Thursday, February 20, 2014

Final Flicks of a Paintbrush: Dessert Painting Series


I thought I would get this post pieced together by early January, but here comes the tail end of February. In order to reconnect with what I've been wanting to share, I scroll through the pictures I'm about to post and remember the time I spent with these images. I speak of the paintings themselves, and how their ideas grew and morphed in the process of mental birth to compositional sketches to final flicks of my paintbrush.

I had a whole lot of fun with this series. It was almost to the point of feeling guilty that I wasn't channeling more serious, deep thoughts and messages. But the emotions behind each piece were deep in their own way and certainly real, as I connected to the dreams that food can stir up. One concept drew me into the process of layering figs with whipped vanilla bean mascarpone between two layers of a cornmeal-crumbed ginger spice cake. (Which painting do you think I'm referring to?)

Autumnal quince, eggs for a silky curd, something stamped and baked.
[Acrylic on Wood Panel]

Sugar pie pumpkin, liberal splash of bourbon, creamy and spoonable.
[Acrylic on Wood Panel]

The time I have spent in my home kitchen and just two commercial kitchens has heaped up to such a jumble of recipes, stained wooden spoons, tears, laughter, and dirty dishes. I never meant for these paintings to channel only my sole experience, nor do I want them to reflect my dreams alone.

They are simple and spacious for reasons. I want their viewers to find room to dream. I want old food memories to be sparked. For me, these memories can flood in faces of loved ones or little moments of self-discovery. What about for you?

I also do not want to dictate responses to these pieces. I'm so very curious what your thoughts and reactions might be. Please do share.

If you would like to see them in person, they are presently hanging at Ciao Thyme at 207 Unity Street, Bellingham, WA and best viewed during their lunch cafe hours. They are all priced for sale, and I have five more small pieces in the works.

I am so very grateful to Ciao Thyme for hosting my pieces. In their kitchen I was given the opportunity to own my love of the culinary world in new ways. It was such an honor to work with them, and the passionate people behind that project will always be dear to my heart.

Please let me know if you're interested in pricing on these pieces.

Pain au chocolat, perhaps.
[Acrylic on Wood Panel]

Plump fig, fresh ginger, piping bag at ready.
[Acrylic on Wood Panel]

Lemon in hand, elderflower liqueur to add.  *SOLD*
[Acrylic on Wood Panel]

Here is an edited version of my artist statement, which is posted alongside the series:

I have always found as much delight with whisk in hand and flour on my fingertips as wielding a paintbrush with pigments under my nails.

During college, I needed a platform of creativity without judgment or critique that was no less aesthetically rich or stimulating. That is when my key forms of procrastination on studio art assignments became baking and reading about baking on the inspiring blogs of David Lebovitz, Molly Wizenberg, Deb Perelman, and Ashley Rodriguez.

When I left Ciao Thyme's pastry station in July and transitioned to being a full-time art teacher, it took some time for my mental patterns to switch as I was still in the habit of constantly musing over dessert creations. I'd find a spare moment in the classroom, and pencil down a phrase like chocolate cake, salted peanut swiss buttercream, deep dark mousse, nib brittle. I felt mildly crazy in this lingering obsession, but also desired to redirect it rather than kill it. I knew I had to put all these pounds of sugar and butter, overused egg yolks and underused whites, and kitchen hours I no longer possessed into paint.

Each piece begins with a primary object, as if I were passing it at the farmers' market or had an overabundance to use up or simply knew it was the season to hunt it down and make the most of it. Each piece has a specific complete plated dessert in mind from each of the components, though as I've spent time with them I come up with other presentations and possibilities. 

The titles are vague because I encourage those who view them to come up with their own complete pictures, too, if they so desire. If the viewer cannot relate to my occasionally-excessive love of the kitchen but still finds these pieces intriguing, beautiful, and relatable in their own right, then my satisfaction as the artist is all the more peaceful and sweet.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Eating Good Food, Indeed.

granita dessert night V

There is a man in my life these days who expresses the most enthusiastic murmurs and sighs while eating the food I make for him.

On a recent Friday night I found myself trying to contain a smile while spooning the most beautiful ruby red colored granita into my mouth, as he sat next to me and did the same. I love his audible sounds of pleasure and appreciation (and they're hardly overkill if you're picturing the scene from What About Bob? with Bill Murray and his cob of corn). In fact, if I was the noise-making type while eating, I would have been doing the exact same thing with this dessert. Rather, I sunk myself a little deeper into the couch, tucked my knees up, sighed in pleasure, and slowly spooned another bite of sweet yet tangy granita and vanilla bean gelato into my mouth, letting the flavors linger and slowly melt on my tongue.

granita dessert night II

granita dessert night III

About midway through the summer I finally claimed ownership of a copy of Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food. I've admired and appreciated Bi-Rite ever since I interned in San Francisco four summers ago. I still remember my first Sam's Sundae eating experience. The sun had set, and we were fully satisfied from sublime Delfina pizzas but still couldn't resist queuing up in the creamery's customary fashion for a final bite of something sweet and rich. The thought of bergamot olive oil and sea salt topping a scoop of ice cream was too intriguing to pass up, especially with my friend nudging me in the side that I should go for it, and it would rock my world. I ordered the sundae, and as dark chocolate ice cream with airy barely-sweet whipped cream and those two savory elements slid down my throat, my eyes were more widely opened to the possibilities within dessert creations.

I have made Eat Good Food my daily reading material during my dinner break at work. I have enjoyed being in no rush to get from page one to the end and the opportunity to cover each page of detailed education on produce, the butcher counter, dairy, and more and recipes to tuck away for as-soon-as-possible usage. It's an effortless choice to recommend and pass around to foodie friends or those desiring to broaden their education but needing an approachable while thorough place to start. I have already made my own adaptations of the almond cake, buttermilk cake, and turnover dough and been inspired by the lentil salad, gazpacho, and Sicilian meatballs.

granita dessert night VII

Honestly, I picked the Blood Orange Granita recipe because the author, and Bi-Rite's owner, Sam Mogannam described it as "the sexiest slushy on earth", and it's just too tempting to return to those childhood loves - like artificially colored and flavored slushies in giant styrofoam cups - and redo them for an adult palate. And then, he also mentioned something reminiscent of a creamsicle when pairing the granita with vanilla ice cream and had me further hooked.

Unable to leave our dessert alone at that, I was scheming up possibilities for an additional element and decided this was the prime opportunity to try David Lebovitz's Italian Almond Cookies. So, the morning's project grew as I settled on this pairing of something sweet and almond-y to hold in one hand, let soften with vanilla-scented cream, and alternate with cold spoonfuls of citrus flavor. It was still a quick and simple endeavor and one that I was completely satisfied with aesthetically and in flavors.

granita dessert night IV

Italian Almond Cookie Dough

Granita requires mild babysitting for a few hours, but otherwise it's an unbeatably easy desserts with a fanciful flair. Just make a simple syrup, combine it with your flavor elements (here, a whole lot of blood orange juice -- wear an apron for splatters, unless you have a better juicer than I or are more skilled at containing a mess). Ashley at Not Without Salt has a cream-based granita I'd love to try sometime. (And knowing how my boyfriend's eyes grow wide at any mention of coffee -- even if he's already had a few cups or it is getting late into the night -- I should probably get on this one.)

As for the cookies, they were an unsurprising winner. Conveniently gluten-free for those who need or prefer this, their soft gently almond-scented middles contrast perfectly with the crunchy exterior and would be just as lovely on their own or paired with a strong cup of espresso. I debated long over whether to use almonds or pine nuts, but for economic reasons, selected almonds this time.

granita dessert night VI

Blood Orange Granita
Adapted from Bi-Rite Market's Eat Good Food

Makes 1/2 Quart
(enough for 5-6 servings)

You really can take this recipe many directions within the citrus realm, adjusting your sugar amount accordingly. I used mostly blood oranges with a few Cara Cara oranges to bring up my total juice volume. Also, one tablespoon of Cointreau went into the mix -- because who can resist?

3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
pinch kosher salt
1-1/8 cups freshly squeezed juice of blood oranges, tangerines, and/or other citrus varieties
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon Cointreau, or other complimentary liqueur (optional)

In a small saucepan, add the sugar and salt to the water and gently stir to blend. Cook over medium-high heat just until the crystals are dissolved.

Let cool slightly, then pour into a medium bowl with all citrus juices and Cointreau. Whisk ingredients together and pour into a glass storage container wide enough to spread the liquid to approximately an inch high.

Freeze uncovered until ice crystals start to form, about 1 hour. Stir the mixture with a fork to break up the crystals. Return to the freezer and stir every 30 minutes until the mixture is icy throughout (2-3 hours total, depending how diligent you are in keeping the crystals small).

Once the granita is thoroughly composed of small ice crystals, serve immediately or seal the container and store in the freezer for up to two weeks. Break up the mixture with a fork just before serving.

granita dessert night I
{When the sun goes down, the Instagram filters must go on.}

Italian Almond Cookies

I added a few drops of almond extract (a scant 1/4 teaspoon) for a more pronounced almond flavor. As for my apricot jam, I was too lazy to whiz it into perfect smoothness, so I whisked it up a good bit and then embraced the orange bits of apricot still peaking about the exterior of the dough; they melded into the whole by the end of baking.

Additionally, I made a half-recipe and got nine cookies out of it. (Egg whites weigh approximately 30 grams, so I used 45g.) Clearly my size was bigger than David's, still fitting easily within my palm but not classifiable as dainty. They barely spread, so I would recommend not shaping them so tall that their interiors aren't baked through before the edges have significantly browned; there should be a bit of moisture left in these cookies.

Find the cookie recipe in full over HERE at David Lebovitz's blog.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Shifts I've Made and Cookies I've Baked

I was reoriented to a term when I spent four months back in a land I love, New Zealand, a few years ago. The term was shift, which, of course, is familiar to my ears, but the way it was used confused me initially.


Over there, when you move from one house to another, you ask your friends if they'll help you "shift." I would hear this and picture a person shifting their weight from one leg to the other. How could such a subtle movement, essentially stationary and ineffectual to those around you, be equated with boxing up nearly your entire life, possibly organizing a garage sale, and spending days lifting heavy containers and foregoing decent sleep to uproot and re-root?

I struggled to not get distracted in conversation when "shift" was used in this way, as inwardly I wanted to insist that the word move held more weight. I like the idea of something of greater importance and drama, of braving new territory and discovering great new things. Over time, though, the verbs have become interchangeable to me as well.


I occasionally use "shift" when talking about my transition to California, and it seems to suit.

This word has not changed in its subtly as it has crept in; rather the concept of making a geographical move (whether house to house or country to country) has needed less weight and significance applied to it. For perhaps obvious reasons, we can get carried away with the expectations in making a move. A new home becomes a new start with fewer possessions (yet don't they too easily begin to accumulate again?). A new city becomes a new picture of self and dreams, goals, and identity (inevitably a new wardrobe and different body creep into this fantasy too...). Scooting off to a different country is so tied to the notion of adventure that we forget that loneliness is a universal experience.

The realist in me seems to be quite present as I look over the last year and all the shifts in life that have happened. They have indeed impacted my life significantly, but in and of themselves, they have not been able to go deep in making any lasting changes. It's still me in this body with these moods and opinions, journeying through these days. I still put on the same three bracelets every day, drive on American freeways, am within easy access of Starbucks, and crave pastries for breakfast.

I'm thrilled to have made the shift I did when I look around at the relationships that have begun in this city; I already cannot imagine going without them. I am entirely content to be where I'm at when I can coordinate a fairly simple road trip four hours south to hold a newly born niece and nephew (compared to being a plane flight away).


Not-so-old memories creep in as I lay my head on my pillow and give a brief thought to the option of setting an alarm. I used to live by alarm clocks and never felt rested enough -- six months ago, my life as a pastry chef required setting my alarm for within the five o'clock hour. I would even come home after certain shifts and crawl right back into bed, squeezing my eyes tight to shut out the daylight. Last January I was living on an entirely different schedule as the manager of a small business with varying work shifts day-to-day at a place that was open from noon to 10 P.M.

There have been so many changes which could be accentuated and dwelt upon! But as the years add up and the number of transitions in life become impossible to count, a fluidity connects it all, and I recognize that the measure of movement within that comes from these shifts is mostly up to me.

One delightful way to hold together these chapters is through food memories. Each country, city, group of friends, or season can be associated with particular food and drink interests and enjoyments at the time. As I was wrapping up my life in Bellingham in June, I made a trip to Seattle to visit my cousin, and we discovered this memorable combination of flavors at Arabica Lounge on Capitol Hill in Seattle.

We were catching up over delicious espresso and beautifully presented egg-y breakfast dishes while seated at the bar seats facing outside and passers-by. We returned to the counter to pick out sweet treats to-go after our meal, and I am so glad I chose the Mango and Chili Crackle. It was deeply cocoa-y, studded with nibbles of dried mango and dark chocolate, and had a confident presence of warming chili powder.


The metamorphosis of my recipe came from a small amount of macadamia nuts in my kitchen and a craving for dark chocolate. I started thinking of adding mango and then recalled these cookies and knew chili powder needed to go in too. Just a couple weeks before, and I had been perusing the archives of a beautiful blog, Local Milk, and come across these enticing cookies. I figured they would be the perfect platform to work from for my own creation.

Double Chocolate Mango Chili Cookies
Adapted from Local Milk Blog

I brought these cookies to two different groups, and both were raving about them for the next few weeks (and beyond). I used 1/2 teaspoon of a strong chili powder that created a lovely effect of warming the back of the throat distinctly in the course of eating the cookie, but by the end the lingering flavor was more deep chocolate and salty-sweet than burning heat.

Yields about two dozen cookies.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder, sifted
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2-1 tsp chili powder (increase or decrease depending on heat of particular spice and personal preference)
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, room temperature
4 oz. dark chocolate chips
4 oz. milk chocolate chips
2/3 cup dried mango, finely chopped
1/2 cup macadamia nuts, finely chopped (optional)
raw turbinado sugar, to coat (optional)
flaky sea salt (e.g. Maldon) to garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and chili powder in a bowl.

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter until pale and fluffy. Scraping down as needed, beat in sugars until very smooth and fluffy again, 2-3 minutes.

On medium speed, add vanilla and one egg at a time until incorporated. Slowly add dry ingredient mixture on low speed, stopping right before it is entirely incorporated. Remove from machine and use a large spatula or wooden spoon to fold in chocolate chips, dried mango, and macadamia nuts.

Spoon dough into Tablespoon-sized balls, roll gently between palms, and place in freezer for about 20 minutes if wanting to bake immediately, or allow to freeze completely, move to zip-lock for longer storage, and freeze for up to two weeks before proceeding to next step.

Once the cookie balls are chilled to almost-firm, remove from freezer, roll in turbinado sugar to coat, and space evenly on a baking tray lined with parchment. Sprinkle the top of each with flaky sea salt, and bake for 10-14 minutes, until edges are set and the top looks just barely wet.

Allow to cool slightly on their tray before moving to a cooling rack. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 24 hours...if there are any left to store!