Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sweet Tooth

I’m not much of a dessert maker since my kids have grown. Frankly, I just don’t need the calories. But, I have been known to stop by my favorite bakery and get a nice juicy (if that’s a good descriptor) chocolate chip cookie to satisfy a sweet moment. They’re just one of those cookies I just never seem to make to taste as good as some of the bakeries…until now (I hope). While in Ann Arbor I was given the local newspaper to read and whoo hoo there was this article in the food section called “Thanks, Mrs. Wakefield”.

Okay, so you never heard of Mrs. Wakefield? Ah, let me pass on my new knowledge. Ruth Graves Wakefield, inventor of the Chocolate Chip Cookie. Invented in 1930’s, in a serendipitous moment, when some Nestles semi-sweet chocolate ended up in her recipe for Butter Drop Do cookies. She was the owner of the Toll House Inn….and there we go, your “Ah ha” moment of today. But, as Paul Harvey would say, “And now, for the REST of the story!”

It’s a great recipe that you get on those tiny semi-sweet kisses from Nestles but it’s not like the occasional bakery that makes you drool for one like a hound with a biscuit on his nose. To quote the Herve Poussot, a baker and owner of Almondine, in Brooklyn, “If it was just a matter of a recipe we’d all be out of business. It’s what goes into the making of the cookie that makes all of the difference.” Okay, I can buy that. I’ve had a great steak and a so-so one with the same cut of meat depending on the cook/ and or restaurant. And so have you. The only difference was who prepared the meal. Makes sense to me....

So here I am, thinking if I’m missing some great secret on the chip front please fill me in because I want to be a hit at holidays with my family. I keep reading and finally someone spills the beans. Maury Rubin, of City Bakery, says “you have to let the dough sit for 36 hours before you bake it.” Shirley Corriher, author of Cooking Wise, pipes in with “Oh, that Maurys’ a sly one. He’s allowing the dough and other ingredients to fully soak up the liquid – in this case, the eggs – in order to get drier and firmer dough, which bakes to a better consistency. She goes on to say a long hydration time is important because eggs, unlike, say water are gelatinous and slow-moving. In addition, making matters worse, the butter coats the flour acting kind of like "border patrol guards" and prevent the liquid from getting through to the dry ingredients. The extra time in refrigeration takes care of that problem. Niceeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. Now I have to know science to bake my cookies. Oh help me. I'm a science flunky.

The second insight Rubin offered up was about cookie size. His cookies are 6 inches because he believes that the larger size allows for three distinct textures. “First, there’s the crunchy outside inch or so. Then there’s the center which is soft. But the real magic,” he added, “is the one-and-a-half inch ring between them where the two textures and all of the flavors mix.”


But, I’m going to have to wait 36 hours….ugh! Included below is the recipe they mentioned. Sounds yummy except I think I’ll replace the chocolate disks or “feves” (oh come on now!) with the old stand-by kisses. I mean where am I going to get “feves” in Northern Michigan. The local Wal-Mart doesn’t carry them. Included is the recipe they printed. I also think you could “rest” your own recipe for 36 hours to make a cookie improvement.

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 ½ cups (b ½ ounces) bread flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons of baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
2 ½ sticks (1 ¼ cups) unsalted butter
1 ¼ cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or feves, at least 60 percent cacao content
Sea Salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients, and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop the chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated up to 72 hours.
3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.
4. Scoop six (3 ½ ounce) mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, slip cookies to another rack to finish cooling.
5. Repeat with remaining dough. Makes 1 ½ dozen 5-inch cookies.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pay It Forward

Remember the movie? Who couldn't remember that was wonderful and the premise of "Paying It Forward" is divine. I'm thinking everyone needs a little divine intervention now and then from someone.

It's been my habit while doing the Ann Arbor Art Show (when I am there - and mostly I have been) to wait until the end of the show as we are packing up. Here and there a toy will be on the shelf that has been well loved during the fair and shows a finger print. I keep packing and leave it to the side. I wait, and I continue to pack. At some point, and it always happens, someone comes by with a child and no packages. Ah ha, a window shopping parent taking the baby for a stroll. I try not to read more into it than that. If they slow down while going past I offer them the toy. I explain there is a tiny smudge on it and how it can be cleaned off. So many people have been flabbergasted over the years. Some have tried to pay for the item. I just send them on their way, tell them to have a wonderful evening, and thank them for accepting the gift.

I believe in Karma and Random Acts of Kindness. I've done them for a long time because it just feels so darn good to see the genuine happiness a small token of good spirit can do for another person.

A couple of days ago I ran across a newsy item on ETSY about doing some Random Acts of Kindness. I wish I could remember where I read it because I'd like to give them credit but it's escaping me. What I can tell you though is that a "Pay it Forward" program has started up on Etsy. You may select an item in the PIF tagged section if you'd like and pretty much the only request made of you is that you pay an nominal amount for postage to mail it and the listing cost of 20 cents. The biggest request is that you in turn make a PIF listing for someone who might need the spirital pick-me-up themselves. Nice, huh? Everyone out there trying to make a living and sometimes they truly need a little treat for themselves or a loved one.

Yup, I'm in. I listed a large disc I was going to post tonight. Just call it a continuation of the ultimate plan...'cause you see, when I get rich I'm going to visit those museums in other countries and I'm going to stand in grocery stores here around the holidays. I'm going to watch for all the people who look like I did at one point in my life. Standing over that meat counter and trying to figure out how they're going to have that holiday meal and presents (you know the presents - snow boots/ pajama's). I'm giving them gift cards...lots of gift cards. Quietly, so as not to embarrass them but I'm a pretty sincere person so they will understand. I'm going to love it!

Post a PIF on Etsy and make someone's day. It's so easy, it's so nice, it's so kind, it's so right!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Back from Ann Arbor

University of Michigan Student Union

Whoo Hoo! Four days of art. Lots of art. Art that's so "happening" some of it you only catch glimpses of in galleries or magazines. Artists from everywhere in the biggest and most consistently top rated art show in the country.

It was a blast to see old friends and make new ones. My DH and I have been participating in the Michigan Guild's section at the Ann Arbor Art Fairs for ten years now with the children's toys we design but I haven't been able to attend the past two years due to career obligations. If you've never had the opportunity to attend this extravaganza you ought to consider a mini-vacation here to savor all of it. You can purchase everything from an outdoor sculpture (price range $50. to over $200,000.) to the daily utilitarian, but artistically designed and executed, pewter measuring cups and handmade wooden serving spoons. The shear size (number) and scope of the art work is mind boggling. There are no artistic' stones unturned. Nothing mundane here from Folk Art to Contemporary.

The Ann Arbor Art Fairs are held on the third weekend of July. It is a venue with five cooperating art shows. Each show is juried and maintains a flavor of it's own but with an all for one and one for all attitude. They even put out one show booklet containing all the shows and entertainment schedules. It is difficult, to say the least, to coordinate this type of undertaking but every year they seem to pull it off on the University of Michigan campus and adjoining streets.

I'd of taken more photos to show you but it is difficult to photograph anything when your nose is glued to the artwork and your tongue wagging deeply in conversations with the artists. I took a couple of shots of the Uof M Student Union because I'm always intriqued by the grandeur of it. I also think that next year I'm going to try and find where that room is at the top of the building that is nearly obliterated by the ivy. I guess it was my year for large artwork since I took some sculpture shots. Particularity interesting are the "people" by Mark Sijan. I recently saw one of these types of pieces in the Milwaukee Museum (according to the fair book he's a Milwaukee native). I'd forgotten how life like they are when you walk up on them, it's scary. Even more fun is to listen to the conversations of the people and children around them who have who've never experienced them before. Everyone always thinks they are human and about to move. Maybe it's because there was a mime all painted in silver and performing at one of shows who was as still as the sculptures until someone approached...and them whammo, gotcha!

Along with my attendance at Ann Arbor comes a renewal of spirit and inspiration so it's back to the torch and bench tomorrow and more exercise to loosen up that sore foot of mine.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Creative Friends

You can't be around glass, metal, and everything that revolves around them without developing some great creative friendships. I have weekly trips with my friend Susan (Susan's Art) to a class where we see more of our friends. We share so much at these classes. Jewelry tips and techniques roll off the tongue like butter off a hot poker while we work on new pieces and offer creative advice.

The youngster of this group is a fellah named John, freshly graduated from a local high school. I'd be hard pressed to tell you which of us is the oldest but I'm pretty sure most of us are on our 20th or 30th reunions from H.S. Creativity knows no age boundaries and is unifying for any group with a passion for art. We're all equals there - it's a glorious society which accepts everyone without discrimination.

Some of my friends I have never met in person. I'd of thought this odd to say 20 years ago but if you are reading this blog you get the gist of how this can happen. You meet someone through a blog or forum who has a similar interest and bingo...conversations, sharing, new friendships born.

Over the years I have been trading some of my "talents" for some of theirs. This is another great thing about artists. We appreciate one an others work and are often willing to barter some great stuff. Recently, an on-line friend, was interested in a Kumihimo kit and had some concerns as to it's difficulty. We've had some great conversations in the past and we decided to trade - A kit for a bead! Oh heavens...Eileen (Dorset Hill Beads) sent me a beautiful bead of a genre' I generally do not work in. I love it! She's wonderful and I'd of never met her if it weren't for on-line forums of like-minded artists.

Another recent barter was with person who I have come to consider a friend. I fell in love with a necklace I saw on her Etsy site and asked if she would like arrange a trade for my lampworking services. She graciously agreed to look over my site and found something she liked. I was and am ecstatic about my "Fingers" necklace. And how about those earrings you're looking at? Katherine of Meristem, my friend, created them and included my chartreuse discs. She is such an inspiration I tried a derivative work by riveting beads to some fingers I made; not bad (see them in an earlier post), and in my own style, but certainly not the same panache' as Katherine's original. I wore the original while in Ann Arbor at the art shows. Needless to say, the necklace was a hit with everyone. It is a place to wear your refinery - ARTSY FART-ZZZZZzzzz. Speaking of Artsy stuff...Katherine has a spread (about her and her fabulous talent) due out in an upcoming Bead Trend Magazine. And, so exciting for me, she used some of my disc's in her pieces. YES! YES! YES!

And then there is the LEST team of lampworkers. From LEST (Lampwork ETC. Street Team) I met Mallory, aka Rosebud 101, at Bead and Button when we were attending the ISGB (International Society of Glass Beadmakers) meeting and dinner. I heard someone at a neighboring table mention her name and I introduced myself. We use so many avatars and pen names sometimes it's difficult to discern who is who but it was a wonderfully serendipitous meeting. She is a ball of fire and energy and I enjoy her work, her comments, and her boundless energy on behalf of all of us artists at LEST and the ISGB.

I began writing this post prior to leaving for the Ann Arbor Art Shows. I have always found artists fascinating. Not because I feel I am one but because if you are passionate about art it initiates an open-mindedness about who and how it is created. At the very least when you walk amongst nearly a thousand artists surveying the work for four days you find yourself often amazed by the person who created it. Stereotypes get thrown out the window as your mind expands beyond the limiting, if not crippling, lines of any type of discrimination. I would not mention this but for a recent article in Belle Amoire Jewelry. It is about a talented lampwork artist named Carter Seibels. At issue is a reference made by the author of the article, Rice (I think it's pronounced Reese but I'm to old to find the symbol to go above her first name-tongue in cheek) Freeman-Zachery. It incensed my friend enough to have a "rant" on her blog (and she is not prone to this). It should have incensed the editors at Belle Amoire, who ought to have known better than to let their writers take liberties with stereotyping any one's beadmaking as looking like they had been created by (and I quote), "typical middle aged bead artists". I am thinking that Ms. Freeman-Zachery has a limiting (or limited) vision on artists, or exceptional and experimental art work. Maybe she or the editors would have benefited from the four days in Ann Arbor. I would hope they had the passion to look at the art and the process and skip the close-minded attitudes.

Disembodied avatars, high school students, instructors, friends...Artists! I am richer and more inspired for having this expanded group of creative peers. Maybe in the spirit of of Ms. Freeman's article I should be pushing myself up by putting someone else down but I think NOT. Instead I'll be singing the song from the Golden Girls (hum along with me...), "Thank you for being a friend."


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Feed Me Seymour!

I thought you might enjoy feeding the new Fish! The "pond" is on the left side of my posts below the Etsy listings. I just love the "Little Shop of Horrors", with Audrey and Seymour, so I thought I'd use it in the title above. Just click on the fish pond and watch the fish rush to get a snack. This great little widget is by Adam Bowman and he has quite a few interesting ones to peruse. Go for it! If you like the fish pond you'll love the other ones too. Watch out though, they're addicting...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Monkey Business

I've been off of work for a few weeks healing from some surgery. Nothing big...more like annoying and painful. Which, within a short period of time should leave me pain free and dancing like there's no tomorrow. What do they say, "Dance like no one is looking!" But, for the time being I feel a whole lot like the fella in the photo...laid back...matter of fact...and often downright lazy. In honor of my temporary freedom from my normal workday world I thought I might as well bask in it all and created a bead set.
So what do you think? It's the "Funky Monkey" and you can see more photos of it on Etsy. Oh Gosh, wasn't that a dance? Maybe it's the one I should do when my foot heals!!!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Miniature Landcape

This landscape bead is one of several types beads I've been working on perfecting. They're time consuming to make but I enjoy the challenge. This particular one took a little over an hour after I started to work the bead in the flame. And, that was following the creation of multicolor stringers. For example, the tree trunk and a silvered stringer for the wonderful rock look in forground.

In the base bead I use a technique I learned from Loren Stump where you blend the shades of a color as you are working the bead in the flame. When we were doing it with Loren we were working on complicated Murrini faces but I find it transfers well to horizons and the setting sun. It sounds easier than it is but then it wouldn't be much of a challenge if it were easy. Loren is an excellent instructor and the lessons he teaches cover a wide range of techniques.

Speaking of Loren, someone (maybe it was Kim Fields) gave me a quote attributed to him. I think it's pretty great and I hope I've got it right

"With glass you can't expect perfection, the most you can hope for is satifaction."
Loren Stump