Archive for June, 2010

Où les myrtilles sont ?

I’ve taken apart my studio in the Atelier and have set it up at home; but, more importantly, where are the blueberries?

Still piggy-backing on Jess and Krista’s locavore challenge, we set out to stock up on dainties from the farmer’s market. Since my last pierogi-making adventure, I’d wanted to make purple pierogis (utilizing the Mountain Roses I’d used for colcannon) with baby leeks and grilled sweet Walla Walla onions. Guess what? The potato man didn’t have a single, solitary potato. Not a one!

That’s okay. There were still leeks and onions and greens and the last (!) asparagus of the season. Now on to find blueberries!

Since my last pierogi-making adventure, I’d gotten lots of recommendations for sweet pierogis (namely prune or blueberry); and being one who would rather stuff her dumpling with a juicy berry than a withered prune, I went on the hunt. Raspberries? Oh, yes, loads. Strawberries? Loads of those, too. Blueberries? Nary.

As much as it pained me to do so, I made another trip to QFC.

Today’s sweet pierogis (a/k/a breakfast for lunch) are my adaptation of a recipe from the Polish American Journal. I stuck to it for the most part, but omitted the corn starch and added lemon zest and nutmeg.

Oh, and I used ricotta cheese. Does this completely negate the pierogi-ness of my pierogis? Would it still be a pierogi if I’d used farmer’s cheese? Does the pierogi rely on shape alone? And if I haven’t made a pierogi, what have I made? A pierogi-shaped blintz?

Whatever I made, it was not the most photogenic of meals. They were, however, ridiculously tasty.

Maybe next time, the Mountain Roses will be back. Then I can satisfy my desire to have an all-purple quasi-pierogi meal.


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When laying eyes on a finely-rendered charcoal drawing, one’s first reaction is often awe. Once the awe settles, one’s second reaction is often how on earth did the artist do that? While infinite factors play in to creating a beautifully satisfying drawing (proper measuring, composition, gesture, form, light, *gasp* emotion…), it is imperative to set these factors into motion with the proper materials; and when using these materials, one should prepare them in an exacting manner; and for a finely-rendered charcoal drawing, it behooves one to have finely-sharpened charcoal.

The charcoal drawings from the Aristides Atelier are made using H (hard) and HB (medium) and, on occasion, B (soft) vine charcoal. While Savoire Faire Nitram charcoals were favored by many, they have since gone out of business; at present, new students favor Prismacolor, Grumbacher, or Windsor and Newton. Here, Katt displays her unsharpened sticks of Prismacolor vine charcoal.

Unsharpened Vine Charcoal

In order to sharpen your charcoal, you will need a sheet of 220 grit sandpaper. Many students find it helpful to cut this paper down to a smaller, more manageable size. If you like, you can glue your sandpaper to a small piece of masonite, as you will want to have it against a hard surface when you are sharpening your charcoal. When using this method, make sure that your sandpaper and masonite are cut to the same size.

Sanding Pad

If you have not glued your sandpaper to a masonite board, the edge of any hard surface is suitable. Place your stick of charcoal flat against the surface of the sandpaper, being careful not to press too hard– this could result in your delicate vine charcoal snapping in half– and gently sharpen as you rotate the charcoal to give even treatment to each side. Bear in mind that this is a somewhat slow process; you want your charcoal to slowly build up to a needle-fine point and long taper. Again, try not to put pressure on your charcoal while sharpening, as this may cause the point to snap.

Sanding Seen from Above

Sanding Seen from Down Low

Viola! Your charcoal is sharpened and ready to go. You will notice that the stick has a very long taper– this is ultimately time-saving when you are mid-drawing, as you do not have to sharpen these sticks as frequently. It is suggested that you sharpen as many sticks of charcoal as possible prior to working on your drawing; this allows for more time spent on beautiful rendering and less time on sharpening.

Sharpened Charcoal

And, lastly, what should one do with those tiny little charcoal nubs? Don’t toss them just yet. Katt has come up with an ingenious method that allows for one to salvage the last bits of charcoal and make them perfectly use-able for rendering. Simply use electrical or artist’s tape to secure them to a small bamboo skewer (you can cut the skewer for a comfortable length) and sharpen accordingly.

Nubs Before

Nubs After

Happy drawing & tremendous hugs and thanks to Katt for sharpening charcoal for these photos!

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Another year at the Aristides Atelier has drawn to a close.

Aristides Atelier Program Opening

Being one who thrives with structure (i.e. having to be in a set place, on a set schedule), this is a slight source of anxiety for me. Seattle has wakened in the beautiful (albeit distracting) glow of green and mountains and balmy Summer temperatures, and I’m faced with the less-structured months ahead. The remedy to this is writing my own schedule (write for the Atelier site, finish projects, illustrate, and/or work on color [!] charts on these days, at this time) and putting together some semblance of a workspace in our tiny, tiny apartment… but I digress.

What I am saying good-bye to after this, my second of four years in the Atelier, is grisaille: “a term for painting executed entirely in monochrome or near-monochrome, usually in shades of grey.”

I spent my first year of study drawing: I drew from still-life, from master copies, and from the model; I sharpened charcoal to needly little points (more on that later) and spent many a meditative and/or frustrating hour turning Fabriano Ingres paper into meticulously rendered velvet; I came close to losing vision when leaning my face this close to the surface in order to pick out that one microscopic fleck of dark that no-one but myself would ever notice. You’d think that I’d have been tickled pink to move on to paint, yes? Think again: I was terrified. I’d always been more frustrated with my lack of painting ability than I had with my lack of drawing ability, and here I was about to come face-to-face with my demon.

Deep breath.

It wasn’t so bad. It was, in fact, utterly frustrating and hair-pulling and tear-inducing… but bad? It wasn’t anything close to the frustration of panel-tossing and brush-snapping that I’d experienced prior to beginning my classical realist studies. I wasn’t fumbling blindly; I was given a set way to go about things; and that year of painstaking drawing turned painting into something that finally made sense.

I was given the proper way to mix my grey scale from a mere three tubes of paint (again, painstaking, but somehow soothing).

Grisaille Palette

I broke down tone to its simplest elements in the form of poster studies.

Poster Study of Courbet's La Bacchante

And finally, somehow, painting the figure and the still life started to make sense.

First Grisaille Figure Study: Handsclasped (Yma) - oil on panel - 2009

First Grisaille Still Life: Sleepyhead (Self Portrait Cast) - oil on panel - 2010

That’s not to say that, months after the above paintings were completed, I don’t still have my problems: why do my whites dry out so dark? Why can’t my transitions be smoother? Why isn’t my brushwork as even as her’s? And why isn’t there the luxury of a whole other year to spend on grisaille before plummeting headfirst into a new year of new terrors?

Au revoir, l’an deux. Au revoir (for now), Atelier. Grisaille? We will see each other ’til we part ways in September.

Arstides Atelier students with the donors to the Madison Studio - Best of Gage - 2010

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It is June, it is raining, and it is a Saturday; Farmer’s Market shopping may not happen tomorrow, due to family arriving in town for the first time in over 3 (!) years; you are slightly hung-over due to the accessibility of free wine at last night’s Best of Gage (where, unlike last year, you did not win any awards).

Beautiful Alexis - First Place, Figure - 2009

You are grouse-y about art, painting, and drawing in general, yet you have at least three pieces to finish up before next Friday (one fully rendered charcoal drawing and two grisaille paintings); your hair is snarled and in need of a wash, your apartment needs to be cleaned before the arrival of aforementioned family, and all you want to do is lay in bed and watch reality television all day. You are, in a word, cranky. But! In lieu of sulking in bed all day! You decide to pluck up! And remedy the situation! By combining comfort foods! With! Nostalgia!

My family goes back in Pittsburgh time possibly as far as anyone can remember, as far back as when the Northern Irish blood got booted from the motherland for Emmet’s Rebellion. While my parents both grew up in the city proper (North Side and Wikinsburgh), we girlish offspring were raised about ½ an hour North of the city. Unlike the rest of the family, I flew the coop as soon as I was able; and while I actually did live in the City of Pittsburgh for a whopping 4 years, I would never ever want to live there again. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t get nostalgic, and especially for the food:

Bagels with capers and cream cheese and red onion and lox. The real kind, not Noah’s bagels.
A proper falafel, hummus, and kebab in the tucked-away basement Mediterranean Grill.
Decent Northern Indian food. Any decent Northern Indian food.
A crispy boxty at Piper’s Pub.
A comforting brunch at the Quiet Storm.
And, of course, delicious delicious delicious pierogis.

If you were raised in Pittsburgh, or near Pittsburgh, or by a Pittsburghers, you’ll have been fed pierogis from the time you were ready for solids; and, if you were a picky little brat like me, you will have refused to put them anywhere near your mouth because you despised onions. That being beside the point, Pittsburghers cooked up all sorts of pierogis in the kitchen: those made from scratch, those purchased from the little grandmothers at Pierogis Plus, or straight from a box of Mrs. T’s (in the frozen section at your local Giant Iggle). Pierogis were stuffed with onion, potato, and cheese, boiled, then sauteed in butter and onion and served with a dollop of sour cream on the side. Sometimes, fanciness came into play and you’d be treated to an applesauce garnish, or a pierogi stuffed with rattlesnake meat (no kidding). Pierogis could be a meal in and of themselves, or the complement to sauerkraut and grilled kielbasa. You don’t need to be Polish to enjoy a pierogi (although it is a Polish treat), but being from Pittsburgh (a very Polish city) definitely helps.

OK, we’ve got the nostalgia down. Now you understand the reasoning behind my complete and utter need to have pierogis today. So let’s make pierogis, shall we?

There are about 1,001 pierogi recipes out there. While this may be daunting to some, it was easy for me to make my selection: I went with the woman who grew up in Pittsburgh. Viola! I did make a few changes to her recipe, just because I feel confident enough in my pierogi palate to do so: in place of onions, I used leeks (grilled per this fella’s instructions and because I love me some leeks).

Grillings of leeks.

In place of red potatoes, I used Yukon Golds (because they are creamier) and kept the skin on (because I like the skin). Everything else, I kept as-is. Pierogi-making, by the way, is a time-consuming process. Not only is there dough to be made and refrigerated, but then grilling and filling, rolling and cutting, and stuffing and folding. In my split minute decision to make pierogis, I had forgotten that I don’t own a rolling pin; so there was a bit of panic and the remedy of a wine bottle (excellent rolling pin stand-in, by the way) tossed in as well.



I was terrifically afraid that the pierogis were going to fall apart when I boiled them or when I sauteed them with yet more leeks, but guess what? They held together beautifully, I got my plateful of nostalgia, I was distracted enough to be not as cranky, and everyone wound up happy (and full) in the end.

Kocham pierogi!

Music for pierogi-making: Einstürzende Neubauten
Music for pierogi-eating: Hossein Alizadeh

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Elements of Dim Sum

I’ve only eaten dim sum a few times, but it has quickly found a place amongst my favorite foods. It isn’t just the food itself that I like (although that’s the most important part), but the whole experience. Americans tend to forget that food is more than filling the stomach to end the feeling of hunger or the cheap thrill of salty, greasy and sugary food, but just as much about everything accompanying the chewing and swallowing. You can’t just go to a dim sum restaurant, order food, eat it, and then leave.

There are lots of elements that make up the dim sum experience. First, dim sum is something that should be eaten during late morning or early afternoon (like brunch). Second, the more people eating eating together, the better. Since dim sum consists of lots of small dishes of food, which are themselves made up of small groups of things like dumplings, stuffed buns, and small torts, one or two people eating together won’t be able to try more than two or three kinds of dim sum before getting too full to eat more.

Char Sui Bao

If more people go, each person gets a smaller share of each dish, but gets to eat a greater variety of food. If you only eat one kind of dim sum per meal, then you’re just not doing it right. Lots of people per group eating many different dishes makes for a lot of bustling and clamor; the commotion and noise of a good restaurant is the third element. I’m absolutely certain that dim sum eaten in a quiet restaurant would just not taste as good. If I had to say that there is anything essential to eating dim sum, it’s multiplicity: lots of people, lots of different kinds of foods, lots of noise.

Char Sui Gok

The best place for dim sum in the Seattle area (in my opinion) is Jade Garden. If you go, don’t get scared away by the long wait; it’s definitely worth it!

Wu Gok

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I’m inspired by a lot of things in life, but the inspiration that I’ll speak of today comes from my favorite lesbian wives, Krista and Jessica Thrift. Krista and Jess inspired me to start cooking at home (and vegan, at that) on a regular basis; they inspired me to make cold press toddy coffee; they inspired me to start blogging, to start shopping local, and to learn to love with all of my heart and be loved in return.

Okay, that ended up a bit more sappy than I’d intended it to.

The real reasoning behind the Krista and Jess mention comes directly from their self-imposed locavore challenge (making a dish that utilizes at least three local ingredients once a week), coupled with their nod to Martha Stewart’s colcannon. I like farmer’s markets; I like knowing where my food comes from; and, as a ½ Irish lassie (County Cork, bitchez), I like boxty, beer, and colcannon. Can I do it locally and toss in a delicious colcannon to boot? Let’s find out.

Today’s visits to the farmer’s market were two-fold: Pike Place is awful when it’s this warm (and on a weekend!). but necessary when one wants scallops. We snagged the fattest, healthiest scallops for grilling from the Pure Food Fish Market and then high-tailed it out of that miasma of plodding tourists. For the rest of our groceries, we went to the neighborhood Sunday standby and left with fistfuls of fresh green stuff and potatoes for colcannon. As for the leeks? I hate to say it, but I actually had to give money to QFC in order to have leeks. I tried, but… c’est la vie.

Asparagus, mustard greens, kale, potatoes, and scallops.

Instead of colcannon with cabbage (which I tolerate, but am not the biggest fan of), I used kale (which I will make any excuse to use); and instead of one leek, I used 1½ BIG leeks (because, like Krista, I *^%ing love me some leeks). For the other part of the meal, I decided to pay homage to my $8 cast iron grill pan. Yes, you read correctly: $8. I picked one up at the thrift store, cleaned it, re-seasoned it, and decided that it was time for some grillings of the foods. If there is one thing you should know about me, it is that I adore asparagus; and even more than just adoring asparagus on its own, I especially adore it grilled. Scallops? I like scallops and I like them grilled, but I’ve never grilled a single meat in my entire life. Let’s see how it goes.

I decided to stay simple with the scallops and the asparagus: a lemon-olive oil-salt-and-cracked black pepper marinade. For the colcannon? A fancy pants purple potato that I can’t remember the name of.

Sexy Spuds

And the result? Okay, I’m patting myself on the back again. The asparagus was slightly blackened, yet tender; the colcannon was gorgeous with purple potatoes and bright green leeks and kale; and the scallops were g.d PERFECT: seared on the outside and tender on the inside.

Bougie Dinner

Verdict: “It’s fucking amazing, F. I wish I had more right now. If I had more, I’d keep eating until I died.” – Paul

Note: Paul is a food snob. As someone who lives with Paul, I know that he will not heap these sort of compliments on me even if I am demanding them from him.

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Taro Root Curry

I first stumbled upon the gnarly, hairy-looking corm (not to be confused with corn) that is sometimes called taro root about two years ago. As I wandered through the produce section of the neighborhood grocery store, I came across a pile of the scruffy things and remembered reading a recipe for them. I had never eaten them before, or even recalled seeing them on a restaurant menu. I really had no idea what they would be like when I bought them.

Gnarly, hairy looking corm.

Taro root is something like potato, but better. It is, in fact, not really a root, but a corm, which is more like a bulb. It’s eaten all over the world; one can find it in places as diverse as Cameroon, India, and Hawai’i. There are any number of ways to make it, but fried and boiled seem to be the most common. I especially like the creamy texture it gets when it has been boiled. Turmeric, curry leaves, mustard seeds, and fresh chilies give the porridge-like taro roots an almost addicting flavor.

Here’s a recipe for taro root curry that I like to make (and eat).


1 lb. of taro roots, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, 1 teaspoon of mustard seeds, 1 tablespoon of skinned, split black lentils (urad dal), 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric, 1/4 cup of cilantro leaves, 1 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt, 10-12 fresh curry leaves, 2-4 fresh green Thai or serrano chilies, with the stems removed and sliced crosswise.

1. I like to use the small taro roots, which are sometimes called sato imo. I’ve tried the bigger variety, but I did not like it since it has a strange, musty flavor that I do not enjoy (or at least didn’t work in the recipe I use). The taro roots first have to be peeled, then cut into quarters, then boiled for about 10 minutes. Be careful not to touch your face after peeling the roots, since the skin contains a toxin that causes itching.

2. Heat the canola oil in a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the skillet, and then cook until the mustard seeds have stopped popping (about 30 seconds). Add the lentils and then stir-fry until they are golden brown (15-20 seconds). Sprinkle in the turmeric and let it cook for about 5 seconds, then add the taro roots, 1 cup of water, the cilantro, salt and curry leaves and chilies. Give the mix a stir, then bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to medium, then cook uncovered until the sauce thickens (about five minutes).

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