Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Big Red


Dear Art Appreciating,

I finished a little thing, an object I hesitate to call a sculpture, because that sounds so purpose-built.  I am feeling like this little remains of a weathered shrub and I have had a collaboration.  We have merged our suchness and become one.  Still, why the hesitancy to use the word sculpture?  Let me tell you a little joke that we painters make:  Sculpture,  ah, yes;  that's what you bump into when you step back to get a better look at a painting.

Another little joke painters like to make is this advice on how to succeed in painting:  If you can't make it good; make it big.  If you can't make it big; make it red.  I give you here, a painting that is good, big and red, by Robert Motherwell, titled Phoenician Red Studio.

Phoenecian Red Studio is in the collection of the Guggenheim, Bilbao.  Read a little more about it here, if you like.  Two other good big reds follow:

Untitled (Red, Orange) 1968
From the Fondation Beyeler collection,
Basel, Switzerland.

The Red Studio, Henri Matisse.
From the MoMa collection, NYC.
More on this work, here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Lemon Tarts of Summer Sun.

Dear Citrus-Laden,

We have some pals with a lemon tree of great plenty, and so I made some of Tartine's Lemon Cream to fill some tart shells.  I just got some new old stock tartlet pans from a shop with vintage housewares; Scandinavian Sandbakkel, or sand tart molds;  The Sandbakkel recipe on the back of the box is easy to press into the molds, and I offer it below, but use any pastry recipe you wish.  The  Lemon Cream recipe is from Tartine.  You can mix the Lemon Cream with whipped cream, and make a lighter more mousse-like filling, too.  Or use the Lemon Cream any where you would use lemon curd.  The entire Tartine cookbook is very good, with clear directions and enough glorious food porn photography to keep readers turning the pages. 

Tartine's Lemon Cream:

1/2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons lemon juice (lime, orange, or grapefruit juice may also be used)
1 egg yolk
3 eggs 
3/4 cup sugar
a pinch of salt

1 cup butter; cut into 16 tablespoon sized slabs

Put the bottom of a double boiler or a pot on the stove and bring a few inches of water to a boil- turn it down to a reasonable simmer.  Whisk the first 5 ingredients in a non-reactive bowl that you can put over the pot of simmering water, or use a double boiler. Keep the mixture moving, as the lemon juice can cause the eggs to become granular.  Cook for ten or twelve minutes, and then pour the hot lemon custard into a blender.  With the blender running, add the butter, a lump at a time; taking care not to add more butter until the previous butter has been incorporated.

Pour it into pastry shells, or you can store it in the refrigerator, but it will become much more stiff, and if you want to pour it after you have chilled it, you will need to heat it gently in a bain-marie, which is a French term for a double boiler.


1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 unbeaten egg
1 teaspoon of almond extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Cream the shortening, butter and sugar well.  Add the egg and extract.  Add the flour to make a stiff dough.  Press a small ball of dough into each mold, spreading it as thin as possible.  Bake the molds on a cookie sheet at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes.  They might need persuading to release from the tins-  squeeze the tin gently, or tap them on the back.  If all else fails, pry them up with a knife tip and eat the ones that crumble.

Oh, yes, and here's a little song to sing while you make your tarts and lemon filling, because you don't need the surface of things to tell you what you just know.

PS  Vintage tart tins are available on Etsy:  Here's a nice set.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Habitat and Region

Dear Gardeners All,

You will recall a previous musing or admonition from the Dodo on plants and how to live happily ever after with them.  Remember?  I have just discovered another resource for making a happy habitat in your yard:  PlantRight.  It is a website devoted to helping an innocent gardener avoid disaster at the nursery. 

Many years ago, I was employed to remove English Ivy.  It makes me think of this Beatles song:  A Day in the Life (although, to be sure, most things make me think of this song).  The bit about counting all the holes comes to mind.  I also think of Sisyphus.   I have also had unpleasant experiences of removing Scotch Broom, Trees of Heaven, and Bamboo.  So, when we first had a place to plant some things, I was shocked that nurseries would sell these plants, with nary a warning. I say, Goddamn the pusher man.

In the meantime, I will be outside, pulling and hacking out the last of one of my mistakes:  Stipa Tenuissima.  It was so beautiful, and the name so full of poetry:  Mexican Feather Grass.  Ought not the nursery I bought it from have mentioned the dangers of this plant in my climate and area? 

PS  If you cannot get enough data on what not to plant in California, wander around the website of the California Invasive Plant Council:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Duet for Piano and Violin.

Dear Summer Lovers,

Recently, we came into a violin.  This has been a lifelong hope of mine, to come into a violin.  We added it to the wondrous heap of instruments that we tend but cannot play;   Of course, this statement is all wrong.  I play the violin very happily.  Most would not call it music, but that is quite beside the point.  Let me tell you what I have learned of the violin.....

It is fantastically light- it weighs less than an empty cigar box, I bet, and it is scarily delicate.  You pinch it, like a telephone, under your cheek. What an idea!  So awkward; but this is part of its charm.  You play it with a shredded strand of stuff that seems to wear away as you play, and what does the violin do?  It whispers, right into your ear.  I took it outside, to stand in the breeze and shrubbery, and play a little piece of my own invention, for the bees and insects, as I thought they too would enjoy the scraping and squeaking. 

We also have a piano we do not play very well, but that does not diminish our enjoyment of our piano at all.  For one thing, you need a piano, to put your globe of the world on top of, and also to keep music in the bench.  I hope you have a piano, or that you will get one soon.  Or if you cannot spare the space in your heart and home for a piano, may I suggest a violin?  Imagine opening it, to its cobalt crushed velvet interior, taking it up, ever so gently, and then, very carefully listening to its quiet secrets, which are only for you, and no one else.

There are some pianos here, to convince you that you need one, or even half a dozen.  These pianos are playing a piece by a composer I am very fond of- Graham Fitkin.  Sample more of his great works on his website:

Friday, July 11, 2014


Dear In A Rush,

One song, five minutes, right now, right here:  The Big Bright.


PS  Slightly longer attention span?  Click here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Diple & Tittle

Here is a book you will like:  Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, & Other Typographical Marks. by Keith Houston.  He minds a blog of his own;  Shady Characters.  To purchase a copy of his book, try this site.  The chapter on the Ampersand alone is illuminating & inspirational, and you will meet other interesting characters as well, such as the Interrobang and the Octothorpe.  It has me contemplating all kinds of punctuation portmanteaux ideas:  A drawing composed of pilcrows, a sculpture covered with asterisks.

Mr. Houston also gives several interesting websites and titles as "Further Reading."  There is the inspiring Digital Scriptorium, and the charming Manicule Pool.  Have a look at this wonderful image from the Digital Scriptorium.

There is another kind of shady character that we might consider:  The shady character that appears in the detective and/or mystery novel.  To contemplate this character, there is a bit of advice for writing, from the great Raymond Chandler.  I hope everyone will read it, and read it right here.  May I also offer you a little theme music* for shady characters?

*  I adored this television show, and of course, I read scads of the Ellery Queen books as well- they would fall very heavily and with a loud and musical thud into the category of detective fiction that Mr. Chandler criticizes so eloquently and completely in his essay.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Questions that Persist.

Wagashi, photo by amo_designare.  See more on wagashi, here.

Terracotta model of a house, 12th Century Egypt, in the collection of the British Museum.

Dear Makers,

I was making a thing, a box, of clay, that was meant to hold small clay shapes:  the shapes were going to look a little like Japanese sweets, called wagashi, and the whole effect was meant to reference ancient Egyptian things- symbolic models as equipment for the afterlife.  The instructor for my class was Bob Arneson, and he asked me why was the thing to be made of clay?  Why not wood or any other kind of material?

I was a good student;  and by that I mean that I followed directions, and I responded to inquiry and input, and I defended my positions.  I showed him my sketches;  I talked about clay's similarity to the plasticity of whatever sugary paste wagashi was made of.  I wanted it heavy in the hand- wood was too light.  I wanted it ceramic, because it lasts for eons in the pyramid.  Of course, even my answers helped to derail me, and I was sufficiently discouraged to abandon my idea, and my box took a different direction.  I decorated the outside of it with watercolors and pencil (instead of glaze and slips), and I filled it, much later, after I graduated, with nude self-portraits as potent women of legend:  Eve, and the Virgin of Guadalupe.

I interject here, an image of Bob Arneson's own work in clay:

Do you ask yourself why it is made of clay?  I think that question is a large part of the meaning of the piece.  But, where are we going in this conversation?  It is a question of prefixes:  dis- or en-.  I was encouraged by Bob Arneson to ask a question of my intention that persists to this day.  Why are you making this out of that material?  It is a good question, an appropriate question for a professor of ceramics to ask.  However, I was ultimately discouraged from making my box.  Discouragement comes from all around.  One might expand this question of why make this out of that, into why do anything at all?

Large silence here.  Big space, because really, why?

Well, if you keep on following this question out, in an ever-widening circle, you'll find there isn't any reason beyond wanting to, and that is what I would say to him now.  I would say,  "Bob, I am making this out of clay because I want to, and if you don't want me to, you can express your feelings in my grade, at the end of the term."

So, today, and tomorrow, too, be ready for discouragement, and know what you can do about it:  Answer the question for yourself, and then proceed.  Make your thing anyway. Make your hubcap fence, or your needlepoint phone case, or your clay box filled with nude photos.  Because one thing is sure:  You don't want to go around making things that you do not want to make, now, do you?

Have courage, and read this article, which relates to today's parable.

This charming image of higashi wagashi comes from this blog.