Wednesday, March 4, 2015

In my Kitchen - March 2015

When we first bought our house two dozen years ago, I hated the kitchen. The whole house was a fixer upper from hell, with orange wall paper, green linoleum and iffy plumbing. But the kitchen was it's own special level of ugly, nothing worked, the fuses blew if you even thought about running more than one appliance at a time and it was cramped as a submarine.



Over the years, the hub has replaced ever bit of it, even the fuses, so I can run the microwave and the dishwasher at the same time.... and now I love our little kitchen.

We still have to walk sideways like crabs when we are all in there, and yell, "Hot behind you!"when  someone opens the oven, but it works.



I'm still in the middle of breadbaking mania.  After watching Josh Kaufman's wonderful TED talk on how to learn a skill in 20 hours, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MgBikgcWnY, I decided to bake 20 loaves of bread, trying to make each one a little bit better each time.

The goal is a crispy crunchy crust and a chewy airy crumb.




One loaf I made had a nice mix of seeds and grain. 


Some loaves were prettier than others.









I baked #13 yesterday and it came out a treat. Each loaf is exciting in a small, humble way. I like finding out what happens if the recipe is tweaked a little. It's teaching me patience. The baked loaf has to sit for at least 20 minutes before you cut it or it will be gummy. Bread baking is teaching me planning, a loaf for Friday needs a starter feed on Monday, sponge making on Thursday and shaping and baking on Friday morning.

It's helped to have my mate, Celia, bread baker extraordinaire from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial, patting my hand and giving me good advice along the way.

I've been getting a lot of good use out of my Le Creuset red brassier, I made a cassoulet for the first time.


And Chicken Spinach Rollups...


For Valentines, my man got me Orange Marmalade, Bergamot Jam, vanilla and a cool kitty cookie cutter.


The Farmer's Market had these beautiful red oranges, so I made a salad with feta and spiced pecans.


So, that's what's in my little kitchen. For my next 20 Hour challenge, I'm trying to get better at drawing hands. What skill would you like to learn?

Wishing you a creative week,

Marilyn.

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 I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.
~ Pablo Picasso


 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Five Tips for Getting Your Stuff in Order




Last December, we painted my studio. All my stuff, art supplies, books, junk, had to go out of the room and come back in, piece by piece. Since then I've been trying to put a bit of thought and logic into how my things were organized. I've also been helping my 84-year-old mom declutter her house bit by bit.

Here's a list of five things that have helped me in managing my "stuff".

Tip One : The hard part for some people isn't getting rid of "stuff" but getting rid of memories. If you are having trouble deciding whether to keep something, listen to how you feel about an item. If you have good memories, and want it, put it aside. If you feel negative energy, chuck it in the box. A couple of years ago I got rid of a beautiful wool scarf that I had lent to a horrible boss at a trade show. Every time I opened the drawer it made me think of her so I gave it away. I haven't missed it.

Tip Two : Go for the low hanging fruit... is there a pile of papers to throw away? Do that first. If you know something needs to go to the Salvation Army, chuck it in a trash bag and put it in your car. Creating even a little extra breathing room feels good.

Tip Three: Get help with the big jobs. When cleaning out my mom's closet I grabbed a friend and we took everything out and put it on the bed. Then we found a skirt that just fit my mom but was snug. Any skirt smaller than that went into the bag. Everything that fit went back in sorted by type, long sleeves, short sleeves, etc. Now it's 100 times easier for my mom to get dressed.

Tip Four : Keep the things that are most useful to you close at hand and store less important items farther away. I keep my everyday art supplies like pencils and drawing paper on my desk along with the book that I am currently illustrating. Paints and inks are in the closet in labeled boxes. Beads and sewing supplies are in the hall closet.

Tip Five : "When in doubt, throw it out."... or give it to someone who can use it. Pass books, clothes, dishes on to someone who can use them. Doesn't that make you feel a whole lot better?


Here are a few clutter problems solved....

Problem... Where's the pencil sharpener?

Solution - All of my drawing supplies that I use everyday are organized by type and have to stay on their side of the line. I still haven't figured out how to keep the pencil sharpener from sliding back, but it is a lot easier to reach. All my bead supplies went into the closet.





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Problem - My mom was having trouble finding clothes that fit. Too much stuff! Ack! 

Solution - Take everything out and put back only the clothes that fit. Sort by type. This project took three people an entire afternoon so having help is key. Sometimes the big jobs must be tackled with abandon.








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Problem - Bottles of nail polish all ever my desk...

Solution - Five dollar box from Michael's.  








I'm still struggling with how to manage too much paper, drawings, bills, receipts. If you have any suggestions, ideas, life hacks, please let me know. 

Make space so magic can happen,

Marilyn.

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“Give me the discipline to get rid of the stuff that's not important, the freedom to savor the stuff that gives me joy, and the patience not to worry about the stuff that's messy but not hurting anybody.”
 ~ Vinita Hampton Wright







Saturday, February 14, 2015

Learning new things....

Today was Valentine's Day and my hub's birthday...

It was also a leisurely day for learning new things,


I made Toasty Bread Sticks out of some leftover sourdough bread from yesterday. Just paprika, cumin, pepper, Parmesan, and some splashing of olive oil on strips of bread, toasted for fifteen minutes at 450F. Next dinner party, these are on the menu. They are like Cheetos for grown ups. :-)



Some origami envelopes.

And notes for strums on my ukulele.



Merry Valentine's to you!

Marilyn.

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“Nobody will stop you from creating. Do it tonight. Do it tomorrow. That is the way to make your soul grow — whether there is a market for it or not! The kick of creation is the act of creating, not anything that happens afterward. I would tell all of you watching this screen: Before you go to bed, write a four line poem. Make it as good as you can. Don’t show it to anybody. Put it where nobody will find it. And you will discover that you have your reward.”
~ Kurt Vonnegut

Monday, February 2, 2015

In my Kitchen ~ February 2015



This month has been all about the bread because my friend Celia in Australia sent me some dried sourdough flakes from her starter, "Priscilla, Queen of the Refrigerator".

Nurtured back to life with bread flour and cooled boiled water, the dried flakes grew into a new starter that I christened "Big Mama" after my great grandmother who was famous for her biscuits.




The results is a crunchy crispy crust and a soft chewy insides. Another side effect has been my complete breadmania, with things like "hydration levels", "crumb", rising times and "semolina flour" being obsessed over like some crazed mad scientist. It's all great fun.

It hasn't been bread alone around here... we are enjoying lots of winter tomatoes...



Still loving on Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking,  I made Hollandaise sauce for the first time. It is delicious. Not something I'd do everyday, but for company perhaps.


Lots of fresh veg from the farmer's market, sounds so hipster doesn't it? I've been living on english peas. I'm the only one in my family who likes them. Oh well, more for me. :-)



Broccoli, bell pepper, olives and feta salad.



The hub made a pitcher of fresh mandarin juice. No scurvy around here. In years past the mandarins have been really sour. This year they were sweeter for some reason. The froth on the top was creamy like an Orange Julius.



He also made meat pies using some leftover pot roast. Many "Mrs. Lovett" jokes were made.



My one purchase for the kitchen was a Le Creuset bread pan that I found on sale. I'm hoping to make sandwich bread.


And for dessert, rice pudding with pistachios.


So that's what's been cooking here at Casa Del Aguas. How about you?

Marilyn.

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“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”  ~ Julia Child



Sunday, January 25, 2015

People in my Neighborhood

Everybody has a secret world inside of them. All of the people of the world, I mean everybody. No matter how dull and boring they are on the outside, inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds. Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.   ~  Neil Gaiman



There is a certain rhythm in my days. In my neighborhood I've noticed that there are lots of people that are in pretty much the same place in the same time. I don't know them but I wonder about their lives and who they are...

The first person that I noticed was "The Walking Lady" Every Monday through Friday she walks to and from work from Huntington Beach to Santa Ana, at least four miles each way. Her skin is tanned to teak wood and she has silver grey hippie hair. Rain or shine like clockwork, The Walking Lady walks, not in a hurry, but with zen purpose.



One of my favorites is "Jaunty Walker" Every afternoon, with the regularity of a Swiss windup, she powerwalks to the library and back, never varying her route. Even in the hottest weather she wears a dark puffy jacket, her fists pumping like a drum major. She's got swagger.



Most people don't have such exuberance. There is a strange lady that my mind has christened "Fruit Bags".  She wears a hat with her hoodie pulled up and carries an odd assortment of bright vinyl bags that I often see her digging through as she talks to herself.


This huge man who lumbers down to the library everyday pulling a rolling bag. He used to sit on the bench sometimes in the shade at the school across the street until the tree and the bench were removed.

Another favorite is "Bicycle Girl" I used to see her riding her bike everyday up the hill to my son's high school, zooming past the poor kid that was hauling his cello behind him. Bicycle Girl has the most glorious long brown hair that waves behind her like a silk flag. She now rides from a different direction and I wonder if she's going to college. I hope so, perhaps studying bicycle engineering or ballet or literature, thinking about Keats and Kafka as she rides along.


Another wheeled regular on my street is "The Bark Mobile" A tall, bald old man pulls a platform on the back of his bike, with his Australian sheep dog rides on like a parade float. As soon as the cart starts moving the dog gleefully barks its head off, announcing their arrival, a cross between a WWF announcer and a fire truck siren. You can hear them from blocks away.


I often see "Backpack Guy" walking to work each day. I find him most interesting because of the different ways that he carries his backpack, often slung off his forehead like a Sherpa bearer. He always wears a baseball cap.





So those are some of the people in my neighborhood, all living their lives with thoughts and worlds of their own. There are many more, the dog walkers, homeless folks, kids going to school, moms with strollers and cleaning ladies going to and from houses to home. I don't think that they notice me, a dumpy little suburban mom, driving to take care of my mom and running errands every day.

How about you? Who are the people in your neighborhood? Who do you notice?

Marilyn.

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PS Be Jaunty!




Friday, January 16, 2015

Love is... homemade bread.

One of this week's doodles. I'm finishing up inking a book that is all illustrated in black and white so I did a quick color sketch just to see if I remembered how. :-)


Also in the news... I've been obsessed with learning how to make a great loaf of bread. Last night I had a minor breakthrough. A nice crunchy crust.



The recipe is from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I made a sponge of half the flour, yeast, salt and water the night before, then added the rest of the flour and salt the next day.

I flattened the dough like focaccia and dusted the top with fresh rosemary, salt and lashings of olive oil. Then baked the loaf in my new red enamel braiser with the lid on for about twenty minutes at 400 to steam the crust, then finished the baking at 375 with the lid off for another twenty minutes or so.

The bread came out more than decent. The crust had a nice amount of crunch and the inside had a marvelous chewy flavor. I didn't get a very good photo of the finished loaf, we were too busy eating it. The leftover half is going to be bruschetta tonight.


Doing the double kneading was pretty labor intensive and made a fuss of a mess. Next I'm going to try doing a one step version and see if I get similar results.

Back to inking,

Marilyn.

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It's fun to get together and have something good to eat at least once a day. 
That's what human life is all about-enjoying things.
~ Julia Child