Tuesday, April 26, 2011

hand made Easter

For creativity to have a bit of space to move and grow, time is the most essential ingredient. With the arrival of the long Easter weekend, I needed to make decisions about how to spend my time. I could frantically aim to create the perfect meal for my eight guests or... I could spend some time puttering. Puttering and reading a new novel by Charlotte Bronte and allowing the creative impulse to grow. I compromised and managed to both putter and prepare. Instead of forcing myself to bake pies and cook a turkey and bake bread, (because I am capable of doing all those things), I instead took a meandering path. Firstly, I bought two pies from the very delectable Madeline's on Bathurst Street. And then, rather than roasting a huge turkey, I bought a small duck and a small chicken. I made a stuffing of whatever I happened to have in my fridge, which just so happened to be a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, red onions and basil. After carmelizing the onions, I mixed them up with bread crumbs, chopped in the fresh basil and stuffed both birds. And the flavours were surprisingly wonderful together. Without the pressure of cooking the perfect meal, I had time to enjoy the days before Easter. I felt the urge to make some collage cards, pulling images from the vintage children's story books I had picked up a few weeks previous.

I also made a ribbon lapel pin for a dear friend. Not everyone received a card or a gift. I did not fitfully try to make something for one and all. But a few original gifts came with the eclectic meal. And in truth, what mattered most to all of us was the chance to spend time with our family and loved ones. The highlight really came when, following the dinner, one of our guests from Iran took out his violin and played for us. I felt myself melting into the strains of the notes, closing my eyes, and feeling that nothing could ever replace that moment.

Monday, April 18, 2011

ginger chocolate gluton-free cookies

When I was a girl, my mother used to bake cookies and cakes with olive oil. Not always, but sometimes. And I found it a bit embarrassing at the time. (But not as embarrassing as eggplant). However, now I find myself using olive oil in baking and though I often combine it with butter, it's also nice on its own.

The other night, my daughter was dropping by after her sewing class to pick up her bicycle, and I wanted to have a treat ready for her. So, typically, I made up a batch of cookies, not using a recipe. When I first started cooking gluten-free, twenty-five years ago when my son was diagnosed with celiac, there were no recipes in existence. And no internet to search for recipes. So I invented my own and over the years, I just became accustomed to it.

I am currently working on a recipe book of wheat free and gluten free muffins and cookies, so I do welcome any feedback on any of the recipes that I post. I recommend having these ginger chocolate cookies with a cup of orange oolong tea.

I also want to make mention of the flour mixture. It looks complicated but it really isn't. What I do is mix up ten cups of the gluten free mixture at a time. That way, I don't have to fuss around each time I bake. I change it up all the time but basically, I enjoy using millet flour, tapioca flour, rice flour, quinoia flour, arrowroot flour (in small amounts) and more recently, I'd added teff flour to my mixes. So below, you will see the combination I used for these cookies, but I've also used many other combinations.

The dry mixture includes:
1/2 cup quinoia flour
1/2 cup teff flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 cup gluten free rolled oats
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 cup candied ginger chopped into small bits
1/2 cup slivered almonds
one orange peel grated (use an organic orange to avoid pesticides)

one egg
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 T. orange juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup melted butter (or omit the butter and double up on the olive oil)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup organic sugar

Mix dry ingredients into wet.
Add 1/2 cup chocolate chips
Optional: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts.

Bake at 360 degrees until brown.

This rich tasting cookies melt in your mouth. And the combination of chocolate and ginger is delectable.

As my friend Wilma always says.... enjoy!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Creativity within limits

Sometimes the limitations of time and/or funds can be a great motivator for me. I'm not saying that I necessarily believe every artist should constantly struggle to survive. But I am noticing that limits do not always quash creativity and, in fact, sometimes an imposed limitation can be a wonderful motivator. This past few days, while I visited home (as I work in a remote city), I have very little time to spare. Somehow, in a few short hours, I needed to completely transform a room for a visitor who is coming all the way from India to visit. The room was in a terrible state with holes in the walls, half stripped layers of wallpaper, and a general mess. We had been using as a place to hang laundry and also a dumping ground for this and that. So first things first; I packed up the papers and mobiles and odds and ends into a large tub. The electrical in that room has never been upgraded and the light switch is not working. So I found a lamp in the basement, which need some kind of mount.... a long gone piece of hardware. As I didn't have time to chase down a piece of hardware which, from my knowledge might not even exist, I set out thinking about how to mount this lamp onto the wall. I settled on the window frame, since it's very difficult to find studs in the hundred year old walls. I found an old silver bracelet, hammered it flat and used it as a decorative yet functional piece of hardware to secure the lamp onto the wood frame. I then examined the walls. We had begun to strip the wallpaper but it became clear, after six or seven layers of wallpaper, that if I kept going, the plaster would begin to fall out of the wall. As the wallpaper was holding it all in. Also, I became fascinated with the antique, muted colours of the final layers of wallpaper. Most of it became damaged of course, in the stripping process but in the end, I couldn't decide whether to leave it up in bits and pieces of take it down. In the end, because of time, it's staying. And once I found a few hand painted photographs I had picked up at the Salvation Army and hung them on the wall above the dresser, the room began to have a warm and inviting feel to it, in spite of the damaged walls. I also hung one of my quilts on the far wall, the one with the most holes in it. In less than an hour, the rooms was transformed and all the while I was whistling while I worked... metaphorically that is.

I could have fretted for days or even weeks about that room. But because I didn't have time to fret, I found myself inspired. How can I transfer that same 'do-it-on-a-dime' attitude in other ways in my life? How can I take a sow's ear and turn it into a silk purse? Perhaps just by taking a second look and maybe finding a bit of beauty in something worn and old.

Monday, April 11, 2011

spring tears and feeding the ravens

I woke up this morning with a day off and what happened? Preparing my breakfast, I literally bashed my head into a kitchen cupboard as I was getting up on a chair to reach something high up. Pulling a bag of frozen chocolate chips from the freezer, I iced my head while the tears flowed. Sometimes I think I'm moving too fast to catch up with myself and it really does take a bonk on the head to feel my own heart. After that, I stepped outside to walk, only to discover that it feels like the first day of spring. After months of cold and winter, the sun today shines warmth onto our heads. In spite of the beautiful, long-awaited for spring weather, I've been weepy for most of the day. Not dramatic tears; not tears that actually stem from anything in particular. But honest tears that come from somewhere. Does it matter that I dig for the source? I don't think so. They are, I suppose, tears of joy and tears of sadness and tears of winter gone and tears of spring come. I am reminded that so often I feel I need to be strong; to have something valuable to contribute, to be a warrior for the things I live for. And... it's equally important to feel weak sometimes.

One of my errands today required that I pull one of my paintings from its frame and bring it to a shop to be scanned. It's one of my own paintings; of a joyous woman feeding the ravens. She is explosive and energetic; the opposite of how I feel today. But she is inside me somewhere, or I would not have been able to paint her. And she reminds me of home. Home is a city of ravens. On this first teary-eyed day of spring, I invite the woman who feeds the ravens to visit again. For today I am not on anyone's schedule but my own.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Found childhood treasures

In thinking of my childhood, I see two rooms; one room is filled with the turbulence and excitement and laughter of a household of nine and a neighbourhood where in one city block, we could count over one hundred children. The other room I see is the place where I would escape to whenever I could; a place where I found a quiet place and stepped into the stories I read. There I entered castles, underwaters, treetops, towers and and caves.

Whenever I step into a second hand shop, I find myself instinctively searching through the books, looking for illustrations that might kindle those daydreaming hours of my childhood. As children, we leafed through a set of green books called "My Book House". Book one begins with simple lullabies, book two with poetry, book three with faerie tales and on it goes. The books were published in the 1950's and early 1960's, around the time I was growing up. While stepping into a small and junk-filled second hand shop the other day, I came across two of the "green books". They have been battered and torn and worn but that made no difference to me. I snatched them up as greedily as a person might snatch up a sweet bun, after abstaining from sweets for weeks. I also saw a red hat that took my fancy, with a tiny brim of paper flowers around its crown. It seemed to go with the books; fanciful, childlike and playful. The moment I arrived home, I began leafing through the pages. I found a poem my father used to sing to us about blackbirds. I saw (and remembered how it had delighted me as a child) an illustration of an old man whose beard was so voluminous, a number of critters had made their home in his beard. And a girl walking among the owls; her cape flowing like wings into the sky. These battered books are like the carrier pigeons of my childhood. I welcome their messages and notes with open arms. It seems to me that inspiration can come in many forms. And for only a few dollars, I can bring myself to a gentler place. Some might call me frivolous. But I'm sure Jane Eyre would approve and applaud the few purchases!