Ideal Hook: Anthropologie's Parentheses Hook

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I spotted this adorable red hook in the laundry room of Nicole, of Making It Lovely, and immediately fell in love. I'm thinking it might be the ideal hook for our entryway, and at $8 per hook, they are not too expensive. The big question is red or navy?

Drawing Nature With Jill Bliss

Monday, April 25, 2011

When Chronicle Books asked if I would host a stop on Jill Bliss’s virtual book tour for Drawing Nature: A Journal, her new interactive drawing journal, I immediately said yes. I became acquainted with Jill Bliss’s work when I worked at Budget Living magazine. Jill was profiled in the “Why We Love” section of the February/March issue for her online crafts collective Blissen. Today, Jill is still deeply involved in the world of craft and the handmade. In recent years she has moved to Portland, taken up teaching and scaled her Blissen operation back to just herself.

Drawing Nature
is the latest of Jill Bliss's collaborations with Chronicle Books. If you used to draw but haven’t in years, it’s overwhelming to get back to drawing on a daily basis; this journal is a nudge to get back into the habit. I caught up with Jill last week to talk about Drawing Nature and the pleasures of drawing.

The journal had a long journey to production. Jill says that she went through five iterations of the journal trying to figure out the best way to structure it. In an effort to translate her drawing classes into a book, she admits that she put her graphic design students at Portland State through a “drawing day” using exercises from the draft of book. “They didn’t know they were my guinea pigs,” says Jill. She also notes that her copy editor and other non-artists at her publisher were a huge help because they didn’t know anything about drawing. “I had to back down and use everyday words,” says Jill, who realized terms like “blind contour drawing” might be intimidating to novice artists.

The book itself was designed to be portable and to open flat for easy drawing – Jill even tested dozens of paper before settling on the final pick. To encourage would-be drawers none of the pages are completely blank, with Jill Bliss’s signature drawings at the perimeter of every page. The beginning of the journal features individual drawing lessons, while the latter half is mostly comprised of (nearly) blank pages with inspirational notes at the bottom of each page.

Here Jill Bliss shared her thoughts on drawing:

Anyone can draw.
Jill had been teaching classes on drawing nature in Portland for some time when she set out to teach her mother and a bunch of her friends to draw one summer. “They were adamant that they couldn’t draw,” says Jill. “But I was equally as adamant that they could. I ran them through a couple of exercises, and we all realized it was possible.”

There’s no right way to draw. Jill says she doesn’t force one way of drawing or another onto her students, but rather prefers to observe how people approach drawing and help them fine-tune their own way of looking and drawing. “It’s sort of therapy,” she laughs.

Seeing is the hard part. “I feel strongly that everyone can draw,” says Jill. “It’s the seeing part that is hard.” Learning to see something for what it really is can be challenging. For example, if you say, “Draw a leaf,” someone will sketch the cartoon-ish ideal of a leaf, but if you actually put a leaf in front of them, it is much more complicated to render. Then you draw another leaf and you begin to see how very different each natural object is from another. Jill says this is when you start to really look and realize what you’re seeing.

Nature is a forgiving subject. Jill’s choice of nature for the journal is no accident. She notes that we all know what a chair looks like, so if a sketch of a chair is not quite right we immediately notice its flaws. “With a leaf, we don’t have that same perception,” says Jill. “It’s okay if it’s not the way it looked in real life -- we’re never going to notice.” Plus, Jill hopes drawing nature will help people embrace and appreciate their natural surroundings.

Putting pen to paper is meditative. “It’s definitely a practice that makes you slow down and consider your surroundings and think about what you are doing,” says Jill, who compares drawing to journaling or meditation.

Drawing will open your eyes. If you take up a daily habit of drawing, Jill says it will change your day-to-day experience. “I think you’ll be a notice a lot of little details that you wouldn’t have noticed. You’ll start looking for things that would be interesting to draw. You’ll be a lot be a lot more cognoscente,” she says.

Just do it. “You’ll surprise yourself,” promises Jill. As with anything, she notes that a lot of what determines success is your attitude: You need to have a positive outlook that you can do something, whether it’s drawing or fly-fishing.

Jill Bliss’s Drawing Nature: A Journal is available for $16.95 from Chronicle Books and is available in bookstores nationwide.

Drawing Nature Blog Tour
April 18 AOL ShelterPop
April 19 Creature Comforts
April 20 Mint Design Blog
April 22 Pikaland
April 25 The Little House in the City
April 27 Wit and Delight

Lemony Asparagus With Walnuts and Parsley

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I am going to try harder to record the things I cook. It's hard to remember to measure things and take photos, but I think it's worth the effort -- I love to share when a recipe is a success. We cook most nights and it's rare that we're cooking from a recipe. For example, tonight was a very simple meal: Salad, leftover pita bread, scrambled eggs with fresh herbs and some sautéed asparagus.

The asparagus is worth writing about -- it was a simple, but delicious side dish. First, I will say that I have always peeled asparagus because my mother did. My boyfriend thought I was nuts the first time he watched me peel each stalk, but after he ate them, he agreed that it was a task worth the effort (especially for thicker stalks). I've also discovered that Oxo's serrated peeler is the ideal tool for peeling asparagus. (Note: I never would have bought a serrated peeler, but received it as a gift and have found it useful for certain tasks like asparagus or fruits.) Here's how I cooked the asparagus:

Lemony Asparagus with Walnuts and Parsley

3 T.  olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped (approx. 1/2 cup)
1/4 c. red pepper flakes
1 bunch asparagus peeled
1/4 c. walnuts, toasted and chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 T. chopped parsley
salt and pepper

1. Cut woody ends off asparagus, then cut stalks into 2-inch pieces.
2. Heat pan, add olive oil when pan is hot. Add onions and red pepper flakes to pan, stir and cook for 1 minute.
3. Add asparagus to pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Add lemon zest, parsley and walnuts to pan, stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Calypso + Target = Boho Chic on the Cheap

Today I was fortunate enough to get to stop in to a pop-up shop to introduce the new Calypso St. Barth for Target line to the press. Calypso has teamed up with Target on a collection that spans women's clothing and accessories, home wares and children's clothing -- and let me tell you, it's a winner. I've always admired the casual-but-chic style of Calypso, but I'm yet to be able to afford it for myself. Thank you Target for bringing the brand down to price points for the rest of us! The line hits stores on May 1, but here's a little sneak peek at what's to come.
Target had commissioned event designer David Stark to create a temporary interior to showcase the products. (Stark has long worked with Target and they are very wise to hire him -- he makes everything look amazing with clever displays that highlight the items without upstaging them). When I walked in I was greeted by this adorable set-up of products in a mini-sailboat, which I must say looks suspiciously like the boats that we used to serve the raw bar out of when I worked as a caterer.

The dressing rooms had these adorable curtains in the patterns from the line, but they aren't actually for sale. However, I couldn't resist snapping a pic -- so cute, right?
A wall of the home items included dinner plates ($3.99) and pillows ($24.99 each).
I was drawn to the punched metal candle holders (small, $7.99; medium, $24.99 and large, $29.99) and took a bunch home with me. Visions of summer and margaritas were dancing in my head.
I spied quite a few fellow bloggers and editors leaving with a pouf in silver ($59.99), including the adorable Amy of and Erica from PS I Made This, to whom I was delighted to meet briefly. I'm lucky they didn't have the gold version in stock or I might have been tempted to grab one myself; after all, I've been contemplating a pouf.

Apartment Evolution

Friday, April 15, 2011

My parents arrived for a visit this morning, and it made me realize how much my apartment has changed in the last year. For one, there's an additional tenant, my lovely boyfriend, (and his belongings!), but there are also many major changes we've made together. My folks coming over in a few hours for dinner and I am excited to hear what they think!

This photo of the dining area is a perfect example of how the apartment has evolved. The space was always the dining area and I always had a mismatched hanging of photos and prints. However, the table and chairs are both Craigslist finds from the last year, which replaced the table and bench set I had before (now in my little sister's apartment). While the wall art is a 50-50 combination of my things and the boyfriend's things. The changes have been gradual, nothing crazy, but when added up, things are decidedly different around here.

I'll give you a proper photo tour of the whole apartment next week -- I promise.

Worth a Visit: Olanna

Yesterday's New York Times included an article about preserving the "viewsheds" in the Hudson River Valley, and mentioned in particular Olanna, the home of Frederic Church, a celebrated Hudson River School painter. I had the good fortune to visit Olanna two years ago, and I would encourage anyone visiting Hudson, NY or the neighborign towns to make the journey, as well. In addition to the tremendous views mentioned in the article, the hosue itself is stunning.

You are not allowed to take photos of the interior (though here are a few of the exterior), but it remains much as it had in Frederic Church's day. The interiors are inspired by Chruch's travels, particularly in the Middle East. During our visit the docent told us that Church's unusual Persian-style home influenced Mark Twain in the design of his Hartford, CT home (also worth a visit, if you are ever in the area!). One thing that left an impression on me was the room where Church painted. A handsome  room with high ceilings and a view out into the valley, I was shocked to see that he had painted over an antique Persian rug! The rug is covered with paint spots and splatters from his work. Who needs a drop cloth?

I was curious to read that Olanna has recently undergone some improvements, and I will plan to make another visit this summer to see this inspiring home again.

Super Natural Every Day

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sorry I have been sparse with my posting lately: Work has been busy, which is a good thing. Earlier this week I stopped by Borders to use up a gift card I had been given (I figured I better make use of it before all the stores close!). I usually don't buy myself new cookbooks, rather I buy them used or am given them as gifts. However, when I saw that Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Every Day was in stock, I decided it would be the perfect thing on which to spend my credit. For the last two nights, I've been reading the introduction and recipes, and I already know that there are lots of things I'll be cooking from this book. It's the kind of healthy, honest food that I do make every day, and Heidi's ideas for simple, vegetarian meals are inspiring. I'll let you know which recipes I try!

Pan-Baked Lemon-Almond Tart

Sunday, April 03, 2011

My little sister also made this super-simple dessert (also from the New York Times). It was a nice, light finish to the meal -- not too sweet and not too rich. Mark Bittman titled the column about the recipe "Cake, Tart, Frittata: Call It the New Baking," which was an apt description for this hard-to-categorize dessert.

Pan-Baked Lemon-Almond Tart Time
From the New York Times

4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup sliced almonds, more for garnish
1 lemon, zest and juice
2 tablespoons butter
Powdered sugar, for garnish.

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. In a bowl, combine eggs, sugar, salt, ground almonds, cream, sliced almonds, lemon zest and juice.
2. Melt butter in an 8-inch ovenproof skillet over low heat; when foam has subsided, add almond mixture to pan, tilting pan to distribute batter evenly. Continue to cook tart on stovetop until edges just begin to set, then put pan in oven and finish cooking, about 10 to 15 minutes more.
3. When tart is done, put it in broiler for about a minute or until just golden on top. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and sliced almonds. Serve.
Yield: 4 servings.

Tagine-Style Lamb Stew

Last night my sister cooked dinner at my house for six people (myself included). She made this delicious Tagine-Style Lamb Stew recipe from the New York Times, and after seeing how incredibly easy it was to make, I would definitely add it to my own repertoire. I love the easy method of a no-browning stew and the flavor was just as rich as a meat stew that had been browned.

I made a sort of Moroccan-inspired green salad with fennel, black olives, mint and red onion, garnished with grated ricotta salata and orange slices.

Tagine-Style Lamb Stew
From the New York Times

2 pounds lamb shoulder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, grated (about 1/3 cup)
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 20-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Cooked couscous, for serving.

1. Trim excess fat from the lamb and cut into 1-inch cubes.
2. In a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the lamb, onion, garlic, pepper, salt, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, apricot preserves and vinegar and cook, stirring frequently, until the aroma of the spices is strong, about 5 to 7 minutes. (Do not allow the meat to brown.)
3. Add chickpeas and stock, bring just to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer gently until the lamb is very tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
4. Add the raisins and continue to cook, uncovered, until they are nicely plumped, about 10 minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in the parsley and lemon juice, and serve with couscous.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

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