just one meal a week or maybe had one meat free day per week it could begin to make a difference. And the added benefit is that a plant based diet is better for your health too. Meat Free Friday anyone?

Thursday 15 August 2019

Chihuly at Kew

A few weeks ago my friend Jude and I had a long overdue get together. Mostly we meet in central London and visit an exhibition and/or have a meal but this time we ventured west to Kew Gardens to wander, natter, catch up and see the fabulous glass installations of Dale Chihuly. The exhibition Reflections on Nature runs until October 27th and is well worth a visit. Actually Kew Gardens is well worth a visit never mind this wonderful exhibition. Who would thought that until two years ago I had never been, but since visiting for one of my sixty x sixty projects I have now been three times.

The exhibition is a wonderful partnership of art and nature, transforming the gardens into a fabulous outdoor gallery space. My favourite piece of the  installations we managed to spot was this glorious plant like sculpture comprising of wonderfully organic blown glass forms. Nestled in the pond in the newly refurbished Temperate House, against a background of ferns and trickling water, it was truly captivating.

There were several sculptures in the Temperate House, mostly well hidden in amongst the plants but one of the stars of the show was the "Temperate House Persians", large blue flower like forms specially designed for the exhibition and suspended 19m above the ground like a huge chandelier.

Two more stunning pieces were the matching pair of sculptures outside the Temperate House called "Opal and Amber Towers" perfectly reflecting the colours of the house.

"Sapphire Star" was quite breath taking, rising from the flower bed like a giant allium, again made of hundreds of individually blown forms.

And by the lakeside "Summer Sun" also built from individually blown forms... 1,483 to be precise! This one reminded me of writhing snakes just like Medusa's hair.

The Seattle based artist has said about the installations that he wants then "to appear like they come from nature, so if someone found them... they might think they belonged there". Mostly I think he has achieved this with spectacular art forms sitting together with one of the most amazing plant collections in the world. Definitely worth a visit... and we only saw a fraction of the 32 individual installations! That of course is the problem with meeting a friend to visit an exhibition, when you've not seen each other for a while. In fact Jude and I have been known to visit the V & A in the past and not get any further than lunch in the member's room... although if I remember correctly it was a very good lunch!

Monday 12 August 2019

A Conversation About Climate

We continue to settle into our new home and village finding new ways to join in and become part of the community. Last Friday I dodged the showers and joined a group of like minded villagers for a three mile walk along the surrounding fields and footpaths. We started and finished at the newly refurbished pub, where we had an excellent cup of coffee and pastry at the end of our walk... undoing any good it might have done us. But it was about community, friendships and supporting a local business as well as walking. We are incredibly lucky to live somewhere surrounded by so much natural beauty and with so much to offer.

Another village group we have both joined is a collection of like minded individuals who have become increasingly concerned about climate change, because we cannot carry on thinking this is someone elses problem if we want to continue to enjoy our countryside and be able to leave it for future generations. None of us are experts but we have come together because we all want to learn more about climate change, ecological issues and most importantly to find out what we can actually do about it. We are hoping that by having conversations about it, learning more, spreading the word and leading by example then others will follow. And of course, the best place to start is at home.

We have started by taking some small pledges to ourselves about making changes in our lifestyle. One of these is to reduce our use of single use plastics. The recent programme The War on Plastic with Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall was quite an eye opener on this if you still need convincing. I stopped putting fruit and veg in plastic bags at the supermarket quite a while ago... yes I am that irritating woman in front of you trying to balance and weigh six loose apples as they roll off the scales. I stopped myself asking a man why he was putting his bananas in a plastic bag the last time I was there... but then afterwards I thought why didn't I say something. Probably because you never know how someone might react... You need to be brave to be an eco-warrior! 

But something I have continued to use is cling film. So when the last roll ran out I vowed never to buy another and instead I invested in some beeswax wraps. They are not especially cheap (This pack of three from Lakeland were almost £20) but they are re-usable, lasting for up to a year and when  eventually they cannot be used any more they are compostable. I know I probably could make my own but I really don't have the time, however I have found another supplier BeeBee Wraps who are a small local business (local to us in Cambridge) that I really like the look of, so I intend to order some more from them as they worked really well for wrapping Stewart's sandwiches. Apparently they are not good for wrapping meat but we don't eat meat at home at all so it's not a problem for us... and anyway reducing meat consumption is one of the biggest things you can to to reduce your carbon footprint. But that will be a subject for a whole other post.

The second pledge I have taken is to join in with Oxfam's Second Hand September, and not buy any new clothing for the whole of September. To be perfectly honest this isn't such a big deal as I don't really buy that many new clothes so to forgo for just 30 days is no great sacrifice. So instead, my friend and I have pledged to do it for a whole year starting on the 1st September. Given that the UK alone sends 11 million items of clothing to landfill every week this could make a real difference if enough people signed up. Are you willing to join us?

I will try to give regular updates here on how we are managing but the idea is no new clothing, except what we make ourselves (but that also means no new fabrics bought either in my case... just using what I have). Everything else will need to be sourced from charity shops, or altered and mended. Except underwear... I think I draw the line at second hand knickers!

I would love to know your hints and tips for what you are doing to live for a more sustainable future.