Thanksgiving 2015 and a Great Roasted Turkey Recipe for any Festive Occasion

I never really thought that it was important to do the exact same thing every year when celebrating a holiday or event. I still make a point of changing up the food on occasions like our  Christmas and Easter dinner. However, I have found that since having children, there are certain things that I cannot mess with, and if I do, I will ruin or mar their experience and expectations

Our Thanksgiving Turkey cooked by yours truly (recipe below and is great for amateur turkey cookers like myself)

Our Thanksgiving Turkey cooked by yours truly (recipe below and is great for amateur turkey cookers like myself). Try it next time you have the daunting task of being in charge of the focal point of your next big festive dinner.

On our way home in the car from my mother-in-laws house last night my daughter said, “Thanksgiving wasn’t as good this year” and her comment took me by surprise. The whole clan probably turned out the best food in years and surly that was the most important thing? Well, not the case according to my kids (at this point my son had piped in his agreement of it “not being the same as before”).

We all have a stash of pieces of paper like this right? Where you jot down a recipe over the phone or from your mother in a hurry so you can make that special recipe that you gre up with. You have plans of course to catalog it properly for the future but it ends up in a little bag or stuck in some recipe book and pulled out once a year. It becomes this very precious and treasured slip of paper, which will one day find itself in the leaves of a cookbook you handed doen to one of your kids and they will pull it out each year, perhaps forgetting where the recipe came from but

We all have a stash of pieces of paper like this right? Where you jot down a recipe over the phone or from your mother in a hurry so you can make that special recipe that you grew up with for a special event. You have plans of course to catalog it properly in the future but you never do and it ends up in a little bag or stuck in some recipe book and pulled out once a year. It becomes this very precious and treasured slip of paper, which will one day find itself in the leaves of a cookbook you hand down to one of your kids and they will pull it out each year, perhaps forgetting where the recipe came from, but counting on it completely when its time to make this pie or that special beef stew your mother used to make when you were little.

Since moving closer to my husband’s family 12 years ago we have always celebrated Thanksgiving at my husband’s parents house. I never really wanted to take on this holiday because growing up Ireland I did not know about Thanksgiving, nor had ever seen, let alone eaten, pumpkin!

Pumpkin Pie yesterday made using the recipe from Dave's grandmother

Pumpkin Pie yesterday made using the recipe from Dave’s grandmother

My introduction to this holiday was a long time ago at my friend Dave’s friend’s house in a town in upstate New York. They were an older couple, and when I sat at their Thanksgiving table the spread before me felt habituated in tradition and familiarity. They offered me sweet potato pie with white fluffy marshmallow on top like they ate it everyday. So many of the dishes were so alien to me that I did not really know how to approach or even enjoy the meal.

sweet potatoes fries are a great alternative to a sweet potato pie

sweet potatoes fries are a great alternative to a sweet potato pie

It turned out that this particular Thanksgiving dinner was only one take on Thanksgiving food, and what is cooked varies from generation to generation and from family to family. I landed myself in an era and in a house that added a lot of sweet elements to practically everything, from the broiled marshmallow topping to the jello which accompanied the turkey meat. The only remote similarity to anything I had ever eaten was mint jelly with lamb (and that was extremely rare as it is more of an English than an Irish tradition – a bit too posh for us!) and mango chutney on my cheese and toast (another english thing which came from the British Empire expansion into India) which I love to this day to the disgust of my kids who find it distinctly unappealing and adds one more thing to their list of what makes me a weird mother (in a good way I think).

Add butter, parsley & salt to potatoes and serve with chicken (optional)

simply boiled potatoes with chopped fresh parsley 

Over the years I have been to quite a few houses for Thanksgiving and each one had their own unique style of celebrating. The elements that are key however are the same across the board, even if cooked in very different ways. There is always turkey, some kind of sweet potato, yam or squash dish, cranberry relish/dressing, corn in one form or another and pumpkin pie. After that, you can add things like green beans, brussels sprouts, mashed potatoes, meat or bread stuffing and perhaps a salad with something sweet added, like dried cranberries.

the Cranberry & Ginger relish by my sister-in-law Beth...

My Sister-in-law’s Cranberry & Ginger relish

When we moved closer to my husband’s family, it was so much easier to settle into their traditions than try to create my own version of Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law always makes the turkey, mashed potatoes and her mother’s meat dressing (sort of tastes likes an aromatically spiced Shepard’s pie). Our family and my sister-in-law’s family work out the rest of the sides between us. Even though Diane likes to plop out a gelatinous can of cranberry sauce onto the table, my sister-in-law began making a fresh cranberry sauce/relish infused with fresh ginger a few years ago which is sublime (and now she always makes extra for me to take home for my cheese and toast breakfasts) and now we expect her to make it every year.

This was heavenly on my turkey, but works equally well on countless other foods!

This relish was heavenly on my turkey, but works equally well on countless other foods!

I have ended up making various vegetable side dishes (and I always make my mother’s bread stuffing that we had every Christmas day growing up) while Dave makes the pumpkin pies. My sister-in-law’s husband ( I still do not know how I should refer to him, but Bob is his name so I’ll go with that) Bob grew up with an Italian-American mother and so he always brings an unctuous pasta dish that feels celebratory to him. I look forward to this dish because there is always something magical about a dish that someone has been making their whole life that you can never copy, even if you follow the recipe to the letter. I am still trying to unlock the secret to my mother’s bread stuffing and have yet to capture the essence or soul of the dish.

Barly remenbered to take this picture before it dissapeared!

 My version of my mother’s bread stuffing

This year was different because my lovely mother-in-law Diane was under the weather and we insisted that she not darken the door of the kitchen this Thanksgiving and that we kids would take care of everything! That left me in charge of some of the more important components of the meal, namely the turkey – yikes. My strategy was to look at lots of roast turkey recipes to get a sense of things and what would work best for me. There were all sorts of decisions to make: marinate or not marinate, brine or not to brine, barbecue perhaps??? Anyway I went with a slow-cooked method with lots of basting but pretty straightforward. That way, while the turkey lazily cooked, I could get on with all the other dishes I committed to preparing, (and I was severely committed).

Baked onions, a new Thanksgiving side dish

Baked onions, a new Thanksgiving side dish

I stuck to what I knew about roasting chickens and adjusted for the weight (15lbs, small really by Thanksgiving standards). I used a very basic mirepoix (celery, carrots and some fresh herbs from my garden, along with a lemon from the grocery store!) and white wine and it was pretty darn wonderful. So much so that I want to share it with all of you who might have to tackle this job on the 25th of December.

Turkey Melt with Hot "Slaw"

Leftover Turkey Melt with Hot “Slaw”

But back to why my kids were disappointed yesterday. When we got to Diane’s house she was lying on the couch and asked if it was okay if she didn’t join us at the table and we could hang out with her after dinner. Of course, but we felt bad and made a seating adjustment to make sure she was not left out completely. Some of us sat around the ample kitchen table and the rest set up a makeshift table in the living room with Diane, and this is how we ate our Thanksgiving dinner. The dining room felt so much further off so this was a good compromise. (I liked it better in some ways as the food was all right there with no schlepping dishes to the center of the dining room table and the usual running back to the kitchen for forgotten items).

I finished off my baked onions with a fresh cream, thyme and cheese sauce

I finished off my baked onions with a fresh cream, thyme and cheese sauce

I asked why it was not “good this year” and she told me that it was not the same because we were not all sitting together in the formal dining room. I didn’t even think about this. She said she missed the food running down the center of the table in lovely bowls and the big ceramic turkey (that Grammy insisted on being there) right in the middle of it all, and how we all went around the table to say one thing we were thankful for (always a dreaded moment for some, including me – so hard not to sound cliché). She said the food was good but that it didn’t taste the same from the plate sitting on her lap on the couch.

Yesterday I roasted sweet potatoes with whole garlic cloves which we could the slather over

Yesterday I roasted sweet potatoes with whole garlic cloves which we then slathered over the cooked potatoes – truly yummy

Wow – I completely got it of course. I am the one who always insists, no matter how many people are crammed into our house for any kind of party, that we use real glasses and real plates. I cannot stand eating from paper plates and drinking wine from a plastic cup! The dining room at her grandmother’s house is so different from her own. It is filled with heavy dark wood which is carved and serious-looking. The seat and seat back of the chairs are all covered in a rough tapestry fabric with dark wood to match the side boards and table. There is a chandelier hanging from the ceiling and we eat in this room exactly once a year, each Thanksgiving.

My turkey roasted on this makeshift rack of veggies

My turkey roasted on this makeshift “rack” of veggies

This room has become the very heart of Thanksgiving for her, and my son. When they get excited about this holiday they picture the turkey with all of the trimmings, and that dining room. And she was right. It was different for me as a grown-up whose life has been made up of making adjustments and juggling my way through unforseen obstacles. I did not think anything of shifting from the dining room to the kitchen and the couches and chairs in the living room. However, it did make a difference to them and I felt sorry that their experience was lessened. I told them that we didn’t think about the implications but that next year we would make more of an effort (even if someone is sick, we can prop them up in a comfy chair!) to all sit around the table and eat together. And now that I think about it, we never did say what we were all thankful for either.

Sweetcorn always makes an appearance on the Thanksgiving table (this year in the form of corn bread)

Sweetcorn always makes an appearance on the Thanksgiving table (this year in the form of corn bread)

I don’t think it was a total disaster by any stretch, but I just wanted to comment on how we count on things when we are young. It was very poignant to hear my kids talking in this way and made me more aware of how we unconsciously shape their childhood memories. I will tread more mindfully in the future. After all, I don’t want them to end up on some psych couch blaming me for all of their problems (that’s a joke folks). 

So here at last is the ROAST TURKEY RECIPE (serves 12-15)

You will need:

1 12-15lb turkey (whatever quality bird you can afford)

1 head garlic – peeled and finely minced

1/2 salt

1 tbls fresh thyme leaves

1 tbs tomato paste

1 tbs honey

juice of 1 lemon (save the juiced lemon for the cavity)

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

several grinds black pepper

3 sticks of celery, broken in half

2 cups baby carrots or 3 carrots cut lengthways and cut in half

2 to 3 stalks of sage with leaves

bunch of fresh thyme with stems

2 cups white wine (Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon blanc)

2 tbs all-purpose flour

2 tbs soft unsalted butter

Method:

Preheat oven to 400*

Each pound of meat will take 14 minutes to cook so write down the time you put your turkey into the oven and calculate the time it will be done and write this time down also. It will save you guessing and being confused later!

1 – finely chop the garlic with the thyme leaves, salt and pepper until is looks paste-like. place in a small bowl and add the tomato paste, honey, lemon juice and olive oil. mix together.

Mixture to season turkey

Mixture to season turkey

2 – pat the turkey dry and then run your hand between the skin and the flesh to separate. Take some of the mixture and insert it between the skin and the flesh, covering as much of the area as you can open up. Rub it very well. Rub about 3 tablespoons of the mixture all over the outside of the bird.

3 – put the thyme leaves and the juiced lemon halves into the cavity.

4 – Arrange the celery, sage and carrots in the bottom of your roasting pan (like a rack – see picture in this blog post) and set the turkey breast side down on top.

5 – Turn the oven down to 325* place into oven. Cook for 30 minutes and then pour a cup of the wine over the turkey and cook for another 30 minutes. Pour the last cup of wine over the bird and continue to cook. Baste turkey every half hour or so.

6 – one hour before your turkey is cooked, remove from oven and turn turkey over so it is breast side up. Baste and cook for the last hour basting once halfway through.

7 – remove from oven when your turkey reads 175* and remove to platter and loosely cover with foil. Rest for 30 minutes.

8 – strain the turkey juices and skim off as much of the fat on the surface as you can. Place back in roasting pan or into clean saucepan and bring to a low boil. Mix 2 tablespoons of soft butter and 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour together until you form as paste (called a roux)

whisk roux into pan juices..

whisk roux into pan juices..

9 – Add the roux to your gravy and stir quickly with a whisk to disperse. Stir for about 2 minutes and cook for about 5 minutes more so the flour cooks into the gravy. Taste gravy and adjust for salt.

Remove to platter and cover. rest for 30 minutes before carving

Remove to platter and cover. Rest for 30 minutes before carving

Carve turkey and serve with gravy.

 

Forgot to Get the Dinner rolls for Thanksgiving Dinner??? MAKE THIS CORN BREAD INSTEAD – FAST, EASY AND DELICIOUS!

🍗

First, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who celebrates this holiday!  I have embraced it with a vengeance this year because for the first time I have been put in charge of the turkey. It is in the oven as I write this little post and the house smells divine, not only because of the roasting bird but the aroma of the two pumpkin pies made earlier this morning is still hanging in the air.

Super Quick Corn Bread and better than bought rolls any day!

Super Quick Corn Bread and better than bought rolls any day!

 I will let you know how it all went later but for now I want to get this recipe out there in case anyone is panicking over needing that one last thing OR you were supposed to make something for the table but you forgot (oops!) or you couldn’t find the time yesterday. This is easy and quick and you will look like a seasoned pro if you arrive with this in your hands. Even if you have to go to the grocery store – it is still fast!

Just out of oven - Pumpkin Pie - cracked but will still taste as delicious!

Just out of oven – Pumpkin Pie – cracked but will still taste as delicious!

QUICK Corn Bread (serves 15 squares)

You will need:

2 cups corn meal (the course kind works the best but whatever you have on hand will work)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

2 tbs sugar

1 tsp baking soda

6 tbs unsalted cold butter (if you only have salted – just use it and reduce salt to 1/2 tsp)

2 cups buttermilk

2 large eggs

Corn Bread made and cooked in under 45 minutes

Corn Bread made and cooked in under 45 minutes

Preheat oven 350*

  1. Mix the flour, corn meal, baking soda, salt and sugar in a mixing bowl with a hand whisk or your hands.
  2. Slice the cold butter into the flour and knead with fingertips until you have a nice rubble-like texture
  3.  Mix the egg and buttermilk together and add to the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until you have a wet dough.
  4. Spread into a greased dish (I used a rectangular pan (12 x 8 x 1 1/2 inches) and bake for about 25 to 30 minutes (until a knife in the center comes out clean).
  5. Cool. Cut into squares and ready to go!
Things to do with cut-up paper and a single flower petal!

Have a wonderful day (cool centerpiece made with cut paper and a little flower by my teenage daughter who was bored earlier this morning!)

A FRIVOLOUS SUNDAY BREAKFAST – CHOCOLATE SCONES (makes 12-18)

 This Sunday morning was blissfully lazy wherein the only pressure I placed on myself was to make something truly indulgent (and woefully chocolate-y) for breakfast.

My Frivolous Breakfast

My Frivolous Breakfast ( this plate was made by a wonderful potter, Randy Johnston (click on his name to see the wonders for yourself!

I can make scones with my eyes closed. It is one of those recipes that can be altered to suit any kind of dish, sweet or savory. When I was growing up scones were plain or, if you were feeling decadent, you could make them with dried currants. 

Lemon Curd for Selma

Here I had my plain scone with some Lemon Curd (which is really easy to make and here is the recipe)

I make small batches as they are best fresh out of the oven. I opt for plain scones for the most part because then I can have them with butter and jam or serve them with a runny fried egg.

Hot Paprika Chicken with Buttermilk Scone Crust

This is an instance where I made my scone crust savory by omitting sugar and adding black pepper and grated sharp cheddar to the recipe (Hot Paprika Chicken with Buttermilk Scone Crust)

When I came to the United States I found that scones had taken on a life of their own. They were enormous, (usually big triangular-shaped monstrosities) in countless flavor varieties, but I am sorry to say, overly sweet for me. I cannot say I have warmed to them after 20 years. What I do appreciate is that wonderful American trait of not being afraid to mess with tradition. Which is why when I saw a recipe the other day for Chocolate Scones I was intrigued and ready to give them a try.

For breakfast, or, Afternoon Tea

 A scone is also a wonderful vehicle for freshly whipped cream and raspberry jam – great for Afternoon tea

While the premise of this recipe was great (adding chocolate – and I have added chocolate chips to my humble mixture in the past) I found it too finicky (using a mixer for the dough and cutting the dough into 3 pieces and then cutting triangles, as well as greasing the baking pan – all very laborious for my Sunday morning anyway), and too ingredient specific.

This is my saturday breakfast

Chocolate Chip Scones hot out of the oven

However, the revelation was adding cocoa powder (I’d never done that before) and adding an egg which made the dough richer. This recipe also called for dried cherries and this is certainly something I would have done if I had dried cherries (and I suppose a little more elevated than my little currants), but I am never put off by a lack of an ingredient and decided that more chocolate would substitute just fine!

In Ireland, where this butter comes from, they do not measure in "sticks" but happily now the marketing department at the Kerrygold headquarters have realised if they package butter like this for the US: they will sell more of this glorious butter!

In Ireland, where this butter comes from, they do not measure in “sticks” but happily now the marketing department at the Kerrygold headquarters have realised if they package butter like this for the US: they will sell more glorious butter!

So I made the scone taking my usual unsophisticated route and they were quite spectacular. I want to thank the original recipe for inspiration however as I would never have put cocoa powder in my recipe. If you want to try the other recipe (which is probably worth the trouble), it is here!

My version of the Chocolate Scone (which will definitely be added to my long list of: how many ways can I make a scone)

My version of the Chocolate Scone (which will definitely be added to my long list of: how many ways can I elevate the lowly scone

When the scones came out of the oven and the blast of chocolate-y odor wafted up the stairs, within minutes I was not alone in the kitchen anymore. Ah the power of warm confections

☕️

You will need:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa powder

1/3 cup raw sugar (if you don’t have raw sugar, use white granulated sugar)

1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)

1 tsp baking powder

1 tsp salt

6 tbs unsalted good quality butter (high butterfat content)

1 cup dark chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli 60% cacao)

1 egg

1 1/4 cups buttermilk (whole or non-fat is fine)

Method:

Preheat oven to 400*

1.In a large bowl mix the together with a manual whisk the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Mix all the dry ingredients together (excelpt the choc chips)

Mix all the dry ingredients together (except the choc chips)

2. Slice the cold butter into the dry ingredients and knead it into the flour with your fingertips until it feels dispersed and “rubble-like” Add the chocolate chips and mix into flour with wooden spoon or your hands.

3. Mix the egg with the buttermilk in a smaller bowl with a fork and add to the flour mixture. Mix together with a wooden spoon until it comes together. If it feel dry (floury bits in the bottom of the bowl) add a little more buttermilk until it comes together.

Cut or press out shapes of scone dough for baking

Cut or press out shapes of scone dough for baking

4. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and pat down to form a thick slab. Using a cookie cutter (I used a fluted round cutter 2 inches in diameter but a little bigger is fine too), punch out the dough and place scone on lightly floured baking sheet. Keep gathering the dough together and flattening until all the dough is used up. Do not overwork the dough and don’t get too hung up on getting perfect shapes etc.

Place scone dough on lightly floured baking sheet

Place scone dough on lightly floured baking sheet

5. Place in preheated oven and bake for 18 minutes (leave in longer if you check and feel they need a minute or two more. All ovens vary in temperature). Remove to a wire rack the moment you take them from the oven.

Hot out of oven

Hot out of oven

Wait about 3 minutes before splitting and serving with butter or butter and raspberry jam (the jam addition is sublime)

ETSY AND ME: A possible Love Story

Etsy has been quickly using the power of this high-tech world of ours in an effort to get us back to some good old-fashioned shopping. What or who is Etsy you may ask? You might already know! But I want to add my two cents, along with touting work I would never have found but for this enormously wide-reaching site that is the home to millions of little shops (of course I will incorporate  food to merit the inclusion of this post in my blog. Food, which covertly anchors everything else that I love to it: anything that smacks of creativity)

Chocolate-Filled Candy Mushrooms by Andie's Specialty Sweets

Chocolate-Filled Candy Mushrooms by Andie’s Specialty Sweets

Etsy became part of my life when I (well myself and my guy Dave) decided to sell some of our work on Etsy at the advice of a friend. This was a little over two years ago when Jenny Mendes, ( 💚  ) told me she was doing well in this cyber marketplace and that we should give it a shot. Jenny’s work is not exactly main stream (hurrah) and so a recommendation from her was a good lead as far as I was concerned. Our work was also not your average manufactured dross so I thought it might be the right fit for us also?

Jenny Mendes: My dear sweet friend and reason I looked into Etsy (Unique Toothpick Bird Vase - Harry

Jenny Mendes: My dear sweet friend and reason I looked into Etsy (Unique Toothpick Bird Vase – Harry)

I am an impulsive person in so many (what I like to think are wonderful) ways – like having a dinner party last minute or buying a really impractical pair of shoes because I love the color. But, when it comes to the work, our work, I turn into my other self, my business-y and investigative self.

The "Brown" Bag // Caramel Brown WAXED Canvas Lunch Bag, an updated, eco-friendly classic by Italic Home

The “Brown” Bag. WAXED Canvas Lunch Bag, an updated, eco-friendly classic by Italic Home

So off I went into Research Mode and asked the logical question: What is Etsy anyway? Their mission statement was impressive to start and merited a deeper look. The mission in a powerful 13-word sentence stating it wanted: TO REIMAGINE COMMERCE IN WAYS THAT BUILD A MORE FULFILLING AND LASTING WORLD.

Modern Mailbox made of Teak and Stainless Steel by CeCe Works

Modern Mailbox of Teak and Stainless Steel by CeCe Works

That is a very beautiful thing and I decided that if they were being sincere, then I would not mind adding our shop to that banner. It is a big thing to think that your business could do something fulfilling and lasting in this seemingly throwaway society of ours?

Miniature greenhouse structure by 2of2

Miniature greenhouse structure by 2of2

And on top of that, perhaps a little contradictory to use tons of data analysis, strategic planning, and other techno-stuff to figure out how to give me, the shopper, curled up on my couch at my computer in rural Pennsylvania, the experience of having a fun interaction with someone across the country or across the globe, that felt meaningful on a human level?

Etsy somehow figured out that there were artists all over the globe who “make things” either on a big scale or on a very tiny scale. Each end of this spectrum was essential for Etsy to fulfill its mission if it wanted to, as it stated, reimagine commerce and make the world a better, and I’d argue, a more connected place: like a community.

Concrete Hexi-Bowl

Concrete Hexi-Bowl by Culinarium

The word community is bandied about quite a bit these days as organizations and businesses strive to appear more involved on a human level by establishing a neighborhood vibe rather than having the appearance of some towering austere company where turning a profit is the bottom line.

ColorCube by PAPERWOLF

ColorCube by PAPERWOLF

There is nothing wrong with making money but it is hard to stomach hearing the word community being used when it comes from the giant jaws of corporations and conglomerates that don’t  feel city-like, let alone village-y.

woody elephant by Bunny with a Toolbelt

woody elephant by Bunny with a ToolBelt

In the primitive sense of the word a community is a group of people who live and work together, and this fact alone binds them into a tightly knit group. They usually hold similar ideals and values and in a crisis work together in harmony for the welfare of the entire group.

large botanical chart, red orange variations, mixed media print by

large botanical chart –  mixed media print by Susan Farrington

And in a more modern sense and taking the definition a step further you could then say that anyone who holds the same beliefs, philosophies or principles as you belongs to the same community. I can buy that.

Arcs Furoshiki. Japanese eco wrapping textile/scarf, handmade in Japan by

Arcs Furoshiki. Japanese eco scarf, handmade in Japan by The Link collective

As in, if I meet someone in a museum in Russia drooling over the same painting, or I am on a train in China and I see someone reading one of my favorite authors (The same book would be too coincidental don’t you think even for this expository example!) I cannot help but feel a kind of kinship with this person, a connection of sorts.  Even this vague and tenuous thing can bridge the worlds of  two strangers.

Felt Cat Nap Cocoon by

Felt Cat Nap Cocoon by Vaivanat

I think now more than ever the feeling of alienation sends us into panic mode. Everyone wants to belong to some kind of group or team, and you could say that Etsy took advantage of our weakness. But is this such a bad thing? I have given this some thought and decided that I don’t feel resentful or used. Because at this point, whatever the intention, I feel I have benefited from the experiment, or business decision or bright idea that so and so (Rob Kalin & a few friends) had in his apartment in Brooklyn in 2005.

Flame Birch French Breadboard by Cattails Woodwork

Flame Birch French Breadboard by Cattails Woodwork

So what happened next: Etsy became the Global Marketplace where any artist/maker of anything, big or small, could run a shop pretty much on their own terms. They could own a little piece of cyber real estate to sell their wares and call the shots.

Yunomi. Tumbler or Whiskey Cup. Soda Fired with Leaf Decoration (#9) by Ron Philbeck Pottery

Yunomi. Tumbler or Whiskey Cup. Soda Fired with Leaf Decoration (#9) by Ron Philbeck Pottery

  They are people out there who are compelled to make “things”.  They could be doing this full-time like myself and my husband, or they may have a real job, or have chosen to stay at home to raise their children, or retired and living in the woods somewhere. No matter what the situation, at some point each day or each week, they have a project going of one kind or another that they are passionate about. This is the one ingredient that these people cannot live without: PASSION

Funky Danish modern chair

Funky Danish modern chair reinvented by boltonk

 Even misguided or mishandled passion can survive on Etsy. Why? Because it does not have to be monumental work to survive or monumental work to give satisfaction and pleasure. It can truly be a very simple desire with humble expectations.

Chest of Drawers by Senkki

Chest of Drawers by Senkki

But of course it can also be a dream that yearns to be fulfilled on a gigantic scale. You can see it all on Etsy if you pay attention, and observe this vast village of makers of pretty much everything and anything.

Chilli peppers hand crochet by Plad

Chilli peppers hand crochet by Plad

Before Etsy, or Market places like Etsy were created, lots of the great things people made were seen by almost nobody, unless of course the person had the resources and stock of goods to set up at a craft show and even then, this sort of endeavor takes time and money and is risky.

Modernist Closed Form Studio Pottery Vase with White Speckled Glaze by Civilized Modern

Modernist Closed Form Studio Pottery Vase with White Speckled Glaze by Civilized Modern

How could say the lady in Finland or Wisconsin or London making felted hats, while her kids are at school or tucked away in bed, have any hope of selling them? Or that man who lives in the woods who makes chopping boards and lovely wooden spoons from the wood of the dead trees on his property could ever dream that someone in New York City or Paris would get the chance to use his tools in their kitchen?

Maria S.C. single test tubes chandelier by Pani Jurek

Maria S.C. single test tubes chandelier by Pani Jurek

Yes, there are a millions of sites on the internet where you can buy stuff, but there are few places for me to support people like me, people who make thoughtful and beautiful things in small quantities with love and pride.

Stacked Plywood Table by Thomas J Collection

Stacked Plywood Table by Thomas J Collection

We talk about buying local and supporting small businesses, but sometimes it is not always easy to do, because things can get expensive and take too much time to source. How can you manage buying something in todays marketplace and feel good about it? Could Etsy be a good backup plan if buying local doesn’t work out or proves impossible or too costly? After all, a good portion of the reason you buy (well I buy) local is to support the individuals who believe in something enough to go to the trouble of providing it themselves.

Dr K Beard Oil/Tonic by Dr. K Soap Company

Dr K Beard Oil/Tonic by Dr. K Soap Company

Simply put: Etsy is an online shopping site where you can walk through a virtual craft show (in fact the whole idea for Etsy was modeled on big open craft shows where all sorts of artist vendors sell their wares to the public). As an artist/maker of things, you can start your shop with a handful of items and Etsy charges very affordable fees so even the tiniest of shops can go global! And they do, in droves!

"Found Coral" ring by Jamie Jo Fisher

“Found Coral” ring by Jamie Jo Fisher

Finding good quality hand-made art and craft at a show comes with a price tag. I did high-end craft shows for years here in the United States and my prices were not as reasonably priced as I would have liked because I had to take so much more than my time and materials into consideration. There was the booth fee (thousands of dollars for a 10×10 booth), staying in a hotel, travel, food and also making sure my prices did not undercut my wholesale buyers, meaning that no matter what I thought was fair for me (the actual wholesale price), I had to double for my retail customers. Then there was the fact that anything could happen; it could snow, the stock market could be down that day, the guy next to you could be selling something so garish that shoppers cross the aisle for feel of being contaminated by ugly art!

Modernist Oval Pendant Light by Mark Douglass Design

Modernist Oval Pendant Light by Mark Douglass Design

I began to feel like I was putting the things I worked hard to make into the hands of an entity which I could not control. I was letting someone else dictate who my market was and the value of my work? That’s fine if it is working, but when the market changes  I’m afraid even the artsy people of this world must sit up and pay attention, AND JOIN IN!

Organic Castille Soap by Pure Naked Soap

Organic Castille Soap by Pure Naked Soap

We all embrace something that is new and edgy and Etsy was embraced with a vengeance. I have intentionally focused my blurb about Etsy on the vendors who actually make work and sell it, but Etsy has two other categories of vendors: Vintage Goods and Craft Supplies. Vintage Goods are pretty much anything you can think of made before 1996 and Craft Supplies are shops who sell craft components and tools for makers, be they professionals or hobbyists.

Mini Zine - Handmade Book. Five Czechoslovakian Cat Ladies by Faye Moorhouse Illustration

Mini Zine – Handmade Book. Five Czechoslovakian Cat Ladies by Faye Moorhouse Illustration

The majority of the shops on Etsy are very small and run by one or two people. Some have become very successful (well done!) and now have employees who help with the manufacturing of larger quantities, but they are still small, even in the eyes of what we think a “small business” really is. In a world where everything is beginning to look the same, Etsy is a place where you can search the four corners of the world and find something that has been touched by human hands.

Indigo Leather Handbound Journal by Odelae

Indigo Leather Handbound Journal by Odelae

You have to forget fighting against the fact that Etsy has become it’s own strange money-making machine and appreciate what it has done for the potter in north Carolina and the jeweler or soap maker making working in his or her tiny apartment in some city in Eastern Europe. These little microcosmic shops under the Etsy umbrella make creativity possible for just about anyone who ever dreamed about being a maker of one kind or another.

TRICOLOR SNAKE SKIN Ring - Architectural Ring by The Ring Forge (that's me!)

Tri-Metal Ring by The Ring Forge (that’s us!)

As it became a place for individuals whose aspirations did not extend beyond just having the satisfaction of having a little something of themselves out there, it also became a place for people like myself, who were full-time studio artists and actively rethinking our own little mission statements. We (at least I) wanted to broaden my audience and put the burden of responsibility of making sure the work got out there on my own shoulders and on my own terms. Etsy became part of the business plan. It became another tool, another facet of a bigger plan for many artists to gain exposure.

 

Handmade plywood modern hanging ceiling cup ecological minimal by AAarchiTECtureLab

aaarchitecturellab Handmade plywood modern hanging ceiling cup ecological minimal by AAarchiTECtureLab

It also created a place for designers ( interior designers,  clothing designers, and product designers) to showcase their work. These artists use Etsy like a Show Room, many of them creating stunning and ultra-cool backdrops to highlight their work. I feel that anyone who takes Etsy seriously will be taken seriously. It is a very cheap way to find out what your potential is and how your work can make an impact on the world. It makes you think big while not giving up your independence and values.

If you take Etsy’s mission statement to heart and block out all the stuff that can annoy you about this marketplace (yes, we will have to talk about that too!) you can really do great things and surprise yourself. I have read enough stories, articles and interviews to know that Etsy has most definitely changed lives for the better.

Pomegranate Pendant in Ruby and Oxidized Silver by Artesserae

Pomegranate Pendant in Ruby and Oxidized Silver by Artesserae

My challenge was figuring out what to sell (I make jewelry for the most part, by hand, real metalsmithing here folks!). I love the whole research and development stage and that is how I took Etsy on. I looked at what we make, I looked at what was doing well and where our paths crossed. I found a niche that we could happily fill and before we made one thing for our little shop I already knew it would work for us.

Top Mount Sliding Barn Door Hardware by NW Artisan Hardware

Top Mount Sliding Barn Door Hardware by NW Artisan Hardware

The thing that was a learning curve was figuring out the whole “Etsy Culture” and there certainly is a culture, an atmosphere, and a way of doing business here. How can I describe it? Well, it is sort of cutesy, like when people include that little smiley face after their name (like Tess:) or Tess😀) – ha! I know, it sounds a little sweet but I have to say that it works and once you take on that air of being totally helpful and going out of your way to connect on a human level, it pays off. Not just monetarily, but in that sense where it is not just a sale you are making, but a sweet little connection with the buyer. I have always loved selling our work because I really do love that interaction so I suppose Etsy and me were destined to get along.

French Press by Yield Design

French Press by Yield Design

So here I am going on and on about my possible love affair with Etsy when I know that there are other things that need to be said out loud too. Etsy wants to be the marketplace for the handmade and vintage but if I were one of the Etsy Folks who trolled the site for items and shops that did not live up to the claimed principles and doctrine, I would Red Flag thousands of products. And I’m not just talking about things that are not my taste. I have to call out all of those vendors who use manufactured parts in their work and then call it handmade. These components are made in massive quantities by people working for unacceptable wages and shipped out to you who pawn them off as “handmade” on Etsy. I am a very visually observant person who notices details but it doesn’t take an astute eye to see the exact same component being used by hundreds of different vendors in their work and then claiming it as their own.

Grain Salt Cellar - a modern wood salt dish by Fixstudio

Grain Salt Cellar – a modern wood salt dish by Fixstudio

This is where Etsy looses me and makes it only a possible love affair. I love you Etsy but we might need therapy to see eye to eye, but that means you will also have to change. I have kept up my side of your bargain but you are falling short. Perhaps there are not enough “makers of things” on your payroll to see your vision through? I am not against ugly or even shoddy work that is handmade, I am against shops who say they made something that they clearly didn’t and then proceed to undercut work in the same genre that IS handmade by selling at lower prices (when you buy something for nothing, you can sell it for next-to-nothing and still make a profit!)

vintage 1990's Mondrian sweater from Carnival of the Maniac

vintage 1990’s Mondrian sweater from Carnival of the Maniac You may wonder why I have included this? It is the only vendor I feature who does not make their product. However, this guy (and the guy modelling is the owner of this shop) demonstrates the best use of creativity on Etsy I have ever seen! I mean, he is so good at presented his products I might even buy this sweater! The link above is a really great insight into his work ethic and his passion to make the absolute most of his opportunity to be himself.

Hey, I am only calling you out because of your Policy Page.  If you could add that you welcome work that is made out of totally prefabricated and mass-produced parts, made who knows where, then I think it would be better. I see all of this and yes, I have learned to ignore it and do my best to be uncompromising in my work. I think perhaps you need to be uncompromising too and begin the process of shutting down all of the shops selling dishonest products to unsuspecting customers. It may mean less money, but over time, I guarantee you will lose the “HANDMADE” appearance of the site as true makers will slowly feel pushed out and undermined. Do you secretly want to be Amazon?

The Journey Bag: Truffle by Peg and Awl

The Journey Bag: Truffle by Peg and Awl

I do think that Etsy is a great place to sell handmade work and I would give it a try if you want to see what you are made of, but stay true to the original mission of the company and you will never have to hang your head.

Etsy does have a Manufacturing Policy and here is a link to it:

ETSY MANUFACTURING POLICIES

If you read it in detail, even if you disagree with allowing for a manufacturing policy in the first place, it clearly states that all manufacturers that vendors use must be approved by filling out an application and must be “operating a safe and just workplace” and that does not:

  1. Does not use any child labor in any aspect of your work;
  2. Does not use any involuntary labor in any aspect of your work;
  3. Is free of coercion and intimidation against workers;
  4. Is an equal opportunity workplace and does not tolerate discrimination; and
  5. Takes care to minimize impact to workers and the environment, including by a) practicing the safe storage and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste; and b) providing safety-related education and protective equipment to workers.

As you can see they have commendable rules in place but my point is that they are doing a very sub-par job of enforcing those rules. Just saying that stating something or believing something is not good enough.

Recycled Book Paper Sculpture by bookBW

Recycled Book Paper Sculpture by bookBW

The funny thing is that Etsy still lives a very cool and super-innovative life as a company. Employees work in as green a building as they can make it. They recycle absolutely everything, down to composting and taking it all to the various recycling centers on their bikes for crying out loud. They volunteer in the community and shop at the Farmer’s Market! Who wouldn’t want to be part of that? This is why this huge discrepancy saddens me so much.

figure with pale yellow skirt - an original gouache portrait sketch by Cathy Cullis. This artist does not sell on Etsy anymore but I really wanted to include her work because I love it

Figure with Pale Yellow skirt – an original gouache portrait sketch by Cathy Cullis. This artist does not sell on Etsy anymore but I really wanted to include her work because I love it (I did include a link to her blog spot!)

All the work I featured in this post is made by true makers of things. It feels and looks special in one way or another. I wanted to show this work and hopefully send some business their way. To my eye, this work is the work that Etsy really and truly wants to sell – so let’s have more of it…….

hand felted brooch - hazelnut fox by Creations from the North

hand felted brooch – hazelnut fox by Creations from the North

and less of this ( I hate to show pictures  but I think we need a comparison to get my point across). I picked the same component and got over 22,000 hits. Here are 10 Lotus blossom Necklaces on generic chains from 10 different shops (if you can believe it). You know, I don’t even mind the un-originality. The lotus is a sweet symbol of purity in body, speech and mind, but these are bought components from big manufacturing companies that have no place in the Etsy philosophy. Unfortunately there are thousands of products that look like this on Etsy. I hope you can see the big gap between the work I have chosen that symbolizes for my what Etsy stands for and the pieces below.

lotus 10lotus 9lotus 8lotus 7lotus 6lotus 5lotus 4lotus 3lotus 2lotus 1

WOW– I know it seems I have ended on a bad note but perhaps you will not make it to the end of this long rambling post! I do take pride in this blog of mine. I write about all the good things in my life and how the good should shine brighter than the bad. I have made an effort to not be one of those complainers because God knows I hear my share of it on a daily basis. It is not as cool to be an optimist I suppose but I am okay with writing about the good stuff and to hopefully rub off on the world in a positive way.

Jay Bird Lino Printed Gift Wrap by Handmade and Heritage. Here is a typical Etsy story: Handmade and Heritage is an evolution of many creative ideas over the years. When I decided to become a stay-at-home-mum I found myself needing to keep busy in the evenings and when my daughter was at nursery. I've tried bead work and cardmaking but I wanted to try something more traditional and which I could incorporate my love of British nature and birds. Printing gift wrap was an idea I stumbled across when experimenting with some lino. I also like to embroider small trinkets - something which I am hoping to explore further with, in the future. After 7pm my dining room table turns into my work space and I print from home. I am hoping to have a studio space soon so I can claim my dining table back!

Jay Bird Lino Printed Gift Wrap by Handmade and Heritage. Here is a typical Etsy story: Handmade and Heritage is an evolution of many creative ideas over the years. When I decided to become a stay-at-home-mum I found myself needing to keep busy in the evenings and when my daughter was at nursery. I’ve tried bead work and card making but I wanted to try something more traditional and which I could incorporate my love of British nature and birds.
Printing gift wrap was an idea I stumbled across when experimenting with some lino. I also like to embroider small trinkets – something which I am hoping to explore further with, in the future.
After 7pm my dining room table turns into my work space and I print from home. I am hoping to have a studio space soon so I can claim my dining table back!

 Etsy has been the inspiration and instigator for lots of new and wonderful websites who want to sell handmade products, and they should be proud of that fact. But they have to continue to work hard on being a “mindful, transparent and Human Business”

So, Good Luck Etsy and stay the course!

Carrie - Ceramic Bird Sculpture by Jenny Mendes

Again, thank you Jenny for introducing me to Etsy. It is work like yours that makes Etsy so great.  Carrie – Ceramic Bird Sculpture by Jenny Mendes

 

“AN EXEMPLARY VEGETABLE” with a recipe for EXCELLENT BOILED POTATOES

An excellent little plate of boiled potatoes

An excellent little plate of boiled potatoes and what makes them sing is the knob of butter, flaky sea salt and fresh parsley

I referred to a line from Pride and Prejudice when writing a recipe in a post in 2011 ((click THIS to see recipe), and I cannot tell you how many times the phrase “excellent boiled potatoes” has brought people to my blog! It makes me feel bad when they discover there is in fact no recipe to be found for this much sought after potato dish, and it is high time I put that to rights!

Georgous potatoes from the local Good Work Farm

Local Fingerling Potatoes; these potatoes have a wonderful buttery and almost nutty flavor.

If you are bewildered as to what I am referring to, it is this: (in a 21 second nutshell)

Johnstown Castle and Gardens built right at the time Jane Austin wrote how the Bennett sisters would tromp over hill and dale in all weathers

Johnstown Castle and Gardens in County Wexford, Ireland, built right around the time (early 19th century) Jane Austin wrote marvelous descriptions of her characters traipsing over the English landscape.

I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that I will watch any movie based on the books of Jane Austin. Some are better than others, but my very favorites are Pride and Prejudice (both the 1995 BCC mini-series version and the 2005 Focus Features movie) and Sense and Sensibility, (starring Emma Thomas who also wrote the screen play and whose is an exemplary actor herself)

I love little potatoes.

I love little potatoes.

Anyway, the reference to “excellent boiled potatoes” came from the lips of an odious cousin of the Bennett Family who were obliged to entertain him. He was ingratiating himself in every way possible and when he asked to “which of my fair cousins” should he thank for making the dish, Mrs Bennett cut him in two with a remark that they were “perfectly able to keep a cook!” (I am quoted from memory here which exposes my true inner-fan heart!)

Toss potatoes into parsley butter

A veritable cornucopia of color: Potatoes tossed with butter, salt and fresh parsley.

I don’t really think for a minute that most people would go to such lengths to find this recipe (it is only a bowl of plain potatoes after all), if they were not so fascinated and enthralled by that scene at the dinner table. It captured the atmosphere of a family dinner where one has to put up with unwanted company so perfectly: the quiet clatter of cutlery on plates, the ting of glasses, the sidelong glances of family members to each other, along with some muffled snickering at the poor guests expense.

Boil potatoes..

Boiling potatoes..

When he inquires about the potatoes you have already been salivating over the meal, and the quick pan of the camera over the potato bowl is a hard thing to forget. Mr Collins (the undesirable guest), also describes the potatoes with words that are usually reserved for a more elegant vegetable such as asparagus or artichokes. Adjectives like “exemplary” and “excellent” only heighten your impulse to jump through the screen and try them for yourself.

Boil baby potatoes and slice in half.

Boil baby potatoes and slice in half.

So, I want to boldly suggest that it was not the potatoes you fell in love with at all: it was Jane Austin herself! But, I will give you the recipe anyway, just so you can complete the movie by actually tasting it too.

mash potaotes very well..

potatoes ready to be tossed gently in butter, salt and pepper

I am confident that this recipe will satisfy you and will bring to life the potatoes you have been dreaming about since seeing this sweet movie. I did not write to the producers, director or the food stylist to get the recipe either. Being a girl who was born and bred in Ireland, the land where once it was all we had to eat (or all we were left to eat, but that is another very long story), I feel about as sure as a person can be that I don’t need to inquire as to how this bowl of excellent boiled potatoes came to be.

June's roasted potatoes

My sister June’s roasted potatoes

The word “boiled” is a dead giveaway and there is only one way to boil a potato. The trick is to find the RIGHT potato for the job and in Ireland we call the potato in question a “floury” potato. A floury potato, when boiled, acquires a sort of outer layer of fluffiness that crumbles when you touch it with your knife or fork. They fall apart easily in the best possible way when very roughly chopped with a knife after they have cooked. All they need is a knob of butter and some salt and voila. They are so delicious you will want to forgo the rest of the meal and just eat the potatoes.

Excellent Boiled Potatoes

I would normally want you to absolutely ignore my suggestions for ingredient brands if you don’t have that particular thing on hand or it is too darn expensive, but here I am afraid, if you want that “exemplary” experience, you will have to follow my suggestions.

2-3 lbs best potatoes you can find (I suggest Russet, white, or baby potatoes of any color)

4 tbs (or more if desired) unsalted butter (use something special like Irish Kerrygold butter or Plugra butter from the United States OR any butter with a high butterfat content)

Flaky sea salt such as Maldon Sea Salt Flakes or other good quality rough-cut salt

2 tbs fresh flat leaf parsley (also called Italian parsley) – very finely chopped

Method:

1 – Peel potatoes and, quarter if large and half if on the small side. Rinse with plenty of cold water.

2 – Add to saucepan or pot and cover with cold water  (until potatoes a just covered with water). Place on high and bring to a boil. Cover and turn down slightly and boil (the water should still be bubbling, but at a steady rate, nothing so crazy as to make the lid hop around).

3 – Cook until a knife pierces the potato very easily (but not totally falling apart). Drain off the water and leave the lid off to let them cook for about 2 minutes.

4 – Add the butter and a sprinkle of salt (the amount is up to your taste and what your diet will allow). Replace the lid and using a cloth on each hand, lift the pot and shake it ever so gently. The potatoes with break a little and the butter will melt.

Turn into a large bowl and toss the chopped parsley over them. Set on the table and watch a movie (you know the one I mean!)

One of the many 150 year old trees on the estate

One of the many 150 year old trees on the grounds of Johnstown Castle

Why do I like the films based on Jane Austin’s books so much? (if you want to know, and just so you know).

I like listening to the ease and flow of normal conversation. In those days, even the most uneducated had a way with words. It came from practice. It was the only form of communication and of entertainment. So many people did not have access to books or any other forms of amusement. Talking was it, was the center of everything. The story lines do fall short for me sometimes but that doesn’t matter one bit because I am far too enraptured by every delicious word to care.

PENLAND SCHOOL OF CRAFT – NOT REAL LIFE (my small ode to a place I love).

This post is dedicated to my friend, master metalsmith and teacher Chuck Evans (1940-2015)

tjfdjy

Approaching the Ceramics and Metals Studio, Penland School of Craft

It is early Saturday morning and I really should be lingering in bed in a haze of lovely weekend sleep instead of sitting here typing on my computer. It can’t be helped: I cannot get Penland out of my mind.

Penland: Not Real Life

Penland: Not Real Life

I erased everything I have written in this post up to now because it is saying what I want (or mean) to say all wrong. A clean slate is the only solution and I feel better already. Sometimes fixing something is a lot more difficult than starting anew, so here goes.

One View

One View

I have found an excuse to write about Penland School of Craft numerous times in this blog because it is so easy to attach it to food, which in turn I can attach to people, and the people who you meet at Penland are well-worth talking about.

A picture of typical food at Penland (just to keep within the rules!)

Typical food at Penland (just to keep within the rules!). This was what I had for dinner August 13th 2015 – I remember it well as it was also my son Calder’s 16th birthday – what a place to celebrate!

This August at Penland will standout as one of my very best visits.

One of the many beautiful ways to choose to get you to your destination

One of the many beautiful ways to choose to get your to your destination

Connecting a life in Ireland in 1986 and finding another life in the United States took two things: Grennan Mill Craft School and Penland School of Craft.

a peak at the view

Ireland – where I grew up

While going to school in Ireland it was impressed upon me that if you didn’t draw, you were not an artist or artistic. This was certainly the parochial view, where I grew up anyway. If you wrote, you were are writer, but if you fiddled around like I did making jewelry out of electrical wire and other scraps I found, it was not really anything – just kind of crafty.

The hike route to Pedlers Lake (an ancient Glacier paradise) county Cork

The hike route to Pedlers Lake (an ancient Glacier paradise) at Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland and one of the highlights of the Dingle Peninsula

So I did what I was advised to do after secondary school and studied business in college – no Art School for me!

Reading on The Craft house porch, Penland

Reading on The Craft house porch, Penland

I actually loved college though. I’m just one of those people who love the feel of a classroom. Think about it, you get to sit somewhere or be somewhere all day long where other people (teachers) feed you information. I suppose when you attach the word “learning” to the experience it feels like work.

Leaving the Craft House Porch

Leaving the Craft House Porch

Nowadays when I ask my kids “well what did you learn in school today?”, I really want to know…..like what did you learn, because I want to know that too!! Ha, I just cannot help myself. They put up with me though and are used to my wanting to be involved (home schooling them for years took care of that!)

The Pines at Penland which is where we eat meals had

The Pines at Penland , where we dine, has a blackboard at the beginning of the line announcing the highlight of the meal. This year there was a particularly imaginative person doing the job. This was a standout!

This summer my son had to read a book, The People’s History of America by Howard Zinn for his upcoming history class, and write a synopsis of the book as he read. He was daunted, and I was exciting. This was the perfect opportunity for me to learn the history (albeit, a point of view of history) of the United States for once and for all. I had learned lots of bits and pieces over the years but I wanted a clear view, a timeline, and this book was the answer.

One of our reading spots

One of our reading spots (outside The Pines)

We read the book in all sorts of places over the summer and discussed and argued. I was completely fascinated from beginning to end and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a history book but doesn’t want it to feel like school.

There is the place we happily crashed this year and every year that we visit western North Carolina. It is our friend Shawn's

There is the place we happily crashed this year and every year that we visit western North Carolina. It is our friend Shawn’s House which is located exactly 2 miles from Penland School. (That is Shawn making our dinner!)

Oops – getting off track a bit, but back to me and my connecting the dots of my life. After college I was still itchy to “make stuff” as I referred to my little diversion. I got a friend to make me a big wooden board that closed up like a suit case from which to hang and transport my wiry earrings and necklaces and proceeded to hawk them on the street in town – very “hippie” thing to do in those days, but I was quite serious about making money to live on while satisfying my desire to create.

Dave took Shawn (his college freind) t drobe the 6600 miles to Penland

Dave (my man) hijacked Shawn one weekend (they were in college together) and drove the 600+ miles to Penland from Pennsylvania in 1990. He has been there ever since.

I heard about Grennan Mill through my then boyfriend (still friends – hi David!) and so I decided to check it out. It was in its infancy but it had the clout of  Kilkenny Design Workshops behind it (famous for its tradition of silver and silversmiths).

ounded in 1981, Grennan Mill Craft School is located in the converted grain lofts of the Island Mill, an old flour mill dating from the 18th century, on the banks of the River Nore in Thomastown Co. Kilkenny.

Founded in 1981, Grennan Mill Craft School is located in the converted grain lofts of the Island Mill, an old flour mill dating from the 18th century, on the banks of the River Nore in Thomastown Co. Kilkenny. (you can see canoes here on the river – well we used to take out a dingy old boat when it was nice. There is also a weir right there by the mill and I experienced the most magical hour or so watching salmon jumping the weir back to their spawning grounds. These fish were desperately torn up but determined to make the trip home)

A group in Ireland called AnCO ( it is/was a Training Advisory Service set up by the government to promote skills development within industry) was sponsoring an all silversmithing course at the mill for the first time (up to then students studied a wider range of crafts while there – ceramics, metal, textiles). It was full-time and the students got a small stipend so they did not have to work while studying.

Grennan Mill

Grennan Mill’s lovely Windows

Most everyone applying was involved in some way with art and/or craft so I went to the interview full of angst and apprehensions. I took my giant wooden suitcase with me and sat across a desk from the then director the lovely George Vaughan and my prospective teacher, the wildly talented and quirky Peter Donovan (he was head of the metals program for 30 years – only recently stepping out of the role). What was I going to say to convince them that I belonged in that class??

River Nore across the road from Bernie's house

The river Nore flowing through Thomastown, home of Grennan Mill Craft School (this was the road I walked to the mill)

To be quite honest, I don’t remember what I said but after showing them my work (if you could call it that) and saying whatever I said, I was one of the twelve chosen to take the course. These two men knew talent when they saw it – ha!

my freind's house in Irealnd

This is the house where I lived while going to the Mill. it was more rustic in my day. (when I moved in with a fellow student, Grace, we even decided to live without electricity as an experiment – a youthful notion imagining that the more impoverished it all was, the more romantic and artistic the experience would be  – we did it for 3 months and would have lasted forever but for the students who moved in next door used the same fuse box!). FYI  – Living by candlelight was kind of magically…

But on a serious note, I think they could actually see my passion and desire coming through because I really didn’t have anything else going for me at that point. My business degree would be put to use later I told my anxious mother and off I went to Grennan Mill Craft School in Thomastown, County Kilkenny.

My friend Bernadette Kiley lives in that house now. She is a most amazing painter and you should take a moment to look at her work. (River Nore Summer - Oil on Canvas

My friend Bernadette Kiely lives in that house now. She is a most amazing painter and you should take a moment to look at her work. (River Nore Summer – Oil on Canvas)

It changed my life.

This is by the artist Barry Cooke who I had the great pleasure to get to know while in Thomastown

This is by the artist Barry Cooke who I had the great pleasure to get to know while in Thomastown

It was there that I discovered a part of me that was itching to be discovered and it was also there that I found the company of the most interesting people I had ever come across. My kind of people, and for the first time in my life I had found a community that I totally and utterly belonged to. Yep – dramatic thing to say, but true.

The tabernacle at St Mels Cathedral County Longford

The tabernacle at St Mels Cathedral County Longford made by VCD Silversmiths, Thomastown, The “V” stands for Vicki Donovan and this is the kind of work that my fellow Grennan Mill classmate now produces

I am so thankful for that time in Thomastown as it wasn’t just the course of study that awakened me. I got to mingle with painters, potters, weavers and sculptures, all working on being the best they could be. I made friends for life, and that happened to me all over again when I took a class at Penland School in Western North Carolina seven years later.

Frutta di Mare by Shawn Ireland (Oil on Canvas)

Frutta di Mare (NFS) by Shawn Ireland (Oil on Canvas)

Moving from Ireland to the United States was a culture shocking experience, especially in the late 1980’s when the connections to other countries were not as instantaneous as they are today. It is so much easier today to get the sense of a foreign place with the click of a button. It is not like being there of course, but it does help you prepare if you are planning a journey, or as it turned out for me, a more permanent move (you always leave thinking you are coming back).

This is how Íde got around campus!

This is how Íde got around campus!

But, this was also the part of me that needed to be satisfied; my never-ending curiosity about everything and everybody. What makes a place tick? It turns out no matter where I go, the answer to that question is the same; it is the people.

Dave also liked this form of mobility - whoosh!

Dave also liked this form of mobility – whoosh!

I will ignore my NYC story of where I lived for seven years before venturing further (plenty of posts to read about that if you are curious) and skip right to Penland. I went on the recommendation of a friend who could see I needed to get back to my creative side (I took classes at Parsons School of Design just to keep fresh and I was renting a little studio in a dingy basement on 6th and 2nd Ave).

The Penland Annual Big Auction happened right before Dave's class so we made sure not to miss it.

Penland’s Annual Benefit Auction happened right before Dave’s class so we made sure not to miss it.

What can I say? It was like Déjà vu, only Penland was a scarier prospect in that I felt totally intimidated and out of my comfort zone: very good ingredients to thrive in I’d say. What I mean is if everything comes easy and there is no challenge or apprehension involved, then what is the point? The day you feel comfortable is the day to make a change.

This auction plays a huge part in financing all sorts of plans at the school, from new buildings to new equipment and various programs

This auction plays a huge part in financing all sorts of plans at the school, from new buildings to new equipment and various programs (there was a great cocktail party held before the auction in and around the new printing and book arts studios)

Creativity is something that is pulled from you and it takes a certain kind of work, although I hate to use that word. Maybe courage and effort are better descriptors.

Cocktail attire Penland style (Dave & Matt)

Cocktail attire Penland style (Dave & Matt)

Penland gave me a place where I could work with tools and materials that felt familiar to me. That was a good start. But the difference here is that there were no traditions or rules to upkeep. At least not with my instructor, Chuck Evans.

Wood Tiles made by donor's as part of the Lucy Morgan (founder of Penland 1928) Luncheon which honored Stony Lamar Lucy Morgan Luncheon, and Outstanding Artist Educator Stoney Lamar was honored

Wood Tiles made by donors (with the help of long time artist and regular Penland Teacher Brent Skidmore) after the Lucy Morgan Luncheon (founder of Penland 1929) which honored Stony Lamar for Outstanding Artist Educator

At Grennan Mill I learned how to use tools correctly, and techniques that I would call upon forever. Here at Penland people were doing whatever the heck they felt like doing, whether they had the knowledge or not. They would try anyway and see what happened.

Chuck Evans made this spoon in 1993 at Penland while teaching our class (He gave it to Dave and we have treasured it ever since)

Chuck Evans made this spoon in 1993 at Penland while teaching our class (He gave it to Dave and we have treasured it ever since)

I warmed to Chuck Evans immediately. He had a rough and tumble kind of friendliness, no frills, no bull. Sometimes politeness is overrated when you find yourself as an instructor having to coax a timid person into being more courageous. Chuck bypassed all of this when he saw me fretting over a box I was trying to solder, “well what are you waiting for, light the damn torch and start putting that thing together!”

This is my freind Dan Essig who was also taking Chuck's glass. He is the most amazing book arts guy I know

This is my friend Dan Essig who was also taking Chuck’s class in 1993. He is the most amazing book arts guy I know (Lucky for me he was also at Penland this year)

It was a two-week class whose purpose was to bring me back to myself and it succeeded. How could that happen in a short two-week period of my life?

This is a book that I own made by Dan - it is a very simple and beautiful example of his work (the rose bud is from the garden of a freind of ours)

This is a book that I own made by Dan – it is a very simple and beautiful example of his work (the rose bud is from the garden of a friend of ours). Check out his website if you want to be awed.

Well, Penland is not real life that’s why. Not even for the people who live and work at Penland. They know this fact too. Because, the moment they drive down the mountain and away from the school, a different kind of reality hits them; the real world.

Another Penland

Another Penland beauty made in an Iron Class in 1989. Trading work with other students is a big thing at Penland. It is the very best memento you could bring back to remind you of your class, or your visit, and to remember the person who gave it to you.

The really good news is that after being there, you take a bit of the place with you and the real world takes on a different color or tone. You come away a better artist for sure, and with a happiness that just lingers. YES CORNY – and I am certainly not corny so I will defend myself.

This sweet bird and nest was made by a wonderful fiber artist Ann coddington rast

This sweet bird and nest was made by a wonderful fiber artist Ann Coddington Rast. Her class was in the Lily Loom house one of the most atmospheric and warm buildings on campus. She was so generous, sharing her talent with anyone who was interested and allowing visitors to her classroom like myself a chance to even try their hand at making something.

Penland proved that it is a catalyst for sparking creativity and happiness. People travel all over the world looking for these sometimes elusive things: going on retreats, pilgrimages, sitting on the top of mountains with fantastical views looking for inspiration for their work and their life.

Matt Fergason

This is Metals Studio Co-Ordinator Ian Henderson at Penland, a highly skilled metalsmith who has an addiction to peanut butter cookies from Penland’s Coffee House (pretty sure this is where he is headed for here)

It is in different places for different people, unexpected places at times. I didn’t go to Penland expecting anything but a way to use a good studio space with a teacher whose reputation preceded him.

The sweet treats at the Coffee House, whcih can be enjouyed up to midnight most nights

The sweet treats at the Coffee House, which can be enjoyed up to midnight most nights

I found out that the irreverence to traditional approaches and techniques (at least that it how I saw it the first few days) did not disregard good craftmanship, rather it was a way to show students that objects could be created in many different ways, using others modes or means of getting there.

The lovey Edwina and Cynthia Bringle. if you have never met them, you have never been to Penland

The lovely Edwina and Cynthia Bringle. if you have never met them, you have not experienced Penland.

So the big lesson for me was: there is more than one way to skin a cat!

Keiji Shinohara

Keiji Shinohara (check out his work) taught the Woodblock Printing Class this session and my son Calder was captivated by his talent and highly animated larger-than-life personality.

What a revelation (and a philosophy to be applied to anything really). Without being technical, the time I spent in a studio which was open 24-7 was invaluable, because of my crazy talented teacher and because of the other students in my class.

Dave giving one (of many!) demos to his metals class. this was a most amazing group of students of which the majority were absolute beginners. They made marvelous work and fell in love with thier teacher

Dave giving one (of many!) demos to his metals class. This was a most amazing group of students of which the majority were absolute beginners. They made marvelous work and I was truly inspired by their enthusiasm and relentless quest to make great things

The transformation did not stop when I stepped from the studio. It was happening all around me. I got to hang out in other studios and watch other artists doing the same thing I was doing, pushing themselves in a place that encouraged daring at every turn.

At the end of the session there is always an auction which benefits the Core Program. This auction consists of mainly student and instructor work made during the session. the pice that Dave's class collectivly made was bought by the class and they surprised Dave by presented it to him on that final day. Needless to say there were

At the end of the session there is always an auction which benefits the Work Study Program. This auction consists of mainly student and instructor work made during the session. The piece that Dave’s class collectively made and donated was bought by the class and they surprised Dave by presenting it to him on that final day. Needless to say it doesn’t get any better than that!

What happens when you come back from a really amazing vacation or  pilgrimage, or retreat, or some sort of holiday which made a big impact on you? You get all mushy about it right? You become the champion for that place or that thing. The feeling does wear off or is eroded by the daily grind and that’s only natural, but these warm fuzzy things happen.

Approaching the Metals Studios

Approaching the Metals Studios

It is 22 years since my class with Chuck and I maintained that fuzzy feeling by becoming a full-time metalsmith, and that is how I have been making my living ever since.

Forged Bracelet by David Jones

Forged Bracelet by David Jones

I forgot to mention that Chuck’s aspiring assistant became my husband! He was already a seasoned Penlander ( a good name for us all) and had just completed his masters in Metalsmithing & Jewelry at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.

his oh so sweet plate was made by the talented hands of Michael Kline. i met Michael when he was a resident artist at The Barnes (Penland has a wonderful Resident Program). He is also one who never left!

These oh so sweet plates were made by the talented hands of Michael Kline. i met Michael when he was a resident artist at The Barnes (Penland has a wonderful Resident Program). He is also one who never left!

He will tell you to this day that Penland is where he received his true education and the place were his craft was allowed to flourish with no limits.

These funky glass skulls were given to us by

These funky glass skulls were given to us by the equally funky Paul Marioni when we were both teaching a class at Penland.

We are both in the art business and I do most definitely consider it a business too as it has to be viable if we are to remain doing what we love. (Consolation to know my college years were not a waste of time!).

The blacksmith Elizabeth Brim is also a valuable fixture at Penland

Blacksmith and Penland’s next door neighbor, Elizabeth Brim is someone I always love to see. She is just a breath of life and how could you not love a woman who hot forges high heels out of steel!

Since then we have been back to Penland many times together to visit and to teach.

another pices from the auction (Artist: Borris Bally)

Another piece from the auction (Artist: Boris Bally)

This August Dave taught the 6th Session Upper Metals class ( I opted out of teaching simply because I wanted to hang out with our now two teenage kids on campus for this intense two weeks, and because I  wanted to take a break from actual work) and the visit was the most memorable ever.

Another totally awesome friend i got to see is Anne Lamanski - she is the total package of talent, fun and downright loveliness!

Another totally brilliant artist i got to see again is Anne Lamanski – she is the total package of talent, fun and downright loveliness! (This is one of her prints but you must check out all of her work to be fully amazed)

Reconnecting with all of my friends and fellow artists as well making new friends was the glorious highlight of my whole year. (There was a little teaching done when the students found out in Dave’s class that I was also a metalsmith and willing to offer any advice if asked. This is why I knew I could not teach too: our kids would never have seen us!)

My Three Amigos

My Three Amigos (David Jones – Metal Guy, Andrew Glasgow – Consultant Guy & Brent Skidmore – Wood Guy)

This was also the first time Calder and Íde lived on campus as semi-adults and were able to completely immerse themselves and have that “Penland experience”.

Coffee House

Coffee House

They spent their days exploring studios, hanging out getting to know instructors and students, watched their dad do demos and visit the Coffee house for delectable treats on a whim. We also made several trips to Asheville to see old friends and to eat yummy food.

Our favorite place to eat was Thai Orchid for thier Pad Thai

Our favorite place to eat was Suwana’s Thai Orchid for their Pad Thai. I make Pad Thai and while it is pretty good, it will never taste like this. There is something to be said for a native making their own food and the owner of Thai Orchid is most certainly invested in what comes out of the kitchen. Worth visiting for the Pad Thai, great service and for the way the paper wrapper from your straw comes to the table in a festive twisty celebration!

Now of course they are dying for the time when they can take a class (you have to be 18). In the meantime they can look forward to a long visit in spring 2017 when Dave will be teaching the Spring Metals concentration.

This is Northlight and the place that you gather for your introdcution to Penland meeting the evening before classes begin.

This is Northlight and the place that you gather for your introduction meeting to Penland the evening before classes begin. What I remember most about that first evening at Penland in 1993 is Paulus Berensohn who has lived in the Penland community for 40 years. He is a poet, dancer, teacher, potter and an iconic figure at the school. He read a poem by Mary Oliver titled White Flowers. It took my breath away and I will never forget that moment.

I could really keep going about how Penland and Grennan Mill changed the course of my life. There are so many stories left to tell, so many more people to include, but hopefully this taste will make you want to click on the link to the school and take a wild and wonderful adventure and see it for yourself.

Penland 2015

Penland 2015

It will not disappoint.

As I said: Not Real Life

As I said: Not Real Life (Coral Chandelier Dress by Susan Taylor Glasgow – one of the pieces at the Annual Benefit auction which brought a substantial sum)

I could not close without mentioning the Caretaker of Penland, Jean McLaughlin (real title being Executive Director). She has a quiet way of being a truly powerful advocate for the school and it’s mission, to support individual and artistic growth through craft. She has done, and continues to do an admirable job and I hope this little ode of mine serves to demonstrate some of her accomplishments.

Penland School of Crafts

Penland School of Crafts (1 mile straight up!)

This Just In!!!!! Never Summer 100k Race Update – Nearly LIVE!!!!

So, as I write I am waiting on a race report from the infamous HB! Take a look at my last post here to see what I am talking about.

Lake Agnes

Lake Agnes

My brother is running in the inaugural Ultra Race Never Summer 100k (as we speak) and my last update has me hopeful of a finish. My first report from HB was at 2.04pm (EST in these here United States) and was this: “He’s headed for this mountain range first. I’m going to bike to Agnes Lake and try to see him at mile 10. The first aid station I can help at is mile 18. I’ll send updates as I can, but there is extremely limited service and I expect that this course is going to be very slow (I’m not expecting him to finish before midnight) with over 13k of elevation gain”

HB met Seán pretty much on schedule here,

HB met Seán pretty much on schedule here (a view of the silver Creek Trail back towards the shoulder of Braddock to be specific) – kind of annoying how fresh he looks eh???

The thing you always want to know first and foremost is how the runner is feeling and looking. That says it all, and from what I read from a quick email to keep myself and everyone else on the list abreast, was that Seán was feeling good: “Just saw him at mile 21 and he was looking great” 
What a relief. Now I could get on with vacuuming worry-free! Yes, I was cleaning my house while he was out there somewhere in the Never Summer mountain range in Colorado.

Beautiful Summer Flowers (photo by HB )

Beautiful Summer Flowers (photo by HB )

I ran 10 miles in solidarity this morning to feel close and to share some of his pain. This was a joke however as I was running on relatively smooth surfaces with a few hills sprinkled in, while he negotiated overgrown and tree-strewn logging roads, steep mountain passes, waist-high flowers and mud! I have been moving slowly all day after my trek and now here I sit at 12.38am and he is still out there with a light on his head somewhere around mile 55 plugging away (or so I’m hoping).

Sean Mile 29.4

Seán Mile 29.4 (why is he smiling????)

I got a great update at mile 29.4. Seán looked in control and happy to see his crew. I have crewed for him a few times and know 100% that the aid station is what keeps him moving forward. He gets to eat, hug his friends and family and get that much-needed emotional support he will need to get him up that next steep climb.

The Aid Sations give the illusion that the runners are all running happily along the trail togther, but for the most part, they are alone, doing

The Aid Stations give the illusion that the runners are all running happily along the trail together, but for the most part, they are very much alone out there.

This time around he is lucky to have his amazing girlfriend out there pretty much keeping him alive while all he has to think about is running, and his friend Jay also showed up and is on hand for anything and everything.

Seán and Jay a few hours ago (Jay is now waiting at the  North Canadian Yurt aid station

Seán and Jay a few hours ago (Jay is now waiting at the North Canadian Yurt aid station for Seán to appear – Mile 50.4)

So here I am close to 1am (11pm Mountain time) waiting on some more news. Did he make it to that next Aid station……is he still smiling?

Moose on the Trail

Moose on the Trail (today)

I am hopeful that everything is going well and am sending out all the good vibes I can muster for a strong and happy finish. Will let you know…

Go Seán!

Go Seán!

*FYI – all these great pictures were taken today by HB – quite the Photojournalist!*