Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Summer bean salad!

It's Irish summer, which means -- maybe there'll be warm, dry days, maybe there'll be cold, wet days. In other words, not much change from weather any other season! As I write, it's cold, wet, grey and miserable. There was hail a couple of days ago. But last weekend was sunny, dry and quite warm, perfect for at least one bbq. I suspected it would be so, in advance, and started making my favourite summery bean salad. This is a simple recipe, though it has to be made in two stages, which means two days. It is perfect for making in anticipation of a bbq, but also works as a fresh veg accompaniment to any meal, or with pitta or crusty bread as a meal in itself.

Even though I say a two stage recipe, I really have to start the night before stage one as I prefer to use dried chick peas (garbanzo beans) and kidney beans, rather than canned. They need to be fully soaked and then boiled the next day. I always add some bay leaves when boiling; the flavour they add is subtle but the house sure smells nice while the beans are boiling!


The other stage one ingredients are an onion, red pepper, runner beans, vinegar, sunflower oil, sugar. Chop vegetables, and in a large bowl add 2 tlbsp vinegar, 4 tblsp oil, and 4-6 tblsp sugar. Cover and leave overnight, periodically stirring. I never have room in my fridge, but because I live in Ireland there are plenty of cool storage spaces. If you live in a country that has a hot summer, do be sure to refrigerate!


The next day drain and rinse well.


For the second stage dressing, which will stay in the salad, I go all out and use olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and brown sugar, but this is not necessary (so go ahead and continue to use sunflower oil, regular vinegar, white sugar). My version is just a little more special and decadent, but the original recipe I found did not use these ingredients.


Again, leave refrigerated overnight, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to your taste. This is an incredibly fresh and tasty salad.


Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Delicious tomato pizza sauce!

In my family, we all love pizza! With the final exam and the ending of school for the summer, I decided it would be a great treat to have homemade pizzas for dinner.


 This fairly simple sauce for pizza is only time consuming in that you have to wait for it to cool before whizzing in the food processor. So what I do is make the sauce in the morning, go about my day and whizz it just before I put together the pizzas in the evening. Anything left over can be frozen. I made my own pizza dough once the sauce was made, but everyone has their own favourite dough recipe or convenient store-bought pizza bases to use, so I am just concentrating on the sauce here.


The ingredients: 4 cans peeled tomatoes; small onion, garlic, oregano (fresh or dried), bay leaves, tomato purée (I just use half this tube), black pepper, about 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, and some oil for sautéeing onion and garlic before adding the rest of the ingredients. Cook it all up for about 20 mins to half an hour. Cool and remove the bay & oregano leaves before processing to make a smooth sauce. This amount made about 3 ice cream tub containers, which was plenty to cover four cookie trays of pizza! In fact, less than half the sauce was actually used, so I put the rest in the freezer for next time.


I use cookie trays and bake the pizza in the oven for about 20 mins at 180C, for thin crusted pizza. Everyone has their own favourite toppings, but I put the sauce down first and add the grated mozzarella last, over whatever toppings I want on my pizza as the mozzarella browns a bit, which I like. Delicious delish! If there is any leftover pizza, it also tastes great warmed up the next day.


Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Für Elise

It's taken a number of years, but I have finally gotten around to making the book that I started planning as a gift for my child several years ago!


In the ceramics workshop a couple of years ago I created book covers for a small accordion book. I  impressed lace on the clay and used a stamp set to put my name on the back cover before the covers went in the bisque fire. I glazed the covers, brought them home - and forgot about them! I kept remembering my plans to make the gift just before xmas and birthday every year, but never having the time to actually make the gift!


As with my other books using ceramic covers, I knew that I first had to glue some paper to the insides of the covers to ease the affixing of the final accordion drawing. Prior to doing this, I threaded some garden wire through the back holes; this would provide an element with which to close the book.


This year, remembering once again too late, I decided it would just be a late gift and took my time about it. The gift was actually quite simple: the first few bars of Beethoven's beautiful song Für Elise would comprise a transcribed drawing. The only decision I had to make was colour and media.


I drew the piece in pencil first and finally decided on pen and coloured inks. While I was careful in my transcription, I also thought that smudges may lend some authenticity to my drawing so did not pressure myself to be perfect.


Für Elise, 10 cm x 10 cm, accordion-fold book, ink on acid-free papers, ceramic covers, plastic-coated garden wire, 2019.



Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Home Project continues...

I've done some more work on the "Home" project. The "House with the Green Door" was the second house I lived in. My family moved there when I was two and we left when I was four but I still have quite a lot of memories from that place! As I mentioned last week, this house was across the road from St Martin's, the school that my older siblings went to. I specifically remember playing in the schoolyard one day, it must have been on the weekend, and I had to climb over a tree that had fallen in the storm the night before (perhaps it was hit by lightning?); I got a splinter in one of my fingers from the tree bark and ran home crying.


With the help of google streetview, I did sketches of all the places (including apartment buildings) but for now I will skip those sketches and jump ahead to my emigration to Ireland in 1988! My parents had already returned "home" five years previously, so were well ensconced. At that time I was still dithering about where I wanted to be, but I lived with my parents in the middle of Bray town on and off for about 2 years.


Then I moved back to Ireland at the end of 1993 with my partner (now my husband). We moved down to rural Kerry in early 1994 and the house we rented, beside a small humpback bridge in a small village, was a renovated traditional cottage. We lived there nearly a year and a half.


Loathe to leave the beautiful Kerry, we found a farmouse to rent near Portmagee. I couldn't sketch it from google streetview as it is not visible from the road! I found this photograph of myself and my husband in the field in front of our yellow farmhouse. The summer of 1995 was a glorious one, and I recall having regular swims in Portmagee Channel (the water and Valentia Island can be seen in the distance. We simply had to go for a walk in the field behind our house and we were upon our own private beachfront.


After my Dad died in September 1995, my husband and I were travelling frequently between Bray and Kerry. It was an exhausting drive in an old banger that could not accelerate to pass rural traffic. We moved back to Bray in the fall of 1996 to a house that was available just a few doors away from my Mum. Being part of the same terrace, this house mirrored my Mum's house, though it didn't have the renovations that my Dad had completed. We lived in this house for a good few years, until our daughter was born in 2002 and we moved to the edge of town - where we have been since!




Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Home Project!

A couple of months ago I had a dream in which a friend gifted me some prints. I thought the prints quite beautiful and interesting. Both prints seemed abstract, but on closer inspection I realised they weren't. In the first print, overlapping layers of translucent colour were actually house forms, where each house was a different colour. In the second print, I realised the Rorschach-type blob was actually the same as the first print, except instead of translucent colourful houses, each house was printed opaquely monotone, such that only the outline was identical to the first print. I decided I should do these prints and made a sketch.


In thinking about the new project, I also thought the houses should have personal meaning for me and decided that I would research all the places that I have lived. I have lived in 19 different houses during my life, in Ireland and in Canada, for both short periods (1 month) and long (18 years). With the help of Google maps/streetview I began the research sketches of my homes. The house I lived in for the firt 2 years of my life was in "Cabbagetown" (so named because it was a huge area for Irish immigrants) in Toronto. Despite only being a baby and small toddler in this house, I have a surprising number of memories associated with it. Most significantly is the colour of the door: red.


My family, still remaining in "Cabbagetown", moved to a different house. The house with the green door. My siblings went to the school across the road from this house and "Walter's" was the cornershop up the street. Riverdale Zoo was only a block away, as was a cemetery and a playground park. Again, even though I was very young and only lived there for two years, I have very strong, specific memories associated with this house. While my siblings were at school one day, my Mum was watching a "parade" of some sort on tv. Suddenly I realised she was upset and crying. I was three years old. John F Kennedy was shot.


We moved to The Beach (now called The Beaches) in the east end of Toronto in 1964. I grew up in this house, spending the next 18 years there. I moved out for good the year before my parents fulfilled their constant wish - to retire early and return to Ireland.


I still have two more homes to sketch out of the nineteen, but I wanted to have an idea about colour and translucency. Using tissue paper I sketched the houses and started cutting them out (I have always loved cut-outs!).


 After cutting out the houses, the project started to develop legs. I no longer thought of it as solely a print project, but could imagine other media as well.


Starting at the beginning:
The House with the Red Door, oilstick & graphite on wood, 23.5 cm x 15.5 cm.


Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Handbuilt tableware set, ps - part 4 of 3...

This is the last of the four large terracotta plates for the tableware set, it didn't make it into the previous glaze firing. One thing I realised when the others came out was that I had to apply a clear glaze on the lines between colours. The raw terracotta lines looked great but would not be useful if I was going to use the plates for dinnerware, which I am! So with the already fired plates, I just had to apply some clear glaze and re-fire. With this plate I could apply the clear glaze before going into the kiln, thereby doing the glazing in one step (as it should be).


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Handbuiilt tableware set, part 3 of 3

I was delighted when the first five plates came out of the glaze fire.  


The colours of the glazes were as I had hoped and planned. The lighting with my husband's camera is very true (he is the workshop facilitator and always takes pictures of each kiln shelf as he unloads a firing).




Though there is a yellow tinge to pictures taken with my camera phone, the closeups show the linework


and glaze textures on the plates.


These closeups also show the individual designs of each plate and the different lighting


makes it apparent that there is also a texture on the plates, from the initial rolling of the terracotta.


The clay was rolled out between two cotton cloths with a herringbone pattern, and though this is subtle, it is quite lovely.


Thursday, 25 April 2019

Handbuilt tableware set, Part 2 of 3

So far I have three large plates and two small ones. It will be a service for four when I am finished. The fourth large plate is already made and glazepainted, but there was no room for it in the kiln.


Once I had decided that it was the terracotta over the low-fire white, I began my tulip drawings. As I have previously mentioned, yellow tulips are my favourite flower and I have oodles of sketches, so it was a simple matter of looking at my sketches and enlarging them (by eye) on the plates. I used a regular pencil knowing that the lines would burn off in the kiln. I started with the main yellow glaze.


I also used a second, deeper yellow in some areas and some purple and green for the stamens. I glaze-painted with the intention that the glazes would not touch, leaving terracotta lines between areas of colour.


The leaves and the stems shared a speckly-green glaze, and then I added a layer of a lighter green over the stems, which would be apparent after the plates were fired.


There is a lovely speckle turquoise glaze that I used as a background.


Here it is apparent how much space the plates take up in the kiln.


Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Handbuilt tableware set, Part 1 of 3

Early in the new year I had the idea that I wanted to create a set of dishes in the ceramics workshop that I attend every Thursday afternoon at Signal Arts Centre, here in Bray. I planned to make these dishes with handbbuilding techniques rather than on the wheel and my plan was to paint them with tulip designs. Yellow tulips are probably my favourite flower and I have loads of sketches of them.


First off, I had to find two large plates with slight curves, but not too many folds, as formers. I hadn't firmly decided on terracotta clay for the set, but I used terracotta to start with.


For smaller plates I used the plastic lids from pudding bowls as formers because they had a gentle curve over which I could drape a slab. NB cling film must be placed between any former that isn't plaster in order that clay won't stick to it. I decided that the small plates would have feet, and this picture shows the necessary scoring where the feet will be placed.


Instead of one solid foot, I decided to make a design with two arcs for the feet. This picture shows the scoring of the foot (it is on a cloth) before placing, after applying the slip bond, onto the corresponding scoring on the plate.


Here are the two small plates with their feet attached and my initials and date within the circumferences of the feet.


I had also made some small low-fired white plates without feet, as I hadn't made a final decision on whether or not I would make a set in white clay or terracotta. Here are several plates after the bisque firing. At this point I knew for sure that my set of dishes would be made from terracotta and not white. The small white plates will be for a different purpose


Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Writing and reading

I have been reading quite a lot over the past few years, the picture below shows a sample of books I have been enjoying lately: political philosophy, poetry, biography, creative non-fiction and essays. A lot of my reading material is suggested to me by Brainpickings (link in "Inspirations" sidebar) which is put together by the brilliant Bulgarian ex-pat in NYC, Maria Popova. I have been subscribing to Popova's weekly compendium of essays and reviews for a number of years now, and I think she is probably one of the most erudite thinkers and writers currently around! Popova is the mover behind the annual Universe in Verse event in NYC, a fundraiser for the environment that brings together poetry and science. If you don't happen to live in NYC, you can catch up on the 2017 and 2018 events here. The 2019 event takes place at the end of this month and will also be live-streamed. I expect that it, as with the previous years, will be made available later in full. 


April is poetry month, and as in previous years, I have been doing the poem-a-day challenge. I follow the website for Na/GloPoWriMo (National/Global Poetry Writing Month), which gives daily prompts and links to poetry based resources. It is fun, challenging, and useful to my own writing practice. The poem-a-day helps me focus and I often write things I probably wouldn't write otherwise. I have the months following April to go back to these poems and revise, but for now, I just need to get them written! One of the poems I initially wrote for Na/GloPoWriMo, Thingvellir at Night, has recently been published online in Scarlet Leaf Review, along with several others.


I have not yet figured out what the difference is between essay, memoir, and creative non-fiction, but regardless, I was delighted that my work, Holding It Together - bookbinding as memorial - was published online last week in Abstract: Contemporary Expressions.


Although poetry and art criticism (and letter writing!) have always been my main modes of writing, in the past few years, I have expanded to include other forms - fiction, memoir, non-fiction. I was especially delighted when my short story, Prayers for My Children, was published online in Issue 7: Continuity by Tales from the Forest; poems have also been published in Issue 6: How it Begins and Issue 9: Limits. For further links to my writing, please see my webpage lorjames.com and follow the links through the "writing" section.


Back in January of this year, there was a call for poets to read one of their poems for Poetry Sound Map. I decided to make a recording of one of my older poems Portrait, which was published in either 1989 or 1990 in New Irish Writing, a feature of The Sunday Tribune at the time (now it is a feature of The Irish Times). I am very happy to be included on the world map of recordings from poets alive and dead - I am in great company!