Wednesday 23 December 2015

Happy Christmas!

Very busy these past few weeks getting prepared for our biggest occasion of the year. Still a few more things to do, will be spending all day in the kitchen tomorrow, but I don't think I will be posting again until 2016. So I will take the time now to wish everyone a happy, healthy and above all, safe holiday and all the best for a wonderful new year.

Wednesday 16 December 2015

More Christmas Cooking - Gingerbread Cookies!

Back in 1999 I returned to Canada for the last xmas and new year's of the 20th century, spending two weeks with my sister-in-law's family in snowy Prince George, BC. Arriving a few days before xmas, my husband and I had the opportunity to help out with the decoration of the gingerbread cookies. We thought the cookies were so delicious and the family evening so much fun that we decided that gingerbread cookies would from then on be part of our annual tradition too. Though we no longer try to decorate the cookies individually (for instance, transforming the gingerbread ladies into a recognisably Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield) we still enjoy the tradition and take pride in our creations! This recipe has been tried annually and remains true.

6 cups self-raising flour, 1 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder
4 tsp ground ginger, 4 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 tsp ground clove, 1 tsp salt

1 cup butter (NB for some reason the past 2 years we have added an extra 2 oz butter as the mix seemed dryer than usual); 1 cup dark brown sugar (packed)
2 large eggs, 1 cup molasses (or treacle) 

First mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

In a separate large bowl mix butter and brown sugar.


Creaming until fluffy...

Add eggs and molasses

Gradually add dry ingredients to wet mix, 

stirring after each dry addition.

Divide mixture and form into several balls.

Wrap in cling film (Saran Wrap) and refrigerate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C. Roll out dough on floured surface and cut into shapes.

We use dinosaur cutters as well as Winnie-the-Pooh and traditional xmas cutters. Make the most of the rolled dough! Bake 8-10 mins.

Cool cookies -

- before decorating! The icing I use for decorating is a simple glace - icing sugar mixed with a bit of boiled water and various food colourings. I use sandwich bags with a tiny corner cut as decorating bags (discard when finished). This recipe makes well over 100 cookies (I think I counted 180 this year) depending on the sizes of your cutters. Store in a cookie tin or freeze some for later. They are great holiday treats but we also include them with our xmas gifts.

Wednesday 9 December 2015

Christmas Cooking - Cranberry Clementine Conserve with Brazil Nuts

I have been very busy with college work, so am behind in my annual Christmas cooking. But finally, last weekend I got started when I saw that cranberries were available in the grocery. At this point I no longer follow the original recipe, but do everything by eye. However, if you have never made this before, follow the recipe and then make your own adjustments for flavour, sweetness, yield, etc. So here is the recipe:
3 clementines, 1 lemon
1.75 -2 cups water
6 cups cranberries (2 standard packages)
3 3/4 cups sugar
1 cup chopped Brazil nuts

I used 3 x 250 g pkgs this year. It helps to spread the berries on a cookie sheet and pick through them, discarding badly blemished and/or mushy berries. My rule of food: if it doesn't look like you'd be happy to pop it into your mouth, you don't want it in your cooking.

It's easy to just pop berries that you're happy with into a bowl of water to give them a little wash.

This year I used between 100-125 g of Brazil nuts, and just gave them a quick whizz in the food processor to chop them finely. Put in a bowl and set aside.

 It's easiest to peel the lemon and clementines before juicing. Cut the zest finely in slivers. Juice the citrus fruit and set aside.

The citrus zest slivers are added to the water in a heavy bottom cooking pot. Cover pot and cook over low heat for about an hour. Check on pot during this time as the water should not be boiling madly, but simmering and you don't want the water to boil away.

Add the cranberries and cook gently. Berries will start "popping" after about 20 minutes; stir regularly and you can help them get jammy by squishing them with a wooden spoon.

Stir in the nuts.

Add juice and sugar and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly until conserve thickens. A tip I got somewhere years ago is to warm the sugar before adding to jams. I do this by putting into a bowl and sitting it in the top part of the oven (in Ireland the grill part, not turned on, but getting the heat from the main oven which is sterilising the jars).

There are different ways of sterilising jars. After washing and rinsing, I bake my jars for at least 20 mins at 200 C. Primarily I am using standard jam and mason jars that I brought with me from Canada, so the lids are being sterilised by boiling for at least 5 mins while I am doing everything else. Another tip: only add a small bit of hot conserve to hot jars at first to ensure that the glass doesn't crack. When it is apparent the glass is not going to break, fill jar leaving some headspace and seal using matching lid. If using recycled jars and paraffin, let the conserve cool a bit before pouring in wax; twirl jar a bit so that wax crawls up the sides of the opening, creating a full seal.

The yield for the recipe above is about 6 fancy jam jars. The one with the tin foil, is actually a larger jar, so I would have had 6+ jars. As a matter of fact, I used more berries than the recipe called for and I could have added more water than I did, which would have increased my yield. I have found that I can add more water and the conserve sets pretty well, though the colour can lose some of its intensity. This batch that I made last weekend is quite thick, but still spreadable. It is quite tasty and tart -- a fantastic accompaniment to turkey and turkey leftovers in sambos (mmm, toasties!) but I have also given this conserve as gifts to vegetarians, it is wonderful on toast too, just used as a jam.

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Grey Box Archive 2

 I mentioned a few posts ago that I discovered a box of drawings and sketches while looking for some paperwork. So I thought I would post a few more. The pencil sketch below is from the early 1980s, of the basement bar at the house where I grew up in Toronto. My parents returned to Ireland in 1983, so I was probably getting maudlin or nervous about the impending doom!

The wind is absolutely howling outside my window so this charcoal sketch seems appropriate. It is of the Irish Sea on a stormy day in either 1989 or 1990 when I had my earlier (second bout?) of living in this country.

In the summer of 1990 I returned to Toronto, and participated in a group show "Me & 9 Others" at the Orient Building at Queen & Bathurst. This is a sketch of the piece I later put together as part of an installation. It is an elongated house on a trellis. My Dad helped me build the house and the trellis (which in the final piece I painted yellow). In the final piece, you could peer in the window to see a figure surrounded by floating stars (made of fimo) and I wove live roses into the trellis, rather than scattering them; over the course of the exhibition they wilted and dried. Behind the sculpture was a large piece of paper, half left blank and the other half with an oilstick drawing of two waterspouts over a stormy sea. This piece is not documented very well -- I have a couple of polaroid details (somewhere...), The sculptural element was bought by poet Janette Platana, but that was 25 years ago, so I don't know if she still has it!

 This watercolour is from 1990 and was created in Ireland, but I don't remember exactly where -- Bray or Howth perhaps?

Thursday 26 November 2015

Glasgow 3

It has been over a month since I returned from Glasgow, but I did take a lot of pictures which I am never going to get through it seems! My last day there was spent quite busily checking out shows and galleries from the prestigious Turner Prize Exhibition at The Tramway to a small exhibition of video & sculpture at Celine, an alternative gallery in a private apartment. I wanted to go to the Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA) and managed to fit in a whirlwind look at it before high-tailing it to the Institute of Contemporary Art for a meet-up chat with its dynamic director, Francis McKee.

I had read about the cone on the Wellington statue at the entrance to GoMA -- it has been a beloved eccentricity of the city since the early 1980s to have a traffic cone hat on the figure. Looks like he has a cone in reserve at his feet...

The group exhibition "Devils in the Making" explores the relationship of the gallery collection to Glasgow School of Art. GoMA opened nearly 20 years ago to the criticism that it did not include internationally acclaimed Glaswegian artists and through this show celebrates a situation redressed. All the artists in the show are graduates of GSA.

The three white sculptures, abstract figursea are by Nick Evans and the piece to the left of the white sculptures is by Alex Frost - it is difficult to tell from the picture, but, if my memory serves me, it is a 3D mosaic of a crumpled "Ryvita" wrapper.

I really liked this sculpture by Martin Boyce -- I didn't realise it was neon tubing when I first saw it, just strange ethereal light emanating from the mesh skewed basket. The effect was somewhat unbalancing!

I was immediately attracted to this colourful jumble of half-chairs by Jim Lambie. My husband, James Hayes, was not in Glasgow with me, but this made me especially think of him.

In 1998 James had an exhibition, Tables/Tableaux, at the Basement Gallery in Dundalk. The gallery is divided into two spaces, and one of them contained Family -- an installation of floating, brightly coloured kitchen chairs,  .

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Grey Box Archive

I was looking for some specific old paperwork last month, and I thought it was in a particular grey file box below the shelves in the stairwell. To my utter surprise the box did not contain the expected paperwork, but instead it was an archive of sketches and small works from the 1980s! 

In 1983 I was experimenting with encaustic and collage and this small piece on board was the starting point for a series of works on paper using cutouts of hands to explore gestures.

During the early 1980s I first started my practice of recording my dreams through both writing and image.

Though I don't remember the specifics of this or the above dream, I know they were dreams that I had while on holiday in Ireland in 1984.

In this sketch I was trying to simplify dream imagery of my home and a ladder that kept appearing in dreams. The home image was apt as my parents had sold the house in Toronto and returned to Ireland.

While on that holiday in Ireland I also did a fair few self-portraits in different styles and different media. This is pen and marker in my sketchbook.

The dressing table in the room where I was staying had a large mirror which accommodated my self-portraiture! This picture is limited watercolour and ink.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

Glasgow 2

 I thought I had better post some pictures of a few of the galleries I went to in Glasgow, before I forget entirely! I don't know what happened to the pix I took from the first day (I was having a malfunction when working the camera I guess). After meeting at the edge of Kelvingrove Park, we headed to the Common Guild to see the Thomas Demand exhibition. We had a number of tours of Glasgow School of Art work areas throughout the city and GSA Reid Gallery, and also paid a visit to Transmission gallery for a very large group exhibition (many artists over two floors).

We started the second day (I think) with a visit to Mary Mary, a gallery a short walk away from Central Station, the group meeting point. The gallery is spread over 2 rooms, and a group show "I hope to God you're not as dumb as you make out" was on exhibit. The show consisted of individual pieces by Matthew Brannon, Milano Chow and Alan Reid and a bed installation by the three artists in collaboration.

The duvet cover on the bed was printed with recognisable portraits of contemporary thinkers.

We made our way to the gallery 16 Nicholson St where the group exhibition "That's Genetic" was on. The show included mixed media works by Jennifer Bailey, Lauren Hall, Tessa Lynch and Sarah Rose.

I was delighted to see the paintings of Adrian Morris (d. 2004), an artist of whom I was unfamiliar, at 42 Carlton Place. The gallery itself seemed such a respectful place with lighting from both windows and overhead fluorescents softened by translucent paper screens.

We saw a show at the Modern Institute entitled Electric Magnetic Installation, by Hayley Tomkins. The exhibition was a mix of made objects and found objects.

Tompkins is interested in diary and colour; the setting of wall works on angles is accidental in appearance but I think challenges the way one looks at 2D works.

In the afternoon we headed to the Glasgow Sculpture Studios for a tour around the facilities, and to see the current exhibition by Nicolas Dashayes, "Darling, Gutter". It was a pity that the heat was not turned on in the gallery, as these jesmonite sculptures were directly attached to the heating pipes within the building, so they should have had warmth radiating from them.

Wednesday 4 November 2015


As well as all the excitement of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns every October,

it is the season for me to take out last year's pumpkin mush from the freezer and make a few batches of muffins. These get decorated as jack-o-lanterns too and get sent into school and/or Girl Guides with my daughter for her and her friends. If I have enough mush, I can make additional batches of muffins for sharing around elsewhere.

So after Hallowe'en night, the carved pumpkins get chopped and peeled and cut up into small cubes or rectangles.

A large orange (or several small ones or clementines) and a lemon are peeled and juiced. The juice and a tiny bit of water are added to the pot of pumpkin cubes (the pumpkin release a lot of water when cooking). The peel is cut into slivers

and added to the pot. Cook this gently on low-medium heat, stirring periodically, in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan.

When all the pumpkin is cooked, it is soft enough to be mashed. Tilt the pot a bit to see how much liquid there is; if there is a lot of liquid, raise the heat to boil some of it off,

The pumpkin mush needs to be moist in order to give moisture and flavour to future pumpkin muffins. I will give the recipe for the muffins in another post, but if you can't wait, use pumpkin mush in the same recipes that you use for carrot cake or banana bread. Compare the picture below to the picture above to get an idea of how much liquid should not be left in the final mush.

I packed the mush into equal size freezer bags. In the past I have used weights of 350 g and 500 g, which also work fine in my recipes for muffins, and also in pumpkin pie (I'll give a recipe for that in a future post too). So it is a little bit random that these packs are 450 g but I figured it was a reasonable amount when I was packing and weighing. I put the 3 bags of mush into an additional freezer bag but will only use one bag at a time. One bag of mush will happily be used in a recipe that makes about 5 dozen small muffins or 2 pies.