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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Chocolate and pistachio cupcakes

Ingredients:
230g/ 8 oz. butter, softened
230g/ 8 oz. caster sugar
4 eggs, beaten
230g/ 8 oz. self raising flour
1tsp. baking powder
150g/ 5 1/2 oz. plain chocolate (melted in a bowl over a pan of hot water)
50g/ 1 3/4 oz. pistachios, chopped

Icing:
125g/ 4 1/2 oz. butter, softened
400g 14 oz. icing sugar
A handful of raspberries and a handful of pistachios

  • Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/ 160ยบ C
  • Fill a twelve hole muffin tray with paper cases.
  • In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and caster sugar until light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the eggs gradually.
  • Gradually fold in the flour and baking powder.
  • Gently stir in the melted chocolate and chopped pistachios until just combined.
  • Divide the mixture evenly between the cases, and put in the oven for about 25 mins, until risen. You should be able to stick a skewer or knife in and it come out clean if they are ready.
  • Remove from the oven, and put on a cooling rack.
  • While the cakes are cooling, prepare the icing.
  • I don't actually weigh ingredients out when making icing, but for those who like to, the above quantities should work. 
  • Cream the butter until pale and soft. 
  • Cream in the icing sugar.
  • Put the raspberries in a sieve and squash them into the sieve, letting the juice run into the icing. Stir in.
  • If you plan to pipe the icing on you will need to leave the icing in the fridge for about half an hour (if you leave it in too long and it's a bit too solid, just leave it to soften a bit once out the fridge).
  • Pipe/spread the icing on to the cakes. 
  • Either chop finely, or if you have a food processor, whizz the pistachios.
  • Sprinkle to pistachios on top of the cakes.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012

 Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is a collaboration between the National Gallery and The Royal Ballet. It brings together an array of very talented artists to create new pieces of dance, poetry, music, and paintings. The National Gallery is housing the exhibition until 23rd September, the last performance at the Royal Opera House is tomorrow evening, 20th July.

On entering the central room of the exhibition you are confronted with the three Titian paintings that form the inspiration for the artists taking part. The three paintings: Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon have not been displayed together since the eighteenth century, making this an even more special experience.

Off of this central room are a series of exhibition spaces. To the left, a room of paintings by Chris Ofili. Colourful and modern, colours swirling across the canvas, this was an absorbing room. The next room is very dark, with a black cube in the middle. This is Mark Wallinger’s installation piece, Diana. There is a keyhole, a misty window, and some peepholes to peer through into a bathroom, a woman inside bathing. This seems intrusive and voyeuristic, and fits in well with the stories Titian depicts in his paintings.

The rest of the rooms revolved around the ballets. In one room the costumes, designed by Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross, and Mark Wallinger. Some very colourful, others plainer, with simple patterns and colour schemes. In the next room, a smaller version of the robot that will appear in Machina, designed by Conrad Shawcross, giving a taste of what was to come. In the next room, a fascinating video showing all seven of the choreographers taking part in this project working with the dancers of the Royal Ballet whilst creating their new dance pieces. In the final room, set designs, and videos showing them being put together. I was now very much looking forward to the evening’s performance at the Royal Opera House, and beginning to realise just how exciting this project is.

The triple bill at the Royal Opera House kicked off with Machina. The staging was very simple, very sparse. To begin with there was a screen covering the robot Diana, the light on the end of her arm visibly gently moving, calmly, peacefully. As the piece progressed you could see more and more of Diana. Once she realised she was being watched by the dancers her movements suddenly became quicker, wilder. I know a few reviewers have had issue with the noises coming from the robot, but for me, it was all part of the piece. There were rests in the music where you could hear the sounds of the machine, showing her anger (I didn’t notice much noise in the calmer moments). Whether it was intentional or not I don’t know but I thought it added a sense of life to the robot, helped make it an integral part of the piece rather than an elaborate prop. I did, however, find Diana slightly distracting. During her ‘duet’ with Carlos Acosta I was paying far more attention to the robot Diana than I was to the dancer. There were some utterly wonderful dancers in this piece (indeed, in all three), and it was certainly an interestingly unique dance piece.

Next was Trespass. The most prominent prop in this particular piece was the curved mirror that was in the centre of the stage. I was hugely impressed with the talents of Lucy Carter, creating some quite brilliant visual effects with the mirror (sometimes it was a mirror, sometimes you could see through it, at other times it was half reflective, half see-through). Diana and her nymphs were within the confines of the mirrored curve for the majority of the time, but there were male dancers lurking on the other side who you would only see when the mirror became transparent. This all helped create a sense of voyeurism, and impending danger. The safe, watery grotto suddenly being invaded by unwanted visitors.

The final piece, Diana and Actaeon had the most colourful set design. Peeling away layers throughout, in the end we are left with a backdrop of nymphs. This is the most narrative of the three ballets, depicting Ovid’s story in a more literal sense. The addition of singing added a heightened sense of drama to the action, and the use of hand puppets for the hounds were used cleverly, creating humour as well as an interesting dance. 

Overall, I found my focus for the evening to be more on the production and staging than on the dances themselves. The dances were all interesting and creative, but I think because the staging was so varied for each, with very unique aspects this was what drew my attention. I was very impressed with all three pieces, and the work at the National Gallery. A fantastic collaboration of very talented people, and a brilliant farewell for Monica Mason!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

RHS Wisley

Taking advantage of a short spell of sunny weather, I headed over to RHS Wisley. It's a beautiful place to spend a peaceful afternoon, and also a  great place to pick up some tips if you're a budding gardener. I thought I'd share a few of my photos from my visit on here.







Monday, 9 July 2012

Aphra Behn, ‘The Rover’, performed by Artluxe at Hampton Court Palace

I admit I’d never heard of Aphra Behn until a few months ago whilst watching Lucy Worsley’s Harlots, Housewives, and Heroines. She sounded like a fascinating character, and one that, on the whole, history forgot. I was therefore delighted to hear that there was to be a promenade production at Hampton Court of one of her plays this Summer. Hampton Court Palace is one of my favourite places, and as an avid theatre goer, I was intrigued to experience a promenading experience.

Not having read The Rover, nor having been to a promenade performance previously I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. From reviews I’d read during the week leading up to the performance I had tickets for it sounded like a sumptuous, overtly sexual performance.

We arrived at Hampton Court Palace and queued to show our tickets. We were given coins and told we were the beautiful. The audience were mingling around the courtyard when two women walked out; dusted hair, red coats, and multicoloured leggings, and told the beautiful to follow them. We were led into a corridor where a woman in Restoration dress was staring out of the window. Once we’d all piled in another woman appeared, also in period costume. These turned out to be Florinda and Hellena. They had a disagreement about the upcoming carnival, and their futures. Before long, Don Pedro, their brother, stormed in and laid down the law. Florinda would marry the aged but wealthy Don Antonio, and they would bring the nuptials forward to tomorrow, and Hellena would become a nun. They didn’t have a choice.

Next we were introduced to two of the main male characters Belville, and Willmore, disagreeing about how women should be viewed and treated. We were lead onto the staircase, which had decorations strung along the banisters, making the palace look ready for celebration. We were led into the carnival. Actors tempting us with prostitutes, rakes taking poor unsuspecting women from the audience by the hand and trying to woo them. Some members of the audience seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the interaction with the cast, others less so. It was nonetheless quite an experience, and in such magnificent surroundings.

As we worked our way around the palace, continuing the story, the initial Restoration feel left somewhat, and a more modern, artistic feel took hold. We were led into the Sale of Beauty, where we met Angellica who would be sold for no less than 1000 crowns. There were a number of cast members on podiums, with skin tight clothing, or very little on at all. The audience were encouraged to inspect them, decide who we’d like to spend our coins on, and generally get into the spirit of the evening. This was the first moment where the idea of beauty as power, or a means to make a living really came through strongly. And, let’s be honest, quite disturbingly. Although this was a modern adaptation, this is a Restoration play, and one bringing out themes of the time. Women’s position was still very unstable, it may have been a time of increased power for them, but if that was based on beauty, what happened when their looks began to fade? Not that a lot of the opportunities that came their way due to their womanly charms were exactly ideal.

Next we were led into a room with a bed being the main centre piece. Here we see Angellica giving into temptation with Willmore, breaking the rules of prostitution. We were then sent on a wander down a corridor full of sexually charged scenes. People writhing on the floor, mainly being dominated by men. We are led down a staircase, a banner made predominantly of condoms hanging down the side. The sexual imagery was not subtle by any means.

The final scene was hard hitting. Willmore attempts to rape Florinda , who is only saved by the timely arrival of Belville (Willmore then moves on to Hellena). This brings home the idea that although women were gaining some position in society, and more freedom than had previously been available to them, men were still the ones with all the power, and using your body to make a way in life can have some very dangerous consequences.

All in all quite a spectacular production. It felt more and more modern as we went through. It must be quite some feat to pull off a production such as this, and it was done well. The story itself was fast paced and interesting (although I didn’t feel particularly invested in any of the characters, perhaps because it was a reasonably short production). There was wealth, sex, and pageantry everywhere you looked, as well as a sword fight at one point. The cast were brilliant; the audience were never at a loss for something to look at, or interact with. It’s certainly given me a taste for promenade productions, and I hope I get a chance to see another. I’m also now intrigued to find out more about Aphra Behn whose life we are told was quite extraordinary.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Simple Spelt Loaf


I first came across spelt flour when making Edd Kimber's chocolate sables (which by the way were delicious, check out his website for the recipe). Since hunting down spelt flour I have been wanting to try making some bread with it. I wasn't disappointed, and it's also reminded me how nice it is to make your own bread.

If you fancy making some here's what you need:

300g spelt flour
200g strong white bread flour
1 x 7g sachet of yeast
1 tsp. salt
15g butter
300ml. water

  • Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl, making sure you don't let the yeast come in direct contact with the salt as it will kill it.
  • Using your fingers, rub in the butter.
  • Gradually add the water, mixing it in with your hands. Don't use all the water if the dough is becoming too wet.
  • Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for about ten minutes.
  • Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with lightly oiled cling film. Leave to rise somewhere warm for about an hour and a half.
  • In this time the dough should have at least doubled. 
  • Knock back the dough, put it in a greased loaf tin (or shape it on a baking tray), cover with cling film, and leave for about an hour, until doubled in size.
  • While it is rising, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6. Once the dough is ready bake, remove the cling film and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes, until golden. To know whether it's baked through or not the bread should sound hollow when you tap the base.