inspiration

What we do when we don't know what to do :: {new poster and postcards}

 

My daughter just had her second birthday earlier this week.  It's unsettling to think how much she's accomplished in a year compared to how little I have.  Now I know, helping her accomplish all of those things was an accomplishment for both of us, as parents, but nonetheless, I stand humbled and reflect in wonderment at what she's managed to do.

 

I was aided in my self-reflection with two horrendous earaches that lasted the better part of a fortnight which rendered me almost completely deaf.  Actually, rather than say I was deaf, I would say that my hearing was inside out, so while I could not hear Heidi squeal with glee at her birthday cake, I could very much hear my own jaws chomping down on a huge slab of it (okay, two huge slabs).  I'm afraid I got a bit dramatic about the whole deafness thing, and plunged full-force into a Beethoven-like state where all I wanted to do was feverishly work.  I guess the big difference here, aside from the (obvious) real-vs.-temporary deafness, oh, and the genius factor, is that drawing doesn't require hearing at all, where music really, well, does.  
We're also approaching a precipice of uncertainty, with unemployment popping its ghastly face up from around the next bend, so all I can think to do is draw, draw, draw.  And, really, I guess that means I have made progress in the last year -- towards doing more of what I should be doing, and relying on it more to bolster me in times of distress and doubt.  Next on the chopping block is that crippling perfectionism.
If you haven't seen it yet, here's the finished alphabet poster of musical instruments:
An A to Z of Musical Instruments -- available in four color stories.
The next thing I'll be rolling out very soon are some postcards.  They're all about the color yellow and how much I love it right now.  (But of course, we'll do the rest of the rainbow as well!)  Here's a sneak peek:
What?  Béarnaise is yellow!  I'm sure you know someone who would appreciate this postcard.

 

 

 

And may all your books come true :: {Pepparkakor}

There are a few books from childhood that linger in the back of one's consciousness as one grows.  They can inform anything and everything; sometimes both, and all at once; sometimes without you knowing it, and sometimes creeping up on you later.

One of my favorites, especially at this time of year, is "The Runaway Sleigh Ride" by Astrid Lindgren (which I'm horrified to discover is now out of print, so if you find a copy, POUNCE!).   It's about a little girl with wild curly hair who goes to town to go Christmas shopping, hops on the rails of a strange sleigh, and gets carried off into the woods on a snowy evening and has to find her way home.

Beautifully illustrated -- a requisite in our library -- by Ilon Wikland.

I owe this book lots of things, but here are three of them:

1. My love of Pepparkakor, the crackly-thin Swedish ginger cookies that perfume the house on the evening of their annual bake.  Almost as much as eating them, I love the way the dough holds smudges of white flour top as you cut them into beautiful Christmastime shapes.  There's an illustration in the book with flour-smudged Pepparkakor, and it's perfectly imperfectly beautiful.

2.  The dark winter night pressing against the windows.  This book evokes all the romance, mystery, and coziness of black evenings, and, in the midst of winter, when we all crave a bit more sunlight, the imagery helps me embrace the 4:00 twilight.

3.  This book is what makes "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost my favorite poem.  I like to think of Frost's poem as the grown-up counterpoint to this story.  Almost as if the girl, now a woman, goes back to the woods where she was once lost and listens to the silence of the snow falling.  This time, she might rather stay in the woods a while longer.  There's always been something sublimely sensual about both the children's book and the Frost poem, and I can't recommend highly enough that you set out to read them back to back.  Preferably with freshly-baked Pepparkakor in hand.

Pepparkakor
This is a prized recipe to my family, coming from a dear friend and real Swede, Lisa.  We spent one magical Christmas in Sweden with her and her family, one with dark nights, meatballs, and plenty of spicy cookies.  The dough is to rest for 24 hours before baking.  It also freezes well.  The measurements are in grams, but if you have a kitchen scale, this will be no problem for you. 
100 g unsalted butter
125 g sugar, half light brown, half white
100 mL molasses
2 Tbsp dried ginger
1 tsp cloves
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking soda
100 mL heavy cream
500 g flour

Mix butter, sugars, and molasses til creamy.  Add the spices and baking soda.  In another bowl, beat the cream til foamy.  Add to the butter mixture.  Fold in the flour.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 24 hours, or freeze until ready to use.  Take out the dough, roll very thinly -- about 1/8" thin (with plenty of flour, or between sheets of waxed paper).  Cut out with pretty cookie cutters and place an inch apart on a buttered baking sheet.  Bake at 175 Celsius (350 Fahrenheit) for 8-10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack and store in tins.

The Thankful Thanksgiving Post :: {Brining your Bird}

I had another blog post in the works.  One about how I was paralyzed, and then I realized that it's actually really hard to write about that, even though I love talking about it.  But really, I'm just happy that I'm not paralyzed anymore and haven't been for twelve (twelve!) years.  I'm thankful for the doctors that made it so.

October was a dark, grim, bad month, and I've catapulted myself out if it, with sheer resolve, and a little help from my friends.  And what happens when you put your mind to something?  Lots.  Lots of ideas and creativity flowing out and about like crazy.  I've got worlds of ideas, as it were.


I want to get all the ideas out on paper, but I only know how to draw with my left hand.  Could I be twice as fast if I used both?  Right now I'm working on a poster called "I live here."  I figure, if I was the kind of kid who counted the steps of the Eiffel Tower as I climbed them, it might be of general interest to some kids to know how far away they live from the Great Barrier Reef, the Matterhorn, or the Chocolate Hills.  One of the things from my childhood for which I'm most grateful is that curiosity of other places and cultures was nurtured.  I want to give that curiosity to other kids -- in a poster!

Then suddenly tonight I thought that felt boards should no longer be relegated to the Sunday School room.  I mean, it's like velcro, but doesn't get hairs stuck in it!  It's like a puppet theatre, but you don't have to hold all the puppets in your hand!  Now I have to figure out how to make one.

Then there's the alphabet poster, which I have an idea for, of course, and toys!  Puzzles, architecture blocks, lacing animals...

I'm thankful that I have all these ideas.  I may never get to them all because my body limits me, but I wouldn't trade all the ideas in my head for a pain-free body.  I wouldn't even trade it for a pain-free body and a trip around the world. 

Most of all, as I write tonight, and as I'm about to draw some more, I'm grateful for a little group of friends that I have here in Staunton.  You might recognize them from their enthusiastic thumbs up to everything I post on the running snail & rainbow facebook page.  Thanks, ladies.  I'm lucky to know you all.

Turkey Brine
I think brining is a must for turkeys.  It makes the meat super moist, seasons it inside and out, and makes it cook faster.  If you think you don't have the equipment necessary to submerge your beast and keep it cold, look no further than your crisper drawer.  That's right.  The drawer with all the limp carrots in it.  Empty it out, give it a good clean and put your cooled brine in there.  I have learned the hard way that you ought to reinstall the drawer before pouring the brine in the drawer.  And before you pour the brine in, put your turkey in the drawer.  I learned that the hard way too, and spent the next 15 minutes mopping overflowed brine off the floor.
I've tried a bunch of brine recipes, and when push comes to shove, don't put fancy booze in your brine.  Save that for deglazing the pan and making your gravy.  Don't even bother with apple cider.  You can't taste it.  What you will taste in your brine are various aromatics and spices, so add those with wild abandon. 
The following is very loosely adapted from Martha Stewart Living, November 2001.
Fill a large pot with 8 cups (or so) of water, 4 cups kosher salt, 5 cups sugar, 3 bay leaves, 1 head garlic (cut in half cross-wise), 2 tablespoons whole peppercorns, 2 teaspoons red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon allspice.  Bring all of this to a boil, stirring until all the sugar and salt are dissolved.  Remove from heat and allow to cool completely before emptying into your clean crisper drawer.  Add water to cover the bird completely.  Refrigerate from 18-24 hours, flipping your bird over halfway through.

The Frog Prince :: {Red Pasta Sauce}

I was the girl in high school who painstakingly crafted mix tapes, who got to school at 7am for string ensemble practice, and who never didn't have music playing in the background.  Favorites of mine in high school included pretty much anything from the 70's, thanks to the influence of the ganja-smoking art room crowd with whom I shared all of my time (unless I was in the music room).  We all ate lunch in the art room, too, using the batik wax-melting device to cook grilled cheese sandwiches.  Our art teacher knew we needed somewhere to be, and she didn't mind, as long as we cleaned the burnt on cheese off of the art supplies.  She let us play music, too.  We all took turns bringing our favorite albums.  As my parents' luck would have it, I was friends with the non-ganja-smoking minority group of the art room crew.  The most trouble we really got up to was rearranging people's lawn ornaments or planting cans of Campbell's Chunky Beef Soup around the town when it was below freezing, so the soup would expand and explode out of the can.  Chunky Beef was chosen because it looked the grossest, of course.  So we clean cut art-room folks listened the hazy 70's music and totally thought we had all been born in the wrong decade, man.  But we also listened to swing music and crooner stuff.  The nineties were actually a great time for that, and we wore wingtip shoes, took swing dancing lessons, and sang Frank Sinatra songs in the car as we cruised around with our cans of soup.

These great standard songs still have their appeal for me.  When I'm not sure what I'm in the mood to listen to, usually a little Frank Sinatra or Bobby Darin does the trick.  So as it happened, as I was finishing "Fill My Heart with Song", I was listening some crooner playlist or other, and "You're Nobody til Somebody Loves You" came on.  The rest is history:

"You're Nobody 'til Somebody Love You" -- especially if you're the frog prince.


Red Pasta Sauce
Also known as: I finally figured out how to make a quick pasta sauce from cheap canned tomatoes (a staple in our house)!  This comes together so quickly, and you probably have most of the ingredients in your fridge right now.
This sauce starts with bacon, so we're already on our way to success.  Glaze the bottom of your preferred pan or pot with olive oil and place over medium-high heat.  Chop about six slices of bacon (or more or less to your taste) and one yellow onion. Add these to your pan, stirring sort of frequently to keep things from sticking.  While the bacon is rendering and the onions are softening and everything is smelling heavenly, grate one large or two small carrots and throw them in the pan with the bacon and onions.  Stir it all around and head back to your chopping board.  Finely chop about four garlic cloves and a small handful of oregano leaves.  Add them to the pan and cook everything together, making sure the garlic doesn't burn, for about two minutes.  Now throw in about three big soup spoonfuls of balsamic vinegar.  Scrape the bottom of your pan with a wooden spoon as the vinegar cooks down, getting up all those delicious brown bits (they're called sucs (pronounced: soox) -- isn't that a great little word?).  Lower the heat to medium.  Open your big can of plum tomatoes, and pour some of the juice into the pan to keep things from burning while you attend to your tomatoes.  Take your immersion blender, if you have one, and wizz it around inside the can, making a chunky purée.  If you don't have an immersion blender, just break the tomatoes up with your hands.  The reason you don't buy purée outright is because they use the highest quality tomatoes from the harvest in the cans of whole tomatoes, and as you go down the line of canned-tomato-textures, the quality of tomato used gets poorer and poorer.  Pour your chunky puree in to the pan, stir everything around, season with a hefty pinch of salt, some cracked pepper or pepper flakes, and let the whole thing simmer for the amount of time it takes you to cook your pasta (around 10 minutes).  Check for seasoning, toss with pasta, and serve with lots of grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano on the side.
{Other things you could add to this sauce: capers, olives, anchovies (add the anchovies with the carrots), and adjust your salt accordingly -- you'll need less.}