Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Don't Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch

I have been in denial about something for the last six weeks or so. On my list of 36 Things I To Do Before Turning 37 is walk/run a half-marathon. The first half-marathon in Tacoma this year is May 2nd. And now there is absolutely zero chance I can walk, let alone run, the Half-Marathon this weekend. I had big goals and I knew I should probably train for the August half instead of the one in May, but I upped my training and ended up with an ankle injury.

I thought it would go away if I "gently" worked it out and iced it and such, but no go. We went on a very mild 3 mile hike while in Tucson and my ankle was killing me the next day. I called my doctor when we got back from the trip and went in and had X-Rays and now she is sending me to a Sports Medicine doctor next Monday with a very high chance of needing an MRI. Sheesh.

I felt so good those first two months of training and now I feel like a sack of rotting potatoes. My husband is still going to run the half and I am very, very jealous. I am just hoping I will not need surgery and that the doctor can get me on an exercise/rehabilitation schedule asap. In the meantime, as you can see, I have been working on my art. So there's always an upside to everything. I don't believe in wallowing in misery and getting all depressed, but I am still bummed I can't exercise. So to all you healthy people that are unmotivated to go for a walk or a bike ride, get off your butt! I think a lot of people take their health for granted. You don't think about it until it is gone!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Things

Very few things satisfy me as much as a cutting board, a knife, and a whole bunch of fresh produce ready to be chopped, chiffonaded, minced, and diced! One of my favorite dishes to make that requires prepping above and beyond most recipes is Fresh Spring Rolls. It takes a lot of prep, but that's about it since there is little cooking required for this recipe. And it is so satisfying to work with all these fresh ingredients. Easy to make, Fresh Spring Rolls require only a couple special ingredients.

FISH SAUCE: You can never cut this out of a recipe that requires it. It will ruin the flavor of the dish to leave it out. While this is not required for the rolls themselves, it is used in one of the dipping sauces I like to have on the side.

CHILI GARLIC SAUCE: Again, this is for the sauces I make on the side. Delicious.

SPRING ROLL SKINS/WRAPPERS: These are commonly available; I found mine at Fred Meyer's.

RICE NOODLES: I prefer the thinner rice noodle versus these Pad Thai sized noodles, but these were all the store had and since I was making these late in the day to take to a dinner, I didn't have time to search for the thinner noodles. But I think the thinner noodles are more elegant.

Rice noodles are easy to cook. Just boil water, take off heat and add noodles. Stir noodles to make sure they are completely submerged and allow to sit 10 minutes and drain.
Chop all of your vegetables: Carrots, cilantro, green onions, cucumber, baby corn, mint, and bibb lettuce. Most Spring Roll recipes don't use cucumber or baby corn and use cooked shrimp instead. I just a vegetable peeler to get my carrots and cucumbers nice and thin.

Once your noodles are cooked and your veggies prepped, it's time to assemble the rolls.

Fill a pie plate with hot tap water. Submerge wrappers, one at a time, in water for 30 seconds. You want the wrappers to become pliable but if you leave them in too long they will start to tear easily.

Place a small amount of noodles and veggies at one end of the wrapper.

Firmly roll up end, tucking edge under veggies as you roll.

Fold edges in as you would wrap a sandwich in wax paper.
Keep holding wrapper firmly as you roll it up. You want the spring roll nice and snug. I always screw a couple up when I get started, sort of like how I always ruin the first pancake or crepe.

I stack them on a plate between sheets of wax paper and keep them in the fridge until ready to serve. They soak up the excess water and stop looking soggy pretty quickly.

Serve with your favorite dipping sauces. This is my peanut sauce.
And this is my Noc Cham dipping sauce. Both are delicious. Unfortunately I don't have any good photos of serving them because I took them to our friend's house for dinner. But trust me, they were good. And they are great for parties. You can easily cut them in half to make them more appropriate finger food size.

Noc Cham Sauce

1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup water
1 T sugar
1 teaspoon Chili Garlic Sauce
4 cloves chopped garlic

Combine before you make anything else to allow flavors to meld. You can also add chopped peanuts to either the sauce or the rolls themselves.

J's Favorite Peanut Sauce
(I use this as a dipping sauce but also as a sauce for a cold noodle salad, yum!)

1 cup creamy natural peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup ketchup (sugar ketchup, not high fructose corn syrup ketchup--it tastes too syrupy)
4 cloves garlic
1 T chili garlic sauce (or 1 heaping teaspoon dried chili flakes)

Blend in a food processor. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add up to 1/4 cup water to make sauce more runny if desired. I like it thick for noodle salad, thinner for dipping Spring Rolls.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Finding a True Calling

I've always had a problem with focusing. Not focusing in the day to day; if my mind is made up I will work like crazy to fulfill something. But in a larger scope, I have a tendency to dabble. Some people call it a blessing and others call it a curse.

My problem is that I can't figure out what to do with my life. Oh, yes, I am an "artist", but sometimes I really, really envy those that know exactly what they want to do and enjoy doing the same thing day in and day out and become true masters in their fields. I know lots of very famous artists dabbled in different mediums (Picasso, Calder, O'Keefe) but they were also very singular.

I studied jewelry design for many years, then I painted murals, and now I paint small paintings, I make mosaics, I make concrete and wire sculptures, I cook, I am writing a novel, I like to sew, and I still dabble in jewelry. Yet I can't seem to focus on any one skill set for very long before I just move over to another one.

For a long time, I really thought I wanted to make jewelry. But let's be honest, I was always a mediocre jeweler at best. I never took chances with my materials or became truly creative. I guess that is a problem with studying something when you are broke in your early twenties--I didn't explore partly because I was afraid to waste materials. Partly because I didn't have a distinct style or enthusiasm about silver and gold.

I happened upon a funny little realization in the last few weeks. I have been missing a medium. I've always had a hard time with the environmental damages of art. It wastes a lot of natural resources to make concrete or resin or sterling silver or tile. I have tried several times to work on "assemblage" art, but usually feel like I am "crafting" more than "arting", if that make sense.

But I finally found that medium when I went to Artfest and I took a great class on working with tin, and now I am feeling a little more than transformed. It's cheap, it's widely available, it's all about reusing and recycling and I can use it in sculpture and jewelry and even functional objects. Tin gives me a chance to work with color and shape and texture and scale. I've been more excited being in my studio in the last two weeks than I can remember in the last two years.
I am still not making breath-taking works of art, but I am really looking forward to see what I do in the future.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Doodling Around

I am still not feeling well enough to go bumbling around in my studio with tin snips and wire cutters, so I decided to sit in my office today and play around with some liquid acrylics and stamping.

I cut this weird star shaped stamp out of a linoleum block and decorated the cover of a new journal I just made.

This was a painting I didn't like what I was doing with, but now I like the little scratches I put into it.

Planning on getting out into the studio tomorrow whether my sinuses want me to or not!

Something's Rotten in the State of Casserole

I think of casseroles as the ultimate comfort food. I have been battling a nasty sinus cold this week, and it hasn't been soup that I have been craving. No, it has been casserole. It doesn't matter if it is made from pasta, rice, quinoa, panko, or day old bread--to me it represents warm, embracing, goodness. Just mix a ton of veggies and some starch and some moisture and pop it in the oven and poof! Instant yummyness. Plus, it is an excellent way to use up little leftover bits of vegetables crowding the fridge.

I have a couple of old stand by recipes, but this week I decided to delve into Gourmet's latest cookbook- Gourmet Today: More than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen -and let me tell you, there is not one official casserole recipe in the whole stinking book. What is so wrong with the word casserole? They use words like "stratas" or even "bakes" but the word casserole must ring in as too old fashioned to use in such a contemporary read like Gourmet. Only problem is that you have to dig through the 1000's of recipes to find a casserole that is hidden under a fancy name and requires more prep and ingredients than one would think humanly possible, and then I just sigh and shut the book and make one of my old stand bys instead.

Casseroles are not passe and they do not have to be flavorless or remind you of dinner at Aunt Bessie's. Granted, they might not always look exceptionally elegant, but I suppose you could cook them in little molds and then serve them with a little vinaigrette on top, but then you wouldn't have a casserole any more--you would have a strata or bake, I guess. So what exactly happened that made casseroles so unfashionable? Or is it a sign that I am getting old that I yearn for the humble casserole?

Broccoli Casserole (pictured directly above)
Adapted from the Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper

6 slices hearty bread, cut into bite size pieces. (I like to use Asiago Bread from our local grocer.)
4 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/3 cup milk
4 eggs
1 cup shredded white cheddar
1/4 cup parmesano-reggiano
1 small head broccoli, chopped fine
2 green onions, chopped

Preheat oven to 350F.

Butter or cooking spray a 9 X 13 baking dish. Spread bread pieces out in pan.

Melt butter in medium saute pan. When all melted, pour half in mixing bowl. Put pan back over medium-low heat. Add onions and saute 5 minutes and then add garlic and cook 5 more minutes. You want the onions nicely melted, but not turning brown at all. Remove from heat.

In mixing bowl with melted butter add eggs and milk and mix well. Then add cheeses and mix again. Finally, add onion and garlic mix, broccoli, and green onions. Mix well and pour on top of bread.

Cover with foil and bake 35 minutes. Take foil off for the last ten minutes.

Serves 4.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Beautiful House in Tucson

Maybe what I mean, is that while the house is beautiful, it's really the colors and decor inside that make it for me.

View from the backyard of my in-laws house:

They live up in the Catalina Foothills to the North of Tucson. The houses in the neighborhood are all lovely, lots of modern styles mixed in with the adobe ranch houses you would expect in Arizona. I especially liked this yellow one across the street. It is hard to see it, but their awning is purple.

In the side yard is this abandoned and broken fountain that they took out when they remodeled the house. I like it; it looks a little like an old relic. (Albeit, a somewhat tacky old relic.)

Inside is where this house is really interesting. A lucky cat greets you at the front door.

We have been looking at a very similar purple as this one to paint our bedroom.

I love how open the kitchen is, especially with all the artwork up on the shelves.

A gorgeous bowl next to the fireplace. I wish I had gotten a good picture of the fireplace. It joins both the front room and the back sitting room. The dog, Bette sits in the sitting room side and looks through the fireplace, through the front window to the outside.

Trevor's mom, Cyn, is a jewelry collector and regular expert know-it-all when it comes to ethnic jewelry, earrings especially.

There are many pieces of her gorgeous collection on display throughout the house.

I love those big earrings in the box with the turquoise background--I can't even imagine how heavy it would be to put those in your ears!

These are just hanging in her office.

And these were unceremoniously stuck up on a bulletin board. The silver one is actually a small container and the tasseled head is over 80 years old.

This little stack of doggies sit on the living room side of the fire place.

This mermaid and headdress sit on the other side of the fireplace. That color orange is probably my favorite color (next to lime green).

These sculptures are each about 3 feet high. Lots of fun.

I didn't even get all of the photos I wanted, but it is a very inspiring house to be in. I like to visit creative people in their homes.

Friday, April 9, 2010

A Dog Out of Wire

I was given a special commission while I am vacationing here in Arizona. My mother-in-law has a special princess in her life, Bette. As in Bette D., Bette Davis.

She is awfully cute.

My mission: to create a portrait out of wire of Bette so that Cyn can cover it with all of her own beads and buttons and antique items she has collected over the years.
It took a few hours since I had never attempted a dog shape before. I also wanted it to look like Bette too, so I spent a lot of time chasing Bette around the house to draw her and photograph her. Then Cyn let me post it up on Etsy and she bought it online. Very nice.

I am glad Cyn is happy with the results. Commissions are tough sometimes--getting exactly what your client wants can be tricky. I might start making more dogs soon.
Perhaps a dachshund next?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Greetings From Arizona: Hiking in Pima Canyon

We are in Arizona for the week. First stop, Tucson, to hang with the In-Laws and drink a lot of wine and margaritas and do some shopping. I already hit up a local Goodwill yesterday and bought up a whole bunch of tin containers to cut up (with the tools I brought in my luggage) and ship back home. We are here until Saturday and then we head up to Scottsdale for our friends' wedding. While I truly love Pacific Northwest weather, visiting sunny locales is nice every so often. But I slathered on 75 SPF and STILL got a twinge of sunburn yesterday. I do not enjoy that at all.

First morning here we decided to go for a hike. Trevor's parents used to live in a beautiful big ranch house in the center of Tucson but decided to down size and moved way up into the Catalina hills last year. The only way to describe Tucson is sprawling. You can drive forever and never seem to get closer to your destination. But I digress. Their new house is really close to several popular trails. The trail head for the Pima Canyon is only about 5 minutes away. Very convenient.

Classified as an extremely difficult hike, the 14 mile round trip would probably kill me. But the first 2 or 3 miles are much easier. We brought walking sticks and that helped quite a bit.
Tucson has had a very wet winter and everything is blooming and on a larger and greener scale than I have ever seen it in 10 years of visiting.

The trail runs right up into the Santa Catalina Mountains, placing you eventually at the top of Mount Kimball. With my wonky ankle, there was no way we were going to go that far.
The plants are very sculptural here. All those spiky green plants in the photos above are tipped with these lovely red flowers. Most of the year they look like brown sticks. Spring is a good time to visit Tucson. And it was a nice 75 degree weather sort of day. (My Mother-In-Law keeps complaining how cold it is. Haha. 38 low in Tacoma last week is cold. 75 is not.)

I had never even seen Prickly Pears in bloom close up before! Those little purple flowers in the background are everywhere. The purple and yellow are very striking together. (They are complimentary colors, you know, so they should look great together.)

The mountains look very green right now. But this will be bad later on when all these lush grasses dry up and become fire hazards.

I think each and every cactus is amazing in its own right.

The little creek running through the canyon was swollen with water. We had to clamber over several watery crossings.
We ended up going a little over 5 miles. It took a couple of hours because you are climbing uphill over rocks the entire time. It is called a path, but some areas are getting squished with all the spring growth. Unfortunately, what I hoped would loosen up my ankle instead made it hurt like hell. It is feeling better today though. My husband just got back from a jog and I am jealous. Today we are going to hit up the Tucson Art Museum to see an Andy Warhol exhibit.