Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Cooking Madness

I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday that focuses on family and friends and eating good food and isn't so commercially driven. We traditionally have friends over for Thanksgiving. Last year was pretty decent sized with 8 of us. This year it will just be three of us. (Which is just fine with me because we plan to geek out playing Settlers of Catan all night. If you don't know this game, you must go here and here.)

So I am planning a somewhat unconventional Thanksgiving meal. Personally, turkey is not my favorite bird in the world to eat and with only 3 of us that would mean a lot of turkey leftovers. Instead, I am making bacon wrapped pork tenderloin. Oh, yeah, it is going to be magnificent. I also decided for kicks to make a traditional green bean casserole and roasted potatoes and parsnips. And an apple cranberry crisp for dessert. I will probably toss a little green salad in there somewhere, but overall a fun and easy meal to make. Bacon makes me happy.

Except that when I went to the grocery store today, my patience and happiness were truly tested. Crazy people that don't normally buy groceries, let alone cook, were out in force at Fred Meyer's. Aggressive and panicked, they didn't watch where their carts were going and didn't care if you couldn't get past them. Come on people, it isn't really that hard!

But then I got to the meat section. I saw people picking up huge frozen turkeys and I am thinking to myself, "Doesn't it take more than 24 hours to thaw one of those suckers?" Whatever, not my problem. Turns out my problem was that they were completely out of pork tenderloin! Now I was starting to get a little peeved. But I took a deep breath and finished my shopping as fast as possible and got out of there.

It really wasn't that bad since I would now have to go to the gourmet grocery store I usually try to avoid. And since I had to go there, I might as well pick up some good wine while I was there too! And some Reubens for lunch since their deli makes the best Reubens. And a mocha.

A mocha topped with whipped cream and sprinkles put my mood back on the right track.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Getting Ready for Gift Shows

Snow days are good for productivity. Even if I do have to bring half my studio into the house because the heater in the garage doesn't work if it is under 30 degrees outside. I like making things that are cheerful and colorful when it is all white and glaring outside.

As you can see, I have been making a lot of Birdie Ornaments.

I think they look so cute when they are grouped together! They will retail for between $22 each. I have a show this weekend and then any left over I will be putting up on my ETSY shop.
I also have a new Crow Scavenger sculpture I just finished. He's made out of washers and tin that looks like grass and an oatmeal tin.
Back to work!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Little Birds

Since it was too cold to work out in my studio today, I decided to stay in (with a cat or two on my lap) and make some felted birds. I am really having fun combining the wire working with the felt. They are a little goofy.

Snow Day

The view from the front porch is a lonely one today. Not many cars or people are out and about on our street at all.

I know a lot of people in our area are really excited about the snow but I am not a big fan of frozen droplets of water. Sure, it is fun to look at and play in for a bit but then you have to get back to work. And when it is 30 degrees outside, I cannot heat up my studio at all. So I am dragging things to work on inside the house, but I need to be cutting and filing and sanding metal and that is not something I want to do in the house.
But I do enjoy all the shapes in the garden as they get covered in snow. This bird feeder looks especially funky.

Last, but not least, it is the perfect day for soup. French Onion soup with smoked cheddar melts with marinated mushrooms.
And I am making more coffee. Because you can never have enough coffee on days like today.

I did buy a gigantic, ankle length white fake fur coat at a fund raising auction a couple of weeks ago. Maybe we will walk to the bar tonight and I will put on the my snowman coat to keep me nice and warm.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Economic Gardening

I just love the term "Economic Gardening." To me, it means not only trying to nurture and grow your audience but also working with other members in your community. Healthy and growing businesses can contribute to other healthy, growing businesses.

This morning I went to a free economic gardening workshop put on by the city of Tacoma. They do 3 -4 of these per year with different topics. This is probably the 5th one I have been to in the last 3 years. Let me just say, this is a fabulous service. A lot of small businesses could benefit and either just don't know about, can't take the time, or think it doesn't refer to them.

This morning's session was Marketing Your Business in Less than 2 Hours Per Week. I wasn't the only artist there. Also in attendance were owners and managers of a pizza chain, a security service, a massage therapist, a farmer's market, a new distillery opening in downtown Tacoma, a landscaper, a tea wholesaler, and a ton of others. I am pretty confident everyone left the room with some ideas on how to get the word out on their businesses.

The main idea I took away is that I need to focus on one area to really see progress.

I made an astounding decision. (Sometimes, I amaze myself.) I am too scattered. I have decided to focus on my reclaimed tin jewelry and sculpture. Starting by reworking my Etsy site into focusing solely on reclaimed art/jewelry/housewares and taking off all of the paintings and prints that weren't selling anyways I hope to give Raven Meets Crow a more focused brand.

I also need to make an action plan so that I can have something to measure my results against. All of these little exercises made thinking about marketing more interesting and challenging and I am excited to see what I can do with it all!

Once I have decided upon an action plan, I will share it with you and then we can see whether this turns into folly or success!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Marriage Equals Compromise

While I have my heart set on buying a new house, turns out my husband has his heart set on a new piano. Pianos are not as expensive as houses, obviously, but they do rival car prices. Trevor has been playing on the above piano for 2 years and that door you see in the background is our front door, so you can see we do not have room for a big piano much bigger than what is there now.

While I was out being a do-gooder and volunteering last Saturday, my husband went on a little adventure with a friend of ours and they spent all afternoon looking at pianos and playing pianos and finding out prices on pianos.

And he fell in love with this piano:
Of course, I about had a fit when he told me it was $5200! (Plus tax!)

I know he has been thinking about this a lot and the piano he has now is pretty inadequate. But I was thinking he could find a nice upgrade for around $2000. Little do I know about pianos, obviously. But it does come with a warranty and regular tuning is included in the price too.

This will take a big chunk out of our house down payment fund and as the piano is strictly for him and not me, I am rather selfish about it and would prefer to save the money for a house for the both of us. I at least was able to convince him to look at other options, look on Craig's list, and get another friend of ours that plays pianos to come down and look at the one he wants.

But still. Sheesh. I know it will make him happy but there is nothing comparable that I want or need in my life so I don't get it.

Except that there is something that I want and need in my life that Trevor has been holding back on for 3 years: a dog.

So when he came downstairs the next day and said he had a compromise, I was thinking a cheaper piano and then he said I could get a dog if he could get a piano. And that changed everything. A Cardigan Corgi puppy would be a very good compromise in my estimation.
He is still not rushing out to get this piano and a dog could take months to find. But you have to remember that marriage is a compromise. And even if the piano isn't for me directly, it would make him happy and that it turn makes me happy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

37 Things I Want to do Before I Turn 38: Make Gnocchi

Oh, gnocchi. You little flour and potato (sometimes) dumplings from Italy. You were eaten by the ancient Roman Legions while on campaign. You are made expertly by Italian grandmothers everywhere. And you are a mystery to me. Until now.

Turns out (just like making pasta from scratch) that making gnocchi is pretty simple and requires no complicated ingredients. The only thing that kept me from making it so long is that you need a simple tool, a potato ricer, to mash the potatoes extra fine.
Tacoma is not known for its gourmet kitchen shops. The one we had on our cute little 6th ave shopping district went out of business last year and even the chain kitchen shop in the mall went out of business too. Sure I could have driven up to Seattle and spent $40 on one at Sur La Table. Sure I could have ordered it online. But I wanted it now. Fred Meyers, no. Target, no (even though they sell them online.) On a whim, I popped into TJMaxx and presto! a lovely all stainless steel ricer, made in Italy, was waiting for me for only $7.99!

Of course, my first foray into gnocchi was not traditional. I saw this Pumpkin Gnocchi recipe from Greg Atkinson over on Not Martha's blog and remembered we had a little pie pumpkin from our organic food delivery and decided to give it a whirl.

You start by cooking your pumpkin. You can't see it very well, but I have the pumpkin in a steamer basket with only a cup of water in the pan. Covered, it cooked in about 10 minutes.

Next, let it cool a little and then use your glorious ricer. It produces a perfect smooth and creamy texture. (I guess this is how you make baby food.)

Let it cool a little more before adding an egg yolk, salt, and your flour. Turns out I had too much pumpkin and had to add a lot more flour to combat the stickiness.

Then comes the fun part: playing with dough.

I divided it up into 8 sectionss.

Then I rolled out the logs and divided them into 12 pieces.
I should have left them like this. I checked several cookbooks and of course they all had different suggestions. Greg Atkinson said to make little pillows. Ethan Stowell wants you to use a special wooden tool to roll the gnocchi across to make the hash marks. Or he said you could use a fork. (No, I could not. They looked awful.) Tom Douglas said leave 'em like they are. I wish I had followed his advice. It would have been much simpler!

Here are my ugly pillowed dumplings. The forked ones looked even worse!
I should have left well enough alone with Greg's recipe instead of looking in the other cookbooks because they all disagreed on cooking time as well! Most recipes say when they float to the top of the boiling water, they are done. Tom Douglas said they need another minute or three before removing them. It is hard to keep track of which ones just floated to the surface and which ones were ready!

All that worry and they turned out just fine. I cut way back on the fresh sage leaves Greg recommends and it still overwhelmed the pumpkin taste. Simple pumpkin gnocchi in a sage butter sauce with salt and pepper and freshly grated Parmesan. YUM!

I just noticed that the first two things I have done on my 37 Things I Want to do Before I Turn 38 were both cooking things. And I was planning on the 3 layer cake next! (Maybe I should just make a cooking list.)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Goodie Giveaway!

The ultra fabulous Michelle over at Michelle My Belle is having a really generous giveaway at her shop. Go over there and leave a comment to win a $100 gift certificate!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Requests for Earrings

Last weekend at my studio tour, I had a lot of requests for earrings out of reclaimed tin. You ask and you shall receive!

Retail prices will be $11-$15 on these earrings. The little drops are all $11. What do you think?

I like these red flowered ones a lot. I might just have to make a pair for myself!

I love putting complementary orange and blue together!
These for the gal that wants a little more movement in her earrings.

Big pile just waiting to become earrings.
I will have some up on ETSY by tomorrow! All will come with their own drawstring gift baggie.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

When You Just Can't Take It Anymore

I am talking about my house here. I bought our little "salt box" house (some people in the Northwest prefer to call them Cape Cods, but they are not real Cape Cods and they are just fooling themselves to say that) before we got married. It was all I could afford by myself. It was a bare canvas. No updates and old wiring.

Slowly, but surely, we have worked on the house. I tiled the bathroom. We remodeled the kitchen and dining room. We had a rock wall built up front. We built French doors off the back of the house and added a Trex deck and dug up the back yard and put in a fence. We converted the 2 car garage into a perfectly decent studio space for my artwork.Now, 7 and 1/2 years on, it is just not doing the trick anymore.

I know, I might sound a little pathetic, whining about a perfectly reasonable house that was purchased at an insanely reasonable price. And it has been a good house and we have no plans to sell it anytime soon. I think it will be a great rental.

However, we have come to the point: If we put any more money into this house, we will have priced ourselves out of our neighborhood. (You should never own the nicest house on the block.) Also, our needs are not quite being met. The layout of the house is poor with lots of doors and angles and small rooms and little storage and a cramped upstairs. We can't get any serious furniture up the stairs. We can barely turn around in our bedroom. And my husband practices piano (sometimes 3 hours a day) smack dab in the living room because there is nowhere else in the house that you can maneuver a piano with ease. Our square footage is just about right (1600) but the layout is horrible. And there is little charm in these salt boxes. They were built right after World War II with returning soldiers in mind and without eaves or built ins or attention to fine artistic detail.

My fantasy is to add about 300 square feet and pull the whole house down to one level and open it all up and voila! we would be in a mid-century ranch house.

Yesterday I took the monumental first step to start looking at houses. Luckily, I have a Realtor in the family and so we can go and look without a lot of pressure. After 9 houses plus (I lost count), I came home with one very important realization.

We cannot afford the house we want.

I don't see this as necessarily bad or a reason to get depressed. We are basically starting from square one since we are not planning to sell the house we are in now. To be perfectly honest, I don't want to move into a moderately expensive house that is ready to go because I will still find things I want to change. I prefer to find a shell of a mid-century ranch and then have at it myself. I like projects like this.

What is stopping us from getting a house anytime in the next week:

1)Tacoma is not flush with Mid-century. We have to turn away from downtown living and look out in the narrows. It is still only 5 miles give or take from downtown, but this is a big emotional leap for us.

2)Banks are holding onto roughly 4000 (not a misprint) foreclosed/abandoned homes in the area that they are not selling because they don't want to flood the market. Our dream home might be waiting for us in that pile of houses.

3) We both work from home. This might sound like a blessing, and it is, but we have specific needs that most people don't have to think about. Like two separate offices where we can spend all day without bugging one another as well as a workshop space for me.

4) We need room for (an eventual) baby grand piano for my husband.

5) I would prefer a larger than normal lot to allow for garden and studio space. This is the most flexible of the 5 needs but still pretty important.

Phew! You'll be hearing a lot from me in the coming months on this topic. I have photos of houses we have been looking into that I will post soon.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Making Something Special

Yesterday was the Tacoma Artist Studio Tours and it was my best year to date! Over 40 visitors and 21 sales! I set up an adult jewelry making activity that was very popular and generated some fantastic pieces.

I sold jewelry and prints and sculpture and felted critters.

But the most important item of the day was my Goats In Trees painting. My friend Patrick (in above photo) commissioned me to paint this piece for our mutual friends Greg and Rosie. It was a deeply held secret, only to be revealed once Rosie saw the painting in the studio.
Funny thing is, when Rosie came in, the studio was crowded with a lot of people, including some people she knew. So she chatted and gabbed about and didn't notice the painting for almost a half hour! Everyone in the room was in on the secret and my friend Danny finally introduced the subject by casually mentioning he "liked the goats."

I was relieved that she and Greg liked the painting. You never know when you are creating a commission exactly how it will be received. Now I am about to go deliver it!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Inspiration: Goats!

I have been working on a new, special painting. Its of goats in a tree.

True phenomenon. These goats in Morocco climb the Argan trees to eat the berries.
My painting is deceptive because it looks like a big lush tree; in fact, most of the Argan trees in Morocco are more like the spindly bare branches in the forefront of the painting. The goats have been eating the Argan into extinction. Luckily steps are being taken to try and save this tree. But I just love the imagery of the goats in the trees.

I worked about 7 more hours on the painting after this and so the finished piece looks a bit different. The tree is redder and the goats have detail. I didn't get pictures with good lighting, so I will get pictures tomorrow during my studio tour to show you the finished result. I really like the goats.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

New Garden Art to Warm My Wintery Soul

OK, I know it isn't technically winter yet but we've already had so much rain that our sump pump has already turned on and that doesn't usually happen until December.

So one the one lovely day we had last week, I was up in Seattle getting my henna and visiting with some friends and we stopped in at Tasty on Greenwood and I saw this garden art and had to buy it!

It's supposed to be a bird feeder, but I have a feeling it might end up more like a squirrel feeder, so I might just keep it empty.
As far as I can tell, the flower and leave pieces are made from helium tanks. Cool, huh?

I keep moving it around in the yard, not sure where I want to place it. But I keep getting reminded of all the weeds that suddenly sprung up in the last 3 weeks. Lots of work to do!
P.S. To all you Seattlites that have not made it yet to Delancy for dinner, go! This is the little pizza place in Ballard started by the woman who has the Orangette blog everyone is so crazy about. Well, the pizza was fantastic! And the appetizers and the dessert. Yummy yummy yummy.