Sunday, April 27, 2014

quinoa, ham, and strawberry salad, aka Easter leftovers

Woke up this morning after a fitful night of little sleep, tho' I did catch up on some of my reading from about 1:30 to 3:30 a.m.  (this has all become rather routine, so I choose to see it as quiet time, uninterrupted, to read and journal more regularly…)  Suffice it to say, I slept through church.  Finding myself in an empty house over lunchtime, still a bit groggy and grumpy, I decided to cheer myself up in the kitchen.

Easter this year included 18 family members for dinner - a mix of Bedenbaughs, Hollingers, Clemens, and Pingitores - an enormous ham from the local butcher, Groff's, and fresh vegetables from Central Market in Downtown Lancaster, some of which still reside in my refrigerator even after generously giving away leftovers of mashed potatoes and ham to whomever wanted some.  So for dinner Monday evening for David and myself, I took stock of what was in the pantry and got creative.

I first fell in love with quinoa at John J. Jeffries, at the Arts Hotel in Lancaster.  Sean had been crafting these awesome salads of micro greens with a pressed quinoa concoction that I still get hungry for.  Truth be told, I'm always hungry for Chefs Michael and Sean's dishes, and the fresh, local menu only has one drawback - I crave something, and it's not on the menu any longer!  But something else new and incredible always takes its place, so I never leave unfulfilled.

Earlier this year, my daughter Jenna asked if I could come stay with my grandson Carson a day or two a week, while her mother-in-law (his usual sitter) was recuperating from surgery.  So for a few incredible weeks I got some extra one-on-one with my favorite little guy.  Typically our excursions included a visit to Mama in downtown Philadelphia for lunch, a chilly walk along the Brandywine River, or searching out the local Trader Joe's and Whole Foods to compile ingredients for dinner later (and ingredients I couldn't resist taking home to my own pantry, hence the quinoa).  I love to cook.  My daughter(s) don't.  They joke with my mother that cooking skipped a generation.  

Quinoa is gluten free, nutty and tasty, and quickly takes on the essence of whatever marinade or vegetables you add to it.  It's delicious hot as a side dish, or cold in a salad and super quick and easy to make.  Two parts water boiled, to one part quinoa - boil a minute or two, then let is simmer until the water is completely absorbed.  In this recipe I'm using 2 cups water and 1 cup quinoa.

Meanwhile, I pull out one of these awesome cobalt blue glass bowls I found at Ikea for 3.99 (another fun place Carson and I hang out).  Add two tablespoons of olive oil to the bottom, then chop and add a small handful of red bell pepper, two smashed and diced cloves of fresh garlic, two stalks of green onion, six pitted and halved black olives, a dash of balsamic vinegar, cracked pepper and salt to taste.  Set it aside.

I love Central Market, as my children can tell you - it was the first outing for each of them at five days old, and it continues to be my favorite place in the world.  Really.  The latest proliferation of independent organic growers, and responsibly sourced meats and dairy products, alongside the steadfast Amish and Mennonite fair, spice and fresh pasta, authentic Mediterranean, and the best latte (aside from Folklore), one can't help but want to cook and eat healthy food.  The nutty, flavorful sprouts in the above photo are a recent find - awesome in salads, sandwiches, as a snack out of the bag, or even in an omelet.  It's still my dream to retire within walking distance of that market, but alas, I think the firehall in Elizabethtown is as close as I'll get to living with David in a "city" - he's a mountain kind of guy.  

Food preparation, even on a late Sunday morning, always includes a glass of wine.  This glass came from my father-in-law's cabin on the Susquehanna.  I think some of the many reasons I love to cook so much are the process, the memories, and the aesthetic feast.  My favorite yellow bowl from a street fair in Manayunk with my sister-in-law when the kids were still in strollers, my collection of Le Creuset pots in cobalt blue that accumulated over Christmases and birthdays, wooden salad forks brought back from Seattle from my friend Maggie, and what was left of a set of French Longchamp dinnerware I happily took possession of from another friend, Lisa, who was upgrading.  These things make me happy!

Stir the chopped vegetables into the oil and vinegar, and add the quinoa.  It can be served warm this way as an accompaniment to any meats, or with a large salad.  We had a large green salad for Easter dinner, alongside the usual mashed potatoes, green beans, and pickled beets, which is how I ended up throwing them all together in the first place.    

Add to the salad greens (I prefer a mix a heartier green like romaine or bib lettuce, with some spring mix, and a handful of micro greens - pea shoots lately), sliced leftover ham and fresh strawberries, and a handful of sprouts.   Really anything will do, however I tend to want to throw in everything but the kitchen sink - some restraint is called for, if you really want to enjoy the individual flavors and textures.  

The last half of a whole wheat pita, stuffed with salad and quinoa.  

Did I mention this creation was just for me?  I did tell you about the empty house, and a lazy Sunday morning… I'm a firm believer in linen napkins, candles, and reading at the table.  Moosewood cookbooks by Mollie Katzen are some of my favorite reading material.  And Sunday morning's Sleepy Hollow on XPN provides the best background music for my solo culinary journey.

Afterward, there is just enough to fill two pyrex bowls for lunch tomorrow - one for me and one to share.  Put the salad on the bottom, and the quinoa on the top.  Dump it on a plate with a splash of dressing, and it's good to go.  

And I'm one of those crazy people who relish hand dishwashing.  Just another part of the process of making food.  Whether it's for myself alone, or a crowd of twenty, there is nothing like putzing in the kitchen to inspire and put my soul at rest.  And outside a gorgeous day beckons.  Think I'll take a long walk.  Cheers!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

in search of Edwin….

It all started with a portrait I inherited when I purchased two large, gold gilt frames for a project at the gallery.  Edwin came inside one of them, and the owner wasn't interested in keeping the portrait of the early 19th century gentleman, as she had no idea who he was.  The other frame in the pair had a portrait of her grandmother, which of course she kept.

The intended project for the frames never developed, and they sat in the basement for the last ten years collecting dust.  Meanwhile, Edwin hid out in the frameshop storage bin, occasionally unearthed by a curious employee wondering who he was.  I hung him on the wall from time to time, as I liked his calm demeanor and handsome attendance.  More recently, my friend Maggie suggested he really did deserve a name… "Edward, maybe," I said, to which she replied, "no, he's definitely an Edwin."  As Edwin was the name of a dear cousin I lost to AIDS in the 80's, I had to concur.  Edwin it was.

I carried him to my office, and tucked him behind the file cabinet, peaking out just enough to seek his inspiration from my desk.  He was my muse, I decided.  He looked successful, confident, sure of himself, but gentle and kind.  He remained there until Diane Bitting, Lancaster Newspapers, spied him and suggested we collaborate to see if we could discover the story behind the painting and his true identity.

A bit of a spit wash in the lower right hand corner revealed a signature and a date, but the painting was so dirty, we couldn't read it.  I called Jeff Johnson, art restorer, and Claire Giblin, art appraiser, who have done quite a bit of work for us in the past, and they agreed to meet with us at the gallery.  

With the chemicals and tools of an experienced conservator, and test cleaning a few spots to ascertain the stability of the paint, Jeff cleaned the area of the signature.  "Looks like a "B", or a "D" at the beginning, last name, Tyler, maybe?  And the date?  It's either 1916, or 1918, I think…"

A google search later, I find an ad in The Art Interchange for "B. H. Tyler, Portrait Artist" and excitedly pass this on to Jeff and Claire.  Late that evening, I get an email from Jeff, telling me his name is "Bayard Henry Tyler."

Claire confirmed this, and sent us more information from auction records and  museum exhibition documentation.  B.H. Tyler, 1855-1931 was not only a portrait artist, but an accomplished landscape artist in the Hudson River School region.  Later she finds his portraiture in an Artist Members exhibition in 1927 at the Lotos Club, New York, New York, and a commissioned work in the collection of Scranton Public Library (Albright Memorial) of Joseph J. Albright, painted in 1902.

Earlier this week, I received this image from Jeff of the cleaning and restoration in process at his studio.  Look closely at the upper right corner, coming through the middle of his face, and you can visibly see the difference a cleaning makes!  Now, if we could only figure out who Edwin really is….

Saturday, February 22, 2014

the chair saga continued….

The sofa arrived and joined the funky set of chairs in the gallery, extending a new warmth and style to the room.  Makes for the perfect spot to take in the music, read a book, or catch up on some conversation with a friend. 
Every detail was tended to by Ricardo, my meticulous upholsterer, from the fabric to the buttons.  Even under the cushions you'll find fabric covered buttons lining the linen seating platform.

So remember the sad state of affairs regarding this caned set - a chair, rocker, and sofa?  Well I took the leap and purchased the set, with plans to strip and recane them, then refinish the wood.  Meanwhile, I went on the hunt for fabrics, narrowing the field to some colorful tapestries, textured velvets, fringe and braid in shades of magenta, ochre, and kiwi.

That task complete, I sat down with my dear friend MarCelia, my sketches and swatches in hand, to discuss the best way to bring my mid-century, Parisian vision together for these pieces.  She lent her expertise and knowledge regarding the construction of quality seating, and together we articulated a plan.

We both agreed the cushions would have to be of spring and down construction - not simply foam.  Despite the increased cost, the difference would be noticeable, and the cushions sturdy and comfy.  With a woven web of canvas to support them, the seating would envelope you like a setting in a Proust novel.

Between the two of us and Ricardo, we scoured the internet for reasonably priced spring forms and bags of down.  

Stacks of spring forms await, knitted together in groups.  Three will fit side by side for the sofa's bench cushion, with one each for the chair and the rocker.  They'll be surrounded by 1" foam, then wrapped top and bottom with a pillow of down, so they can be flipped to either side.

A trip back to the refinishers, and I find the wood stripped and sanded down, exposing mahogany wood and detailing that was barely noticeable before.  I spent some time with Gary experimenting with finishes and settled on a black mahogany, hand-rubbed stain.

The stain takes deeply to the back side of the caning, but leaves the inside with a bit of radiant gold showing through.  Perfect, I thought, with the fabric selections I had decided upon.  A satin-finish clear coat will finish the three pieces, and they'll be ready for the upholster.  

I picked up the fabric detailing samples from Ricardo, eager to see how the detailing would look on the cushions, and how they would go with the stained wood.  The Parisian carpet bag, shabby chic look I was after was evident, and with a few minor changes, gave my approval to go ahead.

"the down and feather envelope is a messy process :)" said Ricardo in a text this afternoon, "I look like a big turkey."   This I'd like to see!

The completed sofa, mid-century Parisian, carpet-bagger style
Tafetta rucking across the band adds texture, color, and a bit of a surprise

Coordinating sofa and chair
Rocker is trimmed gold fringe, with a band of checkered velveteen
The chair in striped velveteen with a pleated band in a contrasting stripe