The Tank Be Empty


I’m in recovery mode. My weekend was so full of things to do I kind of lost it. As a result I was a mess on Monday, nearly got in a car accident (not my fault) leading to a broken carton of eggs in the back seat where all the groceries went flying. At home it continued with me having a case of the dropsies and breaking my most favorite glass bottle; smashed to bits on the concrete driveway as I unloaded the car. It was one of those days,  you know, those days when you keep doing something stupid and “aw sh*%#” keeps slipping from your lips. That kind of day.

So this morning I just slept. It was the best thing I could possibly do. Now, I don’t have much time before I head in to work, but it was worth it.

Hopefully I can face the rest of my day with grace and calm.

Want to see photos from the weekend, the relaxing part of it? We went on an impromptu camping trip, just my hubby and I, to Boggs where he’s mountain bike racing next weekend. It was mostly relaxing, except for the part where when we got to the campsite the radiator fluid in the truck was boiling. We weren’t sure if we’d make it out the next morning, but we made the best of it.

We kept it simple – lot’s of food to get us through the night and morning! There’s something about camping trips that makes one fear starvation in the wild, and thus drives you to stock up on all manner of indulgences.

As you’re looking at the photos take note of the ones where we’re cooking. My husband made a cook stove from two beer cans. It uses denatured alcohol and works like a dream. The most lightweight camp stove ever. I’m not the only creative person around here!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

PS. We made it home without destroying the radiator. All’s well.

 

 

For the Love of Rocks!


I love rocks. Always have. I come from a family of rock lovers. One of my most fond memories is rock picking somewhere in New Brunswick with my sister, mom and dad. I believe there were even signs at this one particular beach that said “no rock picking”. Somehow that seemed wrong. It’s not like we were going to take  the whole beach full of rocks (though often times it feels like we’ve made a valiant attempt). As nervous as we were about breaking a law, we still couldn’t help ourselves, our jacket pockets were bulging. Pulling out of the parking lot, the car riding quite low to the ground, we felt like we’d done something illicit.

But a beach with such signage is rare, thank the gods. Rock picking is one of those free joys, it fills hours and hours, absorbs the mind and appeals to the aesthetic senses. Only you the rock picker know exactly what you are looking for, what the criteria for the perfect rock might be. Often it is dictated by the location, the type of rocks that have formed there. Some beaches are good for the round, smooth rock, others for the colours and textures. Some beaches have beach glass, or worn bricks. I love it all. My husband doesn’t get it. He has conceded to sit beside me for a little while, looking at rocks, but I far outlast him in terms of rock picking stamina. He also, strangely, does not feel compelled to take them home. He’s never said it but rather suggested through body language that he thinks I’m a bit touched-in- the-head, so to speak, when it comes to rocks.

Believe me, I felt vindicated when my family came to visit me for our wedding on the coast. This was the scene:

 

I know I am not alone!! When I’m with my clan, we know the business of rocks. I swear we stayed on our bellies for at least 2 hours straight if not more and had to tear ourselves away from that beach to go and “be social” and try not to be “antisocial rock picking maniacs”.

Luckily I have a decent camera, so now, instead of taking the entire beach home, I take pictures of ones that don’t quite make the cut but are still beautiful. The best ones come home with me.

And what do I do with those rocks, pray tell? They make beautiful arrangements in bowls, or around succulents. They have also managed to become the subject of paintings. There is an energy about rocks. I feel calm when I am looking at them and holding them in my hands. So, I decided to try to convey the feeling I get from rocks in a painted format:

This is the first painting of rocks I’ve done, and it was immensely satisfying.

Recently I got my hands on a piece of scrap bamboo board from my father-in-law’s wood shop. Here are the beginnings of my next rock painting:

What do you think? Loopy rock lover or a kindred spirit?

S

Never Go Near A Garden Center a.k.a. Human Magnet


I did it folks, I was led into temptation. I knew well in advance, as my legs took on a life of their own and carried me towards the alluring gates, that I should not enter the garden of Eden, because I would partake of the fruit. For a few moments I put on a convincing act of  ‘just looking’.

These were my finds:

Graptoveria Amethorum

Bear’s Paws

I couldn’t resist. They were $1.98 at Home Depot. I could say that it was out of the goodness of my heart – because though they look great on their abundant flats of succulents, they are not in the proper soil. Large stores like HD are all about the easy and express, so they just put these little guys in potting soil which is not prime for a succulent.

These two succulents are the juicy type, so they will not survive frost ( I learned that with last seasons juicy succulents, may they rest in peace. Juicy= high water content=freezes like water in an ice cube tray). These are definitely indoor guys.

As exciting as these acquisitions were, the most exciting were the freebies:

 I did not unscrupulously take them off a plant, I happened to find them at the bottom of the flat between the potted plants where they had naturally fallen on their own. This is a fantastic development as I now have the subjects for my experiments with this method of propagation:

1. Take leaves from succulent and lay them on a bed of perlite or gritty soil

2. Leave in area of filtered light indoors or out. Do not water

3.Wait for new growth to form at base along with tiny roots

4.Place in gritty soil and water lightly

Now I’m at step 3: the waiting. I will let you know how things develop.

In the meantime, here are a few shots of me transplanting my lovely succulents to a good-sized pot full of 1:1:1  potting soil/ Perlite / Gritty soil ( lava rock is apparently best but hard to find. Sand is too fine)

You must not be afraid to manhandle the succulent to open up the root ball – often they’ve been confined to a pot for too long and they are quite dense. Remember you are showing them tough love and they will appreciate it in the end.

Lightly spritz them with water and place in the sun.

Cheers!

S

the Skinny on Succulents


I’m not an authority figure on this, so let me just get that out of the way.

If you read my previous blog about gardening, you’d know that I struggle with certain flora and fauna, often send them to plant heaven and on occasion succeed in sustaining life.

Succulents are by far the most forgiving and thus my best friends in the plant department.

About a year ago I was fortunate to be able to attend a free seminar on propagating succulents. Since then it’s been a grand experiment with varying success, but I’d love to share what I do know. When you are successful with propagation, it is the most satisfying thing in the world.

Alright, say you have just purchased a beautiful succulent in a pot, it’s geometrically perfect, fits the vessel just right, requires little attention. 6 months later, you’ve got this on your hands:

Congratulations, your succulents have outgrown their pot. Now what.

When succulents are under stress (too much sun, too much cold, not enough water, too little space) they start turning lovely colors, so you might like to enjoy it in this state for a while. But there will come a time when it starts to look mangy and you take pity. You’re going to have to do something with that puppy. It is helpful if you have a plethora of small pots – trust me, pretty soon you can open your own succulent nursery.

At all times, remind yourself that succulents can take a lot. Don’t be too gentle, you’re going to need to do some tugging and cutting and really get your fingers around each head.

Find some of the babies that the plant is putting out:

Pull out and up from the rest of the plant

With clean, sterilized sheers, cut the stem, don’t be queasy it’s actually really neat once you realize how much they can take. You can also do this to the larger heads, but will need to scab them over (more on that later).

Trim really close to the bud, peel away any dead leaves.

Then simply push the stem in to gritty soil (needs to have good drainage). Over the course of a week or so, the succulent will push out new roots and grip the soil on its own. It does not need a lot of water. In fact, for the first little while, to spur on the root development, hold back on any water. When you do water, use a spray bottle and gently mist them, they don’t need much!

If you are cutting the head of a larger succulent like that of my Hens and Chicks, do not immediately place in soil. Instead, leave it out to scab over (approximately a week) then place in soil. Plants, like all living things, are susceptible to bacteria. By allowing the stem to scab over the succulent is protected from whatever organisms it might encounter in the soil.

You know it’s scabbed over because it’s not wet and juicy looking but dry and shriveled at the stem. Then you can press it into soil. Hens and Chicks are very forgiving and can thrive in regular soil or gritty soil.

Another neato way to propagate some types of succulents is to take just a few of their leaves (pull from the plant rather than cutting as the DNA required for its propagation is in the thin membrane where the leaf separates from the stem – or so I’ve been told!), place them on gritty soil or perlite and leave them (no water!) until they push out roots. They use the moisture up in their own leaf, shriveling as the roots take all the life force. Once roots are visible, push into gritty soil and watch to see how it roots in a few days and starts growing a full plant. I haven’t been as successful with this method. All succulents have their propagation season, some like cool weather, others warmer. When I’m better at this I’ll let you know.

The artistry comes in how you arrange your succulents. At the moment, I’m focused on learning how to propagate and keep plants happy. Eventually the artistry will sneak in.

Hope you give succulents a try, I think you’ll really enjoy them.

S

When Inspiration is Hard to Find


I was just called by a dear friend who asked me the question “where do you get your inspiration?”

Good question. Damn good question.

The interesting thing is that the question arose from her observations of me as being full of the stuff. I write, I draw, I paint and photograph, cook and knit. But from my perspective, it is a daily struggle to stay inspired and to feel like I can truly call myself an artist.

The problem is comparison. It was an eye opener to realize that people viewing what I do might think that I have no problem in the creativity department. I constantly look around me and see OTHER PEOPLE doing AMAZING things that I NEVER THOUGHT OF.

Between the painting sessions and the knit fests, there seems to be eons of time wherein I am a creative void. Somehow the act of creating when it does occur is never enough. If I don’t eat and sleep art-making, then I am a fraud, not a true artist.

I’ve been working really hard on this, through the “Artist’s Way” and other avenues of my own creation.

Folks, it really comes down to this: What brings YOU joy?

Staying up all hours of the night forcing myself to paint does not bring me joy. Sleep does. And ideas come to me in the space between sleep and waking. That’s the truth and I need to remind myself of that.

Joy is dabbling in all sorts of different mediums, when I feel like it. I know I feel like it when I am compelled from my seat to start that project. And when I am done, and feel the urge to step back, I need to do that. Joy is in loving the process, not forcing it.

And joy is in finding inspiration in other people’s artwork – not comparing and wondering if they have more mastery that I do. Simply look, absorb and allow yourself the freedom to consider trying a few ideas that the work inspires in you.

Here are some people who inspire me:

www.genevievetownsend.com

http://www.aislinncaron.ca

http://www.karenlynningalls.com/

http://patrickamiot.com

http://www.markmattioli.com/

So I thank my buddy for the inspiration for this post and hope that she finds a pathway into her own creative energies.

Stay creative and find your joy!

S

Keep It Simple Genius: Part II


As I mentioned in my previous post “Keep It Simple Genius” part I, I  rely on a  crock-pot to keep the domestic aspects of our life as simple & blissful as possible. It is truly a wonderful machine. Full disclosure: one of the reasons this works so well is that my husband is an awesome sous chef. He has no problem peeling and chopping potatoes and carrots and all that good stuff. So, if you have a crock pot and an awesome in-house sous chef, then you’re good to go. If the sous chef is lacking, it’s really not that complicated, just chop up a bunch of veggies you think would do well slow cooking. I like to turn up the music and do some chopping. 15 minutes or less and you’re prepped. WARNING: if you’re thinking of using broccoli, please skip that. Under slow cooking conditions, broccoli becomes a stink bomb. Just take my word on that. I was the guinea pig, learn from my mistakes!

Good things to put into crock pots:

potatoes/yams

onions/garlic

carrots

cauliflower

celery

peppers

rice

I like to have the cutting and chopping prepped, in the pot, and then stored in the fridge until it’s time to start the cooking process. Then, about 6 hours before you want to consume the food, turn the cooker on “low” and then set for 6 hours. This seems to be the magic time for all meats. By the end of 6 hours the meat falls off the bone. It also works great for chili or soup.

Like I’d mentioned, I used to think that cooking this easy must be cheating on some level. I’m over that now. It’s not like I’m popping a plastic, prepackaged plate of questionable food into a microwave. All the ingredients are good and wholesome. What you put in to flavour it is up to you. I stick to salt, pepper, some garlic powder and occasionally soy sauce ( I have a hard time overriding my Asian roots). Herbs and spices need to be added later as the slow cooking process tends to kill their effect on the flavour.

                                                          yummers!

You can find all sorts of deals on crock-pots so don’t go dropping a lot of hard-earned money on the first one you see. We got our crock pot on-line for $40. I highly recommend adding this to your kitchen arsenal.

Cheers friends and stay creative!

S

Gardening as Creative Outlet – Yes, Even You of the Terrible Black Thumb!


You’d be amazed by how many blog posts there are on having the black thumb of death. This is reassuring to me because I now know that I am  not alone.

If you’re like me, you’ve tried to have a green thumb. Each year you find new resolve and promise to pay better attention to the needs of your plants. You buy a gorgeous pot of flowers and you say to yourself “this one I will devote all my energy to, I will water it and put it in the best light and…etc”. Next thing you know you look up from whatever you’re doing to see the carcass of a desiccated object, presumably a plant because it’s in a pot and you realize that yes, 2 weeks have gone by without a thought for this wonder of nature now departed.

I grew up with a mom and dad who happily and successfully gardened and an aunt who was a plant whisperer. Compared to them everything I touched died. I think I killed a venus fly trap by feeding it too many flies.

But I’m here to bring hope to those as afflicted as I am.

You may feel like it’s a curse and therefore it’s insurmountable. I think it’s not a sticking curse, it can be  overcome, but first you have to figure out your own character and habits. Maybe you just don’t have the disposition to pay attention to details like soil quality, rotational cycles, frost warnings, pest control, sunlight, watering etc. Maybe it”s about proximity- out of sight out of mind, so you need to keep it in view, like on a stool in front of the toilet so every time you heed the call of nature you’re also reminded to nurture. I’ve learned to accept that I am not a detail nor a pattern person. My gardening style reflects my creative style : a wild burst of enthusiasm and ideas, the urge to get started, an impressive focus that lasts 2-4 hours that  just as suddenly dissipates requiring me to walk away and give it space.

This works for painting and drawing… not so much for living plants.

But wait! This can be done! Hear me out. Gardening can be satisfying as a creative outlet, in its color, design and in just the satisfaction and pride of helping something grow.

I’ve developed a philosophy that fits my personality: Family and friends understand that though I may not write or call often I love them still and when we see each other again, we’ll pick up where we left off.

The same can essentially be applied to plants:

If you are still alive when I get back, you’re my kind of plant.

Okay.. not entirely the same, but you get my drift. The answer to your problem is: SUCCULENTS!! and a few choice  low-maintenance plants.(I would say cactuses, but they are so low maintenance, that I outright forget them, literally, for years.)

Succulents are beautiful, they propagate themselves, they require little water, love the heat and sun ( some even thrive in cold), and when they are under pressure (root bound, dehydrated etc.) they develop beautiful colors (nurseries deliberately stress their succulents so they look more appealing). And should you want to start a new plant in a pretty pot, simply snip off one of the heads and push it into the soil of your new pot. Done. It will develop roots over the next week or so.

Chilean Needle Grass is particularly satisfying. It loves the rain, but it also is unphased by scorching days. It will propagate itself like crazy (probably why it’s been upgraded to an invasive species). This year we had to pull little baby grass tufts out from all over our yard. They’re easy to pull though, so if you like where its chosen its home, leave it, if you don’t, pull it.


Also bulb plants. Very satisfying as they will appear as if by magic every year. Check out our Irises coming up:

“But wait, what about edible plantings?!?” you ask. Well…I don’t know what to say. I’m fortunate to have a husband who likes to garden and for whom a regular pattern of watering and weeding is fun. Let me say that such activities can bring joy to the creative soul. Weeding can be meditative and its repetitive nature leaves one’s mind free to wander into imagination land. Some great creative ideas have arisen from such gardening moments. That said, there is not much in the way of edibles that would do well with neglect.  If I had to go with one veggie that would most likely survive under my sole care, perhaps even an Apocalypse, it would be the zucchini. But you’ve got to love the stuff and you have got to be prepared to make all sorts of creative choices when dealing with the harvest. I mean, zucchini everything: zucchini bread, zucchini stir fry, soup, pancakes, you name it. Also, if you do not keep on top of said harvest, you WILL have a beast on your hands:

zucchini baby

And getting rid of it after making an emotional connection can be tough.

Accidental gardening is fantastic. This year we’ve discovered lettuce growing in the middle of our lawn, carrots and garlic maturing in the boxes far from their  initial plantings.  I could not keep my basil and oregano alive to save my life last year – but this year it is thriving at the base of our garden steps and around the roses.  I’m a fan. Mother nature will take over if you let her.

All I’m saying is that even as the erratic creative that you are, you too can keep some things alive – you just have to figure out what they are.Yes, in the process many plants will have to sacrifice their lives. But many will thrive sending your confidence soaring. Slow and steady, trial and error, your black thumb might soon turn a bluish shade of green.

Cheers!

S

Keep it Simple Genius


I realize that this is not a food blog. For a couple of days I’ve been trying to figure out how I can justify the post I’m about to write. I think I’ve got it:

Without food we die. If we’re dead, we can’t do art.

Too far? Well, how about this: We all need simplicity in our lives. I always believed that in order to really be a cook you had to make everything from scratch. If you didn’t, well, it was cheating. But most of us just don’t have that kind of time. Between work and trying to carve out creative time, we need to be able to simplify somewhere. Simplify, but not compromise on health, so I’m not suggesting awful junk or take-out food with crazy additives like MSG and preservatives. I’m talking about near instant gratification food or do-art-while-it-cooks kind of food.

I often do things or come up with ideas that make my husband’s eyebrows rise at a precipitous angle. To his credit he rarely outright shoots me down, usually giving me the benefit of the doubt. For instance, the crock-pot I decided we needed. Since I was feeling some resentment at having to cook at the end of the day when we were both tired, I  framed the idea of a crock-pot as “marriage saver”. I could load the thing when I had energy and time in the morning, and at the end of the day all both of us would have to do is serve and eat. It was genius and we are both fans.

Well…when I enthusiastically came home from the thrift store with a “barely used” Williams-Sonoma bread maker, sans operation manual, cradled in my arms the eyebrow reached their greatest heights yet.

I’m happy to report that we are at 7 loaves and counting and the eyebrows are now at rest. The one problem we do have is trying to resist making a loaf everyday and becoming insatiable carb snarfling beasts. Fresh, hot bread and butter…there’s just nothing much better than that!

I wanted to share with you the simplicity of this thing. As I mentioned, no manual came with the used bread maker nor a recipe book. There are recipes on-line in abundance. You just need to know whether your maker does 1 lb, 1.5 lb or  2 lb loaves. The actual machine is simple, a few button pushing experiments and you are on your way.

Here is an awesome French bread recipe – it’s white, so shouldn’t be the only type of bread you eat, but its mighty tastey (you can make a brown loaf right after this one!) and unlike store-bought, it does not contain mystery ingredients:

11-13 ounces water (I split it and do 12 oz)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil (quick tip: 1/2 a  tablespoon is 1 and 1/2 teaspoons)

4 cups bread flour (there’s an actual difference between bread flour and regular flour flour)

1 teaspoon sugar ( I use brown or raw)

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (for some reason packets come containing 2 1/4 teaspoons, so I just toss the whole thing in – keep it simple, right!)

Most important to know is that you must put ingredients in the bucket in the order that it is listed. Ingredients are specifically measured to react in a predictable way (water and yeast should not touch…not yet anyway).

Then you just press buttons until “french bread” is selected, which will take approx 3.5 hours, and press “start”.

Now off you go to take care of other things, like creating a masterpiece in your art studio.

 

Now, when it finally beeps to let you know it’s ready, don’t go leaping to open that thing up with your bare hands. Take it from me – it is stinkin’ hot! Pleeeaaase use mitts. You need to take it in both mittened hands and shake it out of the bin. Even that little handle is hot – somehow my lip and that thing made contact and it was PAIN- FUL.

  Ta da!

And I’ll leave you with this last suggestion:

If you are a lactard like myself and cannot enjoy dairy like some lucky folks can, or if you want a forray away from that which is strictly bovine, try this:

Plain, soy ice cream. (In California we have an awesome grocery chain called Trader Joe’s that carries this stuff. Unfortunately for  my Canadian friends you will have to find it elsewhere.  I choose soy based rather than rice based because of its nutty flavour.)

And a handful of raw almonds roughly chopped.

Put a few scoops into your favourite bowl, throw the almonds on top and enjoy. Couldn’t be more simple, but the nutty flavour of both ingredients is what makes it so great. Plus the chill of the ice cream paired with the crunch of the almonds-pure joy!

Keep it simple

and keep creating!

Let me leave you with a true, dedicated foodie food blog by my friend Brittany: www.butterlemonsalt.wordpress.com

S