Saturday, September 16, 2017

Art, to Birds, to Moths, to Soup

My art goes in tangents. A theme comes to me and I create pictures on the subject until I have squeezed out all the imaginative and often rather abstract ideas that I have about it. Immediately I begin to tire of the theme I stop. Then I wait until another theme presents itself.
The last series was tremendous fun – enjoyment being essential. It was called “Events”.
It started when Margreet and I witnessed a fight on the street between a carrion crow and a wood pigeon. It was an extraordinary event, with the pigeon giving as good as it got. We think that the crow was trying to rob the pigeon’s nest of eggs or young. We were unable to stay for the result.
Then I made a mobile of brightly delineated fish for Margreet’s niece’s baby. The variously-designed, almost pantomime fish, were suspended on strings from a corrugated cardboard rectangle. They dived and climbed as the cardboard was twisted. On top were painted clouds and an aeroplane with its wings being formed from an old stuck-on address label. To distract the baby with swimming fish at changing time represented an event. 
Then I made another of flying birds for another baby.
With these two mobiles being the core of the series. I added silhouettes of both of us, and of a television friend and myself playing with a Stirling engine. Interesting compositions of multiple events were beginning to appear.
A series of glasses were broken at home. A chessboard was knocked over with the pieces all over the place. So on it went with combined events, starting from that pigeon fight and ending with a remembrance of a friend and neighbour who loved catching salmon in her lifetime. This last work has a “real” salmon, as opposed to my stylised fish, much in evidence. Being of greater importance than the “mobile” fish, it crashes into the picture dispersing fish and birds, chessboard and pieces.
Good art should involve the imagination of the artist and that of the viewer. Now I have just given away rather too many of my thoughts on this particular tangent.
So here I am, with a theme ended, and putting pen to paper before another tangential theme comes to mind to be interpreted in I hope an imaginative way, bright in colour, and pleasing in design.


Each year a pair of great tits nest in a box that I made, painted as brickwork, and attached to the wall on the Eastern side of our London house. So it was most upsetting this year when our regular pair started their nesting rituals and then deserted. Perhaps one, or both, were killed by cats.
With the box unused, I cleared out what little grassy stuff had been used, on the assumption that if another pair would fancy using the box in late spring, the female partner might not want to share the same bedding as the previous incumbent. And lo and behold, when almost summer, and with other nestlings beginning to take wing, a new pair of great tits took over the abode. Perhaps their earlier nest of eggs or young had been robbed by bird or beast. Anyhow, once more we had a couple to share our home with us. And we are very pleased about it.


Followers of these blogs will recall my contest with clothes moths.
Early last year, having seen only one or two moths flying around, I distributed pheromone-impregnated sticky pad traps around the house, and caught 158 moths all together from March to March. But the count from only March to May this year has already totalled 131. This would imply that springtime is the most active time (mating presumably) for clothes moths to be on the wing, and that by catching so many this year already, they are still in control. And I thought that by catching a good quantity of males, females or both last year I was getting near to solving the problem. Yet despite there being so many moths around the place, only a very few holes, eaten by their maggots, have been found among our clothes. What’s happening?
The success of the pads would seem to depend upon where they are positioned in a room, with one being more successful than the others.


Our soups are much enjoyed by all who partake of them.
They are made and eaten throughout the winter and much of the rest of the year. So they are generally on the hob.
These delicious brews almost always start with chopped onion or leek, braised in plenty of butter. This is done in a large pressure cooker. The leek, or onion, or both, is followed by finely cubed potatoes, stock or crumbled stock cubes, pepper and salt and water. I give it 20 minutes under pressure. That's it. A friend of years ago (Bernard Venables, the fisherman) ate this soup every day of his life, but with mace added.
That is the basic soup, and excellent it is. But it is the additions that make it exceptional. These consist of about every dish that has not been finished – like the remains of sauces, gravy, water used for boiling other things, the washing out of Marmite and Bovril pots, vegetables, leftovers from stews and casseroles, pan juices, mayonnaise, pasta, rice, peanut butter, and all possible remainders that might add flavour or consistency.
When meat or roughage food is to be added, I put it through the soup Mouli first. This allows juices to be squeezed out of fibrous matter (it might need chopping up first with kitchen scissors). The fibre, being almost flavourless, is discarded – or composted if not derivative of meat (which could attract vermin).
To thicken soup I sometimes use a Mouli or liquidiser on some or all of its volume. Or, if it is a white soup, I make and add some white sauce.
If you are making a mushroom soup, and cooking chopped onion and chopped mushrooms with some chopped potato with stock before boiling it, make a white sauce and whisk this in when the initial soup has been cooked.
And should you have tomato soup in mind, use chopped tomatoes from a can and tomato purée with stock cubes or stock, possibly adding white sauce to make it a creamy one. But remember to add a little sugar when using tomato purée.
Should flour or cereal (like pearl barley) be part of your soup, stir it regularly when heating it up to stop it from catching. And the soup must be brought to the boil each day to prevent fermentation. Should you forget to do this daily chore, and wild yeasts have started their work, bring the soup to the rolling boil, and, as Mrs.Beeton wrote: ”Scum it clear as anything rises”.
Many of our soups end as a sort of Mulligatawny by adding curry powder to it.

Stock is important. I might add several cubes, both beef and chicken. But my favourite stock and start to a soup is to buy pigs’ trotters and pressure cook them in water with flavourings for about an hour and a half. In this case, when the liquid is cool, strain off the solids from the liquid stock and separate the gelatinous flesh from bones. Put this meat into a bread tin with chopped onion, capers, sliced cornichons, and pepper and salt. Reduce some soup liquid by adding a little vinegar, boiling and evaporating it, and pouring the result over the trotter meat. Eat this cold and solid with a little olive oil and chopped fresh coriander. Or put it into sandwiches. This rustic dish is not to everyone’s taste. Margreet dares hardly to even look at it. But she agrees that the stock made in this way is wonderful.