Saturday, July 31, 2010

Château de Caraguilhes

You all know I don't drink really (unless you knew me 20 years ago - in which case, you knew me as straight-vodka, straight-whiskey and pints of guinness drinker - but I used to get so sick!).

So you wouldn't expect me to talk about wine.

This one - Château de Caraguilhes rosé - is an exception. Brendan has found it in O'Briens in the Beacon. He picked it because it was a Corbières wine, and we're particularly fond of these, as we've holidayed in the region 3 times (and we'll be going again, no doubt).

So we were delighted to find a wine from a vineyard that we can not only place on the map, but that we've actually driven by on several occasions.

It's a gorgeous rosé. And the fact that it's organic is just an added bonus. I know I'm biased, but there are not many wines I like, so this is high praise coming from me. We must drop by next time we're in the region.

Plenty more lovely pictures on their website, so have a look.

China Sichuan

They're Back! China Sichuan is open again. We tried them out last Thursday for lunch (they had a special offer  - €12.50 for a 2-course lunch, incredible value! The usual price is €15, which is still very good), and we were not disappointed. I had spring rolls and sweet and sour chicken, while Brendan had bon-bon chicken and prawns in black bean sauce. All excellent. There was a good buzz around the place, probably mostly people working in Sandyford Industrial Estate, or maybe not.

Next time, we'll try their early evening menu - 5-7:30, 2-course for €20. I can't resist a bargain.

Delighted to see them doing well. We wish them the best of luck!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Plain Truth

Jodi Picoult is a very prolific writer. While there is a sameness to a lot of her stories (young person gets into trouble, how do their parents react? a lawyer gets involved, sometimes beyond the legal realm,...), she writes well, and, with few exceptions (House Rules being the main one), I've enjoyed her books.

Plain Truth is no exception. Set in an Amish community, Plain Truth tells the story of Katie Fisher, a young Amish woman, and whether or not she had a child out of wedlock, and whether or not she killed her baby.

I thought Jodi Picoult handled the Amish angle a lot more subtly than she did the Asperger's Syndrome in House Rules. And she keeps you guessing right to the end, with plenty of potential options. Definitely one of her better ones.

PS: amazing how many different covers there are for the same book by the way (and none of the ones offered by Zemanta matched the one I read)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee

Cover of "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee&...
It was a case of the book cover attracting the eye rather than having read reviews about The Private Lives of Pippa Lee. Now, the cover of the book does not look like the picture here, but I've just started using Zemanta, and I'm using recommended photos and links. This is quite cool if you don't have time to go looking for just the right link or just the right photo. But it kind of limits your options to the top 10, and therefore helps homogenize what appears on the web, doesn't it?

Anyways, back to the book. It's not a big book. It's quite a good story - really it's about the mother-daughter relationship, and how it can mess up your life. The characters are engaging enough, but I felt there were too many people for such a short book. Not enough time to get to know them all in depth. It probably works quite well as a movie, which is what attracted me to the book in the first place - I think I had vaguely heard about it. I did enjoy it, and I did get into it, but I think I was expecting more from the book than it was able to deliver. I might read it again in a few years' time.

And by the way, here is the cover I found through googling, and it is the actual cover of the book.Now, there are a good few steps to putting it up here, so I can see the advantage of using Zemanta if you don't have much time. You have to google it for images, then save it to your computer, then add it through blogger, find it on your computer, click here, there, ... it all takes time. But I think I'd rather make my own choices. Plus you never know what you're going to discover on the way.
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Monday, July 26, 2010

Dandelions #2

And here is the Second Edition - a centred stem (maybe a little thick?) and stronger colours, but the salt didn't work as well. I wonder is it because it was so humid yesterday? So, I splattered a bit of gouache to break the expanse of strong orange.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dandelions #1

I might as well start numbering them straight away, as I get the feeling I'm going to paint a good few of these dandelions. Ruth Harris has been a real inspiration, with her step-by-step how to paint a dandelion on the Masquepen website. (I'll also mention she's got a Zazzle shop - just like me - except she's way more talented than me!).

And I also learned lots from Ann Blockley's book on watercolour textures (another birthday present), which contains plenty of information on techniques, and some lovely paintings. Unfortunately, one of the main tools she uses is granulation medium, which I couldn't find in any of the shops here (I tried Art&Hobby in Dundrum, Nimble Fingers in Stillorgan and Kennedys in Harcourt Street.). I'll have to get it from Cheap Joes next time I'm ordering supplies.

The beauty of masking fluid is that you can let your creativity, and your paint, flow while white areas are protected. And I do find that Masquepen works best for me, and I'm delighted to have found a set with a finer nib for small detail. I've used nearly half the bottle since I bought it last weekend. Just as well, as it tends to go hard over time. So, here is my first attempt at a dandelion watercolour (major flaw is that the stem is not centered, but apart from that, I love it):


It's a good while since we'd been to the movies, but we decided to go last Sunday, as the forecast wasn't great. The day turned out better than expected, but we had our tickets booked, so we headed down to Movies @ Dundrum.

Inception is a movie for boys - with many scenes inspired by The Matrix (low-gravity fight scene), The Bourne trilogy (aerial views of exotic cities, and mad pursuits in African alleyways) and James Bond movies (bunker on top of a snow-covered mountain, lots of baddies on skis and snowmobiles).

But there is a lot more to it than just action scenes. There was plenty to keep the mind active (with lines like "whose subconscious are we in?", you know you're going to have to pay attention if you want to figure out what's going on) and there is a human angle at the heart of the story. They don't call it "a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind" for nothing!

And excellent actors too - Leonardo DiCaprio, Michael Caine, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy and Ellen Page played the main characters.

The sets are wonderful - the scene of Paris blocks folding over each other alone was enough to get me hooked. And it's not all CGI apparently - they've filmed as much as possible "for real", before adding some CGI. According to the very interesting production notes, "one of the most complicated sets was a long hotel corridor that was able to rotate a full 360 degrees to create the effect of zero gravity".

A good movie - and, thankfully, not in 3D. I'll look forward to the DVD.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


I found the website from the lady who gave these most helpful step-by-step instructions on how to do dandelions with masquepen. Her name is Ruth Harris. I'm going to be looking for tips on her blog! I've already done one dandelion painting following her guidance and it's not half bad. From Poppies to Dandelions we go!


We had a lovely meal in Koishi with Niall and Rita last night. It was only our second time there. The last time was a good while back, a Saturday lunchtime I think, and we were the only ones there. But thankfully, there were a few groups last night and a bit of a buzz around the place.

When we arrived, we were served a bowl of warm edamame sprinkled with salt (much nicer than I expected) and a few pickled vegetable bites. We then had a sushi and sashimi selection - salmon, tuna, prawn, octopus and  some california rolls. And then a mix of tuna, salmon and avocado rolls. With plenty of green tea. All very healthy and fresh.

Service was very attentive and helped make the evening flow nicely.

Friday, July 23, 2010

masquepen project idea

I've found this wonderful step-by-step instruction on a link from the Masquepen website. I must try this soon!

squeezing out the last bit of paint

And one more with the same colours (and some brown ochre added to give rich tones). I do like the really small cats done with my new Masquepen supernib.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

More watercolours

I hate throwing away paint. So, if I have a nice bit of paint left when I finish a painting, I tend to start another painting using the same colours. Not always the best idea. But since I got Rolina van Vliet's abstract painting book for my birthday, I can use all my wonderful left-over colours!

Here is one I produced with my Poppy #5 & Poppy #6 paints:

Sigur Rós - Ára Bátur HQ (recording)

I discovered Sigur Ros a year or two ago, when John Kelly started playing them on the JK Ensemble. I loved them instantly. I found this YouTube video on the JK Ensemble Facebook page today. It's a beautiful song, but I would recommend not to look at the singer - he's way too pale and looks like a vampire on a diet - a bit scary.

Poppy #6

And finally, the last and the best of the watercolour poppies. I used the same colours again - cadmium red, ultramarine and yellow ochre - I splattered a small amount of masking fluid to create white marks. Then I loosely blended the colours on the paper before I painted the poppies, and it all worked out beautifully this time. It's a small enough painting, but I'm very happy with the colours and the composition.

That's me done with poppies, for a little while at least.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Poppy #5

Been busy again last weekend - With Poppy #5, I designed a composition on paper first, then I experimented with textures again, using clingfilm to create a mottled effect. The colours I used were cadmium red, ultramarine and yellow ochre, but they went quite pale on me when they dried. Next installment - Poppy #6

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Type of Beauty

I've known about Kate Newton for the last few years, when Patricia O'Reilly started working on this, her latest project. So I felt I knew her already when the book came out earlier this summer. Reading her story was like meeting a pen friend, someone you've known all your life but have never met face to face. And it was wonderful to finally meet her - this strong person who had such a short and hard life but who also had the luck of finding a great love.

A Type of Beauty was a page turner - I had it finished in a couple of days. I spent a lot of the time talking to Kate in my head (I do that a lot!), warning her of the dangers ahead, telling her not to do things that were going to work against her, screaming at her not to walk into the arms of danger. And I spent a lot of time being mad at people who should have looked after her better. And I had a tear in my eye at the end of course. So, yes, I was completely taken by it. If you like a good romantic story, this has got all the ingredients and it delivers from start to finish. I can see a movie already, with beautiful location shots from India to Paris and London.

And each time I look at a painting by James Tissot, I see the Kathleen I've got to know through the book. The picture here, called The Hammock, is one I've just come across, browsing through websites about James Tissot, who was such a prolific artist. I think his love for her shows through each and every one of his paintings, don't you?

Dawn Upshaw- Stravinsky: The Rakes Progress- Anne's Aria

When I set up customers' computers (either brand new computers or after a re-install), I always make sure to install Flash Player so people can play YouTube. And in the spirit of mixing business with pleasure, I often pick a Dawn Upshaw clip.
I found this one today - it is one of my favourite arias. I don't particularly like the Rake's Progress, but this song is wonderful. And I would sit through the whole opera for this song alone. Particularly if it's sung by Dawn Upshaw!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Darjeeling Limited

Been pretty busy this week, so in the evenings, all I wanted to do was put my feet up and watch a bit of telly. Brendan had taped The Darjeeling Limited, and I enjoyed watching it with him. Lovely little movie about 3 brothers' journey through India and through brotherhood, finding their mother, finding each other, and finding themselves. It's full of strange little moments (what is Bill Murray's role in the movie?), quirky dialog, slapstick situations (e.g. pet poisonous snake escapes on the train), and poignant scenes (when the 3 brothers try to save 3 little boys from drowning, and their subsequent stay in a remote village where no-one speaks English).

It's a bit mad, but full of love at the same time. A definite pick-me-up if you're feeling down.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Crustacés et Coquillages

This movie is also called Côte d'Azur, and its English title is a very appropriate Cockles and Mussels. It's very French and very breezy. A lot of sex, and talk about sex, in many different combinations. Unfortunately, we missed the end, as the recording stopped at the set time, but the movie had started late. So, I'll never know if it becomes more serious, or if everybody continues their extra-marital affairs with impunity. The last bit we saw was when Marc, the husband, is meeting his old flame, and Béatrix's lover has called to the house in the middle of the night. If you know the end, let me know!

The one thing I loved about the movie was the gorgeous Mediterranean light - stunningly bright in the middle of the day, subdued at dusk, always glowing.

Freedom Writers

Véronique had mentioned the book to me over a year ago. I haven't got around to getting it yet. But Brendan taped the movie for me and we watched it last night.

Freedom Writers is based on a true story, of a young teacher starting in a school in L.A. and facing troubled teenagers, gang violence and racial tension, and an education system that was writing those kids off without a second look. She managed to help them focus on what they had in common rather than on their differences, and, through reading and writing, helped them change their lives.

It has a somewhat happy ending (except for the character's personal life, which is in bits - poor MacDreamy is not getting any attention from his wife), and it does get a bit of the Hollywood "feel-good" treatment in some parts, but I felt it was quite an eye opener to what life is like in parts of L.A. - far from the American dream these kids were raised.

For more information about the Freedom Writers Foundation, check out their website.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Poppy #4

It's a case of when to stop - I had another go at a poppy painting - I put in a bit more work in the flowers themselves - they look more three-dimensional, and I'm quite happy with them. But I overdid the background. I had started with a green background, given texture with a clingfilm effect. But I was finding that there wasn't enough variety in tones - everything was mid-range. So I decided to apply a layer of blue/purple on top, scratched with a painting knife to show the green through. But now I have too much tonal contrast- the background is too dark and it doesn't look natural (but I like the swirling movement). Just as well I took a picture before I painted over the green. At least, I still have that. And it works well as a Picasa collage! I think I'll try again, maybe with a fairly plain blue and grey background.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Poppy #3

Been busy this weekend! Clingfilm and scratching are the techniques I've used for the background. It looks more like an underwater scene than a field of poppies. But, hey, that's what they call artistic licence!

The Songlines

When the weather is good, I like to sit out and feel the warm sun on my arms. We get so few good days in this country that you have to make the most of every single one of them.

As I can't really paint in our backgarden (I've got too many accessories I need around me, and the wind ends up ruining everything.), I read more. Which means that I now have 4 books I need to review here. A lot of catching up!

The first of these is The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, an account of his travels in the red centre of Australia, and his encounters with aboriginals and their way of life. The songlines are basically a mapping of the country and the creation mythology (the dreaming) associated with it, done through song, as it takes aboriginals across the land.

It's a book of two halves. The first is a modern travelogue, where Bruce meets white and native Australians on his travels and entertains us with stories about these encounters. In the second part of the book, Chatwin explores various nomadic cultures he came across through his travels and develops a theory of how humanity's nomadic origins explain some of our current traits - for instance why a child will be soothed when his cot is rocked rythmically (or will fall asleep as soon as the pram hits the road), or why children have this ingrained fear of the monster coming to get them in the middle of the night. Quite interesting stuff actually, and he does tie it all together eventually. But I did find some that latter section a bit tiring at times.

Interesting, also, to see the connection with Eileen Gray in the wikipedia article: "In 1972, Chatwin interviewed the 93-year-old architect and designer Eileen Gray in her Paris salon, where he noticed a map of the area of South America called Patagonia, which she had painted. "I've always wanted to go there," Bruce told her. "So have I," she replied, "go there for me." Two years later in November 1974, Chatwin flew out to Lima in Peru, and reached Patagonia a month later"

I think the Songlines will be a book I'll pick up again in a few years' time. Maybe a book to pick up now and then and read in small bursts rather than in one long session.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Impossible skies

Here is another view of that mad sky (I might paint that next - I've been painting poppies all weekend):

There'll be nothing like that tonight - it's dull and grey and cool.

Jamie Stafford Tennis Academy

If you're into tennis, check out the Jamie Stafford Tennis Academy -

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I had been craving for Aine McAteer's divine chocolate chip cookies for weeks. The rain this afternoon was the perfect excuse for a bit of baking. Perfect with a mug of green tea and a good book!

Impossible skies

Sometimes, skies are so crazy that you think nobody would believe you if you painted it.

We had just one of those skies this week - I think it was Thursday, or maybe Wednesday...

Poppy #2 - 2nd crop

I've cropped this one a little bit tighter. I think it benefits from it. (Not sure if I'll have the heart to do the same to the original painting, though - I think I will find it hard to remove that beautiful expanse of green)

Poppy #2

And here is my current attempt - similar idea as Poppy #1, but done in a slightly bigger size, on Cheap Joe's Fabriano Artistico Extra White (Cold Pressed), from a watercolour paper assortment Brendan got me last Christmas. Just like it says on Cheap Joe's, that paper can take plenty of scraping!

Watercolour experiments - abstract exercise #2

I hate throwing away paint - I have to use every last bit of it. Nowadays, I try not to ruin a painting by adding on more and more layers of watercolour (which is the best way to get mud, of course). Instead, I start another painting or experiment with it. Abstract exercises are the best excuse for me to use up gorgeous leftover colours.

Here is what I did with what was left of my poppy #1, following Rolina van Vliet's instructions. It would look quite nice as a large painting, don't you think?:

Watercolour experiments - Poppy #1

I've been busy this week, not so much with work (everybody in South Dublin is on holidays, it seems), but that's given me more time to devote to watercolours in the evenings (I still can't start painting in the middle of the day - too many years of conditioning in ITP & IBM. Plus there is always something to do, like catching up on account-keeping).

I'm exploring a freer way of painting, without big washes and masking fluid, inspired by Shirley Trevena's style. I have two books by her, and I keep going back to them for ideas on colour and texture. I love the way her newer paintings are very abstract - although she can draw well and precisely, she is not obsessed with exact replicas of the subject in front of her. For me, that's the perfect excuse, as I'm not so good at drawing. Let's focus on my strengths instead!

So, this time, I kept my paint quite thick and gooey, and I applied it on dry paper, section by section. In places, it merged, but not too much (that's often one of my problems when my paint is too wet, everything starts blending together and all the shapes disappear). And I used painting knives to drag the paint to produce an interesting (I hope!) background. For the leaves at the top, I mixed Phthalo blue and lemon yellow, which gives a strong vibrant green. And then I dragged the paint with my Cheap Joes' colour shaper.

Here is attempt #1:

Friday, July 09, 2010

Healthy sorbet

I've been subscribing to Dr Weil's daily recipes for a few weeks now, but I hadn't tried any, until I had a couple of bananas on the verge of going black. So I chopped them, put them in the freezer overnight and blitzed them in the food processor, just like I was told. And I added a few fresh raspberries for extra colour and flavour.


A lovely healthy sorbet, full of goodness, no sugar, no cream!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

View from Mont Saint Victor

Zazzle Zazzle - Keds

Speaking of Keds - I have to show you the ones I designed on Zazzle. They came out beautiful. Quality of the print is excellent, they fit like a glove, and I feel a spring in my step every time I look at my feet!

Mont Saint Victor

A walk I would definitely recommend for anybody staying in the Corbières region is Mont Saint Victor. It will take you at least 2 hours round trip, and some of the scenery on the way up is not that spectacular, but the view from the top is well worth the effort - the rolling hills of the Corbières and the sea in the background. And it's so peaceful - it's not much advertised in the tourist brochures. It was our landlord who mentioned it to us last year, and we decided to give it a try on a cloudy day. I'd say it would be a tough climb on a hot sunny day. There is a good path/road most of the way.

Follow directions for Fontjoncouse (it's a bit of a twisty road, but it doesn't get any worse), and before you get to the village, you will see a sign for Mont Saint Victor on the left. Park your car there near the map (there isn't really anywhere else to park - which probably explains why it's so quiet).

It's fairly well sign-posted (follow the yellow bands) - except at one point where there was a sign for a goats' farm. We went straight on through the pillars, but turned back when we went past the Dutch van, as the path seemed to be going down at that point. We retraced our steps and then followed the path going up towards the left. It was straightforward after that. Once you get a bit higher, you can see the communications mast and the fire observation station at the top (and you realise you still have a long way to go...).

It's a good walk, so bring water with you, but nothing as hard as Croagh Patrick - wear good shoes, but no need for hiking shoes. I did it in Keds. My knees were a bit sore on the descent from the lack of cushioning, but it wasn't too bad.

And say hello to the donkeys in the field on the way up!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Remember our cute foxes? Well, when we came back from holidays at the beginning of June, they were gone. Vanished. Not a trace. We knew straight away when Willow got home from the cattery, and he went out the back without a care in the world. Before the holidays, he had become very wary, hardly ever going out to our backgarden, as he could smell them (or see them under the decking). So, Willow has reclaimed his garden, and the foxes have hopefully found a better home for themselves. My guess is that our garden was perfect for small cubs, as it is completely enclosed and safe, but once they started growing up, there just wasn't enough to eat for 3 cubs and a mother.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Abstract Exercise #1

Brendan gave me a book called "Painting Abstracts" by Rolina van Vliet for my birthday. A very practical little book, with 65 exercises to take you by the hand. Only a few pages of theory at the start, and then you can jump right in. If, like me, you need to be inspired, it's packed with beautiful examples of what can be achieved (I feel a few fakes coming on). I've already started. Here is my interpretation of exercise #1 "Expressive Shapes"

Evelyn Cusack

Here is the little brown dress I mentioned the other day. It's very plain, but very well cut, and I think it looks stunning on Evelyn.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Evelyn Cusack

Over the last few months, we've been focused on Jean Byrne's dress sense.

But I think that our other weather girl, Evelyn Cusack, deserves a mention too.

Evelyn used to wear pretty old-fashioned outfits (skirts and formal jackets), but in the last while, she's been sporting beautiful dresses, and they really suit her. She was wearing a gorgeous brown dress today (remind me to post a picture tomorrow), and a lovely printed one yesterday.

Strawberries and Cream

We went to the Taste of Dublin festival with Padraig and Mary a few weeks back. While the evening wasn't that warm, it was dry and we had a good time. The restaurant tasters were good, though pricey for what you got (€4-6 for a few mouthfuls on a paper plate that you had to eat standing up, as the whole event was too crowded). There were free bits of food at various stalls (free Spanish melon was the nicest bit I remember - there is only so much smoked salmon or chocolate you can eat in one evening), but the free goody that I liked the best was a face cream and shower gel from a restaurant & spa somewhere in Kildare (can't remember the name of it -aah well).

We attended 3 cookery demonstrations - the best part of the show really, not that I paid much attention, but Brendan and Mary enjoyed it all. And I did remember one recipe - strawberries, meringue, cream and vanilla from a demonstration by Kevin Dundon of Dunbrody House hotel & cookery school. Kevin Dundon is currently advertising Philadelphia, so he included that magic ingredient in all his recipes, but I decided to drop it when I tried it at home for a BBQ with Padraig and Mary the following week. It was a complete success and we've been eating this wonderful dessert every weekend since (we've now replaced the strawberries by Irish raspberries, which are now in season). After today, that's it, I'm not making any more of it - too many calories, and I'm wondering why I'm developping a little tyre around my waist!

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Zazzle Zazzle

As part of my birthday treats, Brendan bought a few of my designs on Zazzle ( I was delighted with them - the quality and finish is really nice, and the print is neat and not rubbery.

So, here I am, advertising my wares.:

Glass beads

One of my long-time friends, Shinobu, works glass. She creates the most wonderful designs with glass beads that she makes herself.

For my birthday, she sent me this grape necklace, which I love. I can see myself wearing it all the time!

There are lots of YouTube sites with demonstrations of glass-bead making. It looks like a slow process. I don't think I'd have the patience!

Friday, July 02, 2010

Juliet, Naked

One final book from the holiday, then I leave you in peace, for a short while at least (with the good weather, I've been reading plenty!)

Juliet, Naked is Nick Hornby's latest book. I loved it to bits. Brendan - not so much. Like the Guardian reviewer, he felt that the second half of the book wasn't so good. I've read some of Nick Hornby's other books and enjoyed them, but I actually liked the fact that he abandonned his music-obsessed male character half-way through the book and developed the story by focussing on the not-so-obsessed protagonists.