Piccadilly HillBilly

Farm Girl meets London Dweller. Food. Art. Hilarity and Lunacy.

JOSEPH CORNELL ~ WANDERLUST

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It might be easier

To fail – with Land in Sight –

Than gain – My Blue Peninsula – 

To Perish – of Delight –

Emily Dickinson (1810 – 1886)

The Royal Academy is on tour. And we’re not talking rugby lads or flaming sambucas. No, it is the nineteenth century “Grand Tour”, the great pursuit of art, culture, and the very roots of civilization by the landed gentry that the current exhibition Wanderlust inspires. A bygone age of curiosity and oddity, rendered tangible by the ceaselessly curious and whimsical mind of Joseph Cornell, an American artist born in the early 20th Century. A man who, quite astonishingly, never set foot outside of his own country. He is the armchair voyageur extraordinaire, traveller of the imagination, and his intricate and playful works are nothing short of enchanting.

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Growing up in New York, Cornell’s well-to-do parents were avid followers of the burgeoning cultural practises. Evenings were spent reading poetry or around the piano and theatre tips were a regular occurrence. A young Cornell was witness to the great Harry Houdini, whose magic acts would embed themselves into his thoughts and become a major influence on his later work. He had a happy childhood, but certainly not one without struggle. His youngest brother Robert suffered from cerebral palsy and following the premature death of their father, Cornell who was just 14, found himself head of the family and devoted himself to caring for his brother. It was not until later, while working as a textile salesman in New York, that Cornell began to collect the assortment of Victorian bric-a-brac that would come to define his oeuvre.
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To wander through the exhibition is to delve into a mind obsessed with discovery. These peculiar works are the product of a man grappling to fathom the nature of the universe and our place in it. Treasures and trinkets found in New York junk shops are carefully compartmentalised or assembled into collages. These works look more like the documentation of his world trips, however imaginary, than art in the traditional sense. Navigational maps, constellations and compasses permeate his oeuvre, while photographs and letters offer a fascinating historical link. Mythical beasts, circus clowns and children’s toys are surprisingly juxtaposed with scientific memorabilia, specimen bottles and geometric grids. Perhaps it is this very boundary between fact and fiction that prevented Cornell from ever carrying out one of these great expeditions. Indeed he thrived on the sense of wonder that far away lands evoked in him, transporting him away from the humdrum of daily life. To actually go and see such places might come as rather a disappointment.

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Divided into four sections, with each section exploring a theme central to his practise, Wanderlust is a considerate and unpretentious interpretation of Cornell’s thought provoking and at times, amusing pieces. If you’d not heard of him before, it’s tempting to leave the exhibition berating your prior lack of knowledge; especially after learning he was considered to be among the best American artists of his day. Instead, leave feeling thankful that once upon a time there lived an artist called Joseph Cornell, whose extraordinary imagination allowed him to see the corners of the earth far more clearly than the most experienced jetsetters of today.

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Monday Night = Ratatouille Night

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Cutting back the carbs after a weekend of heavy feasting? This is a simple, low carb monday night supper that won’t leave your tummy rumbling (as we know many of them do!). The tartness of the tomatoes together with the creaminess of the yogurt and the sweetness of the almonds produce a winning combination. It’s also a good way to make use of a few lingering items in the food cupboard if, like me, your cooking on a budget.

Ingredients

1 onion, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove

1 aubergine, roughly chopped to pieces of similar size

1 jar pitted olives, drained and halved

6/8 large ripe tomatoes, chopped

1 tin tomatoes

decent sprinkling of cayenne pepper

tablespoon caster sugar

drop or two of white wine vinegar

good lug olive oil

salt pepper

plain natural yogurt

toasted almonds

bunch fresh coriander

Start by heating the oil in the pan, then add the garlic, onions and aubergines and cook for about 10 mins till softened. If they start to stick to the pan, just add some boiling water. Next add tomatoes and olives. Cook for a further 10 mins. sprinkle with cayenne, season with salt and pepper before adding the tinned tomatoes. I then aded the sugar, white wine vinegar, and a squeeze of ketchup for good measure. simmer until unctuous and rich in flavour – about 20 to 30 minutes. If it’s still watery/not flavoursome enough just keep simmering away or add more cayenne/ketchup/any of the above ingredients that takes your fancy.

Serve with a nice dollop of plain yogurt on top and a sprinkling (or in my case or torrent) of toasted almonds and coriander. Simples.

Grow Your Own!

Before heading back to London for the week I always stock up from the Veg Garden. We grow a lot of our own veg at home and I urge you to do the same if you have the space. It tastes infinitely better than the packaged stuff you get in Supermarkets and I love the fact you don’t have to pay a penny for it. Plus there is something hugely satisfying about preparing a meal with food grown on your own turf.

Here’s this weeks supplies:

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The Red Lion, Britwell Salome

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The Great Epiphany to start a blog with which to record my various ramblings fell suitably on my 23rd birthday. Naively assuming I would spend a blissful day lounging by the pool, fuelled by endless jugs of Pimms and steaks on the Barbie, these plans were very soon scuppered as I awoke in the early morning to a barrage of rain that hammered the roof with such ferocity that, for one panic-stricken moment, I was sure we were under heavy artillery fire. By 11, it was clear the day was not set to improve and so determined to not be beaten into submission by a little rain, we decided to walk to a local pub instead. Now when I say local pub, this ain’t just any old local pub. No. This is The Red Lion at Britwell Salome. The apogee of all pubs. This is what all pubs should be like in pub heaven. With food so mouth-wateringly, belly-achingly delicious it’s no surprise it was named best food pub in the South-East and London in the Great British Pub Awards last month. And so, with memories of the long, hazy summer days fast fading and in true British fashion, we set of at a march through the drizzle, Mother, Sister, Aunt, Uncle and three dogs in tow.  Read the rest of this entry »

Calling all Friends of the Forest

It seems almost impossible in this day and age to get anywhere without the aid of instagram, twitter, facebook, myspace or blogging. Hopeless as I am when it comes to anything remotely technological, I have already followed the crowd with the first three. And so, abandoning the last of my dying protests, I have decided to take one final plunge into the mysterious world that is social media, and start writing a blog as well.

So here I am in the garden at home. Writing my first post. Accompanied by a Pimms. Who knows, perhaps I will gain a multitude of devoted followers, become the next ‘big thing’ on the blogging scene, and hire a PR agent all of my very own. Chances are probably not, nevertheless it will give me something to do whilst I try and secure my first job in the Bright Lights of London Town. But being a farm girl at heart, I hope to regale you with tales of both country and city, from cockerels to cocktails. And if, like me, you have a heartfelt love for (good) Art, Travel, Gastronomy and the glorious eccentricity of Britain that miraculously marries cosmopolitan cool with rural lunacy like no other, then read on my pretties, read on.