Let’s Talk About Fun and Apple Wacky Cupcakes

It’s nine-thirty in the morning. The kitchen smells like molasses and vanilla. I am chopping apples as fast as I can without running the risk of cutting myself. This, I think, is fun.

Fun. What a concept. I’ve been grasping at it recently, like a drunk person feeling for the rail as they stumble up their stairs in the dark. Fun comes in brief moments of pleasure caught unawares amidst a storm of serious intentions and fierce expectations. It is the instants when I find myself…just admiring the flowers…just sitting on the couch and snuggling …just painting…just baking a cake. But as soon as I notice it, it’s gone, lost amidst a bulletin of harsh inquiries about, “What am I doing? Is this productive? How can I turn this into a productive activity?”

I’m giving myself tachycardia (when your heart starts beating too fast) just thinking about it. Recently I’ve felt a bit like a fat hamster, panting on a wheel, wondering when I’m going to reach my destination, and doing my damnedest to get there now. As hamsters far and wide can attest, it doesn’t work very well. I’m tired and stressed out and grumpy. It sucks for me and it sucks for the poor souls who have to encounter me (i.e. my parents, Ethan, my friends, unfortunate baristas and Trader Joe’s checkout people).

An Apple, graphite on paper, 24" X 30"

I know you can’t just sign off of putting pressure on yourself. I still want to be successful as an artist. I still want to create beautiful things that are meaningful to other people. I still want to have an income that allows my parents not to worry about me, though I know they’ll do that anyway. But I have noticed that a lot of what I stress about is whether or not I am successfully becoming something. When I was in college, I put all my effort into becoming an agriculturalist. But I ended up not wanting to be an environmental scientist, despite my love of the outdoors. Then I tried becoming a pastry chef, and I actually succeeded and had a lot of fun, but I missed painting. So I crossed pastry chef off my list and set to work becoming a professional artist. I’m also not doing terribly on that front, but like I said…fat hamster. And it’s not like I’ve given up inquiring about nature or making desserts, despite having made some serious decision that I’m not the “something” associated with those activities.

When did I decide that I had to be one thing? I suppose it’s an attempt to get comfortable; I’ve been trying to settle on a career path so I can say, “I’m a this,” and have done with it. But identity is not like that. No matter how hard I try to figure myself out and call it a day, a self, a life well-lived before it’s done or even barely begun really, I’ll never get out of the task of working out how I feel and what I need, from moment-to-moment. Being human– it’s like this.

In every second there is all of this shifting around: what I love and what makes me happy; what I’m good at and what makes an income; what I find fascinating and what I want no part of, what I can contribute and what I’m willing to strive to be better at. Somewhere in there is a life lived, between now and when the gravestone hits the ground.

I’d like to stop trying to make myself “a something.” Perhaps instead I should make some one else a something. Like an apple wacky cupcake.

Recipe after the jump… Continue reading

Buckwheat Pancakes and Good News

Toward the Hills

When I was a kid I longed for snow. With passion, with ire. But I lived in Southern California, and so it never came. In the years that I was away from home I relished the changing of seasons each place I lived. White and pink blossoms of pear trees lining East Village streets. Yellowing cottonwood leaves along Arizona creeks. Snow on high rises and snow on mountainsides.

I woke up this morning and I thought, “It feels like autumn.” Slightly crisp air in a gray sky. A dense fog crept up last night to cradle the houses and streets. But in Santa Barbara, fog is no indication of season. It is merely a pleasant reminder that we live by the ocean; our fog is a marine layer– moisture that drifts in from the ocean to settle over the city and surrounding mountains. It can come any time of year, but is honestly most prevalent in the summer. How bout that?

Toward the Ocean. Check it out; you can see the pier through the trees!

Spring and autumn feel about the same. Winter is a touch colder and clearer. Summer spends the morning socked-in and usually toasts up nicely by afternoon. The drinking of hot chocolate and wearing of mittens are purely for ambiance at any time of year. It’s yet another sign of how subtle the seasons are that I’ve become nostalgic for autumn and winter in the springtime when I should be sick of the chill and waiting for sunshine. 🙂 I wanted to make pumpkin pancakes in my out-of-season confusion, but after wrestling a bit with my own obstinacy, I settled on buckwheat instead.

I ate them for lunch with my Dad, while we looked out the bay window at the fog, and talked about art and architecture (I’m an artist; he’s an architect) and maybe planting some lemon trees in the front yard. Even if it’s not autumn, I love the clear, grey light of outdoors and the way it contrasts with the warm amber of indoor light. On days like this, I feel taken care of by the world.

As we ate lunch, I mused over the contents of the table. Waffles to share with my papa and to post here, plus this: a short stack of postcards advertising an art opening next weekend. Buddha Abides: a juried show of work inspired by Buddhist themes and intended to raise money for children’s charities. And including a painting by this very artist. It’s true. I spent a good portion of this week conceptualizing and executing the painting, which I took to an in-gathering yesterday, and after biting my nails for two hours, I went back to discover it had been accepted. Yay!

Human Heart, Buddha Nature, acrylic on unprimed canvas, 20" x 16"

Pancake recipe after the jump… Continue reading

Chocolate-Covered Honeycomb and A Big, Dire Idea

I have simple desires. I want my life to be about sitting around, or wandering around, and noticing things, and being like, “Wow, this is beautiful.”

Lately, I spend all my time trying to create stuff. Stuff that’s “worth” something. Anything with enough emotional value that it will translate into pennies in my pocket. A girl’s gotta get by. And yet, I think I misunderstand that concept– what it means to make a living. Because I am alive, after all, and not starving nor out in the cold.

Measurements, ink on paper, 6 1/2" x 8"

I put so much weight into the attempt to make a living, to gain some kind of assurance toward future success and security, that I sort of miss out on just living. I get all kinds of anxious when I think about anything that I want to do for joy that might also “make me a living.” I become so worried about whether what I produce will be good enough to do that magical thing–make me a living; ensure my healthy, happy survival–that I choke and cease to be able to do anything joyful at all. Painting, writing, testing recipes, posting here–I am losing all the things I love to the big, dire idea of “making a living.”

An idea that’s not even real in the way I’ve devised it. The most we can do is have enough for now and some for later; pray for rain and vote for politicians who have at least a basic notion of economics. I cannot guarantee myself an apartment of my own within a year’s time or a house and twenty acres of woods within ten. I can strive for those things, certainly, but even if I do achieve them, they are still concepts of contentment and comfort that don’t take the place of looking around in any given moment and being like, “Wow, this is beautiful.”

I am doing my best to learn this and practice it. Right now, I am focusing on the beauty of imperfect, golden sugar crystals and smooth, dark chocolate. It’s good stuff. Crumbly and rich on the tongue, with a flavor that’s a bit like caramel with a hint of malt. You too can practice appreciating beauty through homemade candy…

Chocolate Covered Honeycomb Candy

Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan, which fills about eight goodie bags

1 cup white sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon baking soda, sifted

1 teaspoon barley malt syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups semi-sweet dark chocolate

Line a 9 x 13-inch pan with generously oiled parchment paper.

In a medium heavy bottom saucepan on medium heat, mix together the sugar, corn syrup and vinegar. Bring this mixture to a boil.

While the sugar is reaching a boil, whisk together the vanilla and malt syrup in a small bowl. This makes it easier to distribute into the cooked sugar later.

After the sugar syrup has come to a boil, continue heating it until it reaches 300˚ F, or hard crack stage, on a candy thermometer. Once it does, turn off the heat and quickly add the baking soda and the vanilla/malt syrup mix. It will start bubbling and foaming like mad when you add the baking soda. Don’t fret–this is what makes it all hole-y and light and tasty. Keep whisking until you don’t see any baking soda bits floating around, which should only take about a minute or two. Work quickly to avoid having the sugar syrup begin to set before you can get it in the pan. While it’s still hot and fluid, pour the sugar syrup into the pan. Let this set until it is completely cool, two-to-four hours. Don’t be sneaky and put it in the fridge to speed up cooling; it will get soggy. Sorry.

Once the honeycomb mixture has cooled completely, pull it out of the pan and break it into pieces. Choose how big based on the chocolate-to-honeycomb ratio you wish to achieve. I went for roughly inch-big chunks, and they were great.  Place these on a another sheet of oiled parchment.

If you are using bar chocolate, chop it into chunks. Put your chunks or chips into a double boiler on low heat and melt them. Turn off the heat when your chocolate still has a few chunks in it; as you whisk it will finish melting from residual heat in the pan, and this will prevent it from overheating and getting crystallized and funky later. Using chopsticks, a dipping fork, or whatever you have handy, drop each chunk of honeycomb in the melted chocolate. Turn it over and swirl it around until it is fully coated. Try to work quickly so the honeycomb doesn’t start to melt. Once it’s coated, tap it on the side of the pan a couple of  times to let any excess chocolate drip off and then replace it on the parchment paper. Continue until all your honey comb is coated. Let them cool in a dry place out of direct sunlight until the chocolate has set. This takes a couple hours in an average temperature room. These can be stored in a sealed container fairly indefinitely, though they generally get eaten within hours of being created. They make awesome gifts and care packages–homemade candy never fails to incite awe.

I Sold A Painting!

What more is there to say really? It feels awesome. I am grateful, I am relieved, and I am inspired.

My Hands, His Ribs, acrylic and ink on canvas, 16" x 20"

Do you ever meet some one, in a grocery store, at a party, wherever, and think, “You seem awesome. I would like to know you?” Several months ago, I made a friend like this. I was caught instantly by Erin’s mix of killer style, conspiratorial smile, and science nerd-dom swirled together with a love of art. Who wouldn’t fall for that? Then, just about a month ago, on one of my last days at the café she came in to visit and added that, hey by the way, “I’ve been saving up for a while to buy a piece of art, and I really liked your paintings. Think we could work something out?”

One of my paintings? You want to use your hard-earned, carefully-hoarded savings to bring something that I created into your life to keep? That’s affirmation for an artist.

After all, why do we paint really? I can’t speak for other artists, but I think that I paint for two reasons mostly: firstly because painting helps me makes sense of what I am feeling and give voice to my inner world, and also because I have a hope, perhaps even a conviction, that the clarity and expression I find in making a painting can also be shared with others through looking at and living with a painting. Having a person I like and admire choose to buy a piece of my work goes a long way towards building faith in that hope.

I did this piece back in November, when I was going through a lot of turmoil with one of my closest guy-friends. It was one of those situations where you’re both kind of doing that emotional tango of, “I know I love you, and I might be in love with you, or maybe I just know I could fall in love with you, and that might be a really good idea, but it also might be a really bad idea, and…aah.” It turned out to be…not a really bad idea, but definitely not the best idea. Not a workable idea. But in the process, and out of making this painting, I realized that no matter what happens to my love for some one– whether it gets confused or turned down or encouraged or not– feeling love for some one is a good thing. This painting is a picture of both that love and that understanding.

The Meaning of Space

For the last four days, my studio has been taken over by Katy Perry and carbamate-linked monomers. In addition to the usual array of things from my mother’s life as a glass and textile artist. By this, I mean that the exterior doors of our house are being refinished and two guys named Freddy and Sean are very politely rearranging all of my stuff and filling my workspace with polyurethane fumes mingled with their questionable taste in music. Unfortunately, I can’t just peace out because I’ve been put in charge of looking after them. When one lives at home and gets free range to occupy Mom’s art studio, one does what one can to pay dues. But still, there are seven exterior doors to the studio. I don’t want to be an ungrateful jerk because generally this means that in my great, free space, I get lots of sunlight (when it’s not nighttime, like in this picture) and an awesome view, but right now it also means…THEY MIGHT NEVER BE FINISHED. At least, it feels that way. Do I sound distressed?

DIstressed Flowers, ink on paper, 12" x 9"

The thing that really blows me away is how truly out-of-sorts this has rendered me. I feel like something has been taken from me. I feel like I’ve been besieged. My brain clatters around trying to simultaneously deal with the toxic smell, the unwanted sound, the weight of company, and the urgency of creation, but it can’t, so it explodes into a cloud of thoughts, sensations, and senseless sparks of idea until I find myself wandering from room to room trying to find a silent, clean space and not knowing what to do with myself.

Some one's Yggdrasil, colored pencil, watercolor, and ink on paper, 12" x 9"

I don’t want to exaggerate. I haven’t been rendered completely useless. I researched things! I sent e-mails to helpful people! I made lemon curd for my impending birthday cake, though I have not yet gathered myself enough to check in and reflect on how I feel about hitting another year mark of being in this world. BUT, I haven’t worked on any paintings. The most I managed to do was trundle back into the studio after it had been vacated to do a fairly arbitrary drawing inspired by Norse mythology and a still-life of some distressed-looking flowers I picked on an illicit walk around the block.

I’m still so discombobulated that I can’t even formulate a coherent conclusion to this narrative. Space matters! Some one please make these people leave me alone and stop making my house look nice so I can work. Have a great day. Don’t sniff paint. I speak from experience.

Keeping an Artist Alive, the Old-Fashioned Way– with Food.

Broken Kale Leaf, ink on paper, 7" x 10"

When I first started cooking lunch at the café, my chef taught me his prized soup recipe, which he created through reading and synthesizing the soup philosophies of several famous and groundbreaking chefs. It goes like this: roughly chop a bunch of vegetables, put the vegetables in the pot, cover with water, add a crap-ton of butter, simmer for an hour, blend, season to taste. From this basic premise, worlds unfold.

Since beginning the new routine of working in the studio during the day, I have discovered that cooking lunch is a bad idea. If I leave the studio right in the middle of the day and get all invested in what sounds good for lunch and what’s in the fridge and what I could whip up…well, lunch becomes a big affair that usually leads to extreme distraction from painting, which is not what I want! In the interest of allowing myself to really sink in and focus on making art during the day, I decided to make a big pot of soup, which I could simply pour into a bowl, heat up, and take to the studio with me. Distraction evaded!

This week’s lunch is a rich and garden-y mix of kale and cauliflower, fresh from the farmer’s market, my Saturday morning haunt. I added a few extra things the soup beyond its original butter and salt origins to give an extra full, complex flavor. I like this soup because it tastes like vegetables, but it also has a savory oomph that makes for a full meal. Though I don’t fault anyone who wants to eat it with slice of toasted honey wheat bread (I may or may not have done that…).

Cauliflower Kale Soup

Serves 8

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium purple onion

1/2 pound kale

1/2 head of cauliflower

1 large clove of garlic

2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons of salt

1/4 cup salted butter (1/2 stick)

1/4 cup heavy cream

Roughly dice the onion. Pour the oil into a heated soup pot. Add the onion and cook until lightly browned. Remove the pot from the heat. Roughly chop the kale and cauliflower. Add these to the onions in the pot. Fill the pot with water until the vegetables are submerged. Bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for an hour.

Using a ladle, scoop the vegetables into a blender with enough liquid to blend them. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. You may have to blend the vegetables in two batches. If so, just whisk the batches together fervently so that the seasonings become evenly distributed. If you so desire, top with a dollop or Greek yogurt and some freshly cracked pepper.