What did you do Today?

Or what did you do all day? This was a question that we got a lot when we first retired. Usually when asked this I go blank. I know I didn’t just sit around (though that occurs), or take a nap (Curt does like to nap) or read ( yep, everyday), but what exactly did I do with the rest of the time? Well here goes, not a typical day but close.

I am not an early riser but I did want to go to the Farmer’s Market yesterday morning and Curt promised he wasn’t planning on being out the door at 7am. So we were up at 8 am and out the door by 8:20 am. We found a good parking space (yes, it is much more crowded when you get there a bit later) and hit the market. Four bags later we had mushrooms, zucchini, butternut squash, eggs, raddichio, peppers, cilantro, Spartan apples, carrots, eggplant, baby pattypan squashes, blueberry kringle (our breakfast) and apricots. Home by 9:30 where we made coffee and ate the kringle.

Apples, squash and apricots from Farmer’s Market

Once home I got the first of two loads of laundry in the washer. Curt started working on his chicken which was to be smoked. I got the miscellaneous dishes cleaned up and loaded the rest in the dishwasher. By now it is close to lunchtime. After lunch I got the last load into the dryer and went off to printmaking workshop over at the university. Last weekend we were part of a huge printing project ( 26 artists, each doing a 7″x7″ woodblock of a letter of the alphabet. These were put together into one huge print.) This week the print studio was open to anyone who wanted to do shorter individual prints using the same letters. I did three prints. You may notice I made a rookie mistake on one of the prints. Yes, the word DRIB was supposed to be BIRD. Whoops!  Later I’m cutting the letters apart.

Top: HEUER (read vertically). Middle: Individual letters/symbol RX@X Bottom: DRIB (Bird backwards)

Once home again, I saw Curt had potatoes on to boil and he had already smoked a pile of chicken breasts. One breast for dinner, the others to be frozen for meals later in the fall or winter.

I had muffins planned for the zucchini I had bought in the morning so I got those mixed and into the oven. While they baked I folded and sorted the laundry.

The potatoes for our dinner were done and cooling. The chicken was done. So Curt worked on a batch of cherry tomatoes (blanched and skinned) to put in the smoker. These get frozen in small batches and are great additions to soup, stew or sauce.

Smoked tomatoes

The tomatoes and chicken got packed and put into the freezer. We had a great dinner of potato/smoked chicken salad and finished out the day cleaning up the kitchen which looked pretty trashed after all the cooking and smoking and baking. Time to collapse into those comfy front room chairs.

What’s on for today? I think some reading, napping, a little football (Go Pack!). Afterall, Sunday is the day of rest. Ha! Oh wait, I was going to do something with those apples.

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A Poem for your Thoughts

Lately I have had so many ideas and experienced so many events that would make great posts I really was unsure where to start. But then today as we were hanging and rehanging some of the art in our home I saw and reread the poem we got at this year’s Artstreet, the annual art fair in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

Artstreet is a three-day festival of about 200 artists booths, multiple music stages and lots of food vendors. The visual artists include painters, sculptors, printmakers, jewelers, weavers, potters or they make things like wooden bowls, clothing, baskets and furniture. At least I thought they were all visual artists until this year when we rounded one corner and saw this:

photo courtesy of Terra Fewless

(This picture I got from a friend because I didn’t have my wits about me at the time to take a picture.) Seated at the table, was a man, the poet, in a shirt and tie, and wearing a brown fedora on his head. In front of him was a little grey manual Smith Corona typewriter. On the sandwich blackboard it said:

POEMS
•Any Topic
•Typed while you wait
•Pay whatever you choose

Curt immediately say down and said he would like a poem about birds. The poet proceeded to ask him some questions like interests, what he bought at Artstreet, and other things to get a feel for the poem he was about to write on the spot. Curt told him we were birders and we had purchased a carved feather from one of the artists but he didn’t show the poet the piece we bought. As they continued to talk I wandered off because once the poet had the information he needed he had to spend a little time thinking and typing. I was back in about 10 minutes and the poet had a piece of paper in the typewriter and was slowing working away, considering his words and his punctuation. No whiteout here so mistakes really weren’t acceptable (on ours he did change “moves” to “move” so we have a tiny cross out). When he was done, he embossed it with a seal that said: Fox River Poetry Company, est. 2012, Berlin, WI. He numbered it (#617), signed it, dated it and then he read it to us.

Flight

Look closely and you can see
the air moves. See the dip and
curl of feathers while they
press the air and put to rest
every rule of gravity and how
we live in it.  They are the ones
that look down–
from tops of trees, from the
windswept thermals, from
perches that we can only
dream of.  They speak a
language of morning.
It is their song that defines
their place in the world,
that small self-claimed spot,
but they all lay claim to the air,
that lofty space above us,
where we can only fly in
when we dream.

Flight by Paul Wiegel (2017)

 

We were quite pleased,(although Curt expected something more haiku-ish), not just with the poem but with the experience. So today we hung the poem just below the carved feather. I think it works.

Northern Cardinal: Tail Feather #5 by Ginnie Sherer and Dick Oelschlager (top) and Flight by Paul Wiegel (bottom)

If you are interested in a poem of your own you can contact Paul Wiegel at his website, Fox River Poetry or look for him at an art fair or market near you.

Stitching My Way Through the Year

flossWay back in December when the world seemed yet a bit normal I received a post on Facebook from a friend about a project called 1 Year of Stitches. I clicked the link and discovered a very interesting post from a Sara Barnes about joining a group of embroiderers and essentially starting a year-long stitching project and posting one’s progress on Facebook or Instagram or both. She was inspired by another embroiderer who was just finishing her 2016 year. All I had to do was fill out a brief survey, respond with a yes and instructions would appear in my email before 2017 and then we would all get started. By December 22nd I had a response that it was on. I was only just getting a sense of the scope of this project. About a week later the “rules” of the game were sent out.

1. Make at least one stitch every day. (If you can’t do this, it’s okay. At least take a            picture of it that day)
2. Take a picture that shows your project. Don’t get discouraged if progress looks slow (or not at all).
3. Date your picture and write a sentence (or a few words) about the embroidery or your day.
4. Share online—through social media or a blog. On Instagram, tag it with: #1yearofstitches and @1yearofstitches  Post for sure once a week on Sunday.

A private group was set up on Facebook and as mentioned above #1yearofstitches was put on Instagram. Never having used Instagram I decided now might be the time. I do have an account (I guess that is what it is called) but my learning curve is a bit stunted so even though I post I am not really sure how to post from my phone or actually find anyone I am following. Well, least of my worries I guess.

What is really fantastic is the scope of this group. I am not sure of the total participants but the private FB group alone has 2822 members. There are a bunch on Instagram as well, some are duplicates but not all. As to the rules, well everyone got so excited in the beginning they were posting all the time. Sara started to have to dial people back a bit because everyone’s feed was getting clogged with pictures.

Where everyone is from is also amazing. When the first responses started I could see that we were a worldwide mob of stitchers. At some point in week 2? or week 3 someone posted, “Where are you all from?” Replies came from almost every state in the US, almost every province in Canada and tons of Australians. I also saw notes from New Zealand, Argentina, Mexico, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Scotland, Iceland, England, Poland, India, So. Africa, Israel and the Czech Republic. I am sure there are many I missed. We were a worldwide group of women, men and children all connected by embroidery floss. And once the pictures started appearing it was apparent we were also people with a wide range of talent. Some are rank beginners who said they always wanted to try embroidery, others have been doing this for years and are very proficient. Some have exquisite technique while others who have minimal technique and range are fabulous artists. Some are literally trying many different embroidery stitches, others are sticking to one or two or they are quilting or cross-stitching or adding beads. And it is all good because we have this interesting connection, this common language of thread and fiber. Here are a few of my favorites.

Starting upper left and going clockwise: Dartford, UK - Sheffield, UK - Utrecht, Netherlands - Toronto, Ontario - Pennsylvania, US - Wexham, UK.

Starting upper left and going clockwise: Dartford, UK – Sheffield, UK – Utrecht, Netherlands – Toronto, Ontario – Pennsylvania, US – Wexham, UK.

I put my self smack in the middle. I am using just a few stitches and concentrating on imagery. Also being in the season of winter I have time to work on the piece a lot. (It is 7 degrees outside today with a stiff breeze). I decided to divide my piece into months but I am almost done with February already.

My piece, Week 5

My piece, Week 5

So I started a second piece just to keep my hands busy and off the yearly project. I am doing it entirely in a stitch called knotless netting, a stitch I learned in graduate school where I studied under Renie Breskin Adams. I forgot how much I loved this stitch till I started working with it again.

Other piece, working title: Garden Dreams

Other piece, working title: Garden Dreams

So along with journals, knitting, travel, working out, reading and trying to avoid politics, that is how I am spending my winter and also, it looks like, my year. It is a very welcome distraction.

When is a Comic a Graphic Novel?

Gather ’round class. Today’s topic is COMICS!

I'm not sure if I was the focal point of everyone's attention or the kingfisher who flew behind me every once in awhile.

I’m not sure if I was the focal point of everyone’s attention or the kingfisher who flew behind me every once in a while.

Sunday I gave a brief talk to my friend’s Salon Group about the difference between Comics and Graphic Novels. The talk was only about twenty minutes so this was not an in-depth investigation into the history of comics but more like a quick overview followed by Show & Tell.  I figured getting a little more mileage for my effort was in order so here, dear followers, is the basic difference between the two, with a bit of comic book history thrown in.

One thing I did discover in my research is that there is a lot of disagreement and a lot of different definitions but these are the ones I settled on. Comic books are basically periodicals. They are produced monthly or maybe bi-weekly. The action is the most important element because it progresses the story to the next issue, making you want to go back to the comic book store as soon as the next issue is released. Now comics as we know them, didn’t get their start till the 1030’s. Before that “comics” were the funnies you read in the newspaper, mostly on Sunday.  That’s what I’m showing above in picture #2, a book containing full-page spreads of Little Nemo in Slumberland from the New York Herald, circa 1901 -11.

Little Nemo in Slumberland 8-5-1906

Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay 8-5-1906

These were amazingly detailed and colorful. Nemo’s adventures were fantastic but he always managed to wake up in the end. The only thing resembling a comic book as we know it came about in 1938 when a bunch of comic strips from the newspapers were put together in a book called “Fabulous Funnies”.

But then in 1939 DC Comics released Action Comics featuring this really strong dude by the name of Superman and he was a big hit.

erThis was followed by Batman in 1940 and then Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Archie and others in the early 40’s. The Golden Age of comics had begun and everything from war stories to detective thrillers to westerns started to appear in comic book form.

So we march on to the 60’s, early 70’s,
The Silver Age: Lots of superheroes like the Flash, Fantastic Four ( Stan Lee), Spiderman (Steve Ditko). I personally liked The Jaguar (’61), The Fly and of course, Flygirl! (’62) The Fly always got top billing even though she was just as strong and way cuter.

I wanted to be Flygirl!

I wanted to be Flygirl!

Stan Lee started getting into it around this time too. You know him today as the guy who shows up for ten seconds in all of the Marvel movies mainly because he is responsible for a lot of those characters like the X-men, Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and more.

Fantastic Four 1961: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Fantastic Four 1961: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby

Bronze Age: (70’s, 80’s) Small presses and Underground Comics, featuring anti-heroes like Elektra and much darker plots.

Elektra Assassin; 1986, Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz

Elektra Assassin; 1986, Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz

And from then (80’s) on to today, The Modern Age!

Now here is where things get hazy. Publishers started putting a series of comics into one edition. These editions had really nice paper, not that flimsy newsprint. Slick covers and even volume numbers. Basically they were creating trade paperbacks but they called them Graphic Novels and of course charged a lot more. I think the publishers thought they were legitimizing comics but many writers just saw it for what it was, a way to make more money and frankly the writers weren’t ashamed of comic books. My favorite quote is from Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite authors of comics, books, short stories, essays.

When told by a reviewer that he didn’t write comic books but rather graphic novels Gaiman said, he.. “meant it as a compliment, I suppose. But all of a sudden I felt like someone who’d been informed that she wasn’t actually a hooker; that in fact she was a lady of the evening.”

So, what indeed are Graphic novels? Well they are essentially books. They have a beginning, a middle and an end. The story is told primarily if not entirely in pictures. Granted, some modern “graphic novels” or “trade paperbacks” read that way as well because writers started getting savvy and wrote their comic book plots with editions in mind. But they still originally came out one issue at a time. One writer referred to them as “comic strip books.”

Examples of real graphic novels? Will Eisner is credited with using the term graphic novel for the first time on the cover of his book, A Contract with God and Art Spielgelman’s Maus pretty much defined it further and gave the term legitimacy.contrctmausOr how about the really true graphic novels by Lynd Ward? The stories are told entirely in woodcut prints, no words, no captions.

Cover and two pages from Wild Pilgrimage; 1932

Cover and two pages from Wild Pilgrimage; 1932

So class, your quick and dirty look into the world of comics is over. If you were here I’d let you look and even handle some of my favorites but alas, that is impossible. All I can say is, “get ye to a comic book store!” There are some really great storytellers and illustrators out there and you’re missing them all if you think they are “just comic books.”

Old and new, here are some I enjoy. Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter, The Dark Knight Returns ( Frank Miller), Akira, Sandman (Neil Gaiman), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Get Jiro, Batman: The last Angel and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Old and new, here are some I enjoy. Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter, The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller), Akira, Sandman (Neil Gaiman), Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Get Jiro, Batman: The Last Angel and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Quite Apropos

Just a day after posting about the chimney swifts I was checking for the dates of the Birds in Art exhibit at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin. As the page popped up I was surprised to see this picture listed in the exhibit information.

Andrew Wyeth, 'Swifts', 1991, watercolor on paper, Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum

Andrew Wyeth, ‘Swifts’, 1991, watercolor on paper

It was as if Andrew Wyeth had been looking through the same lens I was looking through the other night. This piece will be part of an upcoming exhibit, Audubon to Wyeth: Paintings, Drawings and Sculptures. To make it even more special, it is owned by this little gem of a museum, right here in central Wisconsin. Definitely worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood.

Just Another Wednesday Night

Wednesday. Dinner. Our House. Just the two of us.dinnerMy husband loves to cook. Once everything is prepared and cooked and tossed and toasted it is time to take the elements and compose the plate.

Tonight was sliced avocado, topped with a salad composed of apple, radicchio, curly endive, red onion and blood orange tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Add to this garam masala seasoned scallops. Texas toast and white wine on the side.

Yes, just another Wednesday night. Bon Appetit!

plate

Do it Yourself: Pastrami

slices of pastrami What does a retired potter, professor, sculptor do with his spare time? I’ve spent much of it getting better at cooking and finding out about foods; their origins, traditions and sources.  I’m particularly interested in making common things from scratch – going back to the origins, if you will.  Bread was pretty easy because there has been an explosion of artisanal bread making that has been well documented on the interweb and in numerous fancy books.  Jim Lahey’s no-knead method was all the rage a few years ago and I still use it to make excellent bread at least once a week.  Over the years I’ve tackled sauerkraut and pickles, “sun”-dried tomatoes and even gathered dill pollen. Cured meats, though, have given me pause.  Partly because the initial investment in the meat is often pretty spendy and I was always worried about ending up with a hunch of expensive garbage, or worse, toxic “food”.  And partly because some of the processes seemed more arcane that I was willing to engage.  My uncle Ben (no relation to the rice guy) used to make a Thuringer-style sausage in his basement – a ton at a time – but he had a walk-in cooler and real butchers tools, band saws and sausage stuffers and such (and regular inspections by the Health Department).  I didn’t want to get that serious. A few years ago I bought a small off-set smoker that could hold, maybe, 20# of meat.  I have used it to smoke pork shoulders, beef briskets, chicken and even tomatoes (yummy).  One day I was in the market chatting with a carnivore friend near a meat bunker full of beef and I was jokingly nudging him toward the whole briskets.  He resisted but said that he had recently tried making corned beef.  He said it was pretty easy and it turned out really well.  A light flashed in my head – PASTRAMI.  Pastrami is just a smoked spiced corned beef.  Good pastrami is so much better than corned beef.  I could do that! Well, a little easier said than done.  The beef was in the cooler right in front of me but what else went into pastrami?  After some research at my local library and several bookstores, I found a book, Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing, with a simple enough sounding recipe and process that sounded do-able.  It’s pretty much the same as corned beef, up to a point.  First, the meat is brined in a mix of salt, sugar, herbs, garlic and spices just like corned beef.  But there is an ingredient in the brine that I wasn’t familiar with and which turned out to be difficult to find.  Pink Salt, also known as Prague Salt, Curing Salt or Insta-Cure.  It is a mix of common salt (sodium chloride) and sodium nitrite.  Apparently it is colored pink to avoid confusing it with common salt in commercial kitchens.  No store in our area either had it or had heard of it.  I finally tracked down a company, My Spice Sage, on the East coast that sold Prague Powder #1 in small enough amounts to make the investment make sense (all other vendors I located sold it in a minimum of 1# containers – probably enough to make a ton of pastrami).  And better yet, shipping was free!

brine ingredients

Salt, sugar and spices for the brine (clockwise from the left: white sugar, brown sugar, pickling spices, Prague powder #1, garlic, honey and kosher salt in the center)

Materials finally in hand, I was ready to go.  I had to cut my brisket in half in order to easily fit it into the fridge in the brine tub.  I didn’t take pictures of the meat in the brine but I’m sure you can imagine what it looked like – meat floating in water.  After a three day soak, the brisket looked pinker and the fat seemed firmer – pretty much like any corned beef brisket you might buy from the grocery, which it pretty much was.

brined and coated brisket

Brined brisket (left) and brined brisket with peppercorn and coriander coating (right)

beef brisket

Coated brisket ready to smoke

Next, the magic.  After I dried off the meat, it was rested in the fridge on a rack for an hour to allow a pedicle to develop. A pedicle is a sticky layer on the outside of the meat that is supposed to make the smoke adhere to (penetrate) the meat better.  After that it was coated with a mix of cracked black pepper and coriander seed and then on to the smoker.  I used a mix of about 2/3 apple wood with 1/3 hickory wood and smoked around 7 hours or to an internal temperature of 150˚ F – cooked, smoked but still not tender.  I cooled the meat and cut it into approximately one pound pieces (enough for us to make a meal of with a little leftovers) and froze the pieces in vacuum bags.

pastrami

Pastrami after 7 hours in the smoker

To prepare the pastrami for eating, I braised a thawed piece on a rack over a 1/2″ of water in a covered dutch oven for 2 hours at 275˚ F, until fork-tender.

pastrami

Pastrami

PastramiSlices

Pastrami slices

It was delicious.  A bit of work but something I will definitely do again.

Pastrami (adapted from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn)

The Brine 1 gallon water 1-1/2 C. kosher salt 1 C. white sugar 1-1/2 oz. Prague Powder #1 (aka Pink Salt) 1 Tbs. pickling spice 1/2 C. packed dark brown sugar 1/4 C. honey 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped or coarsely minced 1 5-pound beef brisket (heavy surface fat removed) 1 Tbs. coriander seed 1 Tbs. black pepper corns Combine the brine ingredients in a pot large enough to hold the brisket.  Bring to a simmer to dissolve the salt and sugar.  Remove from heat, let cool to room temp and refrigerate to chill. Put the beef into the brine and place a plate on top to keep the meat submerged.  Refrigerate for 3 days. Remove the meat from the brine, rinse it and pat dry.  Discard the brine. Place on a rack on a shallow baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered for 1 hour to allow the meat surface to dry some more and become slightly sticky. Combine the coriander and pepper in a spice mill or coffee grinder and pulse until coarsely ground.  Coat the meat evenly on all surfaces with the coriander/pepper mixture. Hot-smoke the brisket until the thickest part reaches a temp of 150˚ F.  Smoke heavily and for as long as is reasonably possible. At this point, the pastrami is cooked but probably not very tender.  To serve, put 1/2″ water in the bottom of a dutch oven or roaster.  Put the meat on a rack in the bottom of the pan (it’s OK if the bottom of the meat touches the water).  Bring the water to a simmer, on the stove top then cover and bake in a preheated 275˚ F oven for 2 – 3 hours, until tender. NOTE: my brisket, shown above, was nearly 10# at the start.  I doubled the brine and I had to cut it in half to fit it into the brine container.  Total yield, after trimming some fat and moisture loss in smoking, left me with a little under 8 pounds total. slices of pastrami

The New Monday Morning View Out My Window

Everything got finished up on Saturday. The workmen are gone. I could sleep in without someone banging on my walls at 7AM.  Ah heaven. And now the view I have been sharing with you, lo these many weeks, has changed. Well the view technically is the same its the glass and the frame around the picture that’s different. Remember the first view I showed you? bedrm windIt was a pretty gray day, made more gray because the seal on this window was gone and pockets of moisture inside made everything a bit fuzzier. Well we ditched the casement window in favor of an awning style ( better ventilation) and now…ta da! This is the new view.

New window

New window

Yes there is that bar across the lower part but in normal light it is a warm brown and looks great. The view is clear. Really clear. I love it. And of course the lush greens of summer don’t hurt either. So thanks for taking this little journey with me, I’m going to go look out my window.

Last Monday Morning View Out My Window before the New Window Arrives

No, it won’t be the last, last view out my window but the last one from this particular wood and glass structure that creates a portal to the outside world from my inside world. Long story short, next week we are having all of the windows in our house replaced. This is an event I am hating and loving. I wish I could just leave before any workmen show up. Hide out where there is no communication and then come back in a week to miraculously new views. All dust, dirt gone. All curtains, blinds, shades back in their original positions. But no, I will have to be here…probably getting up at 7am, and getting dressed, because there will probably be men pounding on my house or looking in my windows. So for now enjoy the last full view, this window is going to b e transformed. Here’s hoping I live through the transformation.window10

Monday Morning View out my Window while I write more of Paris Food

I’m writing more food stories, promise. But while I’m working on those here is the latest view from my Monday morning window. Fields are getting green, trees are all leafed out. And way in the distance is Green Bay…as in the water.This may be the last window for awhile. Once a month may be more dramatic. Watch for food in a day or two.

window9