Lies, damn lies and cooking times

Many people were ambitious during the first lockdown. I don’t think I was, I found it very hard to get anything done. I had to make to-do lists and push myself to do jobs to tick off. Sheer boredom is driving me now, I suppose. And so, I’ve started my first ever sourdough loaf, this evening. It’ll prove overnight and I think getting it ready to bake will take most of tomorrow. Not that it’s time spent actually doing anything. In that respect, it takes no longer than any loaf of bread. It’ll be interesting, anyway. And if it isn’t great first time, there will be room for improvement and, even at my advanced age, that is always a good thing.

Some people think that self-criticism (or, as I prefer to say, self-evaluation) is being negative. I don’t think it is at all, as long as it’s genuine. That is, give credit where it’s due, don’t beat yourself up where it isn’t needed and don’t talk yourself down in the hope of receiving praise. Most of us have done (or not done) those things, of course we have. But thank you, AQ and BW, for your kind and helpful remarks on yesterday’s post. You do get it, that I am looking for constructive criticism and trying to evaluate what I could do better as well. I didn’t do any drawing today and didn’t, in truth, get a lot done, but we had a pretty good day, even if we can’t point to much that we actually achieved. I made a very nice salad, with avocado, watercress and smoked salmon mousse, for lunch and Tim cooked some fabulous calamari for dinner. Last night’s whole baked turbot was also delicious, though Jane Grigson’s assertion that it will cook in 15 minutes is way out of line. Nearly treble that time. Why do people do that?

The biggest lie is onions. Cooking onions for French onion soup takes at least an hour. It cannot be done in less than that and any recipe that claims 15-30 minutes is wrong and the writer knows it. Sure, you might be able to fry onions briefly, but caramelising them properly, either for soup or for an accompaniment to burgers (or whatevs) has to be done slowly and thoroughly. Likewise, casseroling tough meat. Oxtail takes three hours or more. Two is a lie. The meat will be brown all through, yes, but you won’t get a knife through it. Oh, and while I’m on the subject, all these cookbook pictures of a roast chicken with the legs still trussed. That is totally a recipe for raw thighs. Just cut that string. Sure, it looks pretty but that’s not the point.

I may have gone off on a tangent there. Turbot, yes. Tim has a splendid tale about a time when he and his late wife barbecued a whole turbot. He fashioned a cradle from chicken wire, they invited their best friends to share it and lunch ended at around 6.30 that evening. Not because the fish took hours to cook, but because it was such a lovely day and they were all happy. Good times are always worth talking about.

Z fails to draw part 15.

Well, here we are again. Different chair, same place but I removed some of the clutter. It’s gone rather better this time. The first drawing, it took me ages to get the right arm – as you look at it, that is – because it’s so foreshortened that it looks wrong if you draw it as it is. But then Tim pointed out that it wasn’t that arm that was wrong but the other one. It curved down and it shouldn’t. I corrected that and it somehow made the other side look better, although I hadn’t touched it – it’s still not quite right, it goes up too much at the end, but the thing that one arm pointed up and the other down has gone, pretty well.

There’s still a lot that’s wrong. The seat, the angles of the spindles at the back, the left front leg is the wrong angle and so on. But it looks more like a chair than yesterday’s attempt and it even looks quite a bit like the chair I was drawing.

What wasn’t especially successful was the negative space thing. I was supposed only to draw them and then the actual chair would appear in the gaps. But I could only do that when I had a tricky bit. The gap between the front and back leg, for instance. I drew the shape then. But the seat is a whole great bit lump of positive space, I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there. Also, I needed to line up the spindles, the upper ones with the lower ones and I had to draw them.

I’m going to try the next thing without toning the paper. It’s a nuisance. Every time I rub out a line, I have to rub a tissue over the paper to remove the white mark and the pencil tends to fade into the graphite-toned paper after a while and I have to draw over the lines. I do see the point of it, it can be effective, but a photo certainly doesn’t show up well.

I might, if I can be bothered, do a bit more work on this chair. I could even try drawing it again, but it took ages and I haven’t got much confidence that the next time would be better. I’ll see how I feel tomorrow.

Z fails to draw part 14 part 2

Yes, well, you could see I was in a temper when I did the first drawing yesterday. I couldn’t leave the chair without having another go or I’d never have gone back to it. I wasn’t trying and the angle of the chair seat, in particular, was ludicrously wrong. It still wasn’t right next time – and AQ’s suggestion of tracing the outline of the chair and comparing it is a sensible one. It’s not cheating if it is a learning aid and it wouldn’t matter if it were.

I’ll look for something positive, all the same. The front left leg, the top part, is pretty good. It tails off at the foot, but there. And the right back leg has a confident sweep, though it’s wrong both at top and bottom. The fancy bit in the middle of the back would have a C for effort. Overall, dreadful though.

The second drawing shows some attempt at thought. I looked at the radiator, which was a horizontal line, and realised how little from the horizontal was the chair seat. I’d assumed a greater angle to give the idea of perspective and I hadn’t really looked, first time round. I did note that the curved line of the left back of the chair carried straight down to the front right leg. I found the relative lengths of the legs very difficult though. I also made the top of the chair too tall and the legs too short, though the top left curve of the chair back, if not entirely accurate, pleases me somewhat and I managed a bit of highlighting. Yes, there is too much clutter behind, which (because of the red wastepaper basket) made the detail in the centre of the back difficult to see, but I was sitting where I was comfortable and relaxed, which I wasn’t when, as suggested, I put the chair against a blank wall. I could tune out the rest of the background and didn’t find it a problem. As Scarlet says, the resizing and initial drawing on glass was really unhelpful. It was only suggested for one negative shape and I was absolutely unable to hold the glass still and draw accurately. I have no idea how to transfer a drawing when I’m only allowed a single crosshair, in any case. I’ve nothing to go by. I’ve read the chapter several times and it hasn’t helped at all. What was helpful was being told to look at the negative space and see it ‘pop’ into view. It does. I could feel my focus change.

I’ll try a different chair and give it another go. Then I’ll move swiftly on before I bore myself right out of my pants.

Z fails to draw part 14. Z loses her temper and blames Betty

I came to the negative space drawing of a chair again. If I’m to follow the book, I have to follow the whole book, even if I don’t like some of the exercises, I decided. But a book that says it’s taking you through a whole process has to play fair and Betty is not playing fair.

So, you put your chair 6-8 feet away and hold up your viewfinder and move it around to find an aspect you like. Right. Now, you focus on a blank space between the various parts of a chair and wait until it pops into focus and becomes what you’re looking at. Right. Now you draw that shape on your viewfinder. Wrong. You are holding up a sheet of perspex or glass and trying to hold it steady with one hand while you’re drawing it with the other. That isn’t on. It moves. I managed to balance it on my crossed-leg knee, held up awkwardly, and get something that wasn’t accurate but wasn’t wildly out. So rightish.

Next, you are supposed to draw that in proportion but scaled up on your paper, using the crosshairs for reference. So it’s a wobbly shape drawn freehand on the paper and you’re not even doing it the same size because, for a reason she doesn’t explain, she wants a bigger picture than the one you’re using on the viewfinder. And the crosshairs are useless because there’s only one cross and it’s probably nowhere near the shape you’ve drawn and only a bit of the upright line is.

I have no idea how to achieve the starting point of this, let alone how to carry on. The rest of the drawing is supposed to be done freehand, this starting shape magically giving the structure to the whole thing. No it doesn’t. I can’t work out how to draw it scaled up, nor even the same size. I don’t know where to put it. I added a few more marks to the viewfinder to try to give me a clue where other parts are, proportionately, but it’s too difficult. I still can’t draw and that’s the point. If I could draw, this might not be impossible but I really can’t. It’s like me giving my clarinet to Tim, singing him a tune and asking him to play it. It would be hard enough for me, if he sang the tune for me as I can’t play the clarinet by ear, but at least I know how to play each note. He doesn’t, so he has no starting point. I don’t here. This is a specific exercise, there isn’t an easy way in to give me the idea. So (the next chapter being on perspective and vanishing points which I understand but find a massive turnoff), I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to make any more progress at all.

My friend Adèle dropped off the sourdough starter and I’ve fed it, ready to give it a go in a few days. I’ve dealt with all the food in the fridge, by freezing, cooking or eating it. Positives, darlings. To try to put myself into a better mood.

Still grumpy, I had another go. I abandoned the viewfinder/picture plane bit because it was impossible to hold steady and draw accurately, just going straight to drawing on paper. I put the chair in front of me rather than against the wall because I needed to sit comfortably rather than perch awkwardly on a chair in the wrong place. I used the vertical and horizontal edges of the radiator to give myself something to judge by.

It’s only too easy to see everything that’s wrong with both attempts. From the angle of the seat in the first one to the shortness of the legs in the second, and everything in between. Although you could see that I was trying quite hard with the second picture and, if I hadn’t run out of paper and got very bored, so couldn’t face trying again with the legs, it might have had potential to be slightly more accurate. I was able to concentrate but not to ignore that I hated the whole process. And I should have picked up that pile of papers, innit.

When will we share…?

Not only am I pretending to draw and pretending to crochet, I’m learning to play bridge too. Turns out that Tim knows. I had no idea about the bidding. This two no trumps malarkey, I didn’t know that it starts above six and it actually means at least 8 tricks and there is no trump suit. I assumed you had to win two that weren’t trumps. Anyway. I also didn’t know that there’s always a dummy. Insert shrug emoji. Which I don’t know how to do.

The other thing that’s going to happen is that a friend will drop off some sourdough starter, obviously with all of us hiding indoors so there’s no accusation of mingling. Though I think we could go for a walk, just the two of us. Anyway, she’s given me some tips and I’ll have a go. I am desperate for entertainment, darlings. Not that Tim isn’t endless fun, but it’s hard to be on stage all the time and I sympathise with him.

January lasted at least three months, but it’s nearly halfway through February already. What’s that about? I know Feb is a short month, but even so, it’s peculiar. Chinese new year coming up. I’m sure we can invent something for dinner with a five spice theme.

Still, all is well at the Zedery. The chickens are reliably providing three eggs a day, which keeps us going nicely. We had soufflé for dinner tonight, which used two days worth.

Over dinner, we reminisced about New Years parties. I’m not at all sure that was wise. I miss people.

For idle hands to do

We were lucky that Wink’s vaccination was on Saturday, no later. As it was, after heavy rain, I had to drive through floods where water was pouring from fields onto the road, but it wasn’t scarily deep. I do have quite a dread of getting stuck in floodwater. All went well, she was quite tired and headachy yesterday but fine today. There’s been snow ever since and the roads have been blocked in places – it’s not so much the quantity of snow but that strong winds have caused drifting and snow ploughs haven’t been able to keep roads clear. Especially as cars and lorries have got stuck and nothing can get through. Farmers help out a lot with their tractors and they got most roads clear by this afternoon, though I see on Facebook that it’s all getting bad again. Some vaccination centres had to close and a local friend couldn’t get down her road to get to her appointment anyway.

When I went out to the chickens this morning, I found a neat path with the snow banked in an elegant natural drift alongside it. I went in one end of the chickens’ greenhouse, to be met by silent, shocked chickens. I thought it was the darkness, because snow on the roof cut a surprising amount of light, but they were afraid because the other door had blown open. Only a few of the chickens have ever seen snow before and, after a very windy night, to have the door bang open and snow blow in upset them a lot. Luckily, no harm done, nothing broken, they all stayed inside. So I gave them treats and several scoops of food, to cheer them up, put some water down to replace the ice in their water dishes and, when I checked on them later, they’d eaten, though they were still quiet and subdued. The barn cats aren’t happy either, so I’m giving them extra food too. Eloise cat is also put out. That is, she’s put out because she can’t go out. She hates snow and sits on the windowsill staring at it. She hasn’t used her litter tray yet, but she’ll just have to, or else brave the white stuff.

As for the three of us, we’re hunkered down nicely. I’m so bored that I’m teaching myself to crochet – Wink has lent me a book (she can’t crochet either, but it’s all sorts of needlework) which explains it very badly and it doesn’t help that the only wool I have is black, so counting stitches isn’t easy. Still, it hardly matters. Keeps me busy, one way or another. Drawing isn’t producing anything worth showing, but also helps to keep me quiet. Otherwise, there’s cooking. Pillar of domesticity, darlings. But Tim is cooking tonight, which is always excellent. And the cleaners did manage to get here, so a clean and tidy house too. They have taken the ironing, too. With this idleness, I need something to keep me out of mischief.

Watching online presentations counts as work. Innit.

No drawing today, I couldn’t find anything. I really disliked doing the chair drawing, which was the reason I tried the photo of Eloise. I did manage a decent drawing of a stool on the glass, but I was so bored by it that I couldn’t be bothered to try to transfer it to paper. I think that it’s a combination of straight lines and symmetrical curves, neither of which I’m able to do and don’t care about. I’ve been looking about for something else that would encourage me with the negative space thing and not be off-putting and I haven’t come up with it yet. I’m fighting myself and this is silly. Never mind.

Good news of the day is that my sister has got a booking to be vaccinated on Saturday. I’ll be a while yet for me, there’s a gap between over-seventies and under-seventies. But it was only nine days ago that she registered with the practice here so this is pretty efficient.

The Head at the high school has been appointed CEO – overall Head – at our fairly new Multi-Academy Trust from September, so Yagnub needs a new Headteacher. Three candidates are shortlisted and they were each giving a ten minute presentation online today. That must have been so difficult, knowing that dozens of people – staff members and governors – were watching, but were silent and invisible. There was a feedback form and I filled it in and sent it. Good wishes to all of them – I did have a 1-3 list and comments and I’ll be interested to find out the result in a week or so, when interviews have been completed. I’m not interviewing so I have no more input, which is a good thing. I’ve let go of stuff like that.

Z fails to draw part 13 – Z fails slightly better

I drew the cat picture upside-down. The angular face was better but the neck was far too wide and actually she did look rather like a gorilla. I drew it again, right way up. I still had the knack of the face, more or less, but the neck was too narrow and her body looked rather like the flamingo croquet mallets in Alice in Wonderland.

I sighed and took stock. What I really wanted to do was get the head right, so I thought I’d try that. I cropped the photo and had another go. Here you are.

Starting at the top, the ear is too wide. It was my second attempt; first time the ear was too narrow. The angle isn’t dreadful, though.

The shape of the face isn’t dreadful. I don’t know how to do that lovely little light on her eye. Her eye bulges and she has a Homer Simpson side-eye. I can improve the bulge but I don’t know how to get the eyeball right.

Between the eye and the nose, it’s slightly more angular than it should be but I’m not too unhappy. The chin is a bit fat underneath. Considering it’s fur and I don’t know how to portray fur, I’m not too miserable about the shading. No idea about whiskers either, but I had a go and there is an impression of whiskers.

Improving. I need to do a grid. I could more or less manage the proportions here but anything bigger was so difficult. Betty said that her pupils counted the squares and they aren’t supposed to, so she banned them, but I am sure I wouldn’t count the squares and I need them, at least at this stage. Is there an easier way than measuring every damn page and painstakingly marking it?

I almost got the nose right and I’m quite pleased with the shading, considering I have no idea what I’m doing with it. But I think I need a break from the cat.

Z feathers Wink’s nest

A week on from his first vaccination, Tim has had no side effects at all, not even tenderness where the needle went in. Eleven weeks until his second, which will probably be about the time I get my first dose. Ho hum. I suppose I should start getting the greenhouse ready for seed sowing, in case we’re stuck here for months.

On an entirely different subject, being reminded because I helped Wink change the bedclothes today, I can recommend a duvet under the bottom sheet if you have aches and pains. I discovered this 37 years ago when, pregnant with Ro, I had bad backache. A decade later, I suggested it to my mother when she was laid up for a week or two – and then I completely forgot about it until Wink mentioned she was waking up uncomfortable in bed, a week or two before her op. It sprang back into my mind, I went and found a single duvet and cover and made the bed with it in place. She says it feels lovely and that’s what I remember – like a feather bed but firm underneath, so you’re supported.

Nothing else, darlings, It’s quite hard to think of things to blog about when nothing is happening (the carpet has dried out nicely, by the way) and I haven’t done any drawing today because I’ve been cooking and lazing.

Zoye’s Fludde

I’ve got a few pot plants in the cloakroom on the windowsill. They’re all succulents and they don’t get watered very often, so the compost gets too dry to soak up water. Yesterday afternoon, I popped them in the washbasin, put in the plug and added a little water and left them for half an hour or so.

I forgot, of course. And it wouldn’t have mattered except for two things. The tap drips just a little bit. And the overflow isn’t connected to anything.

It’s a lovely Edwardian washbasin, which we bought from people we knew when we lived at our last house – they bought an old house and modernised it considerably, selling off all the original features. It’s painted and glazed, but it’s fragile. Trying to stop the tap dripping cracked the china slightly, so we daren’t try any more. You can stop it dripping with care but evidently i didn’t. Soooo – when I went in after lunch, the basin overflow had released a whole lot of water onto the carpet. Luckily, I have a good carpet cleaner – it’s like a big upright vacuum cleaner, with two reservoirs; one for clean water plus soap and the other for sucking up water from the carpet. The next hour was spent sucking up that water. It was probably not the best idea to fill the clean reservoir too, thinking that I might as well wash the carpet while I was at it – when I realised just how much water there was, I washed the hall carpet instead – but at least it was a lot quicker than using all the towels in the house. I couldn’t remember how to use the hose attachment with the small nozzle, so couldn’t suck up the water behind the toilet pan and there’s newspaper and bathmats there, but most of it has been done.

Knackered now, frankly, and it’s only half past nine. This sort of nonsense takes it out of a Z.