Posts Categorized: Firsts

Painting with Clare – THE REVEAL

May I have a drum roll, please?! The moment you’ve all been waiting for is here! You have been waiting for it, haven’t you? Without further ado, I give you Rupert Smiling, my debut artistic effort, effort being the operative word….

Rupert Smiling

Rupert Smiling

Truthfully, this photo doesn’t do the painting justice. It looks much better in person, especially his eyebrows and whiskers. You can even stand close to it and you don’t have to squint. I’m not even saying that tongue in cheek. It’s the truth. Those of you who know me in real life can attest to the fact that I’m not a pat myself on the back kinda girl. So, when I say that I haven’t been this proud of almost anything since I popped a kid out 20 years ago, well, that’s saying something!

Rupert Smiling, as I’ve chosen to call my masterpiece just in case the MFA wants to hang it in their next installation, is a project very much in the spirit of Begin in the Middle. I got a wild hair up my butt and started painting – just jumped right in! That’s what this is all about, jumping into something new, figuring it out as I go along, AND TOTALLY KICKING ASS AT IT!!! Ok. “Kicking ass” might be a little dramatic and maybe an overstatement, but the painting doesn’t suck.

Seriously, though, the final product is much better than I ever hoped it would be. More importantly, I enjoyed doing it. Hiring an artist or going to one of those art places that lets you get all boozed up while you paint would have been cheaper, no doubt. However, now I have enough supplies to paint many, many, many more portraits of Rupert. Unfortunately, my palette of mostly brown limits my choice of subjects, so Rupert it is!

Do you want to paint a portrait of your pet or anything else? Here’s what I learned:

  1. If you’ve never painted before, don’t overestimate your ability to mix colors. Spend a little extra and buy the colors you need. There will be much less cussing and frustration that way.
  2. Acrylics are hard to work with because they dry really quickly, but they’re easy to clean up.
  3. Buy decent brushes. Don’t blow the bank, but don’t buy the super cheapies, either. Otherwise, you’ll be picking brush hairs out of your painting with your good tweezers and a magnifying glass.
  4. Take pictures as your painting progresses. I didn’t realize how much better I was getting at shading until I looked at the gallery below. I’m not saying I’m GOOD at it or anything, only that I did get better as I went along. I wouldn’t have seen that improvement without the pictures.
  5. Don’t over-think what you’re doing. Have fun! That’s the whole point. Be proud of the finished product no matter how it turns out! It’s your work. OWN IT!

If you DO end up painting a masterpiece of your own, email me a photo (clare@begininthemiddle.com). I’ll put it up on the website for your fellow Beginners to admire! Finally, here are the photos I took of the painting as it progressed. Enjoy!

Rupert - the winning photo

Rupert – the winning photo

 

Hard to see, but this is the part where I got the image on the tracing paper.

Hard to see, but this is the part where I got the image on the tracing paper.

Transferring image to canvas

Transferring image to canvas

 

Supplies = The Cost of a Commissioned Portrait

Supplies = The Cost of a Commissioned Portrait

 

Starting with the darks. I saw this on YouTube.

Starting with the darks. I saw this on YouTube.

 

Thought I'd ruined it here. Layering colors like I knew what I was doing...

Thought I’d ruined it here. Layering colors like I knew what I was doing…

 

Shading and overconfidence...

Shading and overconfidence…

 

 

Rupert Smiling

Rupert Smiling

 

It Ain’t Over Til the Fat Lady Sings

So, you’re probably wondering how the pet portrait is coming along. The fact that Rupert is furiously chewing on my computer cords, trying desperately to sever my ties to the outside world and end this post, pretty much says it all. It’s going. So, before I post the progress pictures, I ask you kindly to consider the following:

  1. I NEVER said I was an artist. In fact, I said I WAS NOT an artist;
  2. It looks better in person, especially if you stand really far away and squint;
  3. As the title says, it ain’t over til the fat lady sings and, BELIEVE ME, I sing much worse than I paint. So, you’ll KNOW when it’s over! 

Don’t count me out, yet, folks. I got this. Trust me. I’m a blogger!

Starting with the darks. I saw this on YouTube.

Starting with the darks. I saw this on YouTube.

IMG_1388[1]

It’s the lights that are gonna kick my ass!

Not Quite James Coney Island, But Pretty Freaking Good

James Coney Island is a Houston landmark and the purveyors of some pretty damn fine hot dogs since 1923. Friends who no longer call Houston home look forward to a trip to James Coney Island, IMG_1258[1]JCI to those in the know, whenever they’re in town. It’s hard to say what, exactly, makes JCI’s hot dogs so good. It could be the soft, steamed buns, or the brand of wieners they use. For me, a large part of the yumminess is down to the squirt cheese they use to top off the cheese coneys and, most importantly, CHEESE FRIES. I’m gaining weight just writing this post! Ed will tell you that it’s the hot dog sauce that makes JCI different from any other fast food hot dog. JCI’s hot dog sauce is similar to chili, only not as thick. The blend of spices adds just the right amount of tang to JCI’s chili coney. Just to be clear, James Coney Island did not pay me to write this post. If, however, they stumble across our humble blog and would like to thank us for the shout out with a year’s supply of hot dogs (and cheese fries), BONUS!!!

On a whim, Ed decided to try his hand at hot dog sauce this weekend. He Googled Coney Island hot dog sauce and ended up with the recipe linked here. To make a long story short, we ended up with some mighty fine hot dog sauce. It wasn’t exactly James Coney Island, but it made for some tasty and delicious hot dogs none the less. A couple of notes about the recipe Ed used. First, he didn’t blend the meat and onions, so his sauce was a little thicker than JCI’s. Next time we will definitely blend the sauce or run it through the food processor for a more authentic texture. Also, this recipe calls for cinnamon. Ed got a tad carried away with that particular spice. It didn’t ruin the flavor at all. It was more like an overpowering background taste, not BAD, but it was a little too much. Next time, if we use cinnamon at all, it will be a dash. (He and I disagree on whether to use it next time. I think I understand what the cinnamon is supposed to do in the sauce, but Ed thinks it’s unnecessary.) We may have to make a research trip to JCI.

Ed has been buying Shiner Smokehouse sausages lately. They make a long, skinny sausage that we used for our dogs. We were also missing the processed, squirty cheese that I and the fat deposits on my hips love oh so much. Even though we weren’t going for authentic JCI, the dogs were much better than good.

Here’s a tidbit about Ed. He dreams big. REALLY BIG! Every time we take on a new project, he envisions us becoming THE WORLD’S GREATEST [INSERT CURRENT OBSESSION HERE.] In his mind we will, of course, open our own restaurant or business and become multi-millionaires. It’s one of the things that drive me crazy and one of the things I love most about him. He keeps me dreaming and I keep him grounded – or at least I try. So, you haven’t heard the last of Ed’s soon-to-be-famous-not-quite-James-Coney-Island-hot-dog-sauce. Stay tuned!

The Definitive Word on Hand Pies

Ok, so this is decidedly NOT the definitive word on hand pies. It isn’t even intended to be a hand pie how-to; although, if you have questions, feel free to email me at clare@begininthemiddle.com and I’ll be happy to hook you up with more detailed instructions.

As most of you probably know, Ed and I decided, for some inexplicable reason, that our first attempt at “something new” would be the baking of tasty hand pies. I can give no logical or reasonable explanation for the idea. It’s just what came to mind and we both liked the idea of having pie to show (and eat) for our efforts. After all, who doesn’t like the idea of pie?

IMG_1278[1]Ed and I both like to cook, so we do have some skills in the kitchen. Even so, neither one of us is the kind of cook who can grab random ingredients from the pantry and whip up a gourmet meal. While I have been known to bake the occasional pie, they are, at best, semi-homemade, with crust by the Pillsbury Dough Boy and canned pumpkin usually the main ingredient. Hand Pie Weekend 2013 was our first attempt at “real pies” with out and out crust and fillings made with fresh ingredients.

For the savory pies, Ed chose use a recipe for samosa-like pastries we found on the King Arthur Flour Company’s blog. It was an Indian inspired filling with a combination of potatoes, onion, garlic, curry, cumin, salt, pepper, peas, and just a little Sriracha sauce. The recipe was simple and easy to follow. More importantly, the final product smelled and tasted amazing! The only change Ed made was a little added dash of coriander. Ed went bold and exotic on his filling and I, I’m sorry to say, copped out. I went the safe (some might say boring) route, choosing to fill my pies with different combinations of sautéed onions, white cheddar and provolone cheeses, Boar’s Head Sweet Slice Ham, and Genoa salami. We used the pastry recipe we found on the same page as the samosa recipe for the crust on all of our savory pies. It was basic butter pie dough. The recipe and directions were beginner-proof. Our dough turned out perfectly.

IMG_1284[1]  Saturday was a long day of shopping and baking. In fact, it was such a long day that we decided to save the fruit pies for Sunday. Even though it was a lot of work, Ed and I had fun and our house smelled heavenly. I’m sad to report, however, that, while the savory pies were good, they were not great. I know I said in my last post that I didn’t expect perfect pies on our first attempt, except that, subconsciously, I think I did. Buried deeply inside of me is a perfectionist struggling to get out. Those pies weren’t the best we can do and I won’t be happy until we perfect the art of the savory hand pie. Ed feels the same. We agree that we need to find a recipe for a softer, lighter pastry. The pie dough worked and had a nice flavor, but it was just too dry. The savory pies also need to be large enough to accommodate more filling. When I bite into a ham, cheese and onion hand pie, I want melted cheese running down my chin. Sadly, that didn’t happen. The flavors were there, but the gooiness was missing, a problem we will have to rectify.

Undaunted, we woke up Sunday ready for day two – sweet pies! We used a recipe for tart dough that I found on Williams-Sonoma’s web site. This dough was lighter, sweeter and butterier than the basic pie dough we used for the savory flavors. Before you say it, I know butterier isn’t a word, but I like the way it sounds. It’s my blog. I reserve the right to make stuff up as I go along. Anyway, the tart dough was a good choice for the fruit pies. They wouldn’t have been as good using plain old pie dough. The recipe for the tart dough is very similar to the pie dough, but, for some reason, I found the tart dough easier to work with.  Of course, by the time we got around to making the sweet pies, I was a dough pro. Quick tip: dough (pie or tart) is very forgiving. Don’t be afraid of it. I, personally, think it’s easier to work with the dough without chilling it, as most recipes instruct you to do. Use flour to keep it from sticking as you roll it out. Making homemade crust is quick and easy. If you have 10 minutes, you can make a pie crust. So, the next time someone tells you they make their crust from scratch, don’t be too impressed. If I can do it, anyone can. I guarantee it! IMG_1269[1]

IMG_1260[1]For the fruit fillings, Ed and I went crazy at the Super H Mart. Ed doesn’t want me to tell you this because he thinks it’s a well-guarded secret, but if you’re unfamiliar with the H Mart, you don’t know what you’re missing. They have the best prices and the best produce in Houston. If you decide to check it out, I would avoid going on the weekend, if you can. For a “secret” grocery store, it sure does get crowded.

We bought cherries, apples, pears, peaches, strawberries, and lemon curd for our fruit fillings. It sounds like a lot of fruit, but we didn’t get a lot of any one thing. That’s the great thing about making hand pies. You don’t need a whole pound of cherries or strawberries. A large handful of berries will make enough filling for several hand pies. We made apple filling with one large Granny Smith apple and pear filling with one large pear. I think we used two peaches because they cook down quite a bit. When you’re making hand pies, everyone can have the kind of pie they like. PIE FOR EVERYONE!IMG_1285[1]

I didn’t follow a recipe for the fruit filling. I looked at recipes for a lot of different fruit pies before we started on Sunday and took bits and pieces from the ones I liked. We chopped our fruit up into small pieces and put each fruit into its own cereal sized bowl. I put a couple of tablespoons of sugar in each bowl, along with about a teaspoon of cornstarch. I added cinnamon and nutmeg to the apples, pears, and peaches. I added some lemon juice to the apples and pears. I added almond extract to the cherries – just a dash – and vanilla extract to the strawberries. I was feeling very Martha Stewart at this point, throwing in a dash of this and a pinch of that. You can afford to play with different taste combinations when you’re making hand pies because you’re not making a large amount of any one filling. Just keep tasting. You’ll know if you’re on the right track or not. If you don’t like it, toss it out and start again. Since you’re working on a small scale, you can afford to goof up.

I am proud to report that our sweet pies were FREAKING AWESOME!!!!! IMG_1293[1]They were sweet, juicy, buttery, hand-held yumminess! Even Oliver, our son and official guinea pig, was impressed. (He’s 20, so his approval is a kind of a big deal.) It was a nice reward for our work – a counter full of beautiful, golden, flaky, fruit pies. I don’t know how many Weight Watchers points our little pies are worth, but I’m pretty sure I blew last week and this week in one afternoon.IMG_1296[1]

All in all, Hand Pie Weekend 2013 was a success! Ed and I enjoyed spending time and working together. We planned, shopped, and baked all weekend. There was no arguing or even the occasional eye roll. It was all about the pies. As much as I hate the term “bonding experience,” that’s what Hand Pie Weekend was. We set a goal, saw it through to the end and, BONUS, ended up with a mess of delectable pies to show for it.

 

Welcome to the Middle of the Week

It’s Wednesday, only 3 days until HAND PIE SATURDAY! In case you missed the announcement on Facebook, Ed and I are going to attempt to make homemade hand pies. I’ve been thinking about hand pies a lot, not just for a few days, but for a while now. What could be better than a flaky, delicious morsel of a pie that you can hold in your hand!? I admit, it’s an odd thing to be fixated on. I can’t even tell you why I thought of hand pies in the first place, only that once I started, I couldn’t stop. Last week, a friend very kindly brought me some hand pies from a bakery in her hometown. They were really yummy, but I won’t be satisfied until I make some myself.

Neither Ed nor I have ever made hand pies – or any pie – from scratch, so this will be interesting. We are each going to pick a savory and sweet flavor. Currently, Ed is leaning toward a samosa-like filling for his savory pies, based on the suggestion of our friend, Lindsay. He’s thinking lemon for his sweet flavor. I think I may go simple on my savory, something like ham, cheese, and caramelized onions. I’m leaning toward strawberry-rhubarb for the sweet pies, at my cousin, Jenny’s, suggestion. I have a pastry recipe all ready to go. It’s supposedly fool-proof. We’ll see about that!

I don’t expect perfectly formed, golden crusted hand pies our first time out of the gate. Ed, on the other hand, dreams big. He’s already making plans for the shop we’ll open once we’ve mastered the art of the hand pie! Stay tuned. Results and pictures to follow!