Thursday, 23 January 2014

Artful dips and the view from Portishead

I've just been having an improvised lunch of leftovers. Mostly dips. Which sounds pretty unhealthy doesn't it? Well actually they're probably not that bad, given that I made them myself out of vegetables that might otherwise have made the compost heap in a week or so. North Somerset Arts had an Artsmeet this week, and I was in charge of Nibbles. I do hate that word; it makes it sound like food for rabbits and guinea pigs and not the sophisticated array of delicacies designed to make people drink more that I had in mind. Anyway an Artsmeet, if you've never encountered one, is a meeting of artists: the idea is that being an artist is a lonely old business and that it's rather lovely to meet others in the same position and have a bit of a social event. And it was. It was really heartwarming to see how happy everyone seemed to be to talk to each other, share experiences, talk techniques, discuss the future (how often do we do that?!) and for some, to agree to meet up again. People brought the most wonderful things they had made, in order to get a little feedback on their work. I met new friends and old and am certainly meeting up with some again. We had wine, beer donated by Butcombe Brewery and beautiful soft drinks donated by Lovely Drinks. And my dips. I do normally hate beetroot, but this was terribly moreish:-

Beetroot Dip (adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem)

400g beetroot
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1/2 red chilli, deseeded and chopped
100g Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 tablespoon za'atar (this is the first time I've ever seen the point of this sesame and thyme-based spice mix)

Heat your oven to Gas Mark 6/200c. Wash the beetroot and put it in a roasting tin, and bake it for around an hour until a knife goes into the beetroot easily. When they are cooler, peel them and chop into smaller pieces. Put them, along with all the other ingredients, in a food processor and whizz. Check for seasoning: nothing worse than a dull dip.

The next one was roughly based on something I had at the Watershed in Bristol, but ultimately came out of my head:-

Butternut Squash Dip

1/2 a large butternut squash (no don't ask me for weights)
A smallish onion
A clove of garlic, unpeeled
A sprig of rosemary (about 3 inches)
A couple of spoonfuls of olive oil
Salt and pepper

Heat your oven, again to Gas Mark 6/200c. Peel the butternut squash, deseed if necessary and chop into pieces around 1cm square. Peel the onion and chop it into 8 segments. Take the leaves off the stalk of the rosemary and chop. Mix them all up with the olive oil on a baking tray, and season well. Bake for around 50 minutes until everything feels soft, stirring occasionally to get the caramelised bits off the bottom. Then let it all cool a bit. Take the skin off the garlic and put it along with everything else in a food processor and whizz. (At this point, after doing the beetroot as well, I was reminded of my days of lovingly and endlessly preparing baby food, only to have it spat across the room by a reluctant child. Ah how things have changed.) Check again for seasoning and I had to add a bit of water, just to ensure that it was the right consistency to adhere to a breadstick, rather than break the breadstick in two and suck in the bottom half like a welly in the mud.

I regretted not taking a piece of my own work along for a little feedback myself. We had specialists giving advice on painting, printmaking and ceramics, so you'd think a felted picture might be out of place. But it didn't feel like it on the night. The picture in question was based on the resident ceramicist's view from her house in Portishead so it may have been interesting to see what she would have to say about it. Tean has the most wonderful house perched on the side of a cliff overlooking the Bristol channel. Maybe I'll show her my paltry version of her view next time I see her if I feel brave:-

I'm not sure whether I like it yet. Time will tell. Or it might not be finished yet. More thinking needed.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Stars and flowers

This year has been hard so far. I have been trying to be focussed and get creative and haven't managed to make it happen yet. The only making I've been able to do so far has been some patchwork that has been hanging around for a couple of years and weighing on my conscience. It is actually completely obsolete; I started making it as an extra cover for our bed on really cold nights, but we have since had double glazing put in and don't seem to have really cold nights any more. I started picking the fabrics for this just before my eldest started school - and he is now 8. Still, yesterday I finished the last of 21 stars. Want to see? Here you are...

The fabrics are all Kaffe Fassett ones; the vibrancy of the colours and the patterns is life-affirming (and I need a bit of that in the winter). I was wary of using such large patterns and chopping them up but Material Obsession 2 showed me that I needed to relax and enjoy the clash of it all. This one is my favourite - it may sound odd but I love the way the two patterns compete with each other and make your eyes jingle:-

Each block is made from 24 pieces, and each block is 12 inches square.. It is good to know that I'm now around half way through piecing the quilt (even though it's taken a good 2 years to get this far), but the other blocks that will go between these ones are just a mixture of two brown-toned fabrics so I know I won't feel the urgency to see them done in the same way as with these lovely bright stars. 

Positive things to focus on for some inspiration: a visit to a house balanced on a cliff in Portishead today with the most wonderful sea view, just nothing at all but sea, sky and a hint of Wales in between the two. Then oddly a visit to Windmill Hill City Farm yesterday. Usually parents are to be seen following their toddlers around there, loudly narrating "Yes, a goat, oh look chickens..." but my six-year-old has still not quite grown out of the place and never tires of it. And she's probably got good reason to love it: we always unwind there and there's always something to lighten our spirits. And yesterday it was a cute bit of yarn-bombing...

I'm really hoping these will be enough to get me inspired enough to do some more felting in the next week.  And if not, that I'll see some other things that help me get back on track...

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year!?

Happy New Year to you if you are reading this. I was full of hope for 2014 but if today is anything to go by, I have my doubts...

Waking up at 5.30 with a hangover, hearing a scuffling in the attic and then realising that it isn't your son in his attic room as he is having an impromptu sleepover, but the elusive mouse that we can't get rid of.

Waking later and although both children are at someone else's house, not being able to have a lie-in as I need to go to tend to some chickens as soon as it hits daylight. Normally I love these chickens (I am part of a chicken-share scheme and look after them on Thursday mornings but did an extra day as someone else was away for New Year's Day) but in the pouring rain it has its downsides. There has been a lot of rain recently and the field has been getting worse and worse; on the footpath to their patch up to my ankles in water and their patch itself just mud itself, not a chance of staying clean. Still, plenty of eggs, still warm, spur me on. In fact it isn't until I get home that I realise my new wellies have a leak.

Children tired and grumpy today, of course not enough sleep.

Bit of a respite before a lunchtime trip in more rain to clean the chickens out. Yes it stinks but this is nothing compared to the misery of the cold and the water and the mud and some of the roofing over their run has blown off. I do a makeshift effort of putting it back and weighing it down with logs. I know this isn't going to be good enough. Back home to change out of wet clothes.

Return to grumpy children. Argument over what film to watch. We all settle down to Narnia and all is good. I have organised a treat for later: a trip to the theatre to watch The Little Mermaid. Of course we have to cut short the film to get ready, cue the moans. And I need to put the bloody chickens to bed before we get to the theatre. The rain is still pouring. The roof has blown off again. Can't stop to do much about it. I will try to face it tomorrow when I go back. Back to car, changing my wet socks as we are going along. Boy starts whinging about how he hates mermaids and doesn't like the theatre. We get there and the queue is horrendous, nearly out of the door into the foul rain. And then someone mentions that the play has been cancelled as one of the actors has been taken ill (I finally take on board the ambulance parked outside). The mortification of having a son who cheers at the news.

All is not lost: I have managed to cheer myself up a little with some good food tonight...

Huevos Motulenos (courtesy of Thomasina Miers)

Serves 2

1/2 onion roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves
1/4 tsp ground cumin
Pinch of ground cloves
Sprig of thyme
Olive oil
4 tomatoes, roughly cubed
Tortillas (husband had 3, I had 2)
Eggs (husband had 2, I had 1, thank you chickens)
Refried beans
Roast tomato salsa (see below)
3 slices good ham, each chopped in 2 (we have some really great smoked ham thanks to my brother for Christmas, from Pipers Farm)
Guacamole (this wasn't in the original recipe but I had the ingredients and I love it)
You could also have some grated cheese - I didn't but I've just spotted it in the recipe.

Start by making the roast tomato salsa:-
2 tomatoes
1/2 small onion cut into wedges
1 garlic clove unpeeled
1/2 green chilli
Small amount of coriander chopped
Juice of about 1/3 lime
I also added a teaspoon of chipotle paste

Put the tomatoes, onion, clove of garlic and chilli in a dry hot frying pan and keep turning them occasionally until they have blackened spots on them. Put them all in a mini blender, taking the skin off the garlic, and blitz. Add the coriander, lime juice, and chipotle paste if you have some and season. Mix and chill.

Then on to the main event: blitz the onion, garlic, cumin, cloves and thyme with a tablespoon or so of water. Heat a little olive oil and fry the mixture until the raw onion smell has disappeared. Add the chopped tomatoes and season, cook for a few minutes. Some recipes have peas in at this point. Thomasina mentions spinach. I had neither.

So to multitasking and assembling (much swearing at this point): 3 frying pans on the go at once: in one you need to briefly fry your tortillas, in another I fried the ham slices (not necessary but this ham we have is just soooo good fried, it gets really tender), and in the last fry your eggs. Oh and warm up your refried beans. Cue more swearing as something inevitably gets forgotten. Put the tortillas on your plates and then put everything else on top, in your preferred order. Don't forget anything: tomatoey sauce, refried beans, salsa, eggs, ham, guacamole. I would have taken a photo but it really didn't look very pretty. Lots of dollops.

It sounds like a lot of faff doesn't it? Terrible lot of work and the last 5 minutes were manic. The pan I was frying the eggs in turned out not to be non-stick. But I can report that the combination of flavours was remarkable. Really complex and a lovely mixture of hot and cold, and plenty of different textures. I wish I could put into words everything going on on that plate. I will be making it again very soon. Happy New Year.