Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Summer - potato bake!

I got this delicious, nutritious and easy to make recipe a few weeks ago, after being introduced to it at a friends' summer party - already I have made it three times! Since it is definitely summer now, this is a wonderful companion to an al fresco meal; with roast chicken and salad were my introduction, but I have eaten it's on its own as a full meal.

The ingredients are simple: boiled potatoes (4-5 medium), 1 egg, 1/2 pint milk, grated cheese (at least a cup -- I love cheese so I didn't bother to measure!), ground pepper and nutmeg, some butter.

After greasing the dish with butter, slice and spread the boiled potatoes.

In a separate dish whisk an egg with the milk and add most of the cheese. Stir and then spoon over the potatoes.

Sprinkle the rest of the grated cheese, pepper and nutmeg on top. Add a couple of knobs of butter before putting in the oven.

Bake in pre-heated oven at 180C for about half an hour. I cover for the first 20 mins and remove the tin foil for the last bit of baking in order to brown and crisp the cheese a bit. The first time I made this I added some chopped onion; it was tasty enough (I like onion) but not necessary as there is plenty of flavour in this dish. In fact, having made it twice without onion, I will stick with the original onion-less recipe that I was given. Happy summer!

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Catalan platter - willow weaving workshop

One evening last week I attended a Catalan platter willow weaving workshop at Signal Arts Centre, offered by expert basket maker Aoife Patterson. The sheafs of many-hued willow wands smelled great in the large gallery where we'd be working. After a brief explanation and demonstration, those attending dived right in to the making, as Aoife then made her way around the room individually helping everyone out (a small group). Making the Catalan platter is very much associated with a full body experience! To begin with, you must use your torso to help form a circle or oval upon which all the weaving takes place, determining the general shape of your platter. Two wands are used for this base, and as you can see in the picture below, the wands are slightly heavier than the weaving wands.

 Again your own body is crucial to making the platter. Central rods are held in place by a temporary weave of lightweight willow and then the actual weaving begins. I chose rods of a light brownish-red hue to be alternated with green rods that will turn almost black with time. Kneeling on one half of my frame, I wove the rods to almost the top of the frame. I then turned it around to begin the process again,  making sure to remove the temporary weaves first.

Nearly finishing the platter, the middle rods are brought together. A very flexible, thinner piece of willow is manoevred into the platter, brought up one side and wrapped a few times around what is now the handle, and tucked into itself.

My platter has both a long and a short handle, but the tying together process is the same.

The final finish to the platter is the trimming with sharp secaturs. This can either be done by eye or using chalk to make cut lines, but the amount cut totally depends on preference.

The Catalan platter can be used as a serving dish. either by placing a smaller plate upon it or by putting items, such as bread or whole fruit, directly on the willow weave, which is very strong.

A slight curve in the platter is natural to the process and differentiates the top from the bottom of the platter, but this curve can also be more pronounced by gentle upward movements in the early stages (when one is kneeling on the platter).

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

more ceramic bowls!

I was extremely pleased with the recent two nesting bowls in white clay; they turned out the way I had hoped! 

The interior glaze, though black is more of a midnight blue (perfect for the smaller "galaxy" bowl with its white speckles) and the exterior, where I had wiped the glaze leaving its residue in the texture lines, mostly glazed as a matt black. The gold provides exquisite highlights.

 I was so pleased, in fact, that I thought I would try three nesting bowls! I got the three bowls made from white clay slabs and clay rolled out during the weekly ceramic workshop for the "feet". However, the clay was not leather-hard enough for me to do the foot process yet, so I took the bowls home for the weekend to babysit them.

The clay I had rolled for the feet was ready to work with in a couple of days, so even though the bowls were still a bit soft, I knew I had to do them. Removing them from their pudding bowl formers was the hairy part, but one by one I persevered. I started with the smallest bowl, so that I could rest the upended medium bowl on the pudding bowl former (the rims of all the bowls are not uniform, so the clay bowl has to be raised somewhat).

This picture is of the small and medium bowls after their feet have been attached. 

 The largest bowl was the trickiest I think, as I had to use several bowl formers to raise it from the table. Please note that cling film must be draped over the formers so that the inside of the clay bowl doesn't stick to them.

For these bowls the feet were made with a flat piece of clay forming a circle. The foot is attached by scoring and applying vinegar to both the foot and the adjacent surface of the bowl. Where I have joined the foot to itself, I also scored and applied vinegar.

 The three bowls are now ready for bisque firing. In order to bring them back to the workshop, I have to wrap them carefully as they are very fragile in this pre-firing state.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

sausage, bread & potato stuffing

It had been many years since I indulged, but I had a hankering for rolled stuffed pork last week. My local butchers are great and they make their own stuffing, taking time to roll the pork and wrap it with pork skin as I wait and chat with the brothers (a family butcher). However, though the dinner was delicious, the verdict from my family was that the stuffing was not as good as my own, passed down to me by my Mum, and passed to her by her father.

I have heard of sage stuffing, sausage stuffing, bread stuffing and potato stuffing. This recipe (if recipe you call it, as everything is just eyeballed) combines everything and is so good! I usually use about 4 large potatoes (boiled & mashed), 2-3 chopped onions, several cups of breadcrumbs, 4 cooked & chopped sausages, 4 slices cooked & chopped bacon, lots of pepper, lots of sage (if you have fresh dried, crumble a bunch in your hands). Add some salt and/or poultry seasoning if you like. The stuffing should have a wonderful aroma when mixed all together, even before it is cooked.

Though universal health recommendations are against actually stuffing your bird, I really can't imagine not doing this. Just make sure you weigh the stuffing before putting it in the bird (or pork) and take into account this extra weight when calculating the cooking time. If you don't want to stuff the meat you are using, put the stuffing in an oiled oven dish and add broth/turkey juice while cooking. I do this with leftover stuffing if I've made too much.

Oh yes, this stuffing is delicious! When cooked in a dish there are more crusty parts on the outside, but nothing beats the flavour of the stuffing as it is meant to be. In smaller amounts this is also a great stuffing for chicken. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Lucian Freud Symposium

Hot on the heels of seeing Daphne Wright's "Ethics of Scrutiny" curated exhibition of The Freud Project, I attended a day long symposium at the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). The programme of the symposium "Rethinking Freud & The Contemporary" was wide-ranging and fascinating.

The above photo by of Freud painting performance artist Leigh Bowery, taken by Bruce Bernard, along with a picture of the Courbet painting it emulated (below), was referenced several times during the day by different speakers.

The various speakers -- curators, artists, writers -- were all fascinating and added to the understanding of Freud (both his work and personal life). I was especially interested in what the artists had to say. Painter and inaugural Hennessy Prize winner, Nick Miller spoke about studio practice and portrait painting, and Daphne Wright, in conversation with writer Brian Dillon, spoke about her responses and choices as an artist curating the exhibition. Later in the day, the three Freud Research Residency artists spoke about their projects in response to the Freud Project at IMMA. Laura Fitzgerald's presentation was both humorous and significant as she, perhaps not intentionally, focused on portraiture. Sue Rainsford (collaborating with Bridget O'Gorman, who was not able to attend) discussed her project, A Knowing Body, which is at once both an intellectual and visceral development of work that takes a huge leap away and towards Freud!

 Performance artist Richard John Jones presented possibilities of work that echoes the relationship between Leigh Bowery and Lucian Freud. The eccentric Bowery was both a model and muse for Freud, the fleshy, nude portraits in many ways antithetical to Bowery's performance "disguises".

I find myself ever more curious about Bowery; I am a fan of the 1990s Simon Pegg tv show vehicle Spaced. I love the "Art" episode, and though I did not know at the time I first saw it, Leigh Bowery must have been the reference for "Vulva", the former partner of artist character Brian. Brian's wistful remembrances of performance duets, in flashback, are both hilarious and recognisable to anyone who has every experienced the absurdities of some performance art.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Lucian Freud

In 2016 the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) opened the Lucian Freud Project, dedicating the whole of the Garden Galleries (a small building) to the work of Lucian Freud for the following five years. I had seen that exhibition, which included paintings, works on paper, and prints along with copper plates that he printed. It was great to see so much of Freud's work in one place, but I wondered how IMMA planned to keep this exhibition fresh over the extended period.

Interestingly and intriguingly, IMMA decided to invite guests in to curate exhibitions around the specific collection that was on loan. The first of these exhibitions opened in mid-February; "The Ethics of Scrutiny" was curated by artist Daphne Wright. I went to the exhibition two weeks ago, totally curious as to how curation was going to change the exhibition. It was fantastic! 
 The first small gallery was a pleasant portent of things to come: dimly lit and reverent, on one wall there were some watercolour botanical drawings by Sigmund Freud (Lucian Freud's grandfather) and in the middle of the room a horizontal display case containing a number of reproductions of Emily Dickenson's "envelope poems". On a further wall was a small painting of Freud's that scrutinised the us, the audience, daring us to look closer. Each room that followed was a sparse but intense exploration of the curatorial theme. Wright made this a multi-media exploration with lightbox reproductions of Gwen John paintings and the sound of exhibition hub-bub in one room, and a reading from a short story in another. I especially was interested in Wright's subversion of what is normally thought of as a "male gaze" as she included artwork and writing by women.

In the large basement gallery, there were a lot of Freud's paintings for individual examination and two video monitors taking centre stage in the room. The videos were clips of John Berger in Ways of Seeing, his 1970s BBC series. In the clips he was analysing the historical view of the female nude.

In several rooms upstairs, Wright again juxtaposed work by other artists with key Freud works relevant to the theme of scrutiny. I loved seeing Kathy Prendergast's bronze sculpture Little Bouquet (2007), a piece of family history & memory, and also seeing a plant on the window ledge whose didactic informed that it was grown from a cutting of a plant belonging to Sigmund Freud. There was an audio of plant biologist Ottoline Leyser discussing plant intelligence.

In the final room there was a sculptural work by Thomas Schutte (which could be seen as portaits of an artist) and Freud's moving self-portrait. Doubly moving was the sound of Bernie Brennan singing the Nine Inch Nails' song Hurt, much in the style of the legendary Johnny Cash's brilliant cover of this song.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Porridge Bread

My foody niece, who owns and operates the Wild Geese Food Company, gave me this very simple, easy to make and extremely tasty recipe for Porridge Bread.

You will need: 1x500g tub of plain yoghurt (I use Greek style myself, and you can also use a dairy-free yoghurt);  2x500g yoghurt tub measures of oats; 2 tsp bicarbonate soda (aka baking soda, aka bread soda); 1 tsp salt. Optional: raisins or other chopped dried fruit for a sweeter bread; basil, oregano or other herb for a more savoury flavour. As my niece said to me, this recipe "is a great base, mix in nuts, seeds, dried fruit (dates are amazing), herbs, parmesan, sundried tomato". It will be your bread, experiment with it!

Mix the ingredients together in a large bowl.

 It will become obvious when mixing with your clean hands makes most sense.

Form a bread round; it is moist but will hold it's shape.  Place on a greased baking tray and cut an X in the top of the bread. Bake at 180C for 40-50 minutes (NB, this time also depends on your oven; my oven was pre-heated and it was ready at 35 minutes).

The temptation is to start eating it as soon as it comes out of the oven, but try to let it cool for a bit, otherwise it will be really crumbly. I think I waited about 15 minutes before slicing a few pieces, but it was still warm. Yummy! Thanks, Tara!