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Let’s Talk about the Kitchen

A printmaker isn’t just a printmaker, especially if she’s a woman. She’s often a wife, a mother, a cook and gardener, and more. She might even hold down a job. I have been all of those things and still am most of them. I have a pretty clear idea of what you’re going through, and I’ve got a few suggestions for smoothing your way. I’m going to concentrate on the kitchen this time. I love the kitchen. It’s creative work and at its best it can be fun, even therapeutic. But having to come up with two or three meals every day can be time consuming and tiresome.

My first important suggestion: make your family complicit in the kitchen. If your husband cooks, you’re already a step ahead. If not, teach him. The earlier you start, the better. I recommend the second day after the honeymoon or as close as you can get to that. Here in Spain you almost never find men in the kitchen, except to go for icecubes. There is one shining exception to that rule, the men from the Basque Country, who pride themselves on their cooking. They have dining societies, each with its own dining room and big kitchen where they take turns cooking. Sometimes they even invite their wives and girlfriends. We are friends with a mixed couple. She’s from Jerez de la Frontera (the heart of sherry country), where a man in the kitchen is considered a sissy unless he’s a cook. He is a recently-retired engineer from Bilbao in the Basque Country. These days he won’t let the Jerezana into his kitchen. To be invited to a meal at their house is an honor and a delight.

Hubby cooking.

How to Get the Family on Board

Getting the family up to speed in the kitchen isn’t limited to working with (or on) your husband. The kids are even more important, as there are more of them–if you’re lucky. They’re also important because they’re the ones who carry on the tradition. It’s fun and easy to get them involved in the kitchen when they’re little, letting them stir the pancake batter, knead the bread, or turn the left-over dough from the scones into little jam tarts. Make them know from the beginning that to participate in the joy of cooking they are required to take on the tasks of buying the ingredients and cleaning up. Regarding “cleaning up,” if you can afford it, a little help in the house does wonders for your artwork, even it’s just a couple of days a week. How do you justify this luxury? By taking printmaking seriously, doing professional-quality work and selling it! (I’ll talk a bit about this in a future post…)

My husband, Mike, and I have raised three children, two boys and a girl (who are now two men and a woman. The youngest one turns 50 next month.) They’re all good cooks and they all love cooking–and eating. One day, when the youngest one was about 13, and I was up to my neck preparing an exhibit, I said to him, “Tomorrow you’re going to make lunch. Look through this cookery book and find something you would like to make. Go down to the store and buy the ingredients, prepare the meal and call us when it’s ready.” He made a delicious chicken stew and never looked back. The summer he was 18 he worked in an excellent Chaine de Rotisseurs restaurant at a fine hotel in Hamburg, Germany. They wanted to keep him.

This is the place where I have to say “thank you” to all of our kids. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Our Culinary Debt to Spain

Now that I think about it, the cooking at our house owes a lot to the kitchen traditions of Andalusia, as the eight southernmost provinces of Spain are known. I must confess that we eat more olive oil, chickpeas, lentils and spicy blood sausage at our house than the entire population of your average town in Britain or North America. Spain, with its fabulous variety of fish, fruit and vegetables, is a great place for cooking and eating, which is centered around a hearty mid-day meal–el almuerzo. The heart of that lunch is often a big stewpot of meat or fish with lots of vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices. The Spanish call those stews, comida de cuchara, “spoon food” and they are addicted to it. The first thing any Spaniard demands, when he or she returns home from an extended trip abroad, is a plate of lentil stew. “¡Dáme un plato de lentejas!” Believe it or not, none of our kids, raised eating and making real food, will go near a fast-food restaurant.

The Cocina Económica

In the early seventies, when we renovated the stone farmhouse where we still live, Mike insisted that we have an old-fashioned coal/wood-burning kitchen range, the rough equivalent of an Aga range cooker in the UK. The owner at Granada’s only foundry said, “We used to make lots of those but they went out of fashion. Now we make mainly manhole covers. I think we threw out the molds for the cocinas económicas years ago.” Then he added, “Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll try to find enough loose pieces to make you a kitchen stove.” In the end he managed to make two, one for us and another for our builder. That stove, which we only light in winter, is an endless source of wellbeing. It improved the way we heat the kitchen, as well as upgrading our cooking. Mike always wanted an excuse to keep a stockpot on the boil, and now he had it.

Since then that stockpot has been the key to virtually everything we cook. Over the years we have refined the procedure for making the magic broth. For a long time we had a standing order with our butcher who would save us the nice fresh chicken carcasses after he removed the breasts, thighs and drumsticks. We would feed them to our dogs and cats. One day, Mike was chopping them up for the animals and it occurred to him to throw a couple of them into the stockpot. That quickly became the rule. That winter our lemon tree had a bumper crop and he started taking the odd bag of lemons to our friend, Sergio, for use in his bar in the village square. On one of those deliveries Sergio said, “Miguel, we sell a lot of ham (jamón serrano, a local delicacy) and we have a lot of meaty ham bones left over. Could you make use of some of them?” That was when our stockpot took the Great Leap Forward. We bought a large stainless-steel pan and started making enough stock to freeze. So we are never without.

Not only does a constant supply of rich chicken/ham stock improve everything we cook, it also makes the cooking faster and easier. Do you need a heavenly chicken noodle soup? Just put some stock on to boil and throw some pasta in it. Do you need something more substantial? Start with a liter or so of stock, add some pork ribs or any other meat you have on hand, then sauté some onions and garlic. You can add celery, thyme, parsley and bay leaf if you like. Let it boil for a while, then add potatoes and carrots. While they’re cooking, put together a quick green salad with a vinagrette dressing, and lunch is ready.

“Peas Porridge Hot” Cooking

If you increase the amounts a bit you can also resolve the next day’s meal. Just add some chopped spinach, cabbage or kale and, bingo, you’ve got another meal. Mike calls this “peas porridge hot” cooking, and it’s true. You can extend that stew for more days, though beyond three, it’s abusive. If you’re a vegetarian you can do the same thing. Just start with a rich vegetable stock and add legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils and whatever else strikes your fancy.

The Spanish don’t eat much tinned food (except for tomate frito–fried tomato–a blight on their kitchens). To make chicken soup they start with chicken. To make a cazuela (a soupy seafood dish with noodles) they start with fish, clams, mussels and calamares pulled from the Mediterranean yesterday. Two of their absolutely finest soups–gazpacho and ajo blanco, for me both world-class cuisine–are made in a blender (originally a mortar and pestle) and served ice cold. Google the recipes next summer and make them. It’s easy. I think you will like them a lot.

Please forgive me if my kitchen suggestions sound like Greek to you. I arrived in Spain in the sixties and took to the place, its people and its cuisine like a duck to a goldfish pond. Maybe none of my well-intentioned advice will work for you in your circumstances. But maybe some of it will.

Before I go I want to mention something I have learned after dealing in my studio with printmakers from all over the world for four decades. The world is not made up solely of countries, at least for some of us, the lucky ones. There’s an additional “nationality” and it’s made up of all the printmakers in the world. A print artist from Slovenia is likely to have more in common with a printmaker from Mexico or Pakistan than she might with her next-door neighbor in Ljubljana. I’m not sure what we should call this phenomenon, a “sisterhood/brotherhood?” Whatever you choose to call it, I know it exists. I’ve experienced it over and over. Its a beautiful thing. And you’re a part of it.

Hasta luego,

Maureen

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A Fortuitous Find

Mike was on his morning walk the other day–in an elegant subdivision, as it has a mile-long uphill section–and discovered this metal shelving in a rubbish tip. It fit in the back of the car with a centimeter to spare on each side. He noticed, as he was loading it into the car, that it had an electrical cable with a plug on the end. He wondered why shelves need a plug.

When he got it home, down the steps(!) and installed in the studio he plugged it in. It lit up like a Christmas tree. It has a strip of LED lighting on the inside of the plastic strip on the front of each shelf. Of course, it was a display case. Now it’s a lovely, orderly space for the things in my studio which have always been hard to find: sketchbooks, special papers, pencils and paintbrushes… If you’re a printmaker you’ll know what I mean.

So, if your husband goes for morning runs/walks, suggest that he do it in an affluent neighborhood.

All the best,

Maureen

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Text and photos by Mike Booth

An Interview with Pakistani Artist/Educator, Iram Wani

Iram teaches printmaking at the National College of Arts in Rawalpindi, an hour’s drive from her home in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Last spring the school administrators, conscious of the health hazards and other inconveniences of working with nitric acid, commissioned Iram to search for a professional printmaking studio that used non-toxic techniques, to go there for a month and bring back, first hand, the secrets of not-toxic printmaking. Iram knew where to go.

Eight years ago, in the fall of 2013, she had spent two weeks working with Maureen in her studio in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, outside Granada. Iram, asked how she happened to choose such a far-off place–there are a lot of printmaking workshops between Islamabad and Granada–replied: “I had heard about an English printmaker who did workshops in Spain, so I googled “printmaking courses Spain.” The first half dozen references were to “Maureen Booth, Pomegranate Editions, Granada.” (I later learned that “pomegranate” is “granada” in Spanish, so the city and its province are named after a local fruit.) After following the website for a few months I was impressed by the artists–from all over the world–who worked with Maureen. Also, Maureen spoke English. I had no knowledge of Spanish, but I did have a visa for Spain. That’s how I got here the first time.

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Iram’s work in Maureen’s studio was productive from day one.

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The following is just some of the work Iram produced when she was here.

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This interview took place on October 27, less than a week before Iram was to catch the plane home from the Málaga airport.

Q: What were you hoping to accomplish on this second visit, Iram?
A: I hoped to gain an intimate hands-on knowledge of the non-toxic procedures that Maureen uses in her work, both solarplate and liquid metal techniques.

Q: Did you manage during your stay to achieve any part of this very big assignment?
A: I think I have achieved far more. There’s so much to learn from Maureen. She’s a true “maestra” as they say in Spanish. I’m already thinking of coming back. Besides getting a grip on not-toxic techniques I wanted to experience the procedures and workflow of a well-run studio. I was impressed by Maureen’s insistence on an impeccably clean and well-ordered workspace. You can’t achieve perfect prints without those two factors. I also hoped to create a portfolio of creative non-toxic prints, something I could present to the administrators of the Institute as an example of what can be achieved without acid. And, if the work were to come out exceptional, I will also be exhibiting it. That will be an excellent way of fulfilling my ultimate goal: to introduce non-toxic printmaking in Pakistan.

Q: Were there things that surprised you on your second visit?
A: I think the main thing was just how much there is to learn. Maureen comes up with new secrets every day. I could have learned much more if I had had more time.

Q: You didn’t do any “tourist visits” to the city of Granada, and it’s only eight kilometers down the road. Do you miss that?
A: No, I don’t. Maybe next time…

Q: What do you consider your principal achievement in this month-long workshop.
A: I guess I could sum it up by saying, “truly living the life of an artist for one intense month.”

Q: Can you take that living-the-life-of-the-artist home with you?
A: I can try.

Q: Do you expect your work, and perhaps your life, to change when you get home?
A: It’s changed already. I’ve learned from the master how things should be done.

Q: Did Maureen’s Gallinero artist’s cabin with its big workspace, solitude and tranquility, contribute to your experience?
A: Yes, I was perfectly relaxed. It’s peaceful, truly an artist’s place. I can’t remember sleeping so deeply. Also, I have bad headaches at home. I don’t get them here at all.

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Maureen’s assistant, María José, came in a couple of days to help Iran and Maureen print up the plates Iram made during her stay. Diva only weighs 2.1 kilos (4.6 pounds) but she is always in the studio, supervising everything.

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You can see more of Iram’s visit to Granada on her Facebook page, with her own photographs, videos and commentary.

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