An Interview with Sculptor Laura Ellen Bacon

I first learned about Laura Ellen Bacon, a British sculptor, through the New Art Centre in Salisbury, while researching UK sculpture parks. In February 2012, Laura was commissioned to create a piece for their exhibition called ‘the nature of things’ . Her work is of an ephemeral nature, though built to last as long as possible, this particular piece ‘Split Forms’ has been resting on the gallery building since 2012:

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Photo: lauraellenbacon.com

Laura is due to have a solo show in October of this year at the National Centre for Craft and Design, in Sleaford. (Details to be confirmed closer to the date). Since exhibiting at the New Art Centre, she has also been been part of exhibitions at Sotheby’s, the Saatchi Gallery, and Ruthin Craft Centre – to name a few.

Laura weaves with natural materials, primarily with willow, to create large-scale artworks in landscape, urban and interior settings. What drew me to how work was the juxtaposition of materials; particularly between man-made classical or modern architecture and the huge hollow forms which appear to have a life of there own. They seem to represent nature fighting back for its displaced territory – yet ironically, they are hand crafted too. Because of the natural materials used, the sculptures are fitting for scenic grounds, like the ones at Roche Court. Her sculptures do become a part of the environment, and indeed are a very intriguing addition. Testament to this, Laura majorly creates her large pieces on site, and when they are exhibited outside, birds and insects occupy them as their home.

I was lucky enough to catch up with the artist, to discuss her intentions behind the craft, her methods, and her sources of inspiration. 

Rachel: What instigated your career as a sculpture artist? How did you learn the craft?

Laura: My process is self-taught and my ambitions and focus for my work developed as I worked.  Much of my creativity was sparked as a child when I was free to create structures and places of my own in the sticks and bushes of my parent’s fruit farm – my mum grew raspberries and I used to make dens in the piles of cut canes.  My grandad was a joiner also and I was allowed to build my own treehouse from his scrap timber – it was a precise joy that I will never forget.

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Photo: littletoller.co.uk

“I’m quite quiet in my work in some ways…” 

Do you see your outdoor sculpture work as an extension of the architecture, or as part of the natural environment?

I see my work as inhabiting a place, a structure or sometimes a building.  I don’t think I ever see the work as an extension of the architecture as such although I hope that it communicates something about the architecture even if it is in great contrast to it… Overall, my work may appear to have a life-force of its own.  My work is occasionally seen as semi-architectural but I think that is simply because it is sometimes large enough to get inside and uses very rudimentary processes of tangling and constructing materials to achieve a ‘built’ form, so maybe it has a sort of primitive approach in its tendency to enclose.

Would you like to have more work exhibited in cities like London, or do you prefer to work in regional locations? 

I’m quite quiet in my work in some ways. Yes, I’m always drawn to fabulous locations and love to be a part of wider events (such as Milan Design Week where I was this time last year during a collaboration with Sebastian Cox) but ultimately the allure of creating work in any site is always down to quite a subtle mix of personal feelings about a place and how I feel I can respond to it. In short, yes, I always aspire to work in city locations but equally in very rural, very peaceful places.

“My work has a link with bird’s nests and the way that nests are built into existing structures”

Can you envisage your work being incorporated with brutalist buildings? Or is your craft better suited for more traditional and classical architecture?

I am intrigued and inspired by all architecture, Brutalism, Arts and Crafts, Classical to name a few… There isn’t one type of architectural movement or style that makes an ideal connection for me – it is usually the atmosphere of a place that drives me first. Secondly, my work has to find a ‘grip’ on a site, I literally build onto the structure / building, so the work needs to find a way to fix itself into place (which is why my work has a link with nests and the way that nests are built into existing structures).

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Photo: inhabitat.com

Do you think these are interactive installations? 

Some of my work is interactive, people can sometimes walk inside, or walk through a piece of work.  Also, with internal installations, the natural materials in their vast quantities carry delicate aromas.

What audience are you trying to attract? 

A curious one.

And on that wonderful note, I’d like to thank Laura Ellen Bacon for taking the time to speak with a curious admirer of her work.

For more information about the artist please visit her website. For details about the New Art Centre’s past exhibition ‘the nature of things’ please visit the sculpture park’s webpage.

 

 

 

Fujiko Nakaya: Sculpting Fogs at Tate Modern

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I hadn’t the foggiest of an idea what was happening when the Tate Modern’s South Terrace was immersed in a cloud. From a distance, I panicked, thought the Tate was enveloped in smoke, but realised on approach that it was induced by the gallery itself. There was no one to ask what the fog was in aid of, or who was behind it, but to me it seemed like a really clever marketing ploy. And inevitably, the first thing I did was take some arty snaps of tourists and excitable children being engulfed by the fog, process them through VSCO cam and then post them on Instagram with the hashtag #tatemodern. I imagine those posts drew a whole range of people to come and witness the strange occurrence for themselves.

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Then I followed the hashtag and found the answer to my ignorance: the artist behind the ‘fog sculpture’ was Japanese artist Fujiko Nakaya. Strangely I’m not usually one to miss a mainstream art event in London, and perhaps this one had little publicity to contribute to its mystery. Originally planned to only air for 10 days, Nakaya’s fog was due to end on 2nd April 2017, however because of its popularity in the capital the installation has been extended until 18th April.

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As the world’s leading fog artist, Nakaya’s first London fog work is worth a visit. What made it so mesmerising was its interactive quality. The fog immerses all kinds of passersby, from businesswomen wearing suits distracted from their daily commute, giddy children and their equally-excited parents, to Instagram fanatics like myself. Under a clouded roof, a vast array of Londoners had come together. You would think that London would not need any more gloom following the upheaval of the EU referendum last summer, but the fog had produced an atmosphere of hope and welcoming, not fear. Having said that, I can’t strip the feeling that Nakaya’s fog is also spreading a sense of foreboding through the city.

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Work colleagues on a casual lunch break…

 

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…or a romantic date in a cloud?

However, Nakaya denies that there is a political purpose for the fog. It’s especially surprising that it was not created to spread awareness of the impending doom of climate change to instigate activism. In an interview she stated that she was “trying to change the bad image of London fog, or smog, as it was named after the Industrial Revolution…Now I am trying to create the third generation of the London fog, an ‘ecological fog,’ for people to enjoy.”

What I find fascinating is that London Fog is both a sculpture and an interactive installation. It operates by 300 intricately designed nozzles which pump out water vapour in micro-particles of varying density and at varying intervals, according to the air currents and architectural surroundings.

What it feels like: a disorientating dance with a cloud. Not ideal for those with glasses or who have recently had their hair done. Also dampens clothes slightly.

Let there be cake: Art Afternoon Tea at Rosewood, London

I had always wanted to experience afternoon tea in London, but was always put off by the stuffiness event. At the Ritz, for example, the dress code is put under ‘terms and conditions’; as a “client responsibility” guests are not permitted to wear jeans for afternoon tea. Apparently cake tastes better when you’re in a tux. This is just not true. Cake is best in loose clothes. Preferably in bed, with Orange is the New Black in the background. So when I realised I was going for afternoon tea for my 21st birthday, and that the dress code was ‘smart casual,’ my mum sewed up the holes in my ripped jeans and we pretended to be posh for the day. 

What differentiates Rosewood from its competition in the capital is that the cakes are treated as individual artworks. Rosewood’s executive pastry chef, Mark Perkins, has curated a selection of art-inspired cakes to accompany finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones and loose tea. His creations are inspired by five of the most globally iconic artists currently exhibited in London including Yayoi Kusuma, Alexander Calder, Banksy, Damien Hurst and Mark Rothko. This novel idea works well on so many levels, because by using the artists’ work as a basis of inspiration, the cake itself becomes an artwork, but in edible form. Rosewood have nailed it – I can’t imagine another theme that would work as effectively embodied in pastry. Politicians, countries, famous figures etc. could all get a little controversial, and cake should never offend. Art afternoon tea seems to have struck gold, because it is about adapting the style into a new miniature version, one that can be recognised, adored and consumed by art fanatics. I’m going to rank and review the cakes, comparing them to their original masterpieces.

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  1. YAYOI KUSUMA

Renowned for her psychedelic colours, patterns and repetition, Japanese artist Kusuma has taken over the international art world one polka dot at a time. For this cake, Perkins drew inspiration from her installation ‘All the Eternal Love I have for Pumpkins’. Rather than merely copying a pumpkin from the work, the cake shows the chef’s original take. I have ranked it the highest because of how visually striking it is, and to me it just screams ‘Kusuma’. Moreover, it tasted as quirky as it looked. It was made from milk chocolate mousse, passionfruit cremeux with chocolate set on chocolate biscuit. Perkins thought that her predilection for yellow and black was best translated into passionfruit and chocolate.

2. ALEXANDER CALDER

This was a structural masterpiece. Fitting for the American sculptor who invented the mobile, the moving sculpture made with suspended shapes that move in response to touch or the air, typically found above a baby’s cot. Disguised as a modernist mobile, this cake was surprisingly incredibly heavy because the inside was densely packed with pistachio bavarois, cherry jelly, pistachio sponge “sprayed” with red chocolate. As I have a predilection for pistachios, this my favourite flavour-wise. I was also astonished by the interior engineering work, as I cut through every cake in half to share, this one did not collapse. The exterior embellishments were a little fragile however, made only coloured chocolate, they fell off when I picked the cake up.

3. BANKSY

The nation’s favourite and a worldwide phenomenon, it would be a difficult task to create a cake that was not identifiable to this mainstream street artist. I think this let down the overall challenge to create something with an innovative spin on an existing artist. It was almost inevitable that the cake would be a brick or building with one of Banky’s iconic stencils on. They had chosen Banky’s 2002 piece ‘Balloon Girl’, which was originally a mural on an East London, but was removed and sold for £500,000 in 2014. Depicting a young girl letting go of a heart-shaped balloon (only that the opaque red icing was not not heart-shaped) the impressive element of this cake was its unusually brick-like texture. It was the richest of the five, and incredibly indulgent. A chocolate cube filled with vanilla cream choux, chocolate creme resting on a salted caramel liquid, I imagine this would take a few miles to burn off. Too much sugar compacted into a 2inch x 2inch box for my liking.

 

4. DAMIEN HIRST

When I think of Hirst I think of sharks or cows preserved in tanks and diamond encrusted skulls. Far less so, I think of his inoffensive and boring dot work. Truth be told, I dislike Hirst. His public response to the retaliation of his unimaginative artwork is pretty tongue and cheek; when people say “anyone could do that” he barks back “but you didn’t, did you?” And he’s made an obscene amount from doing what we could not be bothered to do. It took some time for me to recognise that the cake was based on Hirst’s art, and like his career itself, the cake’s design was a bit boring. The redemptive factor was that it tasted really pleasant, and it offsets the heftiness of the Banksy cake. A white chocolate tart made from cassis jelly, yuzu curd and decorated with dots, it was delightful but didn’t have the shock factor I was expecting – I would have preferred a replica of ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (aka the shark in a tank). That would have been fun.

5. MARK ROTHKO

This was the artist I knew least about. He was a famous abstract expressionist, but all I knew was that he had a thing about painting bold block colours on canvas. I imagine that his was the easiest to translate into cake form, because his work is the least adventurous. The most inventive creative decision would therefore have to be the flavour combination, and this was subtle, light and delicate. This was made from layered coconut sponge, raspberry, coconut mouse and decorated with thin pink and red raspberry chocolate. I thought this was not the one to rave about – it’s structure was not experimental, nor was its embellishments.

I also couldn’t help but notice that this had been done before by many amateur home bakers…markyboy

Located in central London, High Holborn, Rosewood Hotel is anything but an eyesore. Admittedly, while trying to act collected, and not break anything in the process, I did take three trips to the ladies bathroom over the space of two hours to take Snapchats…

The cake art pieces were just one feature of the overall sophisticated experience. The tea, sandwiches, and scones were additionally exquisite. I did not have a big enough stomach capacity to eat it all, and our wonderful waiters kept offering us top ups of our favourites. They were so hospitable, and elaborated on the artists’ stories behind each individual cake. I ended up taking home the scones and a spare Banksy cake. Word of warning: come on a very empty stomach, and wear loose smart casual clothing. This is the first season of art afternoon tea at Rosewood, if you would like to experience these specific varieties for yourself, you must come soon, as new replacement designs are due to replace them. Standard afternoon tea per person is £50 and can be booked online here.

Thoughts about which artists I’d like to see in art form at the Rosewood in future: Louise Bourgeois, Tracy Emin, Max Ernst…

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Train ride home

Pear and stilton gnocchi

This recipe sounds ultra-fancy, but it can be knocked up in fifteen minutes, making it a very sociable dish for guests. And it’s cheap – a couple of pears, an onion, garlic, cheese, and some gnocchi comes to about £2 per serving. Pear and stilton is such a complimentary combination – don’t feel alarmed. Here’s some rare pictures of me cooking in my gorgeous student kitchen, curtesy of my wonderful photographer (and friend), James.

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Pear and stilton gnocchi (serves 2; vegetarian)

 Ingredients: 

  • 1 onion (I find brown works best, but shallots would also be banging)
  • 2 ripe pears, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 100g stilton
  • 500g gnocchi

Method:

  1. Heat a saucepan with a tablespoon of olive, then fry off the onions for 5 minutes on a gentle heat. Add the sliced pear, followed by garlic and rosemary. Cook for about 10 minutes, while the gnocchi is cooking, stirring occasionally.
  2. Boil a pan of water, add the gnocchi and cook for 3 minutes – be careful to not over cook.
  3. Take the saucepan off the heat, and stir in the drained gnocchi. While still very hot, crumble the stilton over, and mix gently until creamy.

4. Season with pepper, and sprinkle over some nuts for added texture – pine nuts, cashews or walnuts work well.

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happy guests

Painting home comforts

The Open Eye Gallery, an independent and commercial gallery in the heart of Edinburgh, exhibits and sells walls worth of postcard-sized artworks by artists from all corners of Scotland. The delicate and tiny artworks range in subject and style, but when arranged all together they collude to form something beautiful and grand-scale. Though not explicitly intended to be in juxtaposition, somehow it seems that the paintings always intended to be in conversation; when an individual piece is sold, something new will take its place. The experience of cross-examining all these individual pieces is immersive, but I had a certain predilection for the simple still-life artworks which depicted objects from the kitchen, like lemons, pots and pans, and chopping boards.

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From the sight of my food posts and the inside of my kitchen cupboard, it is safe to say that I have a slight obsession with amalgamating pretty and unusual pieces of crockery – thankfully Exeter’s charity shops never fail to intrigue. Since my trip to the Open Eye Gallery, I’ve invested in a heap of 5×7 inch canvas boards, and am busy painting quaint kitchen scenes with acrylic. Using mostly earthy colours, and uneven block shapes, the painting style is not what I’m accustomed too.

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Fish on plate, acrylic paint

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Prawns in pan with lemon, acrylic paint

Suspicions about: The BMW Art Car

I’m not only suspicious about BMW commissioning artist Esther Mahlangu to design and paint the 12th Art Car, I’m also suspicious about its place in the British Museum. I may be 26 years late to the debate, but after seeing the BMW 12th Art Car on its (stationary as it isn’t to be driven, only exhibited) tour around the globe, I thought the topic deserved a rant.

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Me being suspicious in the British Museum

Firstly, BMW have been running an “art project” in which they commission internationally renowned artists to paint the exterior of their latest, greatest and fastest model. Thus far the company have commissioned 19 artists, and unsurprisingly of the impenetrable art world, only two of which are female. The cars have previously been designed by the likes of Andy Warhol and David Hockney, but in 1991, to mark the end of apartheid regime in South Africa, BMW appointed Mahlangu to design the 12th. There are a few issues with marketing this project as “art” as such, because the cars tastefully obscure what is a very clever commercial ploy. The designs inscribed on cars epitomise the failings of aesthetic value in capitalist modernity, because the main signifier of the ‘artwork’ is the BMW, not the work of the artist. For the BMW Art Project, the artist’s relationship to the artwork can be articulated in Marxist terms: the artist becomes a worker employed to do a task, estranged from the products of her/his labour. This is not to suggest BMW omits all artistic freedom, although the company does project an ideal end product onto the artist and the BMW, implicating that the artist does not have free-reign of the “canvas” that is the car’s surface. This is not to suggest that Mahlangu was a mere victim of BMW’s exploitation – before the project she was successful as an artist and continues to be today. In some ways, the car marks progress in the art sector as it draws attention to artists that may be unrecognised or categorised as “non-Western” in the art world.

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Mahlangu signing her work

In a world increasingly defined by aspirational consumption, the BMW has powerful purchase in the socialised and globalised imaginary. To own a BMW is an indication of power, wealth and status which represents physical, social and economic freedom available only to a minority. With speeds of up to 225 km/h, the BMW Art Car propels past the standard BMW. Thus the BMW “art project” exemplifies the privilege of car owning. The 12th of the series is unlike anything BMW have encountered nor exhibited before. Dubbed the first “African Art Car”, Mahlangu was employed to paint the car according to traditional Ndebele painting. The bold, geometrical and colourful patterns of the BMW Art Car originate from the Ndebele people in the 19th century, who encountered a defeat against the Boer-settlers. Forced into a life oppression, the Ndebele people began using expressive symbols to communicate on the walls of their home; the designs became an expression of cultural resistance and identity. Once imprinted onto the BMW, the art of this traditional culture is blended with capitalist exploitation, in a way that both obscures and celebrates South Africa’s colonial past. When the Ndebele paintings are appropriated by an affluent company like BMW, the art itself becomes a commercial advertisement, and its original harrowing meaning is belittled. This is not dissimilar to how Coca Cola conveys an image of global unity which actually serves as a marketing ploy for consumer countries.

I travelled specifically to the British Museum, London, to see the Ndebele BMW Art Car in person; this accentuates how effective BMW have been in their artistic subterfuge. The car is currently being exhibited under the curated collection “South Africa: the art of a nation” in the capital city. Whilst Ndebele art originally employed the exterior walls of houses as an artistic resource, allowing inhabitants and Ndebele passersby to contribute to its meaning, the Ndebele BMW is an extravagant art project to be overseen by a privileged few – currently by those who live near or can afford to travel to London. For significance to be drawn from Ndebele art, it should not be on a BMW, nor be placed in an exhibition, a private collection, or in a gallery. The displacement of the Ndebele house paintings onto the exhibited BMW, raises problems for justifications of the museum that appeal to the purported uniqueness and power of the work it contains. Ndebele house paintings was traditionally determined by its cheapness to create and freeness to experience. By contrast, museums contain art that is extremely expensive (to make and own), costly to experience, and to be overseen and critiqued by an elite. The disconnection of the Ndebele pattern from cultural house painting and the Ndebele people, onto the branded BMW, and into the gallery, impedes on its original meaning.

The 12th Art Car’s place in the British Museum relates to Benedict Anderson’s theory that the museum shapes the way the British colonial state “imagines its dominion” and legitimises its ancestry, as demonstrated by the artefacts Britain owns and museumifies. The national collections essentializes a multitude of cultures’ history, including Britain’s own Imperial past which implicated South Africa.

Orange, rosemary and dark chocolate brownies

This year I’m lucky to have a wild rosemary bush growing in my garden, and though I knew wanted to make orange brownies, I wanted to add something that would make the flavour more experimental. After once sampling a stilton brownie at a food festival, I thought a little rosemary wouldn’t be overly adventurous. Next time I would like to bake with lemon and basil – but I’m unsure the brownie base would suit – fortunately, it does for this. 

Orange, rosemary and dark chocolate brownies vegetarian; makes approximately 10 portions 

Ingredients:

  • 2 oranges
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 2 small sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 175g butter for baking
  • 275g caster sugar
  • 130g plain flour
  • 2 large free-range eggs
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder

Method: 

  1. Begin by making a sugar syrup for the crystallised orange slices which will embellish the brownies. To do this, dissolve the brown sugar in water on the hob over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and stir until all the sugar is dissolved. Reduce to a low heat, and a slices of 1 whole orange, cinnamon and sprig of rosemary. Leave to crystallise for approximately 7 minutes on each side. Remove the slices from the pan and place on kitchen roll, and then in the fridge to set whilst making the brownie batter.
  2. Preheat the oven to 17o°C. Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl of a saucepan of simmering water (be sure not to let the base of the bowl touch the water). Stir occasionally until melted and incorporated.
  3. Remove from the hear. Add the sugar and mix in well, followed by the flour and the cocoa powder. Stir in the eggs. Grate the zest of the second orange, and pop in with a handful rosemary trimmings, and stir into the brownie mix.
  4. Spoon the mixture into a prepared baking tray with baking parchment. I used a square tin (23cm x 23cm x 5cm) for mine. Partially bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, the remove from the oven and add the crystallised orange slices. Place back in the oven and bake for a further 20 minutes. Leave to cool completely before removing before removing from the tray.

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Mango and Asian mushrooms teriyaki soba

Mango and Asian mushrooms teriyaki soba vegan; serves 2

don’t be skeptical of the combination of shiitake, enoki and oyster with ripe, juicy mango 

Ingredients:

  • 300g Asian mushrooms (I’ve used shiitake, enoki, and oyster)
  • 1/2 large fresh mango, chopped into cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sesame seed oil
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 2 bundles of soba noodles (approximately 180g)

Method:

  1. In a frying pan, heat a little vegetable oil on a medium heat and sauté the mushrooms for 2 minutes.
  2. Boil a pan of water and cook the soba noodles.
  3. Whilst the noodles are cooking, combine the dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sesame seed oil, garlic and curry powder. Pour onto the sautéing mushrooms, and add the chopped mango. Fry for a further minute.
  4. Serve up piping hot, and with sriracha sauce, if an extra kick is needed.

 

The Nostalgic Porridge Pot and its miraculous healing powers

Porridge is a gentrified phenomenon that has become a hipster trend in the past twelve months or so. And I’m so on board with it, because I’ve been fuelling on the gruel since before it was cool. As a child I strangely always associated the grain with cartoon adaptations of Dickensian inmates in Victorian England, as unappealing gruel sloped into bowls, eaten for the sake of energy and calorie intake. It has been a staple food throughout history, typically associated and eaten largely by peasantry; now it has been transformed and consumed at brunch by hipster Londoners in Neals Yard and Brick Lane. There’s something a bit wrong with purchasing a bowl of porridge at £6.50, for the sake of Instagram. I’m guilty here.  A 1kg Tesco’s own bag of porridge oats will cost you 99 pence, containing on average 25 servings, as cheap as rice. The packaging even suggests to cook with water, not milk. Firstly, who does this? You shouldn’t. But imagine how inexpensive breakfasts would be if you were to. The packaging advises for a more “indulgent” and “creamy” texture, use milk in replacement. Secondly, take up that suggestion and ALWAYS use milk. Allow yourself that “indulgence”.

Once I taught myself breakfast was brilliant, and the foundation for a positive day (it’s now my favourite meal of the day in fact, because a fresh day promises so much) porridge became an addictive strategic routine. I had an awfully disruptive first year at university, in which I moved halls of residence accommodation twice, living in a total of three different flats across the academic year. During the first few months I had no home, no space to call my own, no actual flat mates, and most importantly, no supply of porridge oats. My appetite and diet went array, and consequently I felt immensely lost due to my askew concentration. I distinctively remember one day when I was physically moving my belongings from my old halls to my new final room, that by the end of the day I had eaten a single yoghurt. This was a clear indication that I was not healthy, caring for myself, or showing myself any self-love. It didn’t get much better when I settled in; I lived off peanut butter and jam on toast for breakfast and dinner, and lunch was just not a plausible nor a convenient thing. From the sight of my food blog, my recipes and my extensive supply of bizarre and unnecessary ingredients such as carob syrup and rose water, you would not imagine that buttering toast used to be an ordeal in itself. Of course, I would not have thought to have document the dreariness of my toast dinners on Instagram – and this is why social media is so lethal: it represents the beatific aspects of existence, censoring and ignoring the unplanned and miserable occurrences in the everyday. I always loved cooking before university, and I’m glad I’ve managed to retain and rekindle that passion. And of course, I am lax with cooking sometimes – I don’t eat like an aspiring food writer everyday – and I always take a detour on my way home from a drunken night out to the kebab shop to get cheesy chips, with its copious amounts of plastic, grated cheese that almost certainly isn’t cheese.

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The infamous Mega Kebab cheesy chips

Back to porridge. My most vivid memory of porridge is from first year at university, on a day when I had eaten very little, due to lack of food supplies, and by evening I felt very weak. I went to visit my friend in his flat, who noticed my tiredness and lethargy, and asked me what I eaten that day. When I couldn’t recall, he left me to rest, and returned with a big steaming bowl of porridge, an extremely creamy one – made with whole milk – and generous dollops of strawberry jam. It was the greatest thing I could ever have been given: a cure to my severe unhappiness at eighteen years old. It was a signifier of hope and sustenance, ensuring that the best things were yet to come, and deterring me from giving up on my degree course.

That life-altering meal was made from Everyday Value porridge oats, whole milk and 29p strawberry jam. Don’t tell the chef I told you so but the proportional quantities were terrible, it was stodgy and it was over-microwaved, but it tasted divine because of what it represented.

Stirring porridge always evokes a very personal and meaningful nostalgia within me. The process reminds me I deserve to be nourished and it has since fuelled much happier, more productive and stimulating days. It also reminds me of my Dad. When I lived at home, I would wake up every morning to a scraped out saucepan which was hours earlier filled with rollicking porridge, abandoned on the hob in the kitchen, for the house fairy to clean up (my poor mother). We’ve never owned a microwave due to my dad’s stubborn fear of the machines as unnatural and cancerous, so porridge has always been cooked on the hob – and that’s the way it should be – the texture of the porridge is not the same when cooked in the microwave. My dad would leave at 5.30am every morning to get to work, thankfully on a stomach content from a bowl of slow-releasing porridge. Thank you dad for working hard.

So here’s two porridge recipes I eat rarely due to time and effort but when I do with it gives me great pleasure:

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Lilac porridge: lavender infused, lemon curd, blueberry and poppy seeds vegetarian; serves 1 

Ingredients:

  • 50g rolled porridge oats
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
  • 20g raisins
  • 50g frozen blueberries
  • 1/4 tsp dried lavender
  • 1 tbsp lemon curd
  • Lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 tsp poppy seeds, to serve

Method:

  1. Measure 50g of porridge oats with 250ml milk, and pour into a saucepan, add the frozen blueberries, raisins, and dried lavender. Cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes. The frozen blueberries will give the porridge a beautiful lilac colour.
  2. Once a thick and creamy consistency, and heated through, pour into a bowl. Dollop on cold lemon curd, lemon zest and sprinkle on poppy seeds. Eat immediately, but not before taking a photo for Instagram and pretending you have your life entirely together.

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Cypriot porridge: figs, carob syrup and cacao nibs vegetarian; serves 1 

Ingredients:

  • 50g rolled porridge oats
  • 250ml semi-skimmed milk, or a soya alternative
  • 1 fig, quartered
  • 1 tsp carob syrup, to serve
  • 1 tbsp cacao nibs, to serve

Method:

  1. Measure 50g porridge oats with 250ml milk, pour into a saucepan and cook over a medium heat on the hob, stirring continuously for 3 minutes.
  2. Once cooked, like above, remove from the heat, pour into a bowl and assemble. Add the sliced fig, drizzle on carob syrup and sprinkle over cacao nibs.

Autumnal menu reivew at The Oddfellows

My first impressions of The Oddfellows are from comedy and cocktail nights in the upstairs speakeasy; the vintage interior offers sophisticated quirks and charms that are a luxury for students, and the vast array of spirits and ales are incredibly exciting. The cocktails are an absolute delight – these experimental and delicious concoctions are overshadowed by popular and inexpensive cocktail bars in the city, attracting students from the deep, dark depths of their deadlines. If you’re in need of a cosy space for an uninterrupted first date, then students, leave the sugary, syrupy cocktail pitchers at Firehouse and head across the road to The Oddfellows. If conversation is sparse you can discuss the eccentric decor, like the giant pine cone chairs, or the animal heads hanging from the walls.

Sometimes I just hate breaking the news that I’m vegetarian to the restaurant owners overseeing my reviews, particularly after first-glance at a lavish meat feast of a menu consisting of duck breast, black pudding mousse, chorizo couqettes…the chefs certainly know how to curate a menu according to season. So when my lovely server, Ryan, recommended the last of the venison on today’s specials board I didn’t want to announce “I’m afraid we’re (referring to my lucky reviewee partner and myself) vegetarian”. And that’s made awkward more so by the fact that the only vegetarian main on the menu was a risotto, albeit a luxurious, al dente, creamy risotto. Although, I do prefer it when a menu is composed of a few extensively and passionately designed dishes. Situated on a table with full view of the happenings of the kitchen, the solo chef on this Monday evening knew his way round the elaborate yet tempting menu, juggling the orders for hungry diners.

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The dish that deserves the spotlight from this three course is surprisingly a simplistic vegetarian starter, which merely thinking about is making my mouth water. On paper, it’s rather unexciting: Goats cheese mousse, quince purée, and butternut squash. This restaurant certainly loves its mousses and purées. The goats cheese mousse melted in the mouth – it wasn’t overpowering or too rich like you’d expect it to be but was the perfect, soft accompaniment to the crunchiness of the butternut squash – which there were only three cubes of – a tad ungenerous, if not to emphasise the mousse as centerpiece.

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An additional vegetarian starter on the specials board also caught my eye: salad of roasted heart of artichoke, giant caramelized shallots, served with a concentrated spinach and basil dressing, and a sprinkling of pumpkin seeds. This was a wholesome and more filling starter compared to the first. But starters aren’t meant to fill you up, they’re there to whet your appetite for the next courses, and the goats cheese mousse was incredibly exciting, making me anticipate the what would come next.

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Up next was unfortunately the only vegetarian main up for grabs: creamy roasted cauliflower risotto with truffle oil. It didn’t disappoint in taste and appearance however; the charred cauliflower with truffle oil against the luxurious base of al dente (cooked to perfection in my books) risotto rice really worked. If you prefer less rich, less creamy risotto then this may not be for you – it’s truly indulgent.

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I’ve never had parfait before, so the dessert was an appealing excuse to try it I’m also a sucker for all the components of this dessert: peanut butter, caramelized banana and salted caramel sauce. I thoroughly enjoyed the way this was assembled, rather than merely plated; it was similar to the artistic arrangement of the winning starter.

On average starters and desserts were priced at £5.50, and mains ranging from £13 to £19, so it’s a student treat, or somewhere to take when the parents visit for graduation perhaps. I would definitely go again if the options for vegetarians were increased and more varied, there’s much more scope for experimentation in the non-meat dishes. Otherwise I’ll just have to order three of the goats cheese mousse starter.