The latest from the 365 phone-ograph a day project. April — surfaces and details.
Over the past month, I’ve made at least a dozen of these polenta pizzas plus half that amount of rhubarb crisps. Say hello to springy goodness folks, this is it.
What makes the pizza stand out is the thinly baked cornmeal crusts covered in arugula-sunflower seed pesto and sauteed asparagus, fennel, and leeks. At times fingerling potatoes or peas were interchanged for the asparagus and fennel and the whole pizza was daubed with goat cheese crumbles. Any way you dress these pies, they’re sure to be knockouts.
I wrote about the gingery rhubarb crisp at the start of spring fever, if you want to give that recipe a go as well. Add a salad to the two and you can call it a casual dinner party. You can see me cooking the pizza and crisp live on yesterday’s TV segments (please excuse the ums and whatnot).
We can make a toast and talk artsy fartsy stuff or hang out, dance, and tell bad jokes. Whatever suits you.
Spring Vegetable Polenta Pizza
makes 2 thin crust 10-inch pies
For the polenta crust:
1 ½ cups coarse cornmeal
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ cups cold water
2 cups boiling water
For the pesto:
1 cup pesto (see recipe below)
For the topping:
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large leeks, (rinsed well and tough greens and ends removed), sliced into thin rounds
1 fennel bulb (fronds and core removed), sliced lengthwise into 1-inch wedges
½ pound asparagus (ends trimmed), sliced into 2 1/2-inch pieces
optional: 4 ounces crumbled plain or herb garlic goat cheese, to taste
Combine cornmeal, salt, olive oil, and cold water in a small bowl. Have the boiling water on the stove in a saucepan, and whisk in the cornmeal mixture. Cook about 10 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently. It will get very thick. Remove from heat, and let cool to the touch.
Preheat the oven to 375F. Oil two 10-inch pie or tart pans. Add the polenta, and use a spatula and wet hands to form it into a smooth, thick crust over the bottom and sides of the pan. Brush the surface with olive oil, and bake uncovered for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium heat and sauté leek, fennel, and asparagus in the olive oil with a pinch or two of salt for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender and still vibrant. If they start to stick to the pan, deglaze it with a little water (as needed).
Remove the polenta crust from the oven. Turn up the oven to a low broil. Spread the pesto onto the bottom of the baked crust; add the sautéed leek, fennel, and asparagus (followed by the goat cheese if using). Broil on the middle rack about 5 to 10 minutes, until the crust turns golden brown on the edges. Serve hot.
makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 cups packed baby arugula leaves, washed and drained
juice from ½ a lemon
1 garlic clove, optional
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt (to taste)
Blend arugula, lemon juice, garlic, and nuts in a food processor until the nuts are ground. Drizzle in the olive oil, with the machine still running; process until you have a smooth paste. Season to taste with salt.
tomorrow, there will be cake!
until then, I’m sharing a page from the “surface abstractions” (an ongoing photos series I’m working on that details urban environments) sketchbook.
plus a note on figure and ground from 101 Things to Learn in Art School by Kit White:
“Most images, even abstract ones, usually have a figure, the object(s) of interest, and a ground, the space in which those objects sit. This holds for video and film as well. The relation of the figure to the ground is the most basic compositional device and describes to the brain the most basic conditions of any image.”
Our weeping cherry tree and lilac bush are close to blooming so I think it’s safe to say yay, spring! Our house could use a swift dusting over along with my spring and summer wardrobe, perhaps you feel the same? So long dust bunnies and wool, hello cotton (and maternity clothes).
I think I can help you out with at least one part of spring cleaning (sorry no door-to-door service) by offering you a $75 gift card from Shabby Apple, one of my favorite online shops featuring vintage-style clothing for women. They offer aprons, dresses, skirts, tops, swimsuits, and maternity wear in a range of sizes and styles from the 1920′s through the 1970′s. I’m partial to this 60′s yellow a-line dress with white buttons, cap sleeves, and a side zipper. I’d like to see it hanging in my rather empty closet right now (too bad I can’t play along).
Which item is your favorite?
*****Note: The Giveaway is now closed. Thanks everyone for playing along and congrats to Melissa Palmer, you won!
For a chance to win (open to U.S. residents only) a $75 Shabby Apple gift card (to spend as you choose), follow these two steps:
1. “Like” Shabby Apple on Facebook.
2. Leave a comment here telling me your favorite Shabby Apple item.
Sign up for my monthly newsletter (see sign-up box on the right side of this page). You can also follow/like me on one or all of my social hangouts: twitter, facebook, pinterest, google + and tell me that you did so in the comments.
A winner will be chosen at random next Friday.
I feel a little out of sorts, artistically speaking. I haven’t picked up a film camera or jotted down notes for new photo projects in weeks. I’ve been in the kitchen coming up with new recipes and testing and retesting them until I arrive at the place where I vow never to saute another clove of garlic only to find myself in front of the stove bright and early the next morning. Olive oil, garlic, and ginger warm in the pan. Then it’s a chiffonade of kale or chopped baby spinach followed by a poached egg or two before I sit down to eat breakfast at the kitchen table. Sun streaks spread across the pink tabletop covered with round yellow placements. Somewhere, my grandmother is looking down on this scene smiling. Pink and yellow together along with fresh eggs hatched from the chickens she and my grandfather raised in the barn out back are some my favorite memories of her.
These early spring weeks are filled with hearty breakfasts and quiet moments when writing opens up the intimacy of connecting with life. Newly planted English peas and Bibb lettuces sprout in the garden bed and I casually rub my growing midsection in anticipation of what’s to come. Yep, things are growing around here and I’ve been waiting and holding onto my excitement until we reached the half-way mark to tell you this news—I’m pregnant and our little sprout (a boy!) arrives in September. As you can imagine, David, Luke, and I are terribly thrilled and after a queasy first trimester, I’m happy to settle into the second.
It’s true, a baby changes your life in dramatic and unexpected ways. In my experience, each pregnancy has brought on an onslaught of welcome creativity. Three months after Luke was born, I started this blog. Since then, I’ve worked hard to design the kind of creative life and career I spent years only dreaming about. I flounder in moments and lose trust, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Five months before this baby will be born, I’ve finished the second chapter of an ebook and am making more work in the kitchen, studio, and at the writing table than previously.
I say all of this because I’m in awe. We’re having another baby and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Who knows, I may even pick up my camera today…
To celebrate, I made a gingery rhubarb crisp. Come on over—we have a breezy front porch with a weeping cherry out front and plenty of spoons to go around.
Gingery Rhubarb Crisp
makes 6 servings
2 pounds fresh rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
½ cup natural cane sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup old-fashioned oats
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ cup chopped walnuts
¾ cup light brown sugar
½ cup (vegan or dairy) butter (softened)
Preheat the oven to 375F. Lightly oil a 9-inch square baking pan.
In a large bowl, mix the rhubarb, sugar, orange zest, vanilla, ginger, and flour together. Pour mixture into the prepared pan.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, oats, ginger, walnuts, sugar, and butter. Use a pastry blender or your fingers to cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the rhubarb filling and pat firmly in place.
Bake uncovered 35 to 40 minutes, or until the fruit is bubbling around the edges and the top is lightly browned. Serve warm with vanilla coconut ice cream.
What do you say we get back to our pickle talk?
A few weeks ago, I mentioned a quick vinegar pickle recipe featuring asparagus and carrots. Since then, I’ve snacked on pickles straight from the jar and chopped them into many an egg salad sandwich. Both are equally good, but the pickled sushi rolls blend that salty, sweet, sour, and spicy edge seamlessly. It’s the sort of make-shift fare fit for hikes, impromptu dates, airport rides, and road trips. They pack well and are a cinch to make once the hummus, pickles, and rice are made. I can also imagine these rolls starring in a sushi-style potluck with cups of saki on a candlelit table surrounded by close friends.
Let’s get to it.
On the go—Edamame and Pickled Veg Sushi Cone Rolls
makes 8 rolls
4 sheets nori
Quick Asparagus and/or Carrot Pickles
Recycled storage container
Soy sauce packets
makes 4 servings
1 1/2 cup sushi rice
3 cups water
1/4 cup brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Rinse and drain the rice 3 times. Add 2 cups of water and let soak for 40 minutes. Place the rinsed rice and water in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 45 minutes.
While the rice cooks, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook and stir until the sugar dissolves, a few minutes. Allow the vinegar mixture to cool.
Once the rice is done, let it sit covered (don’t peek) for 10 minutes to allow the starches to slowly release and create a sticky rice). Put the cooked rice in a large bowl. Toss the hot rice with a wooden spoon or spatula. Sprinkle the vinegar mixture over the rice as you continue to toss and cool the rice as it soaks up the vinegar.
makes about 1 cup
1 cup shelled edamame, cooked
1 tablespoon tahini
1 to 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 scallion, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
a drizzle of olive oil
small squeeze of sriracha
Place the edamame, tahini, garlic, scallion, lemon juice, salt, olive oil, and sriracha in a high speed blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Note: you’ll have leftover edamame hummus that you can use as a dip with raw vegetables, spread on toasted bread with your favorite toppings, or toss with noodles for a quick dinner.
Edamame and Pickled Veg Sushi Cone Rolls
makes 8 cones
4 sheets nori, cut into half
1 recipe Sushi Rice
1 recipe Edamame Hummus
Quick Asparagus/Carrot Pickles
To roll cone rolls, lay the longer edge of the nori sheet flush to you from left to right. Spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of edamame hummus on a 45-degree angle from the bottom center of the sheet to the top left-hand corner. Layer 2 tablespoons or so of sushi rice over the hummus. Place a few pickles diagonally over the rice. Fold the bottom left-hand corner over the ingredients toward the op center of the sheet and tuck the edge in. Roll the sheet toward the center and to the right edge and snugly roll until a small corner of nori is left. Place a small drop of water or wasabi paste on the corner to seal the cone and close.
Pack the sushi cones in to-go containers, along with a few pairs of chopsticks and soy sauce packets.
The latest from the 365 phone-ograph a day project. March — a bricolage of texture, flora, and light.
How are your creative projects unfolding so far?
Come springtime in New England, asparagus pokes up through the softened earth as we clear our counter tops and menus for the influx ahead. The short torrential growing season demands we call the nubby stalks dinner for eight or so weeks running (usually May to June although April isn’t out of the ordinary). Folks around here lovingly refer to the vegetable as Hadley “grass”, named after one of the riverbed towns kissed with sandy soil. Once known as “the asparagus capital of the world”, a number of towns lining the Connecticut River Valley in Western Massachusetts staked claim to this title during the grass’s forty year heyday from the 1930s-70s.
That all changed in the mid-1970s when a soil-borne fungus called Fusarium blew into town and shook down the farmers and their asparagus crops. A few farmers fought back and grew new hybrid plants although most turned a cold shoulder, dug up their fields to plant corn, onions, potatoes, and tobacco in its stead. Today total asparagus production is about one tenth of what it used to be during the glory years (around 50 tons or a couple million spears hand-picked daily). Still, I think we should celebrate those years and put a sign back up commemorating the green spear years. Asparagus is still a way of life here. We frequent our favorite farms stands and pose the same question to neighbors and strangers alike — So what are you making with your grass tonight?
Usually I reply with Oh, you know. The old standby — roasted asparagus with olive oil and coarse sea salt. As the weeks pass and our collection grows, so do our creative responses. The conversations turn to Ginger Asparagus Soup, Asparagus and Almond Chevre on Toast, Asparagus Cream Sauce with Penne Pasta, and the like.
Yesterday as I washed and dried an asparagus bundle, I strayed with thoughts of pickles (and sushi—but you’ll have to wait until next time to see the pickles in action). Quick pickles: slightly sweet and sour with hints of fennel, spice, and garlic. After a few iterations, I came up with this vinegar pickle recipe which is equally chummy with carrots. I haven’t tried it out on cucumbers or say fennel bulbs, I imagine they would work nicely as well. This recipe makes two pint-sized jars of pickles of your choice. I like having a variety, a cold top shelf pickle party if you will, but feel free to go all asparagus or with whatever suits you.
Quick Vinegar Pickles
makes 2 pint size jars with lids
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 whole cloves
3 garlic cloves (peeled and thinly sliced)
a pinch of dried chile flakes
4 fennel sprigs
3/4 pound asparagus (tough ends removed and snapped in halves)
3/4 pound carrots (peeled, halved and quartered)
Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, spices, garlic, and pepper to a boil in a saucepan, then lower the heat to a simmer. Add the fennel sprigs and asparagus to the simmering brine. Cook about 2 minutes, just until the asparagus is tender and still bright green. Pack the cooked asparagus in a pint jar; set aside. Next add the carrots to the liquid and cook 7 minutes, again just until the they are tender when pierced with a knife and bright in color. Pack the cooked carrots in the second pint jar. Cool the brine then pour half into the asparagus filled jar and the other half into the carrot jar. Cover and refrigerate. The pickles are ready to serve or store in the refrigerator.
When I read that Xu Bing’s latest art installation, Phoenix, was showing at MASS MoCA (a museum housed in a former textile mill that specializes in large art installations), I nearly fell out of my chair. Art rock star.
I studied Xu’s work in a Chinese Art History class in graduate school. His 1988 installation, A Book From the Sky, that included a 4,000 character fabricated “vocabulary” displayed as billowing texts on fabric attached like book sails to the ceiling along with hand bound books scattered on the floor and news panels lining the walls. The piece a was poetic fabrication of text and meaning that blended the old with the new. The way he transforms materials, meaning, language, Chinese cultural history contextualized my view of contemporary art.
Two weekends ago, we trekked to North Adams to see Xu’s exhibit. Several works are included in Phoenix, although the two 12-ton birds built from materials (steel rebar, shovels, gloves, and more) salvaged from construction sites in urban China are the main attraction.
A traditional Chinese landscape “painting” (made from twigs, moss, and natural materials instead of paint inside an illuminated wall panel) leads the show and is followed by a corridor of shipping crates which opens up into a football field-sized space where the birds hang. They are internally lit and suspended mid-air inside a light drenched building—the male Phoenix Feng measures 90 feet long, while the female Huang reaches 100 feet in length, beak to steel tail feathers.
Phoenix reveals the intricate relations between labor, history, commercial development, economic class and the rising wealth in modern China. Along the back wall of the room, a shelf exhibits a brown paper book telling the story behind the making of Phoenix.
Displayed in the adjoining room is a video showing how Phoenix was assembled. The final two pieces (originally part of Xu’s 2011 1st Class: Tobacco Project) follow upstairs.
On the main section of the floor, a fake tiger (a well-known symbol of Colonialism and luxury in Asia) skin made from 500,000 filtered cigarettes set up so the white papers and tan filters reference the animal’s stripes. Source materials used in the piece (1st Class cigarettes, cartons, and wrappers) fan out in one corner of the room.
The tiger references the double-edged history of global tobacco trade as an economic boom and health bust, yet another investigation into material transformation and meaning over time.
If you happen to be in New England, it’s a show worth seeing (plus there’s Legos in the Kidspace when you finish taking in the art and don’t forget to pack a small bag of potato chips in your bag for a salty pick-me-up). For those who can’t get to the museum, this short video clip will give you an idea of the scale of the piece.