Sunday 31 August 2014

Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub

I've recently started a course of acupuncture, and one of the first questions they ask you is, how is your appetite? I find mine is always good.
Our apples are ready ridiculously early this year, which means apple tart is on the menu.
Seems it's also time for the tomatoes. We like to use whatever we have, so yesterday it was aubergine, tomato and mozarella bake, with a green salad, to make some inroads on our sudden glut of cucumbers from the greenhouse. We peel the skin off, because they're a bit tougher than shop bought ones, but they taste mighty fine.
We had some walnut bread to use up tonight and since there's a nip in the air, this store cupboard staple seemed the perfect thing. It couldn't be easier to make.

Fry an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic until they are soft, then add spices (1 teaspoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, half a teaspoon of turmeric and a quarter of chili flakes). Stir in for 30 seconds. Then add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a pint of stock, the juice of half a lemon, 6oz of red lentils and a tin of coconut milk.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes or so until it's ready. Serve with some chunky rustic bread and a glass of wine.

It doesn't look fancy, but it's the easiest dish in the world to make, it's packed full of goodness, it's vegan and gluten free and it goes down a treat.

Bon appetit!

Friday 22 August 2014

Then and now part 3: curtain dresses

I've been rummaging around in my dressing up trunk again.

It all started with my latest curtain dress, which I wore to Serena's for dinner the other week.
That's an old barkcloth curtain I recently scored on ebay. The bodice was from a pattern, but the skirt is made up based on the fact that there wasn't enough fabric. There's never quite enough fabric.
Worn with yellow clogs and a kashmir shawl from a charity shop. I added a free-swinging panel to the front of the dress to give it a bit more movement. It's lined with pink silk from an old blouse of my mother's from the 1980s. The shape reminds me of traditional Thai temple dancer's outfits.
Our starter was baked figs with blue cheese and a rocket salad with balsamic vinegar dressing. There's Serena with her pussy cat, who she rescued from a rather dramatic thunderstorm.
Mushroom risotto with various different salads for main. There's Pool boy, Serena and our friend Claire. We had a heavenly lemon posset for desert and cheese to finish up with. I stopped taking photos after the main course. That's because by then I was a little bit squiffy. I'm still trying to work out whose fault that was. 
Anyway, I got to thinking of the first ever curtain dress I made when I was 17, thirty whole years ago. My parents had left home the previous year, so I had the run of the house and one day when I was rooting around in the loft, I found an old curtain, being used as lagging for the hot water tank. I promptly snaffled it.

I'd been up to London on a college trip and seen a girl dressed like a Watteau shepherdess. At the same time, I had a long white drop waisted dress which I loved, so they were my twin inspirations. I made the pattern up and just hacked.
I'm channeling Mrs Andrews from that Gainsborough picture here. Surveying my back room.
At the time, this dress came almost to the floor on me. I must have been a right short-arse. Not like now ;)

I was wearing this dress the first time I ever saw a picture of Boy George. My friend Chantal had one of his records and showed it to me in our German A Level class.
I used to wear that Victorian petticoat all the time. It is so fragile and patched up now and those Indian leather soled slippers have holes in them. Somehow I can't seem to throw these things away. There is so much of my personal history in them.
I don't have any pictures of me in this dress, but I do have pictures of the other drop waisted dress, the white one, which I was wearing with this 1960s sequinned sweater top.
These black and white photos were taken by my friend Alison who went on to do photography and fine art. She lives in Tuscany now and project manages the restoration of amazing old buildings like this one.
I ended up dying that white dress blue and embroidering flowers on it. By then I had moved to Nottingham and had an artist's studio in a warehouse. It was freezing, so I used to drink a never ending cup of tea and sit practically on top of my gas fire. One day I set fire to myself whilst wearing it and that was the end of that.

Right, enough of my ramblings, I need to get back to 2014, there are things to do! Don't be surprised if you see me in a drop waister soon, I think I'm ready to revisit.

Monday 11 August 2014

Ireland, part 2

When I spoke to the owner of the cottage, she said, go into the village, turn left at the bicycle and you are the 8th house on the left. I love directions like that.
It turned out that bikes had quite a significance on the holiday. My holiday companions are all regular and accomplished cyclists, and they took the decision to hire bikes. I ended up doing 35 miles up and down the mountains.  I brought up the rear by a long way, but it felt like a major accomplishment nonetheless. It was a stunning ride.
The uphill slope was called Granny. A wolf in sheep's clothing!
My favourite bit was the thrilling downhill ride into Ardara, and along the sand banks of the estuary.
Ghost houses pepper the landscape. I love these old houses and what they represent of the old way of life. All over the hillside you see piles of peat drying, ready to be burned. In the air, everywhere, the smell of peat fires.

The water is black from the rain which runs down the peat soil off the mountains. The rivers with their black water and white froth, reminded me of a pint of Guiness. Beautiful and so fitting.

The landscape seems to sweep away all thoughts, instilling a great calm and leaving the mind empty, so you can just be. It's like a meditation.
The folk village at Glencolmcille, where there are reconstructions of cottages through the ages, showing the everyday life of villagers from 1700 onwards. This little corner of Ireland is designated as Gaeltacht, which denotes an area where Gaelic is the main language spoken. The Irish are rightly proud of their language, culture and legacy and are working to preserve it. In Glencolmcille, there is a school where people come from all over the world to learn Gaelic.
Religion still plays a big role in Ireland. This village was the brainchild of a priest, whose mission became to try to fight the desperate poverty, to help the hungry and the homeless by giving them some employment and something to work towards and believe in, at a difficult time in Irish history. Although not religious myself, that seems to me to be a man and a mission to admire.

The people of Co Donegal want tourism, they want people to go and visit and discover their heritage, because that is what will help to keep it alive. If you ever fancy it, I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Thursday 7 August 2014

Ireland in a heat wave, part 1 of 2

My second holiday of July took place in the west of Ireland, in Co Donegal, home of my forefathers.

My mother's maiden name can be traced back to Donegal town and county. Everyone I spoke to knew the name, and I was given some good leads. Apparently I need to speak to Martin who runs the waterboat in Donegal. He's one of the clan, and big on the family history.
We arrived in a heat wave, the like of which has rarely been experienced on the west coast of Ireland.

So what do you do when it's hot? Why, you mess about on the water of course!

Here we are at Teelin Bay, where you can get a boat out to view the local beauty spot Sliabh Liag, probably the highest sea cliffs in Europe. 
Our jolly captain moored up and let us dive in from the boat, happily lending us clothes if we didn't have costumes. Just before these photos were taken, the hugest jelly fish swam past. It put me off, I'm ashamed to say.
The clothes weren't glamorous, but the scenery made up for it.
I know what you're thinking.

It's just like the video for Rio, by Duran Duran. 

We already bagsied Nick Rhodes, John Taylor and Simon Le Bon, so that leaves you the other two to pick from. Enjoy.

That's our captain Paddy Byrne there. He showed me a video he took in June of sixteen dolphins swimming with that very boat in Donegal bay, where we went. The Irish people are every bit as lovely as you've ever heard they are and more. Interested, friendly and easy-going and will do anything they can to help.
Sliabh Liag
Malin Beg, a steep descent, which hurts more on the way back up. 

Was it worth the climb, to swim in the Atlantic? Oh yes, it was certainly worth it.

Saturday 2 August 2014

France part 4: Sauveterre and being sociable in Najac

This is the final instalment of our French adventure. Thanks for sticking with it!
Sauveterre de Rouergue is one of the many small towns and villages designated 'one of the most beautiful towns in France. Aveyron has ten of them. This is one of the so-called 'new towns', built in a grid design. In the 13th century!
We sat and had lunch in that cafe right on the left there with the yellow and red sails. We had chips, salad and a downpour. 
This makes me think of Madame Bovary. Everywhere is so photogenic.

Najac, another of the most beautiful towns. We met up with friends for an evening mooch.
In summer in this part of France, the little villages and towns take it in turn to have night markets on different nights of the week. Small businesses take stalls selling local produce. The local people turn out to sit together on long tables and be sociable. We sampled farcous, aligot and crepes, all washed down with local wine. Since it rained, we took shelter in the bandstand.

So that's France over and done with. Hope you enjoyed it. I'm off somewhere else next! What a gadabout.