Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Gathering

When I started reading The Gathering by Anne Enright, I thought "aah - this is going to be a great book". But it lost its way after a few dozen pages. I thought the end was good too (though I can't for the life of me remember what it is), but I found that the middle part (80% of it) was dull. Maybe it's because I'm not Irish, but I find the stories of drunks in big Irish families too tedious for my liking. Well written no doubt, but not enough for me. Maybe I was expecting too much, as it won the Booker prize after all, but I was disappointed.

Gongs and Ananda

Last Saturday night, we went to Gongs with Lucinda & Ted. Food was good, and there was a great buzz, which helped me forget how dreary the red and black walls look. I had the salt&pepper squid for starter - it was a bit chewy, and there was too much of it, but it left a gorgeous tingle on the lips. For my main course, I chose the ginger, spring onion and chilly prawns. And I was surprised by how hot it was, just like the last time I ate there (granted, it was well over 6 months ago)! I should make better note of what I order, so I remember to try something else next time. Banana fritters and ice-cream was perfect dessert. Lovely evening.

Last night, we were out again, this time at Ananda's, with Niall & Rita. Had a great night. Service was poor, though - one girl (she had her dark hair up in a sophisticated up-do - "you know who you are") in particular had too much attitude and not enough customer care - she handed me the menu before I even got a chance to sit at the table, and didn't offer to take our coats. And when we told her we hadn't yet decided on our desserts, she nearly flicked her hair at us before turning her heels! No tip was left. What do you expect! But the food was good - Brendan's prawns were a tad overcooked, unfortunately, but mine were perfect (I had the seafood curry - prawns, white fish and a crab claw in a rich spicy bisque). My starter was delicious - guinea fowl with a coriander and lime marinade, and a yogurt and pomegranate side sauce that complemented it well. And 3 chips (I originally thought there were only 2, so finding the 3rd one under the breast of guinea fowl was a bonus!). The place was packed. The decor is gorgeous. Pity about the service. We've been there other times and the service has been perfect (the waiters there are generally more attentive than the waitresses, I find.). And when we went out, we found that it had been raining heavily, sleet actually, and the roads were quite slushy. But I managed to drive without skidding (Brendan tells me our car is a 4-wheel drive, which should handle quite well in these conditions). Rita and I admired each other's Boden clothes. And we discovered that Boden's men clothes are pretty good too!

The View

Every so often, I rediscover The View, the movie, literary and theatre review show presented by John Kelly. And I really enjoy it. It's such a mentally stimulating show, with intelligent discussion about the latest cinema and book releases.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Still Life - Step 4

Still a bit of tidying up to do with my shadows (the bottle's shadow is not the same direction as the jar's) and with the background curtain (not quite sure how to fix this - I think I need to simplify it, rather than render every fold in the light fabric). The 2nd picture, with the original setup and the photograph shows the colours better, in a more natural light, but do bear in mind that the painting is of the still life in artifical light, coming from the top and left, not with light from the window at the back.




Books

Just finished reading Doghead by Morten Ramsland, a book that Lisa recommended to me (She read it in Danish, naturally).
The New York Times review above gives a fair summary of the story.
While I enjoyed the story itself, despite its bleakness (alcohol abuse seems to be the root cause of a lot of evil in the Eriksson family's world), I didn't feel much warmth for the characters. Maybe they were too extreme in their behaviour, or maybe there were too many of them, and not enough time to develop each of them fully.
It's a good story, a bit of a farce in parts, and very bleak in others. Did I enjoy reading it? Yes. Would I read it again? Probably not.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Macbeth

Not the play, but the opera by Verdi. Macbeth was playing at the Gaiety Theatre last night, as part of the Opera Ireland season. Brendan accompanied me, and we enjoyed it. It was set in a strange time/place. Some of the costumes looked like WW I uniforms, others 20s and 40s party dresses, while some other scenes were reminiscent of Holocaust movies. I would have prefered something a bit more neutral in terms of setting, or at least more consistent. That said, the production was visually very strong - clever hanging windows/arches that were moved, turned, and even swung at high speed during a battle scene. Very few props, but stiking - I can't shake off the vision of drops of blood falling onto a white chair in the middle of the stage.

Singing was good too - I particularly liked the Canadian soprano Michele Capalbo who played Lady Macbeth (follow that link to the end of the page to see her sing one of the songs from the opera for The View). She's obviously well used to filling much bigger opera houses with her beautifully powerful voice.

I didn't warm as much to Bruno Caproni's Macbeth - but I think it was just me - he got a major ovation at the end of the show. His singing was fine - I just had portrayed Macbeth in my head as a more cunning, calculating, cold, persona, and I found it hard to take him seriously in his ill-fitting uniform.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Movies

Watched a few movies on the telly in the last few weeks, some better than others:

Terminator 4: Watched that in our hotel in Westport - it was free - Just as well. I would have been very annoyed at paying good money for such rubbish. The fact that the quality of the picture was very poor didn't help. Even Christian Bale didn't manage to lift this movie out of its messy plot.

Swingers: Apparently it's the movie that put Vince Vaughn's name on the map. All I'll say is that he's put on an awful lot of weight since then. It was OK, but it didn't really do it for me.

Solaris - the original Russian movie. Very slow, very heavy, but makes a lot more sense than the Hollywood remake with George Clooney.

Goodbye Solo - saw that in the IFI a few weeks back. Very depressing - set in an industrial town in North Carolina, it's about an elderly man who is thinking of killing himself. A Senegalese taxi driver befriends him and tries to get him to connect with life again. Most of the shots are in the taxi, at night, so it's very dark - literally. The reviews were good, but it didn't work for me. "...a celebration of life" (Screen Daily's review quote on the website)? Not the movie I saw!

Raising Arizona - now that's a great movie - about Holly Hunter, an ex-cop who finds she can't have children and Nicolas Cage, her husband, an ex-convict, who will do anything to satisfy her need for a child. Completely mad - it's the Coen Brothers of course.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

World Cup

I'm probably the only person in the country not watching the world cup qualifier match between Ireland and France. We were beaten by France on Saturday, and the 2nd match is now taking place in France. We switched on the telly at the start of the 2nd half - It's  Ireland 1, France 0, so lots of hope in Irishmen's hearts everywhere.

I think I'll potter here for a while instead!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Baking

Last week, I baked my Aine McAteer signature chocolate chip cookies... and they failed! Major shock, they were all flat and crumbly (they tasted good though). What had gone wrong? I thought initially that my oven wasn't hot enough, as I had only turned it on halfway through the preparation.

But Brendan helped me figure it out ("What's different?" is his usual question in these situations) - and then I remembered that the dough looked quite gooey and flat before I put the trays in the oven. And the only thing different were my new Ikea mixing bowls! The theory is that there is some small amount of silicone left from the moulding (apparently, silicone is used so that the bowls don't stick to the moulds), and silicone makes the dough go flat.

So, I need to give them a good wash before I use them again. (And in case you're wondering, yes, they were washed in the dishwasher before I used them for the first time!)

I tested the theory by immediately baking another set, using my good old glass mixing bowl (well, it's really a salad bowl, which is why I so wanted the Ikea mixing bowls). And I baked the most beautiful cookies ever. Brendan was happy to eat them all, with plenty of help from me!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Still Life - Step 3

More layers. It's starting to look a bit more exciting, isn't it? Now that the shapes are more or less right (I did extend the bottleneck), I have started to give the objects a three-dimensional shape, by adding shading and highlights. I'm also working on the shadows behind the jar - but that needs a few more layers to look realistic, so bear with me. And no, it's not smoke coming out of the bottle, it's creases in the curtain behind it - more to do there too. And I need to fix the jar lid on the left - I think I know how I'm going to do that, hopefully without messing it all up.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic


Brendan has some special offer whereby we can download 10 free movies for my iPod Touch. I've downloaded 5 so far, and I watched Confessions of a Shopaholic last week. It's not quite as good as the book. But it's good fun - with no moral at the end of the story - and full of colour - blue, purple, orange, pink, and of course green - and so many clothes and accessories (most of them quite ugly, to be honest).

The idea is the same as the book, but the story is told differently in terms of when crucial things happen and how the characters interact - for instance, at the start of the movie, she's not working in a finance publication, but in a garden magazine. And how she handles the Finnish business partner is completely different. But it worked for me. If you're in the humour for something light and fluffy...

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nice Tree in Bushy Park


Still Life - Step 2

I'm sure an art teacher would tell me to stop writing, start painting. But it is important to me to record my progress (or lack thereof), so you'll have to put up with me!


When you thought I hadn't been doing much, here is Step 2! First coat of colour (there is a name for it, but I've forgotten what it is) done on Sunday. Then I used white paint (which is not the same white as the canvas, but that's ok, as I'm going to be painting the background anyway) to correct mistakes in shapes. I think it's important to get the basic shapes right before I go into the detail. You would have thought that my bottle would be symmetrical, after all that measuring - It was not. I had to shave off about 2 mm on the right-hand side. The toughest bit is to get the "bumps" symmetrical, both on the bottle and the vase. Not quite there yet (and maybe never will be), but what I'm going to focus on for now is the height of the bottleneck. I'll take the opportunity to adjust the green of the bottle. After that I'll do my background, then the highlights and shadows - I haven't decided yet if I'm going to go for a natural or artificial light. I'll take a couple of photographs at the weekend and then I'll decide.

Does the vase look a bit too squat, I wonder? I'll have to remeasure. Though this photograph is taken from a higher point than when I'm sitting at the desk - hard to know when you have a height-adjustable chair.

Still Life - Step 1


I did get over my fear of the blank canvas eventually - I decided to measure, like I'd learned with Betty Edwards' Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain a few years ago (I do learn these things, then I move on to the next book and forget it all - by the way I just saw on the website there that they now supply a full portfolio to help you get started, with an angle finder and a proportion finder - both look like very useful tools - I don't have too much trouble with angles, but I am dreadful at measuring proportions with a pencil). I used my viewfinder, marked the major lines on it, then transcribed these to my canvas, and drew the shapes from there. I measured to ensure that my bottle was symmetrical, and I measured the height as well - though I have to make some adjustments to the bottleneck height - it's a bit too short.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Undiscovered Dublin

23 years in Dublin, and there are still places I haven't seen, or rather hadn't seen. I've crossed 2 off the list this weekend - Cabinteely Park and Bushy Park.

The forecast for yesterday was bad, wind, rain, cold, so we decided to go for an early walk, as it was dry. The day didn't turn out as wet as forecast, but we didn't know that at 10 o'clock. So we headed to Cabinteely Park. It never really brightened up, and we didn't see it at its best. We didn't find any car park (we parked in a nearby estate), but I do see from the map that there is a carpark. It's got good paths throughout, but it's not very exciting - just big lawns and a few trees and a kids' area. Will have to go back there on a sunny day to see if it's any better then.

Today was gloriously sunny, and we spent a good part of the day outdoors. We went to Airfield after lunch to check out progress on their pond (it's finished). Overall, the farm and grounds were in good shape, which is nice to see, as we had found that it was a bit neglected the last time we were over.


The highlight of the weekend for me was our walk in Bushy Park this morning. We drive by it several times a week coming and going from customers in the Terenure and Rathfarnham area, but we never stopped. I can't believe such a lovely park was so close to us all along and we never knew it. There is a multitude of paths, some following the Dodder, some inside the walls of the park, in woodlands, around ponds, big greens, up and down steps, there is plenty of variety, there is even a little kiosk where you can buy coffee to go. Some parts were busy with Sunday dog-walkers, strollers and joggers, other parts were really quiet. It's much larger than I expected, and on a day like today, it looked gorgeous. We'll definitely be back.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Blank Canvas

I'm doing all I can to avoid the moment when I have to start drawing the bottle and vase onto my blank canvas.
Last weekend, I happily mixed colours for my Christmas Cards. This weekend so far, I've spent time doing laundry, tidying up and baking (and also looking at funny websites - check these out on my Twitter - I still don't really get the point of this Twitter thing, but hey, I have to keep up with the times)

Maybe tomorrow!

In the meantime, those on our Christmas list will receive a little square cut out from this piece!


Perfect Biscuits?

As you know, I'm a regular baker of Aine McAteer's choc chip cookies - they are heavenly. A few weeks ago, I bought gorgeous cookie cutters in Ikea - lots of animal shapes, including a beautiful reindeer. So I tried another of Aine's biscuit recipes, designed for cutting into shapes, but it didn't work out for me. I'm not sure if it's because I didn't have enough arrowroot for thickening (I had only a little bit left - the recipe calls for 2 tablespoons). Somehow, I don't think it would have made much difference. My dough was really sticky. I floured the surface, and I floured the rolling pin, but the dough stuck to everything. And when I tried to cut it, the shape fell apart straight away (I knew that was going to happen, but I had to try it anyway.) I don't come from a baking background (my mum is famous for burning pancake mix, and while my granny was a great cook, I don't remember how she made her pastry for fruit tarts - I wasn't much of an assistant in her kitchen), so I have no idea how to roll pastry, or how to get it to the right consistency.

There are plenty of websites with information on this of course. I have found this one that says that the dough should be chilled in the fridge first - that might help. But their dough looks a lot firmer than mine, even before it goes into the fridge. Mine is quite elastic and definitely very sticky (and delicious to eat raw - no egg, so it's all right - really reminds me of my childhood). The mix for this recipe is slightly different from the chocolate chip cookie recipe, but maybe I should add more flour? In the end, I dropped the dough onto my baking trays and baked it anyway. Very nice taste, but I would really like to use my cookie cutters!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Oops, I did it again

I let myself be tempted and watched Grey's Anatomy again last night. Will I be able to resist a whole weekend without my fix?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Potions

My favourite potions of the moment are:


Naturelle d'Argan face cream - it is organic, and it feels lovely on the skin - it goes in very quickly. Argan oil is supposed to be very good. for the skin. If you don't believe me, believe this: "Exceptionnellement riche en Acides Gras insaturés, Oméga 6 (acide linoléique 30-35%) et Oméga 9 (acide oléique 45-50%), en Vitamine E ( 2 fois plus concentrée que dans l’huile d’Olive) et Polyphénol, l’huile d’Argan permet d'apporter des nutriments à la peau et joue un rôle majeur dans la fonction barrière de l’épiderme, qu’elle nourrit, protège et hydrate". Now, that has to be good for you! According to the website, the Naturelle d'Argan range uses Argan oil that has been treated to remove its strong smell - apparently it smells of cold tobacco! Another interesting fact: the Argan tree only grows in the Atlas region of Morrocco - its growth there has a number of benefits: not only do the trees help against the advance of the Sahara desert, but the sale of the Argan nuts is an important source of revenue for this poor region. (More on Wikipedia). The only problem? I'm not sure it's available in Ireland. I bought it in a pharmacy in Saint André de Roquelongue, the village next to Montséret in the Corbières.


Yves Rocher Culture Bio Awakening cream: its texture and smell is not that different from the Naturelle d'Argan. It feels really natural, although it has a lot more ingredients, 99.6% of which are of natural origin, whatever that means. I bought it in Namur, but they have a UK website. Actually, I got it as part of a  "discovery kit" with a day cream and a night cream for €5. I got a few other bits and pieces in the Yves Rocher shop in Namur last time I was over - they had special offers on a number of products, and I felt like a kid in a sweet shop!

Le Petit Marseillais shampoos, soaps and shower gels - these we discovered when we were on holidays in France. I don't think you can get them here. In France and Belgium, Le Petit Marseillais is standard super-market fare. I recommend the lavender soap, lavender liquid soap, lemon-verbena shower gel and nettle-lemon shampoo.


And in a different category, Method cleaning products - I love their granite cleaner, and most of all, their all purpose lavender-scented cleaner (which works wonderfully on granite too). I've just bought a mint bath cleaner and a glass cleaner, which I haven't tried yet. And I found them really helpful too. When I couldn't find their products in Tesco any more, Brendan emailed them for me, and they replied back very quickly, telling me that I could buy them in Homebase. I quick trip to Homebase Nugrove, and my stocks are replenished! Products are biodegradable and bottles recyclable (except the nozzles, but they tell us they're working on it!)

And oops, I watched a Grey's Anatomy this evening. Couldn't resist. Now I'll have to skip Thursday and wait for the weekend!

Monday, November 02, 2009

Grey's Anatomy

Wow - I'm way behind! We're currently watching Series 3 of Grey's Anatomy on DVD, and I thought we were one - maybe two - seasons behind, but I've just found out that Season 6 is showing. Way behind!

And I didn't put Series 4 on my Christmas list, so it will be a while before we catch up! Just as well, as we still have about a dozen episodes to watch from the current set, and then we'll be going back to Seasons 6 & 7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

And I've started to ration myself - I could watch Grey's Anatomy every night, but I've decided that twice a week is plenty - leaving me time for painting and blogging, which I had been neglecting lately. I'm not allowed to watch the next episode until Thursday!

Mmmm.... I think I might watch a little bit of Confessions of a Shopaholic (very slow website - be warned) on my iPod Touch instead!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sea Rescue

Yesterday morning was glorious - sunny, breezy and quite warm - temperatures got up to 17 degrees (it's all changed now, wet and windy and temperatures are dropping - it was 9 degrees at noon, as we were leaving the house to do our shopping). As we knew this good weather wasn't going to last, we went for a walk on the South Wall. The wind there was quite strong, so we were glad we had brought our fleecies, and I was glad of my hat.


On the way back, we noticed a kite surfer in difficulty in the water. Someone told us that the Dun Laoghaire life boat had been contacted - we confirmed this with a young guy who was standing on a wall and waving at the surfer - he had made the call himself - he said the surfer was a novice, and really, nobody should have been kite surfing that morning as the offshore wind was quite strong. Brendan spotted the life boat on its way from Dun Laoghaire, as another boat arrived from the Dublin Harbour side (possibly a pilot boat). Then a dinghy arrived on the scene, also from the Dublin side, and they got him out of the water. All is well that ends well. We saw the surfer standing in the dinghy - he seemed to be OK. 


It's not every day you see a sea rescue.

An Education


We decided to escape from the house last night - we're not a kid-friendly household, and we don't give to trick-or-treaters at Halloween. Some years, we stay in, but the incessant ringing of the door bell is too much of a headache.

So we headed into town (in between the heavy showers - we managed to stay dry), had a bite to eat in Saba, a Thai restaurant on Clarendon Street. They serve a fixed-price lunch menu until 6 - very good value @ just under €16 per person for 2 courses + coffee/tea. The food was pretty good, but the service wasn't. The waitress who took our starter plates away from the table never even asked if everything was OK, and the Maître d' didn't acknowledge us as we were leaving .

We then headed to the IFI, where we had booked tickets for An Education, a film for which Brendan had heard good things. Really enjoyed it - an excellent movie, set in the early sixties - sixteen-year-old Jenny falls for an older man, David. A bright girl, she's been working hard to get into Oxford, but she falls for the glamorous life-style that David introduces her to - concerts, restaurants, weekends in Paris, ... He's a real charmer, and her family have fallen for him as much as she has. But all is not as it seems - and money doesn't grow on trees...

I can't recommend this movie enough - well-paced story, great characters, and the clothes are gorgeous too.