A New Tangent

food dyed woodIt’s been a few millennia, at least in computer years, since I last posted. I’m sure you are wondering what I’ve been up to, why I haven’t been sharing photos, recipes, etc. The truth is I’ve been off on a spectacularly long tangent, possibly branching off to another tree entirely.

The things I am making now are meant to be savored and chewed over, but not swallowed. For the last year I’ve been writing poetry, and turning my poems into visual works of art. I’ve wanted to share, but wondered whether I should start a new blog all together.

But I’m still very fond of kitchentangents, and since much of my art is done in the kitchen, as the sunniest, most spacious room in my house, I think it is still relevant to this sharing space. It might even embody the very essence of kitchentangents!

Leaping from branch to branch can be a bit scary, so I’ll start us off slowly with something familiar, a recipe. However, it’s a recipe for something to play with, not eat.

I’ve adapted it from eHow’s How to Use Food Coloring to Dye Clothes. It’s a nice way to add color to toys and projects for kids because it’s non-toxic. After I adapted the recipe, I noticed they do have a how to for dying wood that does not involve boiling, but I’m not sure it results in such lovely, intense colors. If you try either method, let me know!

Using Food Coloring to Dye Untreated Wood:
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons vinegar
Food coloring
Light colored, untreated wood such as popsicle sticks, toothpicks, wooden ornaments, toys, small frames, or any sort of raw wood remnants

1)   Mix just the water and vinegar in a non-porous bowl such as stainless steel or glass.

2)   Add wood items to the mixture and soak for 30 minutes. Weigh them down with something if they float.

3)   After soaking, remove wood items. Add food coloring until the water is a few shades darker than the color you want. If you are dying small items, or if you want multiple colors, divide the vinegar water into smaller portions before adding colors. Don’t use too small of an amount though since it will be simmering for a while.

4)   Put wood items and color water into a saucepan on the stove top and turn heat to Medium. When it starts to simmer, turn heat down to Medium Low. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.coloring wood with food dye

5)   Turn off heat and let cool to room temperature. If you want more intense colors, let it soak overnight. They will be lighter once they dry.

6) To mix colors, you don’t have to go through the whole routine again. Just take the pieces that soaked overnight and add them to another color for a few minutes. It doesn’t take any time while it’s still wet.

7)   Once cooled, rinse until water runs clear. Dry on a paper towel on a non-staining surface. Dry completely before using.food coloring tie dye

I just love the pretty colors.

food dyed wood ends

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Jottings Inspired by “Imagine: How Creativity Works”

A good book satisfies the same spot in our middles as a good cup of tea.

I believe the urge to create is just as strong, if not stronger than even the urge to eat sometimes. I have been called the “creative type,” but Jonah Lehrer shows in his book Imagine: How Creativity Works, there is no such thing.

We all have the capacity, and more importantly, the desire to create. The question is, are we answering that call? Are we nurturing ourselves by filling this need? Whether we are or not, Lehrer shows us how we can do it better.

The pages of this book hold beautifully written real-world examples of people and companies that have learned to foster creativity. Lehrer offers insight not only into how our mysteriously malleable brains work, but how we can develop our environment and follow our own rhythms to a higher art.

These are just a few hand-pickings by the chapter-full.

Chapter One: Bob Dylan’s Brain & Chapter Two: Alpha Waves (Condition Blue)

The frustration that arises when trying to find a new way to describe the color of a sunset, or the dull black of a moonless night is a good thing. It’s an important, though very difficult and annoying part of the creative process. The truth is, our brains thrive on challenge.

What to do when you’ve hit the wall? Take a few steps back, and allow for a different view so you can find a new way to climb.

Pick a meditative activity and let your mind wander. Garden. Have a cup of tea. Go for a walk. The answer will come when you relax and stop beating yourself over the head trying to force it out.

Here’s another hint: the color blue gives the illusion of space, and actually inspires creativity. I plan to paint the wall behind my art table a bright sky blue.

Chapter Three: The Unconcealing

Some insights, unlike the wall scenario, emerge slowly with persistence. There are times when you know if you keep your butt in the chair, the answers will come. As Lehrer says, “A good poem is never easy. It must be pulled out of us, like a splinter.”

I think this speaks more to the editing process. You’ve had your big idea, now you just need to chip away the rough parts and polish it to a high gloss. Sometimes, this work feels like a weed wending it’s way through hairline cracks in cement toward the sun. It doesn’t always feel plausible, but if you stick with it, you know it can be done.

Chapter Four: Letting Go

One of the biggest challenges we face in breaking through clichés to produce something fresh is finding a way to bypass the filter in our brain that keeps us from farting at dinner parties. Self-control keeps us from embarrassing ourselves, but it also inhibits creative improvisation.

One way to overcome this is to pretend you are a little kid again. Stop worrying about truth, common sense, or logic. Let yourself go. So what if the trees are pink and the sky is green? Play!

Chapter Five: The Outsider

Interestingly, creativity does not increase with experience. In some cases, knowledge can even cripple. A study discussed in Imagine finds the ideal level of education in creative fields is two years of undergrad. It seems once we’ve put on the magician’s hat and learned to pull the Ace of Spades out of our own sleeves, our brains have the tendency to just sit back and enjoy the show.

The secret is to continually seek new challenges. Our thoughts are shackled by the familiar. Travel. Seek mystery. When you start considering your art strictly as “work,” it may be time to find a new game to play.

Chapter Six: The Power of Q

Another way to encourage innovation is through collaboration. When you get the right mix of rookies and old talent sparks can fly, particularly if the group is comfortable with challenging each other’s ideas. There’s nothing like a little criticism to get you riled up, ignite the fire, and push you to refine your vision.

Chapter 7: Urban Friction

New ideas come from connecting seemingly unrelated ideas. It makes sense that the creative process accelerates in cities where random experiences and people are jostled together more frequently than they would if they lived miles away from their nearest neighbor. This explains the innovative success of companies like 3M that not only encourage the interaction and sharing of ideas amongst their employees, they require it.

While some people worry that social media puts a screen between you and the people around you, if used properly (as in not at the dinner table) it also increases face-to-face interactions. Groups are more easily organized. It’s probably happened to you; you notice a friend on a social networking site will be in town and arrange to meet up with them. Without social media, you probably would never have known they were in the area.

The more interactions between people, the more random connections are made…which morph into ideas, and when circulated, ideas can become even better.

According to a study in Imagine, there is actually a correlation between walking speed and the production of patents. Cities with unusually fast pedestrians come up with more ideas (think NYC).

Chapter 8: The Shakespeare Paradox

Innovation inspires innovation. Education, the sharing of ideas, willingness to take risks, these are a few areas Lehrer points out that we need to improve on if we want to foster a new generation of genius, and genius is no small commodity in this ever-shrinking world’s market.

Curiosity is a fragile thing. If we don’t nurture it, genius cannot bloom.

Lehrer tells us, “Unless we encourage young inventors with the same fervor that we encourage young football stars, we’ll never be able to find the solutions that we so desperately need.”

The good news is, Shakespeare did not need Cambridge, or Oxford. He did not have the college education of his contemporaries, and yet he surpassed them. What he did have was a bookstore full of ideas worth stealing, freedom from fear of censorship, and time.

One can only imagine what new ideas will sprout in this, the Age of endless Information free at the touch of a button.

Thank you Jonah Lehrer, for collecting and sharing these wonderful stories and ideas. Formally at Wired.com, he recently accepted a staff position at the New Yorker and blogs at: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/frontal-cortex

Here’s a few more blog spots and posts that have recently inspired me:

http://www.brainpickings.org/

http://theunquietlibrarian.wordpress.com/2012/06/28/makerspaces-participatory-learning-and-libraries/

What do you do to nurture your creativity?

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Metaphors of Motherhood

Shel Silverstein’s, “The Giving Tree” is the ultimate metaphor for the loving sacrifices of motherhood. I never understood the incredible balancing act carried on by mothers every single day until I became one myself.

It’s funny, I’ve been a mother for over eight and a half years, and I still don’t really think of Mother’s Day as a holiday for me. I still think of my mom on Mother’s Day.

Motherhood is nothing if not sentimental. These spiky red blooming trees remind me of my mom’s mom because there was one near her home. As a child they seemed so exotic, I had never seen one anywhere else. This one grows right outside my office, so my grandma says hi to me every day.

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Preparing to greet me…

To celebrate all of us moms, this is my meditation on the wonders of motherhood.

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Wonder

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Play is both learning and learned. Children remind us to play.

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It smells like chocolate.

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Food is love.

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Art is everywhere, as it should be.

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We are all a little nuts, and that’s okay.

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Tears are happy, sad, glad, and mad.

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A little patience goes a long way.

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Mothers are always behind

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fading into the background.

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Stolen moments are sweet too, and make better mothers.

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Gratitude is awe.

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There really is such a thing as buried treasure.

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For all mothers everywhere, Happy Mother’s Day.

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Farmer’s Market Chronicles – Again At Last

It is difficult to put into words why the farmer’s market makes me so absurdly happy. I arrive on my lunch hour feeling like this

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buy some of this

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Break it. Break another little piece of my heart now baby. Go on, break it. Break another little piece of my heart I know you will.

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sit on a bench as waves drift by

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and by

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and by

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under blanketed sky

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Filed under Culinary Travels, Obsessed with Produce

April’s Promise

Winter’s jagged edge softens

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Spring brings sweet release

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Summer is a promise of yellow days

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Fallen petals drift like unmelted snow

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You may not want to hug the bug on your plate, but embrace it nonetheless

… Several years ago, in a reputable Thai fusion place not far away …

Halfway through dinner one evening I was appalled to find an inchworm doing its cute little humpbacked crawl through my noodle salad. The waiter was not sympathetic. “Our produce is all organic,” he sniffed.

I’m not particularly squeamish. I grew up a small town farm girl, and always tell my girls, “Dirt don’t hurt.”

I’m also a firm believer in the many benefits of organic produce, but that doesn’t excuse skimping on washing before service. When I insisted on a refund he just shrugged and took my plate away. Only half my meal was comped, and I walked out hungry after eating half of a worm’s playground. I hoped he wasn’t missing any friends.

The little incher wasn’t as big and hairy as this guy from the pumpkin patch last fall, but still. That was my first, and last time at this unnamed Sacramento restaurant.

… Flash forward, but not too far, to last week on my living room couch …

I read an article by Harold McGee in Issue 3 of “Lucky Peach” talking about “Handling Herbs.” Spanking mint as opposed to muddling it for mojitos to ‘liberate its minty essence without over-damaging the cells and eliciting a vegetal quality’ was a surprising tip, but I was most intrigued by his discussion of how bugs can make organic produce healthier and even taste better.

Maybe that’s why my backyard sage is so wonderful…

According to McGee, the flavors of herbs and spices come from the chemicals they make and store for chemical warfare against bugs, animals, and microbes. You wouldn’t munch on a cinnamon stick because it doesn’t taste good on its own, but if you simmer apple cider with whole cloves and cinnamon sticks, the resulting infusion is autumn comfort in a cup.

Thus, if a plant is damaged by pest invasion, that sends a message to boost its chemical defenses (aka antioxidants, aka flavor). McGee suggests reconsidering buying the less-than-pretty bug-eaten produce at the farmer’s market as it may be tastier and healthier than it’s more presentable neighbors. (!)

I’ve often heard food is only as good as the soil it’s grown in, but this was the first I’d heard that bugs can actually improve a plant’s nutrients and flavor. I guess it’s true for people and plants alike; whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

… And then, at a restaurant recently nominated for a James Beard award …

I had my second meet and greet with an unexpected critter in a restaurant setting. A few minutes upon arrival, while admiring the trays of artfully laid black trumpet mushrooms, locally grown oranges, key limes, and Persian cucumbers, I spotted a tiny mite-like thing crawling near my place setting. I wasn’t offended, but I didn’t really want to share my dinner with him, so I asked my husband to “get it.” He brushed his thumb over it, leaving a dark brown paint stroke on the white linen. I didn’t bother mentioning it to the waiter, and the entire meal was unforgettably decadent.

… Checking out the rearview …

I doubt that Thai-fusion waiter was up on his McGee so many years ago, but maybe I’ll reconsider my boycott. I’m can’t say I’m ready to slurp a scorpion lollipop like these insect treats we discovered at Pismo Beach last summer, but maybe it’s not such a bad sign if a healthy critter hops on my plate.

What do you think?

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Filed under Cookbooks and other Book Reviews, Obsessed with Produce, Techniques

10 Reasons to Rediscover Cauliflower

Yes, I think the cauliflower would creep quietly in. Its chaste, slightly coy presence makes this a vegetable that would never shout its qualities. ~Nigel Slater, Tender Greens

I’ve never heard anyone shouting from the rooftops about their endless love for cauliflower. Nor does it have the detestable reputation of brussels sprouts, lima beans, and the like. I don’t remember having much of an opinion at all about cauliflower, until I began my quest to increase the ratio of produce on my plate.

Guilt began creeping in whenever I would indulge in making my all-time favorite comfort food, homemade macaroni & cheese. At some point the idea of vegetables and cheesy, bubbly goodness merged (long before I ever considered this dilema.) Cauliflower, I remembered, is commonly coated in cheese sauce. I began substituting part of the pasta with chunks of steamed cauliflower. When I went on my gluten-free streak, I departed from pasta all together.

The funny thing is, I found I actually liked it. Yes, there will always be a special place in my heart for a big bowl of noodles. But whenever I replace a processed food with a vegetable, it makes the dish seem so much more a-live. A little sweet, a little nutty, a nicely cooked piece of cauliflower is a beautiful thing.

Here are my top ten reasons why this underappreciated, white-headed stepchild is worth a second look:

1)    Even though it’s not a dark leafy green, cauliflower is healthier than you might expect.

Whole Foods adopted Dr. Fuhrman’s ANDI scoring system to help shoppers make healthier choices. Their website has listings of these scores. Anything below 50 is considered not-so healthy. Kale, mustard and collard greens score 1,000, the highest possible. Cauliflower scores 295, which is higher than tomatoes, butternut squash, and any of the top listed beans, fruit, nuts and seeds, or whole grains.

2) Cauliflower is relatively cheap.

Prices range anywhere from $1-2 a pound, or even less depending on season and availability.

3) It’s available almost year round, and not just because of cold storage.

It is known as more of a cool weather vegetable, but varieties of cauliflower are in season all year long, except July and August.

It’s best to buy it whole. Curds should be tight, and even if you don’t eat the leaves they tell the story of how long it’s been since harvest.

4) It’s easy to grow in most climates.

Cauliflower can be grown in the winter in mild climates, and in spring and autumn in cooler areas. It will withstand light freezing. (For this information I consulted “The Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide.” It has brief, but handy little descriptions for growing most herb and vegetables.)

I planted my very first “cheddar” cauliflower this last fall. It wintered nicely, and is now engaged in some interesting sprouting activities.

5) There are some interesting varieties to explore.

Besides plain old white, other colors that occur in nature (not dyed!), include green, purple, and orange. I don’t notice any major difference in flavor, although reportedly these other varieties don’t have as much of the bitterness that can be present in the standard white. (Personally I think that may have more to do with freshness.)

Nutritionally speaking, orange cauliflower has 25 times the level of vitamin A, and the purple in cauliflower is caused by the same anti-oxidants found in purple cabbage and red wine (according to wiki).

Green, turreted Romanesco was clearly cultivated beneath the red clouds of Mars. This is probably my favorite variety, just because of it’s dramatic, unearthly presence. Oh, and it tastes good too. This beauty came in my FFTY CSA box.

6) Cauliflower cooks with little fuss or fanfare.

Cut into 1” pieces and steam for about 7 minutes (in a large, covered bowl with a little water in the microwave, stirring frequently) then season or add a flavorful sauce. Or, sauté bite-sized pieces for 6-7 minutes over medium heat in a little butter or olive oil till the florets begin to brown, then braise- add a small amount of flavorful liquid and cover for a few more minutes till tender.

7) It is quite versatile, culinarily speaking.

Not sure what to do with it? Recipes abound! Puree it (the better to sneak more veggies into your unsuspecting kids’ dinners because of its neutral color and flavor, my dear!) Roasted, pickled, sautéed, gratin-ed, raw, etc. So many possibilities, so little time.

And of course, cauliflower is a good replacement for pasta – this vegetable is made for cheese sauce. (Check out my gluten-free, dairy-free cauliflower gratin here.)

8) We all need to eat more vegetables anyway.

Michael Pollon said it most succinctly: Eat (real) Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. ‘Nuff said.

9) It’s highly photogenic.

Even from the back.

10) Why does there always have to be 10? Ok, fine. Here’s my latest cauliflower recipe for you to sample:

Simple Curried Cauliflower

Ingredients:

1 head cauliflower, any color
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garam masala
½ tsp paprika
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ cup water, or so
salt to taste

Directions:

1)    Heat oil in a large skillet to medium high heat. While the pan is heating, trim off stem and cut cauliflower into bite-sized pieces.

2)    When the oil is hot but not smoking, add garlic. Cook just till garlic begins to brown, then add cauliflower.

3)    Sautee cauliflower for about 5 minutes, stirring often. Add water, and cover till cauliflower is tender and water is mostly gone. Add a little more water if necessary to achieve desired toothsome-ness.

4)    Season with garam masala, paprika, and salt to taste. Finish with red wine vinegar and remove from heat. Serve warm.

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