Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Time is a Green Orchard

{A Poem for My Mother on Her Birthday}

Today is my mother's birthday. Today is also the first day of cool, autumn weather in the desert, and my thoughts drift eastward to the farm where my parents still live, to the full hayloft, the steam rising off the warm bodies of the old mares in the morning, the loamy earth in the tilled-up vegetable garden.  Fall in New Jersey is a quiet, rich time, full of preparations for winter after a summer of joyful play.

My favorite variety of sunflower: sungold dwarf, also known as teddy bear sunflowers. A week past their prime but still marvelous in my book. Bud vase by Islesford, Maine potter Marian Baker.

My mother's birthday marks the beginning of apple-wood fires in the kitchen fireplace and Sunday nights of Masterpiece Theatre.  In the flower garden the sedum turns rosy and out beyond the fields the sassafras trees begin to put on their autumnal spectacle of color, waving to passersby with lobed leaves like red and gold mittens. Happy autumn to all you faithful readers, and happy birthday dearest mummy.

Here's a poem from our favorite poet; a poem about flowers, and trying to grow things, and walking back from the garden and into a warm house where a fire is burning, waiting for you:

A Celebration {by William Carlos Williams}

A middle-northern March, now as always--
gusts from the South broken against cold winds--
but from under, as if a slow hand lifted a tide,
it moves--not into April--into a second March,

the old skin of wind-clear scales dropping
upon the mold: this is the shadow projects the tree
upward causing the sun to shine in his sphere.

So we will put on our pink felt hat--new last year!
--newer this by virtue of brown eyes turning back
the seasons--and let us walk to the orchid-house,
see the flowers will take the prize tomorrow
at the Palace.
Stop here, these are our oleanders.
When they are in bloom--
You would waste words
It is clearer to me than if the pink
were on the branch. It would be a searching in
a colored cloud to reveal that which now, huskless,
shows the very reason for their being.

And these the orange-trees, in blossom--no need
to tell with this weight of perfume in the air.
If it were not so dark in this shed one could better
see the white.
It is that very perfume
has drawn the darkness down among the leaves.
Do I speak clearly enough?
It is this darkness reveals that which darkness alone
loosens and sets spinning on waxen wings--
not the touch of a finger-tip, not the motion
of a sigh. A too heavy sweetness proves
its own caretaker.
And here are the orchids!
Never having seen
such gaiety I will read these flowers for you:
This is an odd January, died--in Villon's time.
Snow, this is and this the stain of a violet
grew in that place the spring that foresaw its own doom.

And this, a certain July from Iceland:
a young woman of that place
breathed it toward the South. It took root there.
The color ran true but the plant is small.

This falling spray of snow-flakes is
a handful of dead Februaries
prayed into flower by Rafael Arevalo Martinez
of Guatemala.
Here's that old friend who
went by my side so many years: this full, fragile
head of veined lavender. Oh that April
that we first went with our stiff lusts
leaving the city behind, out to the green hill--
May, they said she was. A hand for all of us:
this branch of blue butterflies tied to this stem.

June is a yellow cup I'll not name; August
the over-heavy one. And here are--
russet and shiny, all but March. And March?
Ah, March--
Flowers are a tiresome pastime.
One has a wish to shake them from their pots
root and stem, for the sun to gnaw.

Walk out again into the cold and saunter home
to the fire. This day has blossomed long enough.
I have wiped out the red night and lit a blaze
instead which will at least warm our hands
and stir up the talk.
I think we have kept fair time.
Time is a green orchard.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Quiche Factor

{Two Ways to Use Up Old Veggies}

After a ten-day road trip a dear friend of mine returned home last night to a very empty refrigerator. On her birthday. So instead of baking a cake I made two simple quiches and left them in her fridge (surprise!), because comfort food is what you want to eat when you just drove ten hours with three people and two dogs in a tiny rental car (they started out in an RV...long story).

The word quiche is a French bastardization of the German word for cake, but don't be fooled; quiche is just a fancy name for milk, eggs and veggies in a pie crust, and it is INCREDIBLY EASY TO MAKE. If you have the time to make the crust all the power to you; otherwise it's not a bad idea to keep good quality frozen pie crusts in the freezer for just such occasions. Quiche is so simple that you can just pull the frozen crusts out of the freezer, add the filling, and bake, just like that. Done. Delish.

{One 9 inch quiche will feed four hungry people. 15 minutes prep time, 40 mins. cook time.}

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Brush quiche crust with:
1 beaten egg yolk (prevents crust from getting soggy)
Add to crust:
1 1/2 cups veggies of your choice
Whisk together in medium bowl and then pour evenly over vegetables:
1 cup heavy cream (milk is fine; cream just makes the filling more custardy)
3 eggs
1/2 a small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar or Swiss cheese (6 oz.)

Bake until filling is puffed around the side, about 30 to 40 minutes. Let stand ten minutes before slicing.  Bon app├ętit!

{About that burnt crust...the UPS man delivered my new Canon SLR (!!!) just as the buzzer went off in the kitchen, so I'm afraid these two crusts got a little more time in the oven than they needed, but the results were just as tasty.}

Left: diced and drained cherry tomatoes (I squeezed them over the sink after dicing them to prevent the quiche from getting watery), chopped basil from the garden, Swiss, Jarlsberg, and a little bit of goat cheese.

Right: Gently steamed broccoli (cooking the veggies a little beforehand will also help prevent the quiche from getting soggy), sauteed sweet onions, a pinch of nutmeg, Jarlsberg cheese.  Mmm.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Little Monday Morning Yee-Haw

{Woodcut Prints from Yee-Haw Industries}

I'm a sucker for anything hand-printed and I'd sell my soul to the devil for the whiskey-soaked voice of Lucinda Williams. So naturally I was beside myself when I unwrapped this long-in-the-works belated birthday present from my dearest friend Kate, courtesy of Yee-Haw Industries:

Yee-Haw is an old-school letterpress located in good ole Knoxville, Tennessee (which is also home to the best fried-green tomatoes I've ever had). The folks at Yee-Haw design, carve, set and print all their wares in a pain-staking process that requires a separate block for every color. Their work has such folk-art appeal in a letterpress world of increasingly computer-generated images and typeface. Check out their Etsy shop and see why I've got my knickers all in a knot over these babies.

Above: Another Lucindy poster I covet. I look at this and want to put on my boots and sing.

Below: I'd be cheating you if I didn't include this equally wonderful print of the Van Lear Rose, the Queen of Kentucky herself, Loretta Lynn. (If you aren't already familiar with it, check out her floor-stomping collaboration with Jack White of the White Stripes in which she's befittingly dressed like Glinda, the Good Witch of the South.)

And of course where would we be were it not for the First Lady of Country Music, the beauty queen who Don't Wanna Play House, Tammy Wynette. Fact: Tammy W. kept her beautician's license throughout her career just in case things didn't work out in music. Gotta love a girl with a backup plan.

Hope ya'll had a great weekend, and if you didn't catch up on rest hope you at least had a lot of FUN!

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Paintings!

{Two New Homestead Paintings}

Two new homesteads for my show at the end of October. The colorful one, which I'm calling "Lime Shack," is done. Finito. Moving on. The grey one, which I'm calling "Moonlight, Snow" is almost done. I'm hoping to do a series of at least thirty by the time Halloween rolls around. Which isn't going to happen. But I'm churning them out, one by one. You can read about the history of these desert curiosities in an older post here.

Lime Shack / 9 x 12 inches / oil on raised panel:


And more details. I like that the cobalt underpainting (or grisaille, if you want to be fancy) still shows through a little. It's like a visual trace of the workmanship that went into the painting. I wish "Moonlight, Snow" had the same amount of energy, but it'll just have to be something different.


We had a record-breaking blizzard in Joshua Tree last winter that dumped nearly two feet of snow in one day.  That night my still brand-new husband and I went for a middle-of-the-night walk down our road with the doggies to marvel at the snow in the desert. The moonlight on the new snow was so bright that we could make out colors, which is such a wonderment when it's dark outside. It was the first time we'd ever seen colors at midnight together, and I stored away the memory of that serene and otherworldly night for a painting some day...

Moonlight, Snow /  9 x 12 inches / oil on raised panel:

And nine months later, here it is. Almost. The shadows and highlights on the shack will look more "believable" if I neutralize the colors a little. And the creosote bushes could use a tiny bit of greenish-grey detail to give them the same character as the creosotes in "Lime Shack." One more hit of paint and this puppy will be ready to frame, photograph and store away until the show.

Well, have a wonderful weekend! We're going to a birthday party and the theme is, get this, jr. high dance. I might whip out my Laura Ashley corduroy romper and roll my party socks *if* P. is lucky.  Ciao, bellas!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Paint, Fig, Jujube

{Morning Still Life}

I've been working on marketing ideas for an upcoming show and whipped out my set of Holbein gouache paints to sketch some designs. Gouache is a water-based pigment that has more heft and opacity than watercolor, and it's super easy to work with.  Gouache is good. But even better when acompanied by a bowl of figs and a few delicious, weird jujubes.

I'm originally from the great corn-and-tomatoes-growing state of New Joisey, so all these exotic fruits I come across at the farmer's market in southern California are oddities worthy of a little research... 

Meet the kadota fig. The kadota isn't your sensuous, molassesy mission fig. Just a modest, green-skinned fig with a mild sweetness. The kadota is the Honda Civic of the fig world: compact, practical, and perfectly worthwhile. Truth be told I'm just waiting for the second crop of mission figs to come in, but these little guys are still delicious sliced inside a grilled cheese sandwich or with a little honey and goat cheese on a cracker.

But all hail the jujube (pronounced, delightfully, as joo-joo-bee). Jujubes are the superfruit of the desert. Imported fairly recently from Asia, the jujube, also known as Chinese date, can thrive in nearly any climate. It's been a raging success in southern California because of it's disease tollerance and ability to withstand the paint-peeling heat and below-freezing temperatures of the desert. The little jujube tree requires minimal irrigation and no pesticides or fungicides to produce bushels of healthy fruit, so that's good news for for everyone. Oh, and it's chock-full of Vitamin C. Superfruit indeed.

The jujube fruit looks and tastes like miniature apples at first -green and crisp- but once picked they ripen into a taffy-like reddish-brown, and the flavor is surprisingly sweet and nougaty. Yes, nougaty, as in nougat, like in Toblerone bars. LOVE the jujube at any stage. See if you can find some!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Earth Candy

{Roasted Ginger Carrots}

Just a wee post this morning, and also from the kitchen. We got loads of carrots from the Joshua Tree Farmer's Market on Saturday, and they are such spindly little guys! I think the desert soil must be hard on carrots because they're always so petite and they go limp as soon as you take them home, as if they realize they're destined for imminent death. Dramatic, I know, but you should see how floppy these carrots get as soon as you pay for them. I'm telling you, they know.

*But* they are still delicious and much sweeter than the commercially grown ones from the grocery store. I found some borderline rotten ginger that's been hiding in the fridge for lord knows how long, and thought, hey, this might give those sweet, limp carrots a little kick. And the result was simple and delicious and EASY. So without further ado, I give you:

Fail-Proof Roasted Carrots with Ginger:
Cut greens off carrots leaving two inches or so. Place in ovenproof dish and coat carrots with a generous tablespoons of olive oil. Add grated fresh ginger, s&p. Roast at 400 degrees for 30 or 40 minutes, or until crispified on the outside and soft in the middle. You can really put them in at any temp and just eye them every so often until they look appropriately shriveled. Heaven

Indian Summer in a Bowl

{Tomato Peach Salad with Serious Zing}

Hope you had a great weekend. Mine was borderline productive. Borderline. But thanks to some new friends it did involve a pig roast and a punk rock show by middle-aged rockers at the Joshua Tree Saloon. Yesss. So when the weekend was finally over we were too tired to make anything that involved actual cooking.

But chopping was ok, so we made a wicked concoction inspired by Salad No. 2 from Mark Bittman's "101 Simple Salads for the Season" from his New York Times food blog. Book that salad link if you know what's good for you, literally. It's like the Kama Sutra of salad making. Bittman is a genius of taking just a few simple ingredients and making gustatory magic out of them. And holy smokes, was this little salad of his amazing. It took exactly five minutes to make. And the combination of flavors was indeed, as Bittman predicted, "astonishing."

Desert Salad with Tomatoes and Peaches:
Chop good tomatoes, tart yellow peaches. Add a handful of chopped basil. A dash of chili flakes. Toss with a little olive oil and lots of fresh limejuice. Zing.

If you have any simple salads that are real humdingers, leave a comment with your idea and I'll make it next weekend and post about it next week. Have a good start to your week everyone!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Laundry and Basil at Seven

{Up Early on A Saturday Morning}

Just some pictures from a beautiful, quiet morning in the desert for you weekend bloggers with a morning cup of tea. And tips for keeping cut basil fresh. GET YE SOME AT YOUR FARMER'S MARKET THIS WEEKEND if you don't already grow the stuff.  It's basil season, people, and that's a wonderful time of year.

I *finally* unpacked my suitcase and started some laundry. (P. and I got back from Maine over a week and a half ago. No excuses.) It's so dry here that even blue jeans dry faster on the line than in the dryer. Sheets dry in ten minutes. Tops.

But dry = good for growing exotic Middle Eastern fruit, like these Persephone-worthy pomegranates from my friend Nora's garden. A little creature got to them while they were heavy on the tree, but we don't mind. Can't wait to crack these beauties open. Maybe throw them in with goat cheese and simple broiled chicken for a baby spinach salad? Ooh, and with an orange-champagne vinaigrette. Any other suggestions for these marvels?

The bootleg irrigation system I rigged up to keep my plants alive while we were gone is still snaked haphazardly around the pots just waiting to trip someone, but it's a happy kind of mess. I'm just grateful things are growing now that the days are beginning to cool off in the desert.

I have a big stock tank full of basil. It's the only edible plant I've started from seed that's really thrived over the course of the punishing Mojave summer. Now that the nights are cooler it really seems to grow before my eyes, and I can't keep up with the bolting flowers!

Hints for Keeping Your Cut Basil Fresh {that You Probably Already Knew}: Cut the top bunch of leaves from the main stem right above a set of new leaf buds to encourage vigorous outward growth. For the love of all things sacred don't put your basil in the fridge; it'll wither and blacken and beslime. Store cuttings out of direct sunlight in a container with fresh water for up to a week, just like you would flowers. They'll look sad and droopy for the first day or so, but they'll bounce back and stay sweet and peppery and delicious. Have a great weekend! Go get your basil!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Cut. It. Out.

{The Good Kind of Papercut}

Happy Friday! Besides working on applications this weekend I'm hoping to catch up on some egregiously belated wedding presents we still haven't given our now-married friends {insert gasp of horror}. BUT I have a solution. Enter the DIY crowd-pleaser: The Papercut.

Growing up we had these bizarre 19th century black paper silhouettes of people with Dickens-worthy profiles hanging in our front hall. I have no idea if they were long-dead relatives or what, but my mom loved them and insisted on keeping them clustered together on the wall in their mismatched frames as if they were all talking to each other. Weird? My sisters and I certainly thought so. Was mom retro-hip and we just didn't know it? Possibly.

When I was living in New York I started making tiny silhouettes as presents for friends and ended up making papercut invitations for our wedding (the two pictures above). All you need is an exacto knife, some archival paper that won't fade and a ready supply of bandaids. Here are some samples of my wares that I made as presents for other peeps:

Above is a papercut Kate at La Petite Choue commissioned me to make as a wedding present for her now-married best friend from the camp they both went to as wee lassies. Bless This House is the first line in the camp prayer, and duly appropriate for the adorable bride and groom starting their new life together.

Here's a papercut I did for my silhouette-loving madre for mother's day. Iris, hollyhocks, corgyn, and all her daughters' names carved on a weeping willow. She was psyched.

But this is child's play compared to the fabulous work of Rob Ryan, who (along with my mom?) is responsible for making papercutting hip for the first time since Victrolas were cutting-edge technology. So with that in mind I'm hoping to get my exacto knife out this weekend and make some wedding prezzies. Enjoy, and have a fantastic weekend!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Desert Gold

{Two Trifles For Fall in the Desert}

The Joshua Tree farmer's market is full of surprises this time of year. So is the Anthropologie jewelry sale. Luckily you can have your cake and eat it too.

EAT: Barhi dates. These little jewels of heaven ripen for just a few precious weeks in the early fall in southern California. HUNT THEM DOWN. THEY ARE UNLIKE ANYTHING YOU'VE EVER TASTED. They come off the date palm clustered along a thin woody stem like a string of golden pearls. Originally from Iraq and Iran, barhi, translated to "honey balls," were delicacies of the Assyrian Empire. That's serious street cred when it comes to dates.

They're crunchy and yellow at first but give them a few days to ripen and they'll soften to a deep caramel brown, and you will revel in their nutty sweetness. If you don't live near the desert you can order them from SoCal organic date farmers here. (Thanks to Kristina at Lovely Morning for teaching me about them!)

WEAR: A necklace that makes you feel like the Queen of Sheba. The one above can be found here for a recession-appropriate price of $48 at Anthro. Yesss.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Hen on Canvas

{Paintings from my Pagan Idols Series}

When I was in college I spent a semester studying abroad in Mongolia. I ate lots of mutton, rode ponies across the steppe, met one of my best friends in life, got a little chubby, and studied traditional Mongolian thangka painting with an Buddhist ex-nun. It was pretty rad.

Thangkas are painted or embroidered depictions of Buddhist deities, and I spent a month and a half painting two of them in a warehouse studio in Ulaanbaatar under the tutelage of my incredible teacher. I'll save the thangkas for another post, but I had to introduce the chicken paintings by way of the thangka tidbit. Let me explain.
I got back from Mongolia with two giant scrolls I made depicting these super-stylized, religious deities. I had a studio thesis to commence and I had lost all interest in my original thesis proposal, but I didn't know how to translate the thangka experience into something fresh and meaningful for a new body of work. My thesis advisor said something that I turn to often even now: PAINT WHAT YOU KNOW. What do I know? Chickens. I know chickens. I love chickens.
My mom collected rare breeds on our farm when I was growing up, and chickens featured prominently in my childhood the way Barbies do in other girls' childhoods; each individual was glamorously different from the next, we dressed them up, and they made for good company at tea parties. Plus, they laid eggs. So, dear reader, I did my senior thesis on chickens.

I joined the American Poultry Association, traveled around Massachusetts taking photographs of rare breeds, interviewed a taxidermist, and began stretching really big canvases. I used the basic tenets of thangka painting- figure floating in space, brilliant color, etc- and applied them to my oversized flamboyant birds. I thought of the paintings as my own personal thangkas; I was creating my own pantheon of pagan gods and goddesses.

Eventually the solid backgrounds got a little repetitious, so I researched early American textiles and began painting ridiculous patterns behind the birds, playing on the association of chickens with domesticity. And, by extension, my growing up in a house of five women, on a farm, where we we raised with Victorian manners but at the same time mucked stalls and drove tractors since we didn't have brothers. I thought of the chickens as emblems of complex American ideals: wildness vs. domesticity, the idea of femininity, the preservation of beauty, the legacy of Audubon, etc.
Anywho, these are my chickens. They are all oil on canvas, and roughly 42 x 54 in. You can see more of them on my website in the gallery called Pollo.

Poultry Sweet

{The Chicken in B&W}

I recently came across New York photographer Jean Pagliuso's series of black and white portraits of chickens she calls "Poultry Suite." She prints them on handmade paper using a labor-intensive process involving a silver emulsion wash, which gives the the photographs a softness and formalism that reminds me of portraits of soldiers from the Civil War. Which is weird, because they're chickens. So there's this inherent irony in taking formal, old-timey portraits of these prized rare breeds of barnyard fowl. I can't decide if they're kitschy or if they're beautiful. Or both. But I'm quite taken with them either way.

Images courtesy of Jean Pagliuso

Tomorrow I'll post the second poultry-art installment: my giant chicken paintings...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Icelandic Pop

{Paint, Beer and Cigarettes at the Venice Biennale}

The Venice Biennale has been a major contemporary art festival held in the Sinking City every two years since 1895 (minus a six-year hiatus during WWII). At least thirty different countries each have their own permanent pavilion where an ambassador-artist of sorts sets up camp for a few months and makes, the hope is, some really rad art. Enter: Ragnar Kjartansson, painter, provocateur and prodigious beer-drinker.

Since June, Iceland's Kjartansson (kuh-YART-un-sun), a graduate of the Icelandic Academy of the Arts, has been making one painting of his buddy and fellow countryman Pall Hauker Bjornsson every day. In a rather unflattering little black Speedo. Yesss. Day in, day out, Kjartansson paints a portrait of the long-suffering Bjornsson in the ancient stone studio looking out over a canal. They've both developed a slight paunch from all the beer they've been drinking, but the past few months of painting have hardly been a party. Kjartanssson calls the project "The End."
He told the New York Times last June when he began the project, which he will continue through November, "I just had this image of this guy, smoking, drinking, by the water, looking out at the Prosecco Venetian light. I thought of him as this man without fate, which is all what we're living back home, in a way."

The repetition of each day -get up, smoke, drink, make a painting, go to bed- is a self-inflicted Sisyphean task that mirrors the drudgery of everyday working life in the midst of an apocryphal economy, but I think there's a little dark humor in there, too. These two pale, perpetually-buzzed Icelandic men -beer bottles and cigarette butts overtaking their 14th century studio in the very birthplace of the Italian renaissance and the tradition of oil painting- are creating a monument to artistic ruin. The best part is, in Kjartansson's end of the world scenario the last man standing is wearing a Speedo. That's depressing, but it's also funny.

It very well looked like the end of the world to the people of Iceland last year when they suffered, relative to size, the largest banking collapse in economic history, and Kjartansson seems to echo that grim reality by stripping his Biennale project down to the most basic elements of traditional oil painting: artist, paint, canvas, model. The bare-bones simplicity of the set-up belies the tongue-in-cheek concept of the project. You know what they say about life imitating art.

After several years of abandoning the human figure I've just started painting people again, and these paintings get me excited to stay at it. Kjartansson's paintings are unfussy, unselfconscious; he seems unworried about the entire painting looking "finished," which makes sense, considering he only allowed himself one day to work on each painting. And there was all that drinking and smoking to do. What's important to Kjartansson -his model, a Morandi-inspired glass bottle, a chair, for instance- is energetically rendered. But everything else is merely hinted at to give juuust enough visual information to create a space in which this all takes place. I like that. Off to the studio!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Part II: Vegetable

{Grey Gardens at Green Valley Farm}

It's been a particularly rainy summer in New Jersey, and the farm had a certain overgrown wildness to it that reminded me, just a little, of the Beales's dilapidated kingdom in Grey Gardens (if you've never seen the documentary of the same name, it's a must. The recent HBO film adaptation with Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore is also to die for, but you have to see the documentary first in order to appreciate their uncanny performances.) The vegetable garden was a jungle of untamed tomatoes and toppled sunflowers. The old colonial garden choked with phlox, echinacea, butterfly weed, white hibiscus and lilies. But everything was just a little past its glorious prime; the spectacular overgrowth was ragged and beginning to rot here and there, and the loamy earth was beginning to smell like fall.

From top to bottom: cherry tomatoes, overgrown vegetable garden overrun with tomatoes and sunflowers, bushy hydrangea along a path, echinacea, sundial and moss, ragged hostas