Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A DC Year in Review, 2013

Click to enlarge!

2013 was another fun year on this blog! No overseas trips to write about, but we did have a nice trip to Martha's Vineyard in August. Of course I always find beauty on this beautiful North Shore of Boston that I live on, as well as in my own back yard. As in previous years readers popped in from all over the globe, especially from the USA, and second in rank for the second year in a row was Russia, which always surprises me! Visitors have been from China, the UK, Canada, Italy, Dubai, The United Arab Emirates, Germany, France, Australia, Oman, South Africa, India, the Ukraine, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Turkey, Mexico, Belgium, Switzerland, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Ghana, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Latvia, Greece, Ireland, Japan, Iraq, Romania, Bulgaria, Egypt, the Czech Republic and the Republic of Moldova. Thank you all for stopping by!!
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Many adventurous cooks out there visited my pine needle smoked mussels post... did you cook them yourselves and how did you like them? My smokey tomato soup post, which was published on Tastespotting.com is ever popular. Healthy food posts like salads, especially my orange sesame kale salad and my carpaccio beet root salad were very popular this year—kale is so very zeitgeist! My Grilled peaches and burrata post was very popular, and all of you party people seemed to like my Saturday Sippers posts which spotlighted a different cocktail over the summer months. Two drinks in particular—the Nick and Nora martini and the The Johnny Appleseedwere super hot. Maybe I'll have to do the drinks again next summer… hmmm?

Artists, my Bernini's Apollo and Daphne post in September of 2012 still gets lots and lots of visits. That sculpture is very well known and admired. And of course the Rhinoceros in art post brings back readers time and time again, and in that vein I made a Mermaid in Art post collection that's very popular with readers. My Stealing from the peacock post from previous years is ever popular… I love those green and blue colors too. And a few of my own art work posts got visits from many Pinterest people, such as my Bird's Nest and Fiery Path paintings. Finally, my Falling for Fornasetti post has been crazy popular!

Olivia De Havilland from my Gorgeous portraits series still receives the most visits of all the gorgeous portraits I've posted on… even more than Peter O'Toole, who just recently died and was quite famous himself. 

Garden enthusiasts still loyally read about the Foo dogs from our very own garden, and misc. other garden posts are regularly hit upon as well. Nice to know folks like getting their hands dirty as much as I do.

Movie buffs, you all seem to love my Vertical Viewing posts, where I talk about several different versions of the same story. My Shakespeare's Tempest post from 2011 still generates the mosts hits. Russian Ark, A Walk Through Russian History, remains very revered.

I could go on but I'll stop. Oh, one last mention… My pink Hérmes scarf post from 2011 is (surprisingly) still must visited post—who doesn't love Hermés? 

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Thanks again for visiting the DC blog throughout the year, and be well!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

A crush of orange

Orange Marsh  8 x 10  

When my mom first saw this new work—a body of water slicing through a brilliant orange salt marsh—she had no idea what it was, but she loved the colors anyway. I'm ok with that. I actually like when impressionist paintings border on abstraction, or at least mystery. I told her to squint and pretend there was a horizon line and a sky above, and she got it. Below is a peek at the painting in progress, from the initial rough sketch, to the finished canvas. As always, the painting is available for sale. Write to me about pricing if you are interested in purchasing.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Bird's nest

Bird's Nest  8 x 10  

A beautiful bird's nest that I found in our yard after a windy day was the inspiration for this painting. To most people the twig colors that make the nest are in earth tones, but this is just how I see colors. I love the shades of lavender in the nest and the shadows and twigs in the background. Scroll down to see the painting in progress, from rough sketch to final painting. Although the paint is still wet, it's available for sale. Contact me for pricing if you are interested.

Here's how the painting looks framed.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

White chocolate bark

This magnificent mosaic of lime green, orange, and and ruby red is my white chocolate bark! It's made with dried apricots, cranberries, and pistachio nuts. Here's how I make it. First, prep your ingredients and place each into a separate bowl. The amount depends on how chunky you want your bark to be. I used about a cup to a cup and a half of each ingredient. Once the chocolate is melted you will have to work quickly, so it's best to have your ingredients all ready. In one bowl place dried cranberries, in a second bowl  place the chopped dried apricots, and in a third bowl place pistachio nuts. I show below how I prepare the nuts. 

I am pretty picky about the pistachio nuts I use on this bark. The shelled nuts that you can buy are always all brown and shriveled up, so instead of buying them, I lovingly shell about 3 cups of pistachios, then, using a knife, I scrape off the dark paper skin on each one. This, I admit, is a labor of love. It takes about 2 hours, but the result is very much worth it because the plump, lime green pistachio nuts are fresh, bright and gorgeous. 

Next, the main ingredient—the white chocolate! I used around 9 bars, but use however many you want. Here I used a mix of Lindt chocolate and Ghiraldelli chocolate that has real vanilla seeds in it, so the pretty flecks of the seeds show. Instead of melting all this chocolate in a bowl and spreading it out on a pan, I simply lay the chocolate out on the bottom of a sheet pan, and put it in a preheated, 350° oven, for exactly 3 minutes. Sounds crazy but it works beautifully! The chocolate melts enough to spread into a luscious, even layer. Do not use white chocolate chips however, because the manufacturers put stabilizers in them to help them hold their shape when baked (in cookies, or whatever). The bars always melt nicely.

Once your bed of white chocolate is melted, simply start sprinkling on your fruits and nuts. When done, gently press the toppings into the chocolate so they all stay in place. Put the sheet tray in a cool spot like a cold porch for a few hours, until it hardens. Then start breaking the bark apart into scrumptious pieces. 

See those specks of vanilla seeds? Love that!

Friday, December 27, 2013

A cleansing burn

It's the end of the year—so out with the old. As horrible as it may sound, I burned several of my older paintings recently. You can see my signature on one of the canvases in the lower right corner. The paintings were just old and not that good in my mind, and taking up valuable space in our little home. It felt cathartic and cleansing to be rid of these paintings—to clear the way to for new paintings in the coming year.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The golden age of the paunch

This is how I feel after a season filled with holiday merriment and jollification! The 18th Century was the golden age of the paunch. If a gentleman had one—his tight waistcoat barely buttoned up over his expanding belly—then he proudly showed it off. Having yourself immortalized with a paunch in a portrait painting announced to the world in grand fashion that you were wealthy and held high office, that you lived a lavish lifestyle and ate well—enough to acquire a pudgy paunch—and that you, under no circumstances, ever lifted your finger for any manor of manual labor, but instead were waited upon. A power paunch was quite simply a coveted physical attribute. Of course, these days a paunch means it's time for a Dr. Oz intervention, a kale juice fast and a gym membership. So in honor of the glorious, paunch—and with those righteous New Year's resolutions rapidly approaching—I've put together this collection of paunches from classical paintings. Click on it to, um... enlarge!

paunch (noun
late 14c., from Old French pance 
(Old North French panche) "belly, stomach,"
 from Latin panticem (nominative pantex) "belly, bowels" 
(cf. Spanish panza, Italian pancia); 
possibly related to panus "swelling" 

Click here to see an entire Pinterest 
board dedicated to the power panch.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve Meditation

Winslow Homer's Sleigh Ride

I hope my neighbor Maggie won't mind if I share this poem tonight. She read it to us once at a holiday dinner party and it really struck me as a the most beautiful poem.

Christmas Eve Meditation

There is a hush that comes on Christmas Eve—
Life's hurry and its stress grow far away; 
And something in the silence seems to weave 
A mood akin to sadness, yet we say 
A "Merry Christmas" to the friends we meet, 
And all the while we feel that mystic spell, 
As if the Christ Child came on noiseless feet, 
With something old, yet ever new, to tell 
The eyes grow misty, yet they shed no tear, 
And those that we have lost, somehow seem near.

by Margaret E Bruner (1886-1970)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Pauli's pizzelles

My mom has been making these Italian pizzelle cookies at Christmastime for over fifty years now. Angelina, her Italian mother-in-law, taught her how to make them when she first married her husband Rudy, and I don't think she's missed a year since. Pauli learned to make pizzelles the hard way, on an ancient pizzelle iron that she bravely held over an open flame, so I know she's glad to use the easy, electric kind of pizzelle maker now. A few weeks ago we made a triple batch of the cookies together,  but better yet, we made a day of memories.

Pauli's pizzelles
6 eggs
1 3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup melted butter
5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon anise seeds
1/4 tsp. anise oil

In a large bowl, combine the eggs, sugar and melted butter and mix until well combined. Add the flour, baking powder, anise seeds, anise oil, and mix well. Cut dough into 4-5 sections. Dough should be firm enough to roll into long snakes. Then cut the snakes into 1 inch length sections. Roll each section into a ball and place onto the pizzelle iron for 50-60 seconds. Lift off the pizzelles with a fork and set them flat on a cookie rack to dry and firm up.

Thanks mom!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Crumbling beauty

I've said it before— you can find beauty anywhere! So where do you think this image was taken?

Is it the wall of a Venetian palazzo, slowly being destroyed by salt water?
Is it a satellite photo of the Sahara desert? 
Is it a crumbling Italian fresco in a remote Tuscan church?

You'd be wrong if you guessed any of these! It's actually a decaying cement base for a light at a shopping mall in New England. I was leaving my parking spot and stopped dead in my tracks at how beautiful it was, with its thick layers of paint all crumbling away, and the low winter sun shining upon it. So you see, you really can find beauty anywhere. You just have to look a little harder sometimes.

Click here to see some beautiful asphalt.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Luscious + luminous

Last May when I wrote about the John Singer Sargent watercolor exhibit currently at the Museum of Fine Arts (read post here), I had so much anticipation for the show I wondered if it could ever live up to my expectation of it. It did—and then some. I was truly wowed by Sargent's innate talent as a keen observer of people, places and things. The one thing that struck me about his works is how luscious and luminous they are. He did light and shadows so well, and I love how Sargent captured dappled sunlight on a building or how his whites are anything but white, but rather a zillion shades of color. Also, he didn't like to paint a big expansive skyline, but instead zoomed in on a subject, eliminating a grounding horizon line. I highly recommend the Sargent show to all of you art enthusiasts—there are a ton of his watercolor paintings, with a few oil of his paintings sprinkled in. And for just five dollars more you can take the self-guided tour with headphones and audio-visual, which is jam-packed with information. I learned lots about his life and his unusual watercolor techniques, and you will too. For example—did you know he wasn't a Boston Homeboy? Nope. He grew up in Europe, spoke four languages, and first came to America when he was 21.

"To live with Sargent's water-colours is to live with sunshine 
captured and held, with the luster of a bright and legible world, 
'the refluent shade' and 'the Ambient ardours of the noon."

—Evan Charteris, 1927:

Most folks only know John Singer Sargent as a rock star portrait painter of notable "one per centers" of the guilded age—wealthy Americans and British aristos—but he grew weary of being a notable portrait painter, stuck in a studio. So instead of all that safe fame and fortune he set off to paint what he wanted,  and where he wanted. His travels brought him all over the globe—desolate Bedouin camps in North Africa, harsh marble quarries in Carrera, Italy, romantic, aquatic Venice with its amazing architecture and wonder, plush Italian villa gardens, salty seaside villages in Corfu and Majorca, and mountainous Tyrollean alps, to name just a few places. He still painted faces, but they were everyday people, some living gritty, hard lives. These faces—often nameless—included Middle-Eastern Bedouins, Majorcan fishermen, goat herders, quarry workers, Venetian gondoliers, Spanish flamenco dancers, even tramps, and he posed his sisters and nieces as models in many of his paintings. He also painted everyday scenes, such as a stream full of colorful pebbles and stones, or ripe, ruby red pomegranates on a tree. No matter what he painted, his work is dazzling!! I might have to go and see the show again!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Comfort food without the guilt

Pappardelle with Butternut Squash, Walnuts, and Baby Kale from Saveur Magazine is made with super foods so it's comfort food without the guilt. These good-for-you ingredients are mixed with homemade pasta that was sautéed in a maple cinnamon brown butter sauce. The cinnamon sauce wasn't in the recipe but I got the idea after making sweet potato gnocchi with it a few weeks ago. Seriously delicious. Click here to see a salad made with similar flavors—Kale and butternut squash salad.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vertical viewing—A Christmas Carol

It seems so obvious, but I've never done a vertical viewing of my favorite holiday film—A Christmas Carol! Charles Dickens wrote a terrific story (and even coined an adjective!), which of course has been adapted into dozens of films, both for TV and the big screen. My vertical viewing* is only going to cover a few of of these films, and I've gotta lead with my all time fave—the 1951 version with Alastair Sim. He just plays a super grumpy Scrooge! For comedy, Bill Murray in Scrooged is just hilarious, though Carol Kane steals the show as ghost of Christmas Present. George C. Scott and Reginald Owen both play excellent Ebenezers, nice and grumpy. I generally dislike most musicals but I admit to liking the Scrooge film with Albert Finney, which only has minimal singing and nothing too sappy. Each of these Scrooges and each of these films has me smiling by the end, and tonight on the Turner Classic Movies, several of these Christmas Carol films will be showing. Have your Bailey's and hot chocolate ready!

A Christmas Carol

the 1951 version with Alastair Sim
the 1988 version (called Scrooged) with Bill Murray
the 1984 version with George C. Scott
the 1938 version with Reginald Owen
the 1971 version (called Scrooge) with Albert Finney

*Vertical viewing defined by me—In wine tasting, there is a term called vertical tasting—sampling one wine varietal from the same producer from several vintages. So I call it Vertical Viewing when I watch and compare several different versions of films. It's great to really get into the storyline and compare the acting and the strengths and weaknesses of each film. 

Click on "vertical viewing" label below for other vertical viewing suggestions!
Or click to read my vertical viewing posts of Emma, Anna KareninaCyrano de Bergerac and Shakespeare's Tempest!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Eye candy!

Yes, I really do put two trees up each year. Crazy to most, I know—though I saw on the Today Show yesterday that Sandra Dee puts up 8 trees, so who's crazy now?! Two years ago I shared my silver tree with readers, and this year I'm showing you my 'gold tree.' I guess you can call it gold and red. As an homage to Tony Duquette, more is more, and trust me, this tree is dripping and drooping with eye candy ornaments.

The tree is first covered in illegal amounts of white twinkle lights, meaning stringing together way more lengths of lights than the manufacturer suggests one connects together, then I start  hanging the big, heavy red crackle balls deep in the tree on the thicker branches.Then, over several patient hours, and always with a never-ending glass of Captain Morgan spiked egg nog, I hang all the rest of the scrumptious jewels. Like my silver tree, many of the ornaments are made in India, such as the intricately beaded paisley shaped ornaments... the balls, pears and stars, and beaded tassels. Also, many of the ornaments are brass—brass Parisian Eiffel towers, brass musical notes, brass fleur de lis, brass snowflakes, and and large brass bells that really ding. (Duh, how else will the angels get their wings?) I have ornaments that I call sputniks, and whirligigs, and flying saucers, the latter of which are really round gold beaded coasters. There are also bedazzled, Italian or Greek looking jeweled crosses like you might see at the Vatican... super gaudy Liberace style, (she said, unashamed.), and just for fun I have gold disco ball ornaments that catch the sunlight causing 'disco fairies dance' on the ceiling on sunny days, which is super magical. At the end of the trimming process I add on loads of small gold crackle balls, and little red raindrops on the end of each branch. After the tree comes down, I pack each group of ornaments—bought in groups of at least 12— into zip lock baggies, then into beautiful gold pouches and bags that I made. So every Christmas when I open the ornaments, it's a special thing.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Frosty window

Gotta love New England—It was 1° when we woke up this morning. I'm sure I'll see a tough old New Englander out running with shorts on today. Hey science guys, how does this frost thing happen on windows?
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Postscript! Mark the science guy say this about frost on windows:

"Frost is the deposition of water vapor on a cool surface where the water changes from a vapor directly to a solid. This process is the reverse of "sublimation" which is the evaporation of ice. You will know sublimation has occurred in your freezer when old ice cubes get smaller. Frost will occur on single-pane glass, if the outside temperature is below freezing and the inside temperature is above freezing and the inside air has some moisture. I suspect that frost on windows is not super abundant because indoor air during winter often is very dry. You could do an experiment by taking a pane of glass and cooling one side to freezing (with ice), and then blowing warmer, moist air over the top of the glass. As always, science tells us what is happening in the physical world, but it does not tell us why."