Marlana Stoddard Hayes website launched

06_marlana_stoddard_hayesBlue Mouse Monkey is pleased to announce the launch of the website for Portland artist Marlana Stoddard Hayes. Her interest in living communities leads her to explore the relationship among various nested systems found in the natural world, and she uses elements of nature in her painting practice, such as spore prints from fungi. The site is starting small, but with a CMS (content management system) in place, Marlana can add new portfolio pages over time. Marlana Stoddard-Hayes is represented by Butters Gallery.

A chance to play

Last weekend I had the opportunity to play outside. I guess I don’t get to do that much anymore, because it felt like an incredible treat. At home I can be outside in the garden in two modes: gardening, or relaxing. The relaxing thing happens rarely, and only for a half hour, tops, then I’m off doing something else. The gardening thing is good, but purposeful. There isn’t much pure play involved in weeding beds and harvesting vegetables.

img_0372But last weekend I stayed in a log house in the Hood Canal (which is really a fjord) with three other women. We were there to share creative solitude during the day, and friendship over dinner in the evenings. The others worked on writing projects, and I made art. I expected to write, too, but earlier, while cleaning out our basement, I found a bunch of leftover bits and pieces from grad school. Plaster casts of hands, rolls of colored string and cellophane, paper cut-out shapes. On impulse I decided to take this flotsam and jetsam of a period of intense art-making up to the Hood Canal to play around with it and see what happened.

At my friend’s place I chose to work in a small meadow next to an old shed. It was more like a clearing in the forest, and filled with buttercups and light slanting through the trees. I didn’t have any particular plans other than I’d make site-specific sculptures and leave them there. (Or dismantle and discard them in my host didn’t like them, but it turned out she did :-)

img_0434The first piece I made was inspired by sun hitting tendrils of tall grass in front of the shed. They made bright vertical lines of light against the dark background. I created a set of horizontal lines to complement, using embroidery thread. Keeping the tension in the thread was the hard part, since I couldn’t pull too hard on the grass stalks or they would snap.

Then I hung from a tree pieces from an installation I did years ago called The Myriad Things. Now the very cool thing I discovered, which I had never seen when this work hung in a gallery, was how it moved in the wind. Each strand has three collaged paper or glass vesica piscis shapes strung together with fine monofilament. Instead of flapping around like a wind chime, the shapes acted like paddles, and they spun in place. It created a beautiful floating, flickering effect, especially, when seen across the clearing. (Please excuse the crappy iphone video.)

img_0408Other pieces I made included burying gold foil under the duff so it glinted through, making the earth look golden. That one was hard to photograph. I also wrapped a sapling trunk in bands of gold foil, and placed plaster hands among the buttercups.

img_0298

img_0416The other more visible piece I did was a large “cellophane fin”, made by wrapping colored cellophane across the delta-shaped spaces made by low, nearly horizontal maple limbs. The cellophane was left over from some 4-color printing process, with alternating magenta, cyan, yellow and black frames. The effect was like stained glass, but delicate and fragile, and in a tree.

I got to make a sculpture garden! It was the most satisfying thing I have done in a long time. I need to get out and play more often.*

* Bucket list:
1. Experience the Calabi-Yau in all ten dimensions
2. Play outside regualrly

Ay-mazing zucchini bread-and-butter pickles

 

From the 2009 batch. Basil garlic, Tarragon, Ginger chili, and plain.

From the 2008 batch. chili ginger, dill, tarragon, basil garlic

Who doesn’t have truckloads of zucchinis in the summer? Bread and butter pickles traditionally use cucumbers, but zucchinis work just as well. The following will fill 3 quart jars. This is a non water-bath method.

 

Ingredients:

  • 6 lb of vegetables, e.g. 5 1/2 lb of zucchini and 1/2 lb of onion. Or all zucchini and no onion.

  • 3 1/4 c vinegar (I like plain old white, to let the other flavors shine through) 
  • 2 c sugar (this is less than most other recipes, and the pickles still turn out sweet)
About 1/4 c of salt
  • 1 tray of ice cubes
  • 1 T mustard seeds
  • 1 T fennel seeds
  • For herb/spice variations, scroll down

Directions:

 

  1. Slice the veges. Small enough they will fit easily through the mouths of the jars, large enough they aren’t a pain to get out when you want to eat them.
  2. Mix the veges up in a large bowl with the salt. Distribute the ice cubes on top. Alternatively, if your bowl fits in the fridge, put it there.
  3. Allow the veges to sit for about 3 hours or more. Overnight is okay. This step of soaking in salt is what makes the final pickles crisp instead of mushy.
  4. In the meantime, set everything else up. You will need:
  • A large pot. A 6 quart pot is a good size for this amount of food.
  • 3 quart jars (or the equivalent in smaller wide-mouth jars) plus their good metal lids. Do not use lids that have any signs of rust, or dings, or are bent.
  • A pair of metal tongs.
  • A large serving spoon, plus another spoon (regular size okay).
  • A smaller pot for boiling water.
  • An oven.
  • An area where you can ladle the hot pickle mixture into the jars without lifting it too high. I use the kitchen sink.
     

Prepare the tools

About ½ an hour before you are ready to drain the salt-soaking veges, prepare the tools:

 

  • Wash the jars and their lids. Rinse and drain them, then put them upright in the oven. Set the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the jar-lids in there also, spread out and not touching. This sterilizes the jars, and dries them, too.
  • Put your tongs, serving spoon, and the other spoon in a pot of water, enough to cover the round part of the spoons. Boil these on high for at least 3 minutes of rolling boil. This sterilizes these instruments so that you can use them to touch the pickle mixture, and the sterile jars.
     

Now you can start cooking.

 

  1. In the large pot put the vinegar and sugar. Heat on medium till sugar is dissolved. Add the spices (but not the herbs – see below).
  2. Now drain all the salty water from the chopped veges. Even if you didn’t start with ice cubes, there will be a lot of water, and the veges will have shrunk. I also give them a single rinse in cold water, just to reduce a little of the salt. But don’t let them sit in fresh water, or they will re-absorb it all again.
  3. Bring the vinegar mixture to the boil. When at a rolling boil, pour in the drained veges. At first it might look like there is not enough vinegar, but they will shrink down some more.
  4. Now remove the sterilized tools from the boiling water, and place them upright in something like a tall glass or a dishrack. The point is to have a place to put them where their sterilized parts don’t touch any surfaces.
  5. Now bring the vinegar plus veges back to the boil. Because of the volume of veges, this actually takes a few minutes. During this time, set up your jars.
  6. Using the tongs, take the hot, sterile jars out of the oven. Place each jar in the sink. Don’t do this too early, because you don’t want too many airborne bacteria floating into them.
  7. Stir the veges often. As soon as they come back to a boil, they are ready to put into the jars.
  8. Bring the pot over to the sink. Using the large serving spoon, spoon the pickle mixture into the jars. The other sterile spoon is for those occasions when a piece of vege gets stuck on the large spoon, or threatens to fall down the outside of a jar. You may not need an extra spoon at all, but it’s sad to see good pickle mixture go to waste because you can’t nudge it in the right direction with your unsterile fingers, and it falls into the sink.
  9. When the jars are full, pour in extra liquid. Fill to within a half inch of the top.
  10. If necessary, wipe the outside threads with a paper towel. Don’t let it touch the inside anywhere. 

Finishing up.

 

  1. Now get the lids out of the oven using the tongs. Seal each jar. You may need to hold them with a dish towel because of the heat. After about 5 minutes, try turning the lids again, and there may be some more tightening to do.
  2. Let the jars cool. Over the next few hours you will hear the popping sound of the lids contracting as the seals set.
  3. Put the jars away for at least 3 weeks. Something happens to the chemical balance that matures the flavor over this time.

And that’s it. If you’ve been careful about how clean everything is, you won’t need to water-bath them. They keep for months in a dark cupboard. I have not kept any longer than a year, so I don’t know their long-term shelf-life, but I have never had a problem. Needless to say, if there’s a lid that doesn’t contract (i.e. ‘button’ is still up), it’s not sealed. You can keep it in the fridge and treat it like an open bottle of salad dressing. But the pickles won’t have matured, so won’t be as delicious.

And needless to say, if any go a funky color, or have mold on top when you open them, or the lid bulges outwards, then throw them away. But like I said, I have never had that happen.

 

Herb/spice variations

Add in any combination of sliced chili peppers, garlic, dill, cilantro, tarragon, cayenne, paprika, basil, sliced ginger. The flavors that seems to add the most are tarragon and ginger.

I treat whole fresh herbs separately. They are washed, and then right after I put the sterile jars in the sink, and take the spoons etc out of their boiling water, I dunk the herbs in for about 30 seconds to 1 minute into the same boiling water. Then I spoon the herbs into the clean jars. This is before I put the pickle mixture in. So put the blanched herbs into the jars before ladling in the pickle mixture. 

3 very short videos featuring snow

Banana tree in snow. Our neighbors have a banana tree. Which is pretty ambitious here above the 45th parallel. Every winter it disappears, and every summer it pops back up over the top of the fence. Here it is receiving the shock of its life.

Swirly snow. A study in movement.

Hummingbird in snow. I hope it survives the upcoming week of below-freezing temps.

Crumbled Savory Tofu

I love tofu and could eat it every day. I like it all different ways, including plain and simple.  But my husband drinks so much soymilk that he’s grown to dislike tofu, simply from over-exposure to the milky bean.  He cooks more than I do, so when my turn rolls around I’m inclined to reach for the spongy white slab kept in the “meat” drawer.  And I think of ways to dress tofu up beyond those inch-square cubes I so readily chop into the dinner pot.

Tonight’s invention is Crumbled Savory Tofu.

Ingredients: Wildwood tofu, Pearl River Bridge dark soy sauce (with the pink label), garlic, ground coriander seed, paprika, a little oil.  Plus cooked pasta to mix it into.
Most of my recipes don’t call for specific amounts, so use your judgement on that.

Directions:
1. Crumble the tofu.  If it’s not Wildwood (the densest, least watery brand) first press and drain it for a while or blast it in the microwave for a minute to release excess moisture, then drain that away.  The crumbled tofu should be dry-crumbly, not sitting in puddles.
2. In a little oil, fry up the garlic, coriander, and paprika.  
3. Tip in the crumbled tofu, and drizzle the soy sauce on it. Pear River Bridge brand is extra-strong, so be careful!
4. Stir it around till mixed and hot through.
5. Stir in your favorite cooked pasta.  In this photo it’s Trader Joe’s organic brown rice pasta.

Tonight’s dinner also included steamed scarlet runner beans (from the garden), and a salad of tomato (from the garden), red onion, green olives and basil (from the garden), dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.