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Oh my. Would you look at all that vegan sushi?

We had a party a little while back. I have always wanted to learn to make sushi, and found a friend who was willing to teach me, and a few friends who were willing to eat my homework.

We started with a big pot of cooked brown rice (because it’s healthier than brown rice, of course, and gave it a really hearty flavor), as well as some tofu strips fried in a little bit of canola oil:

My teacher brought a fabulous selection of roasted veggies. Those eggplants were the best!

We also had radish sprouts and avocado, as well as some roasted broccoli and sauteed portabella mushrooms to roll with. I would have taken pictures of the rolling procedure so as to teach you too, but after making my first roll, I was absolutely smitten. I loved the challenge of making neat and tidy little concoctions. I love how well contained the sushi roll is. I felt I had a gift for it, and wouldn’t stop to give anybody else a turn. Luckily we had two little rolling stations set up, so others were able to make a few rolls beside me.

Here are a few of my favorites (basically anything with a radish sprout or avocado gets that title): Broccoli with red pepper, tofu, and radish sprouts. WIN!

One of our guests made miso soup! She thought she might have gone overboard with the nori, but I don’t think so. Seaweed is really good for you! And look at those little baby mushrooms.

This was one of the best nights of my life. Learning something new (that I felt I was actually pretty good at right off the bat), eating A TON of food made from scratch that’s really good for you, and making something beautiful; all things I really enjoy. And, with people that I love! It was a pretty small party, but there were no leftovers. That’s just how we roll. AH-HAHAHA!

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World, meet Brodie. He’s a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and he’s a great little guy.

Brodie is a handsome young man, isn’t he? My sister commissioned a portrait of him to hang in the home that they’ve been working really hard to restore for the better part of 2010. I finished the painting in October, but wanted to get pictures of it in its new home, and with Brodie, before I shared this project with you. You might think that the portrait is somewhat cartoonish. It’s not! This is probably the most realistic painting I’ve ever done- Brodie just happens to be a cartoon dog! His head is REALLY BIG when you compare it to his body. See?

I started off the project by taking a bunch of pictures of Brodie. He’s a good subject, but he does move a lot. And he likes to lick his lips. I wanted to get his fancy brindled coat as accurate as possible, since he lives in the home that the painting was to hang in- I can’t imagine how annoyed I’d be when I went to visit and some of his spots were off. My sister and her husband had a favorite (phone) picture of him that they wanted me to use for his facial expression though, so I used the photos that I took for his posture and the picture on my phone for his face, to work out a sketch.

Originally we talked about a solid yellow or orange background, but I had a really hard time with the artificial Tang/Mac-n-Cheeze orange feeling that the chosen orange gave me. Here’s my sketch transferred onto the canvas using a loose grid technique. It can be really hard to keep the proportions the same from a sketch that you’re happy with to the larger finished product, so my advice is to take it slow, be patient, and step back from your work often to check it out. I devoted an evening to getting the sketch on to the canvas, and could have taken more time! Here’s the sketch on the canvas, with two layers of that horrendous color (note the blobs of color on the sketch above where I tested various mixtures of the acrylic paint to get the perfect shade…) See how loose the sketch is, and how many revisions I made? Erasing would mess with the texture of the canvas, so don’t do that! Keep it light and loose at first, and then build up the pencil lines on the lines as they fall into the right places:

I have an art degree, but I didn’t do much painting in school. I did a lot of printmaking, so I tend to work in layers when I paint. I have a strong feeling that it’s probably not the best technique, but it works for me. I didn’t take photos of my process, because while working in layers, things don’t tend to look very good until the end. Also, I needed to focus! My sister was coming to visit, and I wanted to have the portrait ready for her to take home.
Once I decided that the awful color in the background just wouldn’t do, I used a sponge to put smudgy wet layers of charcoal and brown paint down, to complement his coat, as well as the color of the wall that the painting was going to hang on. After the background was done, I alternated white, white-pink, and gray layers on Brodie’s tummy, while alternating black, black-brown, and grey layers on his dark spots and nose, with a final shot of white, caramel (in the brindling of his coat), and black for that one warty whisker at the end:

I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out. I was really excited when my sister and I decided that a stuffy, regal portrait style would be really funny with his goofy face. I am hoping that they’ll get a really ornate frame for it, but we’ll see. I’ll let you know. But here’s the painting in its home, waiting to be placed on the wall. I hope that the painting offers their little family much joy for years to come.

Over the summer I became good buddies with a fellow painter, who is dating one of my best friends. His name is Blaine, and he’s fabulous. We became fast friends, made art together, and then he took off to live in a city two hours away from here. And he took my friend with him! RUDE! Still, we had a blast, and he got me out of the house every week or so for a painting night. Here are two of the paintings I made with him- the one above he wants to trade me some of his work for, but I won’t give it up until I have the promised something to hang in its place.
Here’s another one I did- I covered up a painting I’d started a few years ago (sorry Charles, I know it was one of the few pieces of art in the world that you liked), but I didn’t like where it was going, so it just kind of sat there. Gathering dust. No good! Now it’s hanging right next to me. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a blue-green slut. Evidence:

Both paintings are 30×40 inches. These days I am pretty into abstract art; anything too literal is too much of a commitment for me. Perhaps it’s because I’m looking at all of my work from when I was in school, and it so quickly brings back all of the feelings that I poured into it, and though I suppose that the communication of said emotions is the point of that work, it’s not what I want to hang in my home and look at every day. So the blue green one reminds me of oceans and dreams, and the yellow and grey one was inspired by one of my favorite bands, VNV Nation. Can you see it?
With each painting (and with most of the media I work with) there are several layers. I like painting big like this because it’s so tactile, and I can feel it out, rather than planning each step rigidly like I do with printmaking. (I have a block to cut, which I’ll blog about later; in the meantime, here is an example of one of my relief prints, and here is one of my serigraph prints.)
I’m a few layers in to a triptych, but those I’ve been working on for some time. I need to get to it! I get to a certain point in my layers where it looks so far removed from the outcome I desire that I lose momentum. And the distraction of cooking, baking, mommying, sewing and living don’t seem to help either.

So, this was a collaborative project that I worked on with my mom and husband, that my grandparents started. They had this huge three ring binder full of photos and stories and ephemera collected over the years. There are all of these great stories from the lives of my grandparents- growing up on farms during the depression, experiences they had while stationed with the Air Force in various foreign countries, as well as many stories of people they met. The problem was that there was only one copy of this cumbersome treasure. My mom had the idea to have it bound, and to have a few copies made, so that each grandchild could have a copy, as well as one for my grandparents. So she sent me to ubuildabook.com to see if I was interested in helping her make it happen. And I was! Here’s the final product:

We are all so happy with the books. My grandparents especially- they were so touched and amazed that we organized their memories in such a permanent way, and made it so that they can share them with others- there is an option with ubuildabook to order more copies without an extra fee, with a few reasonable restrictions. And the turnaround time was surprisingly fast! We received the books within a week of placing the order. It was amazing!
Making the book itself was pretty easy. We decided to scan the pages as they were found in the book, instead of re-typing and editing them; I didn’t feel that it was our place, and my grandfather had spent a lot of time working on his own layout (and page numbering system!) that we felt it was charming the way it was. Basically, you download the layout software from the ubuildabook website, and start at it! My mom and husband did all of the scanning- there were about 120 pages in all. Then I uploaded each image (page) into the program, and made each double page spread using those images. Making the pages themselves was really pretty easy… perhaps more so because I was on my high school’s award-winning yearbook staff, but I think that most people could figure out what to do. If not, you can call them, and they are quite helpful (I had a question after I placed my order). There are so many options for the layout and design of your book, which I didn’t really use, other than for the cover. It makes me want to go back and design a baby book, or perhaps compile my favorite recipes! Really the options are endless.
Here are a few of my favorite pages:

Those are my Great Grandparents Mary and Pete. Included in the book is a recipe for bread that she would make often- we called it G’Mary Bread. I was pretty excited to try out the recipe, and made it within the first 24 hours of having the printed book in my hot little hands. Now, you might remember that I’m not an experienced bread baker. Let’s just say I need a few more tries. Here’s what came out of it:

G’Mary Bread

1 qt (4 c) potato water
2 tbsp shortening
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp dark molasses
1 tbsp anise seed
1 pkg granulated yeast soaked in a little water with sugar
1 c rye meal
white flour

Stir everything but the flours together, add the rye meal. Keep adding white flour to the right consistency, and until it loosens from hands.

Let it rise until it raises double in bulk.

Punch down and let rise a second time.

Make into loaves and let rise.

Bake on a hot cookie sheet for 1 hour at 375F.

Perhaps you can see where and why I ran into trouble. The recipe is just a little vague. First off, potato water?!? I boiled some potatoes to mash up for my daughter, and was pleased to not have to waste that good potato water… but I was a little uncertain when I got to the yeast-water-sugar action. I ended up putting the yeast in a little dish, adding about a 1/4 teaspoon sugar, and 2 tablespoons warm water. I stirred it let it sit for a few minutes, and it got bubbly and thick so I figured I was off to a good start. I added the rest of the ingredients up to the rye flour, and then I got a little worried. It was so watery! Shouldn’t there be more rye flour? I remember this being a very savory bread… I started adding the white flour. Things got really sticky really fast, and about 3 cups in I abandoned the wooden spoon and started kneading with my hands. By the time I got to cup 5 or 6, I lost count. The dough just wasn’t pulling away from my hands, and I had no idea what the “right consistency” looked or felt like. I think there ended up being about 8 cups of white flour total in there! The dough was DENSE. Good thing I ran out of flour. Who knows how many more cups I would have added, before deciding it was never going to pull away from my hands? I put it in a warm oven that I’d turned off, in a bowl covered with a towel.
Then I went to bed.
I got up at 4:30 the next morning and gave it a few good punches (should I only have punched it once?), and went back to bed.
Then, at 9, my daughter supervised with a critical face as I divided the dough into two huge and heavy balls to let rise once more, for about an hour. (There was no moving those loaves to the preheated cookie sheet, but I think that would’ve been too much because the loaves were a bit brown on the underside anyway.) Then we baked! The bread smelled delicious and at the end of the hour, my mouth was so ready for some fresh bread action, and I was so curious as to how I did. I sawed at one of the hot loaves- the crust was really hard- but got a nice thick (and yes, dense) slice.  Oh my. Much heavier than I remembered, but really good!
I took the uncut loaf over to my grandparents to see how it measured up to the bread in their memories, and they admitted that mine was much heavier, but that “it’s hard to get the amount of flour right,” said my grandma. Fair enough. My mom said that we’d make the next batch together when we’ve got my great aunt on the phone, who’s made it several times before. I can’t wait, because I think that it would make a really tasty grilled Daiya and Fieldroast sandwich! Here are my warm slices, covered in Earth Balance:

I discovered with the next slice that olive oil makes an even better topper! I’m really happy that we were able to give this gift to my grandparents, and that I now have this recipe to work on my bread skills with. My great grandma was a true animal lover, and I’m so happy that I was able to keep that spirit alive with some tasty vegan bread. If you try this recipe, let me know how it goes.

My sister had borrowed my acrylic paints a while back, planning to make a large abstract painting to decorate her bedroom. So a few weeks ago, we decided to make a painting date- to just do it, because this girl has been hanging on to my art supplies for a year now. But she was unable to bring her too-big canvas along on her last visit, so I started this one, to show her how quickly you could make abstract art… but mine ended up taking a lot longer.
A few hours before she showed up a few Saturdays ago, I covered the canvas in 2 different shades of blue- Ultramarine and Pthalocyanine. The darker color being on the outside edges, and more so on the bottom half of the piece, to give it some weight. I just squirted the paint from the tube, and spread it on using horizontal brushstrokes, using a 3 inch brush I got years ago at the hardware store. I ended up using 2 large tubes to cover this 36×48″ canvas, and it took me about 40 minutes. I was also certain to cover the edges of the canvas! My sister walked in with my mom and saw this blue on blue sea and said “that’s exactly what I want,” but of course I couldn’t leave it at that. I had to add those black circles, which I added a gel medium to. It thickened up the paint and gives it A LOT of texture. I mixed it about half and half. It also made it more opaque, which I don’t like the look of, so I went back after they dried and put some more black paint over them, without the gel medium. To add contrast, I encircled those circles with apple green lines… they were like glow in the dark! So of course, I had to add a wash (paint and water mixed 50-50) over the entire thing. And voila! Here we have it. I’m still debating on putting a varnish on it… I read that acrylics are very susceptible to dust and debris over time, but also that varnishes can act as a solvent and cause the painting to go mushy. Any thoughts or advice would be so appreciated.

Here’s the painting in its home over our bed: