In the Studio – and out

Published September 26, 2016 by microncat

table-setup

 

signThis past weekend, I was one of 10 artists who participated in the Southern Ideal Home Show at the fairgrounds in Raleigh.  It was a nice mix of work, 2-D and 3-D, and all the artists were friendly and fun.  This is the first time that visual artists have been invited to participate in the Raleigh show, but there have been artists at the Greensboro show for several years.

Load-in was pretty easy – I snagged a spot right beside the door.  (Can I park a car, or what?!)

parking

I’ve gone to similar shows in the past, and you couldn’t stir folks with a stick.  This show had nowhere near that level of attendance, but I went prepared to demo, so I got a lot of work done over the three days.  Here is a shot of my travel workbench setup.

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I pulled the drawer out of my big workbench in the studio and clamped it onto a small folding table.  Then I clamped the bench pin/anvil, clamped on one of those bendy-neck lamps, and I was in business!  The cart that holds all the tools weighs a ton, though.

Here are a couple of necklaces that I finished at the show.  They are both reversible, enameled copper.  The blue and green/red and green one has a copper chain and jump rings.  The blue and green/purple and green one has a sterling silver chain with fine silver jump rings and catch.  If you are interested, they are listed in my Etsy shop.

 

Eating Out: Crafted – Art of the Taco

Published September 21, 2016 by microncat

When I was a kid, there were no Mexican restaurants; there was only Taco Hell.  I was at least in middle school, if not a bit older, when Max’s Mexican Eatery opened across from Ilderton Dodge in High Point, and that is the first Mexican restaurant I can remember.  I don’t know how or why this came to be, but we started making tacos at home.

Taco night was a huge big deal, because some of the ingredients were expensive – corn tortillas were not commonplace, and Mom used Velveeta for taco cheese.  She would get the Velveeta one week, and the tortillas the next week, and then it was TACO NIGHT!!!  Here’s the setup:  Browned ground beef in a skillet on the table, diced tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, sour cream, and Velveeta, cut in sticks about 1/2 x 3″.  Oh, and the pepper sauce!  I forgot about that – Mom got a bottle of Texas Pete chilies in vinegar, ran it through the blender to chop the chilis up fine, then put the whole mess in a ketchup squirt bottle.  We could only stand about four drops of that stuff on any one taco; it was hot!  All this stuff was on the table.  Over on the counter, Mom set up the electric frying pan with oil, and then she or Dad would fry a tortilla for each person, placing the finished tortilla on a paper plate covered with napkins.  Then we got more napkins to blot the oil before building our taco.  A stick of Velveeta was cut in two and went down first, so it got melty on the hot tortilla.  Then hamburger and veg and sour cream.  Then the tortilla wrapped around and ecstasy ensued.  Man, we could gobble down some tacos!

Tonight, we decided to eat at Crafted:  Art of the Taco, which is located next door to Blue Denim on Elm Street downtown.  I forgot to take a picture of the exterior, because it was sprinkling rain when we went in, but here’s a shot of the hall you have to walk down to get to the dining room.  It is not wide enough for two people to walk past each other without touching.  The kitchen is there on the left, behind those windows, and there are chalkboards with sidewalk chalk for writing messages, or whatever.

crafted-hall

We were seated immediately, since it was only 6pm and not crowded yet.  The dining room is nicely set up, with a huge bar in the middle, and tons of green paint everywhere, like an avocado bomb went off, LOL.  Seriously, there was a lot of green, but at least it wasn’t a neon acid green.  (I’ve seen someone’s kitchen painted that color, and it’s unnerving, to say the least.)  I LOVED the light fixtures.  At first, I thought someone had done the “hang an umbrella upside down with a light inside” thing, but then when I looked closer, I realized the “umbrella” parts were actually glass, or maybe plexiglass.  All those stars over the bar in the picture below are various colors, with holes punched to let the light out.  Very neat.

crafted-dining-room

Service was pretty good, but not the best we’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t because they were short-staffed or crowded.  The menu is short and to the point.  The main thing is Tacos, of course – right on the front, it says, “We are not a Mexican restaurant; We are a Taco Joint”.  On the entree side, you get two tacos and a side for a very reasonable price, which is dependent on which protein you get. You can mix and match, meaning, you don’t have to have two of the same taco – you can get one each of two different types, and you pay the price of whichever taco is most expensive.  You can also get your taco made as a salad for a buck more.

They have many protein choices, including braised beef, pulled pork, Ahi tuna, chicken, grilled or fried fish.  For the veggie heads and vegans among us, they have tofu, something called “seitan“, with which I was not familiar, and felafel.  The menu says almost all their sauces are vegan, and anything can be made to suit vegans, if the vegans ask for it, which is nice for them.

We both decided to get two different tacos each.  Ginny got a Wayfarer (pulled pork, kimchi sauce, marinated cucumbers, green onions) and a ‘Mericanized (lettuce, tomato, cheese and sour cream with your choice of protein; she picked grilled fish), with duck-fat-braised collard greens as her side.  I got a Bow Tie (fried fish, corn salsa, mayo-based sauce) and a Baja-Style (protein of choice with guacamole and pico de gallo, and lots of cilantro.  I picked braised beef,) with chips and salsa as my side.

Ginny liked both of her tacos and the collards, as well.  The pork was clean (no fat or gristle parts), and very tasty, with kimchi sauce.  Her grilled fish was soft and delicious, and those collards were really delicious.

On the other hand, I was disappointed with several things.  First, the fried fish in my Bow Tie taco was cold and had obviously been sitting awhile in the kitchen.  It had no flavor, but the corn salsa was pretty good.  The braised beef in my Baja-style taco was clean (no fat or gristle), fully cooked, but needed salt, and was very dry.  Both my tacos were ordered with soft corn tortillas, which were served just like they come out of the bag from the store – cold and flat – a major letdown after the homemade goodness at the El Torito Taco Truck.  Soft corn tortillas have to be warmed in order for them to wrap around anything without tearing up and making a mess.  Needless to say…

The salsa I ordered as my side was pretty good, once I got a salt shaker (none on the tables; you have to ask for it); however, I did not like the chips.  I think most people would expect corn tortilla chips with their salsa, but Crafted serves chips that are fried white flour tortillas, which are not nearly as flavorful as corn chips.

I have heard so many people rave about this place, I expected a really good meal.  Unfortunately, it was mediocre, at best.  We prolly won’t go back; there are too many other excellent restaurants to choose from in the Greensboro area.

Eating IN: Chess Pie

Published September 20, 2016 by microncat

Well, it finally happened.  I suspect the Devil is dancing in snow boots about now, or possibly practicing his triple Lutz moves, wearing spangled scarlet Spandex.  I made a pie crust.  From.  Scratch.

Yes, you read that right.  And that sound you hear?  That’s just my mom, rolling in her grave, because she quit making pie crust when Pillsbury started selling them rolled up in the refrigerator case.  I made a pie crust from scratch.

I hear you thinking, “WTF?!?”  Well, I’m out of Pet Ritz, and the Pillsbury is still rolled up in the outside freezer.  I haven’t been having much luck with them, anyway – when you thaw them out, the exterior gets sticky, and the inside stays stiff.  They’re a bitch to unroll and get in the pan, and then you have to spend time patching the cracks.  Bleh.  Ain’t nobody got time for all that!

I’m blaming this pie crust on Steve Cozart.  A couple of days ago, he posted this video recipe for https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2FNBC12News%2Fvideos%2F1300207693323662%2F&show_text=0&width=560” target=”_blank”>Chocolate Chess Pie.  It looked easy, and I’ve never made that before, and hey, CHOCOLATE.  I’m there!  So I laid out all the ingredients last night, but forgot to take a pie crust out of the freezer.  Doh!  Gotta make a pie crust, ‘cuz they take too long to thaw.

Of course, I went directly to Mom’s famous Orange Cookbook to find her pastry crust recipe.  In our house, when I was a kid, “Go get me the orange cookbook.” was probably the directive heard most often.  Damn near everything we ate came from the brown, splattered pages of that cookbook, which, by the time she died, had nearly fallen apart.  Years ago, I put the spine back on with duct tape, just so we wouldn’t have to put a different cover on it, but even the duct tape has just about given up. The cookbook is now mine, but until it literally falls apart in my hands, it will stay orange (and silver).

Well, I found the recipe, and read it through.  Flour.  Lard.  Salt.  Ice water.  And then something insane:  “Makes 4 or 5 double piecrusts.”  Um…do what?  Dude, just, no.  So, back to the internet.  I looked at Paula Deen’s recipe, and she had me until I saw, “3 tablespoons sugar” in the ingredient list.  Nope.  Pie crust should be just a bit salty, not sweet.  Keep looking.  Here’s what I ended up with:  Perfect Pie Crust.  I think I may have rolled it too thin, but we’ll see how it comes out; it’s still in the oven!

Edit:  Three Stages of Pie:  Fresh from the oven, Pie after cooling, and Pie sliced (plate by Elizabeth Priddy).

Gadget Review: Oster “DuraCeramic” Waffle Iron

Published September 17, 2016 by microncat

I got a new gadget!  I have wanted a waffle iron for a while now, and decided to get one this week.  After looking over the options on Amazon, I picked this one, the Oster DuraCeramic Waffle Iron.  Here it is, set up for its maiden voyage:

maiden-voyage

This gadget makes “Belgian-style” waffles.  (I didn’t know there was more than one kind, but guess what?  There are at least two different kinds.  The Belgian kind are the ones that are thicker and have the deep square-y indentions.)  It flips, so the waffle gets cooked on both sides at once, and it has a variable temperature control, which means you can set it to your preferred doneness and forget it.  The best thing, though, is the DuraCeramic coating.

I have never used a ceramic-coated cooking utensil before, and frankly, I had my doubts that it would work.  I was raised on Teflon, after all.  Don’t NOTHIN’ stick to that stuff, especially the newer versions.  However, having read all the warnings about whatever toxic nonsense is included in Teflon, I decided to give the ceramic coating a try.  Being my absentminded self, I forgot to grease the waffle iron before pouring the first batter in.  Guess what happened?  Nothing.  The waffle cooked.  When it was done, I pulled it out, no problem at all.  Absolutely NOTHING stuck to the ceramic coating.  Here is the waffle iron when I opened it after the first waffle cooked.  You will notice that nothing stuck to the top piece:

first-waffle

The Oster Corporation, along with almost every reviewer on Amazon, mentions that the first time the waffle iron is heated, it will emit a chemical odor.  Expecting a noxious fume fest, I set the thing up on top of our stove, right next to the downdraft exhaust, so the fumes could be sucked outside; however, the smell was almost nonexistent.  They also encourage the purchaser to sacrifice the first waffle, which we did.

I had every intention of using Alton Brown’s waffle recipe.  I love Alton Brown!  I’ve never had a recipe of his to fail me.  However, this recipe calls for an obscure ingredient – Whole Wheat Pastry Flour. I didn’t have any (and they don’t sell it at HarrisTeeter), so I had to drop back and punt.  One of the reviewers of AB’s recipe said that she liked the sourdough waffle recipe over at King Arthur Flour better than AB’s.  What?!?  Sacrilege, I say!  Well….  since I didn’t have pastry flour of any kind, I decided to go check out King Arthur’s recipe page, and found they have several different waffle recipes over there.  After reading a few – I had to skip the sourdough one because I don’t have any sourdough starter – I decided on this one.

At the bottom of the recipe there’s a note about the amount of salt in the recipe.  Apparently, the original recipe called for a half-teaspoon, and they have now reduced that to a quarter-teaspoon.  I made up the batter with a rounded quarter-teaspoon.  When I tasted it, I decided to add a pinch more, so I think next time I’ll go with the half-teaspoon of salt.  The recipe states that it makes about 5 Belgian waffles; it actually made about 3.5.  I ate mine without syrup, ‘cuz that’s how I roll, but Ginny put Aunt Jemima on hers.  The outside was crispy brown, and the inside was all tender, eggy and delicious.  Ginny said the inside was like a popover.  The recipe says they can be frozen, but these ones never had a chance.  Maybe next time!

yum

My first waffle, with just a little butter and some good bacon.  Wood-fired plate by            Gary Holt, near San Francisco, CA.

Eating Out: Captain Chen’s Gourmet China

Published September 17, 2016 by microncat

outside

My wife is the IT department at a small food flavor company in the area, which is owned by the Japanese.  Their primary product is the little soup packets that go in a specific brand of Ramen noodles, but they also make flavors that go IN many products that are beloved by millions.  Much of the management staff has been sent here directly from Japan, and they are very interested in eating anywhere that has good Asian food, the more authentic, the better.

Where am I going with this?  Well.   As I am sure you are aware, half the battle of “date night” is figuring out where you’re gonna eat.  Once that’s decided, everything else is smooth sailing.  Ginny came home Thursday and said that the R&D Manager had asked her about a “new, spicy, Chinese restaurant” that had opened in the Brassfield area.  He said it reputedly was very authentic cooking, but that’s pretty much all the information he had given her.  We decided to check it out.

Captain Chen’s Gourmet China  is a relatively new, sit-down Chinese restaurant, located in Brassfield Shopping Center, in the space that used to be a Wok n Roll, or something similar.  It’s beside what used to be Ham’s, and the sign on the building says, “Go China”.  They’ve really got to work on that…  Anyway, the signs on the window advertise “Chongqing style” food.  According to Ye Olde Internet, “Chongqing” (pronounced “chun king”) is a type of Szechuan – style cooking – which means it’s packing a punch on the heat-o-meter.  (Please note that in this post, if I say “hot”, I mean spicy-hot, as opposed to temperature.)  This place ain’t your mama’s take-out Chinese.

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When we went in, around 6pm on a Thursday, we were the only non-Asians in the place, other than one guy who was busing tables and working behind the counter.  Everybody else appeared to be Chinese.  There was a huge contingent of about 30 young people at three large tables in the middle of the floor.  Each table was served a variety of dishes, which were shared among the folks at the table.  The waitress told us that there was some kind of Chinese fall festival going on, and that’s why the group was meeting there.  Whatever – I got to see quite a few of the dishes without having to order them all, and (bonus!) I got one of the guys to tell me what was in each bowl.

The menu features quite a few things we had never heard of.  In fact, I only saw one dish listed that I had heard of – Kung Bao Chicken (their spelling), which was on the daily specials board.  Everything else was new to us.

We ordered what was pictured on the front window glass.  Ginny got the Chongqing style Hot and Spicy Fish, and I got the Shredded Pork in Homemade Garlic Sauce.  We’ll talk about the fish, first.

The picture on the left, above, shows the spicy fish dish as it arrived to the table.  The portion is enough for four people, no kidding.  All that red stuff?  Chili pepper flakes, and chili pepper oil.  The fish is tilapia.  The dish also had some seriously lonnnnng bean sprouts (I joked that they were sprouts from yard-long beans), cilantro, and those yellow blobs on top are chunks of minced garlic and ginger.  This stuff was seriously hot, as one might imagine, but in a different way than one might expect.  There was something in the dish that caused a weird tingle on the tongue – I described it as “sparkle tongue”.  It was almost like bubbles from soda water.  Definitely not the same kind of warm heat one gets from, say, a jalapeno pepper.  The flavor was very tasty, but we both decided if we ordered it again, we’d ask for less of the chili oil, ‘cuz that was just crazy!  The pic on the right, above, is the Lake O’ Fire that remained after the fish and sprouts had been moved to a take-out container.

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My pork, by comparison, was relatively bland.  As you can see in the picture, the dish consists of strips of pork, which were quite tender, julienne carrots, a bit of green onion, bamboo shoot strips, and garlic.  There is also some ginger in there, somewhere.  We decided that the bamboo shoots were pickled; there was a bit of tang from them.  There was plenty of sauce, and it actually wasn’t as garlicky as I expected it to be.  It was quite good, and mildly spicy, from the ginger.

Along with the entrees, there was white rice.  Interestingly, there was not one single bottle of soy sauce to be seen.  Also interestingly, the place settings for the Asian folks all had chopsticks.  Ours had forks; we had to ask for chopsticks.

There is a variety of Asian beers on the menu (which the Asians beside us drank with straws!), as well as hot tea and Pepsi products.  Sadly, they do not serve iced tea.

Next time we go, I’m getting the ribs!

 

Eating Out: The El Torito Taco Truck!

Published September 17, 2016 by microncat

Well, it’s been a couple weeks since we did this, but I forgot to post.  A couple Saturdays ago, we decided to get lunch at the El Torito taco truck that parks in the Citgo station lot on Battleground Avenue, right in front of Rice Toyota.  We had eaten there once before – they seem to be there all day, every day – and the food was excellent.  We have never stopped at any other food truck, ever.

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I don’t care what time of day it is, there’s always somebody standing in the parking lot waiting on their food at this taco truck.  That’s not because the service is slow.  It’s because the food is so damn good! They have quesadillas, sopes, gorditas, tacos, tortas and burritos, with your choice of 9 different meat options (including tripe, tongue, and pork skins – not for me.)  Everything comes with two little containers of sauce – one is hot; the other is even hotter.  They also serve bottled fruit drinks, but no tea or sodas, so take your own if that’s what you want.  Everything is a la carte, and very affordable, with generous portion sizes.  Tacos are a dollar each.

This time around, I got a Taco al Pastor and a Quesadilla al Pastor.  “Al Pastor” is not a preacher at your local church.  Rather, it is chunks of pork that have been roasted and seasoned, tender and juicy.  The tacos come on soft corn tortillas, which I suspect are handmade, because they are soft and delicious.  (They remind me of the tortillas I had in Belize, which WERE handmade, right in front of me.)  My eyes were bigger than my stomach, though, and I had to save the quesadilla for later, because it was huge – had a ton of cheese, lots of meat, and some lettuce.  It’s normally made with onions, but I opted out.  It really needed some sour cream; next time I will ask for it.

Ginny got three tacos – one al pastor, one carnitas, (pork that has been seasoned, roasted, then fried, and shredded), and one chicken.  They all had onions, because she forgot to opt out, and a bit of cilantro. The flavor of each was really good, but the carnitas had a lot of fat chunks, which tasted great, of course, but Ginny is not a fan of fat chunks, so they had to go.

If you’re into Mexican-style food that’s not the same-old, same-old, the El Torito taco truck is definitely a place to put on your “try it!” list.

Art Around Town

Published September 2, 2016 by microncat

Sawtooth School of Visual Art (SCVA) over in Winston Salem has just launched a new show in the second floor gallery.  The show features work created by the presenters at this year’s Metal Clay Artists’ Symposium (MCAS) which takes place September 15 – 18 at Sawtooth.  This is a huge event, and the first of its kind in the area, featuring internationally known artists and instructors from around the US and one from Moscow, Russia!  There will be hands-on workshops, lectures and breakout sessions, vendors, and more, right here where you can lay hands on it in person.  They still have seats available, but many of the workshops are already full.  If you want in, I suggest you hie thee hence, forthwith!  Here’s the link again:  MCAS.

Metal Clay, aka: PMC, or Precious Metal Clay, first hit the market in Japan around 1990 (according to Wikipedia.)  It enables an artist to create fine jewelry without using traditional fabrication methods.  PMC is a trademarked brand of metal clay.  When it first came to market in the US, it was the only game in town; however, I think there are other brands available now.  At first, it was only available in silver and gold; however, other metals such as copper, pewter, and bronze are now available.

The way it works is, fine-grained metal powder is mixed with an organic binder and water to a clay-like consistency.  The artist creates their piece, and the piece is then fired – usually in a kiln, although one can use a torch.  During the firing, the organic binder burns out, leaving pure metal behind.  Items made with PMC silver, for example, are 99.9% silver after firing.

I hosted a workshop for a PMC instructor back around 2003, and I participated in the workshop, as well.  I hated the stuff.  As a potter, I worked with earth clay every day, and PMC just doesn’t feel the same.  It doesn’t have the same plasticity as earth clay, and it’s harder to work with.  I was not inspired by PMC in the least, and frankly, nothing I made that day should have been fired.

This is why I admire the work in this show so much – I know what it takes to work with the medium, and I promise, if you tried it, you’d know what I mean.  Here are a few shots of my favorite pieces in the Sawtooth show.  I did not note anyone’s name, other than the maker of the vest, whose first name is Carrie, and the only reason I remember that is, she is from my hometown of Trinity, NC.

The Giraffe is made of bronze.  The vest is made of textured mixed-metal tiles, each roughly an inch square, and joined with copper jump rings.  (Let me just tell y’all, jump rings take FOREVER – you’ll never catch me volunteering to do something this complicated with them.)  The quilled pendant is silver, on a silver chain, with a pearl at center, and the tiny pots appear to be silver, although they may be pewter.

Enjoy!

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