I am haunted…by the memory of a buttery bread filled with dried fruit and almond paste… a Czech Christmas tradition made by my Grandmother who refused to write her recipes down. “Come and watch me make them, and write them down yourself, ” she said. But I lived in Nashville and she lived in Iowa…and I was not able to visit until it was too late… I started baking bread when I moved into my first apartment in college. Armed with the book, Bake Your Own Bread by Floss and Stan Dworkin (a gift from my mother), I worked my way through all the recipes. My boyfriend was a potter and made a beautiful bread bowl so I could mix, rise and knead all in one compact space — perfect for apartment bread baking (and a method I still use today…although that bowl and the boyfriend are long gone…) And it was then that I started to experiment with recreating my grandmother’s holiday bread. It has gone through many iterations. Sometimes I put the sultanas and apricots in the dough and sometimes they are part of the filling. It tried making my own almond paste(lots of work) and once used marzipan (expensive and stiff)… Currently, I make a butter dough, not too different from a challah dough and incorporate sultanas (aka golden raisins) and chopped apricots in the dough. Then I make a flat rectangle and spread almond paste across it, and roll up before placing it in a baking pan. Once it has risen and baked, it emerges from the pan a glorious golden wonder…fragrant, buttery, fruity and sweet. It makes divine French toast. If it lasts that long! Download your illustrated copy of my Czech Inspired Holiday Bread
Holidays in the time of CoVid-19… no family visits, no cookie exchanges, no caroling…(although I might try going around our neighborhood with the ukulele as the Masked Caroler…) We put up a tiny tree on the dining room table with Christmas cards underneath. And put lights in the windows and poinsettias on the porch. It’s actually our first Christmas spent in our house; we usually visit family back East during this time. But there is still baking…In fact, there is more baking than usual. Because this year we are staying at home instead of traveling to visit the in-laws, I had to do something so I got more creative with the baking. First, I made a batch of gingerbread cookies… but not just any gingerbread cookies… ancient archaeological tablets of gingerbread…. Inspired by a blog post on Tavola Mediterranea I used her recipe, but tripled the ginger amount and found an Acadian cuneiform alphabet on Google. My husband and I had fun creating fun little messages in cuneiform (using the edges of chopsticks as wedges – Farrell is a genius!) They were a blast to make and fun to eat as well. Deciphering the messages added to the fun. Then, I pulled out my Mom’s Plum Pudding recipe and decided to give it a try… Dr. P’s original Plum Pudding Recipe It is a fairly traditional plum pudding and I remember Mom making it in the late 70s. I would find old pineapple juice cans hidden in the pantry filled with a wonderfully spicy-smelling dark substance that I wasn’t allowed to touch…. she made her puddings in September and let them age until Christmas, then gave them to her colleagues and neighbors as gifts of the season…but then, one year, she discovered Pillsbury Quick Breads…and she never made another
“We must have a pie. Stress cannot exist in the presence of a pie.”― David Mamet, Boston Marriage It’s been a stressful time. The contentious election, the uncertainty in the aftermath, the rising coronavirus cases. Plans made. Plans unmade. I’ve had a hard time getting focused and being creative these past few weeks…it feels like a year! But when the going gets tough, there’s nothing better than taking the advice of the Victorian ladies in Mamet’s play…..and have pie. Since it is close to Thanksgiving, I will share my favorite Pumpkin Pie Recipe… Pumpkin pie goes great with Lychee Sherbet (find it at your local Asian store) Natasha’s Pumpkin Pie 1 15oz can pureed pumpkin 1-1/2 cups Coconut milk 3/4 cup white sugar 1/2 tsp salt 1 tbl pumpkin pie spice 1/4 tsp cinnamon 1/4 tsp ground ginger 1 grating nutmeg (or 1/8 tsp) 2 large eggs 1 unbaked pie shell (you can use any crust recipe you like. I prefer to use refrigerated pie dough that you roll out and put in your own pie pan. But pre-fab frozen ones work and making from scratch always works! Put pumpkin in a bowl or large measuring cup. Add sugar and spices and mix well. Add coconut milk (you can substitute 1 can evaporated milk if you like… that was the original ingredient until my Mother became lactose intolerant then we switched to coconut milk and make hers without a crust.) Add the eggs and mix well. Pour into pie shell. Bake at 325F for 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for about 1 hour or longer. Can also be refrigerated before serving… but we never wait that long! Chase Away the Blues -Blueberry Pie This is one of my favorites
This has been an interesting time… the pandemic has kept us mostly at home… so instead of doing what I normally do during the summer months (travelling across the county to present henna programs to local libraries), I have been in the backyard, watching birds, bees and butterflies. We planted wildflowers to encourage the butterflies and were thrilled to see our first Monarch caterpillars in the spring…but we didn’t see any butterflies… Some sleuthing online brought the dangers caterpillars face to light…birds, lizards, beetles, parasites… so, we decided to rescue some caterpillars and raise them indoors to increase their chances of making it to adulthood. We found a very tiny caterpillar and put it in a container with a clean paper towel and some washed leaves and watched it grow. (We washed the leaves with a 5% bleach solution to kill any fungus, bacteria or other parasites, as recommended by many Monarch rearing information sites) And the little caterpillar ate… and grew…. And ate and ate…we were glad we had lots of milkweed…and even went to the Nursery to buy more! And then one day, we woke up and there wasn’t a caterpillar in the container…but a beautiful celadon chrysalis! Then we waited for 2 weeks…. And saw the chrysalis grow transparent. We knew our baby was getting ready to emerge (or “eclose” in technical butterfly language) Something was attached to her wing and had caused it to be deformed…. My husband prodded it with a toothpick and this larval-looking thing fell off! It looked just like a tachinid fly larvae….we had experienced them bursting from newly pupated chrysalises like horrible aliens… could this little butterfly have killed the larvae while in the chrysalis? No one knows. No one is actually sure what it is. We took Xena (I named
Meet Max. He loves to hide under his favorite blanket and attack anything that tries to move in front of him. It’s hard to believe that he was once a shy kitten rescued with his “sister” from the San Diego Humane Society. Now he is king of the household, photobombing his person’s Zoom concerts and keeping tabs on the finches that nest under the eaves… This portrait incorporates printed information about ragdoll cats, paper made from collected fur, folk songs about cats and other fun stuff. The whiskers were made from napkins. Everything was glued onto a cradled wooden panel which has a wire on the back for hanging. It is 12 inches by 12 inches. This collage painting not only got into the juried online art show, 2020 Reigning Cats and Dogs, it won Honorable Mention! This little kitty has come a long way indeed! Viewable from SEPTEMBER 5, 2020 THROUGH SEPTEMBER 4, 2021. Click here to see the show!
As an anniversary treat, my husband and I spent our special day at the San Diego Botanic Garden (a must-visit if you are in the area) and then stopped off at the Butterfly Farms just down the road. I took a ton of photos that day, but one that jumped out as something I HAD to paint was this Western Tiger Swallowtail on a red Pentas Flower plant. It started with laying in a ground layer of ephmera. I sponged deep purple and dark blue over the ephemera, then sketched the flowers in white chalk. I painted the whole plant with white gesso, then started adding color to the leaves. Then I colored in the flowers, noting that each petal is a triangle. Then I started adding in painted paper glued onto the leaves and stems. Then I started ripping petal pieces for each flower, careful to have a variety of shades of red. I figured there were more than 70 flowers with 5 petals each…that was a lot of ripping during our evening Dr. Who… This is a closeup of the flowers and how the petals are arranged. Finally, the flowers were completed! I painted a butterfly onto a piece of paper, cut it out and tried various options. I rearranged the butterfly several times before I found the right orientation. This was the version that most people on Facebook voted for. After deciding where to place the butterfly, I started gluing on the paper bits. And the piece is finally finished! This was a very fun piece to do. I am very fond of Swallowtail butterflies and the pentas flowers were a really fun challenge. Using a cut-out of the butterfly element really gave me a chance to try out placement to see what worked best. In the