Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer..... ah, summer

It was a long, hot summer.

It was full.  Full of painting and creating, keeping the garden watered and trying to keep a 7-year-old entertained when he wasn't in summer camp and I wasn't working.

The first sunflower bloomed in the garden in July.

These golden beauties were the inspiration of a lot of my canvases this summer. 

Meanwhile the garden has been a handful (as always), bursting forth with cucumbers and zucchini.... and -- anyone know what this is?

I'm venturing a guess that it will maybe turn yellow and it's the spaghetti squash I planted. But nothing surprises me out there. I have other mystery squash that have created their own breed and scare me a little. They are orange and bumpy. I'm not gutsy enough yet to cut them open, so I'm leaving them until I need something for a fall table decoration that doubles as a conversation piece. There are also green peppers (the best plants I've grown of that type. Ever.) And the tomatoes are slow to turn this summer.  Unless they are ripening, and my little chipmunk* inhabitants are scurrying away with them.  

*They will be relocated.  Soon.

My paintbrushes have fashioned all types of flowers this summer.  From very realistic to folksy to representational abstracts.  I had the opportunity to explain this during my very first painting class I taught on a Friday night in August.  It was a "Girls Night Out" BYOB concept and fun as hell!  And the time flew by... I'm looking forward to doing more.

I received a book as a gift on multi-media background techniques, which I have started to experiment with.  This technique is called "Scribing."

You expose parts of an underlying color by scratching the surface paint away.  (That's a smashed metal button in the center of the flower, surrounded by a remnant of sheer ribbon.)  When I start out, I never know where I'll end up, but usually I like the end product.

Another high point of my summer was having some much needed landscaping done on the old flower bed outside my back door.  The whole thing had started to erode into the driveway and it was just an eyesore. But no longer! It has been filled in now with the most lovely hydrangea bushes... but before that: on a very hot day, after playing in the sprinkler outside, my son decided to put his mark on the new landscaping stones.

Ever feel the need to leave an impression, even if it's with sidewalk chalk?

 He left me 52 smileys in all (and one heart).

You never know what that boy will do with sidewalk chalk.  Usually it's forming racetracks or maps to new galaxies.

And who doesn't love to turn to Pinterest for inspiration?

I have spent countless hours learning about new art techniques and crafts and DIYing and luscious food (gawd, it makes me hungry!) So I decided to artsy up a couple plain t-shirts using a bleach pen and permanent markers faded with rubbing alcohol.  You know the pins I'm talking about?  Yep.

Glad I got that out of my system.  Moving on....

Hope you are finding lots to keep you inspired and things that make your soul smile!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Caught You Bloomin'!

Spring-into-summer was a flurry of activity this year.  There was the usual rush to get the garden planted (my target is Memorial Day -- it rained so there was about a week delay while we waited for our ability to rototill).  Since we had such warm weather early in the spring, my perennial blooming favorites I usually see around the second week of June made an appearance early this year.



Don't come and go while I'm looking the other direction!

Nanny's old fashioned roses.... one of the most delicate, recognizable scents on earth.
It all happened too fast.  Instead of having a few weeks to be surprised and delighted by the colors and textures, it was sort of a mash-up as the poor bloomers gave a confused performance.

While nature was busy on the outside, I was also bursting on the inside with ideas for new art canvases.  There were itty bitty canvases and 3"x5"s and 8"x10"s.  There were layers and layers of colors and brush strokes.  Sunflowers and wildflowers and zinnias and daisies with a few things to say.

"Be" itty bitty blooming canvas.
You know what happens when you water the flowers?

The same thing happens when you feed creativity, it seems.  Breeds more creativity, and yearning.  And decisions.  I could sleep..... or paint.  I could read a book, or watch an online video about learning a new mixed media technique I haven't tried yet.

Somewhere, sometime I will learn about balance.

The unabashed tiger lily.
Meanwhile, nature is so good.  I'm grateful for its reminders.  I was not going to plant pots this year because of my time crunch, but ......... nothing beats the shot of color that annuals provide.  They're so dang cheerful!  So I did it.  I caved in, blithely.

Annuals in pots, because I can't escape the color and like to move the pots around at whim.

The flowers are doing well under the care of my faithful waterers.  My helpers are generous with their time and eager participants, even in 104 degree weather and a drought that hit the midwest these past few weeks.

Dahlia:  fuchsia and purple on a turquoise backdrop.
I have turned my attention to a bit of artistic growth of my own this summer.  My challenge:  to paint larger canvases than I typically find comfortable.  There's a 12"x16" and a 10"x20" staring at me as I write this.  Blink.  Blink.

Just be patient.  I'm working up the nerve.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

"Be the best FOR the world"

I want to kick ass.  Doesn't everyone?  So this post caught my eye.  It attributes Facebook, and well, who doesn't love Facebook, but I think there are seeds of WON-DER-ful ideas here to get amped up and inspire your bad-ass self.

Click here to read "How to Kick Ass"

There are 11 points listed.  I would add, simply, "Approach everyone and everything with kindness."

How about you?  Anything to add?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

When You Absolutely, Positively, Need a Chocolate Birthday Cake by Tomorrow

Last Sunday evening, I set out to make a chocolate birthday cake.

Not just any chocolate cake.  It was a recipe for the signature three layer chocolate cake from Gibson's Restaurant.  It was published in a magazine in which my dear friend had several articles published in the same issue.  So I thought, "Wouldn't it be THE chocolate cake to brag about at his birthday?"

I studied the recipe, and the only part that worried me slightly was the last two phrases, which said, "pan and bake at 350 for about 25-30 minutes.  Frost with chocolate butter cream and serve."  The magazine did not include a recipe for chocolate butter cream.  But I have a kick-ass Hershey's frosting recipe, so that would do.  But there was the "pan and bake" part.  The photo clearly showed three luscious layers, so I used three 8-inch cake pans.  (I only have two 9-inch pans, so....  I improvised).

My son loves to act as my sous chef, and he knows his way around my KitchenAid mixer.  One pound of butter, five eggs, a whole heap of cocoa powder and cake flour later, I realized this recipe was probably meant for a restaurant kitchen with an industrial-sized mixer -- not a home kitchen like mine.  When adding the wet ingredients alternately with the dry ingredients, let's just say..... spatterage happens.  My son ducked and ran for cover.

The pans, admittedly, were filled a little more than I would normally feel comfortable with, but I was in the mood to just go for it.  I put the three layers in the oven and placed cookie sheets strategically on the rack underneath the layers, just in case there would be drips.

I watched periodically through the oven door.

The cake layers puffed up high on the sides like souffles, at first.  I was alright with this.  What happened next I was not prepared for.  I witnessed the mostly-crusted, cooked side of one of the layers break away under a flow of cake batter that took it over the side.  It flowed like lava pouring out of a volcano.  It kept going, and going, and going.  I watched in dismay as this process continued with the second, then the third cake pan.  It must have been 10 minutes or longer that I watched my science experiment unfold.  My son, who was passing by the kitchen, asked, "Mom, how long are you going to sit there and look through the oven door?"

"I've just never seen anything like this happen before," I replied.  (Please note that I am not what I consider to be a baking novice.)

The cake batter created stalagmites on the "drip pans" I had placed under them.  But the first drops had now started to burn -- and smoke -- so I had to switch them out before my smoke alarm was alerted.  All I could do now was hope the lava mudslide would end, and the layers could continue cooking through without the bottoms burning and becoming one with the pans.

What if the chocolate cake tasted horrid?

I cut a chunk off one of the stalagmites and offered it to my son.  He has watched too many cooking shows on TV, by the way.  As he tasted the sample, he said, "Chewy,.... sugary,....... tastes good."  I exhaled.  Then he said, "It's just not as..... TALL as I thought."  He was referring to the three layer, towering cake in the photo along with the recipe.

The layers eventually cooked to what I thought was the right consistency.  After some cooling time, I began the process of prying the cake layers out of the pans.  The first two were manageable with only a slight amount of damage that could be rescued by frosting.  The third layer didn't bake all the way through and about a third of it stuck to the pan.

My kitchen looked destroyed.  It looked like I somehow shredded the cake.  There were crumbs all over just about every surface.

The next morning I put together the surviving layers and produced what I think was a pretty darn good chocolate cake.

My plans for the remaining layer was a recipe from my Southern Living at Home days.  I used to make this Brownie Trifle for "death by chocolate" parties.  It involved soaking a pan of brownies in Kahlua, then crumbling them for a layer in the trifle.  Since I already had a chocolate cake layer in shambles, what did I have to lose?

Don't you just want to dive into those pillowy layers of pudding, whipped topping, and toffee bits?  Yep, I almost did.  For breakfast.

All is well that ends well.  For me, chocolate cake is good when it's moist, pure, and has just the right amount of crumb.  I like it to be firm, but not dry.  I have to say that the Gibson's recipe taught me several new lessons in baking.  But I'd say the recipe is a keeper.