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Posts Tagged ‘illustration’

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Maybe 30 years ago I read Katherine Paterson’s brilliant Bridge To Terabithia*. There was a note at the end which said the illustrator drew the pictures while listening to the music of the Beatles. (To see one of Donna Diamond’s beautiful drawings from that book, click here.) Her work was so ephemeral and dreamy, and I was not surprised to learn of the particular musical influence. I’d bet you aren’t either.

In my Advanced Studio Art class in high school we always had the radio on, set to a local station, while we drew. My work was inevitably co-authored by Mister Mister, Heart, and Dream Academy. By college I’d graduated to Belinda Carlisle and MC Hammer.

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This is a Lady’s Speed Stick. Hammer would be proud.

Sometimes I listen to music while doing busy work like cutting and freezing produce. Once I wrote to Gourmet Magazine** and told them I spent the afternoon slicing organic strawberries while accompanied by Led Zeppelin. It was a solid choice, I thought. Gourmet agreed. They printed my letter.

But back to the vein of Donna Diamond, Bridge drawings, and the Beatles; and me, my drawings, and late ’80s power ballads: I think the music I’m listening to when I’m creating has a hand in the product. That includes cooking. This past few weeks I’ve needed some deep rest—soul-core rest. Aside from sleeping, that means comfort food; and in my case, making it.

First I went to my farm and bought some local, low-spray, ripe peaches. Then I sliced them and tucked them into a butter crust, latticed and sprinkled with demerara sugar. My co-author was The Carpenters. I felt like I was moving not through air but through Karen’s exquisite honey-colored contralto. That was a mellow-tasting pie, indeed (there it is above).

A couple of days ago I became oddly obsessed with a recipe I’ve had for years but have never made: blackberry brown-sugar cake. I took some liberties, since it was to be a breakfast or teatime cake for me, not a celebration cake for others. Omitted the buttercream and jam and half the sugar, swapped in some olive oil for part of the butter and whole-wheat pastry flour for some of the all-purpose. The recipe also called for ground walnuts and a little sugar at the base of the pan, but I didn’t have any walnuts, so I used hazelnuts instead. They were so heady and delicious that going forward I’ll never use walnuts. I topped the cake with tangy, organic plain yogurt and blackberries I’d just picked at the farm. The result was subtle and moody and surprising.

Nat ‘King’ Cole made this cake with me. You might not be able to tell by the photo, but you’d know for sure when you ate a slice.

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*The movie is rubbish.

**Requisite whimper that they’re gone. 😦

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With the Zig Zag (L), at a Red Bank, NJ dance studio.

Some of the weirdest food choices I’ve ever made were made while working a show. Any theatre person can attest to this: there’s something about the combination of a gnawing stomach and having worked your caboose off that steers a person, oddly, toward malnutrition. Counter-intuitive as it is, what’s chosen for a really-late-night dinner is often enough in the orange food group (the fried banana pepper rings with ranch dressing, the fried calamari with Thai chilies) and it’s about as useful for your body as drywall spackle.

Then again, starvation plus long hours occasionally steers a person toward something he or she would never so much as sniff otherwise. Sometimes that’s a good thing. I detested mushrooms up until one day in 1995, when I hadn’t had breakfast. It was 1 in the afternoon, my magic partner and I had been working for hours, and he ordered a Domino’s pizza with mushrooms. I took a bite and pronounced them Not That Bad. The frozen, synthetic crust was a different story, being Domino’s; but again, hunger won out. And now I love mushrooms—any kind at all. If Domino’s ever offers porcini as a topping, I’ll forgive them their crust.*

I worked with this magic troupe for a few years after college, moonlighting as a magician’s assistant. We’d get the gig and start planning immediately. Everything needed to be taken into consideration: the venue, the audience, the amount of set-up time and performance time, backstage space, and on and on. Many of the illusions we used were bought or rented, but a couple, like the Asrah and Sword Basket, were built by a theatre tech who was also a great carpenter. Those needed us for paint, bells and whistles. And for most of the gigs it was just the illusionist (Doug) and me, but occasionally we brought in a stage manager who would help us load in illusions, run sound and lights, help strike (break down the illusions and the set) and load everything out. Many’s the New Year’s Eve I’ve loaded out at midnight wearing sweats and sneakers over fishnets and sequined Lycra, still in stage makeup and fake eyelashes, and with my hair teased out to one of the more affluent Cleveland suburbs.

While magic was some of the best fun I ever had, it was also some of the dumbest food I ever ate. After days and nights spent like the above, we got hungry. REALLY bloody hungry. (And tired. I have memories of going to a restaurant, wordlessly plunking ourselves down into a booth, ordering our dinners, then sitting in silence for the rest of the meal. This is the standard definition of zonked.)

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During a strike.

One of my better memories of dumb food is of going to Ruby Tuesday’s with Doug and ordering a Tallcake. This was taken off the menu a while ago, sadly. Do you remember it? It was an oversize goblet filled with cut-up cake, ice cream, and a few toppings. Doug and I are chocolate people and loved the chocolate cake one that came with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and a crazy pile of whipped cream. It contained absolutely nothing even remotely healthy; I’m sure of it. Everything in that goblet came from a box or a squeeze bottle or a spray can, full of enough chemicals to melt an average-sized four-door Suburu. But (and this is coming from me, Miss Authentic Ingredients) that’s all right. Crap now and again is okay. It is.

We would easily destroy a Tallcake between the two of us after a show or a long day of sewing, painting, or building. Our most shameful hour—or finest, depending on your perspective—was the time we ate an entire Tallcake, then looked wide-eyed at each other across the table, and ordered and ate ANOTHER one.

The strawberry ones were pretty good, too.

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*That’s what it would take. Get on it, boys.

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Now come on. Just hear me out.

I used to loathe this dish when I was a kid, it’s true. Anchovies, garlic and nuts of any kind were way up there on my yuck list. So on Christmas Eve, when everyone else was having this for dinner*, I had pasta with something else. Admittedly, something tamer. Tame dishes have their place, such as when the eater is recovering from something catastrophic, such as stomach flu or trying to land a buyer on eBay. But I’ll also make a strong argument for trying something new, even if it may seem bizarre at first. There are times when random ingredients come together to make something celestial. This is one of those times. I’ve said it before and here it is again: Try and it hate it—you’re welcome to hate it!—but try it.

This is an honest, very hearty, very flavorful recipe from Liguria, a dish made with a handful of pantry ingredients, and it has a wonderful bracing effect on a nasty winter night. Makes you feel powerful, as if Everest is for wussy pants, as if you have the stamina to brave that cold night with zero worries.

All of the ingredients are to taste. If you really dig walnuts, or hot pepper flakes, or herbs, use more.

Simple stuff…here we go.

1 lb. pasta

8 filets whole anchovies, blitzed in a small grinder

2 fresh garlic cloves, minced**

3/4 cup of olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

2 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp hot pepper flakes

2 c shelled and roughly chopped walnuts

Salt and black pepper

1) Set a pot two-thirds filled with salted water over high heat and cover. Then set a colander in your sink.***

2) While you’re waiting for the water to boil, put a wide, heavy skillet over medium low heat and add the walnuts to toast them. You’ll need to shake the pan every 10 seconds or so to make sure they brown evenly. They smell really good when they’re done. Put them in a little bowl to wait nicely.

3) Put the olive oil in that same skillet over medium low heat again, and add your minced garlic, pepper flakes and herbs. Give everything a little stir. Then add your anchovies and stir again so they don’t stick to the pan. Add salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt, though, because anchovies are salty. After about a minute, take the skillet off the heat.

4) Once your water comes to a low boil, the lid will tell you it wants to come off. Take it off, then wait until the water is at a good rolling boil. Then add your pasta, stir frequently, and cook for as long as you like it cooked. For dried pasta, eight minutes is about my limit.**** Put oven mitts on and pour the pasta and water into the colander. Shake the colander and then pour the pasta into your skillet with the sauce. Add in your walnuts. Use tongs or a long handled wooden spoon and fork to distribute the sauce through the pasta. Have a bite and doctor the seasonings until it tastes right to you.

5) Eat up a big, narcissistic bowl of this.

6) Gloat.

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*We’re Italian, but for some reason we never did the Christmas Eve Seven Fishes thing.

**Not the stuff that’s already peeled and minced up in a jar, and not cloves that are whole and already peeled. When you take the protective natural coating off any fruit or vegetable, you’ve instantly started aging it. The way I see it, you’re bothering to cook…you want a good return on investment…so use fresh ingredients. Buy a firm head of garlic, pull off as many cloves as you want, and either peel off the papery skin with your fingers or use the Food Network method: Put a clove on the counter, lie the blade of a chef’s knife flat on top of it, and press down on the blade with the heel of your hand. This will split the skin, and then you’ll be able to get the clove out pretty easily.

***Don’t be like me and leave anything in the sink. Once I was a lazybones and did that, then poured the boiling hot pasta water into the colander. The sudden heat cracked a bowl into several hundred pieces. Not my brightest moment.

****Where did the idea of throwing pasta against a wall to see if it’s done come from? I’m a heathen, you know I am, but even I don’t go for this idiocy. Grab your tongs, coax a noodle up out of the water, toss it in your colander to cool it for a second, and then have a taste. Trust your mouth, not your drywall.

*****Per one of my New Year’s resolutions to start drawing again, I give you drawing #1!

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