Burgundy sunflower

Burgundy sunflower
Crescent Moon Designs Henna Art

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Starting to think about the new year

From #reverb10: Prompt: Achieve. What’s the thing you most want to achieve next year? How do you imagine you’ll feel when you get it? Free? Happy? Complete? Blissful? Write that feeling down. Then, brainstorm 10 things you can do, or 10 new thoughts you can think, in order to experience that feeling today.

I want to achieve financial independence in the next year.  It will give me a sense of security and the freedom to know that if the water heater goes postal (as it might), we can replace it; when the neighbor talks to us about replacing the fence between us, we can contribute our share; when we go on vacation we will be able to stay as long as we like and get to all the places we want to go.  If one of the parents gets sick, we can fly back to TN or NYC to be there.  Financial security will give us peace of mind.  And this year, I want to achieve financial security through the fruits of my creativity -- through writing, editing, henna, and other things that I make and sell.

10 ways to achieve that feeling today?
1. Visualize, 2. Write every day, 3. Let go of anxiety, 4. Look at art, 5. Read good books, 6. Read inspiring blogs, 7. Connect with creative people, 8. Maintain friendships and support system, 9. Brainstorm with supportive people, 10. Take care of daily health needs (exercise, vitamins, eating well).

That is what comes to mind right now.  I might have a different list tomorrow.  Try making your own list.  Share it if you like.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Two Days after Christmas

And all through the house, the tvs are blaring what newscasters grouse.  The snow has stopped falling, but the winds are so strong.  Three people shovel the walk, but the wind returns the snow along.

It's a mess on Staten Island. 15 inches of snow and falling.  50mph winds and all airports are closed.  It's cold and yucky outside, but at least the snow is pretty -- sparkly and white for the time being.

I do not miss snow.  I like that it's light-reflective and pretty and you can sculpt it...but I dislike the cold, the slush, the shovelling, the difficulty in walking because of snow and ice, and then melting and black ice....give me rain and mud any day.

The topic from #reverb 10 today: Ordinary joy. 

Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year? It's a good day to contemplate joy...  Joy is that the house is full of leftovers so we could be socked in for a week and still have plenty to eat.  Joy is warmth and internet connection.  Joy is hope.  My greatest joy this year is difficult to pin down.  Certainly, the replacement of my arthritic and worn out hips was a major event and the joy of living without debilitating pain is euphoric.  Then there is the joy from creating and my creative energy which was blocked a bit by pain is now fully flowing again.  Since the surgeries, I have learned how to silkscreen, do silk painting, make little do-dads with henna and am rekindling my writing.  I have come to the epiphany that my purpose, my work, must include creativity and self-expression since those are my strengths and to hide them or try to minimize them just makes me miserable.   

Joy comes from living, loving, and creating... be always happy with excellent taste and flavor.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The week-end before Christmas

The Christmas anxiety has full and settled in.  So much to do before we visit the in-laws... Sometimes I would prefer just to have a quiet holiday at home...or even better, spend the 10 days in Hawaii with my husband....and just him...no other relations involved...

However, that is not the way things are.  So I am channelling my anxiety into making my annual Christmas bread and taking photos of our feral poinsettia.
Our volunteer poinsettia by the side of the house.

Natasha's Eastern European-inspired Christmas Bread somewhat like Vanocka
This recipe varies from year to year as I learn new techniques or decide to try new fillings.  This is the recipe from this year and it's highly influenced by Peter Reinhardt's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

The soused fruit
1/2 cup golden raisins (it's imporatant that they're golden)
1/4 cup chopped prunes
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup chopped dried apricots
1/2 cup brandy, whiskey, or sherry, or a combination of all 3.

The "sponge"
1 cup milk (or homemade milk kefir)
2 tsp dry yeast powder
1 cup bread flour
Mix together in a large bowl and cover with lid.  Let brew for 1-4 hours, depending on your schedule and the heat of your kitchen.

The next step
1 cup butter
5 whole eggs (or the equivalent of egg beaters)
1-1/4 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon or a few drops of lemon extract
The soused fruit (all of it, including the liquor)
1 cup water
Mix well and then start adding
all-purpose unbleached white flour, or unbleached white wheat flour, or bread flour -- whatever you have, 1 cup at a time
Mix with a spoon until it gets too bulky.
Now take off your rings and start mixing by hand, adding 1/2 cup of flour as needed until dough seems cohesive, doesn't stick to your hands and has the texture of a baby's butt.
Leave the dough in the bowl and cover again for 1-3 or so hours, depending on your schedule and the warmth of your kitchen.  It will not rise completely double.  You might think the dough is lazy, but it's really just full of heavy stuff like egggs and butter...

While the dough is rising, it's a good time to make the almond paste filling.
1 bag of almond meal from Trader Joe's
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Torani or Monin almond syrup (usually put in coffee)
Mix together until mealy, but not too wet. Set aside until time to make loaves.
OR, you can buy a can of almond filling if you can find it.  I couldn't find any this year.

When the dough has risen as much as it's going to,
punch it down and knead a little bit.  Take a knife and cut into 3 or 4 pieces (depending on how large you want your loaves).  Knead the dough into a rectangle, then fold over 1/3 and fold over again until you have a smaller rectangle.  Knead that down and repeat the process.  Then flatten the dough to the length of your bread pan and as wide as you can.  Cover with a thin layer of almond paste and roll (like a cinnamon roll).  Roll it around a bit to make sure the seal is tight.  Put in a bread pan (I like to line mine with parchment paper because it keeps the pans from getting messy) and let rise for 1 -2 hours.  Repeat process with other lumps of dough.

After it rises,
Bake at 325F for about 40-50 minutes, or until toothpick (or bamboo skewer) comes clean.  Let cool and enjoy!  Makes great presents.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lesson Learned

I am participating in a reflection on the past year through reverb.com. I started a  few days ago, late to the party, but it's still useful.  Each day, a new prompt arrives, and it spurs thought and reflection, and sometimes some writing.

Today's prompt from Tara Weaver (author of The Butcher and The Vegetarian): Lesson learned. What was the best thing you learned about yourself this past year? And how will you apply that lesson going forward?

I learned a lot this year, but I will venture that the most important thing I learned was to listen to pain, work through it, and keep exercising.  Exercise gives me energy that lasts through the day. After my last surgery, I started waking up an hour before my husband and I use that time to do my exercise video workout.  I figure anything from 30-60 minutes per day has got to be good.  My muscles are getting stronger and my flexibility is returning.  But the best part is the increased energy.  Once the chronic pain of the arthritis was removed, euphoria set in and I had a torrent of energy and ideas and I struggled to keep up with.  This, of course, was not a level that I could maintain.  Sadly.  I am now back to my normal self.  I force myself to get out of bed and turn on the dvd player, but once I hear that peppy music and hear the instructor's encouragement, I'm off and walking.  And then I feel great!  This is a good new habit that I intend to nurture in the new year.

Regular cardio exercise also has improved my mood -- I have less anxiety and feel more on an even keel. I also have better concentration. (This could also be influenced by an absence of chronic pain.).

So the lesson actually learned this year is that I need to exercise every day for 30-60 minutes, and I've managed to make it a morning habit.  We'll see what I can do when I go to visit the in-laws for 10 days in the cold, damp, and freezing (did I mention that it's cold?) NE... but at least I've got a routine at home.

Of course, there are lots of lessons I need to learn and make habits....but one step at a time, regular exercise is a pretty big one.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jobs and Work

Mike Rowe talks about Dirty Jobs

I just finished watching Mike Rowe ruminate on work and the nature of work and his previous conceptions and changed visions and I realize that Work and job are two different things.

You clock into a job, you fulfill your duties and you can't wait until break, lunch, quitting time.  You do your time and then you retire.  Jobs are for only the money.

Work is what you do.  When I view taking care of the husband, house and cats as work instead of a series of chores, it has meaning and dignity.  That's not to say I enjoy cleaning those litterboxes or vacuuming, but I can see them in the bigger context of my work. It is, unfortunately, undervalued and underpaid, but it needs to be done and so I do it.  Do I have a passion for housework?  Not really.  I do have a passion for my husband and my cats and for cooking and living in a nice place.  Work is how I maintain these things.  It is never done.  There is always something else that needs doing, but every once in awhile I can sit at the table and smile because I know dinner is delicious, the spouse is happy to be home and the cats are sleeping on the sofa.

I could, however, do with a job or two... just to get some money flowing in... nothing wrong with that...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Does a work of art have a subject or a spirit?

This is the question for Deep Thought Thursday for Nov 4, 2010 from Alyson B Stanfield's blog, ArtBizBlog: for the business of being an artist.

Of course, there is no one correct answer.  But it does give me pause to think about what I create.  Usually, it's not about anything in particular, but is blank canvas that becomes something when decorated.  A white silk scarf that gets color and pattern or a hand that goes from naked to one with a lacy Moroccan or Indian bridal style creation.  Or it is a collection of ingredients that find themselves arranged into a pie.  Tonight's creation is a pumpkin coconut pie in a graham cracker crust...
Now that's a work of art I can sink my teeth into.... and I think I will!