Magpies keep coming up in my imagery lately. I think it’s because I’ve finally realized that I’m an ordinary, generic human in much the same way that magpies are ordinary, generic birds.
They are all distinct individuals who blend and blur into their species, with an occasional reason for being noticed. Like, maybe they sing beautifully, swoop a news reporter, cohabit with another species or have some other reason for being noticed, loved or feared. I saw a bird yesterday that looks like a magpie but with the markings of a currawong. I hope I see it again.
Lately I’ve been leaving some clear space with the main figure off to the side, as a metaphor for “giving myself some space”.
Sometimes I go to bed wondering what stories my dreams will tell me. Sometimes I enjoy the entertainment and other times I learn what the dream is telling me. In one dream, I was a magpie and I flew up, up, up then turned on the momentum, then swooped down as fast as I could. It was so much fun. The dream itself was great, and it’s left me wondering what it all means. While I’m thinking about that, I painted a watercolour and added the magpies digitally. They were from an earlier drawing/painting which I had scanned.
My mother recently gave me a little coffee set that her grandfather bought in an antique shop. I don’t know how old it is, where it was made, or where the antique shop was. But it inspired my imagination, art and dreams and I drew a lot of dragons when I was in high school because of this coffee set.
My own dragon came to me in a dream. It had iridescent goldish, silverish, rainbowish scales and was slightly wet because it had been resting in the river nearby. It told me it’s name, and that it would always be there if I needed – just think or call and it would be there in a flash. There was advice and warning attached – that the tasks I gave it would directly affect it’s nature and personality as it grew in size and strength. I felt such profound love for my dragon in the dream. There was an instant bond, and I woke up knowing that my dragon was a trusted friend. My logical mind interpreted the dragon as inner strength and instincts. We can stay with that explanation.
It’s been a long time since dragons featured in my art, but when I was drawing this portrait (which is for a gift), I realized that all girls need a dragon to keep them safe and strong. They also need another companion to symbolize character. The girl in this picture has integrity, courage, diligence and kindness so I’ve given her a bee.
Anyhow, I finished this one early this morning. It’s about being on the cusp of adulthood at the end of 2020. It’s called Jade With Her Bee and Dragon.
Summer has arrived, and one thing that means is Smoothie-making time. I froze some custard apples during the harvest season to use for this very purpose. A bonus was finding some Davidson’s Plums in the garden that were ready to pick.
To make a smoothie like this one, you will need: A small tray of ice cubes, 1/2 teaspoon of blue peaflower powder, 1/2 cup of almond milk, 1/4 cup of thick coconut yoghurt, 1 cup frozen custard apple (I just cut mine into slices straight off the chunk of frozen custard apple). Whip all the ingredients up in the blender and place in bowls. Top with grapes, Davidson’s Plums, and a sprig of mint. That’s it. Couldn’t be easier.
I discovered some Davidson’s Plums growing in my garden a couple of years ago. They are quite sour, and it takes a few to acquire a taste, but with a sprinkle of salt the flavour is reminiscent of Umeboshi – also known as Japanese salty plums.
The weather this winter has been gorgeous! It’s getting close to the end of August, so not long until Spring. Our prayers have been answered and we’ve had enough rain for the countryside to look beautiful and green. We’ve been harvesting custard apples on our farm since April, and the oranges and lemons this year have been like little amazeballs. Super tasty. We have plenty of eggs from our hens too, so it’s a logical choice to experiment with everything, because more is more.
Oranges and lemons, custard apples and blueberries are in season. My blueberry bushes died in the drought last summer, but there are plenty in the shops right now. So, with the confidence that an abundance of fruit and eggs gave me I was able to try out a few different experiments.
Butter, almond meal and Medjool dates for the tart shells. Perfect. I had everything I needed. I had been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, and was a little bit nervous about this upcoming culinary experiment because I had spoken about the idea before any action on my part. So the pressure was on. What came out of the experiment, was a tart that gently beckons with it’s scent, then invites a taste with it’s sunny golden goodness, caresses the mouth at first bite, and then bursts into flavour.
Tarts for The Soul
Make the lemon butter and tart shells first, then the filling.
Lemon Butter: juice of two lemons and zest of one, 200g sugar, 50g butter, 2 eggs whisked well. Gently heat all the ingredients in a saucepan, and stir until it thickens. It should take about ten minutes or a smidgen longer. A double boiler would be great, but I don’t have one and a normal small saucepan worked out just fine.
Tart shells: 2 cups of almond meal, 6 Medjool dates, 50g of melted butter. Place almond meal and dates in the food processor and mix through. Add melted butter. Press the mixture into mini tart trays, and bake for 10-12 minutes at 160 degrees Celsius. Set aside to cool. These can be made a day or two ahead of time and stored in an airtight container.
Filling: 1 cup of firm custard apple, cut into segments and seeds taken out, juice of two oranges, 3 eggs well beaten, zest of one lemon, 50g butter, 1/4 cup of lemon butter (see recipe below if you don’t have any). Place orange juice, lemon zest, beaten eggs and butter into a saucepan and stir on low heat until mixture thickens. Add segments of custard apple and fold through. Add filling to tart shells when it has cooled. Note: the filling does not need added sugar.
Just before serving, add the filling to the tart shells, place a couple of teaspoons of lemon butter on top of the filling and top with blueberries. Sprinkle some edible flowers on top and dust with icing sugar. This step isn’t necessary, just pretty.
Hindsight is twenty-twenty they say. 2020 – also an interesting year with the pandemic still raging. What will you say in hindsight? With many of us coming out of lockdown and able to see friends and family for the first time in months, picnics are the big thing. We can maintain our social distancing rules and yet connect with each other again. It makes sense that picnic food is high on the list of priorities, with individual servings of things that don’t need refrigeration.
So, I have created something that is perfect for a picnic in the park! It’s healthy, delicious, easy to make and take. Let’s call it Custard Apple Berry Jar, because you make it into a jar. Mine here is gluten free and dairy free.
To make this, you will need:
1 large or two smaller custard apples
1 punnet of strawberries
2 teaspoons of beetroot powder (to make it pink)
2 teaspoons of rosewater
15 grams of gelatin, dissolved in 1/4 of a cup of hot water
Gingernut biscuits (gluten free, dairy free)
Thick coconut yoghurt (gluten free, dairy free)
A few blueberries, pistachios and edible flowers for garnishing
Place gingernuts in the bottom of each clean jar. Add a sprinkle dried berries. Next, place de-seeded custard apples, strawberries, gelatin, rosewater, and beetroot powder in a blender, food processor or bowl and blend together. Pour gently over the gingernuts and dried berries. Fill jars to 3/4 full. Chill for about half an hour, so it sets. Add a couple of dollops of yoghurt, and sprinkle with pistachios, edible flowers and blueberries. Put the lid on and it’s good to go. Serves 8
With what I hoped was a sage nod and a wise look, I announced that I was having a mental health day. I think I was the only one there at the time, so if I didn’t look too sage and wise, it doesn’t matter.
What did I do on this particular mental health day? I pottered around the house, played with watercolour on paper without actually painting anything, and then in the afternoon, I made a Custard Apple pudding. Invented it, really.
When it came out of the oven, I decided that there was no point waiting to have it for dessert, so I had it for afternoon tea just as that beautiful golden light of the setting sun appeared in the garden. It was delicious, and reminded me of Bread and Butter Pudding – except healthy! What more could anyone ask for.
To make the pudding, simply mix one large custard apple (take the seeds out first), four eggs, a drop of vanilla and a good shake of both nutmeg and cinnamon. Pour into a buttered dish with 3 or 4 dried figs and dried fruit of your choice. (I used sultanas, raisins and cranberries soaked in sherry.) Make a bain-marie by placing the dish in a baking tray that has water in it. This will keep the pudding nice and moist. Bake in a moderate oven for about 40 minutes. Serve hot with whipped cream.
It’s May, and just turned cold in our beautiful little part of the world. Well, cold for us anyway. We’ve been harvesting custard apples and sending them off to market. One of the benefits of being a custard apple farmer is that you get to eat them. This afternoon I made Custard Apple and Rhubarb Crumble. Talk about delicious!
When I was making it, I looked outside the kitchen window just as the sun was setting. The light was magnificent. There’s something just so wonderful about being in the landscape when it’s golden like that….. you get to be golden too. So, I dashed out of the warmth and took a few snaps so I can remember this beautiful afternoon, all the while being golden.
It was such a lovely experience, that I think comfort food is in fact, art for the soul!
Ingredients: A bunch of rhubarb and one large custard apple for the base. Half a cup of dried cranberries for the middle. Half a cup of sugar, half a cup of flour (I used gluten-free), half a cup of walnuts, half a cup of coconut flakes, 75-ish grams of butter, a good shake or two of cinnamon.
Method: Remove the leaves and strings from the rhubarb, and discard. Chop the stems into lengths of about 2-3 cm. Place in a saucepan with about half a cup of water, and bring to the boil. Simmer for a couple of minutes and leave to cool. While the rhubarb cools, remove the custard apple seeds and discard them. Drain the rhubarb, and the custard apple pulp. (If you mix the rhubarb juice with the custard apple juice, it makes a delicious pink drink.) Mix the rhubarb and custard apple together and place in a medium to large buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the cranberries onto this mixture.
For the crumble: Place flour, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl with the softened butter. Rub the butter through until it resembles breadcrumbs. Add the walnuts and coconut flakes. Sprinkle evenly over the custard apple, rhubarb and berry base. Bake in a moderate oven for 45 minutes.
Serve with whipped cream, icecream or coconut cream.
It’s January 2020, and time for a new set of resolutions. So, I resolve to DO the things I’ve been saying I would do. One of those things was to stop being afraid of my website. If I pretend I’m talking to myself here, instead of to an audience, I might be able to do it.
So, my most recent art project is a sketchbook for the Brooklyn Library Sketchbook Project. The book is supposed to be in Brooklyn in about a week. Brooklyn is about a million miles from here, as the crow flies. Given that it’s the Sunday of a long weekend, and if I send it by airmail I estimate it will be there about a week or two late.
My sketchbook is about some of the birds at home, so I named it Home Birds. There are about 150 different species of native birds, plus farm birds, and pets. So, which ones to choose, you ask? The prettiest? The ugliest? Biggest vs smallest? Funniest or friendliest? In the end, the decision evolved organically. If I sat down to draw and a bird was outside my window, I drew it. If birds were making a noisy racket outside, they made it into the pages. And my peacock….. my beautiful friend who came to stay, he made it too.