Friday, January 25, 2013

Irish Folk Furniture at Sundance

Still from Irish Folk Furniture, photography by Marie-Amelie Tondu

I'd first heard of Irish Folk Furniture last year, next I'd heard (last week) it was part of the official selection for Sundance in the Shorts section. On Wednesday I hear it won in its category, for Best Animation!

Best of all you can watch it in its entirety, completely legally, on Youtube:

I love this quirky tale of Irish furniture restoration. The filmmaker Tony Donoghue recognised that these pieces of simple traditional furniture each have their own story to tell. I appreciate the rural aspect to this, at various stages Donoghue, places these objects as centerpieces in the landscape, being of the landscape themselves, so simple are they in their construction. Flour bins, dressers and chairs are endowed with their individual "story", a respectability more often associated with static objects found in museums. As material culture, these objects communicate the social rituals and social histories of the society they originate from, here we are witnessing it first hand. These pieces have survived generations of use and continue to do so, their history is still being written, even with each restoration. The film serves as an enjoyable piece of oral history, celebrating tradition, craft and endeavour. More of this please!

Throughout the making of this film, sixteen pieces of Irish furniture were restored and returned to their families. The film was made with a €150 camera purchased from eBay, shot this within two miles of his home in Co. Tipperary. What really appeals to me is the environmentally friendly way in which this film was made, which the director is particularly conscious of, in his own filmmaking. His belief in the importance of community is genuinely expressed in this short.

You can read an interview with the director Tony Donoghue at Film Ireland.

Cult magazine AnOther spoke to the director as part of their cultural talks column.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Vintage Sessions

Ruth and Irene, the ladies behind The Vintage Sessions

Before Christmas I had the pleasure of attending the first event of its kind in Dublin. The first (of hopefully many) Vintage Sessions took place on December 8th. Somewhat fittingly December 8th is traditionally the date when country folk, from my neck of the woods, make the day trip to Dublin to do their Christmas shopping. A couple of my friends ribbed me for this!

I've been a fan of Irene O'Brien's blog Vintage Irene for a while now, so I knew that the event would be authentic in every respect. Events of this kind are regularly held in the UK, where the audience is larger, so it felt exciting to be a part of something so niche, within an Irish context.

I was so absorbed in the days talks that I neglected to take any pictures, here are the only three I have:

The formidable staircase of No. 27 South William Street

Gúna's on display from Dirty Fabulous

The intimate setting of the day's talks, on the top floor

The South William Space was the setting for the day, an impressive Georgian townhouse, in the fashion quarter of Dublin. Upon entering you ascend the staircase, and passing by each room peeping in to see what treasures lay within. My purse was light so I merely had a browse around some of the vintage trader's pop-up shops: After Sybil, Dirty Fabulous, Om Diva, Dandelion Daydreamer Vintage, Carousel, Golly Gosh Boutique, Elsa & GoGo Boutique and Alice at Home Interiors were all there for the day.

I was most looking forward to the fashion history talks, curated by Ruth Griffin, co-organiser of the Vintage Sessions. They ran as follows:

- The Evolution of the Creative Quarter and the Rise of Vintage in the Area
- The Lost Fashion History of South William St by fashion historian Ruth Griffin
- 1940s Irish Fashion, by photo historian Orla Fitzpatrick
- Forgotten Irish Style Icons by fashion historian Ruth Griffin
- Vintage in Ireland Today and why so many are choosing to turn their passion in to a career (Sarah of The Licentiate was on this panel, along with Irene O'Brien and the co-owner of Shotsy Vintage in Temple Bar.

When you reached the top floor, breathless, you were rewarded with pomegranate and prosecco cocktails in gorgeous vintage crockery, from Me Auld China.

It was a truly enlightening day, both in terms of subject matter, and the people I encountered. I finally met Sarah Licentiate and got to speak to photo historian Orla Fitzpatrick who runs a truly fascinating website where she draws largely from her personal collection of antique photographs, and uses them to draw out the social history of Ireland at the time, using clothing such as hats as clues to date the photos!

Keep your eye on the Vintage Sessions facebook page for news of future events! I'll see you there.

Sarah of the Licentiate blogged about this event last week, which reminded me that I had meant to write something myself.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Green and Gold

Suit: 1960s; Hutchinsons, Made in Scotland / Tights: Tabio / Oxfords: vintage / Earrings: Topshop (c. 2009, a birthday gift)

The headline of the blog describes it as a vintage clothing blog, so I occasionally have to pay lip service to that, and get my sorry self in front of the lens. What I lack in an imaginative setting I make up for with my facial expressions, right?

This is the second time I've worn this suit. I love the novelty of an eye-catching skirt suit and it's difficult to find vintage suits sold as one. I think this was the result of a 2am eBay browse, I'm sure I got it for about £20-£25 a little over a year ago. It is a little roomy, but I can't bear to get it altered and risk losing some of that fabulous sparkle! I wore this when I felt brave. Sometimes outfits like this feel like armour against the monotony of the grey streets.

I also picked up one of those hair donuts for €1.50 in Primark. I'm not a fan of Primark generally, save for PJs and knickers but this has changed my life. Well, not quite, but I'm too distracted to learn how to mould my hair into the perfect beehive. This takes five minutes, and though the result may be imperfect, I love having an updo.

'Made in Scotland' is sewn into the label and its those little things, that aren't visible to the world, that are hidden and known only to me, that give me a thrill. I love the idea of local manufacture, decades ago as it may be.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Young and the Restless

I turned 24 on December 27th. Come January 30th it will be exactly one year since I moved back home. I feel restless, and on my worst days I fear I have no direction. My friend Maeve posted some quotes recently that particularly struck a chord with me, quotes on friendship and solitude.

Edna O'Brien, 1970s

"We all leave one another. We die, we change - it's mostly change - we outgrow our best friends; but even if I do leave you, I will have passed on to you something of myself; you will be a different person because of knowing me; it's inescapable..."

- Edna O'Brien

Jane Morris, 1865, photographed by Robert Parsons, styled by Rossetti

“It’s no good! It’s no good trying to rid your own aloneness. You’ve got to stick to it all your life. Only at times, at times, the gap will be filled in. At times! But you have to wait for the times. Accept your own aloneness and stick to it, all your life. And then accept the times when the gap is filled in, when they come. But they’ve got to come. You can’t force them.”

- D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

I fill notebooks with words, ideas, I don't know how much they mean. Writing something is often a comfort, sometimes it's necessary, memories slip from my mind like shopping lists. I'm not trying to establish anything here, but to find comfort in the everyday, and to start translating words into action. I comfort myself by assuring myself I still have time, it's filling the time with something, that's the trouble for me. I struggle to live fearlessly and it's time I combatted that.

Regular posting will resume shortly.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A weekend in Dublin, a photo diary

O'Connell Street, with the statue of Jim Larkin (Irish trade unionist), the Spire and the historic GPO

A few weeks ago my friend Maeve, of The Plath Diaries suggested we see the Abbey Theatre's adaptation of James Joyce's The Dead. I immediately agreed and the intripid Maeve got a great deal on a hotel near St. Stephen's Green for this weekend just past. It was luxurious being right in the centre of the city. Both of us were determined to detox from the stresses of Christmas and made a promise to indulge ourselves without feeling guilty.

On Friday we both arrived in Dublin in late afternoon (she travelling from Omagh, I from Sligo). After checking into the hotel we went for a walk around the glowing environs of Grafton Street.

We had dinner at Maeve's favourite restaurant Acapulco, before going to see Neil Young: Journeys at the Lighthouse Cinema in Smithfield. Acapulco is somewhere I'd never been before despite passing it frequently on South Great George's Street, there was so much choice, which makes a change for a vegetarian like myself. I wasn't ready to order until the waiter came back to our table for a third time, oops! There is a plethora of Mexican establishments in Dublin, having popped up in the past three years. What I would've done for a burrito as an undergrad! Well I'm making up for lost time now!

On Grafton Street, thanks to Maeve for the photo!

On Saturday morning Maeve and I went for breakfast at Fallon and Byrne, before taking ourselves for a cheeky mid-morning tipple at the Bank bar on College Green, our excuse being that it was a "brisk" day!

One of my resolutions this year was to read more Irish literature. Before the matinee showing at the Abbey we stopped by the Winding Stair bookshop, just off the Ha'Penny Bridge for a browse. I wanted to pick up a copy of Kevin Barry's short stories. A few of my friends recommended his writing to me and what better souvenir of my lovely Dublin weekend. When I buy books as gifts I endeavour to buy Irish books from independent book stores, as a matter of principle.

It was such a lovely clear afternoon on Saturday that we were almost disappointed that we had to sit indoors for a couple of hours, but it was still light when we came out of the brilliant performance, which played to a full house. After having a look in the GPO museum (more on that another day), we took the opportunity to behave like tourists and took some snapshots outside.

Sloe gin on the rocks at the Bank on College Green, a grandly decorated yet cosy bar in the heart of Dublin, housed within an old nineteenth-century bank

Maeve's photo of the Winding Stair bookshop

Kevin Barry's 2007 compilation of short stories, often with a rural, Irish context (something I can relate to as being from a relatively small Irish town)

Waiting for curtain call at The Abbey

The lovely Maeve at a pillar of the GPO, the bullet holes of the 1916 Rising are still discernable, which give me goosebumps whenever I go looking for them!

We walked up to College Green and as dusk fell we walked on the cobblestones of Trinity, having a long talk, before meeting a friend of Maeve's at the Trinity Gate. Indulging in a very twenty-first century vice, I idly browsed through instagram, while we mused on where to have a sociable drink. On my feed I noticed that someone had posted a delectable glass of elderflower and gooseberry infused gin, from the the newly opened Damson Diner on South William Street.

Damson Diner's vegetarian selection was very limited, so I had the portabello mushroom burger, not expecting much but I was pleasantly surprised upon arrival, both with taste and presentation. I especially loved the American style fries on the side. The staff were attentive and I loved the cool contemporary diner feel, a great place for a Saturday night meal.

We headed back to the hotel for a lounge and outfit change, a couple of hours later, we emerged, sparkling, returning to the Bank bar, now bustling with the older Saturday night crowd, before moving on to the No Name bar on Fade St, a favourite of us both when we're in the city. Tiredness won out though, and we retired to the hotel shortly after midnight.

On our final morning, we didn't stray far from Stephen's Green, going for food at Bewley's, always busy but always beautiful. Then we walked to the National Concert Hall, a portion of which is currently dedicated to Alice Maher's mid-career retrospective 'Becoming'. The exhibition was enlightening for us both and I will certainly return before it concludes on February 17th.


There you have the recipe for a great weekend in Dublin: a dear friend, cheap seats at the theatre, a bargain hotel room, delicious food and drink, mixed with leisurely walks, beautiful bookshops and gallery visits.

Pursuing Damson Diner's menu

Projections onto the facade of Trinity College ahead of the NYE celebrations on College Green

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Eat, Drink and Be Merry!

Our very simple table setting for Christmas

Sweet potato, hazelnut and spinach en croûte, served with red wine and juniper gravy, from the Cornucopia cookbook.

I made this dish for Christmas last year, and loved it so much I had to make it again. It's a lot of work, as well as being very rich and filling, so making it once a year is enough for me!

I'm going to share the recipe with you here, because I can't find it anywhere online. It seems a shame not too. Of course, all credit for the recipe goes to Cornucopia.

Red wine & juniper gravy
1 large onion
2 carrots
Leaves of a head of celery
1 leek
3 field mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic
2 bay leaves
10 juniper berries
2 tbsp plain flour
A few stalks of thyme
A few stalks of sage
1 heaped tbsp of tomato puree
50ml shoyu/soy sauce
1 heaped tbsp unrefined brown sugar
200ml vegetarian red wine
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
500ml water

Roughly chop the onions, carrots, celery, leek, mushrooms and garlic.
Cover the base of a large pot with a generous splash of olive oil, over a medium heat.
Add all the chopped vegetables, the bay leaves and juniper berries.
Stir briefly to coat with oil, cover with a lid, reduce to a low heat and leave to sweat for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure nothing sticks and burns.
When the stock has fully sweated, add the flour and cook over a very low heat for five minutes, stirring continuously.
Add the thyme, sage, tomato puree, soy sauce, water and a good twist of black pepper.
Cook gently for 30 minutes, stirring occassionally.

While the gravy stock is cooking, in a medium pan gently heat the sugar over a very low heat. When melted, add the wine. The sugar will crystallise but will melt again.
Simmer the sweetened wine for 10 minutes to burn off the alcohol, and then set to one side.

Place a fine sieve over the wine/sugar pot and pour the gravy stock into it. Stir and press with the back of a ladle to squeeze as much liquid from the mixture as possible.
When finished, discard the vegetables and whisk the liquid so it mixes. This can be prepared the night before and heated on the day. It will keep for about 3 days in the fridge.

En croûte filling
3 medium sweet potatoes (500g)
400g hazelnuts
2 bulbs of garlic
EV olive oil
25g each fresh sage/thyme/parsley (or a small bunch each)
600g red onions (divide into two batches of 300g)
125ml vegetarian red wine
80g breadcrumbs
250g baby spinach (washed)
Half teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 free range eggs
Salt and pepper

Preheat over to 180c. Puncture skin of sweet potatoes, place on a baking tray and roast until soft (about 40-45 minutes).
Set aside to cool and remove the skins, slice them lengthways into quarters. (I left them whole and it looked quite attractive when the pastry is sliced).
Meanwhile, place the hazelnuts on a tray and roast in the oven for 8-10 minutes.
Set them aside to cool and then rub vigrously to remove the loose skins.
At the same time, roast the garlic. Slice the tops off both bulbs, pour in olive oil, ensuring all the cloves are coated, add salt and pepper.
Roast garlic in oven until soft, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.
When cooled, squeeze the soft flesh out, discard the skins afterward.

Chop the fresh herbs very finely and thinly slice the red onions. Set 300g of the onions to one side.
Cover the base of a large pot with olive oil and place over a medium heat. Add 300g of the onions, coat with the oil. Place lid on the pot, reduce to a low heat and allow onions to sweat for 15 minutes.
Add the red wine to the pot, and reduce over a low heat for 15 minutes, to burn off the alcohol.
Remove from the heat and stir in the breadcrumbs, and most of the finely chopped herbs (keep aside a small bit for garnishing at the end.) Season to taste.

Coat a frying pan sparsely with olive oil, place over a high heat and add half of the baby spinach. Add some salt and pepper and wilt the spinach until no moisture remains in the pan. Repeat with the remainder of the spinach.
In a food processor, grind the remaining 300g of raw red onions, the flesh of the roast garlic, the wilted spinach and the nutmeg.
Add one egg and half of the roasted hazelnuts, blend for one minute.
Add the second egg and blend for another minute until completely smooth.
Add the remaining hazelnuts, pulse for a few seconds until just roughly chopped. Season to taste.

To assemble:
You can make all of the above the night before to save on time, on the day
When you are ready to assemble, preheat the oven to 180c and prepare an egg wash by whisking 1 free range egg and a pinch of salt.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out your pastry into a 34 x 26cm rectangle, with the longest side facing you.

Transfer the rolled pastry to a large baking tray, with 8 cm of the pastry flopped over the side of the tray. This is the side that will fold over the filling.
Leave a border of 3cm around the pastry so it won't bubble out while it bakes.
Cover 15cm of the pastry with the herb and onion stuffing.
On top of the onions, place half of the spinach mixture on top of the onions.
Nestle the sweet potato batons lengthways into the centre and cover with the remaining spinach mixture.
Cover this with the reaminder of the pastry, ensuring it is securely sealed on all sides, brush the pastry all over with egg wash.
Slice an attractive pattern in the pastry, and grind some black pepper over the pastry.
Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, allow for 10 minutes rest after removing from the oven.
Slice, serve and enjoy!

We had ours with roast potatoes and grilled vegetables. My meat-eating family adored it. I think its set to become my Christmas tradition.

A note to say: you may end up with twice as much onion and spinach mix as you need. I set this to one side in the fridge, and then remade this a couple of days later. I used shop bought shortcrust pastry for this, you can make your own, but this was much more convenient for me!

A bûche de Noël, with chestnut cream filling.
As you can see the glossy skin of the yule log came off in parts when I gently removed the baking parchment from the cake when it cooled. I added some festive glitter, and left it as is, excusing it as a 'rustic' look. You can add cream to the outside to conceal this, but I don't like very creamy desserts personally.

I made cranberry, almond and dark chocolate biscotti to give as gifts, by adapting this BBC Good Food recipe. It certainly made the kitchen smell like Christmas!