Friday, July 27, 2012

Wine from Tacoma

 While Washington State is prime wine country, little wine is made on the western side of the state.  I am assuming this is mostly because the nice hot weather the east side of the mountains gets is much better suited for wine but there could be multiple other reasons as well.  Any wineries that are over here are usually sourcing their wine from vineyards in the east and then fermenting and aging them over here.  Such is the case of 21 Cellars here in Tacoma.

A friend of mine had purchased a wine tasting for two from the cellars and invited me along for the fun.  Now this winery styles itself as a boutique winery (I always thought that was code for expensive and I think I was right) and uses only wild yeasts for fermentation and ages all the wine in French oak.  Sounds fancy, huh? 
The wines were okay, but a little bit too much of the fruit bomb and oak was happening for my taste.  My friend, however, really liked the Tempranillo and the Malbec.  So, it's all a matter of personal preference really.  The prices were so high as to really turn me off.  I guess if you are really into shopping local, then this really is the wine for you.  But you can easily, easily buy wines far less than half the price of these that are just as tasty or even superior. 

Again, what is it that makes people buy this?  It's nice that someone local is trying to do this but I feel like it's his hobby and we're all paying for it.  They are small batches so maybe that is what this is all about: the exclusivity of it all.

The fun part about the tasting was that while on Thursday and Saturdays they are at the North End winery, on Fridays they do tastings in downtown Tacoma inside Anthem Coffee and Tea which is right next to the History Museum and also pretty busy so it feels festive to be in this big, bustling space, sampling wine. 

But don't listen to me, your tastes could be totally different, so get a tasting at 21 Cellars for yourself!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

On Donating (Or NOT Donating) Your Work

I get asked multiple times a year to donate something I made to an auction:  It's such an important charity, it's good for your exposure, it will help raise money!  And when I say multiple, I mean at least once per month.  When I was younger, I donated willingly and often to many good causes.  I didn't have money to donate so I figured donating work was the next best thing.  Right? 
I have now realized that answer is unequivocally wrong.  While art lovers love to snap up cheap works of art at silent and live auctions, all they are doing is underpricing the work.  Who will buy your sculptures for $250 if they purchased one already for $75?  In this economy, items rarely go above list price at auctions.  And as an artist, you can't write off the worth of the piece, you can only write off the value of the materials. 
So this polar bear sculpture that took me many hours to make and valued over $250 could only be written off for about $5, the cost of the wool and stiffener.  I know why the IRS does this.  If I could say this sculpture was worth $1000 and then proceed to write it off, I would donate enough work to cover our yearly taxes! 
But then again, what about exposure?  The vague promise of recognition and networking?  I have never, ever, had a sale come after someone saw or purchased one of my items at an auction.  Maybe someone was influenced and never told me?  I'll never know for sure, but usually people are proud and happy to mention things like this. 

I think it is far better to just volunteer for a charity you like.  That way you meet new people, maybe network a little, and save your best work for the galleries!
Finally, what if it is a good cause? I now allow myself to donate one or two items a year, tops.  I was asked to donate an item to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium for their fundraiser this month and as I used to volunteer and work there, I decided I would make this polar bear sculpture since I have positive feelings for the organization.  I was sad to see it go; I had a lot of fun making this sculpture but I know it will probably end up with someone who cares about the zoo as much as I do.  

Just don't ask me to donate anything else for the next 6 months!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Cat is Fearless

She hates dogs, but she has no fear of heights.  This is my husband's cat, Sack Cat.  It's funny that I still call her my husband's cat after 8 years of living under the same roof! 
Anyways, she loves to jump on the deck railing-----2 stories up, mind you!!!!---- and run back and forth on it.  I have no idea what her thinking is, she must just like to live dangerously.

Friday, July 6, 2012

38 Things: Tour a Chocolate Factory

I've been wanting to tour the Theo's chocolate factory in Fremont for several years but it took adding it to my list of 38 Things I Want to do Before I Turn 39 to finally get it done.  Also, my niece is in town and I thought she would enjoy it as well.  It's $6 a person and I highly advise you to reserve a spot online as they fill up quickly, especially in the summer months. 

Theo's Chocolate is an organic/fair trade chocolate company that focuses on a bean to bar approach in their factory, meaning that they are involved in every step of the chocolate growing and making process.  A whopping 70% of the world's cacao comes from a part in West Africa where child labor and slave labor is rampant (does Hershey's guarantee that their chocolate is child/slave labor free?).

Theo's ensures that their workers are adults, paid a living wage, and not having to breathe in chemical fumes that come from conventional farming.   Which is of course why their chocolates are so expensive.  But they are awfully tasty.  The factory is totally set up for tours to come through; they definitely believe that the more educated consumer they have, the more successful they will be.

We started out in a room that allowed us to see the giant roaster that doesn't look too much different from a giant sized coffee roaster. 

The factory has an interesting color coded system.  Items/machinery that are transforming the cacao into something new (grinding it, tempering it, etc,) are painted green.  When the beans/chocolate are in transit to the next stage, they are yellow.  So these yellow buckets of beans are raw and ready to be roasted.  The red bins contain already roasted beans.  Easy way to keep track. 

While the factory is large, it is still hard to believe that they processed 800,000 pounds of chocolate last year and they are trying to double that amount this year!

This room is where the beans come in and are cleaned before going into the roasting room.  I guess they find all sorts of debris in the bags of beans. 

These three giant vats on the right are holding the chocolate once it has been refined small enough and mixed with sugar and milk powder (But that's only if they are making milk chocolate.  Dark chocolate just has sugar added.) 

I wasn't able to get good photos of where they make the specialty confections or how they make the bars and their wrapping room is a strictly off limits area.  But we were shown how in the smaller, specialty bars, all the added ingredients like mint or ginger or sea salt are done by hand.  It's a very labor intense process.  The larger bars just get dumped in big molds by a machine, but the smaller ones and the candies are made by hand.

Needless to say, the tour ends in the gift shop where we spent a lot of money on delicious chocolate.  I also bought a jar of cocoa nibs to use in baking.  
If you are interested in candy or chocolate at all, I would highly recommend this tour.  The tour guides are funny and knowledgeable and obviously love their jobs.  Also, I forgot to mention, they give you a ton of samples on the tour!

Learn more about Theo's tour here!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

New Work

My latest needle felted taxidermy style sculpture titled Totem.   I'm taking it to a gallery next week but I sort of want to keep it myself!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Enchiladas Verdes From Scratch

I am in love with Cook's Illustrated.  I am not subscribed to their normal magazine (I really should change that soon.) but I usually buy their quarterly specials such as Summer Cooking or the like.  And I was in line at the grocery store yesterday and saw Mexican Favorites and had to buy it.  It is stuffed with recipes for tamales, tacos, fajitas, mole, and, my favorite, enchiladas verdes.

Hot summer days with a nice frosty Cadillac margarita and Mexican food is an absolutely winning combination for me.  Except for that here in the Pacific Northwest we aren't exactly frying right now like the rest of the country.  But our hot weather typically comes August and September so I am sure we have it coming. 

Enchiladas from scratch, meaning making your own sauce and not using something out of a can, can seem a little daunting, but it is well worth the effort.  Their recipe was for chicken enchiladas with Monterey Jack cheese, but I wanted healthier vegetarian and more authentic Cotija cheese.

Enchiladas Verdes
adapted from Cook's Illustrated Mexican Favorites.

cooking spray
3 poblano peppers
1 1/2 lbs fresh tomatillos (if you have to use cannned, fine, well not fine, get yourself to a well stocked market!)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons canola oil
2 small onions, or 1 large, medium dice
1 cup diced crimini mushrooms
1 1/2 packed cups shredded kale or any other leafy green
8 oz Cotija cheese (Mexican cheese that is pretty easy to find these days. Crumbles well.)
12 6" corn tortillas

For garnish: sliced green onions, extra cilantro, sliced radishes, sour cream

First, heat oven to broil.  Line sheet pan with edges with foil.  Peel papery husk off tomatillos and rinse well.  Pat dry.  Cut large ones in half.  Spread out on sheet pan.  Cut poblanos in half and remove seeds.  Lay cut down on sheet pan.  Spray peppers and tomatillos with cooking spray.  Broil 6" from heat 8-10 minutes, checking every minute after 6 minutes just to make sure you aren't charring them.  Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before peeling skins off poblanos.  Leave tomatillos with their skins.

Set oven to bake 350.

Place tomatillos and poblanos in food processor.  Add salt and pepper, cilantro and garlic.  Pulse until blended.  You can leave it really chunky or pulse it into a sauce, but I like the sauce a little chunky.  Taste and add more salt or even sugar if tomatillos seem bitter but I thought it was plenty sweet on its own.   Set aside for now. 

Next, gently heat 2 teaspoons oil in dutch oven or other heavy pan.  Add onions and cook until starting to soften, about 7 minutes.  Add mushrooms, kale, and 1/4 cup water.  Cover and gently simmer 10 minutes, stirring every so often to make sure it isn't sticking and to add more water if necessary. 

While mushroom/kale mixture is cooking,  crumble up one 10 oz. cake of cotija cheese.  This is a soft, salty cheese that I think is great because it doesn't get overly gooey or stringy.  The recipe only needs 8 oz. cheese.  I went ahead and used the entire 10 oz. of the cheese.  Oops.  

Once mushroom/kale mixture is cooked, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly while preparing next step.  Set out 2 sheet pans and lay out 12 tortillas.  Warm up in oven 2 minutes, no longer.  This will soften the tortillas so they can be rolled but cook them too long and they will get too tough.

When tortillas are softened, remove from oven and turn oven up to 450 F.

Reserve 1/2 cup cheese and mix remainder crumbled cotija cheese with mushroom/kale mix.  Divide between the 12 tortillas, about a heaping 1/4 cup per tortilla. 
Spread 3/4 cup tomatillo sauce over bottom of 9 x 13 baking dish.  Roll each tortilla tightly and place seam down in baking dish.  Pour remaining tomatillo sauce over top of enchiladas and make sure to get everything covered so nothing dries out during baking.  Sprinkle top with reserved cheese.  Cover tightly in foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Uncover, sprinkle with sliced green onions and serve with garnishes on side so guests can adorn the little lovelies themselves.  Serves 6. 

And so much better than any canned sauce!!