Foodie Tuesday: Don’t Mess with Success

I do enjoy my meals. I like ‘meeting’ new treats to eat. I love the companionship of people, at table and around the virtual kitchen, who bring new savor to any food I get to eat.

And I will likely never tire of those particularly delicious favorites, comfort food and classics that are too good to fail. A cold seafood salad like the Louis (or Louie) need not be fiddled with in any way to thrill the palate. Lettuce, when it’s topped with the traditional olives, tomatoes and hard-boiled egg, is in need of nothing further than sweet shrimp or crab or both, and perhaps a squeeze of lemon juice, to be one of the most refreshing and filling and tasty luncheons imaginable.Photo: Crab & Shrimp Louie

I may tweak the old familiars to extremes from time to time, like a couple of diner cooks did with the nice variant versions of mac and cheese I’ve enjoyed a couple of times lately with Dungeness crab, one of them adorned with bacon, leeks and basil (and served with a nice crispy tuile of parmesan on top), or I may prefer to keep them magnificently purist-friendly and old-fashioned to the nth degree.Photo: Dungeness Mac

The beloved BLT is another of those that can take on any number of changes and added ingredients and offbeat preparations with panache, but is so gloriously perfect in its simple original form that when the tomato is absolute perfection in its ripe fruity brightness, the lettuce as crisp and clean as a green leaf newly sprouted, the bacon crisp, smoky and salty and piled almost too high for a monster’s jaws, and the mayonnaise spread just-so on the delicately crunchy toast, there can be no need for any other version. Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato are friendly with ever so many good add-ons, from avocado to mint or cilantro, cheese, boiled egg slices to grilled peppers (sweet or hot or both), and—avert your eyes, tender purist souls—grilled pineapple. But sometimes, when the stars and the aforementioned traditional ingredients of B, L, and T are in perfect form and proportion, it’s de trop beyond the crassest imaginings to monkey with proven perfection.Photo: BLT Perfection in Ponder

Either way, I’m kind of hungry right now, even though the household cooks served us fantastic grilled cheese followed by a fine berry pie a while ago. Did I mention classics? Delicious magnificence? Guess it’s time to stop dreaming and head for the kitchen again.

Just Press this Button and Be Amazed!

I’ve told you that I am enamored of digital photography. How could a person who loves taking pictures—but is too confused by the functions and uses of a ‘real’ camera, and far too lazy to do anything like the intensive study required to become skilled with said functions and uses, let alone learn how to process photos afterward—how could I not love digital cameras and photo processing?

One of the bonuses of the ability to revise and improve my photos digitally is the element of surprise that comes when I’ve taken very dark photos (at night or in poorly lit places), open up what looks like an entirely black image in one of my favorite editing programs, brighten it and change the contrast, and voila! there’s that thing I was looking at and had entirely forgotten by then. Sometimes the photo turns out to be something I had no idea I’d shot, too, but even those pictures can be interesting in their own ways.Photo: Gnats 1

Take this particular black rectangle from our recent time in Prague. I knew I’d taken photos on a couple of evenings when we were out and about with our compatriots, but couldn’t necessarily say exactly what the subject of them had been. A little tweaking brought the memory out of the dark.Photo: Element of Surprise 1

Gnats! There was a flurry of gnats flitting around a lamppost and making a tiny but lovely little display of sparkling fireworks, and when I took the photos I had no clue whether they would actually show anything at all, given the intensity of the surrounding darkness. But my hopes were rewarded, if not with a magnificent set of photos, at least with a welcome memory of that beautiful evening that even a clueless picture-taker like me could enjoy.Photo: Element of Surprise 2

Foodie Tuesday: I Feel Crabby and that’s Just Fine

I’m having those old crustacean cravings again. It’s a good thing I’ll get a chance to visit some coastal locales this summer to indulge. Will it be time for a cool, refreshing Crab Louis again? Crab mac and cheese? Crab cakes? Crab sushi*? Or the pristine classic of plain, freshly cooked crab with melted butter and a wedge of lemon?

All of the above, if I’m lucky.

Digital painting from a photo: Feeling Crabby

The more, the merrier, when it comes to such things. I love shrimp and lobster too, yes, but crab—particularly Dungeness crab—has my heart. Maybe I feel a little kinship with those crusty crustaceans, if only in name. I certainly have a nostalgic connection, remembering many a delicious crab feast from my younger days as a coastal kid.

Photo: Crab, Chillin'

Perhaps I’ll fix up something that can be eaten hot, cold or room temperature and can be made ahead and chilled and/or reheated, something like:

Crab Noodles

Combine cooked glass noodles or rice noodles, fresh Dungeness crab, chopped fresh sugar snap peas, a handful of finely shredded raw carrots, fine matchsticks of fresh ginger root, and cubes of grilled pineapple. Dress the blend with a mixture of Tamari, lime juice or rice vinegar (the latter unseasoned), honey, and either red pepper flakes or hot chili oil to taste. Sprinkle with some black or toasted white sesame seeds before serving.

PS—Turns out sushi won the race, but I’m not done with the search yet!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 17,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

It May Not Wash Away My Sins, But It’ll Give My Mistakes the Brush-Off

photoFollowing last week’s disastrous yet amusing piecrust adventures, I can affirm once again that despite my many failings, I have gotten better over the years at picking myself up, dusting myself off, and restarting my engine. Rebooting my attitude is far easier than trying to be perfect will ever be. So I’m resolved to work on refining my will, aiming less toward unachievable exactitude in my every act and more toward simply doing the very best I can and then getting on with things. Preferably, with spring in my step and a little more good humor about my shortcomings than before.

It won’t necessarily make me any more accomplished or spectacular or ingenious, but if it makes me more tolerable to others in my natural state, then it’ll be a gift not only to my own well-being but perhaps also to that of those around me. If my loss can’t be your gain, at least it shouldn’t be your loss, too! Self improvement, even that which is less evident than acquiring new and better skills and knowledge, can be more than strictly self-serving.

So I’ll keep scrubbing the pot I scorched, knowing that it’ll make me more vigilant next time and happy that it didn’t result in a ruined meal or the destruction of the house in a massive conflagration. I’ll compost those plants that I over- or under-watered and look to build up a stronger garden for the rest of the things I planted. I’ll remake that wool sweater that I’ve shrunk beyond my use and give it to a very tiny person, perhaps for his or her doll to wear. And I’ll sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labors, even if it’s only by giving me a good cackle at my ineptitude and foolish optimism. Shifting to a fresh attitude can be just as helpful and pleasing as putting on fresh underwear, and you’ll be glad that I resolve to work at doing both whenever and however often it’s helpful.

Foodie Tuesday: Con Mucho Gusto

So many meals, Latin-inflected or not, are best enjoyed with a nice cold glass or two of sangria. Particularly helpful is the knowledge that sangria has so many tasty potential variations that it can be made the perfect complement to nearly anything. Or substitute for it, if such dire need should arise. But I’ll concede that the many magnificent flavors of the Latin cultures are also, often, what make the sangria so wildly delicious.

In addition, the simplicity of combining the marvelous ingredients for either the food or drink portion of such a meal adds the appeal of quick preparation. While a number of recipes, including many for sangria, are improved by a little time spent melding their flavors together with heat or chilling, the actual labor time might not be terribly lengthy nor the effort especially challenging. Just gather the supplies, put them together in a dish or bowl, and wait for them to come to full fruition. Fruit being, of course, a hallmark of a refreshing batch of sangria.

The dish of the day is so easy it can be assembled and heated in minutes. Even the slowest portion of the prep, the cooking of quinoa, can be accomplished with little trouble, particularly if like me you have a rice cooker. I use a brand of quinoa that requires no rinsing or soaking, and it works easily to prepare it in my rice cooker by combining cooking liquid (usually my ubiquitous homemade broth) with the grain in a 2:1 ratio. I do this in larger batches, refrigerating all but the day’s portion for later meals.photoNestled Eggs [one hearty serving]

In a microwave-proof bowl, put a cup of cooked quinoa and make a hollow in the center of the grain. Break two eggs into the nest and puncture the yolks a little; cover and heat the dish on High for two minutes. [A nice optional variation: stir eggs with steamed fresh spinach leaves that have had the liquid pressed out of them.] Remove the bowl from the oven and top the eggs with a handful of cheese (cotija, queso blanco or sharp cheddar, for example), re-cover, and continue to cook on High for another minute or two, until the eggs are lightly set. Spoon some nice chipotle salsa [see my semi-handmade chipotle salsa hack here] on top, add a tablespoon of cilantro-tequila pesto [just a bunch of fresh cilantro finely pureed with tequila] and some crunchy salt, and serve with a glass of cold sangria.photoCherry-Peach Sangria

Combine a Jeroboam [four bottles] of Cabernet-Merlot blend wine with a magnum [two bottles] of Riesling, one 32 oz bottle of Just Black Cherry juice, 2 cups of dark pure maple syrup, one orange, thinly sliced (including peel), and one 23.5 oz jar of sliced peaches in juice; stir gently to blend, chill, and serve.

The Mythology of Inspiration

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Whatever your vehicle, Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines!

In another lifetime I was a teacher. Not a fabulous one, mind you, but one who took what I did seriously and did my best to give my students, if not the actual practice that would make them more productive and skillful and happy in their making of art, at least the idea of what might be possible for them and perhaps the instigation of the will to develop over the longer term. Like every other teacher in history, I knew that most of the burden of improvement fell on my students and had surprisingly little to do with what I could or couldn’t, would or wouldn’t, should or shouldn’t give them. And like every other teacher, I heard from my students every excuse in the book about why they would inevitably fail to accomplish any of this, how they were powerless against the forces that conspired to keep them from making the assigned efforts or finishing their work. Having used most of the excuses myself, I had plenty of fuel to argue my case after spending the intervening years (or minutes) rethinking it all as I moved from student status to teacher. And I knew too that I would have to keep re-learning it all as long as I lived, since every teacher is only a different breed of student and Life is the biggest, craziest, toughest and most creatively optimal classroom of all.

So I made up a little page of possible excuses and a smidgen of food-for-thought responses to them–perhaps mostly for my own enlightenment and prodding–that I shared from time to time with my students if they happened to be getting a little too enamored of creating excuses to spend their creativity on drawing, design, writing, painting, studying, researching, making mixed media installations, critiquing or any of the other topics I was attempting to encourage them to learn. Here are a few items from my little list, because I am well aware that I still need to remember them myself and keep trying to blow past them with determination and, I hope, a pinch of wit.

1          GREAT THINKERS THINK ONLY GREAT THOUGHTS

               (and I’m not a great thinker).

If this is true, explain why the Old Masters painted over or destroyed canvases, Einstein was virtually dismissed as a pea-brain by some in his school days and our early experts on astronomy believed the earth was flat.

2          GENIUS IS BORN, NOT MADE.

This may actually be so, but untended and un-exercised, genius has no value whatsoever, and many a great achiever has acknowledged beginning an illustrious career ignominiously and becoming expert through sheer will and work.

3          EXCELLENT IS GOOD, GOOD IS AVERAGE &

               AVERAGE IS TERRIBLE.

               (Corollary: Good is excellent, average is good, terrible is average!)

Creative and inventive people often have a penchant for self-disparagement and perfectionism that leads them (and often others) to devalue work of quality; it’s also a common temptation to simply fall back on the platitude of ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ and accept mediocrity because one is too fearful or lazy to be honestly critical and opinionated.  Accept it and get on with things.

4          IT DIDN’T TURN OUT THE WAY IT WAS SUPPOSED TO.

Oh, come on.  Almost nothing does.  Sometimes it just isn’t finished yet when it seems to have Not Turned Out.  And more often than not, the real result is an improvement on the original plan anyway.

5          IT CAN’T BE DONE.

It’s better to go down in flames of glory, for having tried, than to prove only that  you couldn’t (or just wouldn’t) do it.  And what if it does work?!  Don’t you just love those rare chances to say I Told You So, anyway?

6          ALL THE GOOD IDEAS ARE TAKEN.

            All of the good ones haven’t been invented yet, Silly.

7          I CAN’T THINK OF ANYTHING.

You don’t have to.  Steal ideas all over the place.  Just remember to cite sources, give references, and wherever possible, to thoroughly revise and synthesize things into your own particular combination or version of them.

8          WHY SLAVE TO HAVE IT ALL WHEN YOU CAN SETTLE FOR LESS.

            Perhaps because apathy is as dangerous to existence as the threat of annihilation.

9          IT COSTS TOO MUCH.

Some of the same people who whimper over buying a five-dollar sketch pad and two ninety-nine-cent pencils (two weeks’ supply, say) think nothing of adding four dollars’ worth of popcorn and soft drinks to their seven-dollar movie tickets: that’s Whiners’ Math.  But most art supplies can be hideously expensive, especially for those productive enough to use masses of them.  So it’s a necessary and healthy part of the solution-oriented artist’s life that analogs and alternatives be a constant study.  What can legitimately serve as a substitute for the too-expensive?  Often the product of such inventiveness proves more exciting than the work as first conceived.  Sometimes it’s important to make the commitment to spend the real money for the real thing, too: how serious are you?

10        I’M NOT INSPIRED!

Genuine inspiration occurs ZERO times in the average artist’s life. WHAT!!! Heresy! But truly, if we’re talking spiritual/mystical magic, most must instead rely on a painstaking and passionate process of trial, error, adventure and eventual coalescence to allow artistic completion and quality to arise.  Don’t wait around to be inspired, in case it’s not in the cards: deadlines and opportunities wait for no one.  If you’re the incredibly lucky one inspiration smiles upon, have conspicuous spasms of joy, make feverish use of the favor while it lasts, and get ready to work hard on the next thing when you become a mere mortal again.  We’re lucky enough just to be able to be the real thing, Working Humans.  Don’t knock it.  There’s joy enough in that.

Stay tuned . . .

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. . . for being tuned up and ready to roll is more important than knowing where the road will take you . . .