New House Blues Apple, Pear and Blackberry Crumble

Yesterday I got the keys to my new London house. (Yay!)

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It was a very typical student house- small, lifeless, and pretty dirty. I arrived first, opening the door to a cold, off white coloured hallway with a rather dingy brown carpet. Everything is grey, everything is cold, and everything has a permanent layer of dust on it. The front door has about an inch gap on underneath, and the cold September air whistles through, giving the place a permanent chill. I am dreading January.

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My mother looked on in horror: ‘you’re living HERE? Well, maybe its not too late to back out…’

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But it is too late to back out, much to my mother’s dismay. It looks like I’m going to have to suck up the dust and dinge and grease (really really not literally! Or maybe with a Hoover…)

I, however, am optimistic. I know how great it will be once all the girls have moved in and filled the place with colour and laughter. And lots of blankets. And onesies. Oh and tea. It is going to be as wonderful as last year at uni was. It seems that the worse the house itself is, the better the people within it make it feel. I am thoroughly looking forward to every moment I spend there.

Just not yet.

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I think I’ll wait till they have all moved in and made it feel sliiiiightly more lived in (and clean) before I start calling it ‘home.’ So I have retreated back to my parents house in the countryside, to sit by the fire and shovel crumble into my mouth and eat amazing Mother meals and start to try to embrace the cold.

So- on to the crumble.

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Crumble is the best thing on a cold Autumn evening. In fact, crumble is the best thing just about all the time. It is SO easy to make and just as easy to eat. It may not be the most photogenic thing in the world, that is true, but it is exactly what you need after a hard day of moving in.

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Apple, Pear and Blackberry Crumble

This crumble was made with fruit and berries picked in my garden (ahh, home) but shop bought ones will be just as good (maybe better actually- far less risk of tunneling bugs!)

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For the filling:

About 8 small cooking apples

About 4 small pears

About a punnet worth of blackberries (these measurements are approximate as it depends a lot on the size of your fruit and the size of your dish, but as long as you have enough to fill the dish at least three pieces of fruit deep.)

About 50g caster sugar (again, this depends on how much fruit you are using! If your apples are particularly tart, use more. If you prefer your crumble on the less sweet side, mix in less.

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Peel and cut up the apples and pears into fairly thin slices- they don’t have to be too thin, but you don’t want massive wedges. Put in a bowl and sprinkle the sugar. All the fruit should have a good coating, so add more if you think you need it!

Pour the fruity mixture into a dish- a roasting sort of dish would work well- and try not to eat all the fruit while you make the crumble!

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For the crumble:

200g butter, cubed

300g plain flour

100g brown sugar

75g caster sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

Rub the flour into the butter until it resembles bread crumbs. I do this by hand (mainly because I love how it feels), but you can do it with a food processor if you’d prefer (and if you dislike having floury butter stuck under your fingernails, which isn’t a great sensation!) Don’t make it too fine, because its nice to have some lumps in your crumble!

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Mix in the sugar and cinnamon and pour the crumble over the fruit.

Bake at 180 degrees for about 40 minutes or until the crumble topping is browned and the fruit is bubbling at the sides.

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Enjoy straight from the oven!

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xxR

Mexico: A Revolution in Art at the RA

The Royal Academy’s Mexico: A Revolution in Art exhibition has been on my to-do list all summer. And this week I FINALLY got around to going.

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It was a beautifully hot day in London, and I was carrying a lot of library books- as that was my next stop, so I arrived a little bit sweaty and flustered- but I’ll spare you the gory details.

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The Royal Academy itself is just a lovely place to visit: I really felt like I was treating myself as I walked through the bright courtyard and into the main entrance, bought my ticket and ascended the stairs to the Sackler Galleries.

The exhibition documents the changes in Mexican cultural life after the Revolution of 1910, as well as documenting the political changes of the following thirty years. It is displayed chronologically, with a description of the political situation at the start of each room. What I thought was most interesting about the way the exhibition was displayed, was the way it seamlessly mixed the art of native Mexican artists with photographs of the period and the art of Americans and Europeans who had visited Mexico at the time. It struck me that the way we tend to think of Mexican art- as full of bright colours and simplified, stylized figures, was more characteristic of the non-Mexican art. The Mexican artists tended, on the whole, to be far more naturalistic, both in their use of colour and depictions of people. It seemed to me that the European and American artists were trying to live up to this idea of naïve Mexican art, a similar one to the views that I think we still hold today. Not knowing much about the Mexican Revolution, this exhibition taught me a lot, not only about the art of Mexico, but about the politics of the early 20th century too.

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There was a strict ‘no photos’ policy and, while I did take a few sneaky sneaky snaps on my phone, I am a little bit too scared to post them online- for fear of the RA mafia coming after me. So these (kind of lame, I know) pictures of the outside and my tickets will have to do.

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Some of my personal favourites include Francisco Goitia’s Old Man Seated on a Trash Heap of 1926-27. While there was an obvious sadness about this melancholy old man seated atop his mountain of rubbish, there was something strangely beautiful too. This beauty, I think, lay in the use of colours- clear, uninterrupted blue sky juxtaposed with the, well, trash-y browns and greys. I was also quite taken by Edward Burra’s El Paseo, which depicts an urban, city scene. The scene appears normal at first, however upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that the figures which mill about in the moonlight and dance to the brass band, are actually skeletal, grey and dead looking.

This is one show that I would highly recommend seeing. It is fairly expensive, especially considering that it is only four rooms! But it is definitely worth every penny!

It closes at the end of September so go soon! Info here: http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/mexico/

xxR

London’s Lost 9/11 Memorial

I wrote my second year dissertation about Maya Ando’s After 9/11, a memorial to the events of September 11, 2001, which stood in Battersea Park. The memorial’s sad, somewhat twisted fate intrigued me, see, not even a year after the colossal statue was erected, it was taken down and put into storage. The reason’s behind this are incredibly indicative of the way we view memorials in today’s society.

With the anniversary of 9/11 fast approaching, it seems a good time to further explore the reasons behind the removal of this memorial from the public sphere. Here is a edited (and much shortened) version of my dissertation.

Ando’s After 9/11 is a three-storey tall sculpture, made from three steel girders that were once part of the World Trade Center, memorializing the destruction in New York and the other events of September 11, 2001. The artist hoped that the artwork would serve as an educational tool in helping students understand the events of 9/11.

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In the aftermath of the attacks, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey sought proposals from public and city agencies and not-for-profit groups who wished to acquire a piece of the steel for public display. It had been intended to stand outside theGreater London Authority building near Tower Bridge, however the necessary permissions could not be acquired.  It was moved to its temporary location in Battersea Park, until a permanent site could be decided on. The London Borough of Wandsworth granted it only a temporary license so that it could be unveiled in conjunction with the ten-year anniversary of September 11, 2001. According to a council spokesman, they had to ‘step in at the last minute as there was nowhere else for it to go… had [they] not made an offer, it would have remained locked in a warehouse in Liverpool.’ However, a mere month after its unveiling, this enormous sculpture was unceremoniously removed from the park, following complaints from a support group for victims’ families, and the breakdown of negotiations over where to display it. To this day, it remains in storage, still waiting for its permanent display location.

The question remains: what was the reason for such animosity and disapproval from the public? What about it singled it out from the many other memorials that have been created all over the world in the decade after 9/11 to make it the object of hatred and even disgust? The answers lie in the construction of the memorial itself, its production technique and materials as well as its form of display.

Memorials are becoming increasingly important as a desire to remember and anxiety about forgetting in the West becomes ever more prevalent. The obsessive desire to memorialize is driven by debates about national self-definition and purpose, and is shaped by the affective and emotional conditions of public life, with such feelings as grief, gratitude, fear and anger, all of which play a role in the reaction to and commemoration of 9/11. The obsession with making memorials has rocketed, particularly in the late twentieth century, when both commemorative and celebratory memorials were being created at an astonishing rate. This ‘memorial mania,’ a term coined by Erika Doss in her 2010 book, grips America, and indeed much of the Western world. The events of September 11th resulted in a desperate attempt to understand what had happened and why, and these feelings were manifested by various memorials across the country.

One of the earliest memorials to the World Trade Center was found amongst the rubble, and may prove to be informative when analyzing Ando’s sculpture. Iron girders from the Twin Towers fell in the shape of a cross, and, so it has been claimed, became a symbol of hope for the community in the aftermath of the tragedy. Two days after the disaster, Frank Silecchia, a construction worker, discovered several perfectly-formed crosses standing upright amid the mounds of mangled steel and rubble. Silechhia was reported as saying of discovering the crosses: “it helped me heal the burden of my despair and gave me closure on the whole catastrophe.”  These crosses became pilgrimage sites for people who had lost loved ones, both Christian, who interpreted the clear Christian symbolism in the iron, and otherwise, who saw the crosses as purely a secular symbol of hope.

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A comparison of Ando’s sculpture with the iron girder crosses may help to be to show why the former was met with such animosity. There are many obvious similarities between the two, most notably the materials of their construction. Both are made of the same iron girders that were once a part of the Twin Towers themselves, however, what differs is the circumstances, and indeed method of their creation. The crosses were completely spontaneous, created purely by the falling buildings, allowing them to be perceived by some people as a miraculous creation. Ando’s sculpture was clearly a premeditated and planned out piece of artwork. What people found very offensive about this work was the way it seemed to almost mimic or replicate the mangled pieces building in the aftermath of the attack, when it was reduced to a pile of rubble. The crosses were seen as a symbol of the nation rising above the tragedy; Ando’s sculpture reduced it back to the base, raw result of the destruction.

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Arguably the main reason for the controversy surrounding Ando’s sculpture is its use of ‘genuine materials’- materials that came from the World Trade Centre itself. In the aftermath of the attacks in 2001, a huge cleanup operation was staged, which involved salvaging as much of the metal from the towers as was possible, with the idea of using it in memorial construction. According to the Port Authority of New York, girders much like the ones used by Ando, were sent to every US state to be used as they saw fit, as well as a number of European countries. Serving as an even more poignant comparisonwith Ando’s sculpture is the use of the very same steel in Grosvenor Square: the steel was buried in the 9/11 memorial garden, under a plaque bearing the poem For Katarina’s Sun Dial by American poet Henry van Dyke; nearby are three more plaques, listing those victims with British connections. This is a vastly different use of the steel than Ando’s: it is unassuming and hidden away, having almost been laid to rest, allowing people to remember the attacks in their own way. According to The Washington Times, Ando’s pieces of steel served only as a painful reminder of the destruction they caused on September 11. The fire commissioner of New York at the time of the attacks, Thomas Von Essen, was one such person who struggled with Ando’s memorial: ‘’I look at it, and I don’t see beauty, I see pain, I see steel that destroyed a lot of lives.” Alex Clarke, chairwoman of the September 11 UK Families support group, asked “does London really need this? …we have a piece of the girder buried under Grosvenor Square, that’s where it should be.”This group was set up as a way to help families of victims work through their grief, organizing memorial services, ceremonies and concerts, and was the main oppositional force behind the removal of the sculpture.  Hannah Ali, another member of the group, disapproves of the memorial, claiming that she was dismayed at the thought of turning pieces of steel that “had bodies strewn on them” into a work of art.

Perhaps one of the reasons the British public was so unable, or even unwilling, to try and understand Ando’s sculpture lies with cultural differences and the different approaches to memorialization in the West as opposed to the East. Ando cites her Japanese heritage and upbringing as a major influence in her work, claiming that as ‘a descendant of Bizen sword maker Ando Yoshiro Masakatsu… raised among sword smiths-turned Buddhist priests in a Buddhist temple in Okayama, Japan, [her] spiritual, familial, and academic experiences deeply inform every aspect of my work.’ She is playing on a sense of spirituality and transcendence that is present in Buddhist funerary tradition, evoking the reverence and compassion she learnt in Buddhist temples. Ando sanded down the steel to reveal a shiny, mirror like surface, which would provide a locus for calm reflection, yet retained the shape of the girders, presenting them in a ‘pure and honest manner.’ There is a notion of ‘Migaku,’ or polishing in Japanese, playing on the idea that one can polish and refine one’s spirit. Perhaps, through polishing the steel, Ando was hoping to refine the event, helping people to heal. Evidently, this memorial can present a very powerful message to those who know how to interpret it. This perhaps led to a lack of understanding, as it suggests a very elitist target audience for the piece, serving only to alienate those it should have supported most.

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To me, it seems that Ando’s intention with After 9/11 was a good one- she hoped that her use of World Trade Center steel would serve as a sort of symbol of rejuvenation and a place of quiet reflection and contemplation. However, equally, it is not difficult to understand the reasons behind the negative reaction. To a grieving Western audience, the concepts of Ando’s sculpture could indeed seem very alien: it does not name the victims, or give any indication of the event, aspects which are very common on traditional memorials. People, especially those who had lost someone in the attacks, wanted something to remember, and even glorify, the lives of the victims, not a reminder of ultimately what killed them. This case serves to highlight the difficulties of memorializing disaster in contemporary culture, and the vast impact even a small opposition group can have on the way art in the public domain is viewed, mediated and received, particularly when those opposing it feel as though they have a legitimate claim to the act of memorialization.

xxR

A delicious Plum Tart (and a rather less delicious rant about house rentals)

I am in the middle of trying to rent a house. It is in London, and me and four friends are amidst negotiations with the landlord. It just is not going well. I mean, who knew that there was so much involved in renting a house? Also we are running out of time- uni starts again in a month (eek) and we are still technically homeless.

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We have made slight progress- I mean, there is a house we want. Sort of. It is not ideal but it is a house, with a roof (although, admittedly, it probably leaks.) It has five (albeit small) bedrooms and a kitchen, which, with a little imagination, could be very homely.

There is just so much to think about! We are battling with the landlord about everything from admin fees to the fine print of the lease, licenses to deposits. It’s just impossible to know if we are doing the right thing- and not being completely ripped off!

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I just know how people can handle these things without the help of some very loving and patient parents!

Luckily, not all things in life are as complex or stressful as renting a house.

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Like this tart.

With only four ingredients, it really is the simplest thing in the world.

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Plum Tart (I picked these plums from my garden, but if you don’t have a complete over abundance of fruit trees in your garden and more plums than you know what to do with, bought ones will be just as good!)

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for the pastry:

300g plain flour

150g butter

75g sugar

4 tablespoons cold water

for the filling:

about 20 plums- halved and with the stones removed

5 tablespoons of caster sugar

Using your hands, or a food processor if you prefer, rub the butter into the flour until it forms a sort of bread crumby or sandy texture. Add the sugar and keep working. Add a small amount of the water and mix it in, first with a wooden spoon and then with your hands, until it forms together into a ball. Add the water slowly- you can always add more if it is too dry, but working with a really wet dough is horrible!

Once it has formed into a ball, wrap it in cling film and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least half an hour.

While the dough is resting, prepare the plums. Cut them in half, and sprinkle the sugar over them. Mix it in well, so they all have an equal coating of sugar.

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Once the dough is rested, roll it out on a lightly floured surface, and place it in a pie dish. Pour in the plums.

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Bake in the oven at 180 degrees for about 30-40 minutes or until the plums have softened and the pastry is a golden brown colour. (I find its best not to bake this tart blind, as the pastry cooks well enough in the time it takes for the plums to adequately soften, and the base is never too soggy and runny- but if you think it is best, then by all means, do it!)

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And if you, like me, still have more plums left over- they are also great in jam!

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xxR

Some thoughts on France

Why are the French so good at food? I mean, seriously. And why is it so much better than here? A quick hop across the channel- hardly world’s apart culturally or climate-wise!- but the food is simply a million times tastier. So why? I mean, what do they have that we don’t?

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And I’m not just talking about the artisan patisseries, boulangeries, fromageries that line every street in Paris and are the centrepiece of each rural village. Even the supermarkets stock the most delicious, fresh, vibrant selection of fruit and vegetables you can imagine. Lettuces so large and fresh that they still smell vaguely of earth, tomatoes so round and red that they don’t even look real. How can they be getting it so right? Supermarket bakeries, which in England toil to produce an adequate granary loaf, are producing row after row of baguette, pain and l’ancienne.  And don’t even get me started on the pain au chocolat!

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I’ve just come back from a summer of French travels- from my grandparents holiday home in the rural, remote Loire Valley, to a truly cultural, Parisian experience. But, regardless of location- be it the sunny south of France, the bustling city, or the complete middle-of-nowhere countryside, the connecting factor seems to be the quality of the food. It seems to be so much fresher (and, as a result tastier!) than any we get here- far less air miles, and far more vitality. The food feels healthy and you feel healthier eating it. (Apart from the bread, cheese and wine- of course! But even that feels weirdly wholesome- definitely compared to cheap airy white loaves the English adore so much!)

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I love the French, and I love being in France- I love how relaxed and laid back everything, and everyone is. People have time for each other. Oh, and I love laying on the beach, swimming, mooching around Parisian shops and dragging my boyfriend to galleries. And of course, I love the food. And the idea that food is important, and should be made time for. Be it meals at leisurely meals at expensive restaurants, picnics on the Champ de Mars, quick lunches at crowded cafes, baguettes, piled high with fromage de chevre, Roquefort and camembert, or pain au chocolat in bed!

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Perusing the markets to find the cheapest, and tastiest, fresh produce and handmade cheeses is definitely the best option when in France! Even in the tiniest of towns in rural France, the entire population (be it small) turns out to buy from the local farmers, bakers, chesemakers who line the streets in force. One women was absolutely insistent that we sample (and then buy!) her cheese aged ‘three years in cave.’

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Bread is crunchier on the outside and softer on the inside, cheese tastes stronger and has a softer texture, wine is cheaper and far better than any in England. So why? What is it about France that makes their food so good?

I put this down to lifestyle. The French seem to be very good at living- they know the importance of relaxing, of sitting down with friends and family, and eating good food. In France, everything closes in August. Like, everything. This can be annoying if you are a tourist eager to explore the food markets of Saint-Germain (me), but if you are French, it must be amazing. Everything closes, no one has work- it is the ultimate summer holiday.

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Walking around Paris, you get the sense that taking time to have a nice meal, a cup of coffee, and a long chat, really is very important to the French. Without fail, the brasseries and cafes whose seats spill out onto the streets, are always crammed with huge men around the tiny tables, sipping their espressos or pints of beer.

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We could learn a thing or two from the French- stop rushing around, take time out to eat, drink, relax and enjoy the company of those around us! I think that if we put more effort into enjoying food- and really good, tasty, healthy food- the quality of what we eat would improve. Say yes to the artisan bakeries, freshly baked bread, and locally grown produce. Be more French.

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I read an interesting stat last week. Apparently, rumour has it, that the French are going off bread. Yep. Apparently so. The average Frenchman now eats just one third of a baguette a day, compared to three a day in 1900! Apparently pasta is the new carb of choice from Calais to Cannes.

So the French may be saying ‘pooh pooh’ to the baguette, but for me they are definitely still the flavour of the month.

xxR