Tuesday, 21 February 2012

PARTY LINE - book launch for 'Practical Basketry Techniques'

After a great time was had at the book signing (and selling!) on publication day at the City Lit - attended by the chair of the Basketmakers Association Bunty Ball - the Practical Basketry Techniques roadshow headed South to Creekside in Deptford for a POP-UP Basketry Exhibition and Book Launch Party at ART HUB gallery.  Hosted by myself and A&C Black (now Bloomsbury Visual Arts) the event featured work by contributors to the book and members of Basketry Plus http://www.basketryplus.org/

My self-styled 'super fans', super crafters Karen and Valerie from the Dyslexia Resource Unit at Deptford Green School.

All the best exhibitions open with afternoon tea and home-made cakes these days -  a trend set by Julia Mannheim of the M2 gallery in Peckham.  I opted for tea and cakes when my mathematics inspired 'Show Your Working Out' opened there in March 2010.  See http://www.m2gallery.com/

What better way to launch a basketry book than to gather together some of the contributors' baskets,  including the stunning 'Peacock Pod' by Mary Crabb as shown on the front cover, invite friends and fellow basketers - several of whom had commented on my drafts, tested 'recipes' and shared useful tips - and all get buzzy on caffeine and carbs.  After all, that's what the co-author and I had done most mornings at the local cafe when working on the projects.

See the recipe for a Gathering Basket in Practical Basketry Techniques
(perhaps I should introduce whoever wrote the menu to Karen and Valerie!)

One slight problem - baking not really my thing.  M2 gallery artist to the rescue.  The last show I saw there was by maker extra-ordinaire Laura Marley and she had baked the best cake ever -  Brack.  At least, I think that's what she said because when I took it out of the oven I wondered if I'd misheard.  Mine looked like a Brick.

TIP: don't be tempted to open the oven too soon to check if it's done - this may cause the cake to sag a bit in the middle - then it'll look even more like a house-brick. 

But it tasted absolutely fantastic and the recipe is so easy, it's the nearest baking gets to making mud pies in the garden.  Here it is for all those who've asked - only slightly tweaked from the original Bero Brack recipe. 

TEA CAKE  (NB these are imperial measures - it's an old recipe)

1 lb mixed dried fruit (I just bought a bag of mixed fruit as I like the bits of candied orange and lemon peel too but you can use a mixture of sultanas, raisins and currants - whatever)
6 oz soft brown sugar (I'm sure other sugars, such as Demerera work just as well)
5 fl oz hot strong tea (I have wondered what it would taste like with Earl Grey...)
1 large egg
8 oz self-raising flour

Method (you do have to plan ahead with this cake as the fruit needs soaking first - a bit like dried willow but not in the bath)

1) Mix together the dried fruit and sugar.  Pour over the hot tea.  Cover and leave to soak over-night.

Next day pre-heat oven to 160 degrees, 150 if fan assisted or Gas 3.

2) Beat the egg into the fruit mixture which should have plumped up nicely.

3) Stir in the flour. The mixture will resemble damp top soil - don't despair!

4) Grease and line the bottom of 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment.

5) Spoon in the mixture.  Bake for 1 and a half  to 1 and three-quarter hours until firm (or until a skewer comes out clean). 

6) Cool.  (I didn't realise at first that this was an instruction - it should perhaps read 'leave to cool'...)

But this really is the coolest, most laid-back cake recipe ever.  Apart from chocolate crispy cakes which are my usual no-bake standby.

CHOCOLATE CRISPY CAKES (the slightly healthier, grown-up version)

2 medium sized bars of dark chocolate - melted.
A few handfuls of wholewheat bran flakes - crushed very slightly.
Dark chocolate chips - as many as you like.

Mix bran flakes and chocolate chips into the melted chocolate until all are well covered.
Spoon into individual paper baking cases (makes 12-15)

I confess that, flushed with the success of the Brack, I did also go on to make Coffee and Walnut Cake and  scones.  Everyone told me they were delicious.  I wouldn't know as I was so busy signing books that by the time I'd sold out all the cake had gone.  Never under-estimate the art/craft-loving public's capacity to consume cake!  They seem to be rather fond of basketry books too.

A party celebration - sharing food with friends -  is a fitting way to mark the publication of a new basketry book.  Basketry has a long association with the gift of food, so fundamental to human social activity, and gift baskets were often made to mark significant rites of passage such as births, marriages and deaths. 

Cool-spotting: isn't that an-magazine's #1 blogger - artist Kate Murdoch?

I've had some lovely emails giving feedback on the book:

'A good looking, good natured book ...',
'It's much bigger than I expected ...'
'The book is splendid, very clear, excellent photos ...', 
'I must say I had not expected it to be so large ...'
'It looks very fresh and lovely and has a nice tone ...'
'I was reading your book in the early hours of the morning and have resolved to make a wound core object  ...'
'It's a big book Stella!'

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover - I'm so glad this one isn't judged solely by its size!

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