Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Spring Awakening

{Rhubarb Galette with Crème Fraîche}

I hunted and I hunted and I found fresh rhubarb in the desert. And I cannot accurately express just how much joy that brings this tiny house, especially when baked in a crude loose-form tart shell on a Sunday afternoon.  The sour rhubarb is tempered with sugar and encompassed by flaky crust, and the results are heavenly. It is simple, rustic, and flirtatious; it is a lusty country girl of a dessert whose georgic charms one cannot resist. 

Rhubarb Galette with Crème Fraîche
from Bon Appétit, April 2010; for a printer-friendly version of this recipe click here

Ingredients for Crust:
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons (or more) ice water

Ingredients for Topping:
1 pound trimmed rhubarb, cut into 2-inch-long 1/4-inch-thick matchstick-size strips
1/4 cup plus 5 tablespoons sugar, divided
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk, beaten to blend
1 8-ounce container crème fraîche

Directions for Crust:
Whisk flour, sugar, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Add butter and rub in with fingertips until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add 2 tablespoons ice water; stir until dough clumps together, adding more ice water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least 2 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled. Let dough soften 10 minutes at room temperature before rolling out.
Directions for Topping:
Combine rhubarb and 1/4 cup sugar in medium bowl; let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Place large sheet of parchment on work surface; sprinkle parchment with flour. Roll out dough on parchment to 12-inch round. Transfer dough on parchment to large baking sheet. Starting in center of dough round, arrange rhubarb strips in concentric circles and slightly overlapping atop dough, leaving 1-inch plain border at edge. Gently fold dough border up over outer edge of rhubarb topping, folding and crimping dough to create decorative edge. Sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of sugar over rhubarb. Dot rhubarb with butter. Brush dough edges with beaten egg. Sprinkle edges with 1 tablespoon sugar.

Bake galette until rhubarb is tender and juices are bubbling, about 1 hour. Cool galette at least 30 minutes.

Mix crème fraîche and 2 tablespoons sugar in small bowl. Cut galette into wedges. Serve warm or at room temperature with sweetened crème fraîche and a sprig of mint if you have some. Huzzah.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

For This, For That

{A Visit to the Morrow Homestead}

For the sake of American condiments: a mustard cabin with ketchup accents.

For mid-century glassware enthusiasts: stained-glass windows made from thrift shop finds.

For spiritual efficiancy: a shrine where one can appeal to the Virgin Mother while simultaneously celebrating the Chinese New Year.

For those of you who forgot your upholstery needles: fruiting barrel cactus with shepherd's crook barbs.

 For gustatory rapture: stuffed jalapeños with bacon, roasted in a tiny 1947 oven.

For neighborly truces: a defunct water tank inhabited by barn owls and a birdhouse inhabited by mice.

Hope you're off to a good week. I'm behind in the studio, but man were those stuffed jalapeños good.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The End of March

{And What That Means in The Desert}

The end of March has been shy here; cool, breezy days punctuated by the occasional warm afternoon. But finally, to everyone's delight, little buds have sprouted on the beavertail cactus like clusters of sea anemones. (Or Bart Simpson heads, if that's how you roll.)

The end of March also means the hound of love is shedding out her ermine coat. When one is met with such spotted, whorled magnificence one must wrap one's arms around the beastie and profess one's love. No mortal can resist. That is why she is the hound of love.

The end of March means that unsold paintings must be taken off gallery walls, packed up. Sold paintings must be readied for shipping to their new homes, one of which may or may not be Big Sur Bakery or its immediate environs.  Had I known this earlier I would have traded the painting for lifetime rights to free scones.

Hope you have a solid weekend. Us, we finished our taxes. I only cried once, but at least I had the dignity to hold it in until we left the tax office. P's going to LA so I'm going to workworkwork in the studio while he's gone and maybe see if I can't hunt me down some rhubarb tomorrow. Because oh yeah, above all else the end of March means one thing to me: the beginning of RHUBARB SEASON, which is the very best season of them all.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tire Pressure + Taxes

{It Doesn't Have to Be That Hard}

Last night on the way home from the studio I recalibrated the pressure in the tires of our truck. I was ever so pleased with myself. But the truth is it wasn't that hard; it just required a quick reference to the owner's manual, the use of a brass pressure gauge my dad gave me for my birthday last year and a trip to the air pump at the gas station.  It is what Responsible Able-Bodied Farmgirls Know How To Do, says my mummy, with whom I consult on all such matters.  And since 2009 was the first year I was self-employed as a full-time painter, she urged me to tackle my now infinitely-more complicated taxes with the same pragmatism and can-do attitude.  Riiight.

We all know that the keeping of receipts and the documentation of sales is important. And that the brewing of strong tea and the discovery of a Moe's Bacon Bar in the cupboard is crucial. 

But after reading and rereading Form 1040 Schedule C to no improved comprehension there may or may not have been excessive, angry mouse-clicking, foot-stomping and borderline tears. So tonight P. and I are meeting with The Tax Man and I will assail him with my steno pad of questions.

Not sure if you should file as self-employed or if you've got an official small business? Click here; the humans at the Internal Revenue Service put a lil sumpin together for us artists. If you're not ready to take the spiritually-deadening leap to the IRS website, the ladies at Design*Sponge have some helpful info for you entrepreneurial photographers, illustrators, printmakers and crafters here.

Any other tax resources for artists you want to share? After all, as the back of my receipts say, WE STRIVE TO SATISFY (I might have to make that the new tag line on my business card).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All Owl, All the Time

{What's Better Than A Live Owlcam? A Live Owlcam with BABY OWLETS.}

We happily interrupt our regular programing to bring you Molly the wild barn owl, with her tawny hollow feathers and heart-shaped face. A tiny camera placed in the owl box where she's nesting reveals everything from owly yawns, owly chortles, and at dusk, the husband owl bearing gifts of headless prey.  Patience is rewarded with glimpses of BARN OWL EGGS and NEWLY-HATCHED OWLETS. I know, I can hardly contain myself either.  Click here for all owl, all the time.

thanks to Penguin + Fish.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bring Your Own Spoon

{Vernal Equinox Feast with Bistro Escondido}

An entrepreneurial friend of mine runs a catered dinner party project called Bistro Escondido. It's like flashmobbing meets geocaching, but for food instead of trinkets. This is how it works: The head honcho blasts her email list with a time, date, menu and secretish location somewhere in the desert, preferably but not always entirely legal.*

The blastees show up at said secretish location armed with a spoon, bowl, and small donation. Last night P. and I found the Bistro Escondido kitchen hidden in an alcove of rocks somewhere out in the desert. As promised, it included a cauldron of fresh seafood purchased on the coast the day before.

Since last fall's feast was such a success they made cioppino (pronounced chi-PEEN-o) again, a San Franciscan seafood stew that calls for copious amounts of fresh fennel, dill, parsley and garlic. YUM.

Early wildflowers sprouted from the rocks all around us in rainbowed tuffets of desert bells, birdsfoot trefoil and stickweed. Unruly desert bouquets perfect for the occasion of friends and strangers coming together to do what P. and I do best:  EAT AROUND A CAMPFIRE.

Some people brought firewood. Others brought blankets. Someone brought their half-blind terrier that had spent 14 months in shelters, and that now, it seemed, was the happiest dog in the desert.

Twenty-five people showed up. By the time darkness settled in the cioppino was ready and the guitars had come out. The rocks glowed. The strangers shared beer and bonded over containers of discarded shells. 

People gave $20 donations to help Sunny buy a new car. Sunny, whose van broke down in Joshua Tree, but who decided to stay.  Sunny, who wields a shell-smashing mallet like a mythical blacksmith. Sunny, who makes a MEAN cioppino.

To get on the Bistro Escondido secret dinner-in-the-desert email list, stop by their blog. Maybe, just maybe, it's enough to entice you to come see what all the fuss is about. 

* If you haven't picked up on the theme of trespassing as central to bigBANG, now you know. It plays a key role in many desert activities.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Desert Mouse in the City

{In Which Yours Truly Is Dispatched to LA for the Making of A Tart}

My phone rings at 8am on Saturday morning. It's Kate. She is having a dinner party and needs me to come to Los Angeles and make desert, right now. LA is a two and a half hour drive from our little desert world, but when your best friend from high school needs you to come over and make dessert you grab your tart pan and you go. Luckily the husband is *very* understanding about these things.

And he was planning on driving to LA that morning anyway. Lucky for two doggies who love road trips. Lucky for everyone the freeway was lined with wildflowers. Lucky for me that rich California afternoon light filled Kate's adorable apartment when I arrived with my tart pan.

We cooked all afternoon. We were still flour-speckled when the guests arrived, but no matter. Kate ushered them into the apartment building's garden armed with hors d'oeuvres.  It is the kind of the garden one does not mind being ushered into. Especially when armed with hors d'oeuvres.

When you are young and just setting out in life a dinner party is a shared endeavor. So someone brought the table. And someone brought two very large, whole red snappers with very large, whole eyeballs. Which we stuffed with lemons and parsley and roasted in an encasement of rock salt.

We ran out of dinner plates so we used salad plates and saucers. We poached ferns and ivy from the neighbor's overgrown yard to pep up the sprays of freesia and ranunculus.  One has to be resourceful, if willing to trespass occasionally, when one has limited party supplies of ones own.

And I delivered on my promise of dessert in the form of a Meyer lemon tart, albeit one that had a rather shy, shrunken crust on one side. It was delicate, it had zing, it was not too sweet. And the making of this tart required the pulverization of an entire, perfect Meyer lemon. Who can contain herself from putting a whole lemon in the food processor and pressing the puree button with destructive glee? Not I.

During the course of dessert the obstreperous corgi discovered the aforementioned red snapper heads in the garbage and devoured them, googly eyes and all, which resulted in much scolding and fretting on my part and much coddling on the part of other, more forgiving friends.

We all ate too much, we drank too much, and we stayed up far too late, and it was marvelous. Sunday morning was not without some gentle chiding from a fresh-faced husband who was in fact Not Hungover, and who Knows How To Act Responsibly When Visiting Friends in LA. What can I say? A desert mouse has to make the most of her trips to the city.

Meyer lemon tart perfectly simple to make and perfectly, outrageously delicious to eat. Cheat and buy an unformed frozen pie crust if you're short on time or pastry dough expertise. Recipe from reliably wonderful Smitten Kitchen here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hummus + Home

{What To Do When Friends Visit}

When friends come from the East Coast to climb rocks in your backyard National Park the first thing to do is make several quarts of Meyer lemon hummus. And buy lots of cheap beer. 

Because sometimes Tecate in the can is all it takes to make someone happy, two-legged or otherwise.

A little desert sun permits pallid New England feet to come out of hiding and wear flip-flops. This is not only good for the feet, but good for the soul.

When friends come out to the desert the right song must be played very, very loud.  And then turned way down low, so that the music blends with the warbling of the finches in the yuccas. Because the warbling of spring finches is also, I am told, extremely good for the soul.

And if you're new here, via here or here, thank you for stopping by. If you stop by in real life I'll ply you with lemony hummus and Tecate. Deal? Deal. Hope you have a marvelous weekend.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Noah's Ark

{Spring at Noah Purifoy's Assemblage Kingdom}

Shelter, for raising young.

Shelter, a recollection of a sometimes-homeless childhood.

Blossoms, on Joshua trees, all velvety and mauve.  And pollinated by the tiny white pronuba moth.

Encyclopedias, buckled and variegated, like sheaves of sedimentary rock. For the looking up of things. For the insatiably curious mind of the man who used to live here.

Addax, with spirally horns. Adder, with venom.

Soapbox, for anyone.

Copper chair, for oxidizing.

Noah, who changed the way people think about the desert, broken vacuum cleaners, and art.

Noah, who shows us beauty in the castoff, the unwanted, the mundane.

Noah Purifoy (1917-2004) is known as the father of the black assemblage movement in LA, and was famous for "66 Signs of Neon," a traveling exhibition of sculptures he created from the rubble of the Watts race riot of 1965. A founder of the Watts Towers Art Center and member of the California Arts Council, he worked tirelessly to bring art to prisons, schools and social programs. He left LA and moved to Joshua Tree in 1988 and worked on his 7.5-acre assemblage opus until he died at the age of 86 from smoke inhalation in his trailer after falling asleep with a lighted cigarette. Noah's work will be included in the just-announced, highly-anticipated 2011 show at the Getty Museum, "Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-1980." 

Noah's Joshua Tree "Museum" is preserved and maintained by his old friend, LA art master/trickster Ed Ruscha. It's  free and open to the elements and public if you can find it.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Borax + Salt in Death Valley

{What We Learned and Agreed On Below Sea Level}

The lowest and highest elevations in the contiguous US are less than eighty miles apart, but this fact cannot be fully appreciated until seen in person. As P. and I cleared the mountain pass and plummeted below sea level we agreed that Death Valley is, for lack of a more accurate description, a geological mind-f*ck.

We learned that twenty-mule wagons hauled borax out of these rumpled, velveteen-looking hills in the early 20th century. Borax, for the making of soap. Borax, for the making of flame-retardants. Borax, for the making of insecticides. Borax, via Death Valley courtesy of mule teams. Huzzah.

We agreed that it would be exceedingly difficult to be a bighorn sheep living in Death Valley. And it is, but they do. We disagreed over the practicality of the wearing of legwarmers when the temperature rose to 80 degrees. 

But the problem was solved when we descended into the salt flats of Badwater Basin, where it seemed appropriate (and legal) to remove legwarmers, socks and boots, and walk barefoot across the flooded salt pan at 282 feet below sea level.

Others joined us and we listened, grinning, to the utterings of disbelief in a dozen different languages as our fellow waders ventured out into the warm salt water.

Although we agreed that it is generally inadvisable to taste exposed minerals, I am happy to report that the salt of Badwater Basin does, in fact, taste just like regular salt. And look like dirty freezer burn. And feel like pliant crystals that soften and sooth tired feet.

To walk across flooded salt flats barefoot with someone you love is a Peak Life Experience, as the someone I love proclaimed on our drive home. I wholeheartedly agreed as I tossed my legwarmers into the back seat.

Sometimes it just takes a little time to soften, sooth, and agree. And it feels really good. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mammoth Mountain Checklist

{A Ski Weekend with No Ski Pictures}

Saturday night roaring fire: check. Wet ski gear placed on hearth: check. Auxiliary firewood: uncheck, but it was good while it lasted.

iPhone speakers: check. Light beer, what with the altitude: check.

Trader Joe's pizza dough: check. New and old friends making dinner together after a long day on the mountain: check-check.

Sunday morning descent to where the Mojave Desert abuts the Eastern Sierra: check. Advil for prohibitively sore quadriceps: painfully uncheck.

Purchase of Raw U.S. No. A Pure Honey from Independence, California: regrettably uncheck.

Death Valley adventure: check, and pictures tomorrow. Hope you had a good weekend and that somewhere someone is morselizing Raw U.S. No. A on their morning toast.