January 2016

Thornton Dial, American Artist (1928 – 2016)

Thornton Dial.

Thornton Dial, self taught and internationally renowned artist, died this week at his home in Alabama. Photo courtesy of aptv.org

“Art is like a bright star up ahead in the darkness of the world… a guide for every person who is looking for something.”

Wise words, spoken from the heart by one of America’s greatest artists, Thornton Dial, who died this week at 87 years old. A self taught African American artist, Dial spent most of his professional life as a metal worker and created art in his back yard, in poverty and relative obscurity, until he was ‘discovered’ by the Atlanta folk art collector William Arnett at the age of 62.

By the mid nineties, Dial’s work was being shown in museums and galleries around the world and his reputation slowly grew, particularly among students and admirers of American folk artists. His work is now in the collections of major museums and he is widely regarded as one of the most important artists to emerge in the US during the second half of the twentieth century.

His work is complex, masterful, inspirational and intricate, and it pushes boundaries, raises uncomfortable issues and touches our hearts. He is at once “self taught” and a true master of his craft who will continue to blur the lines, categories and pigeonholes of the art world even though his time with us on the planet is over.

To dive deeper (which all of you should) check out this Studio360 podcast, this celebration of Dial’s life and work on hyperallergic, a fascinating article in the New Yorker about the complicated relationship between Dial, Arnett (his largest collector and champion) and the art world at large, and what I like to call the “official” obituary in the New York Times.

Pizza night!

pizza dough ingredients

This is basically all you need to make the highest quality pizza dough at home.

When I discovered how easy it is to make pizza at home, I inserted a weekly pizza night into our dinner rotation. Add to that the fact that it is a shared activity with your kids (who doesn’t love making a pie and pouring cheese all over it?) and the fact that the whole cooking process takes… oh… about 10 minutes, and it’s a miracle we don’t have pizza every night.

For about a year, I have been ordering frozen dough from Fresh Direct. It comes in the perfect size and it absolutely eliminates the need for any skill whatsoever. But then I saw this recipe for home made dough by the pizza gurus at Roberta’s and I found myself seized with the urgent desire to Make. My. Own. Dough. From. Scratch.

I put it off for a few weeks, and then it took me a minute to track down 00 flour (a special Italian finely ground variety) but once I had my hands on that I was off to the races. And the thing is… the dough was DELICIOUS. And really easy. Beyond really easy. I’m sure I have loads of room for improvement, but even my most basic beginner version comes in head and shoulders over the frozen stuff we’ve been eating up till now.

pizza dough pre-rise

Here’s are my first two balls of pizza dough, all mixed up and ready to rise.

I found the recipe on NY Times Cooking, and I got my confidence to go for it after watching the video that goes with it. All you need is time for the dough to rise– either overnight in the fridge or 3 – 4 hours on the counter.

pizza dough

All risen up and ready to go!

And then the rest is just tomato sauce, cheese and maybe some onions…

the finished pizza

As usual, I started eating before I remembered that I should photograph the finished product. So here is most of my pizza, which was a delicious small cheese with onions.

Here’s the recipe if you can’t deal with clicking through to the Times…

Roberta’s Pizza Dough


153 grams 00 flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
153 grams all-purpose flour (1 cup plus 1 tablespoon and 2 teaspoons)
8 grams fine sea salt (1 teaspoon)
2 grams active dry yeast (3/4 teaspoon)
4 grams extra-virgin olive oil (1 teaspoon)


In a large mixing bowl, combine flours and salt.

In a small mixing bowl, stir together 200 grams (about 1 cup) lukewarm tap water, the yeast and the olive oil, then pour it into flour mixture. Knead with your hands until well combined, approximately 3 minutes, then let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.

Knead rested dough for 3 minutes. Cut into 2 equal pieces and shape each into a ball. Place on a heavily floured surface, cover with dampened cloth, and let rest and rise for 3 to 4 hours at room temperature or for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator. (If you refrigerate the dough, remove it 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to shape it for pizza.)

To make pizza, place each dough ball on a heavily floured surface and use your fingers to stretch it, then your hands to shape it into rounds or squares. Top and bake.


I used the standard measurements (couldn’t deal with grams) and it all worked out fine… Oh and if at all possible, pre heat the cookie sheet or cast iron pan or pizza stone before you slide on the pie. It makes the world of difference.

O Canada!

Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery.

The Puffin In Bloom Collection edition of Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery.

I never read Anne of Green Gables as a kid, though I was vaguely aware of the movie which aired on PBS in the mid eighties.

I had no idea what I was missing.

My daughter, attracted like a moth to a flame by the cursive gold letters and the lavender-with-pink-flowers cover, clutched this book to her chest while we were shopping for holiday gifts and literally wouldn’t put it down. So we bought it, and started to read it together the next evening.

Written in a breathless and exuberant manner that perfectly reflects the main character, author L.W. Montgomery draws us into the lovely and enchanted world that was Prince Edward Island at the beginning of the twentieth century. The story centers around an eleven year old girl who is reluctantly adopted by an elderly couple who had been hoping for a boy to help them on the farm. Her extraordinary lust for life and vivid imagination combine to create a series of adventures that do cause some trouble but mostly endear her to everyone she meets… including the reader.

But I’m sure you know all of that already, because everyone on earth has read this book (or seen the movie). I seem to be one of the rare few who missed out.

The short chapters make for perfect pre-bedtime reading (my kid is 8 which is a perfect age for this story) and the characters are as compelling as anything one might hope for. Anne’s interactions with her schoolmates are a great way to begin to open up discussions about the complexities of friendships during those crucial developmental years (and believe me, we parents can use all the help we can get) Plus I am always all for a book that celebrates imagination and creativity and the outdoors (with nary an iPad in sight!)

But most importantly, Anne of Green Gables is another one of those classic books that is secretly about girl power in all of it’s wondrous forms, whilst being cleverly disguised as a friendly Canadian from the early 1900′s. Anne is strong, adventurous and first in her class, while also being into the latest fashions and dreaming about forests full of fairies.

The story comes in all shapes and sizes, but this Puffin In Bloom Collection version, with beautiful illustrations by Anna Bond, take the experience to a whole new heirloom quality level.

Yesterday, at some point…

photo by brooke williams

Oh I really really hope they find him…

Yesterday, at some point is a series of photographs that describe a moment I experienced during the previous day. The posts are meant to be stand alone images, though at times I can’t control myself, and I end up expanding the caption into a more lengthy bit of text. Hopefully the extra information is useful, or at least interesting. If not, feel free to ignore it.

Monday, Monday– or more links about cozy food to make during the aftermath of the recent blizzard

roasted chestnuts from adventuresincooking.com

Here are some delicious looking roast chestnuts from Adventures In Cooking, the blog of Eva Kosmas Flores, an Oregon based photographer whose photographs are at least as delectable as the food she prepares. Her blog (and Instagram) are not to be missed.

Here’s how to make the incredible looking roasted chestnuts pictured above.

Bust out the slow cooker and make this Mississippi roast with the carefully researched help NY Times food guru Sam Sifton.

Now that the travel ban has been lifted, you may want to have some friends over. Get the evening started right with this roasted cauliflower and onion dip I saw on A Cup of Jo.

If you’re really feeling ambitious, maybe try making these apple butter and bacon tartlets from My Name Is Yeh and then pretty please invite me over to share in the bounty.

Whole wheat crusted chicken pot pie with kale, butternut squash and fresh herbs from Food52. Say no more.

A Spanish tortilla that doesn’t disappoint.

And last but not least, nothing says keep-me-warm-on-the-inside better than a bowl of carrot tomato coconut curry soup.

What to do after you leave your job

Here are the hands of the team... hard at work!

Here are the hands of the team… hard at work!

My husband left his job at the end of 2015 which has meant all sorts of things for our little family… not least of which is a proliferation of project-doing around the house. Our utility closet has been entirely reorganized, Josh’s side of the closet has been Kondo-ized, pencil cases were hand-sewn for his nieces’ holiday gifts, etc etc.

The crowning glory (so far) of all of this domestic productivity, is the wall that he and our daughter painted in our closet. Down came the falling apart hooks and weird shoe rack and up went all sorts of lengths of blue tape. Evidently there were a few arguments between the co-creators as to how, exactly, to lay out the lines… but they came to some sort of agreement and the result is glorious.

Using cans of leftover paint unearthed during the utility closet sortie, they filled in the spaces with color, let the paint dry, and then carefully pulled off the tape to unveil their masterpiece. The upside is that I am now overcome with happiness whenever I see that wall. The down side is that my two artists are so proud of their work that they bring all visitors through the bedroom to see it. Which means my days of the unkempt bedroom and closet are over.

Something tells me that may have been part of Josh’s nefarious plan…

painted wall

The finished wall, in all of its glory.

Another thing I really don’t need but totally want, regardless

oven mitt

This oven mitt is brought to you by artstyledesignliving.com. They design lots of stylish and artistic stuff for living, in case you were wondering.

So there I am in Whisk, my friendly neighborhood kitchen store, innocently buying mini cupcake pan liners for the tiny red velvet cupcakes we’ll be making tomorrow for the school bake sale, when my eyes fall upon this absolutely perfect oven mitt.

It’s made out of denim, which makes it perfect in an understated, tough, dirt won’t show on it kind of way. Plus it’s 16″ long, which means it covers my entire forearm. I’m not sure why I find that so necessary in a pot holder, but for some reason I do.

My eyes glaze over and I buy it, ignoring the fact that I have two (yep, 2) mitts at home that are now officially obsolete through no fault of their own.

Whatever. You only live once.

And if you don’t live near Whisk, just go to artstyledesignliving.com and order up your own so I’m not the only one with too many pot holders in the kitchen.

Monday, Monday– or a few ideas for sharing the meaning of MLK day with your kids

MLK and family

Martin Luther King, Jr is greeted by his family after having been released from prison in 1960.

You and your preschoolers can watch this Brain Pop animation which tells a brief history of the life of Dr King.

National Geographic kids tells the story of the great communicator with a series of historical photographs and captions that help to create a picture of what his life was really like. Without going into too much of the potentially upsetting images of dogs and firehoses.

Enchanted learning is full of printouts, short articles and activities for kids. These are great resources that you can draw on any time you want to start going a bit deeper into the struggle against racial injustice in this country.

So there’s this 11 year old boy called Kid President who (along with his family) has created a series of videos on YouTube that have the simple goal of changing the world for the better by spreading the love and being awesome. Here’s what he has to say about Dr King.

And last but not least, lets think of this day for our kids as the beginning of a potential lifetime of working to make the world a more just place for all of us (that Kid President stuff is catching on over here…) Here’s a list of kids books about everyday heroes to get us all inspired.

This is potentially more than I can take

Alan RIckman Gaklaxy QUest

Alan Rickman in one of my favorite roles: as Sir Alexander Bell playing the stoic Dr Lazarus on Galaxy Quest.

Just last night, my daughter and I were watching Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire (for probably the 35th time) and I heard myself saying, out loud, to nobody in particular, that I was so happy there are people in the world like Alan Rickman, because I have no idea how I would have survived so many repeated viewings of the 8 Potter movies without his luminous performance.

I’m sure that most of you have seen his Severus Snape, but I am here to tell you that his Dr Lazarus in Galaxy Quest is every bit as profound, brilliantly hysterical, and not to be missed.

Here’s to you, Mr Rickman. You will be sorely missed.

Bye bye Britta

binchotan charcoal

It’s kind of amazing what a little piece of binchotan charcoal can do to a jug of water…

2016 is the year of less plastic. I’m not going so far as to say that I will eliminate all plastic from my life, but I’m going to put a concerted effort into reducing my plastic use as much as I can. That much I am willing to promise. And in keeping with that resolution, I am now, officially, no longer just taking note of and bookmarking ideas that might help me achieve this goal. I am putting them into action. Because that’s what the 2016 version of myself does.

Along these lines, there I was at my friend Rita’s place (she is a bit further along the no-more-plastic road than I am) and she served us water from a beautiful glass carafe with this black stick in it. The whole thing looked like a minimalist sculpture. She explained that bichotan charcoal has been used by the Japanese for hundreds of years to draw the impurities out of water. Since you can choose your own vessel, you can easily ditch the plastic pitchers for a glass carafe. I swear the water tastes brighter.

There is a small amount of prep involved… You must boil the charcoal in water for 10 minutes to activate it and repeat this process approximately every two weeks to reactivate the sticks. They will last three to four months before they need replacing, and you can stick the “used” bits in the fridge to absorb smells (instead of baking soda) or in your compost for some extra nutrition.

But I say that little bit of effort is well worth it.