Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Goodbye Winter!

Phew, we've made it!  It seemed like a long haul getting through this winter and we haven't exactly got spring temps outside yet, but at least the worst of the minus-double-digits are over (I hope).  This winter, here in Toronto, was the tenth coldest in the past 100 years and we broke records for having more than 100 consecutive days with snow on the ground.  The advantage of having a prolonged snow cover is that it always looks pretty when you look out the window, as opposed to frozen dirt which we often have (how's that for looking on the bright side of things).

There is still lots of snow around, but I have faith that within the next few weeks it will be gone and the gardens will start to grow.

Last week was the March Break so I had the week off work.  One of the things I did was to go to the cottage for a few days with my mother.  There was tons of snow up there so we had lots of winter fun - a right and proper goodbye to winter.  

We went snow-shoeing

and out onto the frozen lake 

and we walked along the cottage road in softly falling snow. 

It was a very relaxing time at the cottage and I even got a book read.  Yay me!  Have you read anything by Andrea Barrett?  Dear husband-and-chief-book-buyer, gave me four of her books for my birthday.  Ship Fever is a book of short stories all with a historical science connection.  I thought they were terrific, being a science person myself.

I'm keeping a keen eye out for any signs of spring.  Here's my list so far:
-  the pussy willows in our backyard are beginning to bloom
- the springtails or snow fleas (tiny tiny bugs that are all over the depressions in the snow at springtime) were out on our last day at the cottage
- the days are getting longer and the sun actually feels warm now
- I've been planning our summer vacation which has entailed dreaming about Ireland (not likely due to lack of funds) and now Newfoundland.  I love planning our vacations.
- I couldn't resist making some art using the springiest colours I could find in art class last week.

Okay, winter - take the hint.  I've officially said goodbye to you, so you can disappear for another year.  In the meantime I will just have to content myself with the indoor flowers that dear husband-and-chief-gardener, has a way with.

I'm wishing you all a happy first day of spring tomorrow!


Friday, March 14, 2014

Let's Eat Pie

Today is March 14th.  You know what that is, right?  3.14!  Yep, pi which means it is Pi Day.  And Pi Day means you eat pie.  Makes sense?

I got together with My son and his wife to celebrate a pre-Pi-Day Pi-Day since I knew I would be busy on the actual day.  We all worked together to make a savoury pie, aka a quiche, and a sweet apple pie for dessert.  They worked out so well and tasted fantastic.

My daughter-in-law is the master of the crust so she worked her charms for all the pies and even wove a fancy lattice crust for the apple pie.  My son and I chopped and mixed and cooked.  Good times!

The quiche was the best I have ever had.  It was loaded with veggies which is my favourite kind.  You could add different veggies than the ones we used if you prefer, like mushrooms or zucchini, as long as you keep the proportions approximately the same.

Here is the recipe for the vegetable quiche we used (makes two quiches).

2 cups broccoli florets, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 onion, diced
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1/2 red bell pepper,diced
1 tbsp olive oil
8 eggs
2 cups low fat milk
2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or white flour or brown rice flour)

1.  Preheat oven to 350F.  Prepare crust for two 9-inch pie pans or spray pans with cooking oil if making crustless quiches.
2.  In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat and cook the onion for about 3 minutes.  Then add the broccoli and red peppers and cook for about 5 more minutes until just tender.  Stir in the spinach and transfer the vegetables to the prepared pans.
3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, cheeses, salt, pepper, and oregano.  Whisk in the flour and pour evenly over the vegetables.
4.  Bake until set, about 45 minutes.  Cool quiche about 10 minutes before serving.

Apple pie is always a favourite so that is what we had for dessert, after our quiche ... and a walk.

Ingredients for one pie:
7 medium Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored,and thinly sliced (about 7 cups in total)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
pie crusts for top and bottom of a 9-inch pie pan

1.  Preheat the oven to 350F.   Prepare the dough for the pie pan.
2.  In a large bowl, combine the apple and all the other ingredients, except the butter.  Mound the apple mixture in the prepared pan making the centre higher than the sides.  Dot the top evenly with pieces of butter.  Cover the top with a crust, press the top and bottom crusts together to seal, trim the excess dough, and cut vents.
3.  Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour or until the top crust is golden brown and the apples feel tender when pierced with a knife.  Let the pie rest for 20 minutes before serving.

There is nothing like an excuse to eat pie.  I'm totally on-board any celebration this delicious.  Do you celebrate Pi Day?  It is a new-to-me-tradition, but one that I will be repeating.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Mary Pratt - Celebrating the Mundane

Miriam King via Timmins Press

It's March Break which means I'm off school for the week. Yay!  The weather continues on its relentless quest to mark this winter as the coldest, snowiest, baddest EVER!  Besides relaxing this holiday, I had a few things I wanted to do and one of them was to see the Mary Pratt art exhibit at the McMichael Art Gallery in Kleinberg, Ontario. 

Mary Pratt is a Canadian realist painter from the east coast.  She was born in New Brunswick, but has lived most of her life in Newfoundland.  In the early years she had to work her painting time around the demands of running a household and raising four children.  As a result she usually painted what was at hand - fruit, cooked roasts, cracked eggs, the dinner table, an unmade bed.  These scenes of domesticity are fleeting in life, but are captured permanently in Mary's paintings.

The Homing Beacon
While it made sense to paint the things of everyday life, it also was difficult to complete the painting while life moved on.  The dining table that Mary wanted to capture with the remains of a meal was needed the next day before the painting could be completed.  It wasn't until Mary gave herself permission to paint from slides that she was able to really capture the impermanent everyday scenes and the fleeting light that was so important in her paintings. The table scene in the painting below was the first time she painted from a slide and was a turning point in her career.

Not only does Mary Pratt find beauty and meaning in the everyday, but through her paintings she also captures light.  Her paintings seem to glow.  The most obvious example of this is her famous jelly jar paintings, but you can also see the reflecting light in the glassware, metal, and even foil, saran wrap, and plastic baggies that she paints.

Mary's paintings though, are hardly a saccharine depiction of the everyday with pretty lighting. She often has flaws in the objects - charred pieces on the meat or chips in the glass (like in the painting below) to show that life is not perfect and you take the beautiful with the broken.

I listened to an interesting interview with Mary Pratt on the McMichael website, filmed earlier this year (click here to listen to it). It is long, but well worth listening to as she talks about her life and art and influences. I picked out a couple of my favourite quotations as they really capture what her paintings are about:
I knew what I thought was beautiful and it was within the four walls of my mother's house.  The sort of jelly quivering within a dish as it was brought to the table. The roast - you can smell a roast - it means something good is going to happen.  

Our house was a happy house and the images that appeal to me come from that house that was full of pleasure and full of life ... Where everything wonderful seemed to happen and I couldn't think of a better way to paint than to try to paint the kind of discussion that went on in our house.

Everything is beautiful, but there are problems to be solved ... You couldn't have something wonderful unless there was difficulty involved. You couldn't make red currant jelly unless you worked at it for three days.

If you live in Southern Ontario, the Mary Pratt exhibit is well worth a visit and is on until April 27th so you can still catch it.  For the rest of the world, you will have to be satisfied with reading about her and seeing her paintings online and in books.  This website has a good collection of her work.

Seeing Mary Pratt's paintings has re-inspired me to find beauty in the everyday and to try and capture the fleeting beauty in the mundane items of life in my photographs and paintings.  And finally, you can read an interesting comparison between Mary Pratt's art and blogging and how both are about observing closely, curating our lives, and preserving the everyday (click here to read the post).

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Spring Mantel and Sideboard

It was time to change things up around the house and bring in some pretty spring colours.  It may still be ice and snow outside (and we just got another 4 cms this weekend), but I sure was ready for fresh spring turquoise and yellow inside.

This was the first time I had put my Grandmother's batik on the mantel (it usually goes over the sideboard in the dining room) and I'm so glad I did because the colours are perfect for spring.  I lined all the turquoise and a few clear glass vases and mason jars up along either end of the mantel and added some tiny pink flowers.  I didn't know the name of these flowers until I Googled them, but it seems like they are waxflowers (chamelaucium).  Not a very pretty name, but they sure are a pretty flower and look great with turquoise.  Do they go by any other names?  

At the other end of the room I used yellow on the sideboard and dining room table.  My husband has a green thumb and has managed to whisper in the ear of all three of our orchid plants and they are blooming at the same time.  And for this lovely display they deserve to be given pride of place on the dining room table.  You can't really see all three plants in the photo below so I included a second shot with all of the plants visible.


The sideboard has yellow striped napkins on it and a yellow striped jug on top.  I love all the sun-shiney yellow.  Yesterday I ventured out through our snowy backyard and climbed the snowy climber to get some pussywillow cuttings.  They are actually starting to open up on the tree.  How do they do that when it is well below zero outside and the ground is covered in snow?  All I can say is that it sure is a welcome sign of spring.


Have you started decorating for spring?  March 1st was my ticket to change things up.  Now if we could just get those temperatures to go up a bit too.