Richard’s Photo Show

  • Photohaus Gallery
Opening Night Reception: Friday,   January 25th 7:00-10:30Join us for our first exhibition of the year Abstract Expressionism. A   collection of work from over 30 local and international photographers.   Including 4 of my works.

This is a free event, open to everyone.

Cold beer, Wine and soft drinks available from the bar.

                       

PhotoHausGallery

14 West 7th Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia V5Y1L6

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Reviewing 2012

I don’t usually do this at the end of a year but I think this year warrants a look back.  This year my life changed.  This year I stopped working full time.

I started working as a waitress while in high school, I was a full time student for a while, I worked for the Children’s Aid and I taught.  I didn’t work during my first pregnancy,  I took 6 weeks off with the birth of my second child; I took five months off after the birth of my third.  Other than those breaks, I left the house every morning and was gone all day.  For at least 20 of those years, I was also busy raising two children, much of the time on my own.

True, I had summer holidays during my time as teacher, but there was always a list of things to accomplish, those tasks that I didn’t have time to do the rest of the year.

But now, I wake every day and I am free to decide what to do.  I am my only boss. And I am my only real responsibility.  I tend to take care of the house stuff mainly because I’m used to it and a little particular so I’ve kept it up.  But my husband is not really someone who needs looking after and if I decided tomorrow that I didn’t want to do that part any more, he wouldn’t be helpless.

So now I have no deadlines for essays or report cards.   I have no one relying on me, making demands on me.   This is probably the biggest change.

I have been asked many times if I missed the kids, missed the teaching.  I admit that I have felt no pangs of regret.  I enjoyed greeting the kids at the door every morning as they left Mom and came into the classroom but I don’t feel the loss of that routine. There are so many more things that I am glad to let go: getting up at 6:30 to the alarm, writing report cards, parent-teacher interviews, constantly questioning myself about meeting the needs of the children, worrying about pleasing parents and administration, doubts about my abilities.  I don’t miss the pressure.  I now tutor four hours a week, an hour a day, every day but Friday.  I love working one on one with a student. Discipline is not an issue and I can meet the individual needs of my student immediately as I see them. This is teaching at its best so I am not missing teaching.

As a couple we suffered two huge losses this year.  Richard lost his mother in April; I lost my brother in May.  We have supported each other as we dealt with these blows.  Through my loss, I have become closer to some family. My sister-in-law has become an important part of the family circle now, a wonderful woman that I am only now discovering.  I have also contacted uncles and cousins that I lost years ago.

Recently, I came to the realisation that I am a person who loves and needs community.  For most of my adult life, my community were my colleagues at work. I also had my Quaker meeting and my dear friends.

My family continues to be the inner core of my community.  The Vancouver Quaker meeting I don’t know, it doesn’t feel like mine although I haven’t really given it a chance. My dearest friends live far away.

The community I saw every day, those who shared and understood the special pressures of our work, were my colleagues. I realized recently that I am no longer part of that community. They certainly remember me and welcome me to their parties, but it’s not the same.  I don’t share the pressure and the frustrations anymore. I can empathise, but I’m not there.

Before I realized that this was a problem, I was already starting to build a new circle around me.  I joined a chorus that meets once a week to practise. These are interesting men and women who are my age and older.  I had become accustomed to being the oldest person in the group but now my role is switched. I’m a newbie retiree. These people share the world I grew up in, they know the words to all the old songs; they know what stiff knees feel like. They have diverse talents and histories.  Yeah, this can be part of my tribe.  I have been invited to take over the role as financial officer for the group and it feels good to move deeper inside the circle.

I’m also trying on being an entrepreneur. (If you can spell it, you’re half way to getting there.) I am creating baby clothes.  I have spent a lifetime developing skills in sewing and knitting, I have resources and time so it feels good to find a way to use what I have. The fun part of the endeavor is the creating- imagining something and then making it happen. I’m sure I will never knit myself to fame and fortune, but I will meet people and learn new things and continue to get excited about getting up tomorrow.

I still have a list of jobs I have to complete when I can get a chance. I have to do some cleaning and sorting – the jobs I used to hang onto until summer holidays. Maybe in January I’ll tackle this unless something new and exciting comes along.

I still have a quilt I have to finish.  And I want to learn to play piano. It’s not too late, is it?  And they teach pottery at the community centre. I’ve always wanted to do that.  There is a training course for peer counsellors to work through the senior centre. I think I could do that.

Recently Richard said that he viewed the kitchen as “my workshop” and he is right.  Cooking is another creative endeavor that I enjoy.  But it is so nice that now I cook when I am inspired to cook and when I just don’t have the joy, or the interest or the time, he has tamales in the freezer or the website for ordering pizza and I fry myself an egg.  It’s a good arrangement.

So, I am building a new life based on “What if” rather than “I should” and that is exciting but sometimes lonely and often scary.  I have given myself the space and permission to let go and grieve the losses and changes in my life. I’ve also given myself the space to wiggle around in this new situation, to create a life that feels comfortable, satisfying and exciting. Nothing feels like a habit yet – although Tuesday is now laundry day and that feels established somehow.  My life continues to grow and change in ways that fit me best.  Lonely, scary, exciting, developing – that’s where I am right now. It’s not a bad place to be either.

 

 

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And then we celebrated together

Our family held our Dia des los muertos celebration and a good time was had by all. This will be mostly photos since I have already described the food and the prep. 

The house was decorated, the food was prepared.

The one thing I learned: do not put food into the oven to heat more than 30 min. before you are ready to eat.  The enchiladas got a little too toasty (read burnt)

I made a jigsaw puzzle with my grandson. We had a great visit with our friends in Ontario via webcam technology.  After eating, we decorated our sugar skulls. We enjoyed dessert.  We played the memory game with the Spanish picture cards. We chose Milagros and sugar skulls to take home.

And we have already started planning next year’s party.

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A Golden Afternoon

I still have to write the final chapter in our celebration of “Dia des los muertos”.  It is coming, but this is an aside.

Yesterday afternoon I had one of those golden moments in teaching that reconfirms my career choice.   

I love to teach art. I always put art on Friday afternoon on my timetable so I can end the week on an upbeat.  Of course, it means I often end with a flurry of cleaning and tidying since art tends to be messy but it’s still uplifting.  This week I moved art to Thursday since Friday is a holiday.  We couldn’t miss art, thank you.

I taught a lesson on Henri Matisse.  We started by talking about famous artists. I told them that I had the privilege of seeing the original Irises by Van Gogh and the beauty of it made me cry.  They understood crying because of joy. They understood being moved by the beauty of art.

Most of them knew the name Pablo Picasso and I let them know that Picasso thought that Matisse was the greatest artist ever. I showed pictures of some of his work.  I concentrated on his leaf collages like those found in the window of the convent chapel in France. If you don’t know Matisse, just google images and you’ll find them.  In passing, I mentioned that the title of one of the pictures was “black leaf on green”.

I drew some simple leaf shapes on the board, one like Matisse’s leaf, a few simpler leaves.  I talked about putting colours together, that much of the beauty of his work comes from the placement of colour against colour.  I explained that they were to take at least two and up to five pieces of coloured construction paper. They were to use one as the back and to cut leaves and glue them to the paper.  A student suggested that it would be a good idea to hold off on gluing until all the leaves were cut and arranged just so and I agreed.  And they were off.

When the first student had finished and brought me his piece, I was inspired to ask him what the title of his piece was.  He said “Falling Leaves” which I wrote on the bottom of the paper – a perfect title.  I was expecting to have the same title over and over.  As an aside, I must say that I teach French Immersion and the titles were all in French – Les feuilles tombant.

The artists surprised me, however. With the same instructions and some pretty tight boundaries, I received 22 unique interpretations, 22 beautiful pieces of art.  I also received 22 poetic titles:  Souffle (blow),  Le vent (the wind),  Rouge, jaune et brun (red, yellow and brown), Les feuilles dans l’eau (leaves in water), Les feuilles Canadiennes (Canadian leaves), J’aime octobre (I love October).

I had the privilege of being presented with each piece of art, of admiring their work and then asking for the title and writing it down for them.  I was amazed with the artistry and the poetry. 

Part way through I was given a truly beautiful piece, this from the little guy who squirms and jiggles and seems to ignore everything going on in the classroom.  He had one big blue leaf standing upright in the centre of the picture. On top of it he glued a slightly smaller green leaf and on top of that a slightly smaller yellow leaf.  Each leaf was similar in form with undulating sides and they created a 3D effect jutting up from the bottom of the page.  In each corner of the page was a tiny green square marking the frame of the image.  I was blown away by his artistry.  And then I asked him the title.  Without hesitation he said, Spring – Le printemps.  It was the perfect title for the bright yellow/green shoot rising up toward the sky, the darker blue/green behind it showing the mature leaf to come.  I doubt that he could have articulated why he’d made it the way he had, but he knew the title.

This is not the first time children have awed me with their artistry and their understanding of art. It is a method of communication that they get long before they have the words to describe. 

Thank you division 7 for a magical afternoon.

 

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This Year’s Menu

And now we come to this year’s menu, which I have been thinking about and planning since last year’s celebration ended.

The must have items will be there.  The recipes are to be found in my previous blog.

Yesterday, I made the mole pablano.  Last weekend I roasted a half turkey breast and it is safely sitting in my freezer wrapped and bagged.  I will thaw it, slice it and heat it in the mole pablano sauce just before dinner next Sunday.

The tortilla soup is well in hand.  I have two jars of flavourful chicken broth in the freezer that I made last weekend as well.  The chicken meat is shredded and wrapped and bagged in the freezer too.  I will have to buy avocados on Thursday so they are ripe but not too ripe for Sunday.  The soup will be finished off on Sunday morning and the tortilla strips will be fried then too.

This year I am adding enchiladas.  I did a test run of them when Kate came to visit this summer and I’d say they were successful.  I don’t remember too many left overs.  Last weekend I slow roasted a pot roast, cooled it and shredded the beef. It is also safely ensconced in the freezer.  This morning I made the red enchilada sauce for them.  http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/the-best-red-enchilada-sauce/detail.aspx

Next Sunday I just have to stuff and roll the tortillas, douse them in sauce and cover with shredded cheese.  They will come out of the oven bubbly and browned.  I will make an extra tray with meat, sauce and cheese – no tortillas for Amanda – no corn.

I just bought two little gravy boats at the dollar store and there will be extra Mole and extra enchilada sauce for anyone who feels the need

This morning, I also made Cajeta. http://www.rickbayless.com/recipe/view?recipeID=242

Okay, I love caramel.  I have made a caramel sauce with a touch of fleur de sel that was to die for.  But Cajeta is taking caramel “to a whole, nubba, lebel” as the guy on Saturday Night Live would say.  It is made with goat’s milk. 

The first time I read the recipe, I had my doubts.  I’m not a fan of goat’s milk.  I’m not even crazy about goat cheese.  I’ve met goats. I’ve smelled goats.  Their milk tastes like they smell.

But if you take that milk, add a touch of baking soda to cut the acidic quality of the milk, cook it long and slow with sugar, a cinnamon stick and a vanilla bean pod, stir and cook and stir and cook and just when you think that this will never be done, you have to stir like mad so it doesn’t stick.  And then you pour out the thick, golden caramel.  It, like so many truly Mexican dishes, is nuanced and flavourful. It’s more than sweet and caramel.  It has a richness; a tiny bit of tang to cut the sweet, a hint of cinnamon and vanilla but just a hint and a milky base to support all the other flavour notes floating above it.  Like Mole Pablano, it tastes like nothing you’ve had before.  Oh, and being made of goat’s milk, us lactose intolerant folks can enjoy it without worry.

Next weekend – Saturday will be filled with baking.  I will make Pan de muerto: http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/sweetsanddesserts/r/pandemuerto.htm

I will also make the dessert part of the meal, Buñuelos. http://spanishfood.about.com/od/dessertssweets/r/bunuelos.htm

Some of the Cajeta will be heated and put into individual ramekins.  Diners will be able to take a couple of the Buñuelos and dip them into the Cajeta. Now, that’s a dessert worth saving room for.

Dia de los Muertos 2011 Menu

Guacamole, tortilla chips and rice crackers

Tortilla soup

Turkey con Mole Pablano

Beef Enchiladas

Salad

Pure de papas (mashed potatoes)

Arroz (rice)

  (The double header of starch is to satisfy everyone’s preference)

Pan de Muerto

Buñuelos con Cajeta

Assorted Mexican soft drinks, fruit juices and beer

Coffee and Tea

Last year we also had Tequila and a wickedly smooth and smoky liquor called Mescal.  Unfortunately, there will be no Mescal this year.  However, if I were to become a drinker, that might be the drink to lure me.

Now that the early food preparations are complete – I decorate the place – the next blog.

From left to right, this weekend's work: Mole Pablano - 3 containers, Red Enchilada Sauce - 2 containers, Cajeta.

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It isn’t a holiday without a feast

I remember Christmas dinner made by my dad and step-mom.  Dad did the turkey with bread stuffing in the large cavity and fresh garlic farmer’s sausage in the neck end.  He would put the turkey in early Christmas morning and check it and baste it throughout the day.  Mom made the mashed potatoes – no lumps allowed, she gagged if there were lumps. She made carnips – a tradition I have continued with my own twist. Mom’s carnips were a blend of turnips and carrots, mashed together.  I do equal parts carrots, turnips, parsnips and potatoes with salt pepper and butter.   There was also a frisée salad with bacon bits and a dressing made of heavy cream and hot bacon fat.

I had my favourites of course.  Turkey is okay, I guess, but I held out for a nice slice of that sausage.  I don’t like bread stuffing, and frisée leaves me cold, but I waited all year for that dressing dipped out of the bottom of the salad bowl and spooned on the mashed potatoes.  Yum.

I remember the year she decided to try something new, a recipe she’d read in the newspaper.  It was tomato aspic made from V8 Juice and served on a lettuce leaf with a slice of avocado.  We all dutifully worked our way through it and happily moved on to the turkey.

My point in all of this is that everyone has a favourite food that goes with the holiday.  Some people like the stuffing, some love the gravy and some just hang in until the pie arrives.  As long as you get something that you really love, you feel like the family is looking after you.

Our new tradition has already some important dishes that will show up every year.

I started making Mole Poblano the year after my husband and I were married. I have perfected this recipe and the whole family seem to like it, so it has to be included.  Even better, it is served over turkey.

Mole Poblano

6 ancho chilies

4 pasilla chilies

4 chipotle chilies

1 large onion

4 cloves garlic

2 tbsp. sesame seeds

1 stale corn tortilla (because of a corn allergy in the family, I now substitute a slice of dry bread or flour tortilla or even a rice cake)

1 large can diced tomatoes, drained (save the juice if you want to use it to replace part of the broth).

1 cup flaked blanched almonds

½ cup seedless raisins

½ tsp. ground cloves

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

½ tsp. ground coriander seeds

1 tsp. Mexican oregano and 1 tsp. epazote (you can substitute 1½ tsp. regular oregano. You won’t really notice the difference, but I like saying epazote when I explain the recipe)

½ tsp. black peppercorns

2 tbsp. oil

1 round of Ibarra chocolate or 2 squares bitter-sweet baking chocolate

2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth for vegetarian sauce

 

Note: The final heat of the sauce depends on the types of chilies used.  Those listed above give a sauce that is mild to medium spicy.  If you want more heat, try New Mexico Red to replace the chipotle (dried jalapeños).  Do not replace the anchos – although they are mild, their flavour is important to the sauce.  If you want a very very mild sauce, use just the anchos, but increase the number of anchos.

 

1.  In a hot, dry frying pan, roast the chilies.  Keep turning them with tongs until they get a little soft and you can smell them.  Don’t burn them.

  1. Remove the chilies from the pan to cool until you can touch them.  You might want to use rubber gloves for this next part. Tear them apart, remove the stems, ribs and seeds and place in a bowl of warm water to soak while you do the next steps. 
  2. Wipe out the pan and add the sesame seeds.  Toast lightly until golden brown.  Do not burn.   Pour the seeds into the blender or food processor.
  3. In the same pan, toast the almonds lightly until golden.  Place in the blender or food processor.
  4. Open the tomatoes and drain in a sieve.  Add to almonds.
  5. Peel the onion and cut in large chunks and add to tomatoes.
  6. Peel the garlic and add to onion.
  7. Tear up the tortilla and add (or add one slice of stale white bread torn into pieces if you have no tortilla.)
  8. Add the raisins, cloves, cinnamon, ground coriander, Mexican oregano, epazote and peppercorns.
  9. Drain and add the soaked chilies.
  10. Turn on the blender or food processor and run until the sauce is pureed. You decide if you prefer some texture or you want it to be completely smooth.
  11. Heat a large pot, add 2 tbsp. vegetable oil. (the original recipe calls for lard, but oil works just fine.)
  12. Pour the sauce into the pot, stir and fry the sauce for 5 minutes until the raw onion smell is gone.
  13. Add 2 cups of chicken broth (I use the tetra pack broth, canned is also good.  Save the home made stock for some place where you’ll taste it).  You could use vegetable broth or even water at this point. The juice drained from the tomatoes could be used too. Continue to heat and stir the sauce.
  14. Cut the Ibarra chocolate into chunks, add to the sauce and stir well until melted and blended.
  15. At this point the sauce can be put into containers: a cup is plenty for 2 to 3 chicken breasts.   It freezes very well.  You will have enough in the pot for several meals.
  16. When ready to use, brown the chicken or turkey pieces or meat that you will be serving it with until almost cooked. It can be used over fish or even tofu.   Place protein in a casserole and pour the sauce over.  Bake covered in a 350 F oven until heated through.

 

The other dish that I started making about two years ago is a favourite of my older daughter who loves the broth.  My favourite part is the cool diced creamy avocados dropped into the hot soup at the end. The crunchy tortilla strips are a big favourite of those in the family who recite,  “it`s all about the crunch.”

I won’t print the recipe because it isn’t mine.  I will give you the link.  The one change I have made for ease of preparation is the section on making the stock.  I buy a roasted chicken at the grocery store.  When it is cool, I pull off the meat and shred it and I place all the bones and skin into a pot. I add a whole peeled onion, a whole cleaned carrot and a whole stalk of celery. Then I pour over 2 litres of tetra pack chicken stock.  Simmer for an hour or so, strain and you have a beautiful chicken broth for the soup as well as the meat for the final steps.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/mexican-tortilla-chicken-soup-recipe/index.html

Oh, and you won`t find any cilantro in this Mexican cook`s kitchen. I am one of the 10 to 30% of people who taste metal and soap when I eat cilantro.

 

So, those are the must-haves for our meal.  I have tried other things in the past. 

  • ·         Once, Richard and I made tamales together.  That`s a lot of work and I don`t like tamales so I refuse to make them again.  We have bought them a few times for those who like them but not this year.
  • ·         I love crème caramel and have made that as the Mexican flan.  Flan is actually a little different, not quite as delicate a custard but very good. I recommend crème caramel, but this year we are trying something new.
  • ·         I have made Churros.  They are basically a chou paste forced through a star tip piping bag and deep fried like doughnuts. (chou paste is the basis of cream puffs)  These are delicious, lots of work and messy. Too much to do for a big feast I think.
  • ·         Taquitos are meat filled, cigar shaped corn tortillas rolled and fried.  Yummy but not easy to roll without breaking the tortilla. I now buy them pre-made after one disastrous attempt on my own.  We had them as an hors d`oeuvre last year but they are so good, it`s easy to eat so much that you have no room for the meal.
  • ·         Guacamole and corn chips are a big hit and will probably be the appetizer this year.  I have to remember to add some rice crackers for my daughter with the corn allergy.  It`s hard to eat Mexican without eating corn but we can do it.

This year, there are a couple new dishes that I`m making to change things up. That`s the next blog.

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The Early Preparations

 

We celebrated Dia de los muertos once as a family in 2010 so I have already collected some objects.  I have the mold for the medium size sugar skull. I have a “papel picado” and several little skeletons.  I have a mold for chocolates that I never did make.  It’s a good start.

 

I started planning this year’s Dia de los muertos in the summer.

I sent out a “save this date” letter to the family.   Of course, the best laid plans “gang oft aglay” and the date set in July had to be changed when one family member was taking a course and discovered that a weekend workshop was scheduled for our special day. Then another child took a job that requires weekend work. 

That’s the problem with choosing a celebration that other people don’t celebrate. Life goes on around you.  North America respects Christmas Day and Easter and Thanksgiving as family celebratory times, but November 5th is just another weekend. Finally, we found a date that everyone could attend.

After choosing the date in July, I went looking on the web site where I found my molds last year.  

http://www.mexicansugarskull.com/

This year I added a couple children’s games to my growing collection. I imagine grandma or Aunt Amanda sitting on the floor playing the memory card game, looking at the cards, trying to pronounce the Spanish words and talking about how the various items relate to this celebration.  I also got a big floor jigsaw puzzle for the kids to put together and some colourful skull garlands. 

Later in the summer, my daughter and I spent a day in Seattle, heading down to take my step-son to the airport at the end of his summer visit.

An aside here: my husband’s son lives with his mother a long way from here.  He visits us every year at Christmas and every summer.  Our Christmas together is usually just the three of us with some visits with other family during the holiday.  He is here for a long time every summer.  We celebrate his birthday as a family during his visit but it isn’t the same.  I regret that he can’t be here for this new tradition that we are creating.  Perhaps this is something we can aim for.

As I was saying, we visited the Mexican shop at Pike’s Place Market and I picked up a few Milagros. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milagro_(votive)

At the end of our day, I want everyone to take a miracle home with them.

The next couple blogs: the menu and recipes!

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