Thursday, May 29, 2014

This Year's Garden

After a long and hard winter, the fist of the spring blooms are starting to show their colors. The winter took its toll on the foxgloves. Many are dead or stunted. Hopefully they will eventually bounce back. Two pleasant surprises are the lupines and the wisteria. Both look and smell great. 

I planted the lupines two years ago and though I got part of a flower last year, this is the first year I've gotten multiple blooms. They really look great. I am very happy with the wisteria I planted last year too. I chose an amethyst falls variety and it weathered the winter well and has more than tripled in size.  

I have much work to do to get the yard in order. Not winterizing last year does not help at all. Hopefully there will be more to come as the summer approaches.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Makin' Gnocchi

When you are going to take on a dinner party for more than four and you promise home-made gnocchi, it is good to have a lot of hands on deck. Gnocchi is relatively easy to make but the process is a little long.

I begin by baking potatoes. Roughly a half of a large russet potato per person should work. I did six large ones. You then rice them and then sift in, lightly tossing after each cup, three cups of unbleached all purpose flour. After it is tossed, it should start to come together to form a dough.

The dough then gets formed into a small ball and then rolled out, like a snake, about 1/2" in diameter (even thinner, if you like). The snake is then cut into 3/4" sections and then rolled down the gnocchi board to give it grooves. You can also do this with a fork.  

We had a full assembly line going and lots of hands on the groove-making. I think that everyone enjoyed it, for the first half-hour, at least.

Because we had so many hands at work on them, the result looked like a collection of sea shells. It was very cool.

After my minions relieved themselves of their duties, I made another batch of ricotta gnocchi on my own. For this batch, I used 1 1/2 cups of ricotta, four egg yolks and just over a cup of flour. I also put a dash of nutmeg in them. These came out a little more uniform in shape and size.

Gnocchi get boiled until they float to the top of the water and then sauteed in the sauce of your choice. I made three sauces tonight. One was a pesto cream, another was a pink sauce made with cream added to a red sauce base with pork and fennel. For the ricotta gnocchi, I made an Alfredo with a little nutmeg.

The gnocchi were very tasty. I liked the ricotta the best but the favorite for everyone else was the potato gnocchi in the pink sauce.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mural Progress - Second Week of Painting

Only the second week into it and I am wondering what I've gotten myself into. I like how things are coming but am starting to realize how long it is going to take to fully realize this project. I guess it gives me something to post about; which is more than I could say for the past six months.  
The setup and paint mixing is the most daunting part for me. I am color-blind so I have to be careful and I have my daughter help me match colors from week to week. It also means I need to be more rigorous with cleaning and switching out brushes so that the paints don't start to meld together.
I finished the first coat on the east wall and have started to add a little more detail. I don't want to get to far along before starting the other waslls because I don't want the walls to look too different from one another.
My portable scaffolding is coming in handy again but I think I may need to do something about the lighting and figure out a better way to hold the photos I am painting from. It is a little aggravating at the moment.
All in all, I am happy with the progress and wish I could do more than just paint on the weekends but the set up and clean up take so long that it precludes me from painting during the week. I guess I'll just have to be patient.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Starting the Mural

Back in 2008, I had an idea that I would paint a mural in the dining room, above the high dado, like a frieze. I even did a little Photoshop image of what it might look like. In 2011, we finished the plaster work, repainting and refinishing the woodwork in the rooms. Last year, we added in beam lighting. Since 2011, that area below the ceiling has remained white and has been the subject of conversation for anyone visiting. 

A couple weeks ago, I figured it was about time that I started on that mural. I laid out a photograph I took of the DesPlaines River, in River Forest, Illinois. It is a beautiful spot nearby and seemed appropriate for the location. I scaled it to fit the area and then drew a grid over the image to act as a guide for my painting. 

I drew another grid on the wall to correspond to the one on the image. The image is half the size of the actual painting. The wall was prepped with two coats of primer prior to laying out the grid.  
Yesterday, I finally started painting. I began with a turpentine wash of yellow and brown to outline the lightest and darkest parts of the painting on the east wall of the dining room. It is all being done free-hand by looking at the image so that it has as natural an appearance as possible. Though I went to art school, I've never attempted anything quite like this so I am a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing.  

After completing the initial outline on the wall, I began a second layer of roughly filling in broad color areas within the painting. There are roughly six colors that I am using for this. It is all in oils and being painted directly to the wall. Once I complete these two layers on all four walls, I will go back into the painting with additional colors and add more detail adn depth to the painting.  
In a weekend, I laid out one wall and painted a section that is roughly four feet long. Given the time it takes to mix paints and clean up, I won't be doing any painting during the week but I think I will use the next two weeks to lay out the grids and arrange the images on the other three walls.  
 So far I am pretty happy with things and the anxiousness about doing this project is beginning to dissipate. It is going to take a pretty long time to complete but I think it will be worth it. I have also started looking at how these types of paintings would have been treated in the past and am wondering if I should use some sort of varnish to add depth and protect the work. I haven't made my mind up either way on this yet.