Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rice Pudding and Facebook Stalking

I attribute today's nonsensical obsession with rice pudding to three factors:
1. A recent discussion about a sweet Malaysian dish called siro roti, which is comparable to bread pudding.
2. An attempt to focus my attention on something other than my stalled art project.
3. Leftover whipped cream in my fridge which was begging to be eaten.
So I yielded to this irrational yet harmless desire, and made myself a yummy batch of this hearty treat.

The ingredients are tried-and-trues in any kitchen - milk, eggs, butter, sugar, white rice, and vanilla. 

Oops. I forgot to include the sugar in this pic. Well, I think you can imagine white sugar without my help, am I right?

Double oops. The recipe calls for three eggs, not four. Ironically, as you will see, my brain convinced me to put out an extra for the photo...more on that later.

The technique for this recipe is as simple and straightforward as the dish itself. Dump a half a cup of rice in a pan.

Pour in a full cup of water, cover the pan, and set it to boiling. If you are like me, wait till the pot boils over and makes a giant steaming mess before you remember to turn the heat down to low. 

If you are smarter than me, watch for the boil and turn it down right away. 

Either way works.

After five minutes, open her up and see what ya got. Mine looks like cooked white rice. Whoa now, I sure didn't see that coming.

Add four cups of milk and four tablespoons of butter to the pan. Yep, just pour it right on top of that rice and stir it all up like a big pot of gumbo. I stirred extra hard to scrape up all the bits of rice that were already stuck to the bottom of the pan, and that seemed to work out just fine. Bring the ingredients back up to a boil.

Now slap that lid back down, turn the heat all the way back down to low, and set a timer for 45 minutes. You're welcome to peek in from time to time, and give it a good stir. 

But I forgot all about stirring. Because it was right about here that I got busy stalking old boyfriends on Facebook with one of my teenage bffs.

Rice pudding is important but a good and proper stalk deserves my full attention. These are my priorities and I'm sticking to them. No harm was done to the pudding.

While the rice and milk are cooking, take a few minutes to crack three eggs in a bowl,

whisk 'em up,

pour in a half cup of sugar and keep whisking,

and finally, add one-half teaspoon of vanilla. I never measure vanilla. I just eyeball it. So far, no one has died. Or complained.

Okay, now there is plenty of time for more stalking. At this point, we had found the two guys who were cousins. Many years have passed, but these guys are still wearing the EXACT SAME MOUSTACHES they wore as 16-year-olds. 

Which is a sad statement about their commitment to keeping up with facial hair trends.

But an impressive piece of evidence about their ability to grow legit mustaches in high school. I'm proud of them for that.

When the timer beeps, pour that nice eggy mixture into the rice and milk concoction, and whisk it all up together. Let it come back to a boil, and keep stirring.

Which meant that at this point, with my arm attached to my cooking spoon, my friend had to take over primary stalking duties. But I supported her with enthusiastic one-handed text messages and constant reassurances that she and I did not look nearly so old as the guys did. Good thing we found that Fountain of Youth a few years back.

Okay but wait. This is a critical junction in the making of a pudding. Time to stop discussing whether the guys are actually bald or just look that way because of bad lighting, and take a close look at what is going on in this pan.

Sometimes, puddings do not thicken up as you would like them to. This is a problem, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve. For this recipe, I advocate for the Extra Eggs Solution, which goes like this:

Get one or two more eggs out of the fridge, depending on your level of determination to make a thick pudding. Today, I opted for two.

Whisk them up, pour them into the pan, and whisk until it boils again. 

If all is right with the universe, the pudding should thicken delightfully. Mine did. Happy day.

Pour that pan full of creamy yummy into a buttered flat dish, cover it with plastic wrap - I like to push the wrap all the way down on top of the pudding to prevent a yucky skin from forming - and off to the fridge it goes for a few hours of cooling. 

When you can't stand to wait another minute, serve yourself a nice little dish of it and top with whipped cream. And cinnamon, if you like. I meant to add cinnamon, but I was too excited to eat it.

As I enjoyed this creamy goodness, I thought about those boys - now men - from my past. And I realized that it is possible - not necessarily probable, but definitely possible - that they could stalk ME, and find the link to this blog post on my wall, and eventually come here and read this.

So Damian and Vince, if you're reading this, just know that as I eat this sweet treat, I am enjoying the equally sweet memories of good times spent with you.

* * * * *

Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding

1 cup water
1/2 cup uncooked rice
4 tablespoons butter
4 cups milk
3 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium covered saucepan, heat water and rice to boiling, turn heat to low and cook five minutes without stirring. Remove lid and stir once. Add milk and butter, return to a boil. Stir. Reduce heat to low and and cover. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat eggs with sugar, add vanilla. Add mixture to rice, stirring. Mixture will thicken as it cooks. Remove from heat when it reaches a thick but not stiff consistency.

Pour into buttered dish, cover with plastic wrap, chill well. Serve with whipped cream or a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired.

Makes 12 servings.

Monday, July 30, 2012


I'm in a conundrum, on the horns of a dilemma, and stuck between a rock and a hard place.

This is what art will do to me.

As you can see, I'm in the middle of an outdoor piece, that is basically a giant weaving of metal. Originally, I had envisioned several different types of metals, woven together to make a fairly dense screen. That is still not a bad idea.

So I started with a six-inch wide roll of wire mesh. After I serendipitously rolled it out from top to bottom of my support poles (as shown in the top photo), I fell in love with it. I am crazy about how it is equal parts shiny and dull, see-through and solid-looking, straight and crookedy. I love the way it catches light, and I love the way you can see through it too.

As I began weaving in the copper strips (bottom photo), I felt my heart sink. The gleaming metal is pretty, and this step is getting me closer to my original vision. But I miss the purity of my first look.


I also know that, as an artist, I always go through a phase of hating my work while it is in progress. It's a good sign if I am annoyed and unhappy with how it's going, and I've learned to keep pushing and see what happens.

On the other hand, sometimes less is more, and it's wise to let go of an original plan when something much better appears.

So which of those two bits of wisdom will win the day, and decide the fate of my project?

Only time will tell.

Isabelle Kessedjian, Your Work Makes Me Smile

I'm such a fan of childlike art. I know, I know..most critics of art find it much more sophisticated and relevant to creatively expose the gritty underbelly of the human condition. While I acknowledge that there is great beauty in what may at first appear ugly and rough, and I can appreciate others' attempts to portray that, my heart always draws me deepest into a more childish form of expression.

Please meet Isabelle Kessedjian. She is a French artist who draws, paints, crochets, sculpts, and photographs in beautiful ways, and certainly seems to share my passion for childlike innocence in her art.

I first encountered her work on Instagram (follow her at kessedjian) and fell in love right away. The fresh presentation and simplicity of that platform perfectly capture the sweet charm of Isabelle's work.  

I love:

..her sweet little sketchbook drawings, usually featuring that little girl with pig tails,

..her cleverly sketched creatures that seem to be interacting with real-life objects,

..her darling still lifes of food, usually tiny, red, and precious,

..her use of simple and effective background materials, especially graph papers,

..her skillful and appealing crocheted creations,

..and her always-appealing fascination with the color spectrum

All of these photos came from her Instagram feed, and honestly, every single one of her 1103 photos is just as cute as the next. I've just begun to explore Isabelle's blog, which seems to feature plenty of fresh content in a similar vibe. Precious. I hope you'll check out her work..

As for me, I will be arranging my pens in rainbow order, photographing strawberries, and drawing pictures of smiling, pink-cheeked toddlers. Thanks for inspiring me, Isabelle Kessedjian!

Dancing Hollyhocks

If you're a gardener, like me, then you already understand why I spent pretty much every waking moment of this sunny weekend outside with my flowers. If you're not a gardener, chances are not good that I will be able to explain. But I'm willing to give it a go.

Flowers are like friends. Each one has a certain personality, an individual style and flair, as well as a temperament. And each flower has a story to tell.

Gardening is like going to a party with all these friends. I wander from this one to that, spending a few moments with each one to remember old times and catch up on what's new.

Some flowers are the extroverted, almost pushy friends that catch you the minute you walk in the door. They laugh and joke and generally talk your ear until you excuse yourself and move on.

But other friends are shy, quiet and reserved. They are just as interesting as anyone else at the party, but they tend to hold back and wait quietly until approached. I guess you might call them wallflowers. Heh.

This sweet yellow hollyhock is definitely one of the wallflowers of my front gardens. Many, many years ago, a neighbor gave me some hollyhock seeds. They sat in their envelope for probably three years before I finally put them in the ground. And while they sprouted and grew, they never really amounted to much. The truth is that my maritime climate is not the right environment for the hollyhock, which prefers hot and dry summer days. The poor dears quietly drooped along, one generation after another, for all these many years.

So it was quite a lovely shock for me to happen upon my hollyhocks today and find them THRIVING! Yes, finally, at long last, this patient and long-suffering plant has hit its stride. Its foliage is green and healthy, the delicate blossoms are to die for, and the sweet yellow is a perfect partner for the neighboring purple cat mint

It's like this plant is a studious bookworm of a girl who finally took off her glasses, let down her hair and stunned everyone with her beauty. Now she's dancing on the tables, the center of all attention. And I watch her, smiling. I knew she had it in her all along.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Dolls' Quilt

Yesterday, I tackled a painting project and posted a photo of my work in process on Facebook. Several of my quilt-loving friends commented in shock and horror about my drop cloth until I explained that I was using an old store-bought and commercially-made quilt for that purpose. Reassuringly, I promised them that I treat my handmade quilts like gold.

Which got me to thinking about my collection of handmade quilts. This morning, as soon as I was up and moving, I dug out the one that is oldest and dearest to my heart.

This sweet little thing was my doll's quilt when I was a little girl. The six panels, embroidered by either my grandmother or my great-grandmother, show scenes from nursery rhymes:
Hush-a-bye Baby and This Little Pig Went to Market
Peter, Peter, PumpkinEater and Jack and Jill
Hey Diddle Diddle and Old Mother Hubbard
It's precious to me now, but I can remember times as a child when this quilt annoyed me. Like most little girls, I was madly in love with the color pink, and sometimes I craved more of that color. I remember turning the quilt sideways on my doll's bed, and orienting it so the two middle panels - the pinkest panels - showed most prominently.

Other times, the busyness of the embroidery overwhelmed my tender little aesthetic sensibilities and I wished for a solid color. I also remember flipping it over and wrapping my sleeping babies the other side, which is plain white.

So it's fair to say that by making this quilt for me, my grandmother and great-grandmother, sturdy German women that they were, taught me a whole lot about thinking creatively and making it work.

And for that, I am deeply thankful.

Fresh and Trim

Over the course of this week, I accomplished one of my major summertime goals..I repainted several pieces of outdoor furniture. 

The dark brown wicker loveseat on my front porch. 

The yellow wooden bench that lives on the far side of my driveway.

The white wooden chairs that sit along the edge of my front walk.

As is usually the case with me, a fairly simple job expanded to encompass many layers of questionably related sub-tasks. In addition to the actual painting, I ended up searching out new cushions on end-of-summer sales, trimming a giant mass of shrubs, negotiating some special repairs, and weeding for hours, just so my freshly painted pieces could go back to their usual places and look their absolute best. 

And I'm feeling that special sense of satisfaction that comes from fixing up old things and making do with what I have, instead of just buying new. For the price of three cans of spray paint and some deeply discounted and long overdue cushions, my front yard furniture is looking fresh and trim.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Danelle's Genius Idea

I love having clever, creative friends who share their ideas with me. And when they are considerate enough to document their genius in a blog of their own, well, that just takes the cake.

Or the sugar cookie, as the case may be.

Enter Danelle, who posted a timely and inspiring idea yesterday on her blog, Outnumbered. You can read all about it here.

If you don't feel like clicking today, I'll sum up her post in four short words.

Super. Cute. Olympic. Treats.

So tonight, during our viewing of the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, we made our own slightly altered version of these little cuties:

Instead of sugar cookies and vanilla frosting, as Danelle used, I went with slightly lighter equivalents of vanilla wafers and whipped cream. M&Ms are mandatory components; I did not dare mess with that part of the equation.

Thank you, Danelle, for being so darn inspirational. I can't wait to see what you come up with tomorrow. 

Welcome To London


It's official...the 2012 Olympic Summer Games are off and running!

The opening ceremonies, which typically bore me to tears, were a tongue-in-cheek, postmodernist dream. I adored artistic director Danny Boyle's storytelling about the history of the British Isles, complete with Kenneth Branagh performing Shakespeare, Mary Poppinses dropping out of the sky, and a gigantic inflatable Voldemort.

It was all pretty genius.

But the high point of the entertainment may have been this bit about James Bond escorting Queen Elizabeth to the event:

{So far, the Olympic Committee censors are exercising their copyright protection over this video quite fiercely, so please be patient if it's been blocked. I'll try to keep it alive.}

For my money, there are three reasons why this sequence is so compelling:
1. James Bond and the queen are two delightful British icons. Long may they wave. 
2. Daniel Craig is insanely fit and I am all for anything that involves him. 
3. It's a lovely, clever and very funny bit of storytelling. Icons and actors are all fine and good, but in the end, a strong story matters more than anything else.
Well played, Danny Boyle. Good choice for your artistic director, Olympic planning people. 

And hello, London. Thanks for the warm and hilarious welcome. Let the games begin!