Sunday, 22 February 2015

I need art like I need God potion

I'm an atheist. However, few artist's slogans have resonated with me as much as Tracey Emin's "I need art like I need God". There is often something religious in visiting an art gallery, worshipping great artists and seeking communion and guidance with them. For me, art offers both solace and purpose, so perhaps it is my God. I know I love it more than anything.

And so, this week'Apothéké / #secretsofselfpreservation potion title is Emin's quote, coupled with the ingredients "Have faith in your art". This week I have begun working on what will be a real slow burner of a project. Thousands of stitches. It has been brewing in my mind for over a year, and I've put it off because I didn't know the best way to execute it, and didn't feel technically able. It still may not turn out like I imagined, but I am going to try. As a young artist just starting out it is easy to get discouraged. I find it helpful to remember that it is primarily me I make art for; anything more is a bonus.

Alongside the stitched words in the potion bottle are the tools of my trade; a reel of thread with a needle nestled in it.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Heart Shaped Foodstuff Day

Pip and I really got into the spirit of things this Valentine's Day. Traditionally, we make some variety of heart-shaped food. This year, we made two varieties. It's sweet that Pip seemed even more excited about this prospect this time around than I did. My love of schmaltz is clearly infectious!

I dressed for the occasion, all in red.

My embroidered 1960s shift dress is a hand me down from my friend, fellow artist and vintage aficionado Kat.

My cherry bomb pom pom earrings (which are quite the conversation piece!) are from Frilly Pops.

My red suede and white off-white saddle shoes are reproduction 40s/50s from Morello's.

Our main course was a heart shaped spinach, halloumi, feta and pine nut pie.

Rustic Greek Pie Recipe


200g fresh spinach

1 block of readymade shortcrust pastry (terrible, I know)

3 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

150g halloumi, roughly chopped in small chunks

120g feta, crumbled in chunks

60ml cream

2 eggs

A good few handfuls of pine nuts

A good pinch of fresh or dried oregano (or mixed herbs)

Black pepper to season

Lemon wedges to serve


Preheat oven to Gas Mark 6/200°C/400°C.

Put a few glugs of olive oil in a frying pan over a medium heart. Add the garlic, and cook for a few minutes. Add all the spinach gradually, mixing with the garlic until it has all wilted down. Wipe the oil from the frying pan and add the pine nuts. Toast them for a few minutes until browned. (We forgot to do this and had to add them to the dish un-toasted!)

In a jug, whisk the eggs and add the cream.

Roll your shop bought (or made from scratch if you're not lazy cheats like us!) pastry block into a large thin oval shape. Use your hands to sculpt it into a heart. Transfer it to a baking tray and roll the sides up so that they are a good 4cm higher than the rest of the pastry, while still retaining the heart shape.

Using a spoon, spread the spinach and garlic mixture all over the inside of the pastry.

Scatter the crumbled halloumi and feta on top of the spinach and garlic mixture.

Pour the cream and egg mixture over the spinach and cheese. Sprinkle with pine nuts.

Bake for 20 - 30 minutes, until the pastry and cheese has become golden brown.

Cut yourselves half a heart each and serve with a wedge of lemon.

We also baked red velvet cheesecake brownies, a gloriously American dessert that we ate the majority of fresh, hot and squidgy straight from the oven! Unfortunately ours didn't turn out very red; possibly we used too much cocoa powder.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies Recipe


For the brownie layer:

115g butter

220g brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon red food colouring

1 teaspoon white vinegar

120g cocoa powder (we used Green & Black's, which is Fairtrade and organic! Yay!)

2 eggs, whisked

120g plain flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

For the cheesecake layer:

230g cream cheese

55g brown sugar

1 egg, whisked

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4/180°C/350°C.

Grease a small baking tray and line with baking paper.

Brownie Layer

In a small glass bowl suspended over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the butter for the brownies. When melted, tip into a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, vanilla extract, cocoa powder, food colouring and vinegar, mixing between additions and making sure to add each ingredient in that order. Mix in the two whisked eggs. Sieve in the flour and mix until well combined. Pour mixture into the baking tray, keeping back a little to dollop on top once you have added the cheesecake layer.

Cheesecake Layer

In a bowl, blend together the cream cheese, sugar, whisked egg and vanilla extract until softened and slightly runny. Spread the cream cheese mixture in a layer over the layer of brownie mixture. Dollop the brownie mixture you kept back on top of the cream cheese layer, leaving plenty of room between each dollop.

Drag the tip of a knife between the cream cheese layer and the dollops of brownie mixture to create a flat, swirled surface. 

Bake for 30 minutes. Lift the baking paper with the brownies on top of it on to a wire rack to cool, and once cooled, cut into chunks. Or, in our case, scoff them all straight from the oven!

Our second heart shaped food of the day was a giant heart shaped raspberry jelly. We've got to be the only couple in their mid-twenties to have made a giant heart shaped raspberry jelly for Valentine's Day. To hell with champagne!

We scoured the high street for vegetarian jelly, and finally found some in Holland and Barrett. 

Giant Heart Shaped Raspberry Jelly Recipe


4 packets of vegetarian raspberry jelly crystals


The instructions on the packet said simply to add a pint of boiling water, so we added each sachet to a jug and filled it up to a pint with the kettle, before pouring the mixture into our incredible heart shaped mold, which we got the first Valentine's we were together, and unfortunately is no longer stocked by IKEA!

Lift the mold carefully on to the plate and leave to set in the fridge for at least three hours. We garnished our jelly with Loveheart sweets and ate it with vanilla ice cream. Oh, to be six again!

Pip had roses delivered, which was a lovely surprise. I gave him a 1950s sweets-themed cheesy Valentine's card from my extensive collection, which you can just see peeking out in this Polaroid:

We rounded off our evening watching the wistfully harrowing (or harrowingly wistful?) Never Let Me Go, sipping sloe gin martinis and Leffe.

Sloe Gin Martini Recipe

Shake 3 parts sloe gin with 1 part dry vermouth and 4 dashes angostura bitters with ice. Serve in a chilled martini glass (mine had a red stem to match my outfit and the jelly!)

We spent the next morning at Jesse's Cafe, a gloriously kitsch greasy spoon with pink booths, offering everything from Cypriot sausages to cherry pie. We both opted for a fry up, but will certainly be back to try both. It's a gorgeous cafe (the crockery is so dainty, and emblazoned with "Jesse's Cafe"!) and so, so cheap.

I can't remember the last time I had such a lovely, chilled, delicious weekend. We're really going to have to pull out all the stops next year!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Turning My Heartbeat UP Potion

So tweeted writer Stefanie Gray on Valentine's Day last year. And for the most part, I agree. Gender is performative. There are no such things as "boys'" and "girls'" toys for example, only what we have assigned as appropriate for each gender, arbitrarily and in the mists of time. Numerous studies have been carried out where participants have been told one baby is a girl and another a boy (when quite the opposite is the case), and the disparity in their treatment of the two babies is shocking. I've written about "gender appropriate colours" and how they have changed over time before.

I'm also sure that being bombarded at this time of year with constant depictions of heterosexual couples, advertisements for engagement rings (yes, really), and a "romantic" film depicting domestic abuse and selling women their relegation back to subservient, literal punching bags as an aspirational fantasy is not going to make people whose sexuality falls outside man/woman binary pairings feel particularly normal or included in the festivities.

Besides, Valentine's Day is just a Hallmark holiday, right? Well actually, its association with romantic love dates back to the Middle Ages. 

I can't help feeling that wide-spread disdain for the day is largely because if you haven't got a significant other to shower you with/be showered with gifts, or a significant other at all, you're going to feel pretty rotten. I'm sure if I were single I would feel a little miserable and hope against hope for flowers from a non-existent secret admirer. So bah humbug-ing Feb the fourteenth becomes a defence mechanism against the societal pressure to couple up, and perhaps, if we're really honest, against loneliness.

And all that showering with gifts; a little materialistic, no? Is spending a whopper on lavish gifts really the best way of proving your love?

So I completely understand misgivings about the day.


Two things which should be abundantly clear to regular readers of this blog are

1) I adore kitsch


2) I am a notorious romantic

A whole day dedicated to being all lovestruck with my boyfriend, in shades of pink and red, with more heart shaped foodstuff, homewares, clothing, and assorted flotsam and jetsam than you can shake a stick at?! Sign me up!

A phrase that I've been hearing a lot this week is "Valentine's Day is every day", usually accompanied by a rueful laugh to indicate that this is in fact not the case between the speaker and their partner. But it is something I try to live by.

And so, this week's Apothéké / #secretsofselfpreservation potion ingredients read "Nurture one another". On a ribbon printed with Love Hearts, several tubes of which Pip and I consumed this weekend. Accompanied in the potion bottle by red silk roses (yes, he did get me twelve, it seems we're fully paid up consumerists, time to do some hand-wringing). The label, which bears the potion's name on the reverse, is from my extensive collection of appallingly-punned 1950s Valentine's cards. Turning My Heartbeat Up is one of our favourite Northern Soul tunes to tear up the dance floor (or the kitchen tiling) to.

I feel very nurtured and loved every day in my relationship, but I think it is an ethos which could extend to all our relationships, romantic and otherwise. Even to our relationships with ourselves; how would your life change if you did the things which nurtured you? Definitely something for me to ponder.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Tomorrow I will post pictures of the aformentioned #heartshapedfoodstuffs along with recipes. À bientôt!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Warts and All Potion

This week's Apothéké / #secretsofselfpreservation potion is the witchiest yet! It contains a frog or toad, and is named "Warts and All Potion".

That's because this week what I feel I need to work on in terms of self care is accepting myself, including my (many, many) flaws.

 The potion ingredients read "Accept your entirety". This is something I'm going to endeavour to get good at, realising I'm not all that bad really. The ribbon and its text are warty green, as is the text on the potion's label.

Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

#secretsofselfpreservation: responses so far

As I stitch my potion each week I'm dying to hear what your #secretsofselfpreservation are! A few kind souls have shared with me their self care actions via the #secretsofselfpreservation hashtag, and they range from the mundane to the amusing to the disturbing.

Katrina Bautista is channelling her anxiety into cathartic, dismembered drawings, all to a soothing soundtrack of Japanese Shōwa era music, and sharing them with us via her Instagram:

My tutor when I was at art school, Deborah "Debs" Price, has her sights set on taking care of her professional life; she seems to share my predilection for writing lists:

Performance maker Chloë Smith has a novel solution to the blues (I may be taking a leaf out of her book):

What are your #secretsofselfpreservation?