Fire and Succotash

 

succotash 1

 

So here I am again!  And with a recipe as promised earlier.  I was holding onto this post until Bryan’s post on the Fires of Change blog went up, so that all of you not in Flagstaff could get an idea of what heck was absorbing all the energy around here in August/September … the post explains his thoughts and motivations for the new work, and even includes a making-of video with some footage shot by yours truly—ha!

And, how about some succotash?  I admit that we’re about done with fresh beans and corn here, but who knows what’s fresh where you all are … we actually snagged what’s probably the last fresh corn and black eyed peas of the season at the farmers’ market yesterday, so we may have one more variation on this in the coming week.  I snuck in these photos here and there over the past month or so.  It also includes my favorite tips for prepping fava beans—how I love them (I love the black eyes too, what is it about peas?).  Here’s to a last taste of summer for those of us in the northern half!
 

Shelling Fava beans:

Favas do take a little extra work, since you need to shell them twice, but I think the flavor is well worth it. Especially in the second shelling, this is one of those times when being efficient with your hand motions makes a big difference—the difference between a task that feels tedious and one that’s very doable.

Start some water to boil in a medium-size pot on the stove. Split the thick outer pods and pop out the beans. When the water is boiling, drop in the beans. Boil just until they all float, about a minute or two. Pour them into a colander, and either pour a little cold water over them, or just wait until they’re cool enough to handle.

Boiling softens the inner shells covering the beans—they’ll be opaque whitish-green and leathery. They’re not very tasty as you can imagine, which is why we’re taking them off. My favorite way to do this is to use one hand to grab a bean, and hold it over a bowl to collect the shelled ones. Pinch a tear in the shell with the other hand, and use the first hand to squeeze the bean so it pops out of the shell and into the bowl. Reach for a new bean with the first hand at the same time the other hand drops the shell into a compost/discard pile. Repeat.

 

succotash 2

 

A quick note on cutting corn off the cob (as long as we’re talking about prepping veggies): any time I try standing the corn up and cutting off the kernels on a flat surface, it makes a humongous mess, which only makes me like this task less. Lately I’ve been holding the corn cob over a big bowl (with fingers as far towards the bottom of the cob as possible) and slicing off the kernels with a knife across the top. I know it looks like I’m about to cut my finger off, but I haven’t come close to that so far …

 

succotash 3

 

Fava Bean or Fresh Pea Succotash

Fittingly, this is mainly Bryan’s recipe. He made various iterations of it last summer, after we ate something similar at Riffs (highly recommended when in Boulder, CO). This makes a generous portion for two, or a side for more.

Prep 2 lbs unshelled fava beans (see note above). You can also use fresh shelling peas, starting with about 1 lb unshelled. Shell them and then steam briefly, until just bright green, before adding.  I would treat fresh black eyed peas the same way as green shelling peas, except they won’t turn green when you steam them, so taste to see when they’re just barely tender.  Lima beans, or any other favorite kind, would also be delicious here. You want to end up with between 1 and 1 ½ cups of beans/peas, depending on the balance you like. I like more beans.

Cut kernels off 3-4 ears of corn, to yield about 2 cups.

Melt 2 Tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat. It seems like a lot, but the buttery, slightly salty flavor here is key to offset the sweetness of the corn and make a really lovely contrast.

Sauté ½ of a yellow onion, diced, in the butter until it’s translucent and starting to brown.

Add 2 cloves of minced garlic.

Then add 2 chopped roasted red peppers, either sweet or slightly spicy.

Sauté for a couple of minutes, then push all this to the sides of the skillet, and add the beans or peas to the middle. Cook until they’re barely tender. Stir everything together, and then push to sides again.

Turn up the heat to high, and add the corn to the middle of the skillet. Leave it alone there for a couple of minutes while you sprinkle 2 teaspooons of fresh herbs on top—we like mainly thyme, but you can use a little sage or oregano as well.

Ideally the corn will get slightly browned, but in any case taste it and when it’s barely done, turn off the heat, stir everything together. Sprinkle with salt (we use unsalted butter and about ¼ teaspoon salt) pepper, and smoked paprika if you have it for a little smoky/spicy flavor. Taste for seasoning.

Top with shredded fresh basil, and enjoy while still warm!

 

succotash 4
Succotash in the wild with another summer favorite, any variation on the (water)melon and feta salad from Plenty.

 

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Life as Artists on the Road

 

I’ve been working on this post for a while (um, understatement).  I keep feeling like I should, or would at least like to, explain a little more about what we do and why it is that I travel so much, but it turns out to be not so easy to explain.  Everything from how I met my husband and fell in love, to the story of my own life and work so far, to the state of the art market (we’re not getting into that one here) is wrapped up in it, and just figuring out what to put in and what to leave out has been more difficult than I thought, but here we go.

 

nm highway sunset

 View from the truck windshield—a beautiful sunset from I-40.

 

The beginning of the story, for the purposes of this post anyway, is 2000, when Bryan (long before he was my husband or had this work) left his career as a business consultant.  He didn’t like what he saw himself becoming—that guy in a suit who cuts off little old ladies on his way to the airport.  He looked at the senior managers at his company and saw that while they were paid generously, they didn’t seem happy.  They were still overworked and stressed out.  Most of them had been divorced.  They spent their careers working to help huge companies with questionable ethical and environmental records.  He wanted more time off, and to have some choice of his clients, neither of which the company wanted to give him.  He followed his heart and resigned.

 

Bryan wasn’t sure what he would end up doing next.  He was a passionate photographer, capturing America’s wilderness using large format film (he still does).  To make the next part of the story short, over the following few years he carved out a niche that would allow him to make a living.  By the time I met him, in 2003, he was traveling most of each summer, exhibiting his work and photographing for new projects, and spending his winters in Flagstaff, Arizona, where I grew up.

 

Meanwhile, I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.  I had left school at the University of Arizona (in Tucson), feeling unfulfilled, uninspired, and lonely, and moved back home to Flagstaff in December of that year.  I worked at a small museum in town (cataloguing lots of beautiful artifacts) and at a couple of other places off and on, but nothing that was going to turn into a career.  Bryan and I met at the end of that summer, started dating and (um, more long story getting short here) fell in love from fall through winter.  By the time he asked me if I wanted to travel with him the following summer, I was ready to say yes.  It was a big leap of faith, actually bigger looking back on it than it seemed at the time, but I knew he was the one for me, and it worked out.  We survived some big adventures together that first time on the road (some that I question whether I would stick around if they happened today), but we made a good team. By the time we got back home in the fall, Bryan had decided that I was the one too.  We got married in October 2005, and we still travel together every year.

 

(This pic is actually our return last fall)

 The truck—hauling, transport, mobile studio and camper.

Our time on the road is a mixture of selling work, making new work, and of course the adventures that happen in between.  Most of the selling takes place at the country’s top juried art fairs, and at galleries.  The fairs are competitive events run by neighborhoods and art associations.  Each season it’s a logistical challenge for Bryan to come up with a national tour from the shows and gallery openings he is invited to that will sustain our work.

 

Most of these art fairs take place outdoors.  As well as art and workspace and some regular living stuff, our truck holds a tent and carpeted walls to make a kind of mini-gallery for the photos, which we set up and take down every weekend that we “bring art to the people.”  Dealing with the weather is also a major part of this experience.  I started a list of things never to take for granted, but everything else pales in comparison to the first two items: hot showers and ice.

 

Wherever we end up, there are usually interesting things to photograph nearby.  It might be a national park, or interesting architecture for the In a Big World Wandering series, or something for an entirely new project.

 

Bryan crossing flooded boardwalk

Don’t worry, he made it to the other side without falling in.

 

In between selling and shooting photos, we usually either camp out or visit friends and family.  I love camping, staying in beautiful places, and trying out local foods at farm stands and restaurants.  But few things make me more suddenly grateful than arriving at a real house full of friendly faces, running water, a large bed with clean sheets, laundry, and a kitchen, etc.  My fingers start to itch at the thought of real kitchen tools, and we usually end up cooking a lot for whomever we’re staying with, as part of our efforts to at least act like, if not actually be, the world’s best houseguests.  It’s a good survival strategy; we need to make sure we can always come back.

 

As you might imagine, doing work of my own during this traveling time is . . . difficult.  But I’ve also found that it’s fairly necessary to my happiness.  I’ve tried selling my own work at art fairs, mainly felted handbags (you can see a few of them on Etsy), but that market wasn’t quite right for the things I made.  Along with the usual issues of customers not understanding the cost of handmade goods, plus the physical work to set up an extra display every weekend, it all convinced me that this wasn’t the way to go (at least not with the bags).  I did learn a lot though, about all aspects of running an itty-bitty handmade business, and about myself.  I began to figure out that my passion is really more for empowering other people to become makers than for selling things I make, hence my latest project (and this blog).  Although come fall, I will be making a about a ton of those little fuzzy hats again . . .

 

booths ann arbor

Left to right: my booth, and Bryan’s.

 

But back to the road.  Being gone for long stretches, usually months at a time, of course makes me homesick.  I miss my friends, my family, the smell of the pine forest, my studio (especially my studio—the freedom to make pretty much whatever I want, whenever I want to), my kitchen, green chile, good tacos (depending on where in the world we are) . . . but I’m starting to adapt.  At this point, if we stopped traveling, I know I would miss that too.  I’d miss the friends and family scattered around the country that we get to spend time with, the foods we get to eat (yeah, I’m a little obsessed with the food) and the things we discover, especially when we can get off the interstate and explore.  It’s an amazingly diverse and interesting country out there.

 

At the end of a mediocre show, we’ll often look at each other and say, “Well, we lived.”  It occurred to me recently that what we mean is not just “we survived” but also “we’re living” in the fullest way, taking advantage of the paths and adventures that are available to us, even though not all of them are good, and testing our limits.  It’s not always fun, pretty much never glamorous, and as a friend who’s taking a sabbatical from art fairs recently put it “a stupid way to make a living.”  And yet, one thing we don’t have to worry about is regret about chances not taken and roads untraveled.  The odd and beautiful parts of life on the road, the magical things that happen when you’re in a strange place at a strange time, are what will keep me coming back, probably for as long as this weird way of life is possible for us.

 

squonk opera passing

A performance called (I am not making this up) Squonk Opera passing by the booth in Pittsburgh.

 

Now I feel like maybe I should have written this post right at the beginning, as a brief summary of the state of my recent life . . . but here it is.  This won’t become a blog all about life on the road (that’s not my thing), but I would like to bring up a few other ways that my own goals and work intersect our travels, and hopefully after this it will make more sense.  What about you, any thoughts about travel/work/life?

 

 

Aimee León: Art, Sheep Shearing, and Connections

aimee león at arcosanti

 

A few weeks ago, I got invited at the last minute to go with a couple of friends to a fiber “meet and greet” event, held at Arcosanti (about an hour and a half south of Flagstaff).  I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I am so glad I went.  Not only was it fun to hang out with other fiber crafters and get a glimpse of the architecture on a rainy, blustery day in the desert, but the speaker was fantastic.

Aimee León, who is working towards her MFA at ASU in Phoenix, had agreed to come up and speak to us about her felt artwork – for free.  Her talk epitomized one thing I just love about the maker movement and modern crafters; people who are not just looking to make something, but thinking deeply about the connections between materials, handcrafts, and society.

Aimee shears sheep (did you know they can weigh more than 200 lbs each?) and uses discarded wool in her artwork, which reflects her ideas about society and gender norms.  She talked about how much wool is wasted because small farmers don’t have the resources to ship whole container loads to China (!) for processing, and about her goal to bring more of that local wool to fiber artists.  And about the historical connections of wool and fiber with labor, women’s role in society, commodities, and how we think about the clothes we wear today.  One great thing about a small venue is that I had a chance to talk with Aimee quite a bit, before and after her presentation.  There are so many ideas to pursue in these topics that I could have talked much longer . . .

I love thinking about how what I make is connected to the materials I use and where they come from, the historical use and place in society of the materials and the maker, and all the choice that gives me in the modern world.  It just reinforces the fact that the choice to be a maker in modern times is a powerful one for us as individuals, with implications for our broader society as well.

 

arcosanti desert in rain

A desert road near Arcosanti on that foggy wet day

Do check out Aimee’s website, there are lots of pictures of her work and links to other interesting projects she’s working on.  If you live around here and would like to be on the mailing list for this event next year, let me know and I’ll pass your info on to the lovely woman who organizes it, Kimberly Hatch (thanks Kimberly!).

What do you think about art and craft and its potential to change us?  I’d love to know!

 

Giant Cyanotype on Silk!

 

Some of you may be wondering what I have been up to lately, besides cooking and (occasionally) posting about it here.  Well, in part – this!  Bryan has a solo show on at the Flagstaff Photography Center for the next month, and for part of it he had this crazy brilliant idea to make a huge public participation project.  On silk, panels 12′ by 6′.  Which would hang on curved wooden supports (making that part was his responsibility).  The idea is that you walk through it, not just look at it, and the fabric touches you and moves with the wind, thus making a different, more interactive experience of what a photograph can be.

 

 

The first part for me was making the silk panels.  Suffice it to say I have never been this nervous about sewing a rectangle.  Ever.  I attached a measuring tape to my work table so that I would tear all the pieces exactly the same length, and got out my walking foot so as not to distort the long seams.

 

 
In the process, I kind of fell in love with this huge expanse of crepe de chine.  Having never sewn anything nearly this big out of silk before (a ballgown is the only thing I could think of that would compare) I had never studied how it falls like liquid, but somehow also holds a body, almost a stiffness in certain circumstances.  Amazing.  I’m not-so-secretly hoping that the leftover fabric ends up in my stash.

 

 

But back to the photo project – the next step was to soak the silk panels in the chemistry for cyanotype – like those blue prints you may have made in the sun with leaves and flowers, and hang them up to dry.  This we did at night, inside the garage.  It took longer to dry than Bryan expected, so we ended up setting the alarm for 4 am to take them down.  They got rolled up and the rolls went into a long skinny bag of blackout fabric (also made by me, and luckily went together easily like the plan in my head).  By now you are starting to see how this project had a certain secret-agent-mission appeal.  At one point I had a grocery list which included 8 gallons of distilled water, blackout fabric, muslin, carpet rolls/large dowels, thread, and shellac.

 

 

On the morning of the exposure, we set up (mostly) clean trash cans to hold water for rinsing, a hose, the muslin sheet so everyone could practice where to put their hands and bodies, and a hugely tall clothesline to hold the finished pieces while they dried.  Thankfully, a bunch of our friends and members of the photo community showed up and agreed to lie still in the sun for 15 minutes while they and the silk sheets took in enough light to make a photo.  And thankfully the monsoon clouds held off just long enough to get it done (it rained later)!  Bryan repositioned people partway through to get a lighter blue in some places.

 

 

Meanwhile I ran around taking snapshots, and then with the help of a few volunteers, dunked the first panel in successive changes of water to rinse out the unexposed chemistry, while Bryan and the rest of the volunteers exposed the second one.

 

 

Even though I was very involved with this project, I didn’t anticipate quite how much I would like the finished result.  I think Bryan did a great job bringing his vision for it into reality.  And, after obsessively checking my math at the beginning, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief as the panels slid onto the wood and I could see that everything came out the right size!  It’s hard to see just how cool it is here, but imagine walking through it.  I am impressed with the little details that come through, aspects of people’s hair and clothing that make it more personal.

 

 

If you are passing though Flagstaff, you can check it out yourself at the Photo Center (right on Heritage Square) through the end of August!

 

Creative Retreat Projects

So, I thought I would share a few of the projects we made this year at my fabulous family and friends retreat.  Each year all the women in our little circle get together and create and share and cook and eat, and magic happens.  Not like spells and potions (unless you count margaritas!), but a real feeling of this time being more than the sum of its parts, allowing us creative expressions that it can be so hard to find in everyday life.

 

 

This year thanks to the generous donation of time and effort by a friend of my aunt’s, we got to try encaustic, an ancient technique of painting with wax that I have admired in the work of some of our art show friends for some time.  I was so excited to try it out, and impressed by how everyone jumped in and made art.  Really, playing with warm wax is pretty irresistible.

 

 

We also got to make lip balm (beeswax again!) and flavor it ourselves with oils.  Plus knitting, screen printing, a field trip and making envelopes!

 

Even if you don’t have your annual craft retreat put together (yet!), one thing I find keeps me sane all year round is just a little creative time every day.  I started setting aside an hour a day for sewing in college, and I was really shocked how much more I got done.  Now I work on creative projects a lot of the time, but I found that I still need a little bit of the day that’s just for me, that I can spend however I want, regardless of whether the product will ever make money or even appear on this blog.  Even 20 or 30 minutes when I’m busy, to just put my brain on a different track, leaves me refreshed and thinking outside the box again.

What do you think?  How do you structure your creative break time?

 

(PS There’s still time (until tomorrow morning) to win a Fiddleheads hat.)