Monday, February 28, 2011

What do Italy and tex-mex have in common?

OK, before I answer that, here's a photo of the Christmas present I made for my husband.
Christmas Quilt a la Jinny Beyer
  I have no idea how I managed to keep it a secret from him, but I did, and boy, was he surprised!  This isn't my usual style of quilt, and he thought I would never make it for him.....   We almost didn't get it back in one piece, though!  I usually send my machine quilting out to a lovely woman in Utah, and have never had any problem with the mail.  Last week, we were rushing out to the airport (in a snowstorm) for a short vacation in Florida when I happened to notice a box sitting in the street by our mailbox.  UPS knows to bring all packages to our door (we have a long driveway), but this must have been a new driver.  Can you imagine how horrified I was to realize that the box sitting in the snow (did you hear?  in the snow!... in the street!) was my quilt -- and we were about to leave for a week!  The hardest thing after rescuing it was not opening the box until we returned home.

Now, what do Italy and tex-mex have in common?  ... A fabulous recipe.  We lived in Italy many years ago, and I learned to make a true Bolognese sauce -- something that takes time and care, and when made properly, is absolutely sublime.  On the other hand, I've always loved a good chili, but couldn't figure out how to make one that lived up to my imagination.  A few weeks ago, I started thinking about this gaping hole in my culinary repertoire while I was making a Bolognese sauce, and was instantly struck by how similar they really are, except for the seasonings.  So I fiddled with my spices and changed direction mid-way through the cooking... instant (well, not so instant as you will see) chili!  Not only did this chili make me happy, it also made the notoriously difficult eaters in my family happy, too (and they've asked for it regularly ever since).  Here's the recipe:

1 or 2 carrots, diced
1 or 2 stalks of celery, diced
1 lg. onion, diced
1.5 lb. angus 85% lean ground beef
1.5 lb. ground pork
1/3 lb. pancetta, diced finely
milk, about 1/2 cup
3 Tb best quality chili powder, or ground ancho chilis to taste (add oregano and cumin if your chili powder doesn't include them)
3 bay leaves
5 or 6 large cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers (add more for more heat - or use Frank's hot chili sauce at table, to taste)
1 green pepper, 1 red pepper, cut in large chunks
1 small can tomato paste
2 small cans diced tomatoes in liquid
pinto beans to taste (I am the only bean lover in my family, so I use one can, which I serve on the side.)
Saute onions, carrots, celery in butter or olive oil until translucent.  Add pancetta and continue to saute for a minute or so.  Add pork and ground beef and mix together with the aromatics over medium heat until well incorporated.  When the meat has lost all pinkness but is not browned, add milk and cover.  Simmer over low heat for 2 hours, stirring every half hour.  (I have an AGA cooker, so I just pop it into the simmering oven, but this could probably be done in a crock pot, too.)  After 2 hours, add the peppers, garlic, tomato paste, seasonings, canned tomatoes, and pinto beans (if using) and continue to cook for at least another hour, stirring occasionally.  Serve with grated cheddar cheese and fresh bread..... heaven.

(By the way, if you want to make an authentic Bolognese sauce, substitute Italian sausage removed from its casing for the ground pork, substitute ground veal for the ground beef, do not include any spices, peppers, or canned tomatoes -- use only the tomato paste.  Just make sure it cooks long and slow, and serve over your favorite pasta.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

If you have twenty minutes to spare, this can change your life

I came across this marvelous talk while surfing the web.  It speaks to the importance of embracing your vulnerabilities, because being open to your imperfections makes you truly human.  It takes courage to be imperfect, because there are no guaranteed outcomes, but it is also the only path to happiness and joy.  So, if you have 20 minutes, I urge you to watch this!

Funny, this whole issue of opening up to my imperfections was something I was thinking about when I made this piece:
...and then to find it so eloquently stated in the video!  It seems as though the universe is telling me I'm on to something.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Visual Journaling 1-A

Today was devoted to my journal(s).  I have 7 going right now, all different sizes and purposes.  I am still new to the visual journaling world, but am diving right in, learning as I go.  This was the theme of my day:
This was my day!
The next two pictures are for the February Sketchbook Challenge.  The theme is "opposites," and I have been having a hard time with this one.
The next page is a little more obviously "opposite":
I'll keep thinking about this.

On the other hand, thinking doesn't get anything down on paper, and I think the whole idea of the sketchbook challenge is to get people drawing in their sketchbooks.  .....OK, I have my marching orders.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Another day of soy wax batik!

I played with the wax pot all day today.  I am getting better at keeping it under control and not dripping wax all over the place.  While my samples today still look like a big mess, I have a better sense of what kind of designs I like, and what works and what doesn't.  I think I'd like to try this process with thickened dyes instead of paint, because the paint colors aren't as intense as I'd like, but I'll have to read up on that a bit more first...AND wait for more soy wax to arrive in the mail!
more soy wax batik 3
more soy wax batik 2
more soy wax batik 1

Monday, February 14, 2011

A wonderful workshop with Melanie Testa

I went to the City Quilter in NYC on Saturday for an inspiring day with Melanie Testa, learning the basics of batik using fabric paints and soy wax.  It was kind of like making Ukrainian Easter eggs (something my children did in Elementary school).  You approach your design backwards -- in other words, you start with the lightest color, cover it with wax, and add more layers of color on top.  Everything looks like a giant mess until you iron away the wax to reveal beauty underneath.... (or not, as the case may be!)  The tricky part is getting the wax to drip off the mark-making tools evenly and consistently.  It is definitely a learning process, but the technique is one that appeals to me, so I have a feeling I'll be doing more of this.
soy wax batik samples 1
soy wax batik samples 2
soy wax batik samples 3

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Oh darn....

I've been playing with water-soluble fabric, and making lacy structures on the sewing machine, which can then be used as a base for interesting textures.  Using what is essentially a darning stitch, I can see all kinds of possibilities to play with!  Here, I've needle-felted the "weaving" onto a base of RIT-dyed batting and wool roving.

Monday, February 7, 2011

if it's not one thing, it's another....

I now know why it was so hard for me to keep a blog in the past.  I simply can't be one of those wonderful artists who can write about their creative process every single day.  "Life" always seems to creep in there for me.  It's not that I don't get anything done, either.  I do, but because I have so many projects going simultaneously, and because I work on them in 10 minute increments in between other things, it seems as though everything in my world just takes a very long time.

I did get a few things done over the last few days:  Here's a needle felted sewing kit (the applique is RIT-dyed batting).
I finished this image of the madonna and child.  It was fun to do -- I printed a photo I took of a medieval painting (from the Loreto Museum in Prague) onto a piece of interfacing, and used the printed image to guide the sewing machine needle as I free-style machine embroidered it.

Finally, I have been trying to finish the quilt I am hand quilting.  This has been a long project... some three years so far, and I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Here's the second-to-last block:
I have to say, I do love my own creative process, even if it does take a long time.... Or maybe it's because it takes a long time?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Yet another snow day....

Today was lovely.  The snow turned to ice by mid-morning and coated the entire world with silver.  Good thing I didn't have to go out in it!  I played at my sewing machine all day, and will show you what I did tomorrow.  For now, husband is back from his Italian business trip and brought me this photo:
The quilt I made last spring for the Johns Hopkins University's SAIS Bologna Center is up on the wall in the Director's office!  I think it looks great!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Snow Day

It's another snow day... the eighth this year, I think I heard.  I generally like them because they have the energy of a freebie -- a day free to play.  Not today, though.  My youngest daughter is active in her high school's theatre program... so I am too, and today was spent sewing fringe on a 1920's flapper wedding dress....  

The good news is, I ran out of fringe, so the rest of the day is for playing!  (Although there is that quilt I've been hand-finishing for the last three years, staring me in the face....)