Fun Stuff

news and some kitchen tips

Hello! I've been working on a website to sell my artwork and it's finally up and running: zephyrdear.com. I've also created an Etsy site, here. (!!!)

Now, here are some of my favourite kitchen tricks. Maybe they'll come in handy for your winter baking.

Storing Citrus Zest: I love adding zest to baked goods, but don't always have fresh citrus on hand. Instead, I keep sugared lemon and orange zest (separately) in the freezer so that it's always available. Here's what I do: when using a lemon just for its juice or when eating or juicing an orange, I first use a microplane to remove the zest. I put the zest in a jar and add a spoonful or so of sugar, just enough so that the zest doesn't all clump together (lemon zest tends to be drier than orange zest). That's it. Then I keep the jar in the freezer and can scoop out a teaspoon when I need it to add to cookies or muffins or whatever. I always use organic citrus for zesting.

Vanilla Sugar: I can't bring myself to compost used vanilla beans when they still have aroma to offer (which they do). After using a vanilla bean to flavour a creme caramel or other dessert, I give it a good rinse and then put it in my jar of organic cane sugar. I keep adding beans as I use them. The sugar preserves the beans and over time takes on a very vanilla aroma.

 

gougère

Saturday mornings can be a time when the week catches up with me but I haven't yet caught up with the week. I spent this one at the kitchen table with coffee and a pile of cookbooks.

The wind is still roaring in from the sea with force, still slamming against the house and rushing through the trees. Our front lawn is littered with branches and the only birds I've seen out are seabirds and waterbirds. Today I was introduced to a Victoria tradition: the breakwater on a windy day. On one side the huge waves rolled in and on the other, wind devils danced across the water. Spray crashed over the boardwalk and the high whine of the wind funneling in towards shore filled our ears. There was a log-jam at the appearing-and-disappearing beach and gulls and cormorants climbed against the wind to stay motionless above the roiling water. We walked and staggered our way out along the breakwater, laughing and shrieking as the wave-spray crashed over us. I had my arm up when the spray from one wave arced above, and was immediately wet to the elbow as the wind and water found their way down my sleeve. Our rubber boots were filled to their tops and I was wet from head to toe, through three layers of raincoat and wool. We shared a salty kiss in the lee of the lighthouse at the end of the breakwater. On the way back to shore the wind was in our faces and the drops of spray pelted hard as hailstones. We exchanged wild grins with a few folk as delightedly crazed as ourselves, and arrived, shivering and sloshing at the café on shore, where we tipped bootfuls of ocean at the door. I poured out my boots again on our front porch, and wrung out my socks and am now quite warm and dry and ready to do it all over again.

Here is something warm and delicious:

Gougères Savory choux-pastry cheese puffs, adapted from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking

a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepan baking sheets, lined with parchment

1 c water 3 oz (6 T) butter 1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper pinch nutmeg pinch thyme (crumbled if dry, minced if fresh) 3/4 c AP flour (all-purpose) 4 eggs 2/3 c grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F. Bring water to a boil with the butter and seasonings and boil slowly until the butter has melted. Meanwhile, measure the flour and make sure the cheese is grated.

Remove from heat and immediately pour in all the flour at once. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for several seconds to blend thoroughly. Then beat over moderately high heat for 1 to 2 minutes until mixture leaves the sides of the pan, forms a mass, and begins to film the bottom of the pan.

Remove saucepan from heat and make a well in the centre of paste. Break one egg into the well and beat into the paste for several seconds until it has absorbed. Continue with the rest of the eggs, beating them in one by one. Beat for a moment more to be sure all is well blended and smooth. Then beat in cheese.

Drop the paste onto the parchment-lined baking sheets with a spoon (a full tablespoon, perhaps, blobs approx. 2" across) Leave blob-sizd spaces between the blobs as they will grow! Alternatively, for neater puffs use a piping bag. You can make smaller puffs: reduce baking time to 20 minutes for puffs 1" across. Option: for shiny puffs, brush with beaten egg before baking. You can also sprinkle more grated cheese on top if desired.

Bake, depending on size, for about 25-28 minutes (less for smaller puffs). The puffs are done when they have doubled in size, are golden brown, and firm and crusty to touch. Remove them from the oven and pierce the side of each puff with a sharp knife. Then set in the turned-off oven and leave the door ajar for 10 minutes (this stops them from collapsing). Eat. Or cool on a wire rack, and then eat.

Golden

I'm learning the tides on my walks to work, and also the short seasons of the flowering plants that inhabit the dry, rocky margins of the shore. Already the long grass has cured to deep gold and I haven't seen the otters frolicking in it for over a week; they drift lazy in the kelp beds instead. The camas and California poppies are almost done, giving way to stonecrop and Nootka rose.  We drove up island to Nanaimo for an evening road trip adventure this week, through shady maples, lush farmland and tall Douglas firs. Now, I know that Nanaimo has some ugly strip malls going on, but the winding streets of the old city centre are pretty charming, and a road trip (with some good pizza at Torta Luna along the way) was just what we needed. 

This has also been a good week for visits. My beautiful, talented friend LA came to the island for a brief visit from the mountains, and we walked and walked, and ate very well indeed. My dad came by my work this morning, and on Sunday we went over to Salt Spring Island to visit my family there. The day was hot and sunny, perfect for drinking coffee, walks down to the beach, and my stepdad M's homemade cider. The salmonberries and honeysuckle were ripe, so I snacked as we walked, leaving a trail of orange trumpet flowers along the roadside. 

I brought some of my watercolour paintings into our local print shop this afternoon. It's part of working towards my dream of having an etsy shop up and running, and selling art prints and mobiles and jewellery, and whatever else I'm drawn to create. Yay!

I hope everyone out there is having a rich and vibrant May. 

PS I'm changing the title of this post because whenever I look at it (just what we needed) I get that old song in my head, even though the words are a little different, and that is perhaps not what we needed.

       

invigorating

I've been playing with my spirograph (did I just date myself here? They're awesome.), watercolour and gouache. I could certainly get used to spending my afternoons at my coffee-table studio with the rabbits snuggled up beside me (or quietly removing the side of a bag of flour in the kitchen... ahem, Zephyr...). Spring here is at that delightful indecisive stage where an enthusiastic breeze roars into a bright day, the sky darkens and breaks into rain showers (and that weird tension that you didn't realize was building gives way to relief). Then, still pouring rain, the clouds break and the brightness is blinding even seen through somewhat dusty windows (stand on the porch and take this in). I seem be geekily enthusiastic in welcoming all kinds of weather, but spring weather is invigorating.

Last night after sweet Seven's 3 am check-in, I lay awake thinking about fermented porridge until I got up to start some for the morning. I've mentioned this breakfast before, it's one of my favorites. It doesn't hold a candle to my friend Kyrie's frittata or her eggs benny, but it's exactly the kind of wholesome simplicity I look for in a weekday breakfast, heartier and more flavorful than regular oats or unsoaked steel-cut oats, with the added benefit of a fairly speedy cooking time.

photo 2-1 a b

Night-fermented Steel-cut Oats Adapted from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions 1/3 cup steel cut oats 1 spoonful (closer to a tbsp than a tsp) plain, happy-cow, probiotic yogourt 1/3 cup water (you can also use liquid poured off of the yogourt, which will leave you with thicker yogourt - yum!) Stir ingredients loosely together in a smallish bowl, then let it sit overnight on the counter (you can cover it with a plate or cloth, or tuck it in the cupboard if you like). In the morning, bring to a boil: 1/3 cup water Add fermented grain and simmer until it comes together and oats soften (try a little to check, they will be more toothsome than rolled oats), maybe about 10 minutes. I like to serve this with a pinch of salt, a knob of butter, about a teaspoon maca powder, and a sprinkling of cacao nibs and hemp hearts. It's also very tasty with heavy cream and maple syrup, or topped with granola and milk. If you have stewed rhubarb, don't hesitate to add it. Some days an impromptu coffee date interrupts my intention to make this in the morning and the soaker fares perfectly well sitting out until the following morning, in fact it might even be improved. (Insert Pease Porridge rhyme...)

Working with light, and a house show

I would like to catch up with myself, my real person studio self, on this blog before I begin what might be called printing week. Last week was the week of screens.

Here is where I was on Thursday:

After a less than productive day in (or out) of the studio, I am reminded of my options. Dishes, for instance, or futzing about on this blog. I spent all day waiting for my screens to dry.

On Friday, a few things happened. The screens dried. I nervously set in motion my rickety light table set up and hoped for the best.

Incredibly, it worked!!!! I have always found getting my screens perfect to be nerve racking and difficult, and hadn't attempted it at home until now. It went flawlessly, with some of my most detailed screens rinsing out best of all.

A quick overview of the process:

Screens have beeen cleaned, then coated with light sensitive photo emulsion (I used Macdermid Autosol 8000), then left to dry in a dark space. When they were dry and non-tacky to the touch, I covered the windows in the spaces I was working in so I had just enough light to see what I was doing and put one screen at a time in a garbage bag, to transport them across the slightly lit hallway. I used a combination of books, or foam, or other screens (most of my screens are different sizes), covered in white paper, to completely fill the inside of the screen, so there was no space underneath. I grabbed my transparancy with the corresponding number to the one I had marked on my screen, and laid it on top, then placed a thick sheet of glass on top of that, and turned on my photobulb (a BBA photoflood) which was um cleverly rigged with a pie plate and latched onto a kitchen stool, on a suitcase. This set up has inspired my partner to draw up a design for a solid, adjustable light table and stand.

I let the light do its magic for ten or so minutes, and then again in the semi-dark, removed the glass and transparancy and stuffed the screen back in the garbage bag so as to not expose the area where the image was. Next, outside, back to the garden hose, in the rain, with gumboots. I turned the hose on full and (taking the screen out of the bag) sprayed the front and back of the screen. I continued to spray the back until my image was nice and clear, all the unwanted emulsion gone. Then, I let it dry and voila, I have 19 new screens to print with. I am thrilled, and relieved.

Friday evening brought with it excitement of another type. We had a house concert.

It is so nice to have talented musicians in one's living room.

One of the nicest audiences ever filled the house, and our cats wove their way through everyone, getting pats.

Here are the folks we were lucky enough to have over for a night of "Swoon Tunes"

Susu Robin http://www.myspace.com/susurobin

Will Klatte Spoken Word

Kindredheart http://soundcloud.com/kindredheart http://kindredheart1.bandcamp.com/

Daniel Bloom http://soundcloud.com/wreninthethicket

What fun! Beautiful music, beautiful people, and all put together by the lovely La Marie of Kindredheart.

Also very enjoyable this weekend was a bike ride in the beautiful fall woods. The wet roots weren't  scary like I thought they might be. We ended up only going for a short ride as the logging road to the trail we wanted to go down was already under far too much snow!

This cozy, drizzly weekend was finished off nicely wih an afternoon of baking apple cinnamon swirl bread and making homemade pasta with good friends, and a few board games. Lovely.

Now, silkscreening!