Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Enchanted Island - Joyce DiDonato

I had missed The Enchanted Island on the Met HD last year. But it was showing on Sky Arts 2 recently and I taped it.

Beautiful, Glorious, Enchanting, Thrilling. Music, Singing, Acting, Sets, Costumes, Humour, Pathos. Loved it all! Could watch it 100 times and still love it (I don't know if they ship outside the US, but the Met shop have it on DVD)!

The only thing I missed on the Sky Arts program are the interviews during the interval. Must have a further look through YouTube to see if I can find them somewhere.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Other Queen

After seeing the Met HD production of Maria Stuarda, I wanted to find out more about this queen - I knew she was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, and everything else I learned through Donizetti's opera. I was curious. I guess Wikipedia would be the first port of call for most people who want to learn about a historical figure. But I like to know the person rather than the facts of history. So I read a Philippa Gregory book instead, The Other Queen. As you know, I'm a big Philippa Gregory fan, and I learned a lot about Mary Queen of Scots.

This book was very readable, but I have to say not quite as good as other Philippa Gregory historical fictions. The character of Bess of Hardwick was the strongest of the three voices that spoke through this book. But I felt that George, Bess's husband and Earl of Shrewsbury, and Mary Stuart were quite one-dimensional. He's defined by his growing love for the Queen of Scots, whereas she is defined by her obsession about being a queen and being free. Which may all be historically correct. But it wasn't quite enough for me. So I'll have to find another book, or maybe read a history of England!

Still, a good start if you want to learn more about this period and you think that the history books are too dry for your liking.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Aine McAteer's Power Cookies

These are really really good! And also really really good!

Full of power ingredients - chopped nuts, almonds, olive oil, agave syrup, raisins, spelt flour, and plenty more - these cookies are completely guilt-free! Despite their delicious taste and texture! They might not be calorie-free, granted, but they're so full of healthy things that I feel they can remain part of my daily diet even when I'm watching my weight (which is all the time - I'm not twenty anymore, and it's hard to loose the little tyre that has appeared around my waist). And they taste so much better than shop-bought biscuits!

This is a recipe from Aine McAteer's upcoming book, from the Dessert/Sweets chapter she's asked me to try out. The only difficulty I find with these is that they are so good that I feel this compulsive need to bake them again and again! I have another dozen recipes at least that I haven't tried out yet, but I can't help going back to the same recipes again and again! At this rate, it'll take me a few more months before I have tried them all.

The next time I bake these, I promise I'll take a photo before we eat them all.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

3 stick men and a boat

Aren't they so cute?

Stick men

I spend more time looking at YouTube videos about painting than actually painting myself. But it feels good! I know that adding figures to the painted landscape gives it scale and interest, but I've always shied away from it - because I'm not very good at drawing, because I don't plan my paintings that well, all sorts of reason I guess. But I found this small video - and I'm being literal here - that shows how to paint a 6-stroke stick man. I've tried it, and it works! See how cute they are!

And I've even tried them out in Paper.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Steamed Apple & Marmalade Pudding

Just a quick note to say I have made Aine McAteer's Steamed Apple & Marmalade Pudding several times since I first tried it out, and it turns out beautifully every time! And it pops out of the mold so easily!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Maria Stuarda

OK, I think I've finished reviewing all the Christmas movies. I can now move on to more recent items. Well, relatively recent.

The last Met HD production I saw was Donizetti's Maria Stuarda - directed by David McVicar, with Joyce DiDonato in the title role.

Very powerful production, fantastic music, fabulous acting and singing by Joyce DiDonato. To me, this opera was all about Ms DiDonato. What a beautiful voice. And what a convincing stage presence - vulnerable and hopeful, full of venom, exhausted, beaten and resigned to her fate - she conveyed all the emotions so perfectly.

While the confrontation scene is probably the one that stands out with the most powerful visual and musical impact, it was the second half that touched my heart, when Mary Stuart, having spent years imprisoned, knows that her fate is sealed - her whole body is shaking, but she is still a proud queen.

Elizabeth was played by Elza van den Heever, a South African singer - a promising young soprano, who, in preparation for her role as Elizabeth shaved her head, completely getting into character. Vocally, she also made a strong impression! The only thing I didn't like so much about her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth I was the swagger. It was discussed during the interval interview, and Ms van den Heever explained that McVicar had asked her to play Elizabeth with this swagger. She's effectively a woman in an man's world, and she has set aside her femininity in order to convey the power the befits her. Well, I became familiar with Elizabeth I through the acting of Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett, so the swagger didn't work for me.

One small criticism of this Met HD filming: I felt that there were too many shots taken from bottom of stage, looking up towards the singers. I would have preferred a more "straight-on" view of the stage.

Beautiful sets and costumes by the way. I have to say I did prefer the historical accuracy that McVicar went for in the costumes chosen for Anna Bolena - but it was an artistic choice that I have to respect.

My next Met HD opera is Parsifal. Looking forward to it!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cute cat video

It's not often I post cute cat videos here (I keep those for Facebook), but this is too cute!

Jean Byrne, 12 February, long-sleeved lace black top

I much prefer this top - flattering long sleeves, lace detail (is one sleeve lace and one sleeve plain?). And of course the big pendant! Classic Jean Byrne!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Echinacea - with colour

Still using the same three colours, I added watercolours to my little sketch. It's very pretty, isn't it? What do you think? I think I'm going to try to develop this into a full painting and we'll see how it goes.

By the way, Airfield is still closed for redevelopment. Their website still says it will re-open in 2013, but, looking from the road, it looks like there is still a lot to do. I just saw an update on their Facebook page that says they are re-opening in August. I wish they put up more regular updates, and photos showing the progress they're making. In the meantime, we'll have to go through our old photographs and memories for inspiration!

Echinacea - drawing

My next little project:

Jean Byrne, 11 February, black and white top with basque

Not so sure about this top - I really liked the long-sleeved black top. But here, maybe it's because it's sleeveless or because of the white part. It just doesn't work for me. What do you think?

Siobhan Ryan, 5 Feb, tobacco dress

Very simple dress, but so flattering - on someone as slim as Siobhan Ryan of course!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Dalkey island

A final one for today, still using the same colours. This is a view of Dalkey island (which you can also see in my sketchbook. The sketchbook version is better actually, but I like the way the sea worked out in this one.)

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is kind-of-cute. A bit light really. Hard to take Ewan McGregor seriously as a bland civil servant with a boring life - he's a fly-fishing specialist (He does get more handsome as the romantic story develops - by the end of the movie, he's the Ewan McGregor we know and love). But it certainly works as a feel-good movie. Some very funny lines too.

Airfield trees

Not my best painting, but I wanted to show you how my new colours are working out - I'm particularly fond of the greens.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

More colours

Amazing, isn't it, how many lovely hues you can mix from just these three colours, yellow ochre light, madder red dark and indigo. Perfect for nature scenes.

I've started using my little sketchbook again. It's one of these things that I always tell myself - I must sketch more. I go through phases, followed by long droughts. I never really used watercolours in my sketchbook, except on our last holiday, but I'm starting to discover the beauty of it now. Long may it last. 

I just wish I was as talented as real artists, but for now it'll have to do!

More colours

I love my three bright colours - but I don't want to be stuck just painting with them. So I've spent the last couple of days trying to find another combination I like - right now my heart is leaning towards this versatile trio: yellow ochre light (PY43), madder red dark(PV19, PR179), and indigo (PB15-1, PB66). Quite autumnal, but plenty of lovely greens, purples and peachy tones to play with.

The Pact

It's a good Christmas when Santa brings me a Jodi Picoult book! I know, it's quite formulaic at this stage, a couple of strong women (Gus and Melanie), their children (Chris and Emily), a societal issue (teenage suicide), the law, and how will it all end? But I still enjoy my Jodi Picoult books. I find them really immersive - it's all about the characters, who come to life right from the very first page. And The Pact is no different. I'm not sure how she does it, but there is probably some thesis in a creative writing course somewhere that analyses every pen in her toolbox!

And she is such a prolific writer that I have many more Christmases to look forward to.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

La délicatesse

Not a good sign when I can't remember anything about a movie, less than a month after watching it. But, actually, La délicatesse turned out to be quite good. With Audrey Tautou, it's about a young woman who finds the love of her life, then he dies in a road accident (so far so predictable). She immerses herself in her work, until, out of the blue, she kisses one of her employees. That's when it starts to get interesting. Why did she do that? He isn't that good looking. He's a bit awkward. What does she see in him? Does he even like her? Are they suited at all? Will her friends get on with him? Is there a future for them? A quirky story, with a warm heart.


Over the last couple of week, I was working with colours that I'm not that familiar with - cobalt turquoise, quinacridone gold, hooker's green, black. I was struggling to find combinations that I liked, I have to admit. It's good to experiment, but I am finding it hard to pick colours that resonate better than my favourite trio: ultramarine blue (PB29), ruby red (PV19) and vanadium yellow (PY184). I just love how they bounce off each other (in this sample with a phthalo blue/indigo combination for extra oomph).

Monday, February 04, 2013


Aaah - enfin - an interesting movie, just like I love them. Melancholia. The vibe is a little bit like Another Earth, where science fiction collides with the everyday world. What drew me to Melancholia was the music. I was upstairs at the computer or painting, and I heard Wagner's prelude to Tristan und Isolde. I thought it strange that BB would be listening to that piece, so I had to go downstairs to investigate.

I found him watching this movie I had vaguely heard about. But it looked intriguing, so he rewound it for me and we watched it from the start.

The opening scenes are slow, strange, disturbing. Very strong imagery. Then in the next scene, there is a normal, happy, wedding party, with a lovely bride Justine (Kirsten Dunst), a handsome husband (Alexander Skarsgård - Eric from True Blood, and also the good guy in Generation Kill!), a castle, the bride's sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), and husband (Kiefer Sutherland) and their son, her parents (Charlotte Rampling and John Hurt), and various guests. But it soon transpires the bride suffers from deep depression, and events take a strange turn. Also we find out that a planet has appeared in the sky - some people say that it will collide with the earth, others that it won't. But we all know how it's going to end.

As all the other characters disappear, it's left to the two sisters, Justine and Claire, to stand up till the end of the world, to give each other support and love, and to look after Claire's son, Leo. Claire, who has so much to lose - her son's life and future, finds it hard to cope. Whereas Justine is serene and strong.

Beautiful. And the music is so perfect.

Tristan und Isolde - Prelude

All will become clear in my next post!

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Un conte de Noël

Un conte de Noël - A Christmas Tale it's not! Another very French movie - family tensions, sibling rivalry, sex, life, death, Catherine Deneuve - it's all in there! Not very uplifting. But more depth than Les Petits Mouchoirs, which seems to have become my yardstick for movies these days! And also a very different vibe - a town in Northern France in winter (vs the sunny South in the summer (try say that quickly!)).

Julie and Julia

If you're into blogging, you'll enjoy this movie. And if you're into cooking, you'll like it even more!

Julie & Julia is the story of two women who have nothing in common, except a passion for cooking.

Julie is a young woman drifting in a dead-end job and wondering how she could make her life more worth-while. She loves cooking. And she decides to write a food blog, giving herself the challenge to cook every recipe from Julia Child's book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" within the space of a year, and to blog about every single dish.

Julia is the Julia Child, an American in Paris, who loves life, loves France and loves cooking. She is bigger than life in every way - she is tall, she is loud, and she is passionate about food.

The two stories are nicely intertwined. It's kind-of two movies in one, and if it wasn't for Meryl Streep's immense talent, I'm not sure it would have worked so well. But it's a lovely story and I really enjoyed it.

If you're into food blogs, don't miss the featured blog section, with plenty of links to yummy sites.

And for those really really passionate about cooking, Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is still available on Amazon! A pity she uses so much butter!