Tuesday 20 December 2016

Xmas Nibbles!

There have been a number of things that I normally make at xmas that I have not done or plan to do this year, but that hole left has made me want to make things that I have not made recently, to try them out again as an entertaining treat. 

With this in mind, I thought I would try out some edible "straws". I made chocolate straws and pesto straws for a "cousins and cocktails" night a number of years ago and the sweet and savoury treats were a hit. So I thought it was time I tackled the more well known "cheese straws" (of which the chocolate straws and pesto straws are simply a variation). They are easy to make with simple ingredients: cheese (I use a mix of mature cheddar & parmesan), Jus-Roll puff pastry, and a beaten egg for finishing. 

The puff pastry brand I use (Jus-Roll) contains two rolls of ready made pastry (if you make your own from scratch, good on ye, but I am going for party convenience!), which is ideal for making both a sweet and a savoury snack. Roll out according to packet instructions, on a lightly floured surface; here I also include a sprinkling of parmesan to become embedded in the pastry while rolling. Put handfuls of cheese on half the rolled pastry, then fold, roll out again and add another layer of cheese.

With a sharp knife cut the rolled pastry into strips.

Carefully take one strip at a time and twist before placing on a baking sheet, which is already prepared with a surface of parchment or wax paper. The straws always want to move around and untwist on the sheet. Be patient with them; try twisting tighter than you want them to be and you may end up with the twist you want. Actually, it doesn't really matter -- they taste great and each one looks individual when baked. Divide the beaten egg into two dishes so that you can have one specifically for the savoury and the other sweet. To finish the straws, loosely brush on some beaten egg. Sprinkle some more parmesan over the straws before putting in the oven.

Bake in the centre of the oven about 10 minutes at around 180C.  Cool before removing from tray; they can be eaten warm or cold. They also freeze well, though make sure they are in a sturdy container as they are delicate pastry. The yield is pretty good: two and a half dozen at least from the single pastry roll. Tip: only bake one tray at a time for even cooking; prepare the other trays when the first is in the oven -- it is still pretty quick.

The same process is done for making the chocolate straws. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface, spread chocolate on one half of the pastry, fold, repeat, cut into strips, twist. Note: since this is a sweet snack, sprinkle sugar on the surface with the flour so that it gets embedded into the pastry dough while rolling!

Again, brush the straws loosely with beaten egg.

For the finishing touch, sprinkle the straws with more sugar before putting into the oven.

I prefer the savoury straws myself, but anyone who likes sweets will love these!

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Christmas tree!

The xmas tree was picked up this morning, and we'll be decorating it on the weekend, so we are definitely feeling like the season is in full swing. I didn't take any photos of the tree selection process, but thought I would celebrate "tree-ness" by sharing some pix of cards I made in previous years which included a tree in them. I mentioned in previous posts that I had re-discovered a grey box full of small artworks and cards earlier this year, and also a huge selection of cards that my Mum had held on to over the years were returned to me. So these images are from the Grey Box and my Mum's archive. 

This was my card from 1986. The lino print image was printed on different coloured papers. At the time I was living in a bachelor apartment in Toronto, and the image depicts my hanging planter disguised as a xmas tree, my favourite armchair (from my family home) and a squiggle of lights that I had hanging across the window in my room.

Originally I was going to do this as a lino print, but then decided I wanted to use specific colours (gold & green) so made stencils. This card is from 1989 and at the time I was basing a number of paintings on dreams, in which dolphins featured. I stylised the dolphin pair such that their combined inner outlines formed the shape of a tree.

In 2000 I simplified the card by using collage and stencilled elements in my very stylised triangular trees.

In 1994 I was living at Darby's Bridge, Kells Bay, Co. Kerry, and decided to feature the nearby humpback bridge, which gave me my address. It was a Christmas card so I added a tree to my lino block design!

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Xmas cooking - apricot pineapple jam

It's that time of year, when the month is spent in preparation and lots of cooking for one day! (Or in my family, all the preparations are for an ongoing celebration, so it is definitely more than one day,) The first jam I learned to make when I became interested in canning more than 30 years ago, was an easy apricot-pineapple concoction made from dried apricots and canned pineapple. I have tweaked it over the years, and settled on "Apricot-Pineapple Jam with Almonds" as an annual xmas recipe that I have been making for at least 20 years now. My recipe uses two packages of dried apricots, 1 can of pineapple rings, about 100 grams of flaked almonds, lemon juice & zest and about a half kilo of sugar. The apricots need to be rinsed, removing dirt & unwanted blemishes, and soaked overnight. 

Here is what they look like the next day, after soaking up lots of water.

Loosely pre-chop pineapple rings and add to food processor with apricots. You will need to include some of the juice from the apricot soaking in the processor. If there is a lot of this juice, don't waste it but use it instead of or added to water when simmering the lemon zest.

This is what the apricot and pineapple should look like after processing.

Meanwhile, slice lemon zest and simmer with some water till soft before adding mush. Add juice from canned pineapple, and any additional water if it seems to need it (this concoction will happily cook and simmer while other preparations are being taken care of). Juice lemon and set aside. Have sugar in a bowl gently warming in upper oven or beside simmering fruit (sugar is only warming naturally, not cooking). Prepare jars for canning and other utensils. I sterilise jars by heating in the oven at 200 C/400 F minimum of 20 mins, leave in the oven till ready to use with oven turned off; lids are boiled 5 mins, and utensils are in container of boiled water, ready for use.

When all the fruit seems cooked and somewhat thickened, add lemon juice and sugar. Bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly about 10 mins then add almonds. Stir and simmer a bit more. You may do the "jam test" by putting a small bit of the jam on a saucer which has been in the freezer; as it cools drag your finger through it -- a bit of drag should be apparent signalling that it is ready. However, with this jam you should simply be able to tell that it is the thickness of jam from stirring!

I always put a small amount of the hot jam in the bottom of a jar first, before going back and filling. This way you will know immediately if the jam is too hot for the jar (you will know right away if the jar cracks!).

This is really delicious jam and the yield is pretty good! For many years I have used the flaked almonds as a luxurious addition, but I remember once or twice adding sultanas (make sure they are very clean beforehand and stir the jam well so they don't stick to the bottom of the pot). The zest from an orange or clementine can also be added at the same time as the lemon zest in the initial simmer.

Wednesday 30 November 2016

Lemon Ginger Tea

I feel like I've had the plague for awhile now - I caught a cold about two months ago; then got tracheitis (a throat infection) from which I never quite recovered. Still not feeling well a week after the antibiotic course finished I went back to the doctor. Sinusitis was the next diagnosis leading to a longer antibiotic course, which finished a few days ago. Towards the end of last week I felt like I was coming down with something while still on the antibiotics. So the prescribed medicine is now finished with and I have a horrible cough and cold still. Time for lemon ginger tea. Actually, I made a nice batch of ginger and honey to put in the fridge for any time. Here's the simple recipe. 

Peel the ginger handily with a spoon.

Whizz the ginger, using the pulse setting.

The ginger is nicely mashed and ready to put in a jar.

Honey is a great preservative, so mix in with the ginger. This lasts at least a month in the fridge (usually it is consumed before that). The mix should be a little runny. Add about a spoon (or to taste) of this mix to boiling water and a dash of lemon.  Lately I have been simmering it with a twig of turmeric for about 5 minutes.

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Collage Cards - recently aquired archive

Many years ago, when discussing my Mum's Will with her, I suggested that she specify that all artworks from her artist children (there are several painters & writers in the family) be returned to them. Among items returned to me, after my Mum's very sad death at the end of this summer, were an abundance of special occasion cards that I had made for my parents over the years. My Mum had already returned some to me, while she was living, so I was surprised at the amount of cards that she still held onto. Making cards has always been an adjunct to my work - the cards are usually either ideas that I am thinking about for the future or ideas related to works in progress.

In memory of my Mum, I will post a few of the Mother's Day cards I made for her. This one has no date, but is probably from around 1986.

This one is from 2001. My Mum's sister had given me a big bag of pears from her garden and I did a lot of dawings and paintings based on them. I became pregnant that year, and pears became a symbol of fecundity for me.

This card is from 2005. I love blooming rhododendrons, though by many they are considered a weed tree.

This abstracted 3D bouquet is from 2007.

I have come across so many different types of daffodils/narcissi in Ireland and they often appear in cards. This one from 2009 makes use of different types of paper and specialised tape.

These roses are from 2012. There are plenty more Mother's Day cards, all different, but I thought I would just show a few that I particularly like.

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Keeping Busy!

I have had a very busy few weeks, getting out and about! A few weeks ago, while my daughter was on mid-term break we made our way in to Dublin The National Museum at Collins Barracks. We thought it would be an awful shame if we didn't get to the special exhibition Proclaiming a Republic in the centenary year! Before going in to that exhibition, however, we noticed a small building dedicated to the yacht "Asgard". This private boat was used for gun-running in the early part of last century, prior to the 1916 Uprising. It was a fairly nice display, the yacht being the centrepiece with smaller historical artefacts, photographs and didactics in display cases and the surrounding walls.

Proclaiming a Republic is quite a huge exhibition, which is incredibly wide-ranging as it takes in both sides of the conflict, social and family issues, the suffragette movement and cultural aspects. I could easily have spent longer than I did (nearly two hours) at the exhibition but my teenage daughter does not have the stamina for museums... Amazingly, the republican flag that was raised at the GPO (General Post Office on O'Connell St (formerly Sackville St) is relatively intact. It was taken down by the British in 1916 but returned by the Crown for the 50th anniversary of the Rising.

At Collins Barracks we bumped into some friends we hadn't seen in awhile, which prompted us to go back into Dublin a few days later to see the VUE art fair that my last blog post talked about. A week later I found myself in Dublin again, at the National Print Museum for the launch of Theo Honohan's book Mechanicsville. The book is an "essay in 11 parts on the character of engineering", which I am finding fascinating and somewhat surreal (though I am not sure if this was the author's intention...). The Print Museum was the perfect setting for the launch, as it was a setting of machines - old printing presses, typesetting machines, paper ruling machines, etc. There were also some artefacts relevant to the centenary celebrations. I thought perhaps this was a draft of The Proclamation.

This was the third occasion I had to see a print of The Proclamation in as many weeks. First, on the day I was dropping off my books to be considered for the Dublin Art Book Fair, I had dropped in to see the Book of Kells at Trinity College, and a copy of The Proclamation was on display in Long Room. The second time was at The Proclaiming a Republic exhibition (above) and now here at The Print Museum.

I was in Dublin again a few days later, at the launch of the Dublin Art Books Fair at Temple Bar Gallery & Studios. My Good Morning books had been accepted into the curated artists' books section of the fair. The launch was pretty packed and there were a lot of art books and artist-made books. The atmosphere was fairly casual with people very interested in picking up and looking through the books. Here is a view of one of the large round tables.

And a close up of a set of my books (all three languages) on the table.

The following day I was back in Dublin, at IMMA for a lunchtime talk. The topic of Wounded Cities was fascinating and led by Professor Karen Till. There were two artists also involved in the talk, including my friend Susan Gogan who discussed her in-progress fictional film set in Berlin.

Though not in Dublin, the launch of the third (re-booted) issue of the Bray Arts Journal, took place at The Mermaid Arts Centre in Bray a few days later. A few of my images were included in the journal, but I was glad that the image of this 2012 painting, Together, was included alongside my poem Waking Dream, written shortly after the death of my Mum at the end of the summer.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

VUE Art Fair, Dublin

While at the National Museum Collins Barracks in Dublin last week, I was delighted to meet up with some friends/fellow artists I hadn't seen in awhile. It was because of this meeting that I made my way on the weekend to the RHA Gallagher Gallery to VUE 2016, the annual art fair in Dublin. Since Karen Hendy was one of the artists who drew my attention to the fair, it was a delight to see her painting featured at the Catherine Hammond Gallery stall at the fair.

I have long been an admirer of the work of Janet Mullarney and was happy to see a small sketchbook at one of the galleries participating in VUE. I have to admit though that I was disappointed at the framing of the sketchbook, as I wanted to turn the pages! A few years ago my friend Sean O'Dwyer had shown me a specialty frame he made for a sketchbook - it had a hinge and mechanism that allowed the frame to open so that pages in the sketchbook could be turned. I still think this practical way of framing a sketchbook is both ingenious and necessary, allowing one to truly appreciate the book format as a static piece of art.

 I was very intrigued by this embroidery frieze "The Politicians" by Ursula Burke. It is both a beautiful piece of work and a scathing indictment of the elite decisionmakers of this (and every) country.

Here is a detail of one of the panels.

Wednesday 2 November 2016


Well, it was a year ago that I posted how to make pumpkin mush for use in future recipes (pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, cake, etc) that I intended to share but never did! I remembered of course, when I pulled out a bag of last year's pumpkin mush in order to make muffins for my daughter to bring to both her school and to her Girl Guides troop as a Hallowe'en treat. So here is the recipe:

Ingredients: 3 cups of flour (I use a mix of self-raising & coarse), 2 tsp baking soda, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp cinnamon powder, 1 tsp clove powder, 4 eggs, 2 cups sugar (I use a mix of white & brown), 1 1/2 cups sunflower oil, 1 tsp vanilla, 450 grams pumpkin mush [just because that is how I measured the mush out last year, this year's bags weigh approx 440 grams - I don't think it will matter much, the original recipe is for 2 cups]

Preheat oven to 350 F/180 C. In a large bowl mix flour, baking soda & powder, salt, cinnamon & clove. In another large bowl beat together eggs & sugar, then beat in oil & vanilla. Stir in dry ingredients from other bowl and gently fold in pumpkin mush. Let mix sit at least 5 minutes then spoon into muffin cups. (If not using paper muffin cups, make sure that muffin tin is thoroughly greased & floured. Bake approx 15 minutes. Yield at least 5 dozen. Decorate the muffins when cool; I frost with a simple glace frosting (icing sugar & water) with food colouring.

To get into the Hallowe'en spirit of course, pumpkins need to be carved into Jack-o-lanterns, and my husband has taken to the Irish tradition of carving a Willie-the-wisp out of turnip. This year he decided to skin the turnip completely, and the resulting skull looked a bit like alabaster.

I think it is a North American Hallowe'en tradition to bake the pumpkin seeds. It is a very simple and delicious snack! After cleaning the pumpkin in preparation for carving, be sure to wash the seeds.

Spread on a baking tray with a few knobs of butter and plenty of salt. Bake at 350 F/180 C for about 20 mins - check after 10 mins to shake tray and check if more butter is needed!

Mmmmmm, don't burn your mouth by immediately chowing down, but this snack is especially delicious when warm!

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Japanese Stab Binding Instructions

Before I began binding the final books for my Good Morning books project, I did a couple of test binds. I thought the decorative bind (red binding) would work as the threading could recall the Union Jack on the English books (red binding), rays of sunshine (yellow binding) on the Spanish books, and a shamrock (green binding) on the Irish books. However, as the tests showed, the books are too small in size to facilitate anything other than a straight bind, so I went with a simple straight bind.

First I folded the endpapers, which are made of one long sheet, to wrap around the book pages.

The folio of endpapers + book sheets (in this case the Maidin Mhaigh prints) are carefully placed on the back cover.

The front cover is then placed on top to correspond with the back cover. The book sandwich is secured, taking care to protect the covers with additional pieces of cardboard. This keeps the book clean and pristine.

Measure where the holes are going to be placed to facilitate the binding. Keep in mind that the holes should be a reasonable distance from the scored margin edge where the book will open. In addition, an odd number of holes facilitates the binding well - one ends in the same place one began.

Since the book is secured, simply use an awl device for creating individual holes where the markings are. For these books I  have decided on 5 holes for the binding, placed slightly less than an inch apart. The books are small, so I could have easily only used 3 holes with wider distances, but I like the look of the 5 hole bind.

Flip the book over and ensure that the holes are as large on the back of the book as they are on the front. Be sure to have card underneath the book when creating holes to prevent damage to furniture surfaces.

It is easiest to make a binding using one piece of thread. For this size book (approximately 6 inch spine) I have used half of an embroidery skein for binding. Begin sewing through the centre hole, leaving threads hanging at the front. They can be cut evenly at the end of the binding process.

I use cotton embroidery thread and a thick, large-eyed needle (a darning needle is good - it doesn't need to be sharp). For books with card covers I do not thin out the thread, rather the way I sewed these books, the result is 24 strands for each binding. Embroidery thread is 6 stranded and I sew 2 threads at the same time, then doubling the bind.

This picture shows how I have sewn from the centre down one side and returning to the centre.

This picture shows the back of the book after returning to the centre verso when all binds are made.

Bring the needle under the 3 bind areas extending from the centre and pull before sewing back through the centre hole.

This picture shows the front cover after the needle has returned to the front of the book. Tie the thread off with the beginning strands.

The double knot will secure the bind and the threads can be cut evenly to size.

The sewing at the back of the book is even. If one prefers the end threads at the back of the book, begin sewing from the back instead of the front, but do not cut the final threads too short.