Ballooney Tunes

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While I was hanging out with Krampus back in December, I bumped into a friend who told me about a project he was going to be promoting involving a balloon installation of Jack and the Beanstalk at the old Sibley Tower here in Rochester. It sounded a little crazy but he was so excited that I made a mental note to check it out when the time rolled around.

Over the past several weeks, he has been promoting the heck out of it as #BalloonManor. I decided to stop in today and I’m glad I did. The artists, Larry Moss and Kelly Cheatle of Airigami, created an amazing balloon depiction of this old English fairy tale. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it and I’m hoping they take it (or another balloon installation) on the road so that other cities can enjoy it. It was also nice to see so many people downtown at the historic Sibley building again. The balloon sculpture is five stories tall, is free and open to the public, and the last day to enjoy it is tomorrow, February 10, from 10 AM – 7 PM.

Here are a few shots, but they really don’t do it justice. If you are in the vicinity, take a day off and go see it in person before it’s gone!

Quick addendum: There is a Balloon Popping Party from 5-7 PM tomorrow. The cost is $10 and the link to get tickets to the event is here.

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I Am What I Ham

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Meet "Spootch."

Meet “Spootch.”

Holiday Greetings from Florida. Over here to the left is my new friend, “Spootch,” that I found at the Coconut Point Art Festival (along with those nifty chopsticks made by the same artist). This was my favorite booth and purchase from the show and I’m super excited to put my Spootch to use in the home kitchen upon my return.

It’s New Year’s Eve and we’re about to head down to the beach so this will be a quick post.  I am not a big ham person but we had it for Christmas dinner. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you the last time I bought ham from the deli since it gets so slimy. However, I do enjoy a nice cooked ham, and particularly because I know what to do with the leftovers. In addition to making lovely breakfast sammies, you can totally make the best split pea soup ever. So I took over the kitchen to make this:

Lady Sensory’s Don’t Pea on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining Soup

See what I did there? I love me some quality Judge Judy quotes. You will need:

1 16 oz bag of dried split peas

7 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed (This is a lot of garlic, but it tastes delicious. So if you aren’t cool with that, reduce to your desired level.)

1 large Vidalia onion, finely chopped

About 6 ribs of celery, finely chopped

3/4 bag of baby carrots, chopped

1 ham bone (used the leftover Christmas ham, but you can get one from a butcher)

1 – 1 1/2 cups cooked ham, cut into bite size chunks (again, Christmas leftovers)

2 bay leaves

1 tbsp Herbes de Provence

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes

Cracked black pepper, to taste*

6-8 cups of water

1-2 tbsp olive oil

*You can add salt if you like but there was more than enough in the ham and the bone so I did not add any.

Split Pea Soup

As I mentioned, this was a kitchen takeover. I think the pot I used was roughly 4-5 quarts (it’s similar in size to my 4.5 pot). So, warm the olive oil in a heavy stock pot or fancy pot over low heat.  Add the onion and cook until translucent (about 5 minutes), add the garlic and continue to cook until slightly golden (another 5 minutes). Add the celery and carrots and com for about 5 more minutes and then add all of your dried herbs: the bay leaves, crushed red pepper, black pepper and Herbes de Provence and cook for about a minute or two. Now add the ham bone and dried split peas (you don’t have to soak them) and cook for a minute or two. Raise the heat to high and begin to add the water, 1 cup at a time, until bone is submerged and water is about an inch and a half from the top of the pot (so it doesn’t overflow). Add the chopped ham and cook until boiling. Skim foam and fat off the top (this is a personal preference and it won’t compromise the flavor). Reduce the heat to low and cook for 1 hr – 1.5 hrs (until peas have softened and soup has thickened). Serve and enjoy with a nice crusty baguette or roll and some dry white wine. We enjoyed trying three different kinds while waiting for the soup to cook – an Italian dry white blend, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a Sancerre. Oops!

May your New Year’s Eve be fun, safe, and filled with similar wine indiscretions!

That Thing That Happened at the Matisse Museum

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Musee MatisseAfter being buried in vegetables from my Good Food Collective share today (which was extremely awesome, by the way) I’m writing and posting very late. Today’s Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN) post is supposed to be on “Yes Moments,” which are defined as “tiny moments when life has complete clarity, meaning or certainty.” I call these types of things “epiphanies.”

The most recent and major one that comes to mind occurred while traveling in France in the summer of 2012. I had reached the south after wandering around Paris for five days. I believe I’ve told you I’m kind of a museum nerd when I travel. I knew wanted to visit the Musee Matisse while in Nice. I asked around and determined I would need to take a bus from my hotel up to Cimiez Hill, which was not a big deal (only 10-15 minutes).

Henri Matisse has always been an influence of mine and has held a solid place in the top three of my list of favorite artists for many years due to his superb use of color. When I arrived I was confronted with a red building overlooking lemon trees and an olive grove that also serves as a park. If you are familiar with Matisse’s work, you’ll recall the lemon and olive trees make several appearances. After seeing the big museums in Paris I wasn’t expecting it to be earth-shattering, but I figured it would definitely have some interesting pieces and a decent gift shop.

I wandered the various rooms and read the descriptions of the pieces in the collection. The bonus of hitting the smaller museums is that there are usually fewer people in the way. I stared at these big tapestries and was struck with the realization that Matisse had spent time in Tahiti. I don’t know how I never knew that. Maybe I did and just forgot. I had always associated Paul Gauguin with Tahiti. Suddenly it occurred to me that most of the places I travel are somehow associated with artists or writers and that I’d basically bombed around the globe for the past few years searching for something that I wasn’t finding…because the answer was already in me.Matisse Postcard

So there I was: in the south of France, on a sunny day, in small museum with a security guard in every room and I start bawling my eyes out. No, I’m not kidding and no, I was not premenstrual.

Oh wait, it gets worse.

I went downstairs to find the restroom to freshen up because crying makes me look like garbage and I walked straight into a children’s exhibit of at least 70-80 pictures all done in Matisse’s style with varying compositions. We had the lemons, the portraits, the cut-outs. Yep. All there. Some of them were pretty incredible.

I pretty much wanted to vomit on myself at this point but thankfully, I didn’t. The room was sunlit so I threw on my shades and forced myself to look at every single kid’s picture in the exhibit. Then I went into the gift shop, found the postcard of the Polynesian tapestry, a book on the museum collection, and got the hell out of there.

Well, then it got even more interesting. I wandered through the olive grove to a cemetery behind a church. Um, yes, in addition to museums I also have a weird cemetery fetish when I travel. I meandered down some path and there, under an olive tree, was Henri Matisse’s grave.

Matisse graveThat was enough of a wakeup call for me, and I knew what I would eventually have to do. However, when I returned to the states and got bombarded with two major fundraisers and an annual report I quickly forgot about my little epiphany.

Until now.

So tomorrow on Thanksgiving while you are feeling grateful for all that you have and the loved ones and friends that surround you, make sure you are thankful for your talents and gifts that make you innately you.

You never know when you’re going to have to fall back on them.

Dear Mr. Rochester

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This particular "Mr. Rochester" is my great-grandfather, Charles Ranson Carruth. He enjoyed taking the milk money to buy antiques and other collectibles. Some of his treasures can be found at the Memorial Art Gallery and Strong Museum of Play.

This particular “Mr. Rochester” is my great-grandfather, Charles Ranson Carruth. He enjoyed taking the milk money to buy antiques and other collectibles. Some of his treasures can be found at the Memorial Art Gallery and Strong Museum of Play. Now you know where I get my good looks from. Okay fine, Crazy Bob isn’t too shabby either.

Today’s Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN) post is on “My Hometown.” I’m an upstate New York gal and while I spent my school years growing up outside of Syracuse, I’ve spent my entire adult life in Rochester.  I decided to focus on the latter for this post. Recently, a new local blog was started called Rochester Love Notes (@RocLoveNotes on Twitter). It’s a great concept and the basic requirement for a submission is roughly 600 words describing what you love about Rochester. Since I couldn’t bear the thought of hindering my creative juices with a word count and my letter results from a love affair with Rochester that has been rather unrequited, I’ll be giving you my rendition here. Fellow literature geeks should appreciate the references.

Dear Mr. Rochester,

I can’t say that I never thought we’d reach this point. Alas, I think the moment is upon us.

I remember when we first met. I was just a child, but when visiting my grandmother, I recall the sense of dangerous attraction I felt overlooking High Falls from the revolving top of the First Federal Building in the early 1980s.  We would not meet again until I was 16 and in search of colleges.  In 1994 I arrived and began to make a life with you. Yes, Mr. Rochester, we’ve actually been together for nearly twenty years.

In my mid-twenties, my father warned me about your arrogance and your beautiful but damned existence. “I don’t know who these Rochester people think they are,” he said, forgetting he had married my born-Rochesterian mother. True to his Syracuse roots, I labeled him as resentful of the place that I thought could offer me more both culturally and economically.

You seduced me with your sophisticated and educated charm, Mr. Rochester. I fell hard for your proximity to water, your museums, and rich history. The trappings of high-end retailers, fine dining, country clubs with beautifully maintained golf courses, fundraisers, and personalities bigger than their britches certainly have provided a lot of social entertainment. There have been nights we’ve happily celebrated successes together and nights where you’ve managed to make a drunken fool of me. You’ve even dressed up as a woman for me on several occasions, but that was all in good fun.

I think that sometimes you forget that I’ve also seen your darker side, that flawed side of you that causes people to turn off the news at night.  I worked with the last of your Holocaust survivors drawing pictures of German soldiers. I walked door to door in neighborhoods ridden with poverty, filing missing person reports on your children. I’ve found razor blades lodged in my windshield wipers in said neighborhoods where, at the time, home tutors were being raped.  I’ve experienced “good-old-boy,” top-heavy, glass-ceiling management. I’ve seen your elders fall short of funds in senior housing communities only to be sent somewhere where medicaid payment is accepted but laden with state deficiencies and questionable care. I’ve had five car accidents here. I’ve been stalked, stolen from, yelled at, harassed, snowed in, and ice-stormed with no power for five days. Truth be told, I wouldn’t change any of it because you have made me stronger. In fact, you have made me who I am.

Despite all of the ties that bind us together, lately I’ve noticed we seem to be drifting apart.  I suppose I can’t blame you entirely.  We’ve had our share of indiscretions.  There was that time in 2003 when I contemplated leaving you for Arizona. Then again in 2006 when the vapid narcissism of southern California called my name. Neither could offer me the commitment I wanted and so I stayed out of loyalty and sadly, fear of the unknown.  I started to feed the urge to leave you by traveling halfway around the world and back, but ultimately you couldn’t fulfill the financial resources it would take for me to continue that hobby. Over the past few years I traveled less and tried to make a life worth living here. I became more involved in volunteerism and community service at organizations that I believe make a difference in your well-being but ultimately, I’m just not sure it’s enough. I suppose I could do even more for you. I could sport a myriad of apparel or accessories proclaiming my love and adoration for you.  But you and I both know I’ve never been one for public displays of affection; and I’m certainly not into something previously enjoyed by one of your other women.

I’ve questioned your fidelity because you’ve been reckless with me, Mr. Rochester. You’ve left me jobless three times now, and broken-hearted more times than I care to recall.  Thankfully, I’m resilient enough to wind up on both feet and better off each time, but I’m forced to wonder when my luck will run out. We’re both aware of my intelligence and talents; and I’m certainly more Cathertine Linton vs. plain Jane Eyre in the looks department.  And yet, sometimes you look right through me as if I don’t exist. At 37 years old I’m without a husband, children, or a career that fulfills me.  I’ve given you the best damn years of my life, Rochester. Why must you continue to deny me of the very basic needs that could keep me here forever?

I implore you to give me a reason to stay, Rochester. Now please forgive me as I throw your own words back in your face while I question the fate of our future together and know that this is not about hating you or falling out of love. It’s simply knowing when it’s time to let go: “Since happiness is irrevocably denied me, I have a right to get pleasure out of life: and I will get it, cost what it may.”

(Quote from Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë)

En Plein Air

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One of my very favorite 'lights' ever - the leg lamp from A Christmas Story. You can get one here: http://www.redriderleglamps.com

One of my very favorite ‘lights’ ever – the leg lamp from A Christmas Story. You can get one here: http://www.redriderleglamps.com

Light is today’s topic for Blog Every Day in November (#BEDN) in recognition of Diwali, the five-day Hindu festival of lights.  I’m only slightly familiar with this festival through a few of my friends who hail from India. I wish I had an assortment of the beautiful Diwali paper lanterns to show you, but thankfully we can interpret the content of these post topics as we see fit.

When I think about ‘light’ the first thing that comes to mind is ‘en plein air,’ which refers to a style of painting typically used by the Impressionists and literally means ‘in open air.’  Most of the Impressionists worked in oil and created landscapes, schlepping their wet canvases around the French countryside.  During the course of my studies I only did artwork outdoors once and it was in a graduate-level drawing class.  We used chalk pastels, which actually lend themselves quite nicely to the plein air style.  Like watercolor, pastel requires you to use the white of your paper for the highlights and then you build on the darker and more colorful parts to create the shadows. Degas is probably the best known pastel Impressionist, although most of his pastels were figurative versus landscape. Here are a few I created in grad school:

This would be the East Avenue entrance to the Nazareth College campus in 1999.

This would be the East Avenue entrance to the Nazareth College campus in 1999.

"Into the Woods," which was basically wandering behind the Nazareth College Arts Center in search of interesting trees.

“Into the Woods,” which was basically wandering behind the Nazareth College Arts Center in search of interesting trees.

Light also makes me think about its importance in photography and in the same thread, I’ve never seen more beautiful light than in the French Mediterranean. It’s no wonder so many artists flocked there to create their masterpieces.  The arid climate and reflection of light off the water just makes everything sun-drenched and gorgeous. Here are a few shots I took while vacationing last summer in the south of France:

Gardens at the palace in Monaco - this looks like a painting

Gardens at the palace in Monaco – this looks like a painting

A shot of the narrow alleys in Old Town Nice.

A shot of the narrow alleys in Old Town Nice.

A 'Nice' shot of a tree.

A ‘Nice’ shot of a tree.

Le Château Fountain (it wasn't running, but it was still pretty)

Le Château Fountain (it wasn’t running, but it was still pretty)

More buildings in Old Town Nice

More buildings in Old Town Nice

And a 'Nice' sunset and rooftop view from the hotel

And a ‘Nice’ sunset and rooftop view from the hotel

So this has been my take on the topic of ‘light’ and I’m looking forward to other BEDN bloggers’ interpretations. Speaking of travel and Diwali, I really do hope to get to India someday and see the Golden Temple aglow.  For those who celebrate, Happy Diwali!

Strollin’ With My Homies

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My mother, who lost her battle with colon cancer in March of 2000.

My mother, who lost her battle with colon cancer in March of 2000.

This post is going to be a little different from the usual, but it’s a very important one.  You may recall from a post I wrote last year that March is not my favorite month.  It’s the month of my mother’s birthday as well as her death. Ironically, it’s also National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the disease that took her far too soon.  This year will mark 13 years since she passed away. She was born on the 13th and it was her favorite number.  Blue was also her favorite color and it happens to be the color of the colon cancer ribbon. Where am I going with all of this?  Well, this past year I learned that several of my friends have also been touched by this disease.  So we’re on board to do something about it.

After one friend’s mom was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer this past summer another friend who has a blog over here did some research about a race called the UNDY 5000.  She wanted to bring it here but there’s a pretty hefty sponsorship commitment. So after doing a little more research she got our crew hooked up with the University of Rochester’s division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology department because they did a successful run/walk last year just outside of Rochester in Geneseo, NY.  The 5K is called Strollin’ for the Colon and it will take place on April 20.  In addition to the run/walk, there will be a chicken barbecue, live music and auction items.  But, the most exciting part of the event will be Coco the Colossal Colon ®!  Coco is a 40-foot ginormous model of the human colon and people can actually walk through it.  Coco is designed as an educational tool so people can learn about colorectal cancer and other diseases of the colon.  We’ve been having a lot of fun promoting this run with Coco and spreading the word about the importance of early screenings.  Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States and it’s one of the easiest to treat if detected early.

One of many fun campaign ideas to promote the run

One of many fun campaign ideas to promote the run

Obviously,  I would love it if as many people as possible could attend this event for a great cause. We are raising awareness about the disease and proceeds will benefit colon cancer research.  People can register to run at www.active.com.  But more importantly (because I realize people from near and far are reading this), I would love it if people would try to do one thing in their own town to help increase awareness about this disease and how treatable it is if caught in time.  Additionally, March 1 is National Dress in Blue Day in recognition of colon cancer.  So if you don something blue today you’ll already be taking a step in the right direction.

Of course, non-locals are more than welcome to donate to the cause online. The website for donations is www.gastro.urmc.edu.  Any checks should be made out to “Strollin’ for the Colon” and sent to the attention of University of Rochester’s division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at 601 Elmwood Avenue Box 646 Rochester, NY 14642. For local folks, my friend has also planned a fundraiser specifically for our friend’s mom that will take place in March. I’ll be donating this piece to the auction at that event.  More info can be found on the Strollin’ for the Colon Facebook page.  Thanks in advance for anything ‘blue’ you can do!

Block print I'll be donating to the fundraiser for our friend's mom.

Block print I’ll be donating to the fundraiser for our friend’s mom.

Porking All Day Long

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Ruins at Cobá - I climbed these!

Ruins at Cobá – I climbed these!

I’ll bet you think this is going to be a saucy post about Valentine’s Day.  Nope! However, you’re in for a treat because I’m going to share some Mexican vacay tidbits and different way to enjoy some pulled pork: Mayan-style!  While visiting Playa del Carmen, I took the opportunity to get the heck out of the resort “fortress” and experience some real culture.  One of the excursions I took was called Cobá Sunset and was a later afternoon jaunt to the ruins that combined a bike ride (yes, we discussed that portion previously), a climb to the top of the ruins, dinner at an authentic restaurant serving traditional Mayan cuisine, a Mayan show in a cave, and a choice of either zip-lining and swimming in a cenote or visiting a school to do traditional Mayan pottery. Since I’m accident prone and artsy-fartsy, I chose the latter.

I had visions of what the school would look like based on my previous elementary school art classes.  Wrong!  The school is actually off the back of a small retail shop.  The school’s Mayan name translates to ‘Ancient Roots’ and the instructor, Augustin Villalba, came from Argentina to teach this traditional style of ancient pottery to children in several small towns surrounding Cobá.  The purpose is to provide the children with the historical perspective and craftsmanship of pottery-making from their own culture, keep them connected to their villages, and the pieces are then sold to provide necessities (food, etc.) to the villages.  I was about to drop wad in a Mexican batik place down the road but all of that changed because I’m a sucker for charity and children.  He actually had the kids helping out in the class.  We made pinch pots and I decided to leave mine (no need for broken unfired greenware all over my luggage) but purchased several of the items made by the children.  If you ever head to the Mayan Riviera, I highly recommend this excursion.

And now, let’s talk about the food.  I was staying at an all-inclusive and despite that the restaurants were very good, I wanted some authentic (non-Americanized) Mexican food.  I got my wish on this excursion.  I tried a traditional slow-roasted Mayan pork known as cochinita pibil. I also tried the chicken prepared in the same way and made a mental note to somehow replicate this dish upon my return home. The following recipe is for the pork. Feel free to substitute chicken if you wish. To make this, you will need to procure a special ingredient – achiote paste, which is made from annatto seeds and several spices.  It can be hard to find if you don’t have Latino or ethnic food markets in your area. After visiting several locations, I wound up getting mine online through Amazon. One brand looks like this:

El Yucateco Achiote Paste made from annatto seeds. Damn, that chef looks happy with his pig roast.

El Yucateco Achiote Paste made from annatto seeds. Damn, that chef looks happy with his pig roast.

You will also need some banana leaves. You can find them in the market in the frozen section, usually where the frozen Goya items reside.  And, you’ll need some patience – the meat has to marinate overnight and it will slow roast for several hours. So, if you think, “Ain’t nobody got time fo’ that,” you may want to throw some chops on the grill. However, I think you’ll find this earthy, mellow, spiced rendition of pulled pork well worth the wait.  You’ll be serving it with pickled onions (recipe also included in this post).

Lady Sensory’s At Least I Can Say I Got Porked in Mexico Mayan-Style Pulled Pork (Cochinita Pibil)

You will need:

3-4 oz. achiote paste (made from annatto seeds – I used El Yucateco)

3 – 3.5 lbs. pork, cut into chunks with some of the fat trimmed (pork shoulder is the preferred cut but I used a combination of shoulder and tenderloin)

8-9 cloves of garlic, minced

Juice of 1 grapefruit, 2 limes and 3 oranges (to mimic the bitter orange flavor – if you can get your hands on bitter oranges, by all means, use those)

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin (I increased this from 1/2 tsp because my Venezuelan friend told me it needed a little more cumin)

1/4 tsp ground Saigon cinnamon plus one cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

Banana leaves, thawed by running under tepid water (you will need these the next day when it is time to cook)

Remove some of the fat from the pork (not all, the fat helps with the texture and flavor!).  Cut into chunks that are around 2″ and leave some meat on the bone. You will be including that as well.  In a 9 x 13″ glass dish (or any large dish that is non-reactive), mix all of the ingredients above until the paste is fully incorporated (excluding the banana leaves).  Don’t wear anything too precious while making this – annatto stains!  Place pork in the mixture – it will be a very bright orangey-red. Allow to marinate 12-24 hours. The next day, preheat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit and remove the pork from the mixture and place in the center of the banana leaves. I also included the cinnamon stick and bay leaves.  Wrap the banana leaves around the pork and place in a dutch oven (a.k.a. fancy pot) and cook in the oven for about 3.5 hours.  The banana leaves smell incredible while this cooks! In the meantime you will need to prepare your pickled onions, because they will pickle while the pork cooks. Once the onions are made and in the fridge you can clean up around the house or do some lazy retail therapy (online shopping) while you wait.

Lady Sensory’s Pick-a-Peck-of-Pickled-Onions

Juice of 1 lime and 3 small oranges

1/2 cup apple cider vinegar

1 jalapeño pepper

1 large red onion

1 tsp sugar

Salt and pepper, to taste

Finished product - Todo es bueno (everything is good)! Cochinita Pibil (Mayan pulled pork)

Finished product – Todo es bueno (everything is good)! Cochinita Pibil (Mayan pulled pork)

Slice the onion in half and cut into thin slices (semi-circles). Slice the jalapeño lengthwise, remove the seeds and cut into small semicircles. Place in an airtight container. In a separate bowl, whisk together the citrus juice, vinegar, sugar and salt and pepper. Cover the onions and pepper with the mixture. Cover the container with a lid, refrigerate and allow to marinate while the pork is cooking (a few hours).

When the pork is ready, remove the pot from the oven and open the banana leaves. Use a fork to shred the pork and pull it away from the bone. Serve with pickled onions and traditional beans, rice and warm tortillas. I would say this serves anywhere from 6-8 people. I do have to confess that I enjoyed it even more in sandwich form on a crusty roll with just the pickled onions, so I definitely encourage you to try that with your leftovers for a quick lunch!  Mmm. Crusty roll. How I miss thee.

For additional info on Ancient Roots, check out some other articles that mention the school herehere, and here.

Oh, and I definitely wouldn't mess with this guy's pork. He means business!

Oh, and I definitely wouldn’t mess with this guy’s pork. He means business!