Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Loco Pizza

If you're living or holidaying in the area of Saint André de Roquelongue, I wanted to mention to you a delicious pizza delivery service - Loco Pizza. The lady who runs this business is a friend of a friend. She comes to Saint André on Wednesdays after 6, parks her van across from the Mairie, and offers an extensive range of freshly made pizzas. We had a Napolitana, and were only sorry we hadn't bought two, it was so good.

And books again

I'm waiting for my backup to complete, so I can't do anything in Outlook or in My Documents. Perfect excuse for a quick break.

I thought I was going to run out of books while on holidays, but then I remembered that there is a little press in the living room where people sometimes leave books for the next guests - we found an old Abba book Brendan left there a few years back, and Vikram Seth's Two Lives, which I will take home some day when Ryanair increase the luggage allowance.

And then I found Lauren Weisberger's Everyone Worth Knowing, a deliciously romantic story by the author of The Devil Wears Prada (I didn't particularly like the movie version, with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. While the story was OK, I just found that the clothes were not that Wow.)

But Everyone Worth Knowing is a delight - normal girl gets a job in PR in Manhattan, starts moving in celebrity circles, is seen at parties with famous British desirable bachelor, but finds it all too shallow and bitchy. Will she find true love? Will she have to give it all up to become herself again?

I really didn't expect much from this book, but I truly enjoyed it - sunshine and Corbières rosé probably helped, but I would love to see a movie version! I left it in the house so that the next guests can enjoy it too.

Trees - 4-D collage

 I'm particularly fond of this collage, which is done by using the "superimpose" collage feature in Picasa. Spooky 3-D (or even 4-D) effect, but it captures the essence of these 2 majestic trees beautifully.

Trees - more collages

Here is another Picasa collage of the same trees:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Trees Trees Trees

After nearly 3 weeks of painter's block, I painted 4 watercolours at the weekend. Maybe a case of quantity over  quality, but it helped me getting over the hang-up.

Here is a collages made from these to give you an idea of what they look like.




Sunday, June 27, 2010

1000 Posts

I was going to write about Jean Byrne wearing her nice white dress yesterday and her smashing yellow dress today, but then I realised this is my thousandth post!

I started blogging in January 2006, and I haven't stopped since, talking watercolours, books, snakes, travels, telly, food by Aine McAteer, weather by Jean Byrne...

Some of my favourite Labels have been "Things you don't see at home every day", "Extension" and "Wildlife of South Dublin".

I hope you're still reading!

Goat's Cheese


I was not a big fan of goat's cheese. But this holiday in France has changed my views. At a lunch in Lagrasse, I opted for a salad with warm goat's cheese on French bread. It was heavenly. I asked the waiter what was the name of it. Chèvre de Carrus was what it was. It's a small farm in Mayronnes. I don't think they sell to supermarkets - I asked in the Intermarché in Lézignan-Corbières - the lady at the cheese counter knew it, but she said that they only sell on markets or directly from the farm. We've never been to Mayronnes, but it's on my to-do list for next time, not only for the goat's cheese, but also for its "sentier sculpturel". And we'll definitely have to go and see the goats at the ferme de Carrus. They look so inquisitive and friendly!

After that, I tried a couple others in the supermarket, and enjoyed them - not a bit strong or goaty. One of them got more and more gooey as the days went by. I'm now sorry I didn't write the name down.

And I've had a few different ones since we got back. The nicest was from Morton's supermarket in Ranelagh (not a place I normally shop in, but I was at a customer's in the area, and I had 15-20 minutes to spare while Outlook was archiving - I also got their chocolate mousse - mmm!). Unfortunately, I can't remember what it was called, except it had the word "loup" in it. Which reminds me of "La chèvre de Monsieur Seguin", of course.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Books again - The Perk - Mark Gimenez

Padraig had loaned Brendan "The Perk" by Mark Gimenez, so we took it with us on holidays. Gone are the days of taking 5 books each - unless you want to pay €20 per extra kilo of luggage (I'm pretty sure that's the price I saw displayed at the Ryanair desk in Carcassonne.), so we took books that we thought we'd both enjoy. And it worked out pretty well.

The Perk is labelled a "legal thriller". I don't quite agree with that description. There are many more courtroom scenes in an average Jodi Picoult book. But the main character, Beck, is a big-city lawyer, who goes back to his hometown of Fredericksburg in Texas after his wife dies of cancer and he can't cope with raising their two children on his own. When he gets home, he finds his father, whom he hasn't seen in many years, ready to welcome him and his children. As he settles into Fredericksburg, he finds it's not the small town he used to know, run by German families, and centred on the goat farming so lucrative in the old days. Now there are fancy shops, thronged by the weekend crowds, and also the meat plant, with its supply of illegal Mexican workers. Boutique vineyards have replaced the goat farms. And football, while still a big attraction to all young men, has taken darker undertones. And there is an unsolved death.

The book was yet another page turner, which filled many a happy sunny hour lounging by the pool! Not intellectually too demanding, but a good story, good characters (though I found Beck's father a bit too nice and talkative for a man of his generation and background). Thoroughly enjoyed it. And it made me curious about the Texas Hill Country. It sounds like a part of America I wouldn't mind visiting some time.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Kathleen Newton - paintings by Jacques (James) Tissot

I found this website with good-size views of Jacques Tissot's paintings of Kathleen Newton. OK, it's in Korean, and I have no idea what they're saying, but there are some wonderful scenes there. I'm particularly fond of "Quiet", perhaps because it's not one of his paintings that I was familiar with.

I also found this self-portrait of Jacques Tissot on Wikipedia.Very modern, isn't it?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Books - House Rules - Jodi Picoult


You all know I'm a big fan of Jodi Picoult. I've read a good few of her books (and I have plenty more in my "to read" pile). So I grabbed House Rules when I saw it in a bookshop a few days before our holiday. The central character has Asperger's Syndrome, and, as we know a few people whom we suspect of  having Aspergers (some in my family - I won't name names!), I thought this would make for an excellent story.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite work for me. Jodi writes very well - it was a page turner (finished in 3 days). Her books often cover topical subjects (leukemia, date rape, bullying,...), but I feel that she normally works the subjects into her story, whereas in this book, she wrapped the story around the subject and didn't build enough layers or sub-plots to make it more interesting. At every page, I was assaulted by another description of what it means to have Asperger's. But I wasn't getting any closer to the people in the story -and I guessed the twist hundreds of pages earlier (and I'm not normally very quick about twists. The ending of "My Sister's Keeper" took me completely by surprise). And maybe it's one single/strong mother falling in love with a cop/lawyer too many. Maybe it's the pressure to write yet another bestseller, but I get the feeling she didn't put as much into this book. Read "Second Glance" for a good example of her multi-layered story-telling.

Anyways, I read it to the end, and so did Brendan (Ryanair luggage weight restrictions meant we only brought 2 books each, and we read each other's books), but I did leave it behind in the hotel  - I couldn't risk going over the 15 kg per suitcase, and I really wanted to bring my Petit Marseillais shower gel, shampoo and conditioner home with me! Those are the choices we have to make in life! Next time, I'll check the reviews on Amazon before I buy.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Books Books Books - The Other Boy - Yvonne Cassidy

Read lots of books on holidays - it's all a bit of blur now, but I'll try to remember the ones I liked the best.

First of all - the other boy by Yvonne Cassidy. This is Yvonne's first book, and I really enjoyed reading it. It's set in 2 timelines and locations - childhood scenes in Sallynoggin, and adult life and recent past in London. It's the story of JP (John-Paul) Whelan and how he tries to escape his past. Of course, we all know you can never really erase your past, so, there are consequences for JP. He's got the perfect job, the perfect girlfriend, and he's just become father to a perfect little girl. So much to lose. So much to fight for. How will it work out for him? And, of course, how did he become the man he is? Why does he find it so hard to tell the truth about his past? Is it all his fault? Why does he feel so insecure?

In some ways, it's a very simple story, with some elements you will find in a lot of Irish books & plays (for instance, the abuse of alcohol by one of the family members). But it's well written, and the characters did get under my skin. I finished it in 2 days. Looking forward to Yvonne Cassidy's next book already!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Montséret

Here is another watercolour from our holidays. This plant grows in the garden in the house we were renting in Montséret. I just loved the blueish tint of it, and its strong shapes, but never got the courage to draw it or paint it. So I was happy with how it turned out when I finally tackled it this year.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Me, Kate, and Patricia

A Type of Beauty

A Type of Beauty - The Launch

I had never been to a book launch  - until yesterday. Patricia O'Reilly, one of the authors we work for, invited us to the launch of her new book, A Type of Beauty. The launch was held at the Dun Laoghaire National Yacht Club, a perfect location on a lovely summer's evening.

There was a good crowd there. Mary Kenny introduced Patricia, who then went on to tell us a bit about how she got interested in the life of Kathleen Newton, and read us two excerpts, before signing copies of her book (I already have my signed copy, which I bought directly from her website, using the Paypal button I had created for it!).

Patricia tells a story well, whether she's talking about Eileen Gray, Kathleen Newton, or even about a problem with the computer or the layout of her website.

Since I started writing this post, I've actually begun reading the book. It's a page turner, and I'm well into it already, enjoying the local colour of India, and the drama unfolding. I know I'm reading a book I'm going to enjoy when I can hear the voice in my head talking to the protagonists (in this case telling Kate "No, don't tell him.You did nothing wrong. Don't listen to the priest!")

And I did get to wear my nice clothes to the launch - my little flowery Boden skirt with my fuschia Boden cardigan. I'm having trouble uploading the picture, so you'll have to wait a bit before you can see it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

La Table du Château

While on holidays, we found a wonderful restaurant in Bizanet, a tiny town off the tourist track. La Table du Château is the perfect French restaurant - unpretentious yet sophisticated, with food to die for at very reasonable prices.

We had lunch there twice. We'll go again!

The first time, we sat outside, in their enclosed courtyard - perfect for a hot sunny day. We both chose from the set menu and decided to go for the 3-course choice at €21.

The starter was foie gras with a salad and asparagus or green beans (or both, I can't quite remember). Actually, green beans it was - I wrote it down in my little notebook. We then had cod with tomato sauce and polenta. I think Brendan had a meat dish (but my notes are clearly letting me down, here!). I'll check with him and report back (He had the cod too). I had a biscuit and fruit dessert while Brendan had cheese and fig relish - a lovely mix. You can get a nice Spanish fig relish in the fruit and veg shop in the old Dundrum shopping centre, by the way. It's not cheap, but a little goes a long way.

We went back again on our second week. Brendan, much more reasonable than me, opted for the à la carte menu, skipping the starter, while I pigged out and had the 3 courses again. Brendan had the cannelloni with mushroom and langoustine sauce - a delight, and crème brûlée. I had the foie gras and green beans again, though it was slightly different in presentation and texture, followed by merlu (some kind of fish - let me check the translation - would you believe, I can't find it in the Microsoft Word translator, nor in Babelfish. Aah, found it in my Collins dictionary. I had spelled it wrong, that's why I could not find it. It's hake.) with potato and cheese mash, courgettes and asparagus. And my dessert was Tarte Chou Chou - basically choux à la crème on biscuit with strawberries.

All gorgeous, beautifully cooked and presented food. Service was excellent. It was busy both times we were there, mostly locals. You would think it would get more of the tourist trade - Bizanet is only 10 minutes from the Abbaye de Fontfroide, one of the major tourist attractions in the area. Bizanet itself is not a tourist town, though it is quite pretty (strangely enough, the English version of its website does not include the restaurants section). If you're in the area, do go to La Table du Château. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tree - Hypothetical

Here is another little watercolour I painted while on holidays. It's based on a painting I found in "Keeping a Watercolor Sketchbook" by Brenda Swenson, a very useful book. It's only 64 pages long, and fitted perfectly in my 10-kilo-only Ryanair cabin luggage. This book inspired me to fill my watercolour travel sketchpad. It's full of good advice, simple and practical ideas. While her paintings are more accomplished than I could ever aspire to, this book made me feel like I could try out her techniques and achieve results to be proud of.

I love my greens in this painting. This is the first time I've managed to do good greens with my Derwent Aquatone pencils (a set of 12). Normally, I'd just use the greens from the box, mix them with a bit of yellow, maybe. But they never looked natural. This time, I used the pale yellow and the green blue, and, if I remember correctly, I used the orange yellow instead for the top of the tree - it gives a more khaki sort of green.

I also found that if I mixed the 2 reds from the set (one is very pink, the other very orange, neither is great individually), I get a glorious "poppy" red, which you can see in one of my previous posts.

Oh, before I forget, I wanted to say that the Niji Water Brushes worked like a dream - fill the reservoir with water, brush on the watercolour pencil, mix colours together, and whenever you feel the wash is getting a bit dry, press the reservoir lightly and the water starts flowing again, creating a lovely smooth wash (now, I'm not sure how it would work on a larger painting, but it was great for my sketchpad)..

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Method laundry cleaner

I'm a big fan of method cleaning products. As Tesco's supply is not very reliable, I generally buy them in Homebase. I love the lavender-scented all-purpose cleaner, the loo bowl cleaner, the granite cleaner, the bath cleaner, .... They work well, they don't harm the environment, they smell nice, their packaging is gorgeous. All I ever wanted. And now, the method laundry detergent is available in Ireland too. I've been waiting for months for it. They didn't have it in Homebase yesterday, so I literally whooped when Brendan found it on the shelf in Tesco this morning. I don't think they've ever seen anybody so excited about a laundry product before!

To find out more, check out the methodlaundry website. There is a full list of ingredients, most of which are biodegradable or safely dispersed in the environment.

Variation on a theme

Same pot, new version. I do like the colours better on this one, but the shading is a bit too harsh.

Flower Pot

I did a good bit of painting and drawing while on holidays. Some better than others. And I haven't touched a pencil since we got back, which is a real shame. I'll get back into it as soon as I'm settled. We're back since last Monday evening, but it's been all go since then - I still have laundry hanging around everywhere upstairs. I'll feel more ready for art once all that laundry is neatly tucked away in wardrobes. I know that's not the attitude. Actually, it sounds like a typical excuse for not doing anything "I've got all this laundry to do!". But, hey, that's how I am. I need my little to-do lists ticked off, one item at a time. The day I have nothing left on the to-do list will be the day I die!

So, here is one of the watercolours I did while away, in my little Arches Travel Book, a Christmas present from Brendan. At the start of the holiday, I felt quite intimidated by that little spiral book - that my efforts would not be good enough for such lovely watercolour paper. But once I ran out of books, I really got into it, and I covered 11 of its 15 pages!

Snake

OK, let's get it over with. We spent weeks in Australia and we didn't see a single snake (even in places where they were supposed to be "abundant", but admittedly "rarely seen"). And here we were, in the South of France, just on the road at the back of the house in Montséret, taking a stroll one evening, and what do we see? Yes, you've guessed right - a snake. OK, a dead snake. A squashed snake even. But a snake all the same. And not small. It was about 70cm long and thicker than my thumb.

I can't say for sure if it was a viper or a "couleuvre" (an innocuous type of snake). After it's squashed, it's impossible to see if it had slit-shaped or round-shaped pupils. I found this website with good information about snakes in France. From what I've read there, I'd gather that our snake was a "couleuvre", not venomous. Interesting that they do eat frogs. In the evenings, the frogs towards the back of the village made quite a racket.There must be a pond not far.

And we did see 2 or 3 more dead snakes on the roads in the area. We had never seen one previous years. My theory is that this was their mating season (we were a few weeks earlier than other years), and they were out and about more than usual.

Now, for the gory bit -Yes, we did take a picture. It's pretty yuck. But would you believe us otherwise?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Holidays - Montséret

We're creatures of habit, as you well know. So, when we have a spot we like in the world, we keep going back. It used to be the Maldives. Now it's the Corbières, in the South West of France. It's a region roughly situated between Narbonne and Perpignan. It's very rural, with vineyards on every little hill not occupied by the garrigue. The climate is perfect - 300 days of sunshine a year, and plenty of wind when it gets too hot. The roads are easy, there are not too many tourists (well, I don't know what it's like in July and August, but I'd say it's a lot less frantic than the French Riviera)

And we stay in the same village, Montséret. It's in the middle of nowhere, but it's also at the centre of everything - about 15 minutes from Lézignan-Corbières, the main shopping town (with a good Intermarché and a Carrefour), 15 minutes from the Abbaye de Fontfroide, 25 minutes from the sea (Leucate Plage), with lots of little towns with restaurants nearby. And it's so quiet. You see people in the morning on the way to the local shop to get your bread, then that's it, they all disappear. Apart from a few children on slides in the playground in the evening, you really don't see that many people.

And, of course, we stay in the same house, "Jasmin", in the "Cigalous" residence (4 independent houses, each with its own garden and pool). It's got everything you need and the owners are very friendly. I will soon have a video of it for you all, courtesy of Brendan, our cameraman, editor, producer and director. (I just need him to edit out the bits where I make faces at the camera).

For more details, check out my blogs from last year and 3 years ago:
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/other-good-places-to-eat.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/restaurant-le-dauphin-montseret.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/le-somail-canal-du-midi.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/canal-du-midi.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/photos-from-lauberge-cote-jardin.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/auberge-cote-jardin-conilhac.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/peyrepertuse-brendans-photos.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/peyrepertuse.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2009/07/holidays.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2007/06/our-house.html
http://mhbd.blogspot.com/2007/06/holiday-in-france.html

I think I've become awfully lazy. When I see how much I used to write. And now, all you get are a few links!! I think it's all to do with Twitter and Facebook. It's just so tempting to only write 2 lines and be done with it!

Well, maybe not. I have a few other things I want to talk about -we did find a gorgeous restaurant in a nearby town, Bizanet, called La Table du Château, and we finally climbed Mont St Victor. So don't worry, I'll be back soon. In the meantime, I'm going to go out to our backgarden to top up my tan. Such a beautiful golden colour doesn't come out of a bottle, so I have to work on it!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lost

We've just watched the very last episode of Lost. I'm a bit emotional after it, I have to admit. And I'm still not sure I understand everything, but I do like the last scene, which I read as a way to show us that Hugo, and the rest of the Oceanic team, have gone to a lot of trouble so that Jack does not die alone.

PS: we were behind the rest of the world in seeing this last episode. We caught up with it on the RTE Player.