Michelangelo & Sebastiano Exhibition

15 March – 25 June 2017

During a recent trip to the National Gallery, sparked by a love of Renaissance art, we booked tickets for the Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition.  Quite honestly, though hearing Sebastiano’s name in passing commentary, neither of us had any idea of the great artist he really was.  Interestingly, listening in on passing conversations in the queue to enter the gallery, neither had anyone else and having seen the amount of recent publicity surrounding the exhibition and judging by the amount of people in the queue this lack of notoriety may now be a thing of the past.  [1]

The exhibition was based upon the great friendship between both Michelangelo and Sebastiano and the great works of art the two collaborated on to produce.  Both from very different artistic traditions; Michelangelo’s compositions were prepared in advance with the utmost clarity and precision, through detailed anatomical drawings, whilst Sebastiano was an accomplished painter who preferred a more improvisatory (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improvisatori) method of painting, rich in colour, expressive and bold.

It became clear that this was no ordinary friendship, their collaborations created the most striking pieces of artwork, applauded at the time they were created and still admired today, as some the greatest works of art.

The exhibition largely focused on their relationship and demonstrated through their art and their own personal correspondence, the journey of their relationship, from mutual admiration and respect to bitter acrimony. “Dearest friend, dearer to me than a father, greetings…….  Their friendship which roughly lasted 25 years, began as a ploy by Michelangelo as he sought to create an alliance with Sebastiano to thwart the artist Raphael, whom he detested, though, their sentimental and heartfelt correspondence clearly shows a genuine respect for each other.  This being unusual since Michelangelo was severely temperamental and not one to hold friendships for very long.  Though rivalries were often encouraged and fuelled in Renaissance Italy, to encourage the creation of outstanding works of art.  “…because I do not want Raphael to see mine until he has delivered his, (with reference to the artwork, Raising of the Lazarus). [2]Sebastiano_del_Piombo,_The_Raising_of_Lazarus_(cropped5)

As fascinating as the story is, for me, the star of the show is still Michelangelo, the exhibition seemed a little thin on the ground when it came to presenting his works, probably because the theme was predominantly about the relationship between the two artists.  No one can deny after looking at the Masters’ great drawings how incredible he really was.  The detail and delicacy of his sketches are tantalising to look at and its breath-taking to consider that these preparatory drawings on show, were just the beginning to greater works of art.

[1] Art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon exploring the Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition at the National Gallery in London,

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xlFwI85M9H0

[2] The National Gallery Michelangelo & Sebastiano Exhibition Notes

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Cheesy Polenta with Tomato Sauce

 

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During our stay in South Africa, earlier this year, we had the privilege of visiting The Cotton Club Café, an informal restaurant in the gardens of 24 Degrees South Country Estate, not far from Hoedspruit.  The restaurant is run by Charlotte Hunt and provides a menu full of contemporary dishes, with lots of choice and not short of dishes for those of us with different food requirements. The salads were remarkable; mine arrived in an iceberg leave basket, piled high with a collection of tasty leaves, fruits and vegetables, topped with a variety of sprouting seeds, it was a fantastic meal.  I was full of enthusiasm for the care and attention with which it had been created.

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I have since received the gift of a book with a collection of recipes from the Lowveld area, one of which had been provided by The Cotton Club Cafe and having cooked it a few times now, I’ve adapted it, to suit my own tastes and more importantly to feed the family.  It’s my homage to that lovely day we spent at the 24 Degrees South Country Estate.

Cheesy Polenta with Tomato Sauce

Don’t be phased by the list below, it’s actually very easy, it just needs a little planning ahead of time.  If the polenta is cold it’s much easier to slice in half.  But you can however, use two tins the same size to create the two pieces of polenta.

I love this dish, it always seems so gloriously decadent.

For the polenta sandwich pieces

  • 375g Polenta
  • 1.5 Litres of vegetable stock.  (I tend to use reduced salt marigold stock and for this recipe only add 2 heaped tsp.)
  • 2 Tbsp. Olive oil
  • 1 Grated clove of garlic
  • 1tsp mixed herbs
  • 75g butter
  • 50g parmesan
  • Seasoning (I like to use Cornish Sea salt and the flavoured varieties such as the smoked add a little extra flavouring)
  • Use a brownie tin to set the cooked Polenta or a 12 x 9 inch/ 30 x 22 cm traybake tin

Heat the olive oil in a fairly, large pan, it helps to have plenty of room and add the grated garlic and cook gently, without browning, then let cool before adding the hot stock and the herbs to the pan.

On a mid to low heat, in a steady stream, continuously stirring, add the polenta grains and stir until the mixture comes to the boil.  Turning the heat down further, continue stirring for roughly 8 minutes on a lower heat until cooked and looks less grainy, almost smooth in texture.  Add the butter, parmesan and seasoning and stir until fully incorporated.

Using a tray bake tin or brownie tin, the latter will just make the sandwich deeper, line with parchment and fill with the polenta, smooth the top and allow to cool completely, it helps to do this part the day before and fridge it overnight.

Ingredients for Tomato Sauce                                   

  • olive oil
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. of chopped Rosemary
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • A handful of basil leaves to finish
  • Pinch of sugar

 

 

Method for the Tomato Sauce                                                                                                          

Heat olive oil and add the chopped onion, cook gently until translucent, adding a little water if starting to burn.  Add the garlic and cook for a few moments before adding the rosemary, cooking again for a further minute, before adding the tins of tomatoes, with the sugar and a pinch of seasalt.

Cook for 20-30 minutes allowing the sauce to slowly cook and develop its strong tomato flavour.  Add a little water if it starts to become too thick. Once cooked tear some basil leaves and add seasoning to taste.

Set to one side and allow to cool                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

Ingredients for the final dish

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C

  • 250g Ricotta Cheese
  • 200g Gorgonzola Cheese
  • 100g grated Parmesan
  • 2 tbsp chopped Rosemary

Turn out the Polenta and carefully slice through to create two parts.  Think of two slices of bread, in effect you are now going to a sandwich.

Using a rectangular oven proof dish, spoon half the tomato mixture over the bottom and cover with one half of the polenta.

Season and scatter over with the Gorgonzola cheese, dot with ricotta and sprinkle with half the grated Parmesan and half of the chopped rosemary.

Top with the remaining Polenta, pour over the rest of the tomato sauce and remaining Parmesan. Season and sprinkle with rosemary.  Cook for 30 minutes and rest for 10 mins before serving.  Serve with a salad.

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Note                                                                                                                                                   I’ve tried this with other blue cheeses and the flavour isn’t the same, gorgonzola and polenta, both Italian, are just a marriage made in mouth-watering heaven!   Make sure the tomato sauce is cooked sufficiently if it’s overly watery it’ll only serve to create sloppy polenta.

http://24degreessouth.co.za/

The art of frustration

Although this fails as an article on art in the regular sense of the word; it’s my artistic view of the frustrations this week, which I can only see as strings of colour depending on my mood, these I envision emanating and dancing from my head in a form that only I can see or appreciate.  I often use art as a way of calming the senses.  I suppose it’s my way of dealing with the stresses of the day, by painting the obstacles as free-flowing strands of colour gives me complete artist satisfaction and helps ease the burden of whatever is troubling me.  Call me mad, but at least I have an outlet for the strains of life, it’s either this or screaming!

Last week saw an inevitable peak in the stress levels, it happened to be a triple whammy.  The kids moved out of their University accommodation, the country was in the middle of election fever and the penultimate problem…… my laptop caught a cold.  This being the only way of describing the system failure, because even the IT technicians couldn’t give me an answer as to what had happened; frankly, I blame cyber terrorism! It resulted in just over a week without a PC, but the week previously had involved a great deal of difficulty, whilst I tried to deal with the meltdown.  In hindsight, why didn’t I deal with the problem earlier?  But quite honestly, I have come to rely too heavily on my PC and the thought of having to be without it, pained me terribly.  I am sure most of us have the same problem, in our modern age, our world revolves around our connections to the world, we need our phones, tablets and PC’s for our work, our shopping, our social interactions and our media enjoyment.  I was lost without this connection and felt cut off from the world.  How did we all become such PC needy people?  When did this happen?  It arrived so gradually I didn’t even see it coming.  So, the art of my frustrations have been imperceptibly created this week; with each discussion over what could be done to save my data, or how long the recovery of the data would take and finally, how long following the rebuild before I’d be up and running again, I created the most colourful display of strands, mostly in shades of red which danced gloriously from my head and feeling the need to contrast this with a calmer palette I chose a few shades of blue, in appropriate tones to complement!  Curiously calmed by this display, I concluded I had to be patient and wait it out, eventually all problems would get resolved.

As a result, the kids having dumped their belongings are now off enjoying the many festivities the summer had to offer, the General Election fever is over, though politics still dominate the landscape, but thankfully, my laptop is now returned and almost back to complete functionality.  The great piece of invisible art created by my frustrations, is now gone for the time being, it’s likely to be replaced soon, with the next stress or strain of life, but it’ll be every bit as colourful!  

Art Snobbery

Art takes many guises, in its simplest of forms it is an expression of ourselves. It can be a means of developing a visual documentation of a moment in time, or a declaration of aesthetics, it can be a notion of politics or simply a happy marriage of random elements. Whether the art form is visual or auditory or performing, it is our emotions and imagination that lends itself to create such incredible works of art and the longevity of this creativity, which spans all of time, tells us tales of history in all its glorious technicolour.

Art should be enjoyed by all, but I often witness a huge amount of snobbery. We recently visited a local gallery, full of modern art and featuring some modern masters such as Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.  It was hugely expensive to get in and whilst I understand that galleries are costly to run, why not do discount Wednesday’s or local incentives?

All around us visitors were talking in hushed tones, akin to a library and children seemed frowned upon.  How do we create the next generation of artists or art appreciator’s, if we do not encourage our children to come and have a dabble? Where were the posters for instance, saying, “Come and paint your own interpretation of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers”, encouraging our children to be creative?

To add insult to injury, whilst appraising a Henry Moore sculpture, I was hollered at from the opposite end of the gallery to move myself away from the art. Isn’t art supposed to be appreciated?

The final blow came whilst overhearing a guide talk to a group of visitors, the comments were so alarming it was all I could do, to stay quiet.  The said guide, a lady who by her comments had obviously worked for the gallery for some years, chose to declare the value of the paintings rather than discuss the artist, or history, or any detail, which would have been of interest and proceeded to tell tales of the owners and their so-called wealth.  I would have liked to have given this guide the benefit of the doubt and surmise that her talk improved after we moved away, but I’ll never know, because I made it may business to avoid the small group throughout the rest of my tour. This is art snobbery in its finest form and its rather put us off visiting the gallery again.

I choose not to give the name of the gallery because one visit is not enough to do the place a disservice.  A second strike though and all will definitely be revealed.

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As a post note I would add, that for years as a family we visited Compton Verney in Warwickshire, a fabulously restored stately home which is now run as an art gallery for all to enjoy.  It regularly has events for all the family and children particularly are very much encouraged to play.  I would say that my days here probably developed the enthusiasm I have for art today and I cannot speak highly enough of the place.

Though the beginnings of my art journey originate from my Mother, always a painter, who continues to explore and experiment with her passion for art and never falls prey to art snobs, even when they deem to criticise!

http://www.comptonverney.org.uk/

Foraging

There is something quite primal about foraging for food, particularly for your evening meal. Normally, I would resort to a quick trip to the local supermarket, which is usually less primal and more desperation, as I’ve generally lost track of the time at work and have failed to plan for our evening meal.  But, on this occasion, the sun was out over the weekend and on reading some article in a broadsheet, I was inspired!

I settled on pasta for dinner, adorned with, hopefully, a wild garlic pesto, accompanied with a few sliced jersey royals and fresh peas.  The perfect meal to celebrate the Spring season.  Jersey Royals, always evoke a feeling of complete satisfaction within me, as their taste is so full of earthy goodness which elevates an average meal to the realms of divine indulgence. Although their flavour can stand alone without any adornment, who doesn’t like to smother them in butter to extract every morsel of pleasure out of them?

I have been joyous since Spring arrived, life is so much more sparkly with the sun out, green trees and spring flowers adorning the verges all adds up to make the world seem a much brighter place.  And I know I’m not alone thinking like this, you only have to look around to see a “spring” in everyone’s step!

With swift organisation, I searched for images of wild garlic, as I didn’t want to be held responsible for poisoning myself or my husband, I took screen shots of these on my phone gand armed with a couple of cans of Pimms, a thermos of ice and a slice, we headed off into the Downs.

We had established that to locate the Wild Garlic we needed to head for ancient forests, with dappled shade, we needed to locate areas carpeted with Bluebells and hopefully, Wild Garlic with its pretty 6 petalled white flowers and long pointed green leaves, would be lurking somewhere close by. We drove to an area of woodland between Finchdean and West Marden in the South Downs and took off walking along one of the footpaths towards the dense woodland.  The scenery here, never fails to uplift me and is always a great location to avoid the crowds.  It wasn’t long before our endeavours were rewarded and carefully we picked a few handfuls of the leaves to carry home for dinner.

A word of caution here: – if you do fancy a little foraging yourselves, always protect the bulbs, it is against the law to dig up any plant in our great British Countryside, wild plants are protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act.  Do forage for your own personal use, but leave enough of the plant to keep it healthy and for the next person who may happen to come along.

A happy couple of hours were spent soaking up the peace of the forest, we didn’t see another soul in all the time we were there and on returning to the car and in recognition of our efforts we sat and enjoyed a very pleasant Pimms and lemonade.  What better way to finish a walk in the Downs?

I am happy to report the wild garlic pesto was a resounding success, we managed to pick roughly 100g, about two handfuls and enough to provide a meal for 4.  For those who do fancy the idea of foraging, do your homework first, make sure you know exactly what you are picking and take a photo with you as a comparison. Another final top tip is that Wild Garlic leaves when rubbed do actually, produce a strong aroma of garlic!

Try any recipe you can find online or I’ve attached my version here..

Wild Garlic Pesto

 

 

Pie and Vinyl

These days it’s hard to walk down any street without being bombarded with an endless stream of restaurant chains.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against them and have a few favourites amongst them, but I do yearn for something different, something that’s unique.IMG_7557

One fabulously sunny day last week, I was met my daughter at Southsea station and we strolled through the back streets, uncovering quaint little cobbled streets with regency style terraces, adorned with spring magnolia blooms.  A far cry from the rising tower blocks of flats you only see when driving into the centre of town.

Although our destination had been previously arranged, it was a great walk and we did discover the Portsmouth Tea Shop ( allabouttea.co.uk ) which I have pencilled in for a further visit on another occasion; a factory store which creates teas, suitable for the local water. As an avid tea drinker, I’m looking forward to exploring the premises at a later date.

Castle Road in Portsmouth is a street full of independent shops and eateries, it’s a street so full of promise because unlike the town high street, you really don’t know what stores to expect.

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Our destination was the record café, Pie and Vinyl, somewhere which had been previously recommended to us and had been top of the list to visit for several weeks.

On arriving with were greeted by an eclectic mix of bric a brac, which bombarded the senses.  Cool music and happy chat filled the space. The walls were a riot of colour, textured with a variety of shapes and materials. And the place was full of people from every walk of life.

We were shown to our seats and having never
IMG_7560 (3)been before, the menu board was briefly explained, basically choose a pie, followed by a meal option.  The basic premise is to enjoy and have fun with choosing your food and to enable you to have some involvement with the creation of your meal. The menu has plenty gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan offerings and is all provided with a mammoth sense of fun.  For once I was spoilt for choice, I’m very often limited to one item on the menu, or worst case scenario, I have to ask.  Faced with a choice often brings confusion for me, but I finally settled on Bon Pie-ver, lentils cooked in a tomato sauce topped with a sweet potato mash topping.  I chose to have this with the
IMG_7562 (2)mushy peas, which was an excellent choice, completely delicious, although in hindsight I should have had a little of the vegetarian, gluten-free gravy on offer, because this would have counter balanced the slight dryness of the pie.  The pastry was gluten free perfection and I ate in awe at the crispness and compete absence of a soggy bottom.

On completion of our main meals, an extremely helpful member of staff recommended a portion of the Jam Rock ‘n’ Rolly Polly, which we had with honeycomb ice cream, all amazingly gluten-free.  I couldn’t have been happier!

My verdict?

Great food, great place, helpful and happy staff and great price.  But top of the leader board for me was the choice of gluten-free, veggie and vegan meals.

Above all completely UNIQUE!

www.pieandvinyl.co.uk

61 Castle Road,
Southsea.  02392 753914

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South Africa, a country that gets in your blood…….

We returned from an epic adventure to Hoedspruit in South Africa a week ago and would dearly like to thank our friends and neighbours Zoe and David for hosting such an amazing visit.IMG_6324

South Africa had never been on our radar as a holiday destination and I’m not sure why.  Our friends, Zoe and David are passionate about their second home and their enthusiasm became infectious. We booked our flights with no preconceptions of what to expect, we chose not to buy guide books and neither do any research beforehand, but allow our Hosts to introduce us, to South Africa through their eyes and by their own experiences.  Thankfully, a great decision, wow, what an incredible journey we made.

IMG_6131Taking an internal flight from Johannesburg to Hoedspruit, in the eastern reaches of South Africa’s Limpodo Province.  We flew across country, giving us a bird’s eye view of the vast landscape.  The phrase “I had a farm in Africa,” from the great, classic film, Out of Africa, popped into my mind; the scenery gave us the sense we had just dropped onto the movie set. From high above I could see giraffes roaming free, I struggled to keep the awe and wonder from bursting out, I felt like a small child and caught myself screaming in excitement.

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Landing in the small but incredibly formed Hoedspruit airport, we were already getting the sense that we were about to embark on the holiday of a lifetime.

Hoedspruit is surrounded by abundant wildlife in private game reserves, it’s literally 40 minutes away from the Orpen Gate entrance to the world-famous Kruger National Park and just north of the majestic, Blyde River Canyon located in Mpumalanga, at the northern most tip of the Drakensburg mountains. IMG_5914

On our journey to our home for the next two weeks, we encountered Giraffe, Kudu and Impalas, the Khaya Ndlovu private game reserve felt like Bewdley Safari Park on steroids!  Khaya Ndlovu is situated within The Blue Canyon Conservancy with incredible views of the Drakensberg Mountains.  The African bush, although autumnal, was looking green and lush from recent rainfall.  Wild flowers in a riot of colour, shimmered in the heat and blankets of light and shade carpeted the floor of the bush, creating an overwhelming picture of perfection; add in the occasional bit of wildlife with their incredible markings and you can see why Africa presents an artist with a limitless amount of inspiration.IMG_6166

We spent two weeks enjoying the most spectacular game drives, meeting the most extraordinary people doing extraordinary things, eating some of the best food I’ve eaten anywhere and witnessing some of the most incredible sights.  Someone said to us, when we commented, that this was our first visit to South Africa, that the country gets into your blood.  We laughed at the time and thought nothing of it, but on returning home to the UK and thoughtfully processing the visit, we both agree, South Africa has got into our blood, what an amazing country!  We are already planning our next vacation, who knows when we’ll manage to get there again, it’s anyone’s guess, but we hoping to achieve this very soon.IMG_6997

Stay at Khaya Ndlovu Manor House which boasts magnificent colonial style gardens as well as unsurpassed views of the Drakensberg Mountains and surrounding bushveld. www.khayandlovu.co.za

If the opportunity arises, take a helicopter ride over The Blyde River Canyon, it is one of South Africa’s most remarkable geological features and is the third largest canyon on Earth.IMG_6098

Having had the wonderful experience of flying over both, Blyde River and The Grand Canyon, I can tell you first hand, Blyde River Canyon is truly spectacular and for me, surpasses the legendary Grand Canyon hands down.  On a clear day from the aptly named viewpoint, God’s Window, you can see as far as Kruger Park and Mozambique.

No visit would be complete without spending time in Kruger National Park, the size of Wales, its range and sheer diversity of animals is beyond comprehension.   Remember the scene in Jurassic Park, where the characters of Sam Neill and Laura Dern encounter the Dinosaurs for the first time from the game vehicle?  We felt their awe and wonder, it was often ‘a fling off your hat and sunglasses,’ kind of moment around every corner!  At one viewing point, we looked across the plains and saw Elephants in every direction and we watched Impala, Kudu, Nyala, Waterbuck and Fish Eagles at a waterhole.  We sought out sleepy Lions, dozing in the bush and witnessed the most spectacular sight of all, a gorgeous Leopard, using a road sign as a rest stop.  What a thrill! IMG_6770

It was a privilege to see these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat and for us, to do our part, to promote and encourage our small community of friends and family to see how valuable our wildlife really is.  The more of us who promote these majestic sights, then perhaps these tragic animals will become worth more alive, than dead; poaching is still a catastrophic problem, which funds the criminal underworld.   Rhinos particularly, have suffered to near extinction, we need to do, as much as we can, to enable the children of the future, to continue to witness these gentle giants, in their natural surroundings.

www.rhinorevolution.org

www.lonelyplanet.com/south-africa/mpumalanga/kruger-national-park

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about

Who am I? And what am I ‘about’?

I am just an average, ordinary, run of the mill, middle England sort of person.

In the most basic of terms, I’m a wife, mother, daughter, sister, cook and cleaner.  The extend of my achievements are my precious children and my happy marriage.  But underneath the façade I have a love of food, a passion for art, a need to travel and a whole lot of life to live.  My world is ordinary, but like most others I dream of being extraordinary, who could not dream of sitting on a beach on some Polynesian island, with a cocktail in their hand, watching an unforgettable sunset in a kaleidoscope of colours?  Or floating over Cappodocia in Turkey on a balloon ride of a lifetime, watching a myriad of surreal landscapes?  We can all dream and we can all admire those who action those moments.  Sadly, I do not live in a world where achieving these dreams comes easily, but travel anywhere, even in its local form is a thrill, there is food inspiration everywhere, exciting places to eat and art around every corner.

My diet is meat and fish free and I suffer from coeliac disease.  You will never catch me bemoaning anyone else’s dietary requirements, because I know, first-hand how difficult it can be, to visit a restaurant and ask for a gluten free, vegetarian meal.  It’s usually met by a smirk and a,

“I’ll have to go and check with the chef”

The result of this discussion is usually a risotto, which though I still enjoy, I sadly often feel, I could cook better myself.

I enjoy a cross section of literature, from blogs and cookery books all the way through to the latest best selling novel.  The writing I choose must inspire me, take me to remarkable places, give me food ideas, suggest places of art and culture and push me to want to learn more; but not belittle or discourage me. I hope my writing in its roughest of guises achieves just a little of this magic.