Saturday, September 13, 2014

project 52:49

cyanoprint dye and plants on paper

I finally got my hands on some cyanoprint (sunprint) dye - Jacquard has been making their Solarfast product for I-don't-know-how-long, but I knew when I saw it a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to try playing with it. It's a little rough on the paper, because you have to wash it out for 10 minutes - see all the tears? I had to glue this postcard to another one to reinforce it before I mailed it. Hm.

I got the idea for this project when I stumbled across artist Jill DeHaan's experiments with plant matter and cyanoprint paper, and knew I wanted to try something similar, so postcard 49 is a monogram, the first letter of my brother's (and my) last name. I wanted to capture some of the last of the summer sunshine!

(While it's still sunny in Seattle, the sun has dropped just below the tops of the trees in the doug fir grove that stands just south of our backyard - so now in the middle of the day, we are in shade instead of sun, and things feel a *lot* cooler around here.)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

italian renaissance

Growing up, Italian food was, like, the height of seductive cuisine in my world. In any TV show, people who were dating, people who were celebrating anniversaries, people who received promotions ... went to an Italian restaurant. Same with movies. As far as I knew, there was nothing more romantic or intimate or special than an Italian restaurant. Maybe French - but in films and on TV, the French restaurant was a place for experts; you had to speak the names with a French accent, and the waiters were always intimidatingly superior (pace francophiles, I'm talking about a child's impressions of pop culture 25 years ago here). People were obsessed with balsamic vinegar and arugula, every fancy cook with a cable cooking show would whip out that pasta machine and I'd feel a sense of awe and desire - heck, even as small child, one of my favorite toys was that play-doh expresser toy. Man, I loved that thing! 

These days, though, you don't see a lot of hype about Italian cooking. It's everywhere, it's comforting ... probably fewer people have the time for the intensive prep work of making things from scratch. The exciting new areas of cuisine lately seem to be other Mediterranean cultures - and points east. Freekeh. Quince. Preserved lemons.

I've been wondering if it's about time for Italian food to make a comeback as a trend.

Certainly, in my own kitchen, I've been making more pasta and pizza this summer than in many summers I can remember - and yes, entirely from scratch. We even have the fancy pasta machine now, but I don't seem to have the strength to change the settings on the thickness so I only ever use it if Cass is here to help me. Most of the time, I roll my pasta by hand, with a simple, solid wood, French-style tapered rolling pin that I bought at the hardware store for six or seven dollars (seriously, sometimes the simple, basic model is the best - I love the control the taper gives me, letting me pivot the pressure and work one bit of dough or crust at a time).

Tonight, it's fava bean agnolotti with a rich, creamy curry emulsion from The French Laundry cookbook. You can click the link to go to the recipe - it's on epicurious! The guys at my favorite produce stand down at the Public Market (aka Pike Place Market) had fava beans last week and I was terribly excited to see them. "Probably the last of the season for us," they told me, and admitted that the beans were a little past their prime - and should be cooked 1-2 minutes longer than normal. Since these are probably my last taste of favas until next spring, I wanted to find a nice way to showcase their flavor; and grinding them into a pasty filling also seemed a good way to deal with the potential issue of woodiness of overripe beans. I had fun folding the pasta into a new shape (for me), and breaking out my new fluted pastry wheel to make those pretty pinked edges (another one of those cheap, hard-working basic tools, we bought the fluted wheel at Mrs. Cook's for less than $8) that are so classic.

Sometimes, it's just so satisfying to stop what you're doing and spend a whole afternoon kneading eggs into flour, rolling out dough, and carefully forming perfect bites for a special dinner. And to boot, while I was waiting for the dough to rest, I squeezed in a good research session - the limited time was just the motivation I needed to overcome some procrastination/intimidation that's totally been holding me back on putting a grant proposal together. I guess even the quiet ritual of making pasta is a comforting influence, for me!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

project 52: 48 & 47, respectively

nail polish, spray paint, pressed garden flowers on paper

well, things have been a little quiet around here, haven't they? I've been really trying to crank out a few projects I swore I'd have done before summer was out. I just finished the second dress for the Months and Years shop yesterday. I know, I know, I said the shop would be up in August, didn't I? Well, now it looks like it'll be up for the winter holidays, instead. Just as well; I'd rather push the date back than skimp on the quality or ideas I have for the garments. But wow, it has been such a busy summer .

And as project 52 winds down, I'm excited to have more time back to myself - though I might keep making cards of some sort, periodically. I have a feeling I'm going to miss this bit of structure and challenge that I have given this year.

Above, coming full circle: you might recall that the third (I think/) project 52 postcard was made of a collage of 1/2" squares cut out of autumn leaves. And here are some of the flowers of my late  summer garden, pressed since July, and sent off last week.

nail polish, spray paint, acrylic, ink on paper

And catching up, here's the card from two weeks ago, inspired by a news item I'd heard on the radio about a new comet passing by us (I think it was a new one, anyway?), that scientists are going to study with a probe. Of course, the comet moves to quickly and the probe doesn't move quickly at all, so the solution was to latch the probe onto the comet and send it hurtling off into space with it, using  - of all things - a harpoon. I loved this image, kind of like the probe is Ahab and the comet is a white whale. I love that we transpose marine terminology to air and space travel ... there's something so charmingly nostalgic about it, that we get to use the same words our forebears used, to describe new forms of exploration long after the globe had been circumnavigated and mapped.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

project 52:46

ink and colored pencil on paper
It's late August and things are starting to wind down. Or so it feels in the garden. Plants seed and fade, but the sedums are still (always) going strong, their little chewy, succulent leaves tipped in cheery red. My neighbour gave me these plants a year or two ago, just little slips of things that were encroaching on her patio, outshoots she was going to compost - if I didn't want them.

For years, I've dreamed of one day having one of those big iron balls for the garden, of lining its outer edges with coir or landscape fabric, filling it with rich soil, and sticking a wild array of succulents all over it, so that they gradually grow together and coat the outside: a hanging ball of succulents. Someday, somewhere.

So I eagerly potted up those little guys when my neighbour offered them to me; from such small beginnings, a grand succulent ball! (one day!) Or perhaps I'll cave and make a half-succulent ball a whole lot sooner; I have a nice, heavy hanging pot (a half-globe), and I'm wondering if, when the nasturtiums that have been so weakly hanging on all summer finally crisp and wither away, I could pick little holes in the coir lining and start tucking these guys in all over it. Goodness knows, they're getting packed enough in the pots, the tight quarters twisting and perverting the neat geometry of their perfect little whorls.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

foraged 2014: huckleberries

As the summer berry picking season winds down, there are a few treats still in store: we've been picking huckleberries.

For some reason, I was so excited about the huckleberries this year that I kind of froze; I couldn't actually decide what to do with them. So, I put three jars up in a kind of sweet pickle, and then I made some eight or nine half-pint jars of barely-cooked jam. More like a preserve; in fact, I hadn't originally planned to add any pectin or anything at all, but the berries started producing masses of juice as they cooked (even the slightest bit), that I figured I'd better thicken it up a little. So I added some pectin and sugar - not much, though - and stopped cooking it while the berries were still intact. That way, I figured, some of these jars could be scooped into a pie shell, or folded into hand pies, smoothed over a tart or just ... 

over a toasted, buttered English muffin. For breakfast. Every day since last week. Yum!

Monday, August 18, 2014

summer in a glass

Got some things a'brewing in my kitchen - literally! This tall drink of beautiful is a riff on the cider recipe in Yvette Van Boven's Home Made Winter cookbook. The original, which is brewed in a bucket at room temp for 8 days, then aged in the fridge to build up bubbles, uses 6 1/2 pounds of grated apples, water, sugar, and spices. For this batch, I used 6 pounds of apples and 1/2 pounds of red and white currants, generously given to me by a friend who is blessed with some seriously heavy-yielding currant bushes in her garden (are we jealous yet?). Seeing as Van Boven says it's okay to just grind up the entire apple - seeds, stems, cores and all - and seeing as the mixture is later strained - twice! - I actually just put the bunches of currants (with their stems) through the food processor when I grated the apples, and figured I could strain out any organic bits later.

Now, a confession: the color wasn't quite this brilliant watermelon-hue on its own. As I'd just been reading an article about how the appearance of food really does affect our perception of it, I took my cider (which was naturally just a slightly-rosy amber color) and stirred in about 1 teaspoon of beet powder. That's right: dried, powdered beets. One teaspoon turned four liters of cider this gorgeous color, and didn't add even the faintest whiff of earthiness to the flavor.

These bottles have been ageing for a month or so in the fridge; they should be drunk by mid-September, though I'm thinking of holding on to them just a week longer and doing some kind of to-do to celebrate the equinox with friends - and this bright, crisp, berried taste of summer.

Currently, the bucket's host to the early stages of our next cider - apple-blackberry! I won't bother trying to adjust the color on that one; it's already a gorgeous deep purple.

Monday, August 11, 2014

project 52:45

ink, acrylic, paper collage on paper

More studies, more experiments, more practice, more discoveries - all for a future painting that I haven't even begun to sketch yet.  This time, I'm testing ideas for a background, with Wallace Stevens on the brain. Specifically, Sunday Morning, a poem with special resonance for both me and the subject of my painting. In the fourth section of the poem, Stevens writes:

But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
There is not any haunt of prophecy,
Nor any old chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.

It's that last bit, the idea of "June and evening, tipped/ By the consummation of the swallow's wings," that I have on the brain. The water's a reference to another repeating phrase in the poem. I think I've discovered (or re-discovered, or remembered) during the course of Project 52 how very much I like illustrating, creating images to pair with words - by which I mean words that have already been written, not the words on the back of the cards, of course. It's a good thing to know about myself. And besides that bit of self-knowledge, these studies are particularly useful. I definitely figured a few bits of the final painting out in the course of making this card!