That’s Amore: Nectarine-tomato pizza

August 29, 2012 § 1 Comment

Today I passed a roadside stand selling boxes of mangos for $3. Last night, my roommate brought home perfectly ripe peaches to share, and apples are just beginning to make their fall debut. I love this part of the season and this recipe from the “So Hungry” blog looked too good not to share. Definitely on my to-do list this week. -Abi

So hungry I could blog

by Caitlin Saniga

  • pizza dough
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 20-30 basil leaves
  • 2 nectarines, pitted and sliced into 1/2-inch crescents
  • 2 small roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/2-inch crescents
  • 2 ounces (or more!) fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into cubes

Place the pizza dough in a well-oiled mixing bowl, and cover with a towel. Place the bowl in a warm (or room-temperature) spot, and let sit for an hour.

While the dough is rising, whisk together the oil, honey, vinegar, garlic salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

When the dough is ready, roll it out on a floured surface. Transfer the dough to a greased (or floured) baking sheet.

Brush the vinaigrette over the dough. Cover the top of the dough with basil leaves. Next, arrange the slices of nectarine and tomatoes over the…

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Defining “Art”

July 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

Guest post by Dan Burnett.

A good friend of mine many years ago told me that he defined art as “anything made for the sake of being made.”  Although at the time I found this really vague (and still do), I’ve always enjoyed this definition because that’s really the only reason I take photos; I take them just to take them.  I have never considered myself an artist by any means; I take photos mainly because it gives me an excuse to be outside more often, it’s challenging and fun, and because it’s an ongoing learning experiment as you try to perfect your style and learn new ones.

When I take photos I’m usually trying to do one of two things: show a subject or scene as I currently see it before me, or show an interesting or alternative perspective of the subject/scene that would normally be overlooked.

Recently I got interested in low-key photography, which I have found to be painfully challenging and frustrating – and incredibly fun.  I’ve always been a fan of shooting in black and white, and shooting black and white in low-key has allowed me to explore interesting and alternative perspectives of the items and subjects I’ve shot.

When I first started, I used myself as the subject while I figured out how low-key shots work.  I learned a lot about positioning light, longer exposures versus quick shots in high light, and how to control the shadows that add so much drama to the picture.  This is one photo from the first set I ever did, which illustrates a known form in an unknown posture and setting.

As I learned more about low-key, I began to experiment and came up with the idea of trying to capture falling water.  I experimented with different “waterfall” methods, finally settling on water being poured out of cupped hands.  I really enjoyed the reflections and shine I saw when I used reflectors to get the water to carry the light as it fell in this photo.

With objects, low-key photography can create shape and focus in the frame by the addition of the highlights created by the single light source, like in the photo below.  The contrast created between the light being carried by the water and the depth of the shadows behind the glass inspired me to do a whole set of wine related scenes.

One of my favorite low-key shots, this photo was by far one of the more technical photographs I’ve taken.  A relatively long shot with very low light, this picture captures both light and shadow, detail and abstract, disorder and pleasant ambiance.

Shooting low-key is great if you want to learn how to manually control light, finally figure out what that setting on your camera that you never use actually does, and spend an hour or two in a dark room.  It really is a neat style of photographic art, regardless of how you define it.

Photos from Readers

July 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

As I’ve started this journey to learn about and practice photography through my one-a-day photo project and monthly themes, I’ve so enjoyed talking about it with people and hearing what ideas it’s sparked in them. I asked for you to share your photos, dear Readers, and you did! Here they are.

Becky Silva’s photo for “Imperfect.” (She guest posted for us here.)

Mary Christian’s photo for “Solitude.”

Glenn Griffin’s photo for “Higher.”

A nod to you for sharing and creating.

“Chopin’s Music is about Regret. Put More Regret into the Melody.”

May 29, 2012 § 2 Comments

That’s something my piano professor, Dr. Namji Kim, used to tell me. She was right.

This May I finally listened to the recording of my senior piano recital, which I performed in 2009. I didn’t have the courage to listen to it before now. The first piece, Chopin’s Nocturne in Eb Major, came on through my headphones. There were tears. It’s been a long time. What I felt in that performance derived from my experiences up to that moment. What I feel listening to it 2.5 years later is compounded by my experiences since then.

In February I came across Sophie Blackall’s book, Missed Connections, a compilation of her wonderful illustrations of the most hilarious and moving posts she has found on Missed Connections in New York. (You can check out a preview of her book here.) This is one of my favorite stories:

The Whale at Coney Island
– M4M – 69
(Brooklyn/Florida)

A young friend of mine recently acquainted me with the intricacies of Missed Connections, and I have decided to try to find you one final time.

Many years ago, we were friends and teachers together in New York City. Perhaps we could have been lovers too, but we were not. We used to take trips to Coney Island, especially during the spring, when we would stroll hand in hand, until our palms got too sweaty, along the boardwalk, and take refuge in the cool darkness of the aquarium. We liked to visit the whale best. One spring, it arrived from its winter home (in Florida? I can’t remember) pregnant. Everyone at the aquarium was very excited – a baby beluga whale was going to be born in New York City! You insisted that we not miss the birth, so every day after class, and on both Saturday and Sunday, we would takethe D train all the way from Harlem to Coney Island.

We got there one Saturday as the aquarium opened and there was a sign posted to the glass tank. The baby beluga had been born dead. The mother, the sign read, was recovering but would be fine. We read the sign in shock and watched the single beluga whale in her tank. She was circling slowly. Neither of us could speak. Suddenly, without warning, the beluga started to throw herself against the wall of the tank. Trainers came and ushered us out. We sat on a bench outside, and suddenly I felt tears running down my face. You saw, turned my face towards yours, and kissed me. We had never kissed before, and I let my lips linger on yours for a second before I stood up and walked towards the ocean.

It was too much – the whale, the death, the kiss – and I wasn’t ready.

Forgive me — I don’t think I ever understood what an emptiness you would create when you left and I realized that that kiss on Coney Island was the first and the last.

Are you out there, dear friend?

If so, please respond. I think of you, and have thought of you often, all of these years.

Sophie writes in her introduction,

In an effort to understand the Missed Connections better, I found myself sorting them into categories. There is the standard formula, which states the location, the time, a brief description of the person sighted, and a regret at not making contact.

There are the ones written to a known person, which deviate from the formula, but this person is usually inaccessible…

“I am trying to track down a long lost love of a dear friend. My friend was in a very bad car accident in his 20’s that made him unable to use one hand. He had a son with this ‘drop dead gorgeous’ jewish woman in NY about 40 years ago. They lived together before it was status quo. They loved each other, but he says they were destructive, so he left. But he never forgot her, or his son. I promised I would try to find the woman or her son. He knows neither one may want to see him. This man is the closest thing I have to a father. I am proud to be his friend, and I think he is worth knowing, even now.”

I think what makes Sophie’s illustrations of chance meetings and stolen moments on the subway so charming is that people are forced to include the little details we don’t often get to hear, the details that can identify one person out of the millions. Details about how they were drawn to someone because of their scrabble tattoo, the way they knitted so nimbly, that they were wearing a shirt with horses on it and that a man with admirably scruffy hair twirled her into a waltz in the middle of a NYC street. Even so, I am most drawn to the searchers who are looking for someone they have known well in the past. The long-lost dear friend or former partner holds more weight in my memory. There is more at stake. The Whale at Coney Island has stuck with me since I read it months ago. It’s a beautiful story and plea. I am also moved by the appeal of the friend in the second one, that “This man is the closest thing I have to a father… he is worth knowing, even now.”

And yet, they are bittersweet, not only because we are not sure if they’ll be answered, but also because I wonder if things will work out even if they are answered. These people have had years to idealize. What are either of them expecting from their search? That the other will accept them back, that they can pick up where they left off? That the other person hasn’t replaced them and begun to live content in their present reality? And if they have, shouldn’t we wish that for them?

I wonder how we can expect that we know what we want, now, when we’re removed from the other and influenced by loneliness. As though now suddenly if we could only see that person we’d be happy. That we’d be content and the old patterns would evaporate into something perfectly good. What is this in us that can’t let go? Why the persistent curiosity about what things might have been like, what kind of tea that person drinks these days, what they do when it’s rainy out, and whether they’ve dismissed us. Haven’t we proven we’re not trustworthy? Are we “worth knowing, even now”?

I recently read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Most of the main characters struggle with regret and letting go:

It’s the tragedy of loving. You can’t love anything more than something you miss.

I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live, Oskar. Because if I were able to live again, I would do things differently.
I would change my life.
I would kiss my piano teacher, even if he laughed at me.
I would jump with Mary on the bed, even if I made a fool of myself.
I would send out ugly photographs, thousands of them.

Again in Incredibly Loud, the main character speaks with a man who was never on good terms with his father. When his father realized he was dying, he began to write letters to nearly everyone he had known. Many were very moving and vulnerable. However, to his son’s surprise, the letter he received did not attempt to make any reconciliation or show any emotion. It was a logistical letter, to get affairs in order:

“You were disappointed?” “I was angry” “I’m sorry” “No, there’s nothing to be sorry for. I thought about it. I thought about it all the time. My father told me where he’d left things, and what he wanted taken care of. He was responsible. He was good. It’s easy to be emotional. You can always make a scene. Remember me eight months ago? That was
easy.”

He was responsible. He was good. It’s easy to be emotional. You can always make a scene.

Maybe the missed connections searchers are brave. Or, maybe loving something you miss is the illusion. Maybe those who have a shred of true care left for the other’s well-being are the ones with the courage to leave that person alone, to resist the urge to make pretty speeches and let them move on in peace. Maybe that is the good and true thing to do. As Greg Watson says in his poem “Now,” to have, from a distance, a certain contentment, to be…

…happy, to have kissed
your mouth with the force of language,

to have spoken your name at all.

Whatever the answer is, whatever we feel after the fact, we have all made choices that brought us to where we are. It’s difficult to remember why, but I think the truth is, we chose.

Guest post by Anna Marie.

On Creating Taking a Long Freaking Time

May 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

Guest post by Steven Grahmann.

It’s probably cliché to say I got the idea for my novel in the shower, but that’s how it happened.

I’d always wanted to write a book about my favorite topics – outer space, culture, bullies, and an ordinary kid becoming extraordinary without having to develop superpowers. But I needed an idea that would draw all those things together. That idea had eluded me for years but it popped into my head one morning, and yes, it was in the shower. I started writing as soon as I was dry. And I figured the process would be fast and furious – I’d be done in a year, tops.

That was five years ago.

Sometimes it depresses me, how long this has taken. It makes me feel guilty, too. Have I done something wrong? Should I be waking up before the sun or spending my evenings in coffee shops listening to The Decemberists on my headphones and hammering away? Or should I be practicing more – journaling or blogging everything that happens to me in order to hone my craft and get the juices flowing? Should I be working harder?

I’ve learned a lot of lessons during the process of writing my book, now titled The Ordinaries and in its fourth draft. Here’s one lesson: the creative process often takes longer than you, and others, think it should. Here’s another:  there are seasons in the creative process – and sometimes, it’s ok not to create at all.

I’m not sure that “seasons” is the right word, actually, because it implies that it’s out of my control, like winter. No, I’m pretty sure I have complete control over when I create or don’t create. So the main reason my book is unsold, unpublished, out of tune and unfinished is that I’ve chosen to do other things rather than complete it. As someone who defines himself (for better or for worse) as a creative person, this was an extremely difficult – and extremely important – truth to grasp.

There have been times when I’ve needed to rest instead of create. There have been evenings (many!) when I’ve chosen to play with my kids instead of rushing off somewhere to write (I’ve even told myself “I’ll have time to finish the book when they’re teenagers and hate me.” Writing simply can’t compete with the fact that they like me right now). There have been times when I’ve been celebrating, or engaging with others, or staying healthy, or grieving, and I need to put my energy into those things instead of working on my book. There are times when I’ve decided that the amazing thing in which I just took part was a piece of art in itself, and I don’t need to write it down or add it to my book or share it with other people – it was mine and the memory is enough. And through it all, my process – this process of fleshing out the idea that struck me in the shower that morning – has stretched out longer and longer and longer.

And even though the way I feel about that is complicated, I think it’s ok. We creatives have to give ourselves a break. Good things take a long time. There have to be breaks in the process of creation, or else there’s no time for living. And if we don’t live, we have no stories to tell.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go play Legos with my kids.

Single White Female Seeks Adulthood

May 9, 2012 § 5 Comments

Guest post by Becky Silva.

I like asking people who are older than me when they truly felt they had become adults. I get all kinds of answers.

Some say that it was when they left for college.
Others answer that it was when they married their spouse.
Or became parents.

I ask because I don’t feel like an adult.
I’m waiting for adulthood.
I wish that adulthood was like joining a Greek sorority or fraternity, so then I could just be hazed and know for sure.

As I sit here writing and waiting for my impending adulthood, I’m reminded of all the times that I thought my life would change when I hit a certain “magic” age.

When I was 9 years old, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I turned 10. Not only is 10 double digits, but because my dad was in the Navy and I was his dependent, I would get my very own I.D. card. I could flash this I.D. card at the gates to get on the military base where my mum went grocery shopping. Mind you, my mum was the one who actually kept my I.D. card safe in her purse, but that didn’t matter.

When was 12, I knew that EVERYTHING would change when I turned 13. Because 13 means you’re a teenager. And teenager means you’re not a kid anymore. It means you’re mature…and you get boobs.

When I was 14, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I turned 15. Fifteen meant I would have my driver’s permit — a small card that identified me as being able to drive…with my parents in the front seat.

When I was 15, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I turned 16. Sixteen meant that I could drive without parents in the car, like a boss.

When I was 17, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I turned 18. Eighteen meant I was an adult in the eyes of the U.S. Government.  And with the power of adulthood I could legally purchase lotto tickets, cigarettes, porn, and call the 1-800 number to order Hooked on Phonics. I chose to use my power to buy lotto tickets for my church’s youth group Christmas white elephant gift.

When I was 19, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I was 20. Twenty meant that I was no longer a teenager. It meant I was a more legit adult.

But that didn’t last long, because when I was 20, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I was 21. Then I could legally buy alcohol, and everybody knows that alcohol is the epitome of adulthood.

In college, I knew EVERYTHING would change when I was finished with a degree under my belt. The world would then accept me as an adult who contributes to society.

But everything did not change. At least not in the ways I thought they would.

On their own merits, each of the small achievements made small changes in my life that, looking back, don’t seem like such a big deal anymore. But they’re important in the moment. They’re like small tiny steps toward adulthood.

For instance, last summer I was in California. I was twenty-three and realized I had no idea how to correctly style my hair. It’s curly and thick and looks like a dead rat’s nest if something doesn’t happen. And for someone who has “allegedly” been an adult for at least five years, I knew that wasn’t acceptable. So I called my aunt who is a hairstylist and asked her to teach me how to tame the beast. She did.

And I was one step closer to adulthood.

I’m now 24, and my mum lets me keep my own I.D. card. For all legal and social purposes I am an adult. And every once in a while I do things that make me feel like I’m not a kid. Then I’ll do something that makes me feel absolutely anti-adult. So I’ve made two lists.

Things that make me feel like an immature kid:

  • my messy room and car
  • craving sweets
  • Reading books from the kid’s section at the library
  • making faces at the children that sit in front of me in church
  • not wanting to go to church
  • crying
  • wanting people to like me
  • wanting people to laugh at my jokes
  • birthdays
  • my entire fashion “sense,” or lack thereof
  • not going on dates
  • never being in love
  • wanting to memorize a dirty rap song
  • misspelling words on social media
  • wondering when I’ll become an adult

Things that make me feel like I could possibly not be a kid anymore:

  • cooking for people other than myself
  • cooking dinner in a crockpot
  • making meatloaf for dinner
  • making substitutions to food recipes
  • people telling me that something I cooked is delicious
  • having friends over the age of 30
  • moving 1100 miles from anybody I knew to intern in Madison
  • correcting people’s grammar on Facebook
  • having a college degree
  • hosting a Premier jewelry party
  • having a favorite tampon brand
  • buying said favorite tampon brand
  • writing checks
  • sending said checks to my siblings for their birthdays
  • using phrases like “I digress” in my blog
  • guest blogging for Abi and Pakou’s blog

What about you? What makes you feel like an adult? What makes you feel like a non-adult? What should North Americans do to haze young adults into adulthood?

Becky is currently a barista at Caribou Coffee while waiting for the powers that be to grant her the sacred gift of adulthood. When not working, she blogs, practices funny faces in the mirror (to use on children in church), and writes lists that she will probably never use.

Illusion of Lightness

April 9, 2012 § 3 Comments

Guest post by Anna Marie.

Dancer Daniel Kirk

I will begin by saying that I am not a dancer or gymnast or any other kind of accomplished artist besides a musician. However I want to share some insights I’ve learned from taking dance class, playing the piano, and listening to artists talk about something we all need to learn how to do: be grounded. And stop grasping, physically and emotionally.

Dancers and gymnasts often strive to achieve beauty through a perception of weightlessness. They strive to appear to defy gravity. Gymnasts play with it, throwing themselves high into the air, performing physical feats up into space that awe viewers. I think of dance as a continuum of weight and weightlessness, moments when something is dragging you down and moments when you are the embodiment of grace, a bird flying. This contrast is illustrated beautifully in this video below. The man is weight; the woman, weightlessness. (Although this is animated with added effects, it was choreographed and performed by dancers for the artist to copy, and the movements are honest-to-real dance)

In college I took classes in Alexander Technique from Dr. Toni Poll-Sorenson, dance professor and Alexander Technician. (Check out her practice here.)

 “The Alexander Technique is a way to feel better, and move in a more relaxed and comfortable way… the  way nature intended. An Alexander Technique teacher helps you to identify and lose the harmful habits you have built up over a lifetime of stress and learn to move more freely.”
-from alexandertechnique.com

Many artists seek out this therapy, and this class was where I heard conversations about the difficulties each discipline faces. We addressed the issue of reaching our achievements. For dancers and gymnasts to reach their goal of defying gravity, often they resort to the most intuitive solution – gathering their bodies upward, trying to reach up to the sky in their movements, grasping at the idea of getting off of the floor. Toni stressed that this gathering oneself upward is self-defeating and can give you destructive bodily habits. The only way to create an illusion of weightlessness and flight is to be absolutely connected to the floor, grounded deeply, to submit to gravity, not fight it. When grounded deeply, one can gain the balance and strength necessary to make the jump or achieve the stance that will make you appear as floating lightness, unencumbered by the laws of gravity.

The need to be grounded manifested itself in my experience as a pianist as well. During one class, I played a piece for Toni and my peers. With particularly vigorous passages, I would desperately gather my shoulders upward and forward to get the power I needed into the keys. Toni suggested I start again and try driving my heels into the ground while I play. When I did this, my legs suddenly felt like they were tree trunks, solid and grounded with roots as deep as I am tall, connecting me to the seemingly unmovable mass of the earth. This released my upper body, and I felt like branches swaying, unburdened and flexible, but at no loss of power. I felt I physically had more power to create a larger sound without striving upward to do it. It was as though all the power from the muscles of my legs, back, shoulders and arms were being channeled through my weightless fingertips to the keys, creating more sound and more endurance for quick passages. I was streamlined, playing from my whole body, rather than my hands and forearms taking the brunt of the work. Toni and the class noted that the sound changed noticeably, that it had a deeper bass quality to it.

Other ways to create lightness are to either create a piece that seems weightless, or to create a moment when the viewer can feel transported, as though they were being transformed into weightlessness through their experience of the art. Stick sculptor Patrick Dougherty achieves both of these.

(View more of his sculptures here.)

We learn that stick sculptures need to be physically grounded. They need to be structurally sound before they can look like they could be easily blown over. We learn also that the artist needs to be grounded in technique, design, and hard work in order to create a transcendent experience: something that looks very simple that transports viewers to another place.

Dougherty describes the effect this way, “The mark of a good sculpture is that… people walk up and say ‘yeah I could do this.’ I don’t mind that illusion. I think it adds to the vulnerability and personability of the piece.”

I admire him for preferring that people don’t know the extent of work that goes into it. If they knew, it would take away from their experience of whimsicality. In a way, that is the test of an artist: his or her willingness to stop grasping at being admired and sacrifice the persona of being a genius in exchange for an outcome that truly is genius.

A nod to those who have spent the hours, days, or years stripping down their visions in order to rebuild them again, from the ground up.

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