Tuesday, August 30, 2011

day of the week and the weather

So, we used to fairly regularly go to story time at a large book store chain that rhymes with Narnes and Boble. I actually think they do a great storytime. Beezus and I would go, then grab some books, get a coffee and read them. With Thor around, we haven't gone as frequently. The storytime reader used to always ask what the day of the week was and every other kid seemed to know, but Beezus really didn't. And I realized that was because I hadn't really taught her about the days of the week. I don't know why. It just didn't occur to me.

So, I decided to create a kind of chart for us to do every morning where we talk about the day of the week, the season and the weather. When I redid the kids' room a few weeks ago, I hung it up there and we are using it more frequently than we did before. Now, we have added gratitude to our list and each person picks something they are grateful for for the day, which cannot be the same as the day before. Thor grunts at something and Beezus translates, so it is often books, since books are right there.


Basically, I re-used an old dry erase board I had in our kitchen. The board itself is also magnetic. I took the weird magnets that came with it and reused them too, but gluing them to the back of the old watercolor paper. I created these little seasons/weather in scrap felt and glued them with tacky glue to old pieces of 140 lb. watercolor paper. I used watercolor paper for painting, and sometimes cut my own sizes, so I have all these irregular scraps that I used for Artist Trading Cards (ATCs). I guess I need to change the "Three things we are thankful for today" to "Four things", because Daddy got involved in the gratitude list.


I recently hung the board in the kids room, which has made it more central to our morning routine. We used to have it in the back corner of the studio and maybe used it once a week, when we remembered. The kids love this little cubby part of their room. I think in the next few days, I will do a post about their bedroom, because we recently redid the space to make it more fun, creative and useable.


Here is a close-up of all the tags I created. I made the days of the week each in their own color, so that Beezus could start to find them more easily. The bag was made by my sister for my paint brushes, but I rarely travel with them, so I re-commissioned it for this project. The weather was so fun to create, but as the year has gone on (I created this last Autumn) I realize that I need Hot, Cold, Warm, Chilly, maybe Humid, as well as just precipitation. Where we live often just gets cold as hell without snow or rain. I still feel a little like I'm not sure what weather to create. During the winter, it seems like cloudy is up there everyday, when it really is more than cloudy. Any ideas on how to resolve that?

I have to say that I loved this project when I created it. It has definitely helped Beezus understand the concept of seasons versus weather and helps her remember the days of the weeks. Now, she is starting to be able to spell the days as well, because she looks for the days by letters. All in all, an easy repurposing project, since I bought nothing new to create this day/weather chart.


Thanks for reading along.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

rainy thursday

I love rainy days where my kids get caught up in playing and I get to tweet and blog, catch up on some stuff, like the giveaway and news post I did on still life with circles. We actually have had a thunderstorm-y, humid day where I still haven't put on the air. I love the windows open. But Beezus' bangs are sticking straight up in the air and are all wet. It is so sad.

We have an absolutely incredible farmer's market in town here on Saturdays. It is part of the reason we moved here, because of the farmer's market and festivals they have every month or so. We ride our bikes up there and buy our veggies. One thing I love about farmer's markets is some of the veggies that are only there. One I love love love to cook with are squash blossoms. I just went outside to see if our zucchini plants, which had zucchini, which then died, had any blossoms. Only a few. And none of them ready to harvest. At the market, they have six blossoms rubberbanded together for a buck, so I bought four bucks worth. This is what I do with them--I saute a little olive oil, garlic and shallot, then toss in cherry tomatoes. We get a whole s-load of volunteer cherry tomatoes every year. They migrate and move locations based on where the wind blew in the fall, but we eat them and they are delicious. This year they are next to my rose bush. So I salt and pepper them, and toss in the destemmed squash blossom. I drizzle a wee bit of balsamic vinegar in the last moments of cooking. I sometimes put spinach in too for a warm salad in September or October. For this particular batch, I served it over some spinach leaves. It was delicious.

At the same farmer's market, we bought some peaches and nectarines, and looks like they grew some fruitflies by today. Anyway, I'm sure y'all know what to do, but if not, I thought I would share what we do with fruit flies. I get a mason jar. Put the offending fruit in the bottom. Make a paper cone. Literally, paper rolled up and taped with a wee hole. Stuff it in the top of the jar. And you catch fruit flies. I think you can use balsamic vinegar if you have no fruit left. Then you take them outside and release them.

In other news, our concord grapes are freaking out of control. They are monsters. I am just anxious about the whole deal. I mean, last year, they were ready. I said to Sam. Tomorrow, I will go out and pick them, came outside the next day and the birds wiped our grapes out. This year, I have been eating ripe ones. I read that concord grapes do not ripen off the vines, so you basically HAVE to leave them on there until they are ready. Man, I want to pick them.


Also, we came down from dressing upstairs, and went to let Jack in, and he was proudly displaying the baby rabbit he killed in his mouth. Then Ride of the Valkyries popped into my head, and I felt like a shit. It was a very somber moment for Beezus and for me. I don't like my dog killing things, though he is getting quite adept at it. He has killed a squirrel and a groundhog and now, a bunny. Beezus asked to see it, and she said, "She was very little, mama. Her sister will be sad." And yes, I think her sister will be sad. So, we decided to bury the baby rabbit. Beezus made a stone for her grave. I said some words, like "In your next life, may you find a dog-free yard." And "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, may there be many carrots in the afterlife." We said the "Our Father" and "Hail Mary," tossed some dirt onto it and said good bye.



Sorry to end on such a somber note. Have an amazing weekend.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

sofrito

When people ask me what Panamanian food is like, I never know how to answer that question. It reminds me of this potluck dinner party I went to where everyone was supposed to bring a dish from the country of origin or heritage. Something they grew up with. I decided to bring platanos (plantains). In Panama, they are on the side of every dish. Either very ripe and sweet called maduros. We eat them with arroz con pollo or paella. Or green and unripe, which are double-fried and salted, like large chips, called patacones. We just eat them. With anything. In Puerto Rico, the green ones are called tostones. At any rate, I went to this party and my friend Kadi from Nigeria came with the same exact dish--maduros--prepared the same exact way.

Panamanian food is a little bit of everywhere, because Panama City is a hub between the New World and the Old World. People from everywhere came there to work on the Canal. My mother is one of twelve. I have forty-seven first cousins, fifty-nine second cousins and it goes on and on. My family, though, has a lot of women. Four of my cousins married brothers or cousins from another family in the same village. That family was from China. So, many of my cousins are Chinese. At parties, there was fried squid in hot Chinese spices and paella with all kinds of sausage and seafood. See, my grandmother's mother is from Spain and her father is from Italy. So we eat many Spanish dishes and Italian dishes. I would say that paella is the party dish we make at every gathering.

My mother cooked Panamanian food as well as Italian food for our family growing up. She also happened to cook a lot of Pennsylvania Dutch food, German food for those not in the know. (Pennsylvania Deutsch became Dutch at some point in history.) She learned to cook what she could find at the markets and my father's aunt was Pennsylvania Dutch, so she taught her everything about cooking German food. In the end, I learned how to cook a bit of everything, and then when I went off to college and became a pinko vegan, I learned how to cook vegan/macrobiotic. I actually worked as a vegan cook through the weekends and summers.

At any rate, this is a lot of background for the recipe I am sharing today, which is sofrito. Sofrito is the base of so many Latin American cuisines and dishes. It is like the Latin American mirepoix and bouquet garni. So, part spice, part veggie, part ingredient. I was so excited when I found frozen sofrito made by Goya. I was a corporate whore and barely had time to shop, let alone cook, so finding pre-made sofrito was heaven. I used it in everything. I must have used it for years before looking at the ingredients and realizing it was made with MSG. Why? I was so diligent about reading ingredients. It was surprising I had never noticed it. Could explain my addiction to it.

My mother used to buy sofrito from the Puerto Rican ladies in the biggest city near where I grew up. Sometimes she made it herself. There are many many different ways to make sofrito--Cubans have a recipe, Puerto Ricans, Panamanians. This is the one I like because it is basic and good on everything.


First find a little girl in a princess dress to pull the leaves off a bunch of cilantro. Remember stems make cilantro bitter. (Oh, Jen, sorry. I forgot about your cilantro thing. You can stop reading here.)

The recipe is four to six bell peppers, two onions, a bunch of cilantro, four or five plum tomatoes, one red pepper, ten to twelve cloves of garlic, a shitload of cumin, a dash of oregano and love. You can put a hot pepper in it, if you are so inclined. I cook for the childrens, so I don't add spice to it. Chop the shit out of it, then put it in the blender, food processor, or immersion blender. And blend the shit out of it.

It looks like this.  Like pesto, now that I see it in this light. I then bag it up in individual sandwich bags. I have a ladle with cups marked on it, and I use about a half a cup of sofrito for each baggie.


Like this. Then I freeze it and pull it out. I use it for making fresh beans. I used it for meat for my husband--for burrito meat or for just meat like pork chops. You can add orange juice to it to do a pork marinade that is like a little bit of heaven. Very versatile. Hope you enjoyed this. It was a short one.

Monday, August 22, 2011

making staples

Lately, I have been trying to make more pantry staples at home. Well, maybe not lately, this is sort of a morphing process over the last few years. I wrote about making yogurt a few weeks ago, and I have been doing that for a few years.

For example, Saturday, I ran out of mayonnaise, looked in my cook's companion book, and saw that it was incredibly easy to make mayo. And eh, voila, in a few minutes (literally less than ten), I had a whole terrine full of mayo. I will post a how-to make mayo next batch, if anyone is interested, I know some people get nauseated just looking at a dang picture of mayonnaise, but I don't. LOVE. MAYO. I only have a finished product picture.



Honestly, I think it is a combination of the fall-like lack of humidity, the open windows and the fact that the baby is not quite a baby anymore, and running and playing. I have time to do some extra weekly things. Most weeks, I hit the market, come home and make a sort of weekly batch of staples. I make yogurt every second week or so. But I get home with fresh eggs, I hard boil a dozen of them while I am unloading the market bags. I eat eggs, but no meat, so it serves as a quick protein source for me during the day. I also roast eggplant at the same time for baba ghanoush. It lasts, perhaps, two days in this house, since it is a favorite of mine. Maybe in the next few weeks, I will post my baba ghanoush recipe, since it is so delicious it will blow your freakin' mind, like this video.

One day, I popped over to my sister's house and she was making butter. She picked up a dairy cookbook--like how to make cheeses, sour cream, butter, etc. We ate gluten-free toast and homemade butter, and then another, and then another. Fresh butter is amazing. So, even though I don't have a standing mixer, or a blender (smoothies killed my blender and I am searching for a new one), today, I decided to give it a whirl. I figured it would only cost me the pint of organic heavy cream. The price differential between heavy cream and butter isn't significant, but the taste is worth it.

Making butter is so incredibly easy, I am a little embarrassed that I am writing about it, but I thought that for people out there like me, who thought it was magic, would like to know that it is easy and how to go about making it.


First, one pint of heavy cream in a bowl, like so.  (Yes, I bit the pint of heavy cream open, because I am such a bad ass mother...shut your mouth.)

And you just start mixing it. This is hand mixer, but apparently standing mixers are easy, less fussy. I took my netbook into the kitchen and read some blogs while it was going.

It passes through a stage where it kind of looks like whipped cream, which I suppose it technically is, and then it gets a little lumpier. At this point, I was doubting it would ever be butter,


I'm still there. I forgot to mention NPR was on, so that helped. Alice Waters is going to be on Fresh Air today. Awesome. It was not too long, but I should have been better at timing it. I think this was about ten to fifteen minutes.

 AND THEN ALL OF THE SUDDEN...



my wet heavy cream turned into butter with buttermilk pooling in the middle. I mixed it a little longer. Apparently, this whole process would have taken less time if I had let the cream come to almost room temperature. Whoops.


 No worries. I strained it. In the bowl is fresh buttermilk. As in the expensive milk you can bake crap with, yes. You have to knead the butter at this point. You get slightly slimey, but in the name of butter, so it is totally worth it. I also cut in some salt, because I also love salt. It helps the liquid come out.


One pint of heavy cream made 3/4ths of a crock of butter. Yum.

Final product. Wee bit of buttermilk and a crock of butter. Perfection.










Hope you liked this. My next staple piece will be about making sofrito, which is a staple of Latin American cooking and is so friggin' awesome you will want to roll in it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

fingerpainting

Beezus asked me to finger paint today while I was painting. I said sure. She knows how to set everything up and do it herself.


Thor asked me for something and I noticed that he was fingerpainting too, and perhaps was a little aggressive on the pink.  We paint paper, baby, not our bellies.



 Then the boy turned around to paint too, and I realized that Beezus actually finger painted Thor rather than him finger painting himself.  He looks pretty tough with pink and orange.



 Then he gave me this cute little smile, and his little panzita hanging over his chonies, and well, I bought him a firetruck and a pony. The reason I didn't notice that Beezus painted the baby is that I am painting this rather large painting for our house. It is our family. There are no faces yet, and my daughter finds that absolutely disturbing. But I am going to outline and draw faces in oil crayon so it has a crayon-y feel to it. It is two foot by four foot.


Friday, August 19, 2011

some hightlights from the week

We have had a fun, productive week here at the ranch. Okay, we don't live on a ranch. We live in suburban New Jersey. But we have a dog that we wrangle. Sometimes.

Here are some of the cool projects we did this week. Well, Beezus is starting pre-K this fall. We have an incredible public school system. Graduating classes are a little under one hundred students. So each grade in elementary school is only one teacher, which is cool. Small classes. Lots of perks for individual attention. The only thing they asked the students to bring the first day of pre-kindergarten is a fabric tote bag 13"x13" or something. It said, "Available at Joann's. Personalize it however you want." I guess smaller hands don't do as well with backpacks and getting projects in and out. I was psyched. Hit the Joann's in my town. (We don't have much, but we have a Joann's!) I admit that I was a little disappointed with the selection. Basically, there were very little options--black or white. And then I found a three pack of blue, lime green and magenta for $8.99. Done. Two extra bags which will find a use in this house. Beezus told me she wanted a unicorn. Um, okay?

I suck at sewing. But I had a shitload of felt and I'm decent at sketching, so I figured I'd give it a whirl.


She wanted it to be a pegasus/unicorn when it was all said and done. I don't know how I managed to bend the horn, but I did. It is bent from being in so many tough unicorn fights with griffins and shit.














I forgot to mention that one the way out of the Joann's she saw bling, like your name all blinged out and then a damn rainbow all bling-ed out. So I bought some crystal iron-on letters for her name. And dare I say, that I bedazzled the bag. Check that out, son. Real diamonds. Nothing too expensive for my girl.












So, then Thor kept snatching the satchel away and claiming it at his own. He even bit Beezus to keep her bling-ed out pink unicorn-pegasus bag and fill it with matchbox cars. So, then I remembered, HEY, I have a blue and green one. So I made him one that hopefully is bling-y enough.



DRAGON!

I still might bedazzle it with the name THOR in large diamond letters. Muy muy macho.





The next project we did was make ice cream without an ice cream maker. I suppose every one has already done this sort of thing, but it was new for me. So, here is how it goes--1/2 cup of chocolate milk (soy or cow.) Add one tablespoon of sugar. Mix it all up. Put it in a little baggie. Make sure the air is out of it. Seal it. In a larger plastic freezer bag, add ice. I used two trays. Then I put SIX tablespoons of salt. Then I added the baggie of chocolate milk. Then I added another tray with a few more tablespoons of salt. Then you send your kids for their winter gloves, and shake shake shake. (picture on the left.) For ten minutes. I ended up doing most of the shaking, to be honest. But Beezus loved eating her chocolate ice cream.

We also made a crown. Construction paper and odd stickers here and there. I took it in sepia and she covered her face like I am the dang paparazzi.

We did other things, but I can't quite recall them right now. We are going to start on our nature table next week, hopefully. Until then, with love. XO

Sunday, August 14, 2011

candlemaking

A few years ago, my stepfather's childhood home burned to the ground. It was devastating to go through the rubble. The house was an old General Store, and the first post office. When the doors closed for business, his parents just closed the doors, took out all the things that might stink and left everything as is. An old cash register. Some things we simply could not identify, others were left unscathed. I actually wrote about it on Glow in the Woods a few months ago. It was a piece that didn't get many comments, but I liked it. Mainly because the days of helping my stepfather were haunting and beautiful and left a very strong feeling of beauty, devastation, tragedy and loss that I ended up understanding more fully after Lucia died. If that makes sense.

As we catalogued every thing, we found things that were salvageable and my stepfather asked me to take some of the things. Strangely juxtaposed against the devastation of a complete home fire, I remember some pieces vividly, a toy school bus. A wagon. Boxes of jello. My stepfather gave me a box, completely untouched by fire and water. The box contained, ironically enough, all the equipment and needs for candle-making, probably from the 50s or 60s. It had a lot of smoke damage, but I took it. I had grand ideas of making candles for gifts. That was six plus years ago and I still haven't made one dang candle. It was raining today, and we were putzing around the house, trying to find things to do. I pulled all the candle crap out and you can see the smoke residue on everything.


The glass double boiler was always used for candle making, so I am keeping it solely for that use. There were about eight boxes of parrafin wax. And a few boxes of wicks.


I love this box. It is perfectly designed and beautiful. I am a sucker for any advertising from the fifties, particularly useful household item, like canning wax. It looks so exotic.









I cleaned up the double boiler, opened a package of wax, put it in the top and started the stove. I read virtually nothing about candlemaking before this enterprise, which was probably not the best idea. I figured how hard could it be. I have wax. Some wicks. A double boiler. Surely, I can figure this shizzle out, no?


See, that double boiler cleaned up quite nicely, no? Blocks of wax over blue flame. It felt right in the rain. 

It takes a while to melt blocks of wax. And I did read, not so long ago, that wax catches on fire if it gets too hot, so you know, I hovered, taking pictures in various states of melt.I won't publish all of those pictures. They are like wax porn.


While I was waiting I took a photograph of a scale I recently purchased at the ReStore. It was one dollar and fifty cents. It is in metric (kg). I have no idea what I am going to use it for, but it looks cool as shit. Behold, the scale for less than two buck!

Whomp, there it is, melted and blurry wax. We are ready to make candles. Now what?

So, I lined a jellyroll pan with aluminum foil and got a mason jar or two, and poured in some hot wax. It was great. I put in the funnel, and it spilled everywhere covering me and the aluminum foil in hot wax. It was really awesome.

Then to add insult to injury, I started dipping. Dip a wick. Pull out. Wait a few seconds, redip. Nothing. Happened. Just a kind of wax-y wick.

I changed strategies, and took the jars of hot wax off the jellyroll, stomped around the kitchen, played with the kids, then picked up the foil, and pulled off the now-warm wax. 


I created sheets, and rolled it around the wick to create a candle, or something shaped sort of vaguely like a candle might be shaped if it were made by blind, one-armed elves. Since it was still warm and malleable, it was easy to work with and gave me a false sense of arrogance and how fucking brilliant I am. I then dipped it in the hot wax, rolled it like playdough, so it would become more and more candle-y looking. It worked.




I took really terrible pictures of the procedure, but here is kind of what it looked like. They are kind of ugly, but I think they will work. Okay, they are absolutely hideous, like grotesque bastardizations of candles, but it sure was fun! 

Then I put some now congealing warm wax in smaller containers to create votive candles, but before we wicked them, we tried to make wee little candles for our votive holders. Sam got involved. I love how he can work so delicately on little things. His candles looked like dipped candles. I am obsessed with little things, so little candles are awesome.

I poured the rest of my wax into containers, and wicked them. The big one I tried to add some dried flowers, but it really just looks like lumpy things are in it. I also used a beautiful river rock to weight the wick. That seemed kind of pointless after I did it. *sigh*


In the end, I made a bunch of ugly candles, which I will love using. I am definitely going to keep practicing my candlemaking, because it was a ton of fun, and also a good skill for the apocalypse. Thank you for making it this far. You deserve some kind of ugly candle for that.

some recent work



This one is for a certain red headed babylost mama. Shhh, don't tell her. She asked me for it, and then I never followed up, so I am just mailing it to her. I don't think she reads here.




Trying to paint some jizos like pop art, but not digging how they are turning out. This one is 16"x20" and it was for a SHARE art auction. Back to the drawing board, me thinks. Or I don't know. What do you think?


This was the first one, and it is very dark and not appealing, so I am going to gesso over it, and paint something not babylost related, like a little girl who can fly for Beezus, or a unicorn. She loves unicorns.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

jizopalooza

So, you know, on International Kindness Day, I felt like I wanted to connect with Lucia as part of my kindness and then I ended up putting it out there on the My Face that anyone who commented on the thread would get a handpainted, original jizo from my tonglen for grieving parents and families. Yeah. So, I got twenty-three responses. Well, more actually, but some people said they already had one, which didn't matter to me, but still, twenty-five 4"x6" paintings. I began wondering what I was thinking. I did the first meditation session the first night, and you have all seen some of those paintings. But I realized when I sat down to do them in the next few days, that I kept obsessing about perfection and they were getting worse. I ended up not even photographing like eight of them.

I am a busy woman. Doing even one painting is a luxury these days, and here I was throwing out eight of them. Oy, vey. AND I had twenty-three to do. So, I decided to sit with it for a few days, and then I remembered the joy and calm I felt doing the mizuko jizo gesture paintings, which was the intention, to do the paintings as meditation and shed the self-consciousness of painting. That is Lucy's gift to me after all--to paint for healing, for joy, for calm, for peace, for suffering, for others. And so I meditated and painted this series of twenty-two mizuko jizo paintings for grieving women and men in our community and across the world. Each painting did not take very long, because I wanted it to be an instinct, a movement of my hand, like a jizo enso or something. A study in jizos. Mizuko jizos are supposed to be happy little bodhisattvas, but sometimes I make them contemplative or grief-stricken. I think when I am in the thick of suffering, but mostly, I make their expressions full of the love and joy I want to impart on the parent or family member who receives it.

If you don't know about tonglen meditation, it is a meditation where you literally take in the suffering of another being and blow out relief of the suffering for that person. Pema Chodron talks of it extensively, though I was first acquainted with it in therapy with a Buddhist therapist who suggested it as a way of understanding and forgiving my own grief. Because I know the pain of early grief, I connect with that feeling of chaos, anger, hopelessness, sadness, aching and blow out the compassion and peace that I have come to in my own life. So, my process is that I set my space up, clean it, light a candle or incense, literally a pillar of smoke, which rises like a prayer to G-d. Then I breathe in the suffering of the grieving parents. Sometimes this is an overwhelming feeling to take it into me, which sounds hokey and new agey, but whatever, ifyou have lived through that grief, you know the kind of oppressive weight it can feel in your chest, then I breathe out my own peace and compassion, and consequently, that helps me, because see I am one of the grieving.

Anyway, then I begin painting my jizos. In total, I did four sessions of meditation and painting over two weeks. Here are some pictures from this morning, when I hung them like prayer flags around my studio, and there is one of me posing in front of them with my new Android phone.







And here they are one by one.


video


So, this was my last day or so. Now I have to mail them off, which is a process but I am more than halfway there. Thank goodness for my mother coming this week to help me with the kids. I have been in the studio for days...love to all.