Wednesday 31 December 2014

On the Cusp of the New Year!

New Year's is always a time for both looking back and looking forward. Mostly I like to look forward, but looking at the frost on the fuschia hedge surrounding my tiny front garden, I can't help but look back. I have been in Ireland for 21 years, and my remembrances of snow at winter time do not include being able to see so much greenery! So even with a sugary layer of frost yesterday morning and the morning before I am well aware of my location.

This fuschia hedge was planted twelve years ago, when we moved to this little house in Bray after the birth of our daughter. The hedge was an amalgamation of numerous types of fuschia - cuttings taken from various garden hedges we came across, hybrid houseplants, and cuttings from the wild fuschia hedgerows from Kerry, where we lived rurally for our first three years in Ireland. The wild Kerry fuschia has overgrown the other, tamer varieties and our hedge is quite large. Our daughter has also grown, starting secondary school this year, and certainly developing into quite the young woman. I look forward into a challenging year ahead for all of us. Happy New Year and all the best for a healthy and safe 2015.

Wednesday 24 December 2014

Happy Christmas!

The Irish Times had a competition about Christmas baubles, and after we did the tree decorating, I entered this picture. My Mum had given me the pink ball, along with a number of other family decorations, when she and my Dad returned to Ireland in 1983. She had initially received the decoration from her Mum when she emigrated to Canada in 1958 and remembers the decoration from her own childhood -- it has certainly stood the test of time! I brought the decoration with me in 1993 when I firmly moved to Ireland myself and it has been on my tree annually since then. I didn't win the competition, but must have been a runner-up as my picture and blurb were printed in the newspaper on Monday with only a few of the other entries.

Every time I bake something for xmas, I think it is the last thing I have to bake. My traditions though seem to never end! Yesterday I made the butter tarts, which have become an annual taste event for a few years now.

As if we don't have enough Christmas traditions in our house, I have watched a number of candy cane making videos and am seriously thinking of co-opting this as a tradition for future years! I thought this video particularly good as it gave the recipe and the woman is making them in a regular kitchen. They are truly home made!

"Ingredients: (this made 15 decent size candy canes, filled one jar with small candies, and still had some left over)

700g sugar
300g glucose syrup (corn syrup)
1/3 - 1/2 cup of water
1 teaspoon of cream of tartar (can be left out if you can't find it)
1-2 teaspoons of peppermint extract/essence
Red food colouring

Will keep for a couple of days. Keep away from humid spots. I stored mine in the fridge :) "

Happy Christmas and a Healthy & Safe New Year!

Wednesday 17 December 2014

My Hero - Col Chris Hadfield, Canadian Astronaut

Last Sunday I went with my daughter and husband to Eason's, Dundrum Town Centre, to meet and get our books signed by Col Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut. Col Hadfield has been up in the International Space Station three times, including being the station commander on his last tour of duty (ended May 2013). Along with millions of other people, I first became aware of Hadfield through his version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" which he sung from the ISS (I have previously posted it). He was really interested in spreading the word about space exploration and posted many short videos to YouTube to answer questions about life in space - here are two of my favourites:

How do you sleep in space?

How do you brush your teeth in space?

A few weeks ago, in anticipation of the book signing, we picked up Hadfield's latest book "You Are Here". It is a coffee-table book of photographs of the earth from the ISS. Apparently it is Hadfield's favourite selection (from 45,000 that he took!) of views that he would like to show his best friend.

Last February I gifted my husband Hadfield's autobiography so we also took it along with us to be signed.

The Irish Times had reported on the book signings of "Ireland's Favourite Astronaut" so the queue was lengthy. Hadfield though is so personable, happily willing to have his picture taken with everyone, shaking hands, and writing personal dedications that it was well worth the wait to meet him and a big thrill! He is donating his profits from "You Are Here" to the International Red Cross.

Wednesday 10 December 2014

Pre-Christmas Cooking!

While technically I began my xmas cooking in September, as I made quite a bit of damson chutney and knew I would be giving some of it away, the idea of xmas cooking really begins when I start the puddings - once Hallowe'en is over and done with. My husband was also decanting the plum liqueur around this time, so with all the leftover fruit, I made a few jars of plum vodka jam. The alcohol cooks off, but there is a nice bitter flavour left, which makes the jam more like a marmalade.

Two large and two small finished puddings. We always have a pudding for my husband's birthday (Dec 8) instead of cake.

Before the end of November I made the annual tried and true apricot-pineapple with almonds jam. A couple of them will be wrapped and given away.

Quite a lot of damson liqueur was made, the by-product being lots of alcoholic fruit. Since the plum vodka jam was very tasty, I knew exactly what to do with the leftover fruit! Again, some of this will be given away at Christmas!

There was a teacher's strike day on Dec 2, which was great timing for us as we had our family day of making gingerbread cookies. We decorated them the next day and sorted out everyone's rations!:)

I was thinking that the cranberry clementine with brazil nuts was the last pre-xmas item on my list...

...but then I remembered I had to make the custard to go with the birthday pudding (and put some in the freezer for New Year's). Since egg whites don't go into custard, they are used to make coconut maccaroons, an annual Christmas treat that stays at home!

Wednesday 3 December 2014

The Tidal Series - Collages

In July I posted some images from The Tidal Series, pastel paper drawings plus what was left of a series of acrylic paintings -- a little figure that I had cut out from one of the 18  4' x 3' canvases! So I was pleasantly surprised that four collages from the series were in that drawing box I re-discovered a few weeks ago. I never expected these collages to still be in existance!

 Around this time (1986 perhaps?) I was getting ready for xmas and making cards. That year I had the brilliant, crazily time-consuming idea of making individual collage cards with the figure from the Tidal Series enjoying falling snow. Needless to say, this involved a lot of gluing tiny pieces of white paper onto about 50 cards... I know I still have a few of the cards myself, but the little card box they are in is somewhere in the black hole of my attic studio. I will eventually find them, but not today.

These four collages, though, are not greeting card sized; they are 55 cm x 37 cm. The coloured paper is mostly standard copier colour paper, but the interesting bits have other sources. In those days in Toronto (and environs) industrial estates had dumpsters that could be scavanged for great art supplies -- the glossy yellow paper, silver paper and gold tape (which I cut in thin lines) all came from a dumpster. The patterned turquoise of the figure's skirt is from wrapping tissue from a gift a friend gave me. I used a mix of matte and gloss medium as my glue, so there is an overall sheen on the collages. I still have some of the silver paper and gold tape with my supplies almost 30 years later and I still save interesting scraps of paper for use in collage cards that I still make for special occasions.

I love the combination of bright pink and silver, something I associate with a smallish Jackson Pollock painting I saw in New York on one of my early trips there. I am pretty sure the image below represents the last of the four collages that I made -- I thought the figure by this time was self-assured and had coralled the stars into the gold "net" formed by the gold lines emanating from her hands.