Saturday, 14 June 2014

Eating Low-FODMAP 101

At the beginning of 2014 I set myself a project, a la Julie Powell's - A Year of Cooking Dangerously - I would cook all the recipes (with the exception of the shell-fish) in Joanne Harris' and Fran Warde's - The French Kitchen, minimum one recipe a week was my goal. And I made a good start cooking three recipes from the book, two of which are here on my blog and the third Tarte Tatin which I never got around to posting.    And then Fate did, as Fate does, intervene.  And I spent 6 weeks lurching between episodes of dia and vomiting, one particularly bad episode after trying a fritatta for the first time  (never again), there are two no-no's on my list now, shell-fish and fritatta's, don't even mention them.  I was in and out of my doc's like a yo-yo, I had blood tests and procedures, and was becoming well acquainted with the corridors of my local hospital.  Everything came up negative, with one exception there was a bug in my poo that took a week to identify.  There I was imagining that I must have some strange and exotic condition, when my doc got all the results in and declared, we think you have food intolerances that cause IBS.  Oh joy.

And so at the beginning of March this year, armed with information sheets from my GP, and his particular choice of a way to cope, Low-Fodmaps, I began to research the Low-Fodmap way of eating.  I won’t call it a diet, because I am not trying to lose weight, I’m trying to find a way eating that will calm my digestive system and not provoke the worst of the IBS symptoms.  And so here I am almost three and a half months down the line, and feeling that I have at last managed to stabilise my digestive system, and come to terms with the upheaval that is changing my entire way of eating and cooking and what that entails.

Though I still have some symptoms from time to time - (especially after ingesting something I shouldn’t, like too many biscuits, or too much Indian Tonic Water – the only fizzy drink I can allow myself in small amounts) – I am currently experiencing more stability in my digestive regions and as someone on the FB group – Low Fodmap for Foodies – once described as “proper plops”.

Its taken me three months to get used to this new way of eating and devising weekly menus.  Also making what I can eat in batches and freezing.

During this time, I’ve discovered to my surprise the level at which our food is “added to” is far beyond what I’d previously imagined. For instance, we recently had top quality Beef Burgers from the supermarket, I had only eaten half of one before I had to rush to the loo. And sure enough when I checked the ingredients, there it was Onion Powder! So what I’m finding is that foods are added to, to improve taste and that’s where the hidden stuff that provokes my digestive system lurks.

With hindsight I realise there were some clues that I have food intolerances, I just didn’t put them together that they were causing me pain, bloating, gas etc, etc,.  let’s take for instance the biggest culprits, Onions, Garlic, Spring Onions, things I’ve used on a daily basis for years, and then in the last year I noticed that cutting Onions and Garlic caused my eyes to water painfully and the tips of my fingers to sting!

There are I’ve found upsides to eating Low Fodmap, (apart from the obvious avoiding digestive earthquakes and crises) and the first one, is that we are “eating clean”, cutting out the obvious junk food and the hidden additivies that I’ve discovered most prepared foods seem to contain. I’d never have imagined that store-bought humus contains sugar, but it does; or that some Cottage Cheese contains cream and they do.  The second is that we are eating smaller portions. Oh and my sinuses have cleared up, and my sense of smell is a lot sharper than it used to be.  I can often smell that a food contains something that is going to upset my stomach!

So though at the beginning of my Low-Fodmap journey I was freaked that I might have to cook two sets of meals, one for me and one for Chas, he is now eating what I eat, with the addition of veg and fruit that I cannot, which is great for him as he has type 2 diabetes.

So if you are just starting out on the Low Fodmap way of eating, and feeling freaked out at changes you will need to make, yet also having to cook for family, here’s my suggestion, get yourself a copy of Sue Shepherd’s book, The Complete Low-FODMAP Diet, and visit Suzanne Perrazani's website Strands of My Life,  Suzanne's book, Low Fodmap Menus for IBS, is not only a wonderful collection of recipes, but literally a feast for the eyes, it has wonderfully photographed food which will have your mouth watering!   From the recipes in these books you can  make a list of menus for one week. Meat and Chicken recipes, can be prepared in batches and frozen, and then served with different veg, rice, quinoa, whatever you choose; so your meals are planned ahead, and stick to it,  while you sort your eating life out. This very important, says the woman who rarely planned meals, and did most of her cooking on a wing and a prayer. Oh and not forgetting the Delicious as it Looks website, which has a wonderful recipe index. (link at end of post).

There will be days when your whole new way of eating and cooking for yourself and possibly family will feel totally overwhelming and you will want to cry, I did. And there will be days when you give in to the incredible urge to have that forbidden food, ice-cream, fizzy drinks, cheese-cake or whatever it is “that doesn’t love you back”, and you will pay for it, keep Loperamide handy!  You will have eaten whatever it might be, possibly because like me, every so often you feel like a child who is being denied their treats.

Organise, I cannot emphasis that enough, says she who hates planning ahead, but I found it to be a must, to instigate the changes I need to make.  I now have two folders, one is filled with Low-Fodmap recipes,  a stock sheet which records the contents of the Low-Fodmap section of my freezer, and a bog standard weekly planner with menus for each day.  And the other Folder contains information I have gleaned from various sources, doctor, and the internet.
Menu and Freezer Stock Sheets

It is really important that you have contact with other Low-Fodmappers, I was really lucky to discover on that first day I got the diagnosis, The Low Fodmap for Foodies on Facebook.  The group is enormously supportive and helpful, and you will be connected to people who may be further along in the low-fodmap journey and will benefit from that contact.

And I do a DSDOR every week, that’s a Digestive System Day of Rest, eating lightly.

My weekly menu plan is based around these dishes:

Sea Bass or Sea Bream Steamed with Rice, Veg and Salad
Low Fodmap Spaghetti Bolognaise Sauce with GF Pasta
Chicken Wings marinated overnight in Maple Syrup, Ginger, and Tumeric with steamed veg and salad
Chinese Chicken Breasts a la Sue Shepherd recipe (p. 151 The Complete Low-Fodmap Diet)  served with rice, steamed veg and salad.
Turkey Meatloaf
Homemade Beef Burgers
All of the above are served with Veg and Salad.

Homemade Chicken Broth with Carrots and Herbs from the Delicious As It Looks Website

And mostly I have these dishes with Rice, Quinoa, Vermicelli Noodles (Rice Sticks)


Links:

Strands of My Life
Delicious As It Looks (this links to the Recipe Index)


Homemade Chicken Broth in Ice Cube Trays, Marinaded Chicken Wings, Turkey and Quinoa Meatloaf and Homemade Beef Burgers

So hope this will be some help to someone out there, Happy Low-Fodmapping!!


Monday, 24 February 2014

The French Kitchen Project: 2 – Quiche Lorraine – change of plan, no Tarte Tatin!



This recipe involves one of my culinary fault lines, pastry.

I’m not good at pastry.  My mother Louisa used to say that for pastry you need cool hands, my hands are cool sometimes, but not in the heat of the kitchen. Usually, I reach for the ready made kind in supermarket’s frozen section. But that would be cheating, wouldn’t it? And I think that this particular recipe calls for the real thing, so here goes.

So what have I learned so far? Try to have all the ingredients to hand, don’t be tempted by latte or gossip, read the recipe all the way through before embarking, and remember to take photos.



So this time, reading the recipe through, before I begin, I assemble,  250 gm flour sifted. 70 gms butter, and 55gms baking fat,  cut into small pieces.  So combining the flour butter and fat I rub it all together until it resembles breadcrumbs, as instructed, and voila, I achieved the breadcrumbs.




Suddenly am not feeling so anxious about pastry.  Ooooooo it looks like I may have my mother’s pastry making gene after all.  Now for two egg yolks lightly beaten with two tablespoons of water.  I have real guilt about separating the yolks from the whites, what will I do with the whites? Oh the guilt if I have to throw them away. Unfortunately, I do have my mother’s frugal gene, known by some as the McGahon Frugal Gene (hereinafter referred to as the MFG!).

So mixing the egg yolks and water I pour into the breadcrumb mixture, using a knife in a circular motion to bring the breadcrumbs and the egg mixture together.  At first I start to panic as it does not look as though it is going to form the “ball” suggested in the recipe, but gradually it begins to come together in the ball form.  OK, now the recipe says “knead until smooth”. Knead? I thought only bread is kneaded! Oh what the hell, go for it….  Knead. So I knead, this is quite mindless meditative movement, but I’ll be glad when it’s done, but I am not sure when its done!

Four minutes of kneading, form the pastry back into a ball, because something tells me that pastry in a ball form will make it easier to roll out a round pastry for the round dish.  I hope.  You see I usually make rectangular or square pies/tarts, no really, one its much easier than pastry for round dishes, and two, I don’t waste pastry (remember the MFG).  I have spent too much time, even with the ready made pastry, trying to get the pastry to fit round dishes without waste. And too much time when I’ve made my own pastry filling in cracks in pastry that doesn’t quite fit the dish. So pastry formed into ball, wrapped in cling film, goes into the fridge to chill. And I will chill with a coffee.

Right now, with the upcoming attempting to roll out a round piece of pastry, I really need to follow the pastry into the fridge and chill also. But as Louisa used to say, there’s no peace for the wicked, now to cook the bacon, another pan spitting at me.

 So I take my kneaded, chilled, ball of pastry out of the fridge. Unwrap and lay on lightly floured surface and wield my rolling pin. After about three minutes I swear, I wanted to hit the pastry, not roll it. It’s like trying to flatten granite.  What I really need is a steam roller, not a rolling pin.

I’ve managed to flatten the ball into a semicircle, but it’s far too thick and I am moments away from throwing it in the bin in desperation and frustration and reaching for the ready-made frozen stuff, which I still have time to defrost and have the quiche ready for tea.  And then I have a brainwave, oh yes, somewhere in the cupboard under my stairs is one of those many gadgets that get bought, used once and then consigned to the cupboard, rarely to resurface, and only then to be sold on ebay or donated to the local charity shops.  A Pasta Maker!

Only takes me five minutes to locate the little devil, and I set it up and feed my lump of pastry through it’s jaws, once, twice, three times and I have smooth piece of pastry, ok, so it is no longer a circle, and there will be some waste, (forgive me MFG), but, needs must when the devil drives.  And this piece of pastry was deffo the devil tempting me into a meltdown. So now I have a piece of pastry, homemade, granted not the circular shape I was aiming for, but what the heck, I lay it on the 30cm push up tart tray and hey presto we are half way there. There, I’ve found a use for that darn gadget after all!

So the oven is heating to 180c and the bacon sizziling gently on the pan for 5 minutes, I beat the egg yolks, crème fraiche in a bowl, throw in some black pepper and sea salt with flourishes a la Jamie.

And I really like the idea of some steamed green beans in this otherwise it will look all eggy and pasty coloured, so I quickly steam some beans.
Bacon is ready, lay it on the pastry case, pour the liquid into the pastry case, sprinkle the green beans on top and hey presto we have Quiche Lorraine on it’s way to the oven!

Now it’s time for me to throw all the utensils into the dishwasher, yes I do have one, though it is rarely used.  In fact it is so rarely used that when it is, I have spent time looking for utensils, wondering where they went only to remember that,  we used the dishwasher - but I think I deserve a rest from the washing up, don’t I?

So Quiche Lorraine bakes for 35 minutes at 180c, then the temperature is reduced to 160c and baked for 15 minutes more and hey presto, well it took more than a magic rolling pin, we have supper.

And it wasn’t bad, as it says in the recipe, "once you have tasted the home-made variety you will never want to buy another one again", and I second that.  When of course I have gotten the knack of the pastry making down to a fine art, that does not involve steam rollers!!





Sunday, 9 February 2014

The French Kitchen Project - Bouef en Daube


My first recipe from The French Kitchen.  Chosen because I just happen to have some rump steak in my freezer and I need to use it up. I have carrots, onions, black olives, and garlic.  I also have capers, but Prof Yaffle doesn’t like them, so leave those out. 

 Funnily enough it’s Prof Y, who is constantly commenting that my store cupboards are the envy of the known world and probably the universe, though we have a small kitchen he marvels at the delights I have tucked away.

The beef has been marinad-ing in the fridge overnight, drowned in white wine with Bay Leaves and generously seasoned with salt and black pepper,  and I turn it from time to time as instructed. The onions, carrots, mushrooms and black olives are chopped.  Everything I need is ready, flour, tin of tomatoes, peel of one orange (no, I will not be wasting time zesting an orange) and capers.

It’s pouring rain today and at some point I will have to dash to the local M & S for Mushrooms. so with all the ingriedents laid out, I pop out for the Mushrooms and bump into a friend who persuades me into Costa for a latte and a chat; she is usually overflowing with local gossip so I couldn’t resist.  Could I?

Back at the house, I realise that there is no way that this meat can be simmered slowly for 3 hours, because I don’t have three hours, I just used some of that up over latte and gossip. Hells Bells!

And to make matters worse, as I stand reading through the entire recipe I come upon the words:  “To serve, lift the beef out onto a carving plate and carve into thickish slices…”  Hells Bells and Buckets of Blood, my rump steak has already been cut into largish pieces!! Sh*te, dam and blast.  So I take a deep breath and take my Costa takeaway coffee ( I had to have one more just to fortify me) and sit on the patio and try to calm AW (anxious woman, my constant companion) who’s words are thundering through my head now. “Read the recipe woman, don’t assume…..”  

So that’s two elements of the recipe I have to find a way round, the time and that I have already chopped the meat.  I read  “My great-grandmother used to cook it in an earthenware pot at a very low heat for three days”.!!  Think, think…..  so I sit there drinking latte and panicking….  It’s my default setting.

Ok, deep breaths and back to the kitchen where I reach for my most beloved piece of kitchen equipment, my trusty Kuhn Pressure Cooker.  Whilst sitting on the patio it came to me, 15 minutes in PC is equivalent to at least an hour cooking. Then I can let the pressure go down naturally, and add the veg and let it simmer for another hour and a bit (very precise my timings) and hey presto ve vill have Daube en Bouef! 

But of course, a recipe is not a recipe, if I don't add my own little dash of something. So while my pressure cooker is merrily humming,  I put a thin slice of butter in the pan, let it melt, it smells wonderful, put in the Mushrooms and let them sizzle for a minute or so, and then add a capful.... no two capfuls of white wine, and get on with preparing the veg, which will be added to the pot after it's cooked in the pressure cooker for 15 minutes.

So once the pressure cooker has done its job, and I've added the veg, and let the pot simmer gently for another hour and a half, the smell is wonderful.

Later:  it was delicious, never mind that I didn’t read the recipe properly, tender and beautifully flavoured, served with potatoes, salad and a glass of red wine. And there is enough left over to freeze for another occasion. Oh and Prof. Yaffle asked for seconds!

And I was so busy cooking and eating, that I forgot to take some photos. Oh well, next time.



NOTE TO SELF: Always read the recipe through before embarking on cooking; and remember to take photos.

NEXT TIME:  Tarte Tatin


Tuesday, 28 January 2014

The French Kitchen Project - Prologue


The last year has been terrible.  I suffer from anxiety which brings on depression, or is it the other way round, I am still not sure.  Anxiety and depression are evil siblings enough, but there’s another member of that family that follows me around, and that’s Panic Attacks.

If you’ve never had a PA, you probably won’t understand, and you might think if you see someone having one that they are having a heart attack, but I’m not, I’m so anxious that I have begun to hyperventilate, and if PA really gets going I can lose my hearing and my sight goes fuzzy, like a video camera moving too fast.  My first instinct because I am totally freaked out and afraid is to try to get up and run, but if all of that is accompanied by a sense of pins and needles in my legs and arms, this is unlikely to happen.  You might even speak to me, but I probably can only hear your voice like I am at the bottom of a well.  And for now I am.

There’s a great trick to try and change the breathing and that’s a paper-bag held over the nose and mouth into which I breathe in and out slowly, and it re-balances the amount of oxygen I am getting.  Imagine having to do this, yes it is very embarrassing. There have been people who thought I was sniffing glue, me sniffing glue, please get a grip.

So why am I putting this out there?  Well it is really helpful to know that I am not alone, and maybe there is someone out there who like me suffered in silence for a long time, finding it hard to out myself to doctors and therapists, and hoping it would go away.
 
So let me take my head out of the sand now, I realise that this will not go away without help, and I am getting some.  Currently I am having CBT Therapy (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and my CBT Counsellor is very supportive and encouraging.  Though she threw me slightly off balance when she declared that the paper-bag idea is “old hat”, well it may be old, but it works, and as that saying goes if it aint broke why fix it? Or in this case change it to – Breathe in Blue, Breathe out Green.  I told her it’s a lovely idea, and I assured her I’ll do just that, whilst holding my paper bag over my nose and mouth, so, I should have double help.

And hopefully if there are others out there who experience Depression, Anxiety and Panic Attacks, maybe we can share experiences, good days, bad days, days I think I’d like to head to bed and pull the duvet over my head and remain there.  Because I find it really difficult to talk to people who haven’t experienced these things.  But mostly people’s eyes seem to glaze over and I think if you dump a load of sympathy on me now, or say something like – it’s a lovely day what is there to panic about – I’ll just crawl into my shell and not come out again.  I’m not  a big fan of those who say think only positive thoughts.  If they could see a movie of what goes through my mind sometimes they’d probably run screaming from the building.

So in order to regain some balance in my life, and have a project that takes me through the year, I’ve decided to attempt to cook all the recipes in Joanne Harris and Fran Warde’s -  The French Kitchen.  There will be some omissions however and that’s anything of a shell-fish nature, Prof Yaffle is allergic and I’ve had a very head over the loo bowl experience after an oysters and mussels party that has put me off the little critters for life.  And Rabbit may be off the menu too… oh and pigeon….  Oooh gotta stop myself there or there’ll be nothing left to cook, but I’m going to be very Scarlet O’Hara about that, I’ll ponder about that later.  For now I will cook a minimum of one recipe from the book per week and blog about it.

And yes I am inspired by Julie Powell’s -  Julie/Julia My Year of Cooking Dangerously. (As I type this I am saying these words to myself and a voice behind me – Prof Yaffle my other half can be heard muttering – “It’s always dangerous in the kitchen when you are cooking, dear”). Cue cushion thrown over my head in his direction.

I am not setting out to cook all of the recipes in a year, I’m setting out to enjoy cooking what I choose and learn about French cooking. Simpler French cooking. I have seen the two volumes of Julia Childs, The Art of Mastering French Cooking, and believe me that’s enough to stimulate a PA.  

Along my way I will share recipes for some of my dishes from from my favourite cuisines,  Chinese, Malaysian, Indian and  Italian.  My favourite Chinese foods are Bean Curd, Congee/Chuk (Chuk is prounounced Chook) that’s Chinese Savoury Rice porridge, and Steamed Chicken Feet – now that’s a delicacy that not everyone shares my taste for, but it is delicious and I recommend you roll up to a Chinese Restaurant near you that serves Dim Sum and order yourself a portion of delightful little steamed chicken’s feet, on the other hand, maybe not!

So for someone who left home with a tiny amount of cooking ability; eggs boiled, scrambled, it’s taken me years to learn to fry an egg properly, I don’t like the pan spitting at me!  Can make a mean chicken soup though. And could probably if asked reproduce my Father's favourite dish, Boiled Pigs Trotters with Liquorice. Which he always cooked himself.  But, as you can imagine no-one asked.  I learned to cook Irish Stew courtesy of my one-eyed Domestic Science teacher, Sr Enda (whom I adored, she is the only one of my teachers I remember fondly); forays into my Mother's kitchen were minimal, she liked to just get on with it. There were the times I tried to cook Chocolate Eclairs, that was a pantomime and a half, though we did produce a dozen or so. And my Mothers Apple Tart on a plate, and Madelaines, sponge cake covered in Jam and with a Cherry on top. And my Mothers famous Brown Stew, where she augmented the meat with her own dumplings, pastry balls we used to call them.

Which reminds me of growing up in a little village on the East Coast of Ireland, and my mother buying fish from the fishermen and bringing it home and cleaning it. I used to stand by the sink and watch her as she scaled and  gutted the fish. It was almost like doing surgery.

Most people I encountered were amazed that I could clean and gut a fish. So when in Switzerland, I went to buy fish for the family I lived with, took it home and proceeded to clean and gut it, the lady of the house was amazed.  Maybe I thought ok, so these people don’t gut their own fish, they are obviously a more advanced society than mine!

Apparently she usually asked the fishmonger to do the deed, so I wasn't sure whether she was pleased or appalled at what I had done.  But she decided that a girl from an island on the western reaches of Europe who could clean and gut fish was an asset and she set too teaching me a lot more about cooking. She had taken a Cordon Bleu course!  So I learned lots of pasta dishes and amazing ways with salad. Unfortunately my first attempt with beef steaks was a bit of a disaster, she had taken a telephone call and I took the term cooking steak, to mean just that, turned the fire up under it to give it a good blast, and oh heavens.... we had to start again.  But we did laugh about it, in fact we had a lot of laughs as she sought to teach me the minimum amount of cooking ability, she said every girl should have, if she were ever to entice a husband!!

Years later it occurred to me that Switzerland is a landlocked country, so maybe there is less acquaintance with the cleaning and gutting of fish. Speaking of Switzerland being a landlocked country, every year there is a cultural festival in Zurich, and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre were there in 1970 with their production of Sean O’Casey's, The Hostage.  A friend and I went to see it.  There we are, and onstage one character says something like, “tomorrow he’ll be hanged as high as Kilie-manjaro”. The other character asks, “Where’s Kilie-manjaro?”  First character obviously is a know-it-all who doesn’t want to let on he really doesn’t know, so he says, I kid you not, “Oh somewhere on the south coast of Switzerland!” My friend and I laughed out loud and were still laughing when we realised that we were the only ones in the theatre laughing, because they just didn’t get the joke. We went backstage afterwards and met the cast and asked them if this line is really in the play? Oh said they laughing, we just throw things in sometimes to test the level of understanding. We knew there were some Irish people in when we heard your laughter.  Typical Irish humour, treat everything irreverently.  Even the sacred words of Sean O’Casey, though I’m sure he would have enjoyed that.

And if you love food and like to read about it, there’s quite a lot of food themed fiction out there.  Joanne Harris’s Chocolat Laura Esquivel’s –Like Water for Chocolate, and my favourite, because the books are by an Iranian author, and set in the West of Ireland, Marsha Mehran’s – Pomegranate Soup, Rosewater and Soda Bread, and the third in the series is due for publication this year, Pistachio Rain.


So that’s the background to my project.  I am now going to take myself and anxious woman (AW) on a journey through Joanne Harris and Fran Warde’s  -The French Kitchen.  My first recipe, Bouef en Daube will be cooked tomorrow.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Altered Journals/Notebooks - 23.01.2014

The Ladies of Grace Adieu, my favourite book cover. So that's three book covers prepared, now to cut the paper and bind.










Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Blackrock Co Louth - My Childhood Home

Recently I came across some photos on the Dundalk Democrat's Facebook page of the village where I lived until I was ten.  The photos showed how recent storms and tidal surges affected the village. This brings back memories for me of going to school on a stormy morning, and finding the sea had come in across the Main Street, with a wind howling down Sandy Lane, (where my primary school was) and of teachers having to come to the bottom of Sandy Lane, just opposite the Post Office take us in groups up the lane to our school.

In Photo 2: just out of the picture here is where Rock Road goes up the hill, we lived in Hillcrest, and if I recall some of our neighbours were the Sharkeys, the Devenneys and the Stewarts.

In the village itself there was an indoor Roller Skating Rink, Malloca's Cafe where we used to get chips and play the jukebox, and later on when the Swimming Pool was built I used to spend most of my summer holidays biking in and out to Blackrock, after we moved to Dundalk.

Photo 1:  The coast road across the Marshes on the North Side of Blackrock.  Photo: Pat O'Shaughnessy

Photo 2: The road into Blackrock from the North. Photo: Pat O'Shaughnessy

Photo 3: Blackrock Main Street looking North Photo: Aidan Stewart

Photo 4: Blackrock Main Street Photo: Aiden McCann
Photo 5: Blackrock Main Street Photo: Maire Agnew

Photo 6: Blackrock from the viewed from the south: Photo: Aidan Devenney

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

One Word

My word for the year 2014  is Balance, and if you've come looking for my "one word post", it will be up tomorrow.

Monday, 10 June 2013

How To Avoid Paying Parking Charges On Your Local High Street

Bet that caught your attention....  well it certainly did mine today.  There I was having my afternoon latte hit after a morning of struggling to decide what shade of fabric I would use in my next project, and how would I dye it, strong tea-bags? or Beetroot?  Oh, but what about avoiding parking charges you say.  Oh yes, that.  So as I settle down to enjoy my latte and sketch and note the thoughts flooding through my brain in relation to said project, something caught my eye.

Across the road outside the butchers a car pulls into a parking space, the driver, gets out, goes round to the passenger side and out comes his son, probably about five-ish, he then opens his boot and leaves it open and crosses the street in my direction and goes into the Post Office.  I thought he forgot to close the boot.  So when he comes walking back past the cafe, I call out to him and mention that he forgot to close his car boot.  He smiles at me, and says thank you; but looks just a little, well - guilty. And he then pops into Barclays and emerges a few minutes later, crosses the road, puts his son in the car, closes the boot, gets into car and drives off.

Clever, eh?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Gifts from Wales

Sian Williams Davies has sent me some seeds, Angharads Sweet Peas, beautifully wrapped and packaged.  I'd love to show you the beautifully written envelope, but that would put my address into cyber space, not sure I want that.



 

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Art Journals and Altered Books: Frida Kahlo's Letters

My first altered book, a selection of Frida Kahlo's letters found online. The book, originally a lifestyle book with heavy paper pages.  First I pulled out quite a few of the pages and then covered the book cover with a sheet of Financial Times newspaper, which I painted over with acrylic paint.  Then I pasted a photograph of Frida and some of her letters.



Front Cover

Inside Cover

Tip-in Page

Tip-in page opened

Frida's Garden Party

Frida in the Woods

Frida's Patio

My favourite picture of Frida

Back Cover


Monday, 29 April 2013

The Mouse and the Art Journal

So you look at these pictures and think, - where's the Mouse?  -  well Ms Mouse, (oh yes we know it was female) is the creative genius behind the wonderfully serrated edge on the spotted paper, and you ask how?  Well, I have some rolls of paper that are stored under a wardrobe. (it's the usual thing I do just to tidy them out of the way).

Took them out the other day to find that one roll had been eaten along the edge and had a beautifully serrated edge that could only have been achieved by.... yes a mouse. So just before I cut it level and stored it away again, I thought aaaaaaaaha that would make a good piece for my art journal background. 

Thank you Ms Mouse, for your creative work and I do hope you escaped the attention of our resident feline, Dim Sum.  I have put the rolls of paper back under the wardrobe and wonder if you could have another go at them, that would be wonderful. 

Close-up of Ms Mouse's serration technique
 


Art Journal Page



 


 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Collage on a Sunday - a lesson in overdoing it...

 Am a bit disappointed with this collage page.  Think I overdid it and really should have stopped at picture, "Text Added".  Using matte medium on pan pastels is really not a good idea...

The original background

Text added

First layer of colour added
 
Added stencil raindrop shapes with pan pastel

Closeup of stencil pan pastel
Collage before I matted

Collage after I matted it



 
 

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Just been read the riot act by my GP. Not as bad as it may sound.  She is an extremely good and thorough doctor, nothing gets by her. And there is always a wait to see her because of her throughness and the time she gives to her patients. 

So it's a new year and a new project.  Project me; have to reduce my cholesterol, which will involve daily exercise and a complete change in diet.  Goodbye to all my favourites, cheese, chicken skin, white bread, chocolates, sugary drinks, cheese (especially camenbert, did I mention cheese before... yes that's because that will be a big sacrifice), full fat milk, butter..... yep just about anything that I might crave is off the menu.

So say hello to lots of veg, and for that I a now going to scour the internet for suitable recipes that I can use.  That means that my tried and tested menu for the week which I don't even have to think about is now, off the menu, except for fish.

A total rethink of eating habits...... god I feel depressed already.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Ainelivias Autumn Statement: An Open Letter to Chancellor George (The Unloved) Osborn


On Wednesday, or WOEday you delivered your Autumn Statement. Yesterday I bought a newspaper, with the intention to bone up on the analyses of what this means for us, but yesterday being my birthday, I decided instead to have a day of bel far niente (Italian for the sweet art of doing nothing) and gave myself a day off from the harsh realities of the world.

So today I have caught up with the implications of your economic strategy for us ordinary people.

So to reduce all the hot-air and zillions of words, expended on your statement, this is what I think.

You and yours (Tories and Lib Dems) have taken as your oft-repeated  ad nauseum mantra, “We are all in this together”.  But George, we, that is Josephine and Joe Public out here, do not believe you, and really you insult our intelligence.

Here’s a few reasons why; Starbucks, Google, Amazon, oh and Top-Shop (we seem to have forgotten them temporarily) to name the most notable corporations engaged in legal though immoral tax-evasion.

In your statement on Woeday, you used the now standard spin, on how the majority of us feel aggrieved at those on benefits who lie abed, while we set off for work in all weathers. I find it strange that you set out to demonise those who have to live on benefits, and not applying the same standard to large corporations who seek to evade, however legally, their tax responsibilities.

So here’s the thing George, watching last night’s Question Time on BBC1, a young woman spoke of her father, who struggling to make ends meet, had worked out that he and his family would have a better income if they were on benefits.

So what I ask, is the moral difference between large corporations finding legal ways to maximise their profits, and Mr and Mrs Public realising their income would increase if they were on benefits? 

And so, if as you say “We are all in this together”, what is the problem with an individual taking the lead from large corporations on how to maximise income?  In any other circumstances, I’m sure you would say it is the sensible thing to do, wouldn’t you?  But the question remains, is it the moral thing to do?

As the Lib Dem MP Tim Farron said on Question Time last night.  “Tax is the subscription charge for living in a civilised society”.  Perhaps you should stop demonising the individuals who need benefits to live (I’ve never met anyone happy to be living on benefits) and start demonising the large corporations not paying their fair and moral share, which I don’t need to be an accountant to work out, would bring you a darn sight more revenue than any individual’s tax share.

And that George, is my Autumn Statement.  Thank you for listening.

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Road to Hell or Heaven? A Tale of Kindness on the M1

This is the tale of three guys, Chas, Felice, and Ben,  who share a similar passion, cars. In general, cars; in particular Alfa Romeo. Who set off on Thursday night for an overnight stay, and a day out at the NEC, Classic Car Show.  The tickets had been bought, the hotel booked and I waved them goodbye at about 6pm with Chas muttering about rush-hour traffic. And so I settled in for a peaceful and quiet evening, looking forward to having the house, the tv, and the cat, all to myself. 

Don't count your chickens girl......

It was just as I sat down to watch Kirstie's Vintage Home,  that the phone rang. I saw on the display Chas's mobile number and thought, oh they've reached Birmingham already, clicked the button and said, hi darling.  But the voice I heard was full of anxiety as he told me that they had stopped at Toddington for a burger and as they left the service station he realised that he had left his backpack behind, in which were his wallet with money and all his credit cards and the ticket for the show.  So now they were in the Northbound traffic with 50 mile an hour signs everywhere and travelling towards the next junction to double back.  What could I say, I just asked him to be calm and call me again when they managed to double back to the service station.

I forgot all about Kirstie's Vintage Home (luckily I was recording it) and went to make myself a cup of coffee.  In fact do anything that would take my mind off the worst outcomes of losing a wallet full of cash and credit cards.  Standing in my kitchen I did something without thinking, I put my hands together and said, "Hi God, I know we haven't spoken in a while, but I need your help, please let someone find Chas's bag and please let them be honest, oh and Angharad, if your're out there somewhere, watch over Chas's bag".  Angharad is my best friend, still, she died three years ago, and she said she'd haunt me if I didn't wear red to her funeral.  Thank God I didn't wear red.

I took my coffee out to the patio and in the dark tried to still my anxieties, feeling how awful this was for Charlie who'd been planning and looking forward to this trip, and how it was about to be a disaster,  and thinking about the hassle of ringing credit card companies to cancel cards and the possiblity of his bank account being cleaned out.  Breathe I told myself, all you can do is breathe, easier said than done when you are in the grip of fear. And I could only imagine how Chas was feeling at that moment. Minutes felt like hours and hours like days.  There were two phone calls but neither of them Chas, so I explained hurriedly and got off the phone.

Time can pass so slowly.  When Chas finally rang I could tell instantly by his voice that against the odds it was good news, it fact he could hardly speak and he passed the phone over to as I later learned was Pamela.  She told me how she and her husband had found his bag, and were searching through it trying to find contact details, and reluctant to hand it over to anyone in the service station because of the amount of cash. They had phoned the telephone number on the back of one of his credit cards trying to get some contact details or to get the company to contact him.  They did find his business card and sent him an email, but he didn't get that on his phone till later. 

As he arrived back at the service station, in a state of high anxiety, a woman had stepped toward him in the entrance asking, "Are you Mr Chee?", and told him they had found his bag and everything was safe.

How I wanted to hug Pamela and Stephen her husband.  She explained how they had a similar experience not so long ago, and her husband's wallet was returned to him by the driver of a Warburton's truck.  And she said they had passed the kindness on and it's our turn to pass it on again. 

Doesn't it renew your faith in humanity? That these two kind and thoughtful people went to such lengths to return Chas's bag to him.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Have you read........?

If I had a £1 for every time I've been asked in recent months, "Have you read Fifty Shades of Grey?" I'd have loads of money to buy books that are on my wish list.

So I popped into my local WH Smith early one morning when the shop was quiet and my two favourite female shop assistants were there.

Me: Morning, just wanted to ask what's all the talk about "Fifty Shades of Grey?

Trixie and Dixie: (looking at each other and in unison) Oooooooooooh!!  (eyebrows raised) You really want to know?

Me: Yes (hesitantly because now I'm wondering, why that response)

Trixie: Well, my dear, (comes out from behind counter and ushers me with one arm raised showing the amazing art work that are her nails) come with me....

I follow her to a cardboard stand where lies in wait, many copies of "Fifty Shades of Grey"

Trixie: Open the book at page 184.  (I think thats the page, not sure now.)

So I do and read.  And I go     "....  hmm ..... ok..... well.... right....  " finish reading and put book back on shelf.  And look up at Trixie.

Me:  well.....  thanks for your help. 

And we both burst out laughing.

So I exit shop and go straight to cafe for my latte.  Sitting sipping my latte and reading the newspaper, along comes my friend whom I will call Mrs G.  We chat for a while and then she turns to me with those big baby blues of hers and says "Have you read "Fifty Shades of Grey?"  "No", I reply.  "Well.... no.... that's not exactly true, I have read page 184".  And I go on to explain the little scene earlier. 

(Now Mrs G is a retired lady, in her seventies, elegant who puts some of us younger ones to shame.)  So she pops her shopping bag on her chair and gets up... I assume she is going to the Ladies...  but no....  "... just going to pop into Smiths for a min", she mumbles and I, jokingly say...  ".. remember it's page 184".  Mrs G smiles and strides off.

Five minutes later she is back, Smiths plastic bag in hand, and puts bag in shopping bag.  "I bought it", she whispers conspiratorally and I nearly choke on my mouthful of coffee.  "And you can read it when I'm finished".

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