Where have you been

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I've been fighting off a cold with echinacea, hot baths and..it seems I need something stronger. This cold wants me. I don't want it, though. So I happen to know that making onion soup seems to drive the cold away, and eating it on a rainy, cold Sunday isn't a bad idea, either. After I cut up the 2 lbs of onions, I felt completely better, eyes streaming, nose clear.  Of course, if you are using Onion Soup as a cold remedy, remember to wash your hands a lot, keep your nose clean and use the soup-tasting method you ought to be employing anyway--which is:

Take a teaspoon and dip out the sample into

A tablespoon, from which you sip. HOLD THE SPOON AWAY FROM THE POT as you sip. 

When you have tasted the soup and corrected your seasonings, put the dipping spoon in a spoon holder by the pot for further dips, and put the tasting spoon in the loop in your chef jacket or put it in the dishwasher. The key is NEVER to sip from the dipping spoon. This keeps the soup sanitary for all. 

The last time I had REAL onion soup was at Le Pied du Couchon in Paris (near Les Halles.) It features temptingly-roasted pigs' trotters dusted with crumbs and of a deep mahogany brown, skin crisp and curling as a speciality in this old marketing section of Paris, but I am not a fan of pork. So I ordered oysters, onion soup, a salad and the house Chablis, which was excellent. A very nice little lunch. 

Real French Onion Soup a la Joanna


2 lbs yellow onions, peeled and halved, then sliced thinly. (A knife is the thing. A food processor can be used but you lose the pain and suffering aspect, as well as the anti-viral properties of the onion gas.) 

A heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset dutch oven)

1 tbs good olive oil

3 tbs very good butter (Plugra, or other top grade butter, or at least a good unsalted.)

Melt the oil and butter and saute the onions for 15 minutes with the cover on to sweat out the goodness. Then open the cover and saute them until they are a deep ochre color. Sprinkle them with a bit of salt and a 1/2 tsp of raw sugar to aid the browning process. You have to stir this fairly frequently. I use a spatula to make sure I scrape up the browned bits from the pot's bottom. It will be a shock, but the onions will have reduced from about 1/3 of the pot's volume to a thin sludge of deep ochre onion jam at the bottom of the pan. When the onions are done (don't cheat this step) add in 3 tbs of flour (we use white spelt, but any white flour will do, not whole meal.) Stir for a few minutes to cook out the flour and coat the onions. 

Now add 2 quarts of boiling organic beef broth (vegetarians may substitute veg broth) and a packet of Goya beef "cubito" bouillon. If you are vegetarian, use a tbs or so of Vegemite or Marmite instead. Add a half cup of a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc or a 1/4 cup of white grape juice or apple juice if you must not have alcohol, season to taste with sea salt and fresh ground pepper. Simmer partially covered for 40 minutes. The onion "sludge" will perk up quite a bit at the end and you will have a beautiful, brown, rich soup that will impress anyone.  

To serve it properly, you can make it gratineed, or baked with cheese. I do not know a way to make this vegan, so if you are vegan style vegetarian, you are on your own here. (I think soy cheese might work, but I'm not even going to try it.)

You need about 2-3 tbs of cheese mixture per serving. I use 1/3 parmesan, 1/3 gruyere and 1/3 swiss and it has to be imported REAL cheese and even Boar's Head gruyere is not real and I was pretty miffed at paying $16 a pound for rubbery, metallic-tasting "cheese" so find a Swiss gruyere. It's well worth it. Same goes for the Swiss and the Parmesan. Use GOOD cheese. Grate the three cheese and toss. I grate coarsely for this. 

You will also need croutes, in this case I cheat and use Ile de France petits pains grilles, which are small thick squares of French bread in melba form and they are actually good.  Bimbo brand toasts (Spanish section of the grocery store) could also work. If you want to be really authentic, get a good baguette and slice, toast slowly in the oven until it is hard and dry. Rub with a cut garlic clove and a bit of olive oil if you like. Our baguettes are fluffy little fakers, so I don't bother. 

To assemble the soup, take an oven proof ramekin or individual casserole or if you have them, onion soup bowls. Pour in the soup and a tsp of GOOD cognac if desired, then place a croute in the center (2 or 3 if using the toasts instead) and scatter the cheese on top. Bake 20 minutes in a 350 degree oven, then broil at the end to brown the cheese. Placing the bowls on a baking sheet really helps.   This is going to be wicked hot when served, so warn the guests, who are probably only used to lukewarm American food and never have seen something served piping hot. 

A nice white (a flinty Chablis, or the En-Zed Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc) and a leafy salad of romaine to follow make for a great meal. 

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Natural & Artificial Pigments New Painting

I finished a portrait recently and part of the work includes incorporating natural pigments into the mix.

Most of the paints for this work are Daniel Smith (from a paint firm that specializes in some unique inorganic, mineral-derived paints.) But the flesh tones incorporate French  ochre, Nicosia Green Earth and Vermilion from Rublev (Natural Pigments)

The vermilion does NOT behave like pyrol red, naphthol red, cadmium red or any orange-red of organic origin. The tinting strength is very high but staining is low, meaning you can tint the rosy blush of flesh to a very precise level. Dropping vermilion (Rublev) into a semi-opaque wash makes an uncanny, glowing blush. No other paint behaves like it. The darkening of vermilion in some atmospheres is said to be mitigated by eliminating a chloride ion. I don't know if this is true, but the beauty of genuine vermilion is unsurpassed. You can also see it here, washing over the pyrol red in the head cloth and the apron.

Natural Pigments is supposed to be adding genuine gamboge, a rubber-like resin that is somewhat toxic and derived from the Garcinia tree of Southeast Asia (Gamboge and Cambodia derive from the same word.) I have a very ancient (1860's) lump of this resin and if you just drop a single, tiny drop of water on it, a brilliant yellow develops. The yellow of true gamboge is one of my favorite shades and I was unhappy in the 80's, when it went out of production. The color is not particularly lightfast compared to Hansa yellow or other yellows used to make New Gamboge. In light tints, you can usually find a substitute, but nothing is really as good as this beautiful sunny yellow. I can't wait to try it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Don't blame me if you can't stop eating this. It's really good. A variant of the pistachio pudding (salad.)

1 pkg Banana Cream instant pudding
1 large tube Extra Creamy Cool-Whip
1 can crushed pineapple
1 can mandarin oranges
1/4 cup halved maraschino cherries (optional)

Fold pudding mix into Cool Whip until well blended. Mix in fruit and chill for a few hours.

you can top with bananas, use mangos, papaya, coconut.

Sugar Free option (I don't like sugar free stuff but if you are diabetic or dieting...)

Sugar free Jello banana pudding
Sugar Free Cool Whip
Fresh Pineapple and Oranges (this removes the syrup issues of canned fruits)--chopped fine.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Natural Pigments: Not what you'd expect

Icon artists, illuminators and others interested in historic pigments for various reasons (such as reproducing the type of paintings done by the Old Masters in the same materials they used) are being served by various companies that make natural and obsolete pigments used in paint formulations.

For watercolor, even in the last 30 years, pigments have changed dramatically. For example, I could still buy genuine gamboge, a yellow pigment from a latex-producing tree of Asia, genuine vermilion, a somewhat fugitive red-orange mercuric pigment and genuine Rose Madder as well as true Manganese blue. Now, no one makes Manganese blue as it is a very polluting metallic pigment; vermilion darkens over time, gamboge and madder fade. Madder is still made by the original method by Winsor Newton and is still beautiful. Others imitate it (Rose Madder Genuine by Daniel Smith) but none has the true red color of W/N's special formulation.

Now, Daniel Smith and others make pigments from ground gemstones, but Rublev (naturalpigments.com) makes the old style paints found in Russian icons and the 18th and 19th century Old Master watercolors. I've been testing them out and they are quite interesting, but..not what you'd expect.

I'll put up reviews of the colors, swatches and my findings in blogs to follow.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

I recommend When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler's Journal of Staying Put by Vivian Swift. This is a wonderful journal but also instructional for anyone wanting to learn watercolor, especially smaller format and with journaling.

It's a BEAUTIFUL BOOK. Click that link to read reviews.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Exetazomichanophobia n. 

Fear of using search engines.  A word I invented to explain the phenomenon of posting a question on a forum to which you can Google the answer but you unaccountably do not, even though you are demonstrably on the Internet and you can use a computer and even a forum.

You heard it here first.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Turkish Sock

Using some stashed Kroy sock yarn, I knit up a design of a Turkish sock. 

This is designed from Zilboorg's "Fancy Feet" and is done on the fly--a bit tight in the leg but very pretty. As with a lot of Turkish socks, hard to put on  but the fit is fine once you get there. And pulling it off is best done by grabbing the heel. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The winter watercolor class ended 3/4/2009 at the Gibby Center for the Arts in Middletown, DE. In case you don't know, the Gibby is a combination teaching center, studio and gallery on Main Street, next to the venerable Everett Theater. If you've seen "Dead Poet's Society", a film with Robin Williams and Robert Sean Leonard, you've seen the Everett. 

Five classes is just enough to get a taste of watercolor--the real learning happens when you repeatedly put BRUSH to PAPER and PAINT. We covered materials,  paint characteristics, paper, how to draw if you don't know HOW to draw, washes,, successive layers of glazing, composition, and how to paint faces and figures (Jellybean figures and faces.) But we didn't even have time to get to color harmony, palettes, the chemistry of watercolor painting, and much more. We'll cover more of that in the Spring class, which will focus on getting what you envision from your head to the paper and dealing with the accident-prone nature of watercolor. 

I posted a video of how to paint a small painting (ACEO or card-sized) of a watch. Funny, there was a billboard up on 95 in Wilmington  some months after I posted this on Youtube, and it looked a LOT like my painting! 

Until the Spring class, I'll be posting some lessons here, and eventually we'll move to a better website for the class, but my Blogger is handy right now.

Meanwhile, my class asked for a reading list and here it is:

Hilary Page Guide to Paints  

This is an essential guide to learning about paint characteristics, from pigments to color harmonies. It's also really FUN to read. 

Watercolor Wheel 

This is a great book for learning about color, layers, and consistency of your paint washes and glazes. For some reason, it is out of print (!!!) and I suggest you get a copy even at this price before it becomes scarce.

This is Charles Reid's new book, has all kinds of stuff, from going from photo to painting, and Reid will LOOSEN you up like no other person and help you deal with accidents.

Charles Reid's Watercolor Solutions

FINALLY! A good ALL AROUND BASIC starter textbook with beautiful art. 

Watercolor for the Serious Beginner

I'll post more demos, comments and other things in coming weeks, and if any of my STUDENTS want to post some of their work here (I saw some nice stuff from everyone!) email me and we'll do it. 

The watercolor is a portrait I did for someone.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Three Women

New Painting

This is from my watercolor class at the Gibby Center in Middletown, DE. We were doing a lesson on loosening up, and this was the example I painted in class for my students. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cool Toned Chullo finished!

Well, almost finished. The cool toned version is blocking on a towel and needs two tassels on the ear flaps.  

The colors I used were from Knitpicks Palette Yarn, a fingering weight Andes wool that comes in 51 colors, some heathered and some solid. 


  1. Pool (med sky blue)
  2. Blue (royal mid blue)
  3. Iris Heather (pale mauve)
  4. Clematis Heather (dark grape with some gold mixed in)
  5. Huckleberry Heather (reddish purple, very pretty)
  6. Lipstick (pinkish medium red, like Alizarin Crimson)
  7. Cream

The flaps have the Ripples pattern and the main body uses a few patterns I found for Scandinavian borders, the dots, the spiral (not quite right), and the Alpacas for the main motif in the middle. Pool blue applied I-Cord. 


Saturday, January 24, 2009


I knit up another pair of those Selbuvotter gloves in Palette Yarn (that beautiful stuff from Knitpicks) and then proceeded onto the kit of the Chullo hat from the same place. This Palette yarn is lofty, soft, light as a feather and colorful. And inexpensive. I adore it. 

The kit itself is about $20 and can make two hats! Generosity is a blessed trait, isn't it? I had to start the earflaps many times until I remembered how to knit colorwork in flat knitting. I had stopped knitting for some years, and this was hard to remember to do correctly. But after some bobbling around, I got the flaps done and then, ugh, I twisted the hat in joining ears to the knitting-around of the hat body. Ripping banded colorwork? Not worth it. Just start again. Plenty o' yarn.

Finally the hat is done. I re-worked the i-cord applied to edge differently than they worked it--because their method works from the RIGHT side and I think i-cord applied works best from the WRONG side--no color peeking through and the nicer part of the cord shows. This necessitated redoing the applied cord, no split up the cord to apply on either side of the hanging end (where the tassel goes.) Instead, did the hanging cord, applied one side of hat, then worked down on other side and ended in a cord. Then wove edges together. You have to BLOCK with pins to get it to lie flat and also colorwork REALLY requires some blocking. It is a mistake not to block colorwork. 

I wore the hat yesterday. Warm. Light. I'm off to make another,  using cool tones of blue, purple, and dark pink-red with cream. And maybe some gloves to match. 

Monday, January 12, 2009

Glove Love

Well, the Lloie Cardigan was a bust--not sure that five balls of the MC is enough; I have 5 each raspberry and plum, so maybe I will make something else. Besides, I turned out to hate the colorwork swatch destined for the yoke. Ripped it all out. Gone.

Meanwhile, I got a copy of SELBUVOTTER: Biography of a Knitting Tradition in which there are mittens and gloves in beautiful Norwegian patterns based on the Selbu rose.

I have knitted 2 pair so far (well, almost 2 pair) in Knitpick's Palette fingering yarn.

Pair #1 is Annemor #17, suggested as the starter, relatively easy. I did it in a suggested colorway Green Tea and Eggplant (no, not a Japanese dinner but a nice green/purple.) Then I decided to do Annemor #15 in Cornmeal and Garnet.