Wednesday, October 31, 2012

When Artists Cook

Hi, it's Jenn of Just Add Water Silly again. You know, I'm not much of a Halloween fan, after I got over the free candy, all the fun kinda went out of it for me. Although, I do truly love the Fall season. I love how the leaves turn beautiful colors and the weather cools down. "Sweater weather" is what we call it here in BC. We're so lucky here on the West Coast, the weather cools down but usually stays seasonable and enjoyable throughout Fall and even Winter.

I remember many Christmases where we spent Boxing Day skate boarding or at the beach, throwing rocks into the surf. Now, don't get me wrong, it does get cold here sometimes. Autumn can cause you to need not just a sweater but gloves and a muffler too. It just usually wouldn't last long. Think days filled with sweaters and falling leaves and nights warmed by a good fire in the fireplace. October days would bring thoughts of warm stew and steaming cups of hot chocolate with mini marshmallows. It was just cold enough to make you feel cozy in your home. 
It was also a time for preserving, canning and freezing all the available produce that had either been grown in our own backyard or purchased at the local markets. I remember shelves and shelves of "put up" peaches, pears, cherries, apricots, pickles, tomato sauce, jams, jellies and apple sauce. One year we even made sauerkraut!! Another year, with a bounty of sour wine grapes at the ready, ripe and waiting on our laden back fence, mom found an obscure grape pie recipe and we got together with a couple of families and made more than a hundred pies, lol. We still get requests dozens of years later for a piece of mom's grape pie!! (unfortunately, it's just not the same without those special grapes!)

We also would work together with good friends and produce full meals that were freezer friendly. We had dozens of great "stick to your ribs" recipes that could be frozen for months and just popped into the oven when needed. It was a great time saver and always tasted like home cooked scrumptiousness. I thought I'd share one of those simple but terrific recipes with you today.
Title: "Jack"
(although I'm not sure why we didn't call it Canadian Fry!)
  • elbow macaroni (rotini would work just as well)
  • lean ground beef
  • 1 large onion (diced)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • large can diced tomatoes
  • tomato sauce
  • 1-2 cans mushrooms (depending on how much you're making)
  • marjoram
  • thyme
  • basil
  • oregano
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • butter (for sautéing onions & garlic)
  1. Get a large pot of salted water on to boil and cook your pasta. (if you're going to freeze this, slightly undercook the pasta.)
  2. Sauté the onions and garlic in some butter in a large skillet until the onions are translucent.
  3. Throw in the ground beef and cook until done. (don't skim off the excess fat, it'll help bring out the flavors of the sauce, if there's too much fat in the end, you can skim off the excess easily.)
  4. Add the whole can (with juice) of diced tomatoes and mushrooms.
  5. Add the tomato sauce and your spices until you think it'll taste good. You're going for an italian pasta sauce taste, although mom usually didn't use as much oregano than a pasta sauce would normally need.
  6. Now, cover your sauce and let simmer for a good hour or so. The more time it has to simmer, the better it'll be.
  7. If your tomato sauce is a little to acidic, add a pinch or so of sugar to balance out the acid.
  8. When your sauce tastes like ambrosia, add the pasta and let sit on low heat for another half hour, allowing the pasta to soak up the flavors. If the American fry becomes too thick, thin out a little with some chicken stock or water. 
  9. This recipe freezes beautifully and can be reheated in the oven at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes.
  10. Add a side of hot cornbread or fresh buns for dipping and you're all set! Oh, and I recommend doing a double or triple batch as this recipe is even better a day later!
I hope you all have a wonderful Halloween and the Candy Gods are good to you.
Happy Autumn, now on to Thanksgiving!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Autumn Sketchbook

Crab apples drip fruit in the fall, which often lasts until winter.  They are a much appreciated splash of color in an otherwise baron late autumn garden, and a welcome feast for hungry birds on a cold winters day.

I saw this crab apple tree in the hospital garden a few weeks ago.  Its visual bounty kept me occupied! I refuse to sketch hospital rooms and busy nurses, these are not the things I like to remember.

Instead I think about the grounds and the gardens, how the sun falls on the crimson leaves outside the window, and the beautiful array of autumn scarves in the lobby gift shop. These are the memories I like to keep.

This page was done in my Stillman & Birn Epsilon Series sketchbook (yum), using Neocolor II water soluble crayons (yum yum), and ink.

Thanks for checking in. xx

Friday, October 26, 2012

Wet Pastel & Comfort Food

My "When Artists Cook" post this week prompted a lot of queries about my world famous Creamy Pumpkin Soup.  Well, maybe not world famous, but certainly highly sought after...well, maybe not highly, but very least in my house...well, my Mum likes it, and that's saying something!!

Anyway, I was playing around in my Stillman & Birn "Epsilon" Series sketchbook in preparation for my new online class "Wet Pastel Workshop" which will be running in the new year.  I found myself exploring color blending directly onto the page with my Neocolor II's and this butternut squash segment was a great subject.  It prompted me to share both this food journal page and the recipe that so many of you asked for.

Creamy Pumpkin Soup

Any type of pumpkin can be used in this recipe.  I use whatever I have on hand.  I estimate the quantities of the ingredients, mainly because I use whatever I have in the cupboard.  If you want a large pot, then use more of everything, if you want a small pot, use less!!  

1 large butternut squash or pumpkin of your Choice
3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 medium onion chopped
4 tablespoons butter
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup heavy cream (can substitute for half/half or skim milk if desired)
Nutmeg for garnish.

Remove skin and seeds from the pumpkin and chop into small pieces. 
Melt butter in a large saucepan or soup pot and add the onion, 
cook until soft and clear (don't burn).
Add the pumpkin, carrots and potatoes to the pot, then add the chicken stock. 
Bring to boil, then reduce the head, cover and simmer for about 30-45 mins, 
or until veges are tender. 
Remove from heat and blend until smooth.  
If you are using a food processor or blender, you may need to do this in several batches.  
Stir in cream.  
Sprinkle each bowl with a pinch of nutmeg just prior to serving.  

This soup is best served with hot crusty bread.

So, the Epsilon Series sketchbook I have been using for this has a lovey heavy weight paper that is well suited to pen and ink. However, I've found that it takes light washes beautifully and has become the perfect sketchbook for water soluble mediums such as watercolor pencil, crayon, marker, and even soft pastel (although you may have to fix your pastel or it will smudge onto the facing page).

The pages are strong and crisp, and even with a heavy wash of color I had no bleed through, just the slighted buckling which presses out once the book is closed.  To be honest, I love it when the page develops a little texture from movement under the medium, it gives the sketchbook some meat, and has that lovely look of being well-used and well-loved.

These Stillman & Birn books are quickly becoming my favorite sketchbooks of choice.

Thanks for checking in xx

Thursday, October 25, 2012

When Artists Cooks

Most people either love or hate Butternut Squash...personally, I love them.  Their rich, creamy, sweet taste is a sensory reminder of a cozy, comfortable, late Fall afternoon.  They're perfect in all sorts of delicious dishes, they keep for months, and to top it off, are packed with Vitamin C...a necessary weapon in fighting the cold season ailments.

I remember many fall days with pots of pumpkin soup bubbling away on the stove.  It quickly become one of my favorite dishes, and I became famous amongst my friends for the best pumpkin soup around.  Of course warm crusty bread is a must have too.

I've since become more adventurous with the fall and winter squashes, and this recipe for Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Seed Loaf is the perfect companion for a nice pot of tea.  I serve it warm, laced with butter. But the best news of all is that my six year old actually LOVES it too!!  No small feat given it's loaded with vegetable.

Butternut Squash & Pumpkin Seed Loaf

Makes 1 Loaf

1 large egg
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 ounces winter squash (any variety), coarsely grated
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon apple pie spice, or allspice
1 tablespoon raw sugar for spinkling
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350 F (180 C). 
Grease a 4/6 inch loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Use an electric mixer to beat together the egg and sugar in a mixing bowl 
until pale and fluffy (about 3 mins).
Add the oil and beat to combine.

Stir in the grated squash, then gently fold in the flour, baking powder, and spice.
Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle with the raw sugar and pumpkin seeds
Bake for 30-40 mins or until skewer (when inserted) comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack and serve warm.

The great thing about this recipe is that you can substitute the butternut squash for any variety of winter squash including zucchini.  It's simply delicious and I urge you to give it a try.

This page in my recipe journal was done using Neocolor II water soluble crayons and ink I'm in the thick of writing a new mini-class called "Wet Crayon Workshop" which will be available through Joggles in the new year.

By the way, I want to thank everyone who left me heartfelt comments of love and support on my last post.  My little guy is having a better time of things, as am I.  Your advice, encouragement, ideas, and friendship really lifted me up at a time when I felt pretty down...THANK YOU!!

...and thanks for checking in. xx

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

He Refuses to Stop Fighting

I sometimes think parenthood is the most unappreciated, underestimated role in humanity.  Anyone can choose to do it, most people do, but most of us struggle with it in some capacity, and all of us feel like we're failing dismally at some point in time! It's amazing to me how so many kids grow up into functioning effective adults.

The challenges of raising children is horrendous.  What is the right way, what is the wrong way?  We get so much information from the media, experts, family and friends, that if you're anything like me, then you're in a daze of indecision, confusion, and guilt.  And to top it all off, society doesn't in any way help--competition, excessive consumerism, capitalism, a crumbling and ineffective education system, environmental disasters, economic's just one thing after another.

I'm thinking about all this today because my toddler, as many of you may know, is a complex little guy, born a micro-preemie at 24weeks gestation. He weighed only 1lb 3oz at birth, and dropped to less than 1/2 lb in his first week of life.  To say he's had to fight for every breath he's taken is an understatement.

Well, he faces lots of challenges, he's facing them now. Last week, he went for a routine check-in at the hospital (there are lots of these), only to find himself in surgery the next morning.  All is well.  It was a relatively simple procedure on his ears, but the experience for him was anything but simple. There must be a lot of repressed, unexplained associations in his little brain, after all, he spent the first five months of his life in the NICU, and it wasn't simple.  Ventillation for more than three months, nitric oxide treatment, steroids, extremely invasive infection workups, surgeries, resuscitation's.  Jeeze, having a bath was a major trauma for him. Then he was back in the PICU 4 times before he was 2yo, so needless to say, at the age of 3yo, going back into the hospital for surgery was a pretty terrifying thing for him.

We came out of it with the absolute realization that my son refuses to stop fighting.  He fought everyone; the doctors, the nurses, the admin staff...EVERYONE!  He screamed, struggled, fought, and kicked at every touch, every word from everyone. It's was overwhelming and exhausting for me.  I had to hold him in my arms for every second we were at the hospital and he was conscious. I even had to gown up and go in to the OR with him until they got him sedated. It took 3 doctors, me and the anesthesiologist to get him sedated. 

When I left the OR, I went back to his room and cried.  I cried and cried and cried, but what I wanted to do was scream and rage and punch the walls.  Any parent can attest to the pain of seeing their child frightened and distressed and there is nothing we can do but hold them, but my fear now is that with each intervention administered in the name of "what's best for him", is only enraging his psyche, eroding his trust in everyone around him, including me.

The battle didn't end when we left the hospital.  At home he was the same, fighting everything, just wanting me to hold him and carry him every second of the day.  He screams when I put him down, he fights when I try to feed him, he sobs when he doesn't have my attention. He sits on the kitchen floor clinging to my legs until I pick him up. It's overwhelming...what do I do??

So today was his first day back at preschool, and as soon as I picked up his backpack to put him in the car, he started screaming.  He screamed all the way to the center, then clung so tight to me as I carried him from the car to the front door that it took two people to pry him off.  Every cell in my body was screaming at me to take him home again, but all the experts tell me this journey is important for him.  I went back to my car and cried, then I went for a drive to an empty park and screamed at the top of my lungs...just screamed!

What do we do?  How do we know what is right for our kids?  How do we prepare them to be functioning adults in a complex world when we don't even know what kind of world they will be adults in?  The information on parenting rights and wrongs is so abundant and conflicting that none of it helps. Everything about the way our society functions today sits poorly with me.  It all feels wrong and I don't know how to change it.

So, of course, when I'm consumed by these experiences, I turn to the healing art of a mandala.  I doodled this one while I was waiting for my son to come out of surgery, and I painted it when I got home.

Thanks for checking in. xx

Monday, October 22, 2012

Life Book Winner

Wow!  I want to say thank you so much to everyone who entered my Life Book 2013 giveaway.  I especially want to thank the very beautiful and talented Tamara LaPorte for her generosity and creativity. 

To the winner of a spot on Life Book 2013 is:


The winner has been contacted by email.  This program is so special and even though I can only draw one winner, I very much hope you will sign up and join me in this very special course.

Thank you again for everyone who took the time to enter.  I very much appreciate your support.

Hugs & Gratitude. xx

Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Hot Afternoon"

"Hot Afternoon"
Acrylic on Canvas

It's the end of a long day, the sun beats down on the side walk. Shimmering heat rises up from the gutters, radiating out from the forest of steel and glass. Weary workers make their way stickily through the crowds. Traffic drags lazily along the searing roads.  The sky shimmers with smog and heat, the air is thick and heavy and the hot afternoon drags on.

Although this is not physically my environment right now, it is where my head is.  When I painted this, I remembered the skyline of the cities of my home.  Skycrapers glittering against a mid-summer sky, reflecting the ocean that laps close by.  Dust, smog, and the thick scent of summer linger in the air.

I miss my homeland of Australia, but never more than when I am facing the dread of another mid-western winter.  To save myself, I bask in my memories of time spent in the city.  The two cities where I lived in Australia, Sydney and Melbourne, are an exquisite mash of urban and ocean.  But I have visited so many cities and each has that familiar ambiance on a hot afternoon

This work is done in Silks Acrylic Glaze on an un-primed cotton canvas. It is the image of a hot afternoon in the city, it could be any city, it could be every city. Fine art prints of this work are available through Fine Art America.

So, there are only 6 spots left in my studio masterclass; "Art of Luminescence". It is my only studio appearance for 2012.

If you can, why don't you join me in beautiful Excelsior Springs, Missouri at The Gallery Off Broadway for a day of shimmer, glitter, sparkle and shine as I help you unlock the secrets of luminescent watercolor and acrylic painting. The workshop is on Saturday November 17, 2012.  For more information, or to register, click here.

And finally, don't forget, for a chance to win a place on Life Book 2013, be sure to enter my Life Book 2013 giveaway.  I'll be drawing a winner by random number generator over the weekend.  You could win a spot in Life Book 2013.

Thanks for checking in. xx