Thursday, February 27, 2014

Carnevale di Venezia!

It's Carnevale time in Venice, so here's a quick history of this crazy annual event. In Italian, Carnevale means "farewell to meat" or "meat is gone." The Catholic Lent obligated people to fast during the period up to Ash Wednesday. All meats, butter and eggs had to be used up, so this religious formality gave Venetians a good excuse to have one heck of a party. Carnevale starts around two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday—day before Ash Wednesday—also known as Mardi Gras. The international carnival is also one of the oldest, dating back to 1268, when the use of masks were first documented. The masks were used to shield the identity and social status of the wearer, so no differentiation could be made between the commoners and the nobility. So they all mingled together while making merry—visiting brothels, theaters, cafes and wine shops, or they would gamble, see exotic animals, rope walkers or jugglers.

 Carnevale di Venezia is an extravaganza not to be missed! The mascheran (mask makers) have been busy constructing festive and mysterious masks, and the sarte (seamstresses) have been busy sewing elaborate costumes.

Medico della Peste (Plague Doctor) mask

One popular costume at the Venice Carnevale is this ominous looking bird-beaked, plague doctor's mask. Venice was hit many times by the plague, and in those horrible days of the Black Death medicine was more folklore than science. Proper physicians had a habit of fleeing cities once the disease hit, and to the rescue came plague doctors, were normally much less-qualified. They thought the bad smells from the disease were the main cause of infection, so to protect the them from the awful smells—miasma—the plague docs wore masks with beak-like protrusions on them which would be filled with aromatics like flowers and herbs, spices, or even a vinegar soaked sponge. They also covered their eyes with glasses, which is a very steam punk look! So think of the weird looking beaked masks as an early respirator or gas mask. And now, it's just fun and festive.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lentil, walnut + goat cheese salad

lentil salad with dried orange cranberries, 
baby kale and big chunks of roasted butternut squash

I can't believe I've never shared this French lentil, walnut, and goat cheese salad before because it's so good and I make it often. I like these it because it's easy to make, and is just pure goodness. Sometimes I'll have these lentils straight up—meaning just the way french Chef Laura Calder's recipe was written—but often I'll also add other tid-bits to jazz it up, such as kale, spinach greens, roasted sweet potatoes, or butternut squash. Invest in some walnut oil, because anointing this salad with it is a perfect finishing touch.

lentil salad with roasted butternut squash and chopped kale

roasted sweet potato stuffed with lentil salad

The recipe comes from French Food at Home 
chef Laura Calder,and it start with a simple pot of water, 
a bay leaf, thyme leaves and lentils.

Laura Calder's lentils—straight up!

French Lentils with Walnuts and Goat Cheese
1 cup French du Puy lentils
1 bay leaf
1 fresh thyme sprig
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
a splash of balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ounces walnuts, toasted
4 ounces goat cheese, broken into pinches
walnut oil

DIRECTIONSPut the lentils in a saucepan with the bay leaf and thyme. Pour over 1 1/3 cups water, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender, around 30 minutes. All the liquid should be absorbed, if not simply drain off any excess.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a saute pan and fry the onion until soft. Add the garlic for 1 minute, then deglaze the pan with a splash of balsamic vinegar. Once the lentils are cooked, toss them with the onion mixture, season with salt and pepper and put them in a serving dish. Scatter over the nuts and pinches of cheese. Drizzle with the walnut oil, and serve warm.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Color inspiration—Snowy evening

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know. 
His house is in the village though; 
He will not see me stopping here 
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

My little horse must think it queer 
To stop without a farmhouse near 
Between the woods and frozen lake 
The darkest evening of the year. 

He gives his harness bells a shake 
To ask if there is some mistake. 
The only other sound’s the sweep 
Of easy wind and downy flake. 

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, 
But I have promises to keep, 
And miles to go before I sleep, 
And miles to go before I sleep.

—Robert Frost

To see more colors, click on the "color inspiration" label below.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blood orange, pom, + pistachio salad

Here's another one of those easy fruit salads, made with slices of luscious red blood oranges, pomegranate seeds and chopped pistachio seeds. It's sweet, crunchy, and super refreshing. 

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

My year of magical thinking

My astonishing, delicious, wonderful, extraordinary year of magical thinking is coming to a close. 

My job for the past year—since being laid off as a graphic designer in educational book publishing—has been looking for a job. It has been stressful to be sure. But through the job hunt and worrying about money and bills I have been fortunate enough to enjoy the one thing that money can never buy—time. Isn't that what we all want ... a year of Sundays?

Overall, putting aside the unemployment angst and daily uncertainty, this past year really has been lovely and amazing. I've had time for my inner child to come out and play and just to be the creative dreamer that I naturally am. I've had time to watch cherry tree blossoms floating in spring breezes, time to run barefoot in the grass during thunderous summer rainstorms, time to paint en plein air on freezing cold mornings after a snowstorm, time to feel warm sun shining on my face as I cultivated my garden, and time to cultivate me. I've explored the world—traveled just a bit, been museum hopping, read books and watched great films. I've played in the kitchen and experimented with new recipes. I've had play dates with friends, my husband, and relatives. Who can ever put a price tag on a special lunch with my mom, favorite aunt, cousin, brother and sister-in law?

These are the memories I've forged over the past year, and they will always be a part of who I am. I will never forget them.

Today,  I start a new job. I'm thrilled to be jumping back into the game designing children's books. Is it any wonder to you readers that this is the kind of real work I do? I'll always find wonder and amazement in the world, and see color inspiration in the most mundane things. But just know that I may not be posting on this blog as often as I've done in the past. I am happy knowing that my new job is a perfect match for my spirit and imagination. But I will always dream enough to share my Bella Vita here. And my year of magical thinking? It was worth a million… maybe even 365 million.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Path to enchanted forest

Path to enchanted forest  4 x 7 

Walking down this road at Appleton Farms in Ipswich, Massachusetts makes me feel like I am walking into an enchanted forest, so I painted this scene with colors that make my soul sing. What's at the end of the path? Fairies and elves, I think, and perhaps even Mr. Tumnas from Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And how old are these trees, I wonder? Some of the trees are chestnut trees and drop their nuts each fall. They all supply a canopy of welcoming shade on warm summer days.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Kim's fabled fish route

Remember the good old days when milk was delivered? Probably not—but it was convenient. If you're lucky enough to live on Boston's North Shore, Kim Bartlett will deliver fresh fish right to your door! Kim's fabled fish route starts in West Gloucester, and runs through Essex, Ipswich, Hamilton, Wenham, North Beverly, Prides Crossing, Beverly Farms, and ends in Manchester… by the sea.

Here's how it works: you order your 'fish wish' by Tuesday evening by contacting Kim either by e-mail or telephone, then in the wee hours of Wednesday morning—way before you are awake and thinking of dinner, never mind fish—he buys his fish from the largest and best-kept vessels fishing out of Gloucester, via a fish distributor called Ocean Crest Seafoods. This fish is gorgeous and as fresh as it gets—shiny and briny! Kim weighs out the fish, packs it into individual bags sorted by weight and kind, and places it into coolers in the back of his Toyota truck. Then he cranks up the jazz music and sets off to deliver the fish to "the iceboxes of the beautiful ladies of the North Shore!" He's a charmer, that one.

Kim has been doing this sui generis sea-to-door fish delivery routine for over 35 years! It all began when he was a writer and stay at home dad who needed to get out of the house one day a week. Oh, and did I mention that this New Englander is also a carpenter, makes gorgeous hand carved bowls, and is a published author!? Ayup. You can buy a copy of his published book, The Finest Kind, about the lives of Gloucester Fishermen on by clicking here.

Kim's delivered fish service is a fabulous deal! You get the absolute freshest fish for a very good price, and it's delivered right to your door with a bright and happy smile. If you aren't home when he delivers you can leave a cooler with some money for him, or arrange something else. He's very trustworthy and so some folks just leave their door open for him, they way they would for a plumber or carpenter, which makes for fun stories...

One day years ago Kim was delivering to a home on Argilla Road in Ipswich. He had another customer in the woods directly behind that house, so he would park at one house and walk through the woods and around the back to get to the other house. This particular day, a landscaping crew working on one yard saw this stranger (Kim!) sneak into a house, sneak out, then disappear. Of course, they called the Ipswich cops who roared in, raced into the house, paused, opened the fridge door, shut it and announced to the landscapers: "It was just the fish man!" 

To order:
phone  617-595-8886

What's your fish wish?

Kim's fresh fish
Haddock — $12. per lb
Salmon — $12. per lb
Flounder / Sole — $12. per lb
Scallops — $16.50 per lb

Fresh farm eggs
$2.50 per dozen

Kims very own maple syrup
quart — $25.
half gallon — $35.
gallon — $50.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Hello buttercup!

It must be the Leo in me that loves the color yellow— a happy hue that exudes warmth. It's the color of dandelions, buttercups, lemons… and sunshine. Enjoy your Sunday!


Saturday, February 15, 2014

Triple feature—Unrequited love

This post Valentine's Day triple feature might seem unromantic, but these three films really are all about the L-O-V-E. . . even if it's a bit one-sided.

+ + + 

Onegin — made in 1999, starring Ray Feinnes and Liv Tyler
This is a beautiful adaptation of the Aleksander Pushkin novel. In a nutshell, Onegin (Ray Feinnes, way before he was Voldemort) is a blasé urban hipster who is bored with the St. Petersburg social scene in the 1820s. Onegin's recently deceased wealthy uncle has bequeathed him a large estate in the country, where he goes and soon falls in love with a beautiful neighbor, Tatyana (Liv Tyler). She makes her feelings known to Onegin in a love letter, but he cruelly rejects her advances to him because he feels she is too young and provincial for him. That's one unrequited love story.  Onegin flees the country after a duel, and returns six years later—older and less cocky—then re-encounters Tatyana, moe noble via a marriage, and he begs her for a second chance, but by this time she it is she who disses him! So that makes for two heartbreaking unrequited love stories in this film. Evgeny Onegin—"If you but knew the flames that burn in me which I attempt to beat down with my reason."

Orlando — made in 1992, starring Tilda Swinton and Billy Zane, and an amazing cross-dressing performance by Quentin Crisp
This film is an adaptation of Virginia Woolf's sui generis tale of a man floating through the ages... and through sexes. Confused? Well, you just have to see it. The tagline on IMDB reads: Orlando lived for 400 years and hardly aged a day; but, because this is England, everyone pretends not to notice. Orlando has been ordered by Queen Elizabeth I to —"Do not fade, do not wither, do not grow old." Indeed. So Orlando, first as a man, loves a woman, but is rejected, and comes to understand this feeling when later as a woman, she loves a man but he rejects her. Orlando—"Nothing thicker than a knife's blade separates melancholy from happiness." The film has some gender-bending madness, but it's so very beautifully filmed, so do stick with it because it's a great film with stunning costuming and set designs. Love the winter skating scenes in Russia. "Oh the treachery of men, and the treachery of women!"

The Age of Innocence — made in 1993, starring Daniel Day Lewis, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Winona Ryder
Edith Wharton's brilliant story of starchy Archer Newland and an intriguing Russian woman sucks me in every time. He loves her, but she is a free spirited and scandalous woman who has been ostracized by proper 19th century New York society. He is a proper 19th century New York society gentleman, who furthermore, is already engaged to another woman! It simply would never work out. There's lots of fancy dinner parties, pretty dresses, tuxedos, white ties and gloves in this film, along with seductively beautiful vignettes. Love, resistance, and mad obsession. OK—respectably mad obsessionEllen to Newland"Don't you see? I can't love you unless I give you up." 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Color inspiration—candy hearts

Inspired by… Valentines candy hearts. These Necco wafer heart colors remind me more of Easter than V Day, but they're pretty and cheery. 

To see more colors, click on the "color inspiration" label below.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Amour fou—crazy love!

For some, love is a difficult emotion to express, bur for others, love pours out of them in very creative ways. Consider the all but extinct love letter. In this day and age the hand-written word is surely passé, and furthermore, sending passionate love letters is positively archaic and so last century, oui? Sadly, store-bought Valentine's day cards are de rigueur for your loved one, but hardly creative, n'est-ce pas? And don't you dare 't-e-x-t' a message to your sweetie unless you have a dog house out back. For the truly romantic at heart—c'mon darlings, you know who you are—you'll love perusing through Michelle Loveric's two unique books on love letters—preferably with your best gal or guy, and most definitely whilst sipping champagne! Her first book is called Love Letters: An Anthology of Passion, and the second one is called Passionate Love Letters: An Anthology of Desire.

Your words are my food, 
your breath my wine.

—Sarah Bernhardt

You elude me. I cannot place you, 
cannot grasp you.

—Jack London

These two books are both gorgeously designed with seductive artwork and swirly text, and feature real love letters from historical people. Here's the best part, some of the letters are actual facsimile reproductions tucked inside of wax-sealed envelopes—all ready for you to open and read! Isn't that brilliant? So reading through the books I feel as if I am a naughty voyeur, discovering intimate and titillating des tête à tête. Ever wonder what Henry VIII wrote to Anne Boleyn?... Or Horatio Nelson to Emma Hamilton?… Napoleon to Josephine? Or how about Elizabeth Barrett to Robert Browning? The list of famous names goes on and on in chapter titles that absolutely ooze with Amour fou—crazy love!

Ravished… Rapturous… Declaration… 
Felicitation… Intoxicated… Devotion… Lascivious… 
Posession… Obsession… Adoration… 

Go and write a love letter now, and
tuck it under your partner's pillow!
He or she will truly madly deeply love you for it.

I think of love, and you, and 
my heart grows full and warm.

—Emily Dickinson 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The perfect red

Anyone who has ever tried to pick a red paint for a room knows, shades of the color red come in a dizzying array of colors! The perfect red for one person might be all wrong for someone else. Red evokes feelings of passion, energy and rage, and represents power, royalty, and way more than I want to go into on this little blog post. It can range from warm shades to cool shades, from the lightest pinks to deepest burgundies. Whatever the shade of red, it generally grabs your attention.

Did you ever wonder how the color red was first made? One of my favorite books tells the history of this magnificent color. A Perfect Red, by Amy Butler Greenfield, is beautifully written and packed with the history of the color, from cave paintings in Spain to the red carpet in Hollywood on Oscar night. You might be surprised to know that the some of the first red fabrics were dyed with crushed cochineal beetles, which were found growing on cactus plants in Mexico. What a crazy chore! It's no wonder that red fabric was only affordable to the very wealthy, royalty or the Catholic church. What's your perfect red?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A rose is a rose is a rose...

I think Gertrude Stein would like this unusual rose. It's Valentine's week, so how about making something different like this citrus rose? This pretty plate of sweetness isn't chocolate and doesn't cost a ridiculous $59.99 a dozen, and your sweetie will love it!. Use whatever citrus fruits you want, and once they are segmented and assembled into a round rose shape, sprinkle crunchy pomegranate seeds and salty pistachio nuts on top. Finally, you can drizzle with a cardamom honey syrup*. Keep a bowl nearby to collect all the juices from the scraps—you'll get a fine glass of mixed juice by the end of the process. This citrus rose is made of white grapefruit, pink grapefruit, navel orange, ruby red grapefruit, and blood orange in the very center. Enjoy all the beautiful citrus fruits now, while they are in season!

I made these citrus roses for a luncheon.

*To make the cardamom honey syrup, mix equal amounts of honey with some of your freshly squeezed citrus juices—about a tablespoon of each—then add in about a half teaspoon of ground cardamom seeds (or crushed fresh seeds, if you have them). Simmer to blend the honey, and reduce to thicken a bit. Cool.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Learning from the masters

I was at the Museum of Fine Arts Saturday and it was so nice to see a group students sketching in one of the rooms filled with Renaissance paintings hung on scarlet colored damask walls. Their teacher was guiding the students as they studied these classic paintings and sketched away. As I peeked over their shoulders I noticed all the individual sketching styles, and it reminded me of being a student and doing the very same thing… many moons ago!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Snowy egret in autumn marsh

Wading for nibbles  4 x 6 

Here is new work of a snowy white egret in an autumn marsh in West Gloucester, Mass. This particular day there were several other egrets in the water, eating a tasty snack of snails, crabs, and fish—and basically anything they could find. Below is how the painting might looked framed.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Astilboides tabularis

It's not too early to think about gardening! I'm all about the foliage in my garden, and I love anything big and dramatic, so the giant leaves of plants like astilboides (below) and Darmera (above) really fit the bill. After years of lusting for them I finally ordered some astilboides from White Flower Farm. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Anatomy of an ampersand

There are certain letters and characters that I love. The lowercase g is one of them, and the uppercase A is elegant in a scripty font, but I especially love the ordinary ampersand, which we all know essentially means 'and.' I've collected various ampersands and am presenting them to you in this block form so you can see all the beautiful font choices, color selections and typographical treatments.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Raw beet appetizer

Last week I made these raw beet appetizers for a family luncheon. I used a mandolin to get über thin slices of colorful carrots, radishes, yellow beets and chiogga striped beets. I topped each of the striped beets with a sliver of raw fennel, then plopped on a dollop of goat cheese and cream mixed together. I dripped on a spoonful of a honey orange reduction, sprinkled some pepitas, and garnished with a fennel frond. This on-the-fly appie was essentially a riff on a raw root veggie carpaccio salad that I've made in the past, and also reminiscent of this fennel and blood orange salad. They all have crunchy, creamy and sweet elements in them.

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