Friday, March 30, 2012

Exploring Miami

After our cruise in the Caribbean, we had one full day to explore Miami.  After hours of pouring over hotel choices and neighborhoods, I had decided that South Beach would be the best place to see Miami in less than 24 hours.  Little did we know when we planned this adventure that the same day we were there was not only Spring Break happening but also a giant DJ conference.  Trying to catch a taxi at 6 am the next morning was an adventure I would soon like to forget.

While perhaps my timing was not so great, the neighborhood was a good choice because of all the cool architecture and fabulous eats.  For lunch we stumbled into a little pedestrian street called Espanola Way that I read about online.  It was touristy but nothing like Ocean Drive just a few blocks away.  It actually felt very European.

After walking down the street, stopping to check every menu, we settled upon Tapas & Tintos.  Wow.  Wow.  Wow.  Just check out those mojitos with at least 1/4 cup of mint in each one!  It was slightly warm but very, very humid, so these were refreshing.

Next, gazpacho.  I love gazpacho.  I make it quite frequently in the summer but this gazpacho tasted nothing like mine.  Orange in color, with a little more oil in it plus chunks of red peppers.  Flavor explosion in the mouth.

We also ordered a Manchego plate and this was like no Manchego I've ever had in Washington state.  So much earthier and creamier and melted in your mouth.  It must be nice to be on the east coast and have access to much more goodies from Europe.

Next we ate sauteed chickpeas with Chorizo.  Need I say more except that I wish this restaurant was in Tacoma?

Finished with espresso.

After lunch we walked down to a busy outdoor shopping mall and since it was a Sunday it was the farmer's market as well.  An antique sale was also going on at the market and we were sad about how expensive it would be to ship any of the cool furniture we saw for sale.  Lots of mid-century modern pieces that would have looked fantastic in our house.  We did find a cool Bakelite cork screw that I bought for our house sitter.  We don't see pineapples at our farmer's markets at home.

We found an Argentinian steak house at the outdoor mall and drank bubbly Rose with steak salads and people watched for a few hours and finished it off with more espresso.  Sigh.  I love food.  

While I adored the food and art deco architecture of Miami, I realized once again that I am definitely a west coast person.  All the super tan bodies with done up hair and big heels and gaudy clothing would be a little much for me on a daily basis.  When we left the hotel at 5:45 AM to find a taxi, there were literally hundreds and hundreds of people out on the street that had not gone to bed yet.  Trevor and I looked at each other and said, boy, are we getting old!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Treats for a Book Club

I cannot stop cooking right now.  Whenever we get back from vacation I tend to throw myself with extreme passion into the kitchen.  This week has been no exception.  I've made lentil soup, tofu curry, sopes (twice!), and now homemade Oreos for my Feminist book club tonight.  I also made a delicious, healthy roasted red pepper spread to take tonight and then I remembered this cookie that a friend of mine had brought to an art opening a couple weeks ago and I thought, why not?

The ingredient list is simple, the fanciest ingredient being instant coffee which you could omit in a pinch.  It is just a little time consuming to make the dough, roll it out, bake, cool, make the frosting, assemble, and then chill: about 2 hours active time including me running to the store to get more cocoa.  Doh!  And, oh yeah, the cleaning up took almost as long as the baking!  I had to scrub my cocoa and butter drenched counter several times and then finish it off with some fresh lemon to get it nice and clean again! 

I rolled my dough a little thinner than was suggested and for once in my life I actually made more cookies than the recipe said it would!  I made 29; the recipe says it makes 24.  

Since I made some extra cookies I made a tiny bit more filling.  The only thing I changed in the recipe was to add a tablespoon of half and half to the filling to make it a little bit creamier.  It worked out perfectly.  

I love the look of assembly line baking.  

Ah, these are delicious and lovely looking as well.  Who needs 8 zillion ingredient store bought processed cookies?  I will be making these for special occasions from now on.  
You can find the recipe for Fauxreos adapted from a Stella Parks recipe on the New York Times website

P.S. My feminist book club read the Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime and it is all short stories of female detectives written in the late 19th century and they are really fun to read.  The stereotypes about the abilities of women are fascinating.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Playing with Paint

It's hard to get back into the swing of things after being on vacation. School starts again this weekend and I am hosting a Surface Design Association meeting at my house Sunday and I went out into the studio and stood there and thought "Ugh, I don't know where to begin."

So I rearranged a little and organized my painting supplies and sat down for a couple of hours to just have fun.  I think the two cats with bird painting is basically finished but I may look at it again in a day or two and change my mind.

The octopus painting is definitely in just the beginning stages. 
It's nice to play and this got my creative juices flowing to think about school and making items to put in my Etsy shop!

Cooking in Cozumel

We only took one of the paid Cruise excursions while we were on our trip.  Most of the excursions were things like snorkeling or day at the beach or ATVs and I wasn't interested in things like that.  What I was interested in was cooking.  The Mexican Cooking class in Cozumel sounded more my style. 

I was a little worried when they shuffled us onto these large Greyhound like buses and shuttled us to a very busy, very touristy looking resort.  Luckily, I was completely wrong in being worried.  Our class was a hoot, especially our instructor Luis.  Unfortunately the only shot I got of him was in the top photo, far left.

We had 4 students to each cooking station.  We made a chipotle shrimp sope appetizer, pan seared grouper with veggies for our main dish, and sauteed plantains with a chocolate sauce for dessert.  Sope is like an extra thick tortilla that you pinch the sides to make a little cup to put ingredients and sauce in.  I am going to experiment cooking some sope tonight. 

We all had to wear hairnets and chefs hats and were taught the correct way to wash our hands.  

Here's my sope before I sprinkled some paprika on top.  That's cream decorating the plate.  Yum!  Before I realized we had to share the chipotle for the shrimp with the other couple at our station, I dumped all of it in our saute pan.  Oops!  I had to sheepishly ask for more chipotle for the others to use.  The sauce was delectable!  

I tried to let Trevor do a lot of the cooking but I kept taking over without thinking about it.   I don't think he minded, though.  Note the cups of margaritas that we were continually served while we were cooking!   

The instructors served us all what we made and we had to put our names on our plates so they could keep track.   Makes me want to get some squeeze bottles and decorate our dinner plates at home. 
I highly recommend following Luis on both Facebook and Twitter.  His Facebook page is E-Z Cook 4 All and he posts lots of photos and easy, quick recipes.  Same goes for his Twitter, Chef Luis Esquivel.

Monday, March 26, 2012

38 Things: Get off the Continent

OK, maybe the Caribbean isn't technically off our continent.  Maybe I should have said "Get out of the Country" but it will work for me!  But this was one of the more complicated items in my list of 38 Things I Want to do Before I Turn 39, requiring money, time, planning, house sitter, and more money.

Anyways, we made it back in one piece from our first cruise.  Lots of excitement (read anxiety) traveling to and from Miami with lots of near mishaps, but the cruise around the Caribbean was as easy and smooth as can be.  I never pictured myself as a cruise type of traveler and after this trip I still don't see myself going on any other cruises anytime in the near future, but I found plenty to enjoy on the ship.
The Norwegian Pearl left Miami and headed out on a loop that would take us to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel before returning to Miami one week later.   It was a very crowded ship as it was spring break.  We didn't realize it was spring break when we first signed up but that was the date that worked for everyone in the family, so we had to keep it.  It meant there was a lot more young party goers on the boat and at each port. 

Here's South Beach, Miami, as we were pulling out of port.  Crazy amount of people!

What I learned about myself and cruising on this trip:
1) I don't like big crowds at big buffets but luckily there are so many restaurants on board the ship that you can pretty much avoid the buffets.  We did do a couple lunches at the buffet which weren't so bad.  The meals at the restaurants are smaller portions than normal American portions so we didn't over eat as much as we thought we might.

2) I like peace and quiet to read and relax.  We bought passes to the spa for the week and it was the best thing we ever did.  $119 per person allowed us access to a hydro-therapy lounge that had lounge chairs, heated tile seats, hot tubs, whirl pools, cold plunge baths, sauna, steam baths, and peace and quiet.  We drank lemon water and tea every day while reading our books and then hopped into the hot tubs and saunas.  There were no drunken spring break revelers in the spa so it was quite a treat.

3) The daily drink is your friend.  Every day they had a special drink on board. Only you had to make sure to specify you didn't want their collectible cup or it would cost you $2 extra.  We only made that mistake once.

4) Cruises are good for large groups of people.  There were 6 of us on this trip and we all went our separate ways during the day but met up every evening for dinner which was nice.

5) Don't feel compelled to jump off the ship at every port.  It's worth it to have the ship to yourself!  We stayed on ship at the Bahamas port and the mostly empty ship was wonderful.  No waiting for a table or drinks.  The gym was empty.  We had the spa to ourselves.   We got off the ship for a little over an hour in Jamaica and it was a complete waste of time.  Cheap trinkets and people yelling at you from all angles to buy their wares or get in their taxi.  Maybe if we had taken part in one of the ship's excursions it would have been okay, but walking around on our own was not fun. 

6) The Caribbean islands main income is from tourism.   This photo is at the Grand Caymans.  You had to take a tender (small ship shuttle, not sure why it is called a tender) to the dock.  There were 5, yes FIVE giant cruise ships docked out in the water.  After buying a few gifts, we found a coffee shop to sit up out of the way and people watch.
7) Cruises are good for people watching.

It is astonishing to think of the 2500 passengers and 1100 crew members aboard this ship.  Many of the crew members are from all over the world and it is fun to talk to them about where they are from.  We upgraded to a balcony at last second and it was worth it to have the extra space.  Our stateroom was 2 decks above the top most gold star and maybe one balcony over.  
We didn't watch TV and we barely were on the internet during the trip.  A nice way to unplug and chill out all around.

Next posts I will tell you about the awesome cooking class we took in Cozumel and our day of culinary delights in Miami!  What I really need to find is a cooking cruise and then I will be a true cruise believer!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ready for an Adventure

In three days we head out to Miami.  Miami!  But it is just a quick stop before we get on a giant ship and toddle around the Caribbean for 8 days.  I've never been on a cruise before and readily admit I have some pretty fierce (and probably outdated) stereotypes about the type of people that go on cruises.  But it is my dad's birthday and he wanted to go on a cruise, so there you go.  I am actually starting to get pretty excited.  Especially after we woke up yesterday and the ground was covered with snow.  And then became a hail storm when I went out to get a pedicure.  Not the best time to be wearing sandals!  

I am not a water person (wearing hard contacts makes it hard to swim.) I don't like tanning.  Yet I think I will find plenty to do on the gigantic Norwegian Pearl.  I'll have 2000+ other passengers to talk to!   It's funny how much time you have to prepare for a vacation that will be over before you know it.  We have an awesome house sitter so we don't need to worry about the house or the cats.  I bought new sandals and got a pedicure.  Now I just need to get some sunscreen and a sun hat and load up the Kindle and I will be good to go!  Sunny seas, here I come!

Have any of you ever gone on a cruise?  Any suggestions? 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Coffee at Brunch

I had some fiber arts ladies over for brunch on Saturday and quickly realized we were all drinking coffee out of the same black mugs.  We needed a way to recognize our coffees! 

Then I remembered these cute metal charms that are meant for wine glasses.  They were a house gift and we entertain with stemless glasses so I put them aside.  But now they are up on the shelf by the coffee cups for all our future brunches! 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Practice Makes Perfect

On 2 different recent occasions I was told by lecturing artists that when I make something I like, I should make 10 more of it or make one every day for a month to perfect my skills and see where I want to take it.

I think this is a great and simple philosophy.  All too often I fall into the ''what's next" trap and think I need to endlessly be trying new things.  I am stepping back and letting myself concentrate on lattice scarves.  (Of course I am also working on a ton of new dyeing techniques at the same time, but it will all balance out, no?) 

The first lattice scarf I made had square edges and was 4 squares wide.  This one is 2 squares wide but with fringe.  I was so excited about it I took a photo before I had ironed it and snipped off a few lumpy bits, but I really love how this one turned out.  I purposely made the square holes larger so I can pull the scarf into itself which allows for a multitude of ways to wear it. 
We are going on a cruise at the end of the month and I want to make a couple of spring scarves to take with me.  Maybe one lattice and one extra large nuno wrap for when it gets chilly.  Onward!

My Newest Food Obsession

Just simple pickled banana rings.  These are so delicious.  Sweeter and milder that jalapenos but still with a little kick.  I know there must be more glamorous brands out there but we flew through our first jar and I needed to get some more immediately.  I will probably start looking at gourmet stores and maybe this summer I will be able to make my own.

Our favorite way to eat them right now is to layer them with Gruyere and salami on dark caraway rye bread and then grill them.  That is making my mouth water right now just thinking of them.  I have added them to ground turkey soft tacos as well as on top of an Asian stir fry for crunch.  Next I am thinking to add them to some sort of dip for an appetizer.   I love having condiments in my life.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Surface Matters!

Last weekend I went to an awesome conference in Seattle: Surface Matters.  It was the first (of hopefully many, many) conference put together by the Washington chapter of the Surface Design Association

I was a little slow to jump on the surface design wagon because for a long time I assumed by much content I had seen that it was all quilters and weavers.  And then I realized that I should just join in all the fun because a) I will add more diversity by bringing in my own work and b) it's not all just quilters and weavers any more. Now I am fully immersed and am even starting my own SDA chapter for the south sound!

Back to the conference.  It was amazing.  The first day was panel discussions and inspiring lectures.  My favorites were the felting panel (of course), surface designer/creator extraordinaire Jane Dunnewald, and Bellevue Arts Museum director Stefano Catalani.

I recently purchased Jane's book Art Cloth and am really excited about all the techniques she shares.  She discussed using a flour paste as a resist at the conference and I went home and looked it up in her book and there it was.  I am in the middle of testing it out right now and will have finished photos in a day or two.  It is simple, but step heavy with everything having to dry 24 hours between steps.

Stefano Catalani is a charming and enthusiastic (and Italian!) man that loves fiber and craft and now I want to become a member of BAM purely based on his energy and vision for the museum.

The second day of the conference was an art opening for an exhibition of fiber works by SDA members and an open studio tour.  One of the stops was at Earthues, a natural dye company in the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard.  I thought we were just going to be seeing a demo but she actually gave all of us that showed up a silk scarf and let us dye it with natural Indigo!  I don't know much about dyeing and natural dyes even less and this was fascinating.  She has to get the PH balance just right in the bath and the dye looks green.   Your fabric only turns blue once it is exposed to oxidization.  So you pull it out of the vat and start unfolding it and playing with it and it turns blue right before your eyes!  I took it home and then laid it out for another 24 hours before rinsing it.  I don't think I am going to felt on it or do anything else to it, I just want to wear it!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wet Felting a Lattice Scarf

I've been thinking a lot about lattice style scarves lately.  It's getting closer to spring and every few days we have been having a little nicer day and it makes me want to wear my spring clothes.  A lattice scarf is a good compromise because it keeps you warm but looks nice and light and airy.

I used nearly 3 oz. of roving for this.  After I got the whole piece nice and wet with soapy water, I worked every little square by hand to firm up the edges and make sure they were nice and straight. 

Usually I like to wrap up my scarves in bubble wrap and start rolling them immediately but this was so delicate that I did a lot of the work gently and by hand and only rolled it in bubble wrap for a little bit in the middle of the process. 

I am going to keep playing with this style. I would like to add needle felting at the intersections but I plan on wearing it this weekend to the Surface Design Conference in Seattle so I won't have time yet. 

New Acquisitions

Since I bought my new Kindle last month, I was thinking I was going to be buying a whole bunch of e-books.  Guess not so much yet.  At the same time I signed up for Amazon Prime which for $79 a year lets you borrow e-books to read as well as receive 2 day shipping on other purchases.

When I went to buy 2 of these books electronically, it turned out that the hard copy prices were cheaper.  Add free 2-day shipping on top of that, and well, I now have 3 new real books.  It's all rather silly and I hope they (the publishers) figure out all this pricing to make sense. In the meantime, I get to enjoy the sizes, the fonts, the feel of the books.  (Small complaint about Prime: it actually took 3 days to get the books, not 2.  But that is still pretty quick.)

The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime:  This is for my feminist book club.  I thought it was going to be an analysis of women in Victorian fiction but it actually is an anthology of short stories.  Which sounds good too.

String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art: I buy a lot of how-to fiber art books.  I thought it was time to buy more of a history and this one covers the use of fibers in art and it's struggle to become more serious versus just being seen as craft.  This looks like it will be an excellent read.

Space Chronicles:  I am a bit of a math and science geek and Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of my all time favorite science geek heroes.  He is out there working his tail off to promote science awareness and the need for more money for NASA.  This book is a collection of his essays about space explorations and why NASA matters.  And he is very funny and easy to comprehend and avoids techie science speak.  I started this one first because I saw my husband eyeballing it and if he gets a hold of it then it might be a while before I get to steal it back.

I am feeling well rounded and smart today.  We'll see how long that lasts.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Paradise in a Cookie

Few things rate as high in my esteem as candied ginger.  Homemade candied ginger even better.  And homemade candied ginger in cookies, well, now that's worth writing about. 

First you need to make some candied ginger.  There are a lot of different ways to make candied ginger.  They way I do it, you end up both with ginger simple syrup and candied ginger.

Take one large piece of ginger, 4 plus inches, and peel it.  I used to slave away with a small paring knife.  But then I read how the cooking whiz David Lebowitz peels his ginger and I wanted to send him a cash prize for innovation.  He scrapes it off with a spoon.  And it hardly wastes any ginger!  Genius!  Once you have peeled the ginger, slice it into thin, even thickness slices and combine with 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar.  Place over high heat, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours.  You want the syrup to turn a nice deep golden color.  If it's not, simmer it some more.   Strain and reserve the syrup for gingered whiskey cocktails and as an addition to lemon ginger cookies.   Let the ginger cool and then finely chop.  You should end up with a heaping 1/4 cup.  Any more than that munch on yourself. 

Lemon Ginger Cookies

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), room temp.
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup molasses
2 cups all purpose flour
1 egg
2 Tablespoons ginger syrup
1/4 cup heaping chopped candied ginger
1 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1 tsp baking soda
zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup turbinado sugar (or other large grain sugar)
 Heat oven to 350 F.

Cream butter and sugar with mixer.  Add 1/2 flour, mix well.  Then mix in egg and ginger syrup.  Add candied ginger, powdered ginger, cloves, baking soda, and lemon zest.  Mix well and then add in rest of flour.

Shape into 1" balls and roll on turbinado sugar.  I used a bright orange sugar to add extra color.   Space well apart on prepared baking sheet.  They spread out quite a bit.

Bake 10 minutes and then cool on wire rack.  
Zesty!  And I love how the chunky sugar makes them sparkle!

Prepping is Everything

One of the biggest complaints I hear from friends about cooking or, rather, not wanting to cook, is the time is takes to actually cook.  But I think they really are talking about prepping.  Cooking is usually the easy part.  It is the chopping into tiny pieces and assembling part that is the hardest part.

I was in the middle of making Yakisoba noodles with pork for lunch today when I suddenly noticed all my nice, organized piles of chopped ingredients.  (Note how crazy I am with the garlic.)

It makes me look a little OCD:
I realized two things.

First, cooking is like making art.  You want all the colors and the flavors and the textures to balance and come out delicious and beautiful.  To be successful in either, you need to be detail oriented.

Second, I love the prep part of cooking.  I listen to the radio and zone out and focus on the task at hand.
Third, --ok, I didn't say there was a third, but there is.  I love yakisoba!