Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On the easel, outside the window


The storm slashed open our poly tunnel, and our shed has a hole in the roof. The flooding on the roads got so bad the cars in front of me hesitated that little bit longer in front of the lake that had formed. But just as we regretted not having moved to the Sunny South-East, the West got a day of picture perfect sunshine. Then, one morning, we awoke to two new neighbours - horses just a few metres away from our window (I took the second photo through the window). Every morning I sit and watch the birds at the bird feeder and the horses and the sea - the view just keeps getting better.

Maybe I am running out of ideas, because these days I seem to keep copying myself - this is the third time (in five years, though, and in different colours!) I have painted this figure-in-bird. A more likely explanation is that the books I am illustrating still take up most of my free time and headspace, but apart from some computer-related frustrations this is a wonderful place to be in. And at least I am painting again. Like half the internet I am reading Big Magic, with its delightful mixture of encouragement and reality check. The important thing is to keep doing the work, regardless of the outcome, and it is of course true that most of the enjoyment is in the process, not the afterwards. Big Magic's "central paradox" of "art is absolutely meaningless. It is, however, also deeply meaningful" and the reason why it is vital to live both parts is a good reminder.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Apple bread

Usually I wouldn't go near anything Christmassy until December 1st, but this week is the last week of the current term of my classes, so I wanted to bake something to go with our early Christmas coffee. One thing I made was Apfelbrot, a staple in our family in the lead-up to Christmas. It is a rustic cake/bread, moister than stollen, lighter than fruit cake and beautifully fragrant.

There are a lot of variations of this, and I have experimented with different nuts - chopped roasted hazelnuts instead of whole ones; almonds; mixed nuts minus the peanuts, as I felt they wouldn't work that well - but here is my aunt's recipe (which I just realised happens to be dairy- and eggfree):


  • 750g apples (peeled and grated)
  • 250g sugar [I use less, around 200g]
  • 250g raisins
  • 250g whole hazelnuts
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 heaped teaspoon cocoa powder
  • 1 dessert spoon dark rum
  • 500g flour
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder

  1. Mix the grated apples and the sugar and let stand for at least six hours or overnight.
  2. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius (160 for fan-assisted ovens).
  3. Put the raisins in a sieve or colander, rinse vigorously under a fully opened hot tap and drain. 
  4. Add the raisins, nuts, spices, cocoa and rum to the apples and sugar and mix to combine.
  5. Mix the flour and baking powder and sift onto the apple mixture. Mix to combine.
  6. Pour into two medium-sized loaf tins. Bake for 45-60 minutes.

With the oven in our new house we have noticed that everything is cooked much sooner than expected. After years of having an oven where you had to add at least 20 minutes to the given time, this still surprises me every time. So I would advise checking after 45 minutes.


Speaking of preparation, this year I even managed to buy a diary (Moleskine; the price seems to go up every year, but it is the best weekly planner I know of) before January. I am one of those sad people who get antsy and panic when they enter the new year without a diary (and yet I almost always end up leaving it until mid-January). So between the baking and planning ahead to such an extent that I have a planner for planning ahead I feel a bit more ready for the winter months.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Four senses | November 2015

Sound  |  The debut album by John's friend, "one of the best fiddle players in the circuit" (Brian Rooney). This CD had been anxiously awaited. Having missed the Galway launch, we went to the Ennis launch, where the venue was so packed, we had to come back a bit later. It is a treat to hear Claire live - her playing is pure magic, so lyrical and light. The title track, her own composition, is one of my favourites on this stunning album.

Smell  |  Clary sage essential oil. I had run out of it, and it took me a while to get another bottle (I tend to transfer a lot of items on my shopping list from week to week. It can take me a year to buy batteries), and now I cannot believe I didn't miss it more. This is the oil that 'elevates' your mood, so whenever I feel lethargic or down I use this, and it works like an 'on' switch. My current go-to blend for the oil burner is clary sage, cypress and lemongrass.

Taste  |  Dried thyme on roast potatoes and as a tea (a strong brew, left to cool down, is also great as a facial toner).

See  |  I go months without seeing a single movie, and then I watch two within two days. 'Brooklyn' at the cinema and 'Mar Adentro' as a DVD, lent to me by a friend (watching foreign language films must be one of the best ways to keep the language alive when you don't get to speak it often). The former was heartbreaking in its depiction of emigration and heightened the guilt I feel for having chosen to leave my home, the latter beautifully shot and desperately sad, though with a life-affirming and even humorous element (I wouldn't go as far as the blurb, which calls it "a truly joyous experience").

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Happy Home

 Bought pumpkin pie. Almost as good as the homemade pie my sister gave us (no photo evidence of the latter).
 The Nicholas Mosse ceramics were a housewarming gift.

Little visitor

Our favourite card, made by the most adorable (and  perceptive) girl.
 Love the details (my palette and brush, John's stubble)

After a bit of a hiatus (that began when I started teaching again and may have also been triggered by the lukewarm reception I got for one of my DIY jobs...only joking - that was pure coincidence) we are making progress with the house. I was going to post some before and after pictures, but realised that I seem to have the dubious ability to make the after pictures look worse than the before, mainly due to light: All the befores are drenched in sunlight and the afters are taken at the end of the day, in artificial light, and look gloomy as a result. But they are coming.

We are still living in two rooms, and everything takes longer than we thought, but we knew that would happen, and it makes sense to take it slowly and not end up with panic purchases and all the wrong colours. It is such an exciting project. In the meantime we are making this our home with what we have and somehow don't even see eyesores such as the gas boiler anymore. It is also very much possible to get used to a chocolate 1980s bathroom suite.

We have had a good few visitors, with a good few kiddies on what we call the kiddies' bench (that we use a lot ourselves. I never had a bench before; it is now one of my favourite things in our house). We are finishing a jigsaw that four smaller hand were working on this afternoon. In the years I lived on my own I never thought of getting a jgsaw, even though it was something I loved as a child. I am so grateful for the constant surprises and ties to the past that cohabitation brings.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Drinking the wild air

We were lucky dogsitters for the last four days, and I have come to the conclusion that the cure for everything must be salt water in combination with a furry friend. A day of the sun splitting the stones also helped. We went down to the beach this morning and sat on a wall looking out at the sea before getting into the water (the dog). I had no idea what the time was (I had left my phone at home on purpose; the photo above is from Friday), and there was a lovely sense of it not mattering. Spiddal was sun-drenched and sleepy, with a couple of other dogs trotting down the road and waiting in front of the shop and eldery people with their carers out on their walk, and I had this moment of transcendence.

As I was typing the above and thinking about all the needless worrying I did last weekend and how different this weekend was, a friend sent me this link. Perfect timing. I am sure some of these quotes will become mantras.