Thursday, April 26, 2012

"The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke"

The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke
When I was in the insurance business I was very fortunate to be a frequent traveler to London, and one of the places I haunted was the former Tate Gallery, now known as Tate Brittain.

This is a unique painting that I discovered there, The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke. Even though it's relatively small (only 21.25 x 15.5 inches), it made a strong impression on me with its thick layers of paint and incredible, almost feverish detail, especially when seen from a few inches away. I also was intrigued by the story of the man who created it, Richard Dadd (1817-1886), and where the work was done. 

Richard Dadd was a promising artist who suffered an acute mental breakdown on a trip abroad that eventually lead to the gruesome murder of his father with a knife and razor. Dadd escaped to France where he tried to murder a fellow traveler, but was captured and returned to England.  At a hearing he plead guilty and was sentenced to removal "to a place of permanent safety without coming to trial". 

The "safe place" was Bethlehem Hospital's criminal lunatic department that came to be known as Bedlam, where Dadd stayed until 1864 when he was moved to Broadmoor, spending a total of 42 years in these institutions. At Bethlehem Dadd created his most remarkable paintings, including The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, which he worked on from 1855-1864.

The painting has layer upon layer of images, from the Shakespere-inspired Fairy-feller himself, shown in the lower right with a hatchet cracking open a hazelnut to make a chariot for Queen Mab from 'Romeo and Juliet", but there also are hidden faces and other imagery. Quite a lot has been written about the painting, but it's never been fully explained. Nevertheless, The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke been a source of inspiration to artists of all sorts for over a hundred years, including Freddie Mercury who created a song of the same name in 1974 for Side Black on the album "Queen II". 

Here are the lyrics:

(he's a Fairy Feller)

The fairy folk had gathered 'round the new moon's shine
To see a Feller crack a nut a night's noon time
To swing his ax, he swears
As it climbs, he dares
To deliver...
The master stroke

Ploughman, Waggoner Will, and types
Politician with senatorial pipe 
He's a dilly dally-oh

Pedagogue squinting, wears a frown
And a satyr peers under lady's gown
Dirty fellow
What a dirty laddie-oh

Taterdamaellion and a Junketer
There's a thief and a dragonfly trumpeter
He's my hero

Fairy dandy, tickling the fancy of his lady friend
The nymph in yellow
(can we see the master stroke?)
What a quaere fellow

Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, ploughboy
Waiting to hear the sound
And the Arch-Magician presides, he is the leader

Oberon and Titania, watched by a Harridan
Mab is the queen and there's a good apothecary-man
Come to say hello

Fairy dandy, tickling the fancy of his lady friend
The nymph in yellow
What a quaere fellow

The Ostler stands with hands on his knees
"Come on, mister Feller, crack it open if you please"

I wonder what Richard Dadd would make of the enduring fame of this work, the differing interpretations of the images it contains, and the way it continues to inspire many forms of creativity.

Richard Dadd

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Ginger Preserves - Endless Possibilities

I'd be perfectly happy to add some ginger to almost everything I cook, and come to think of it, I just might have. I'm crazy about ginger in all forms, from fresh (which I keep indefinitely in the freezer so it's always there when needed) to powdered and several forms in between, including syrup and preserves. I also love candied ginger, which I get at the Hendersonville Co-op because it's unsulphured and the price is quite reasonable.

For one of our favorite quick dinners, I combine Mackays Spiced Ginger Preserves with Braswell's Pure Pear Preserves to make a delicious topping for Sam's cheapest brie. I cut the brie into chunks, bake it in individual ramekins at 325 degrees until it starts to melt, then serve it with slices of fruit, toasted sourdough cranberry walnut bread and a green salad with pecans and dried cherries. Mix the ginger and pear combo with mustard to add a little zip to a ham or chicken sandwich, or to make a delicious base for a salad dressing, or for cole slaw.

Over the winter I used so much ginger preserves that it got to be an expensive habit, and I decided to make my own. Canning has never been my thing, so I decided to skip the water bath part and just freeze the preserves in small batches. At the rate I use ginger, I figured it would be fine, and it has been. I searched for recipes on line and eventually settled on one that I modified to suit me. Most of them called for blanching the ginger several times, or soaking it overnight because fresh ginger can be intense, so don't be tempted to skip this step.

Ginger Preserves

1 lb fresh ginger
1 lb sugar
1 1/2 cups water
l apple, peeled, cored and diced (or 1 pouch liquid pectin)

Peel the ginger and chop into very small dice, or pulse in a food processor. Cover with water and soak overnight. Drain and reserve the liquid for other purposes, if desired, such as for iced tea or poaching fruit.

Place the drained ginger in a medium saucepan. Add the diced apple or the pectin, sugar and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 45 minutes, or until the syrup is thick and the ginger is tender.

I store the jam in small plastic containers, keeping one in the refrigerator and the rest in the freezer. It's fun to create new ways to use it, and right now I'm looking ahead to the possibilities of peach season...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Four Seasons Samplers by Elizabeth Bradley

I love living in an area with four beautiful and distinct seasons, and although I bring out other Elizabeth Bradley cushions to reflect the time of year, there are four that are permanent. The Four Seasons Samplers always occupy the window seat in the kitchen, as an ongoing reminder of the changes that are always taking place...





The Year at a Glance...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Don't Forget to Floss - Your Deck, That Is...

There's no getting around the fact that decks require a lot of maintenance if you want them to last and look their best. The good news is that if you're diligent, you can extend the life of your deck by years.

In addition to keeping the deck clean and refinishing it when needed for protection from the elements and cosmetic enhancement, plan to regularly floss between the boards so that debris doesn't accumulate. This step is important because the debris will trap moisture,which leads to rot.

If you don't want to get down on your hands and knees to do the work, the Fiskars Deck Flossing Tool is a great solution, but it's pricey.

5 in 1 Tool
As an alternative to the Fiskars or similar long handled flossers, you can use one of my all time favorite tools, the Painter's 5 in 1, but you're going to have to bend over or kneel to get between the boards, and on a large deck this would be no fun. The 5 in 1 costs about $8 and does so many things that if you don't have one, do yourself a favor and get one. I do everything with my 5 in 1, except spread mustard on Roger's sandwiches.

No matter which tool works better for you, it's important to get your deck clean and looking its best, then keep an eye on it to be sure it stays that way.

If you need help, call me to make an appointment with Roger to do an estimate. He's been restoring decks of all types for many years, and has brought quite a few back from the brink of death!     

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mallards and Me

I have a thing for ducks, especially mallards, that began years ago when I went to the local nursery to get some bedding plants and came back with a mallard duckling. To this day I couldn't tell you what came over me, except that it was love at first sight. I named the duckling Scobie after my favorite character in literature, an elderly transvestite admiral in Lawrence Durrell's, 'Alexandria Quartet'. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Scobie imprinted on me right away, which meant that I couldn't be out of his sight or he would panic and run after me peeping frantically, his little feet making a pattering sound on the floor. Carrying a duck with me all day really cramped my style, but I managed it for about a week before hitting on the solution of getting a friend to keep him company. When I went back to the nursery, there were no more mallard babies, so I got a  little yellow Pekin duck whom I named Butter. Scobie and Butter took to each immediately and my life became a bit more normal. They took their first swim in the bathtub, and eventually went to live outdoors in a specially constructed raccoon-proof house adjacent to the small pond in the back yard. To keep them safe from predators I had to be home before sunset every night to herd them into their house, and sometimes it meant leaving my job at a local insurance agency, doing duck patrol, and then going back to work. Fortunately it was a very low-key office, and my boss was a willing co-conspirator.

Scobie and Butter, who turned out to be a female, were devoted companions. Butter laid an egg every day, and I was fascinated by how different they were. Some were large, some small, some round, some oval. I loved my ducks and delighted in their company. Somewhere in a box of old photos is one of me holding the adult Scobie with his wings spread around me. One Christmas the wife of the man who owned the insurance agency surprised me with a paperweight she'd made using a picture of Scobie and Butter, which is still one of my treasures.

One time the adult Scobie injured his foot, or so I thought. He and Butter were large and inseparable, and there was no way to manage taking them both to the vet, so I arranged an after hours house call. Just before the vet arrived I put them in the kitchen and spread newspaper on the floor, for obvious reasons...Scobie was limping dramatically until he saw the vet and was miraculously cured. There was no sign of a limp as he ran around the kitchen quacking. The vet laughed and left, but sent me a bill for $75.

Both Scobie and Butter loved snails and soon had eaten all the ones in our garden. To please them and enhance their diet, I began scouting the lawns of all our neighbors after dark with a flashlight in one hand and a coffee can in the other, collecting their snails. I became a welcome and familiar sight and everyone was happy, except the snails. Scobie and Butter would always start quacking very loudly when they spotted me with their coffee can of treats, and would take turns feasting. It was more than a little gross to see them covered with snail slime, but I felt about snails then the way I feel about voles now.

These mallard memories, and many more, came flooding back this morning when I drove down the driveway and found three mallards there, most likely tourists who'd visited the pond in the horse pasture across the road. When I inched the car forward they flew off, but if I hadn't been on the way to an appointment, I would have stopped for a while to visit with them. I still love mallards.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Register for "Paint Color Confidence"

I love working with color and think about it all the time. As a color consultant, I've helped many clients who found themselves at a loss over color selection and ready to reach for beige or white paint to avoid "making a mistake". This angst over color is a common problem, and when you consider its fickle nature, a very understandable one.

To help you learn the essentials of color and paint, and build confidence when making decisions, I've developed a new three part course that begins this Wednesday evening at Isothermal Community College in Columbus. My special guest is Tom Williamson of Williamsons Paint Center in Landrum, the first person I call when I have a question or a problem. Through the generosity and support of Isothermal, the course is presented free as a public service to the community.

Wednesday Evenings, 6:30 to 8:30pm

April 4, 2012:     Basic Color and Paint Concepts
April 11, 2012:   Choosing Interior Colors and Paints
April 18, 2012:   Choosing Exterior Colors and Paints

Isothermal Community College, Polk Campus
Registration:  FREE

Call 828 894-3092 to reserve your place. If you have questions about the course, call me at 828-692-4355.

They've Struck Again ..

Perhaps I was being naive, but after voles ate their way through the roots of ten mature nandina, I thought the worst was over. This weekend I found out that I was wrong when I noticed three seven foot tall hollies had many dead leaves and were leaning over, a sure sign that voles had struck again. With a feeling of dread I checked each plant and discovered that each could easily be lifted from its hole, just as with the much smaller nandina. The thing that shocked me most is that the hollies were so large.

The worst vole problem is in the beds between the house and the driveway. It's a large area and there are many plants, like Japanese maples, that aren't easily replaced. When Roger planted the maples, we lined the hole with hardware cloth, but I'm still worried about them in the face of such vole violence.We know we've got to take more drastic measures, but we don't want to endanger ourselves or our animals in the process. Any suggestions?