Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Mad Art Teacher READS, too

I LOVE my book club!  I have belonged to the Park Falls Public Library's Evening Book club for the past 11 years.  We have read an extensive list of excellent titles and few that were not quite so great. This month's (great!) selection was the book Room by Emma Donoghue.

Room is a tale about a young woman and her son who are held against their will for an extensive period of time.  The story is told through the voice of the little boy and is an astonishing feat of writing.  Without divulging details, let's say that the author has had stunning success in making an unbelievable story quite possible.  Her use of language, attention to detail and obvious research has combined into a novel that will have you thinking about life, perception, and even the language that you use everyday.  This is definitely the best book I have read in a very long time.  I would be happy to discuss the details in the comment section, so we don't spoil it for anyone.

I was also lucky enough to get my latest edition of "Fine Gardening" magazine in the mail!  I still haven't read my previous issue, not for lack of interest but lack of time.  Now you may think, well Mad Art Teacher, if you wouldn't spend all your time dreaming up new blog posts......  Well, whatever.  I am in the mood for gardening magazines right now!!  I'm just glad to be done reading play scripts and staring at giant eggs and fish hats.

In case anyone is interested, our book club book for next month will most likely be The Feast of All Saints by Anne Rice.  For those of you who know Anne Rice for  her vampire novels, this is not one of them!  This novel is one of her early stories that revolves around the lives of the free people of color who lived in 1840's New Orleans.  I read this book several years ago and found it compelling and one of those "you can't put it down" books.  I am really excited to read it again!  

So, what is the best book you have read in a while?  Novel, non-fiction or magazine?

I'm just mad that I don't have more time to curl up with that proverbial good book!

Until next time, be a joy giver- tell someone a great story!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday photos

I see pictures everywhere!  So, I take lots and lots of them and since photography is part of the first line of my blog title, I am going to attempt a weekly photo post.  It seems like the thing to do!  And someone mentioned they were looking forward to seeing local photos, so I like to try and help if possible!  :)

Sunset over a hill

Color altered old truck at sunset- I love this antique look.

Another old truck
Smith creek- north side of Hwy. E

Abstract shadows

Fallen snag

Little houses all in a row

Super moon

Poor Lola
New snow fall

Sinner by dawn's early light

I hope these photos help you find some joy in your day!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Opening Night! and beyond...

After all the "drama" of the past few weeks, I am certain everyone is on the edge of the their seats waiting to hear how it all went!  Did the eggs hatch properly, how did those fish hats look, did the Mad Stage Director make it through the night without snapping on a noisy actor???  Well, all went so well, it was somewhat astonishing.  I think there was a minor glitch or two and, as always, I was fighting with the wing curtains. The wings get caught on big items during scene changes and move, and if they travel too far then the audience can see back stage, and no one wants THAT to happen.  It ruins the magic!!  And we backstage are all about the magic.  Kind of like Disney on a smaller stage.

So, I have here a few backstage photos- nothing too dramatic.  Mostly I want you to see the eggs, in all their ugly glory.  I, alas, do not have any photos of the fish hats, guess I have to take the camera with me tonight.
wiggly eggs

Here is the hatching sequence of the ducklings- so cute!

Olivia, stage crew hero

One of my stage crew slid out onto the stage to  move an egg shell so the back curtain could close completely.  She was sort of stuck out there for 10 minutes or so.  We slid her out of there at an opportune moment!  Back stage is much more action packed than one would think!  :)

 Different scenes from the play- you can see Mr. Donner playing during the performance.

Waiting for their curtain call!

I will update the blog with a few more pictures from tonight.
Until then, we will all try to be joy givers from the stage!  

More from HONK! the musical

Small children in the fish hats!
Beginning the makeup application job!  
Behind the scenes with Oscar and Olivia- stage hands

My big, bad stage crew!!  <3 Love!!!
The seniors with Mr. Donner
The Oswald girls rock!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Cooking Kind of Day!

It's a good thing I didn't actually plan to go anywhere, because I am stuck here.  It snowed hard until about 1 pm, and then the wind started up.  My youngest son came home, and had a little something to eat and then left again.  On the way in, he had to shovel the ridge left by the snow plow.  On the way out, he got stuck NUMEROUS times, but managed to extract himself.  So, here I am, as the Mad Husband took the snow shovel with him.

Therefore, I began working on my first real cooking post.  I have a whole new appreciation for the work that goes into setting up and shooting the steps of a recipe, so kudos to all you food bloggers!  And please forgive my first fumbling attempt- but it was enjoyable at the same time.

I made a lentil soup today, based on a recipe from America's Test Kitchen.  I love this recipe, especially the use of balsamic vinegar in the final minutes of the heating.  I have adjusted a few things, mostly the use of olive oil instead of bacon grease to saute the veggies.  Two reasons:  first, I hate frying bacon and it's mess. Yuck. Second, I try to trim some of the extra calories and saturated fat from the final result.  There is a little bacon in there for flavor, but not the fat.

I began by sauteing the carrots and onions in olive oil.

I cut up precooked bacon to add flavor, but not too much grease.  Saute that for a few minutes and then briefly cook the crushed garlic.

Add the tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme- allow to heat for a minute,
then add the pink lentils!  Green or brown lentils will work, too, but the peachy pink kind are so pretty.

Allow the lentils to cook like this on medium-low, until the vegetables are soft.  The mixture is pretty dry, but don't worry!
Add the chicken broth and water, simmer lentils for another 30 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf.  Take about half of the soup out of the pot and put into a blender, blend and add back to pot.

Heat gently and add spinach ( I used kale) and balsamic vinegar.  

This is so good, I hope you can try it and enjoy.  It reheats really well, and also freezes great.

Pink lentil soup with my Grandma's old silver spoon!

Hearty Lentil Soup with Spinach (or Kale)
Based on a recipe by America's Test Kitchen

1 large onion, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 - 6 slices of precooked bacon (or 3 slices bacon that you cook down)
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 can diced tomatoes (14 oz.), drained
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. thyme
1 cup of pink (or any color) lentils
1 tsp salt, pepper to taste
5 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth (I used a combo)
1 1/2 cups water
2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
5 ounces of baby spinach (or 2 - 3 large leaves of kale- roughly chopped)

 Heat olive oil in large pot- add carrots and onion.  Cook about 2 minutes.  Chop up bacon and add to pan, let saute for 2 - 3 minutes, to crisp bacon.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant- about 30 seconds.  Stir in tomatoes, bay leaf, thyme; heat until fragrant, another 30 seconds.  Stir in lentils, salt and pepper; cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook covered, until vegetables are softened, 8 - 10  minutes.  Add broth and water and bring to boil; cover partially and reduce heat to low.  Simmer until lentils are tender, 20 - 30 minutes.  Discard bay leaf.

Puree 3 cups of soup in blender, then return to pot, stir in spinach or kale and vinegar, about 5 minutes or until greens are wilted.  
Serves approximately 6.  Calories per serving- about 275.  

In addition.....

I did make some oatmeal peanut butter cookies!  I just couldn't do a photo shoot of that!  But here is the result:

They are great!

Until next time- be a cookie maker  joy giver!  Spread some sunshine.

Mother Nature, I'd like to have a word with you...

I am not the Mad Art Teacher today, or gardener or anything else- I'm just MAD.

What can you say about a day like this?  It is not like this is a big surprise- we know that winter in Wisconsin goes on for EVER, and does not like to relinquish its strangle-hold on us easily.  We frequently have big snow storms at the end of March, but come on!!  After all the work that went into this play (and all the little bumps we've had along the way THIS year), you'd think we could get in that last practice.  Certainly the stage-crew, lighting and sound effects people needed this practice!  Ach. I guess you should never taunt Mother Nature.  Yes, I taunted.

And this is what I got-

Oh Lola, you should not be subjected to another day like this!  I think winter has gone on long enough.

Lola is cold

Now before you feel sorry for poor Jacpot here, I want you to know he stands NEXT to his barn in the snow.  He can go in at any time he chooses!  He is not frozen, he is not upset- well, he was upset that I took an extra hour before I went out to feed him.  Looks like he had a tough night!  Lol, he was running around when he saw me.  He got an extra flake of hay for his troubles.

Really bad hair day

I think it is time to put the bitterness behind and start to enjoy the snow day!  Cookies?  Hmm, Tanya (The Sunday Baker) posted a great recipe just the other day.  Soup?  I have those pink lentils that I had been searching for, time to give those a soup pot to live in. PLANTS???  I have a "chicken gizzard" plant that needs cuttings made and transplanted.  That sounds like fun!  Wow, maybe the Mad Gardener is around!  Obviously the Mad Photographer is always here, and the Baker may be making an appearance.....

What am I still doing on the computer??  It is time to make the best of it!

So, until next time... be a joy giver!  Enjoy your inner snow day!  :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mad Gardener awakens!

This was upsetting!
She has been in hibernation for the last several months, but the gardener in me has stirred.  It might be the warmer weather, the arrival of my seed packets or the thunder that woke me up this morning.  Whatever it is, the itch to get dirty (stop it)  is upon me!  Rumor has it that spring starts today, you couldn't have proved it this morning by looking outside, that was a nasty surprise to wake up to.  One would have thought with the window rattling thunder that it would not look like this when I peered outside.  Funny, I didn't remember there being that much snow on the ground!

So I celebrated spring's imminent arrival with planting tomato and pepper seeds.  Oh, how I love it, love it, love it!!

This is what I start off with, plain plastic containers with potting soil.  The soil has been absorbing water for a while, since it is hard to wet potting soil when it is dusty dry.  It needs to sit and adjust to it's new, soggier surroundings.

I love choosing my tomatoes for the year.  I adore all the nifty names and beautiful colors.... I have grown the Wapsiconin Peach tomato before.  It is fuzzy like a peach- cute- and a pale yellow color- pretty small, almost a cherry sized 'mato.  The other one- Hillbilly Potato Leaf is new to me.  It is a big yellow slicing tomato. 

I have grown both the Brown Berry and the Wisconsin 55.  Wisconsin 55 is a short day medium sized tomato that grows really well up here, and usually is the first one to produce fruit.  The Brown Berry is beautiful dark red cherry tomato and is gorgeous when you grow it  (and eat it!)  with bright red and yellow cherry tomatoes.  I also planted my favorite Brandywine tomato and a beautiful yellow, Moonglow. mmmmm MMMMM!

One seed at a time
Here are the little potential BLT ingredients nestled down in the dirt, all I have to do from here is press them down and cover them with a little soil.

Add little water...

warming mat
Add a little water if needed - here I had to fill in a few of the cells with a little potting mix- cover and place on the warmer mats

A very  important thing I have found is to write down the information you need to remember instead of relying on your (my imperfect) memory.  Even if it seems obvious that the right-hand cell tray in the front has the Pink Brandywine tomatoes and the back 2 trays has all the cherry tomatoes, that information won't be so obvious when you are ready to transplant your babies into bigger containers.  Does it sound like experience talking???  Mmmmm- hmm.

Here is some of the rest of my stash.  I have a packet of giant Nicotiana, the best smelling flower, ever!, that I will plant next weekend.  I will be putting the flowers into largish peat pots, so they don't have to be transplanted.  The peat pots dry out really fast, so I will plant them next weekend, because a week from Monday I will have a lot more time in my schedule!!  I have never tried the castor bean plant before, so it's planting date is yet to be determined.  Also shown are a whole slew of yummy things that need to be planted outdoors in a few weeks, like sweet Chiogga beets and spicy Thai basil.  Oh, I am getting hungry now!

To celebrate the possibilities that spring holds, I would like to include my recipe for fresh tomato soup.  In late summer when there is a gazillion tomatoes, I take a bunch of extras, wash them up well, core them and pop them into plastic bags.  I use the kind that you can suck the air out of with a special tool- that really keeps the tomatoes from getting freezer burned.  Then you can use them for all sorts of things. When you open them up, especially if they have thawed somewhat, you will be flown right back to summer with the fresh smell of home grown tomatoes.

Fresh Tomato Soup

2 cups sliced carrots
1 cup chopped celery
1 small chopped onion
1/2 c. green (or red sweet) pepper
1/4 cup butter (I use 2 - 3 Tablespoons olive oil)
Stir frequently, until veggies are soft- about 15 minutes.

4 cups chicken broth
4 cups diced tomatoes
2 tsp. sugar (add more or less depending on your taste and the flavor of the tomatoes)
1/2 tsp. curry powder
salt and pepper to taste

Heat for 10 minutes, on medium low.

Mix 1/2 cup water and 1/4 cup of flour.  Add to soup, heat until thickened.  Freezes well.

From this recipe you can add what you would like- any veggies that you have on hand (not sure about strong flavors like broccoli), or a grain such as rice or barley.

So keep thinking spring, to keep from going completely mad!

Until next time, be a joy giver.  Share your smiles.

If you are interested in gardening, I belong to a garden forum called Sprout-off.  It is comprised of a wonderful, funny, generous group of gardeners who are thrilled to share their knowledge and antics with all of us.  Most of the gardeners have been at it for many, many years, but they are always up for finding out new things and sharing experiences.  Take a look!  You can enter as a guest or register.  I have been a member for 4 or 5 years.

Sprout-off Garden forum