December 22, 2011

Warm Winter-time Deliciousness

One of my absolute favorite things about the chilly season are the homemade warm, delicious food and beverages. Three of my newly-learned recipes are (homemade from scratch...well almost) vanilla chai tea, stuffed peppers and granola (all vegan of course). Below is my vanilla chai recipe...loosely.

STEP ONE: boil a small amount of water with one or two tea bags of spiced chai. I use about 1/2 cup...

STEP TWO: Once it has boiled for about one minute the water will turn a caramely-brown. At this point I like to sweeten the mix without about 2 tsp of sugar.

STEP THREE: Using a mini-whisk I stir the mixture (rapidly) to melt the sugar.

STEP FOUR: Pour in enough soy milk to turn the mixture a light, creamy tan color.

STEP FIVE: Continue to whisk the mixture. Add a small amount (I add about 1/8 tsp) of vanilla extract and continue to whisk. Do not walk away from this milky tea while it is on the burner! If you, for example, stop to take a photo of your mug with the strainer so you can post it on your blog, the tea might get extremely frothy and that sugary-milky mixture might overflow, hit the burner and caramelize, making a terrible smell and you might still be trying to get it off your stove days later....just an FYI.

STEP SIX: Place a fine mesh strainer over your mug. Chances are all that rigourous whisking has caused a tea bag or two to break open. Slowly pour your chai tea into your favorite handmade mug and enjoy!

November 13, 2011

Tis the Season for Mittens!

I absolutely adore this time of year. There is a crispness in the air complemented by the woodsey aroma of fall leaves. Light coats, scarves and mittens are comforting and aid us in enduring the chill. And last but not least, thoughts and plans of spending time with family and friends occupy our minds.

As someone who is inclined to the handmade over the mass produced, I get especially excited about making little items of comfort for myself, friends, and family this time of year. However, recently my time has been overly occupied (hence the minimal blog posts) and I decided to stop by Target to look at their gloves and mittens. The numerous, very colorful, machine knitted items included a variety of choices ranging from the traditional (very thin) short cuffed gloves ($1) to the slightly thicker mittens with removable tip-flaps that mimic the look of handknit mittens. They were absolutely beautiful and cost $11 (not a terribly large sum). I tried them on...they were warm and fit nicely but I knew they were not handknit. If you've never worn a handknit garment you might think I am a little crazy for not being over-the-moon about finding a nice mitten that was inexpensive and that fit well.

Wearing something handknit versus something mass produced is...just not the same. Handknit items, like a great piece of art, are food for the soul. Even better, they are food for the soul that physically comforts you. The feeling just can't be beat. Each knit and each purl (those are knitting stitches for the non-knitting readers) carry with them the history particular moment. I couldn't bring myself to purchase the machine-knit mittens in matter how nice they looked and felt.

I left Target, went home and began knitting my first pair of mittens (see the photo collage above).

October 12, 2011

New Work From the Ceramic Studio

I received a wonderful and surprising invitation from a gallery in which my high school art teacher is having a show of her oil paintings. She invited me along with a couple other past students/artists that are still living and working in the area. I, of course, was overjoyed at the opportunity. It is a wonderful concept to show a past mentor/teacher's work alongside a student who has branched out onto their own. It has been over 10 years since I've been under her tutelage so I am very excited to see our work side by side. Sometimes, influences in form, concept or style are evident.

I took this opportunity as a kick-in-the-bum to get back into the studio. Throughout this post are photos that exemplifies my new body of work. I've said good-bye to the glassy-glaze and hello to iron oxide washes and bare clay. I adore the rusty-antiqued-aged quality that oxide washes give to the work. All the off-white areas you see are bare clay. The clay was high fired in a gas kiln and is completely waterproof. However, the usability of the work for food is secondary.

The bowl and vase above are the pieces in the show. The show is up now and is at the gallery of The Clay College in Millville, New Jersey. This work is exemplary of a new body of work that is heavily concept based. The concept is as new as the surface treatment. In the past my work was never concept based, rather its goal was to be comfortably utilitarian. My short answer to "what is this about" is: The work serves as a comment on our relationship with food and the industrialization of animal and vegetable-based food.

It is a bit hard to see in this photo, but this is an example of my new bird series. I made a couple birds before but I never knew where they were going. After making this one I have a better idea where the work wants to go. There will be more birds with this surface treatment, but unlike previous ones, these will be combined with metal elements. For now, my thoughts are that the metal elements will be used primarily as feet forms. Finding the best way to combine the materials is an ongoing challenge.

I will keep everyone posted on new developments with this work. I am very excited and optimistic.

September 19, 2011

A New Cook Book: The Vegan Table

After I bought this adorable chicken wire-style basket this weekend I absolutely needed a new cook book to add to my collection of favorites.

Hubby and I set out for the book store early in the chilly morning so we would be among the first customers. When looking for a soon-to-be-favorite book it is necessary, for me, to have peace, quiet and also an entire book shelf that I can hog and not feel as though I am in someone's way. In order to judge a book I flip through it once quickly to see if it is organized in a clear, understandable way. The next thing I do is read the introduction. My criteria for buying a soon-to-be-favorite cook book: Do I like the author? Does the food look good? Are the ingredients obtainable? Are there a variety of recipes? Is it a "good read"?

One of the available books that met my criteria was The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Do I like the author?
Being vegan is not just a way of eating. Rather it is a compassionate way of living. I like to feel that the author and I agree on the lifestyle, of which food is an important component. My top favorite vegan cook book is The Kind Diet. That book is right on key with my beliefs. The author's purpose with this book is to create a book about food for entertaining. She has successfully done that and while the recipes are great for entertaining they also can be made on a normal week night.

Does the food look good?
I strongly feel the images of the food in the book need to be appetizing. This book has great images! However, she does not overpower the book with images.

Are the ingredients obtainable?
Some vegan cook books have ingredients that I have never heard of and neither have the people in the grocery store. Some obscure ingredients stump even speciality health food store staff. If the ingredients are unobtainable, the book becomes null. So far, all the recipes in this book have obtainable ingredients.

Are there a variety of recipes?
The makeup of the recipes are telling of the author's understanding that vegans have to pay attention to how they get their vitamins and minerals. Many people and restaurants simply remove meat from dishes they would eat and consider it vegan. Some even think that those meat-removed dishes are what vegans eat. No wonder they can't understand why and how we eat what we do. A vegan diet is luxurious. The food is delicious. When meat eaters make a vegan sandwich they make it with simply lettuce, raw peppers, onions and tomatoes. A vegan, for example, would put a hummus and olive oil spread on multi-grain bread. The filling would be a combination of roasted or grilled veggies (peppers, eggplant, squash, mushrooms) on a bed of lightly sauteed kale. Additional flavors would be gained from sun dried tomatoes or cured olives. Instead of a side of lays potato chips I would instead opt for roasted sweet potatoes with coriander.

Is it a good read?
I like to smile when I read, even if it is a cook book. This book has fun notes off to the side that make it an entertaining book as well as informative.

This is the first recipe I cooked from this book. It is a "marvelous mushroom risotto."

September 1, 2011

Hurricane Irene

This past weekend the east coast of North America experienced hurrican Irene. As always, some areas were hit worst than others. Our area experienced what I would call a strong storm. We lost power for two hours last night...and that is about all of the hurricane effects we experienced. Others, including our neighbors experienced a little more. Our neighbors behind us and to the left of us have a lake in their back yard from the rain. Our neighbors to the right must have no power because their generator is running.

At about 10:00 last night our lights started to flicker and the wind started to howl outside our front door. We decided it would be best to take shelter on the lower floor of our house. We have a bi-level so the bottom floor is cinderblock construction. Our windows went straight-edge:

This will supposedly keep the windows in tact should they break from the heavy winds.

We slept on the floor on this room. It was once a garage that has been converted into a family room. Me, my husband and the dog (Westby) cuddled close on the floor. The cat (Beauie), being superior, slept upstairs:

Before we settled in for the evening we made the most delicious pizza bagels. Mine had kale, red onions, marinara sauce, and vegan cheese. It was the most delicious pizza bagel I've ever eaten. As I was making them I thought it would be my last hot meal for a day or so because I expected to lose electricity:

Here is the damage from the storm...our tomatoes, cucumber plant seedlings are most likely done for....

August 13, 2011

New Table, New Work

I am so fortunate to have an amazingly generous husband/studio-mate. A long time ago he was given this beautifully old wooden studio table. Since he brought it to our house it has been sitting in the back room and was being used as a storage table. The other day he asked me if I wanted to use it in my studio. I was totally thrilled. It has more than doubled my table space!

With the new table surface came motivation for new work. I had been making sketches of this idea for the past week. Like all work, it is a combination of thoughts that have been formulating for years. I am not sure where it will go and that is why I enjoy it so much! I do know that there will be a ceramic element in this new body of work at some point.

For over a year now I have been attempting (I strongly emphasize attempting) works on paper. It has been an unbelievable challenge. Since being a 3-d only artist for so long a sheet of paper was the biggest challenge EVER. The other day I began to doodle on a sheet of watercolor paper with pen and watercolor pencil. I looked at the composition and did not like it. I thought back to my sketch book ideas of making honeycomb ceramic wall installations (yet to be made). Then I thought, "hey, this paper does have to stay rectangle." So then I took an xacto knife to it and this is what happened. For now, these are taped to my studio wall. I like this installation style. it might be nice to do this with printmaking as well....more to come for sure!

August 8, 2011

Reading and Read

Since my husband and I have been trying to have a baby I've received so many words of wisdom and books! My sister-in-law is extremely excited for us. They already have two beautiful little girls. Their first just turned three and their second is not yet one. My sister-in-law has tons of great, current, stories and advice to pass on. She also has MANY books! The other night she handed me a stack of books that I could barely carry!

These books ranged in topic from comic relief pregnancy books, how to get your baby to sleep and a couple of the what to expect when you are expecting series. Even before the beginning of our adventure into trying, I was curious about the Jenny McCarthy pregnancy books. Years ago, when she was on Singled Out, that great...but ever so cheesy MTV dating show, she made me laugh. I was tickled when I saw that Jenny's two pregnancy books were included in this stack.

I began reading the first one, Belly Laughs, on Saturday night and finished on Sunday night. A very easy read. I wouldn't say this is a must-read book for preparing for pregnancy....well actually....if you are totally stressed and in needed of a girl friend's perspective and a good chuckle then yes, you should read this book.

Jenny talks candidly about her experience (what else would you expect from Jenny). From those first feelings of nausea to feeling those first flutters of movement she brings you in and makes you feel excited and sometimes a bit scared to experience the miracle of pregnancy and birth. I think this book is great to read before reading all those sometimes stuffy and very clinical books that you will at one point find yourself reading. Just like a great talk with a friend, through her reading she lightens the mood and helps you let go and accept the many changes that will happen to your body and your moods!

Tonight I begin reading Baby Laughs!

August 4, 2011

Changing Education Paradigms

Why we learn what we learn and how we learn it shapes who were are years later. In this video Ken Roboinson creatively presents his critique of the current structure of public education.

The subject matter of this video is ever-so-serious but it is presented in a way that anyone will be able to appreciate if not agree with. Our economy requires a new way of thinking. Most of us have already begun to practice creative thinking in our daily lives (this includes work, family and social). However, in our education we are expected to comprehend a question and agree that there is only one right answer. Our future success depends on our ability to see not only multiple answers to one question/situation but also multiple ways of interpreting that question/situation.

July 31, 2011

New thoughts...

After quite some time of trying to figure out what I want to make in mediums other than ceramics, I've decided to change my direction of thought. This is one of my most recent sketches...I envision these objects/vessels made in B-mix (a white body). The surface would remain bare clay (rough in texture). The drawings would be scratched into the surface while they are leather hard. Iron oxide would take the place of glaze, rubbed only into the lines of the drawing.

July 30, 2011

Chesterfield Sofa

One day.....

This deep blue would look great in our living room!

July 28, 2011

Looking Forward to Fall

End of season garden

This growing season is coming to a close and I couldn't be happier. Instead of getting our seeds from Johnny's Selected Seeds Co. I bought them at the hardware store and have had difficulty all season long. Our hot peppers are still going strong as well as our tomatoes, strawberries and eggplants. Even our beans have pods on them! However, many seeds never germinated and some began to grow but never matured.

Next up: cool weather crops for fall harvest!!! So far I've decided to plant brussels sprouts, broccoli (green and purple), kale, fennel, snow peas, cauliflower and spinach. I hope there is time for another planting of cucumbers. Our current plants have both powdery and downy mildew.

Garden scape

July 26, 2011

I Think I Can

Messy kitchen ready for canning

We have an abundance of beautiful, ripe, red tomatoes growing in our garden. This year we planted 14 plants with the intention that I would can their produce. A little over a week ago I picked a basket of plum tomatoes and they've been ripening on our counter ever since. Today I decided they were ready to be canned.

I kept it simple and canned these beauties as "crushed tomatoes"...with delicious fresh basil. When I want to make sauce I will strain them through a sieve and thicken them by cooking them and adding tomato paste.

Here are the tomatoes being blanched (back pot). Blanching is simply putting the whole tomatoes into a pot of boiling water for 30 - 60 seconds, and then putting them in a bowl of very cold water. This helps loosen the skins. Once the skins are loose I cut off the top nub on the tomato, peel away the skin and place them in a sauce pot on medium (front pot). I use a potato masher to crush the tomatoes in the pot.

Tomatoes blanching and crushed tomatoes simmering

When about half of the tomatoes are simmering in the pot I add a generous amount of fresh basil...we grow this basil in our herb garden.

Fresh basil drying

Fresh basil added to simmering crush tomatoes

Once all the tomatoes are added to the sauce pot I let them cook just enough for the mixture to resemble the appearance of stewed tomatoes.
Tomatoes simmering away

While these cook, I fill my canner pot with water and bring it to a boil....actually I have that water heated up way in advance but I turn it up at this point. The water (because there is so much of it) takes a good 15 minutes to reach boiling temp. While the water is between hot and boiling temperatures I place the empty jars in the water to sterilize. The lids (not the screw tops, they don't need to be sterilized) go into a smaller sauce pot of hot..but not boiling water. If these are boiled you run the risk of damaging the rubber seal.

Hot jar ready for tomatoes

Once the jars have been in the almost boiling water for 2-4 minutes I remove them (with the proper tongs). Using a canning funnel and a ladle, I fill each jar...leaving about an inch of headspace between the rim and the tomatoes. Once the jars are filled I wipe the rims with a damp paper towel in order to remove any tomato particles. Then, I place a lid on each and then a screw ring. I always make sure the screw ring is tightened so it holds the lid in place but not so tight that the ring warps.

These tomato filled jars get placed into the now boiling water that is in the canner. These jars are boiled for 35 minutes. After 35 minutes, I remove the canner lid and let the jars sit in the water for 5 minutes. Then, using the proper tongs, I carefully remove each jar. Do not tilt the jars to remove the water that is sitting on the top. It will evaporate as they cool.

Here they are!!!

The finished product: canned crushed tomatoes!

In 24 hours I will check to make sure the lids are concave...which means the jars are sealed. My dad has been making these for years...he learned from his dad...and they never heat processed their jars. But, I do it anyway. (oh, heat processing is the boiling-of-the-tomato-filled-jars). I like to use the canned tomatoes within one year, but my dad has used ones older than that and they have been fine.

Just in case anyone is interested in doing this...or any other canning recipe/process, I highly recommend the book: Complete Book of Home Preserving (made possible by the Ball company..who also sells everything you need to can....and then some).

July 19, 2011

The Lifestyle Choices We Make

The way we live speaks volumes about who we are. After all, isn't there that delightful saying, "actions speak louder than words". Our daily choices make great impacts...again I'm taken to another saying, "Every little bit helps". I feel my most impactful lifestyle decisions include being vegan (not eating any animal products...whatsoever) and growing my own food in our organic garden. I must thank my husband here...he is incredibly supportive of my choices and is 90% vegan. Again, the saying, "you are what you eat". I have always been the "I don't care what anyone else does I just know this lifestyle fits in better with my morals and ethics".

Well, I feel myself turning a corner. The more I learn about animal cruelty, depletion of the earth and ecosystems by chemicals the stronger I feel towards enlightening others of a lifestyle my body has benefited from. I will not launch into a rant or describe the horrifying, concentration camp style situations we put animals in...or the pounds....even tons of chemicals we put on and into our bodies. I will say, please be mindful of your actions. They have consequences on your body, OUR planet, OUR ecosystem and OUR animals.

I hope the steps I've made to better my life for myself and my family will prove to be inspiring:
  • adopted/rescued both our animals, Beauie (cat) and Westby (dog)
  • reduced the amount of chemicals we put into the earth by switching to 100% plant based (not animal or chemical based) household cleaners...this includes dish detergent, laundry detergent, air fresheners, surface cleaners, etc.
  • reduced the amount of chemical we put into and on our bodies by switching to more natural, organic and cruelty free personal hygiene products (shampoo, soaps, lotions, etc.)
  • never used any chemicals in our garden, instead adopting natural remedies( and Organic Gardening Magazine have been great resources)
  • evolved from a meat eating diet (birth to teenage years) to a vegetarian diet and recently (within the past few months) adopted a 100% vegan diet in order to not support cruelty to animals and the industrial methods of producing animal based foods.
  • Pledged to never support animal cruelty by avoiding zoos and the circus...I'm sure our future children will understand.
Here are a few great websites I find to be magnificent!

June 4, 2011

Summer Bouquets

Every time I refresh our kitchen table bouquet Beauie has to check it out.

June 2, 2011


New post in the garden section of this blog! Click up there to see it!
I know, I know....It has been quite a while since I've posted. The gorgeous summer air has been keeping me away from any type of technology. I've been biking, kayaking, generally working out and working in our garden. I absolutely love this is (mostly) not too hot and not too cold. You can go for a long bike ride and enjoy the smell of honeysuckles as you zip by them. But mostly I enjoy being able to have limitless possibilities for outdoor activities.

This is our kayaking trip. It was an absolute blast:

Pre-Kayaking....waiting for everyone to get their boats ready.

This trip is about 3-4 hours....we did it in about 5 because we took it slow and enjoyed the scenery!

And we took breaks to stretch our legs and refuel with yummy food. Oh yea, did I mention that there were 12 of us! That made for a very full stream and boat loads of fun (pun intended)!!!

Kayaking is one of hubby's favorite things to do during this season!

And we can't forget biking! I do love to kayak but biking is one of my absolutely favorite cardio exercises! It is also so adventuresome! Hubby loves to bike too! His legs are much more strong than mine..but I am getting stronger with every ride. The other day hubby did almost 40 miles....I can't do that yet. The most I did this season was 25.5.

This is me at the beginning of our 25.5 mile ride:

We've also already had a couple bonfires this season. Those are my most favorite social thing to do during the cool summer nights. We even laid on blankets and looked at stars!

I'm so appreciative that there are opportunities in my life to truly enjoy all the beautiful things that make this world so great!

April 24, 2011

Our New Composter!

Isn't it marvelous! This is our new, homemade composter. Hubby did most of the construction of the wood and I attached the wire. Last year, our little store-bought composter was simply too small. This one is large enough to hold all the kitchen and yard waste from our 1 acre plot. And, since it has wire for walls it allows for maximum airflow to speed up the composting process!

Check out the wire chimney. So simple, yet brilliant! It allows air to circulate into the center of the pile.

This all was inspired by Mike McGrath's book: The Book of Compost.

April 16, 2011

Garden Progress!

Hubby and I worked so hard last year on our garden that this year it was much easier to start the season! We've already watched small shoots of herbs, flowers and lettuce push their way through the sun-warmed soil. We've even tasted some of our asparagus!

Our mesclun mix is looking delicious!

The mint is growing faster than I could have hoped for!

The onion sets have sprouts!

The peonies are making their spring time return!

The catnip, lavender, yarrow and bee balm survived the winter!

The blueberry bushes have buds!

There are also new additions to the garden this year....
I've tilled three new beds that will be a cutting garden, filled with wildflowers!

Do you see that open space between those two baby trees? This week a hammock with be going between them! The L-shaped bed has knock-out roses, butterfly bushes and an assortment of other perennial flowering plants!