Thursday, February 21, 2019

The art store to end all art stores

The most wonderful and terrible thing has happened. The nation's biggest art supply store has opened about a mile from my house.

I mean, I could walk there!

Not that I am going to. I will have to do the ugly American thing and bring the car. Because of all the stuff I will buy there!

It is this magical place. It is just a big old steel building in truth, but in spirit, when I encountered it ... well, it was just as in the picture at left, by Gustave Dore, may I point out.

How did this happen??

I speak, of course, of Hyatt's All Things Creative, a family-owned Buffalo store that has been around forever except I never went there. Do not ask me why I never went there. What it was, I think, was that you had to go out of your way, and I was in the habit of going other places, and you had to pay to park because it was downtown, but it was not quite downtown, not so I could walk there easily on my lunch break, and --

Who cares why I did not go there. The point is, now it is practically right next door, and in a part of town where I live half my life. The gym I go to is there, and the Amvets I go to, and Albrecht Discount, and, well, everything.

It is a struggle not to go there all the time!

I have been there only once so far. I made the mistake of going there several days ago with Meghan, my friend and sketching buddy. We took this selfie of ourselves entering the store.

Well, it was not really a mistake because had I not gone with Meghan, I would still be there.

I cannot wait to go back by myself and just wander forever. It has taken a great force of will not to. Because I could not believe my eyes.

It is being described as the nation's biggest art store and I am not going to argue. There were watercolors there that I had never seen in person! That is what I told Howard. Paints I had only heard about but never seen.

There was about a quarter of a mile devoted just to journals!

By the time I left -- peacefully but reluctantly -- I was beginning to agree with people who have been telling me I should illustrate my book on Leonard Pennario. I have to give myself an excuse to go this store!

But how I would I work in a picture along the lines of Arthur Rackham's "By Day She Turned Herself Into a Cat"?

That is the question. And it must be answered because if you cannot aspire to a picture like that, what is the point?

Once I answer that question, though, one thing is certain:

I will have what I need!

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The incredible edible egg

This morning, a miracle!

I opened the fridge to get out an egg, and it was kind of early and I was really sleepy so I dropped the egg.

Oh no! That is one messy task. I am preparing myself for this messy clean-up but then ...

The egg did not break!

It was sitting on the floor whole!

I picked it up, gingerly, astonished. What had happened was, the shell had chipped away just a bit on one end. But the membrane underneath somehow held the egg together.

I've never seen anything like it in my life!

My one regret is that I did not take a picture. If you do not take a picture nothing has really happened. You would think I would have learned this lesson by now. But I was sleepy and so I did not take a picture. I picked the egg up and marveled at it and then I think I was afraid it would break more and so I cracked it into the skillet and cooked it and brought it to Howard with his oatmeal.

He ate the magic egg!

Maybe the egg was a sign because the rest of the cooking and coffee hour baking went magically.  The folks at coffee hour tomorrow will be happy! I made Cranberry Buckle and Jewish Apple Cake and a creation of my own, Chocolate Strawberry Coffee Cake. I made cinnamon buns. Everything went really fast.

One thing that was funny, there was a stick of butter I worked on all day. Besides other sticks of butter I was throwing into baking creations, there was a stick that sat on the counter and I chipped away at, tablespoon by tablespoon. One went into this, two into that. Finally in addition to everything else I was making dinner and that, too, called for a tablespoon, and then another tablespoon.

It was like a clock, that stick of butter. I could mark time with it.

Anyway, a productive day, in and out of the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Get it done!

You would not believe what I have accomplished. Yesterday, I ....

... Worked on an art commission. See that picture to the left? That is a photo Howard took of me hard at work.

People sometimes give me commissions and I am so honored! But at the same time they make me nervous because I want them to love the end result (as we put it here in Buffalo). It is one thing to sketch something just because you feel like sketching it. It is another to have someone ask you to sketch something because you are not just doing it on a lark, you know?

But anyway. That is one thing I did. Give that 10 satisfaction points because I am still not satisfied.

Another thing I did was a grueling 40-minute long Pilates video. Let us budget that, recklessly, at 20 satisfaction points.

And, after that, did work on my Pennario project. I have momentum going! Every day I get a little bit more done because this is my year. With which, I award myself another 10 points.

Also I cooked a rocking dinner with salmon that I had scored half price at Albrecht Discount. 50 satisfaction points.

And also -- are you ready for this? I cleaned the bathroom.

375,000 satisfaction points.

I mean it!!!

I could not get over that I cleaned the bathroom!

This morning when I awoke it was the first thing I thought about. I hopped out of bed and went into the bathroom and the tiles felt different under my feet. These are the hexagonal bathroom tiles typical of North Buffalo houses. They felt cool and clean.

The radiator cover was cleaned off. The toilet gleamed. My sister said there was an illustrator who called the toilet "the swan of the bathroom." Suddenly I understood!

The vanity had reason for vanity. The vintage Standard tub sparkled.

To think that I had done this!

Goes to show..

There is no limit to what you can accomplish, once you put your mind to it.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Sugar haze on the Feast of St. Blaise

As promised, the picture of my braided coffee cake all sugared up.

It was soon all gobbled up!

We had an unexpectedly big crowd today for our coffee hour. I expected a small crowd what with the Super Bowl which, you can tell by that I am writing at the hour I am that it does not mean the world to me. I would rather be listening to Leonard Pennario or finishing up a sketch, both of which I have managed to work into my evening so far.

But back to our coffee hour. Maybe it was the mild weather, a break after all these frigid days. Maybe it was that word has gotten out about my rocking pastries. We will never know. But after the Blessings of Throats, it being the Feast of St. Blaise, everyone came streaming over. New people, regulars, everyone. I was astonished!

A word before I continue about the Blessing of the Throat. There was no way I was going to miss getting my throat blessed, particularly since I somehow skipped my flu shot this year. But I had a quandary.

I set up the coffee hour this morning pretty much all on my own. My friend Margaret, who usually helps, she and her husband are in Florida. I did pretty well because I was at church by 8, and I got in just in time for the Asperges. I was singing the Asperges with the choir, entreating God to sprinkle us with hyssop and we will be whiter than snow. Thinking of white snow it suddenly hit me--

Oh no! I forgot to put out the sugar!

The sugar is supposed to go next to the coffee. The coffee pot had been gurgling and percolating and the cream was out and also on hand was a beautiful bottle of Frangelico that one amazing young gentleman had brought to go in our coffee. But the sugar. The sugar!

I had to get over to the coffee hour to put out the sugar and so I did the unthinkable. I cut in line for the Blessing of the Throat!

Everyone was lined up in two queues in the center aisle. But the lines went on forever. Surely it would not matter if I slipped in, you know? So I did.

And my friend Lou told me at coffee hour that as I presented myself for the blessing, as captured in this quick photo he took with his phone ...

... this one woman in line looked at me dagger-eyed!

She does not go to coffee hour and so she does not know my vast responsibilities to it. And so she judged me. That is what Lou told me anyway. He said he saw the woman make this face.

It is a big problem, someone cutting in line for the Blessing of the Throat!

But so must it be. I made it over to coffee and I got the sugar and put it out. And there were already one lady and two gentlemen waiting for it, would not you know.

The good news is, we carried off this feast, which besides what I brought also included bagels and cream cheese brought by our friend Thomas and beer bread that our friend Joe made with blueberry ale. Joe if you will remember is the gardener with the romantic flowering quince. I have his recipe for the beer bread now and we have not heard the last of it.

Next week I will remember the sugar. I will not make that mistake again.

I will branch out into different mistakes.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Thank you, Betty Crocker!

Saturday is baking day as I prep for church coffee hour. Today I tried a new coffee cake. It is titled Sweet Bread Wreath. It is from Betty Crocker and it came out looking great.

I like to do something new every week. That is the game! Ideally it is something that teaches me some new technique or makes me do something different. In this case it was making a braided wreath. I had not done that since I made a braided Christmas Stollen a long time ago from the Monastery Cookbook. Now that was a project. One day I will have to revisit that.

That was not a wreath. Today's bread was.

You had to divide the dough into three pieces and roll them into 26 inch ropes.

Then you braided them loosely and shaped them into a wreath. It was all easier than I thought it would be.

The wreath was kind of rough at the bottom edge where the ends of the ropes were pinched together. However, I figured, that is where I can cut into it when it is on the coffee hour buffet. If you do not cut into a cake nobody cuts into it and it just sits there. That is what I have learned!

Likewise if you do not take the cover off something, be that cover foil or plastic or whatever, experience teaches me that nobody takes the cover off. They might reach under the plastic or foil and take a slice but they do not remove the covering, oh no.

Got to love it!

Back to the Sweet Bread Wreath which, by the way, you can find the recipe here.

I put it in the oven to proof at a balmy 100 degrees and here is how it was after maybe an hour and a half. Eventually it emerged.

So pleasingly plump! I gave it a lot of time because I used white whole wheat flour. I was out of plain white flour and too lazy to go to Albrecht Discount.

Before it bakes you are to brush the Sweet Bread Wreath with beaten egg and then sprinkle it with spices. Here is where I did not read, and I mixed the spices in with the beaten egg. Oh no. Oh no!

I brushed the mixture on as it was, fingers crossed, and into the oven it went.

Ta da!

I think I will sprinkle powdered sugar on it immediately before serving. Another lesson I have learned is people like a bit of sweetness but not a load of it. Well, the kids like a load of it, which is why I made brownies as well. But most people don't want anything with too much sugar. Still they like some. They do not want no sugar. You must strike this happy medium.

Which I hope I do with the Sweet Bread Wreath. I will try to take a picture tomorrow before Mass so we can see how it looks with its pious dusting of sugar.

Meanwhile I have nothing but praise for this particular Betty Crocker cookbook. It is "Come Home To Dinner" and it utilizes your appliances like the bread machine and the Crock Pot.

Its bread section is the greatest. I have done a bundle of the recipes and they all work out great.

As opposed to this other bread machine cookbook -- this series of cookbooks really -- that I used to use. Here, I found this picture of them. I had three of these books.

The breads on the cover look yummy! And they usually came out well. But not after an eon of fussing and tweaking. I would look in the machine and they would be too crumbly or too wet or too heavy and the machine would be huffing and puffing and finally just stop.

I was always adding something or amending something but somehow I never blamed the books. I always blamed myself. And at the end when the breads came out well I would write "VG" or "Made for church everyone ate it up" or something like that, and forget about all the work I went through.

Whereas with this Betty Crocker book, the dough always comes out of the machine perfect and easy to work with, no muss no fuss. I marveled at it for several weeks until it finally dawned on me: Those cookbooks I used to use were just plain bad.

Fie on them! I do not think I will even give them to Amvets. I do not want some other cook baking for her church coffee hour to be pulling her hair out. I think I will just throw them away!

Betty Crocker is my new best friend. Sometimes you need someone who has been around since your great-grandparents' era, you know?

She knows her stuff!