Thursday, April 30, 2015

My Newest Frida Kahlo Piece of Art, Making Cotton Candy + Chicken Curry with Spring Vegatables, Chinese Broccoli Beef Noodle Stir Fry & Japanese Christmas Cake Recipes

I've spent some focused time during the last few days trying to finish this piece, "Frida in a Shawl," so that it can be included on the poster for the Bella Frida part of the artwalk in Louisville in June. It is very exciting to have this opportunity. This piece is not actually finished, but it is close enough to be photographed. I actually like it better when viewed in person, than viewing the the photograph of it.

Here's what it started out as:
It starts with a drawing based on the following photograph.
Then I colored the image with colored pencils.

And then I added the encaustic wax and the wax covered tissue paper flowers. I really like this piece. Hopefully it will sell, so I might make another one, though a second one would not look the same as the encaustic colors are very organic in the way they combine.

I have an idea for a third piece in this series that I am hoping to start very soon.

We are also getting geared up for Ellie's graduation party. Natalie's kids have lent us their cotton candy machine. Ellie, Kenzie and Katy had fun figuring out how to use it. It was both fun and a bit scary. It was sort of like electric, tasty spider webs.


I made this for Ethan and I this evening, in between working on the "Frida in a Shawl" encaustic. I worked on the encaustic a little, worked on making dinner while the wax cooled, etc. I served rice cooked in chicken stock. Ethan suggested that next time I make rice cooled with coconut water. That is a great idea.

Chicken Curry with Spring Vegetables
via: Eat Well 101

Serves 6
2 lbs (1kg) skinless chicken breasts, cubed
3 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
Salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 red bell pepper, minced
4 cups fresh spring vegetables: asparagus, green peas, snap peas…
2-3 tablespoons curry powder*
1 teaspoon ground cumin*
1 ½ cups (350ml) chicken stock or vegetable stock
1 cup (240ml) coconut milk
Fresh cilantro, chopped (optional, for garnish)
Lime wedges, for garnish
(Cashews or peanuts for garnish)

* I doubled the amount of seasonings to make it more intensely flavored.

1. Season chicken pieces with salt and black pepper. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces in batches and lightly brown. Remove and transfer to a plate and continue cooking all the chicken the same way. Avoid crowding the pot because the chicken will steam instead of browning.

2. Add the onion, garlic and ginger to the pot and cook about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the bell pepper, asparagus, green peas and snap peas. Cook another few minutes.

3. Add the chicken back to the pot. Add the curry powder and cumin. Cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add the stock, cover the pot and simmer gently, stirring occasionally for about 15-20 minutes. The chicken should be cooked through.

4. Add the coconut milk, and simmer gently uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring until the sauce is thickened. Serve over rice, with lime wedges and chopped cilantro for garnish.

Ellie and Kohlton made this for dinner and dessert recently. It was a lovely meal:

Chinese Broccoli Beef Noodle Stir Fry
via: Steamy Kitchen

3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine, sake or dry white wine
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon tapioca starch or cornstarch
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 pound beef sirloin, thinly sliced
1 pound fresh or 10 ounces dried noodles
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped
1.25 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 pound Chinese broccoli or regular common broccoli, cut into bite-size chunks or florets
Freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon each soy sauce, oyster sauce and rice wine. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until completely dissolved. Stir in the tapioca starch and continue stirring until smooth. Add the sesame oil and beef, and mix well. Marinate for 20 minutes. Drain and discard the excess marinade.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the noodles until 1 minute shy of done and drain. (We'll finish cooking the noodles at the end)

Heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil in a skillet or wok over high heat and stir-fry the garlic until fragrant, about 1o seconds. Add the beef and stir-fry until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and when hot, add the Chinese broccoli, stir frying so that the oil coats the Chinese broccoli. Pour in the 1/4 cup of the stock, turn the heat to medium-low and cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook the Chinese broccoli until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the Chinese broccoli to the same plate.

Add the remaining cup of stock and the remaining 2 tablespoons each of soy sauce, oyster sauce, and rice wine to the same skillet and bring to a boil over
high heat.

Add the noodles and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, leaving the noodles lightly moistened,2 to 3 minutes. Return the beef and broccoli to the skillet and toss to mix the ingredients thoroughly. Season with pepper to taste and serve.

Japanese Christmas Cake
via: Sugar and Snapshots

2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons honey
4 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour, sifted

2 cups heavy cream
4 tsp cold water
4 tsp agar agar or unflavored gelatin
1/2 cup frosting sugar
1 pint of fresh strawberries, hulled, washed and halved.

Preheat oven to 350° F
Use a large 5″x9″ loaf pan or 8″ spring form pan. Line it with waxed paper.
Place milk in a small microwave-safe bowl and heat just to warm (about 10 to 15 seconds). Mix honey in the warm milk, set aside.
Fill a large bowl with warm water, set aside.
Using an electric hand-mixer, whisk the eggs in a large bowl, adding the sugar gradually until completely combined.
Place the bowl over the large bowl with warm water, continue to whisk the egg mixture until it becomes light yellow (almost white), remove from heat and add the honey and milk mixture and whisk to combine and cool the mixture slightly
Sift flour, holding sieve nice and high above the bowl to get plenty of air in the flour as it goes down into the bowl, into the egg mixture. Using a large bubble whisk gently fold the flour into the egg mixture.
Pour the batter in lined pan and tap the pan. Tap very gently on the table to release any air bubbles. Bake at 350° F for 10 minutes, then turn down oven temperature to 300° F and continue to bake for about 40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the Kasutera comes out clean.
Remove Kasutera from oven and grasping the parchment on both sides of pan lift the Kasutera out, carefully remove parchment and place on wire rack to cool.

In the bowl of your stand mixer pour the heavy cream into the bowl and place in the refrigerator to chill bowl and cream.
In a small microwaveable bowl combine the cold water and agar agar or gelatin into the bowl and whisk to combine, keep whisking until the mixture is thick and looks dissolved.
Place in microwave for 10 seconds until warm and continue to mix until cool. It should thicken slightly and not look grainy but smooth and syrup like.
Put the chilled bowl of cream onto the mixer and on medium high speed with a whisk attachment, whisk until almost at soft peak. Add in the sugar slowly to the thick cream, and when it is at the soft peak stage slowly drizzle in the agar agar mixture into the cream until it thickens to desired constancy, I stopped at stiff peaks.

Stabilized whipping cream (above)
Kasutera sponge (above)

1 pint of strawberries, hulled, washed and halved.

In the same container that was used to bake the sponge, line it with wax paper leaving an over hang enough to lift out the cake when assembled and chilled.
Cut the sponge in half as evenly as possible. Place half of the sponge cake in the bottom of the pan. Layer a very thin layer of the whipped cream on top of the sponge.
Arrange the strawberry halves around the entire pan. You can arrange them how ever you wish. I stood them up on the bases.
Layer 2/3 of the cream over the strawberries until you are unable to see the tops through the cream.
Add the last layer of sponge on top of the cream and gently push down to spread the cream in between the berries.
Using 1/2 of the remaining cream spread a thin layer on top of the sponge cake in an even flat layer. Refrigerate for 3-4 hours, You can use the remaining cream to pipe a decoration along the edge of the cake when ready to serve.

When ready to serve. Place your cake container next to your serving platter, and gently lift it out of the pan (or remove sides if you chose to use a spring form pan) and place on the platter. With a kitchen assistant and a large flat angled spatula you can then gently peel down the sides of the paper and lift the cake to remove the parchment on the bottom. At this point you have an option to use the remaining cream to pipe a decoration along the edge of the cake. Gently slice and decorate with extra cream and berries.
Recipes adapted from La Fuji Mama

Monday, April 27, 2015

Of Containers, Ducks, Alexa, Frida and Cleaning - What my weekend was made of

This weekend was mostly about regrouping, trying to recharge and gearing up for the next set of big events that take place in less than two weeks. By Friday afternoon I was spent and nearly voiceless. I was so thankful that it was the weekend. Ellie graduates on May 9th. Ellie and I are organizing the reception at her school and we are hosting a party at our house, too. It is a lot, but graduating is important, so a party (or two) is in order. We are hosting a party for Ellie and Kohlton. It just makes sense to combine them since they will want to be together. We will be meeting some of his grandparents for the first time and we want to make the best impression possible. That means that we are deep cleaning and attempting to declutter our house. This is in contrast to Larr emptying out his father's house. Much of that stuff is making its way to us. The timing is not great, but it is what has to happen.

We are all very sad, but Larr is still in very deep mourning. Integrating some of his parents stuff in with ours makes him feel a little better. The picture above is an example of this, and one I love. The rocks, minerals, shark's teeth, crushing balls, etc. are part of his collection of cool stuff. The containers are from his parents. I love the way it looks. I think him mother would have approved.
The beaker is one of my favorite things brought over. There is a set from when Eleanor worked at the Armstrong Cork Company. Upon close inspection, I found that the numbers were sand-blasted on. It looks like the letter stencil was made by hand. The elegance of the script is just not the kind you would get from a machine.

Their furniture makes this room look more like an office, than the man-cave it was just a short time ago.

On Saturday, Ethan stopped by on his way to working his first night shift. On the way over he encountered a mallard drake that was injured. Ethan thinks that it may have been clipped by a car. It was injured, bleeding a small bit and trying unsuccessfully to cross the road to get to a small pond on private land where its mate was already on the water. Ethan was unsure what to do. He picked up the bird, carried it to near the edge of the pond and left some food for it. Much to my amazement, Ethan said that the bird just looked at him placidly and was very calm as Ethan delivered him to the other side of the road. I don't know if that means that the duck was in shock, or if it sensed that Ethan intended to help, instead of hurt. I called a bird rescue organization. I had to leave a message, so I don't know if they were able to help the bird or not. We certainly hope so, but I don't think we will actually know, short of going to that spot and looking for evidence of carnage from something attacking and killing the duck. It also makes me wonder what happens to the mate that is left behind after one of the ducks die. It was both sad, that the duck was hurt, and gratifying to see that Ethan has a tender enough heart to stop and help a creature in need.

The next day we went over to Don's house. Ethan and James were eating dinner. James has a fun device, a toy, really, called Alexa. It is kind of like Siri for the house. It is Amazon Echo. She is voice activated. You can ask her to purchase and play music, ask her about things like weather, or traffic. You can ask her to tell you a joke or tell her "good night Alexa" and get a response in return. Her jokes are pretty funny in a 3rd grader kind of way. I asked Alexa to tell me a joke and she replied, "Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 (ate) 9." When we told her good night, she replied, "Good night and sweet dreams." Ethan is not much of one for lots of computers or electronics, but James is and it is fun to see how they blend their different kinds of fun while living together.
When you say, "Alexa" it lights up and waits for a request. It is really pretty fun.

In between cleaning (I did a deep clean of the living room and a bathroom, complete with a cabinet cleanout and reorganization) I did a little art, working on a second piece for the Frida exhibit in Louisville this summer. It is really kind of exciting!

I colored the second Frida image that I drew, glued it to the craddled board and painted the sides of both pieces. I am also thinking about some way to finish the back in a fun way. All the while I watch, "Frida" with Selma Hayek planning the title role. Frida was an amazing, passionate, fiery woman.

I might try to do a third piece for the show. I am also thinking about creating some coloring pages that kids could color so that they would have fun at the event, too. My art will be part of an artwalk in June. Exciting stuff!

Friday, April 24, 2015

Things I Love - From This Week

This has been a crazy week, just like so many others in my life. There have been some wonderful things.

Early in the week we gathered to celebrate my father's 72nd birthday. We had a nice dinner at the Outback Steakhouse. It was great. My Aunt Rosemary was the one who organized it. My dad is not much for talking, but we had a nice chat. I think he had not seen Ethan since he was about 14 or 15, so I was especially pleased that he was able to join us.

Speaking of Ethan, last night he stopped by the house and shared some of the bagels he made earlier in the evening. He and a friend had bagels, cream cheese and lox for breakfast. It was pricey and not very good, so he gave it a go. I love that he is like that. It is gratifying for me to see that he enjoys cooking.

The kids had gone walking earlier in the week and brought home these flowering branches for me. I don't know what they are, maybe flowering plum, but I love them. I want to draw them. I am thrilled that they brought them home for me. I am certain that carrying them back was a hassle.

On Wednesday, Kohlton successfully defended his thesis. He and Ellie worked very hard to make sure that he would give an excellent speech and he looked so handsome in his new suit. He has come such a long way from the angry young man who joined the school in his 8th grade year. I think his parents were especially thrilled. I loved watching his dad watch him. I don't think Mark had seen Kohlton do a presentation like that before.

And of course there was Victory Pie at Village Inn once it was declared successful. This is a long standing tradition where the non-family members wait for the private deliberations about the potential graduate's credentials for earning his/her diploma. There are usually about 15-25 of us taking up an entire section of the restaurant. We the graduate arrives, we erupt in applauses.

Kohlton is our 30th graduate.

And, as if all of that is not enough, Ellie bought her first vehicle. It is a green 4 Runner with a super turbo something. Larr, Ethan and Kohlton are all suffering from a little truck envy. Larr suggests that we call it the Green Dragon. (I will post a photo of it as soon as I have one.)

I hope you have a lovely weekend. We are going to spend ours moving plants from my mother-in-law's garden to ours. I hope and pray that I can keep most of them alive. It is a big job, but one that has to be done since we are having to sell that house.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Colorado Teen Literature Conference, 2015 + Hamburger/Hot Dog Buns Recipe & Shepard's Pie Recipe

Last weekend I helped put on the 2015 Colorado Teen Literature Conference. My life has been a ride on the crazy train for a while, but I am sure glad that I made going to the conference a priority.

We had two really wonderful Key Note, featured authors. Wendelin Van Draanen, who has written a ton of books, some of them for middle schoolers, and some of them a bit more serious. My current favorite of her books is The Running Dream. However, I have several titles, including Flipped and Swear to Howdy, that I want to read. Her keynote was funny, serious and uplifting.
Wendelin, her husband and two young boys started out living in a tiny, moldy house in a bad neighborhood where homeless people slept on her porch. For ten years she taught math and computer science while raising her family and writing in the wee hours of the morning. For many of those ten years she received many rejection letters. Eventually, a publisher gave her a contract and that book that so many other publishing houses turned down, won a few rewards. She continues to work like this for some number of years, until she was getting enough from writing that she could do that full time. the son of Rob Reiner had to read Flipped for school, and so Rob read along with him. He loved the novel enough to make it into a movie.

One of the things that I love about Wendelin was that, in addition to being kind, understanding and very real, she was also very funny. Sometimes she sang a little when she was speaking. I love this about her. She was also so kind and attentive to the teens at the conference.
We are going to exchange some fun stuff in the mail. She is going to send me a few books on disc for my struggling readers. I am going to make her a small piece of art.

Our other notable speaker was Andrew Smith. I love his books because they are so daring and really put what I think it must be like to be a teenage boy onto the page. I loved his book, Winger. I was thrilled when he talked about the sequel coming out in September.
I thought Grasshopper Jungle was great, too. It was very daring, indeed.

Andrew and his family live in the mountains of California. He is very dedicated to supporting his children and helping them be who they want to be. I loved the stories about how he empowers both of his kids. He, too, writes early in the morning. He gets up at 3:00 so that he can write before he is off to teach a full day of high school English. I admire and am amazed at his drive, his motivation. The teens at our conference loved him, too.
We had lots of other wonderful sessions, too many to list. One of our new types of sessions this year was one about "No More Bored Games." It was a very big hit.

After the conference we dined at Lower 48. The food was hand-made, but the portions were a bit small. The restaurant is really lovely.
My favorite food was the onion chips. They are made from pureed onion that is mixed with tapioca pearls, made into a foam that is put on parchment, dried and fried. They were very, very yummy!

In a few weeks we will gather to look at the evaluations, and then we will take a break and reconvene in the fall.


This weekend we had a fun family dinner with all of us, Kohlton, James and Uncle Doug. I made hamburgers, hamburger buns and served fruit. I also made a nice Shepard's Pie for Larr's lunch this week.

Hamburger or Hot Dog Buns
via: King Arthur Flour (recipe is half of the original amount)
This made 9 good size buns.

2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 tea active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (105°F to 115°F)
2 cups warm milk (105°F to 115°F)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
3 - 4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour*
e<i>gg wash: 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
sesame, poppy or caraway seeds or coarse salt (optional)

I made the dough in my bread maker and it worked out great! Here are the directions for doing it by hand:

*We give you this fairly wide variation for a couple of reasons. First, you'll find in the summer that you'll need a bit more flour to absorb a given amount of liquid than you will in the winter. This is because it's humid and flour acts somewhat like a slightly dampened sponge as a result.

Second, this particular dough should be quite slack, i.e., very relaxed in order to make soft and tender buns. So you want to add only enough more flour, past the 6-cup point, to make the dough just kneadable; sprinkling only enough more to keep it from sticking to you or the board.

Mixing: In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar and then the yeast in the warm water. Add the milk, oil, salt and 3 cups of flour to the yeast mixture. Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.

Gradually add flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface.

Kneading: Knead until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Because this dough is so slack, you may find that a bowl scraper or bench knife can be helpful in scooping up the dough and folding it over on itself.

Rising: Put the dough into an oiled bowl. Turn once to coat the entire ball of dough with oil. Cover with a tightly-woven dampened towel and let rise until doubled, about one hour.

Shaping: Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled work surface. Divide into 18 equal pieces. This is done most easily by dividing the dough first into thirds, then those thirds into halves, then the halves into thirds.

Shape each piece into a ball. For hamburger buns, flatten the balls into 3 1/2-inch disks. For hot-dog buns, roll the balls into cylinders, 4 1/2-inches in length. Flatten the cylinders slightly; dough rises more in the center so this will give a gently rounded top versus a high top.

For soft-sided buns, place them on a well-seasoned baking sheet a half inch apart so they'll grow together when they rise. For crisper buns, place them three inches apart.

Second Rising: Cover with a towel and let rise until almost doubled, about 45 minutes.

Baking: Fifteen minutes before you want to bake your buns, preheat your oven to 400°F. Just before baking, lightly brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash and sprinkle with whatever seeds strike your fancy.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread reaches 190°F. (A dough thermometer takes the guesswork out of this.)

When the buns are done, remove them from the baking sheet to cool on a wire rack. This will prevent the crust from becoming soggy.

Nutrition information per serving (1 bun, 93 g): 206 cal, 3 g fat, 7 g protein, 37 g complex carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 1 g dietary fiber, 17 mg cholesterol, 255 mg sodium, 119 mg potassium, 2 mg iron, 120 mg calcium, 83 mg phosphorus.

Shepard's Pie

4 cups mashed potatoes
1 lb ground beef
1/3 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tablespoons flour
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 can (14.5oz) Beef broth
2 cups frozen vegetable medley (I used bags of peas, carrots and green beans, instead of the medley)
2 cups Cheddar Cheese, shredded
salt & pepper

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Brown ground beef, onions and garlic in a large skillet on med-high heat. When meat is completely cooked, stir in flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.
Stir in tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and beef broth. Simmer for 5-6 minutes, or until sauce is thick. Turn the heat off and stir in frozen vegetables and salt and pepper, to taste.
Pour beef mixture into a large, oven-proof casserole dish. Top with mashed potatoes and smooth with a spatula. Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of mashed potatoes.
Place casserole dish on a large sheet pan (in case the sauce overflows) and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Ladle and serve!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

My Daughter, the Graduate

I'd like to present my daughter, Ellie, the graduate. After much work, which included a few tears and plenty of nashing of the teeth, Ellie has successfully and beautifully completed her written thesis. Last night she defended her thesis in her oral presentation. After deliberations, her panel has declared that Ellie has met the requirements to graduate from Alpine Valley School. We are all so very excited for her.
The ceremony will take place next month. For now, I think she is very relieved to have the process completed. She certainly had a spring in her step this morning.

The process of writing her thesis and presenting it was hard. It required a lot of soul searching, introspection and being both honest, as well as forgiving, with herself. We are proud of her for meeting that challenge head on and taking that journey. I think she is better for it.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

More Altered Book Art from Two Hands Paperie

Last Wednesday I went up to Two Hands Paperie, my favorite art store, to spend time with other artists working on our submissions for the call for altered book art. I didn't want to leave anything to chance, so I actually finished my piece before I went to the work night. I spent the evening admiring the art made by the others, teaching people a few helpful techniques and starting another altered book, which I may or may not actually finish.

It was really fun to see what Jennifer Ghormley did with the colored cones that a bunch of us help make at the community art making night about a month ago.

It was really something to view and think about. Jennifer printed the colored portions during one of the snow storms we had in January.
We helped make the forms at a Two Hands Community Art event. (Fun, Fun, Fun) and then I get to see this. I think about all of the measuring and ladder work it took to install it. It took her two days to put it all up. I am impressed by her art.

I also took photos of the submissions for the altered book exhibit and contest. I thought you might like to see those, too.
This is "Sea Foam." It is made by Jeane. She told a great story about making her piece. I loved the part about her going to Whole Foods to by a Red Snapper, then taking it home to prepare the bones for her sculpture. It took her weeks. She even referenced video instructions by an 11 year old boy who is a sort of bone preserving expert. I loved watching her talk about her creation.

I did not get to meet any of the other artists, but I did get to see their art.

It is exciting to anticipate what might be the next art making event.