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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Sketch-a-day Pledge

I bit the bullet and am going public with a pledge I made to myself (so that I can't just unmake it) to make a sketch a day until I don't hate it anymore. I nearly broke the pledge yesterday after only a day, so . . .

Mug is graphite stick, hole is brush-tip artist pens, and sushi bowl is golf pencil.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

No Pain, No Gain

Cliche, yes. But it's cliche for a reason.

I enjoy working intuitively, and I love abstracts for their ability to directly convey my intent, but I want to be able to work figuratively as well so I am not limited by my skills--or the lack thereof. So I keep pushing, trying to get my head and my hands around new skills.

My friend Pascale and I were talking about sketching the other day. She's a great sketcher and a smashing tapestry artist. Me, not so much with the sketching (and not at all with the tapestries), but I have to develop the will to go there.

I told her how I surprised myself with the sketch in the "Inspiration in Strange Places" post. I didn't do such a bad job, even though I wasn't actually trying too hard. (Perhaps that's why it wasn't bad.)

She assured me that I'd be able to repeat my success. I was dubious but hopeful. I'm sure she didn't think I'd take the "repeat" part of her statement literally, but . . .

I did the first sketch with a ball-point pen. I did this one with an 8B artist's pencil. Other than the fact that I can't draw a straight line to save my life, it's not bad again. Even has some believable "reflections." I plan to do one in brush-tip pens from the sketch rather than from the photo. I think it will be interesting to see if that "abstracts" it a little.

So this confirms the advice my friend Gwyned gives her students all the time--pick the thing you fear the most or like the least and do it--it's the thing you'll learn the most from.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Never had much use for butternut squash . . .

. . . but these are great!

Monday was Martin Luther King day, so the kids were home, and it was the one day this week that we all felt fabulous. The youngest had a friend over and I got inspired to try the recipe for these little delights and they went over really well. My youngest dubbed them "muffcakes" because they're muffins but good enough to be cupcakes. Plus they have icing, so there you go.

Then the week went downhill for the kids (who both ended up with strep), particularly my oldest (who developed an allergy to her medicine, which resulted in--so far-- two days of bodywide hives).

So I've been in domestic goddess mode (have no expectation of getting any art work done, but have been cooking and tidying and taking care of the children). It's actually been very revitalizing for me, a nice pause to think and reflect, but oh the poor kids!

Anyhow, made a second batch of these muffins yesterday because one butternut squash is enough for two batches--but mostly because they're really yummy! Hey--waste not, want not!

So, the muffcakes are really Jamie Oliver's "butternut squash muffins with a frosty top." This recipe is definitely a keeper. I did have to make a couple of modifications because my kitchen isn't outfitted the way his is and I use American measures (previously known as English 'til they went all metric--not that there's anything wrong with that):
  1. 400 g squash is about a pound, 350 g. brown sugar is about .875 pounds, 300 g. flour is about .75 pounds, and 175 ml of oil is about 2/3 c. At least those are the equivalents I used and it worked out fine.
  2. I buzzed the butternut in the food processor but had to break out the mixer for the rest because it wouldn't all fit in my processor.
  3. I had no extra virgin olive oil, so I used canola oil instead.
  4. I had neither lemons nor clementines nor vanilla pods on hand so I made a thinned-down version of brown butter icing instead (recipe below). It's very nice and doesn't overwhelm the surprisingly delicate flavor of the muffcakes.
About brown butter

Brown butter is a Pennsylvania Dutch staple that I learned to make from my husband's family. Apparently also used in fancy French cuisine, but I wouldn't know about that.

The idea is to brown the milk solids. When the butter melts, the milk solids will separate from the ghee. The milk solids are what you would strain out to create clarified butter. However, we're going to leave the solids in to create something even more wonderful!

So, melt your butter.

There is a little extra water in almost any butter, but the cheaper the butter the more water will have to boil off. This will happen with fairly loud largish bubbles.

Swirl your butter around regularly so the solids don't burn. Pretty soon a fine foam will develop and the solids will start to go a bit golden, which might be hard to see because of the foam. Keep swirling.

The butter will start to get a beautiful nutty scent--that's one of the signs you're almost done. Keep swirling. You want the butter to all go golden brown, including the foam, but stopping too soon is better than stopping too late. Plain melted butter is better than burnt butter every time!

Brown butter is killer on green beans, carrots, asparagus, mashed potatoes, and baked seafood. And it makes for a mighty tasty frosting, too.

Brown butter icing (modified for the butternut squash "muffcakes")

Put 1/2 a pound of confectioners sugar in a mixing bowl. Add a splash of vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Brown 1/4 c. of butter in a skillet on medium heat, swirling periodically until done.

Pour brown butter into mixing bowl and begin mixing. Add about 2 to 4 T. milk and mix well to make a thin glaze. (Optional: Add a Tablespoon or two of maple syrup if the spirit moves you.)

Let the frosting set up a bit, give it another good mix, then frost the tops of your 24 muffcakes.

Brown butter icing (original recipe for cakes)

Put 1 lb. confectioner's sugar in a mixing bowl. Add a splash of vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Brown 1/2 c. of butter on medium heat in a pan, swirling periodically until done.

Pour brown butter into mixing bowl and begin mixing. Add 1 T. of milk at a time (up to about 4 T.) and mix well until you get the consistency you want. Frost cooled cake. Generously covers a 2-layer cake, a 9 x 13 cake, or 24 cupcakes.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

If you put it out there, they will find it!

Late in December I rec'd an e-mail from a therapist in Oakland, CA asking to use an image of my quilt "Labyrinth" on a direct marketing piece. What a neat surprise! Well, I sent her a contract, she sent me a check, I sent her the image, and the result was lovely. Kudos to her graphic designer.

I've asked several times because I'm dying of curiosity, but she hasn't said how she stumbled across my website, but if you check out her website you can definitely see why the color scheme in this quilt spoke to her!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Inspiration in Strange Places

Currently my whole family (but most notably my youngest and I) are engaged in hiding rubber rats where they will get the best reaction. (The rats, left over from this Halloween, replaced the spider rings, left over from the previous Halloween, we were using.) They've shown up in stacked cups, on the bristles of hairbrushes, on the nozzle of the liquid soap in the bathroom, etc., and I suspect DH has been disappointed at my not wearing my slippers lately.

The other night I read before bed while curled up in a ball because the bed was freezing. When I was done reading I turned out the light and stretched out . . . and found a clammy rubber rat with my feet. In all fairness this was in retaliation for my stuffing one under the lid of the electric toothbrush, so . . .

Since my youngest doesn't read my blog I'll confide my next target--the pocket of her winter coat. Left one in her sneaker this morning that she will have found at school since it snowed and she wore boots on the bus. My oldest is the next target--working on the best way to surprise her when I'm not around.

We are easily entertained, my husband more than any of us. He makes spinners from paper straw wrappers and thinks the little wad of stickum on magazines is a great toy. A couple of months ago I went into the bathroom to find the recently replaced bathtub plug "planted" in the soap dish. It just screamed "Bob was here."

Well, I found the composition oddly compelling. It had light, it had shadow, it had reflections.

Since one of my current goals is to explore light and shadow (a gap in my education and experience) it seemed serendipitous. So I snapped the photo and have begun. Even did a sketch though I usually avoid it. Gave me some great ideas about where to go from here.

I've been enjoying some handwork, as circles are the easiest of all shapes to applique. Very zen.

Meanwhile I'm clearing up after the tornado that was me finishing up an article for American Quilter. Keep your eyes out for it--it's a how-to on two ways to audition your quilting design on paper before you even baste. Once it's been published I'll post it on my website ( with a link here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Teaching for the Guild

Last Friday I taught one of the member workshops for my guild. This was a pilot for a one-day version of my two-day "Sculpting with the Quilting Stitch" workshop. Three very different workshops were going on at once and we all visited one another. Our workshop got rave reviews from our visitors and a lot of interest, so stay tuned for upcoming dates!

These are a couple examples of the effects we work for--creating three or more layers of depth using the quilting stitch alone.

My students were enthusiastic and worked hard all day long. Here are Carol, who had never done free-motion quilting before the workshop (way to jump in with both feet!) and Sally (who took what I taught and ran with it). Unfortunately my other people photos were blurry--the lighting was a little problematic for photos in our room.

And here are a couple of class samples--an early exercise by Debbi and a later exercise by Sally:

You guys were amazing!

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Craftspeople ideal business leaders?!

I've been happily listening nonstop to the BBC for the past couple days as I bind samples for my American Quilter article. Yesterday Jan. 9, 2008) on Global Business there was a great report on why craftspeople have the best approach for contemporary business leadership. Download it here to discover why we are uniquely suited to foster business success. Go us!

The great melt is on. Our beautiful snow is quickly disappearing and we've been enjoying balmy 50s and 60s. Here's a photo to contrast with the Jan. 1 post.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Mmmm, Mmmmm Good

Didn't realize how much I had missed my ubiquitous breakfast until I got back from the holidays and indulged once more. And it's a good sort of indulgence--no guilt, just joy!

So here it is, my recipe for a joyous start to a fabulous day:

Put in a blender:

1/4 to 1/3 c. frozen blueberries3 large or a few small frozen strawberries1 banana
1/4 to 1/3 c. ground flax seed
enough orange juice to blend it all together to the consistency you like.Blend, beginning at a low speed, moving up to moderate speed as things are pureed, ending on high speed for a little "fluff" action. How sweet or tart it is depends in great part on the time of year and the stawberries you use.Lots of fiber, some healthy Omega 3s, and your first serving of fruit for the day. Plus it's easy and tastes a treat! Enjoy!
And props to Lori and Bob in Vermont who introduced me to this smoothie in the first place--you created a monster!!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Let It Snow

We had lovely snow over the holidays and are getting a little "retouch" now.We'll be moving sometime in the next year or so, and I'll definitely miss the snow, as anywhere we go will almost assuredly have less snow than we get here. I'm sure there will be something lovely to offset that loss--I'll just have to recognize it when I come across it!

Working with Kids Rocks!

I recently finished a 10-week stint as an artist in residence at the P.E. Bowe Elementary School in Chicopee, MA. The school paid, with a grant from the state, for enrichment specialists at each grade level as part of their extended-day program. It was fun to create ways to tie our projects in to the curriculum, and I think we all, from kids to teachers to aides, had a fabulous experience.

Some of my favorite moments were watching kids who seemed to lack confidence in themselves really get excited and feel empowered about quilting. And they should. These kids really rose to the occasion, making me feel welcome and challenging themselves and each other. They were amazing, and the teachers were great and very accommodating--I couldn't have done it without them.

I have to give props to Francesca denHartog and Valley Fabrics in Northampton, MA (three free bags of fabric and a generous discount on class supplies), the fabulous members of my Round Robin (great fabric), the Hands Across the Valley Quilters Guild ($150 in grants through their "Kids and Quilting" program), and my local Freecycle group (more free fabric).