Friday, 21 July 2017

A Miniature Art Challenge

My blog will be ten years old on Sunday. If you had asked me ten years ago would I still be doing this now I think I would have considered it to be unlikely. In the early days it was a way for me to document my art. It was largely visual with few words. Those ten years have seen many changes... there has been less art in recent years and more about food and family life, although to be fair there has alway been cake right from the early days. Although still very visual because I find it hard to blog without photographs, there seem to be more words of late, which may be why it has also become less frequent. It takes longer to write each post and think about what to say. Although I can't see me finding more time to write two or three times a week like I once did, I can feel a shift back towards more art though.

I recently met with my friend Catherina where we had lunch and a wander around some galleries and shops. We spotted these tiny little canvases in an art supplies shop and a spark of an idea was sown. We each bought a canvas with the intention to decorate it exactly how we wished before swapping our finished canvases with each other. I love a challenge to get me motivated!

After priming my canvas with gesso I immediately got to work with my acrylic paints to make a miniature portrait of Frida Khalo reviving an old interest in this enigmatic artist. I struggled with the likeness but it is interesting that now, by looking at the photograph I can see where I was going wrong (the mouth!)

Rather than paint in the final details I added some 3D jewels and flowers. I wanted to use those little ribbon roses you can buy but couldn't find them anywhere. I know I have some stashed away somewhere in the house! I had to make do with paper ones which were a little big but overall I was quite pleased with the effect, especially considering the whole thing was only about the size of a matchbox.

I popped it in the post to Catherina and the very next day I received Catherina's artwork in return... a beautiful little handstitched piece to celebrate my birthday. 

And this little challenge combined with my inspiring day out has kick started me into working in my sketchbooks again, which in turn is already starting to spark ideas for new work. I'd say watch this space but you just might have a long wait... but who knows!

Have a good weekend... we've got a busy one so not much time for painting, but then what's new!

Friday, 14 July 2017

Tea for... Sixty!

Last Sunday I hosted afternoon tea for sixty of my female friends. The idea was to invite as many people from various walks of my life over the years as I could. Invariably there were several friends or groups of friends I had to leave out - not because I wanted too - but simply from a practical point of view. It would have been wonderful to invite everyone I know. How lovely it would have been to invite all the people I've met through blogging too, but that might have required another whole party of its own! But perhaps you would like to join me here for a virtual tea party...

I have been filling the freezer with cakes over the past four weeks and on Sunday morning whilst I finished off making sandwiches, the men in my family got busy laying tables with vintage china, pretty cloths and flowers and blowing up ballons etc to decorate our village hall.

There were scones with clotted cream and homemade apricot conserve.

As well as cakes of all descriptions... brownies, sponge cakes, bakewells and macarons... there were biscuits...

I spotted these "tea bag cookies" on Pinterest the week of the party and knew that they just had to be made. Fiddly bits of nonsense that were probably not the best idea when I was catering for so many but worth every second. They were just the sort of detail I wanted on the afternoon.

As the guests arrived, my team of gorgeous helpers sprung into action pouring glasses of Prosecco and cups of tea, handing round cakes and sandwiches... my four sons above and my stepson and grandson below...

As well as my brother and his stepson, and my soon to be stepson-in-law and not forgetting Stewart of course.  All the special men in our family in fact!

And then the guests arrived...

And here they all are... some ladies I've known for over thirty five years and others who are recent friends or members of the family. But it was such a lovely gathering and a brilliant atmosphere. I wish I could let you hear it, so much laughter, chat and catching up.. as one guest said "As you approached the hall it sounded like a children's playground"!

There was an impromptu speech...

And it wouldn't  be a party without cake. Of course I made my own... I got what I wanted that way! Several layers of a gin and tonic sponge and buttercream 'naked' cake with fruit and flowers.

It all added up to one very happy sixty year old who had just the sort of party she wanted...
Tea, cake, lots of fabulous friends... and the odd glass of Prosecco too!

I couldn't have asked for anything more!

Although we are still eating left over cake!

Friday, 7 July 2017

My Big Day Out

Until the beginning of the week I had no idea of what I would be doing on the day of my birthday. There had been mutterings about a day at the seaside with fish and chips but nothing planned and at the last minute we decided that it had been a long time since we'd had a day in London... so did that instead, ignoring the weather forecasts of torrential rain and thunderstorms.

On arrival at Kings Cross, we headed behind the station towards the Regents Canal where there has been much regeneration and restoration. In my youth this was a run down, seedy red light district (not that I would know anything about that of course!) but it is now a pedestrianised area of open spaces, modern water features and an abundance of restaurants. We chose Caravan, a lively open plan eatery housed in a large grain warehouse next door to Central St. Martins.

Having skipped breakfast in the knowledge this would be our first stop I opted for a poached egg on avocado on sourdough toast... despite being tempted by a fresh nectarine and amaretti pancake. I wasn't disappointed although maybe wished I could have had both.

The other member of my party went for the full brunch... and finished the lot! It really was as big as it looked.

Finding ourselves fully replete we headed towards the Royal Victoria Docks for the first of our mini adventures and another 60 x 60 wish... to ride on the Emirates Air Line over the Thames.

At almost 100m over the River Thames, the Air Line cable car spans for 1 km from the Docks to Greenwich.

We were really lucky that it happened to be very quiet and we walked straight on with a cabin all to ourselves. The views were stunning... as were the blue skies!

Two years ago we walked over the top of the O2 and it felt so high... but it looks nothing looking down on it here! A great experience that I can recommend.

Back on terra firma we made the short walk to North Greenwich pier and picked up the river bus to head towards the Embankment in Westminster. A much nicer way to travel through the city than going underground.

Our next stop was The Royal Academy for the summer exhibition. It is a few years since I last went and there is usually plenty to see of interest among the vast numbers of exhibits, but I have to say I felt rather underwhelmed by it all. It felt tired... but maybe that was me! There were some vaguely interesting sculptures and a few "nice" prints but nothing that really grabbed me. My favourite gallery was curated by Yinka Shonibare, mostly because it was colourful and a bit subversive but in truth I preferred the art we saw walking around Cambridge Open Studios last weekend. Pretentious and trying too hard to be "edgy" was what sprung to mind. And what's more... £3 for a bottle of water... that's just having a laugh!

Our next stop was another 60 x 60 list item and that was to visit the London Icebar. There is no doubt this is very gimmicky and something you would only do once but it was a laugh!

It is a small room tucked in a side road off Regents Street that is kept at -5 deg C. The bar and seating areas are all sculpted from beautiful clear ice that comes from Northern Sweden and even the glasses for the cocktails are scuplted from ice. Fur trimmed capes and gloves are provided!

We were only in there for half an hour which was really one big photo opportunity but it was fun... more fun than the RA!

We did wonder about this 21st century phenomenon that requires us to seek out such diverse and bizarre experiences but then decided it was best not to over think it and to just enjoy the fact we were drinking outrageously expensive cocktails from glasses made of ice sitting in a large freezer. If nothing else it was welcome relief from the heat outside... no sign of the rain or thunderstorms yet!

On leaving the Icebar we eventually managed to hail a taxi after walking a fair distance first, both being reluctant to head underground at rush hour, and ended up at Ottolenghi's in Spittlefields for our dinner... and a glass of fizz! As ever the food was wonderful... as was the entire day. A fabulous day to celebrate turning sixty and a couple more things notched off my list... past the half way point now!

We were home by the ten o'clock news and I even managed an early night... well, I am in my sixties now you know!

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Sixty... Really?

It is still one week to go before I celebrate my sixtieth birthday. When I was twenty the thought of being sixty felt so very, very old. Of course, now that I am almost sixty I feel just the same as I did when I was twenty apart from being totally incredulous that I could possibly be sixty... but try telling that to any twenty year old! Actually I lie, I'm sure I didn't have quite so many aches and pains at twenty but mostly I feel the same... and I've still got all my own teeth!

My sixty by sixty list has definitely slowed down and it looks as though I might be stuck on thirty things by the time my birthday arrives. But it's my list, I make the rules and so I shall keep it going throughout my sixty first year! The main problem is budget and trying to find things that don't cost the earth (if anything at all) is proving to be an additional challenge. I think "See the Northern Lights" might be one of those things that end up on a seventy x seventy list. But there have been a couple of recent additions to the list. We went to a formal dinner at a Cambridge college last month which was something I'd never done before and it was absolutely lovely. We were guests of my son Sam and his beautiful girlfriend Elle, who is completing her Masters at Clare Hall... except a week ago we got some fabulous news and I should now say Sam and his fiancee Elle! Which is just the best news ever!

Another thing I've added to the list but can't say much about is that I have nominated someone to receive a UK honours award. But the potential recipient mustn't know they have been nominated to prevent disappointment should they not receive it, and I won't know if the nomination is successful until they actually get the award... if they get it. So it's all a bit cloak and dagger I'm afraid as there people who read my blog who might put two and two together if I were to give any hints.  But it was something I'd thought about and wanted to do for a long time so it has gone on the list and been ticked off.

Something else on my list of possible ideas is to host an afternoon tea party... and I will be doing that for my birthday. At the last count I had over sixty people going... female friends from all walks of life over the past sixty years going back to school days, early working years, ante natal classes etc. My only regret was not to be able to invite more people but I had to put a limit on numbers... especially as I'm doing my own catering. Over eighty scones have gone into the freezer this week... not to mention brownies, sponge cakes and macarons!

And today I designed a menu for the tables. I designed the layout for the cover but confess I copied the design for the cup and the tea pot and must credit the original artist Rebecca Jones. As it is for my own personal use I hope she won't mind... especially as mine is a very poor copy of the original work. 

So that's where my sixty x sixty stands right now. But if any of you lovely readers have any great ideas for other things I might do, I'm all ears! Actually, I'm all one ear because that has just reminded me - I was bitten by a mosquito on my right ear last week and it turned bright red and stuck out like Dumbo's ear... just thought you might like to know!

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Summer Breakfasts

Let's talk breakfast... unless I have seriously over indulged the evening before I cannot skip breakfast. In fact I think it is the meal I most often look forward to. I eat porridge throughout the colder months but in the summer I love Bircher muesli in all its variations, full of healthy ingredients which is just as well given the vast amounts of gin and tonic cheesecake consumed this week!

I'm sure I'm teaching my garndmother to suck eggs here but if you have never tried this before... you must! It was devised by Swiss physician Maximillian Bircher-Brenner in 1900, for patients at his sanatorium as a way to get them to eat more fresh fruit, most specifically apples. It consisted of soaked oats, with natural yoghurt or milk and loads of grated apple.

For each portion I use about 25 - 30 g of rolled oats and add a tablespoon of either mixed seeds or linseeds and soak this overnight with 100 ml water, although you can also use apple juice. I confess that I usually forget to soak them overnight but find if I put it together with some boiling water before I walk the dog in the morning, by the time I've got back, showered and dressed it has cooled down and is perfect. If I'm using apple I'll also add a handful of raisins and some cinnamon to the mix before soaking. I then grate in an apple per person, stir in a couple of spoonfuls of natural bio yoghurt (always full fat) and then top it off with a sliced banana, a sprinkle of cinnamon and anything else I have to hand. Some chopped almonds or pecans work well too.

But the beauty of this is that it can work with any combination of fruit you happen to have at the time. One of my favourite ways is instead of apple I mash a banana with some raspberries and stir this into the soaked oats with the yoghurt. This then gets served with an extra dollop of yohurt and some more fresh berries. What more could you want...

...except pancakes now and then! I learned to love American style pancakes from my years living in the US and they make the occasional treat topped with yoghurt and fresh fruit. I use the same recipe I've used since my boys were small which mixes up in no time - 225g of self raising flour plus a teaspoon of baking powder and 2 tablespoons of caster sugar whisked up with two eggs and 285 ml of milk. Stir in approx 25g melted butter and then cook in dollops (approx 60 ml) on a hot griddle or fryng pan. This makes about 14 pancakes which don't last long in our house!

But tomorrow morning, as a Sunday treat, we'll be having poached egg on mashed avocado on toast with grilled tomatoes. I might even fry up some mushrooms too. I'm already looking forward to it!

What do you like to eat for breakfast?

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Melting in the Heat

How does that happen? Blink your eye and two weeks go by. I certainly never intended to stay away so long but somehow writing seems to be elusive. Occasional thoughts of blog posts have drifted by, come and gone again so that I forgot what I was ever going to write about and I wonder if my blogging days are coming to an end. Meanwhile life goes on, busy as ever. I have taken on another little income stream... at least I'm hoping it will be an income stream as other sorces of income seem to be dripping rather than streaming at the moment.

I have become an ambassador for Tropic skincare. Selling doesn't sit easily on my shoulders but I really do love these products - totally natural skin care - so I'm hoping my enthusiasm sell will rub off and I can make a success of it. I don't for one minute believe I will sell much on line but should you be interested I do have an online shop here.

My daily 15 minute drawings seem to have turned into weekly efforts as I still struggle with motivation. I was encouraged last week when I did a quick copy of a Japanese plate design featuring three pots. I was inspired to interpret it into a little collage using some previously printed papers and I tentitively hoped it might be a spark of something. But I haven't opened the sketchbook since... so much for that!

I'm finding time to read, mostly slowly and have finished these three books over the past couple of months. I quite enjoyed His Bloody Project despite its guesome triple murder, enjoying how well it conjured up life in a rural Scottish community in the 19th century. Bill Bryson's Little Dribbling was a light but entertaining read that made me laugh out loud and I have thoroughly enjoyed Olive Kitterage which is a collection of inter related short stories that all somehow involve the afore mentioned Olive, a somewhat prickly retired school teacher from Maine.

Tomorrow we have our monthly bookclub meeting and the choice this month is Vermeer's Hat, a collection of essays that examine the objects in six of Vermeer's paintings and relate them to trade at the time. I received it as a Christmas present a couple of years ago and never got past page 14. I did try again this month and actually completed the first chapter before I decided life is too short. I love the paintings and think I'm quite intetrested in history but I realise I have absolutely no interest in 17th century trade whatsoever.

Instead I picked up this Jo Nesbo from the charity bookshelf in our post office after clocking the name here and read it in three days. I don't often read crime drama but when I do I can't put them down. It felt like being on holiday, sitting outside in the evening heat reading for hours. I have a hunger for more Harry Hole especially having started with the seventh book in the series, but no doubt the current heatwave will end and I'll put down my books and pick up my knitting in front of the TV instead.

Of course there have been cakes too and I've managed to turn out all these in the past couple of weeks. I seem to know lots of people with birthdays  in June! The chocolate one in the middle melted in the heat yesterday and slipped off its board onto the kitchen counter but fortunately that one was for us not a customer! It was scooped up and rescued and put in the fridge.

This was yesterday's haul... a week's supply for the coffee shop carefully avoiding anything chocolate that might melt.

And this was today's... ten Victoria sponges! That's it for this week which is a relief as it really is too hot for baking. At this rate I'm likely to melt onto the kitchen counter

Too hot for very much at all really... except perhaps for a slice of this gin and tonic cheesecake which is utterly divine, even if I do say so myself. Healthy eating habits have gone clean out the window and frankly my dear I don't give a damn!

And so that's it ... pretty much everything I've been up to over the past couple of weeks. I hope to be back again before too long but I'm making no promises!