The Road “Home” to Cooking.

My Road Home to Cooking looks like this. Photo by Sarah Deragon

My Road Home to Cooking.
Photo by Sarah Deragon

Sur La Table “Bigwig Cool Chef Man” Joel Gamoran (I’m pretty sure that’s his title) asked me “So Abi, how did you come to Cook?” I’d flown up to Seattle to tour Headquarters and talk shop. We wore sweaters and munched Cookies freshly baked by icon Dorie Greenspan as TV cameras cooled from her demo.

Dorie's "Jammer" Cookies are really good.

If Dorie wasn’t already lovely enough, her “Jammer” Cookies are really good.

The painter in me watched purpled, gray rain clouds roll in and my food-geek side wondered, how in the hell did I get here? I’m a stay at-home Mom. With two kids. And a fat, lazy dog.  Sure, I make a little wine and LOVE to cook. But trained, professional chef, I am not. (I stifled crazy-person laughter.)  For I am sure the hallowed halls of Sur La Table ought command more reverent reactions than idiotic giggles.

I’ve written my answer to Joel some nine times, happy with none. Tonight though, I poured myself a “local pour” of our Sauvignon Blanc and envisioned women and men like me, out there wielding spatulas and tongs. COOKING — alone or for family.  (Hopefully) Loving the very act of taking raw ingredients and creating something lovely.  Nourishing.  How carrots feel freshly peeled or how broccolini crisps up with solid amounts of salt. That duck confit is surprisingly easy to make.  And if you add green peas to anything starchy, kids love it.

My Apple Thief. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

My Apple Thief. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

I looked back to how I learned to cook in my kitchen — this gorgeously old Victorian, farmhouse remodeled last sometime before 1939. First cooking with my now-husband and then alone with my cookbooks, pencil and post-it’s at hand. Now repopulated with toddlers under foot.  And gave renewed thanks to Sur La Table salespeople for helping me learn the ropes around my own kitchen.

Mixing Fine and Kids' Art. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Mixing Fine and Kids’ Art. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

*Big Side-note: Please know this piece is in no way sponsored, written only in appreciation from this home cook to a store that helped me answer my questions. And still does.*

XX

Grateful to cook every day here at home, Annadel Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley, California.

Readers of my column Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen know that I quit NASA after 10 years in public service, took about a 92% pay cut and embarked on new life as a “Cellar Rat” making wine. Trading high-heels for steel-toe Wolverines and a pallet jack. Committing myself whole hog to a healthier, seasonal, fully artistic life in Sonoma Valley (Oct. 2007). I literally could cook one thing then.

Harvest is a family affair. The kids skip school to pick one row each. (October 2016, picking Cabernet Franc in the lower blocks.) Photo by Rachel Hairston.

Follow along on Instagram to see more winemaking and winery life: @abisfarmhousekitchen or Annadel Estate Winery on Facebook. Like Harvest is a family affair. The kids skip school to pick one row each. (October 2016, picking Cabernet Franc in the lower blocks.) Photo by Rachel Hairston.

You laugh, but really, it was not even my recipe. My grandmother, Mima, made buttermilk Waffles every Sunday (recipe and tribute)…. Traditions we continue today, albeit with champagne vs. Folgers crystals instant coffee.

Christmas Bells on the side door. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Christmas Bells on the side door. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

It was Love that brought me “home” to Cooking once Dean and I met one summer night at the Farmers Market. I’d gone to town to buy flowers and instead, met the most handsome Man (ever). Tall. Strong. Wearing long shorts and a Stetson with just the right amount of sweat on the brim. Searing blue eyes……………… I stood there in wine-stained work boots. Smelling like Chardonnay lees. Remembering my deodorant failed hours before when cleaning barrels with a gamma jet.

It must be love. Still at it, nine year's later of harvesting estate grown grapes. "Punch Downs" Merlot and Cabernet, October 2016... We made wine here at Annadel for the first time in about 110 years this past Fall.

Still wearing those boots, years later harvesting estate grown grapes. “Punching Down” Merlot and Cabernet… Making wine at Annadel for the first time in 110+ years (Oct 2016) Photo from epic machinist and family friend Garage Metallica, Chrystiano Miranda.

Dean and I moved in four days later.

And started cooking.

First, I cooked to flirt. Food can be quite the passionate exercise, have you noticed?  But lust & love soon expanded into one powerful marriage, babies and circadian Life built near the cycles of our Vineyard.

Proud Wife: Dean rode this beautiful 1914 Harley across the country in September. Winning Division 1 in the Cannonball. Riding the oldest motorcycle ever to cross America. And he did it. Video here of Annadel and our Team Vino.

Proud Wife: Dean rode this beautiful 1914 Harley across the country in September. Winning Division #1 in the Cannonball. Riding the oldest motorcycle ever to cross America. Video of Annadel Estate &  Team Vino.

I really do consider myself a kitchen cook. A Mom and Wife, trying to keep up with the day. Mapping out my grocery list by quadrant, according to the market floor plan (that NASA side lives on). Nerding-out on Food, cooking away earnestly in our farmhouse here at Annadel Estate Winery. We literally live “Between Wars.” Our walls are horse-hair and plaster and my 1941 Occidental Automatic — we found in the Carriage House — we modernized to a 6 burner, 2 stove Wolf Range.

My oldest Sous Chef and little girl. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

At first, I cooked mostly Italian as Dean is 1st generation American-Italian, though I first stepped out when our daughter, Anni, was little to make Julia Child’s Cassoulet from scratch. It took me 28 hours. I fell asleep at the table.

Cooking.

Cooking. Shot by wonderful Sarah (again).

Then fellow home cook and neighbor a few vineyards down, Gail Ross, started working part time at Sur La Table and brought me Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. “Try it!” she said. “You’ll love it.” And I did.  Making “Roast Chicken for les Paresseux” (pg 200) most weeks still (+extra garlic and garden-cut herbs.)  More importantly, Dorie’s cookbook expanded my home-cooking-horizons. A beautiful gateway to French food. Which then led to Curries, Thai or Mexican, Japanese, Jams and Canning, Southern, and yes, Italian once or twice a week: Much new fare mixed in with Dean’s family heritage dishes.

Long running favorites. Dorie's French Table, Ruth Reichl, and turned on to Hugh Acheson thanks's to friend Deborah's Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on IG (@rainydaybites) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Still in heavy rotation: Dorie’s French Table, Ruth Reichl, and Hugh Acheson thanks’s to friend Deborah’s Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on IG (@rainydaybites) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

From my pre-War, ghost-winery Kitchen, I then started to write, first urged by TV food star Heather Christo who visited Annadel some years back. And more recently, by Indian Chef sensation Asha Shivakumar to really take up Instagram (@abisfarmhousekitchen) Thanks to social media, and writing about food, food history, and Winemaking, I’ve connected with such wonderful food lovers, like Naomi’s The Cooks in the Kitchen series, or finding Susana best Carnitas recipe, Potato and leek soup at Jen’s Lemon Apron, and Malaysian style fish stew by Hazel plus many others. All sharing our loved, home-kitchens and earnest -cookery. I’m not talking “perfect shot” kind of bloggers but rather, warm-hearted, apron-clad souls similarly appreciating good living, wine, and home cooking. “Shaking hands” by proxy from our very agrarian spot in northern California’s wine country. Which is how I came to meet the wonderful directors at Sur la Table.

XX

Collecting herbs for a quick lasagna (see below) with Sarah Deragon

Sonoma County — really, the whole national Food Movement — is a return to basics. One giant step away from gridlock and desks and clocked-in/clocked-out days. A blue-skies return to the clean rhythms of seasons and harvests in grapes, vegetables, olives and food stuffs. Eating “close to the source” becoming increasingly a way of life. How we cook. Shop. Menu plan. Even potluck.

Marrying into an Italian American family, I've learned a thing or ten about Pastas. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Marrying into an Italian American family, I’ve learned a thing or two about Pasta. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Through reading food (& art) history, I’ve also learned we American cooks did not pioneer this approach to cooking. I now research (&write short pieces on) how famous Artists curated their own tables, if you will. How their respective Art directly influenced their Food.

Read more of my Creatives and their Kitchens series: Frida was first. Monet second. O'Keeffe is next.

To Read more: Creatives and their Kitchens. Frida was first. Monet second. O’Keeffe is next.

As for me and our little family, good food, art, and real wine are proof of Love. For each other. Our Family. And Friends. And thanks to Sur la Table, I’m whisking proof that real food knowledge makes all the difference as a Mom once asking “timer questions” between blanched and oversmushed Asparagus. I was glad Julia’s words read warmly from the Test Kitchen walls. Making me feel like just another Cook talking shop, eating cookies. Global icons or not, all of us ardently still in love with Food. And our Kitchens.

“Learn how to cook — Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.” ~ Julia Child

Vineyards Sunset. Annadel Estate Winery. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Vineyards Sunset. Annadel Estate Winery. (12/1/16) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

 

Read on for an easy weeknight lasagna recipe. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Read on for an easy weeknight lasagna recipe. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Easy, Weeknight Lasagna:

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic (peeled) (We use 5)
1 carrot (peeled & quartered)
1/4 yellow onion (peeled & quartered)
1 stalk celery (quartered)
1 26-28oz jar/box of fine Italian diced tomato, or puree
1 bunch Broccolini (5-10 stalks) (Spinach or Kale)
1 bunch Asparagus (5-10 pieces trimmed)
2 handfuls dried pasta (shells) or five lasagna sheets
1 16oz bag shredded Mozzarella
2 balls fresh Mozzarella
Handful shaved Parmesan
Dried Italian herbs
Handful chopped Italian Parsley and Basil, if you have it.

Fall foliage beautifully caught by Sarah Deragon.

Fall beautifully caught by Sarah Deragon.

Preheat oven to 350’F. And set pot of water to boil. (Do NOT salt it).

Puree garlic, carrot, celery, onion, and drizzle of olive oil, then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté veggie mixture 3-4 minutes. Stir in dash of Italian herbs. Cook until fragrant (30 seconds). Add tomato puree, stir well 2-3 minutes to “BROWN” sauce. Remove from heat.

Step 1: Quick Sauce

Step 1: Quick Sauce Photo by Sarah Deragon

Pot of water should be boiling. If not, wait. Then add one giant pinch salt. Add pasta and briefly pre-cook according to directions (about 4 minutes). Drain quickly. (Do not rinse with cold water!)

Think "bite size." No stress. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Think “bite size.” No stress chopping. There is no wrong size. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Finely Chop Spinach/Broccolini and Asparagus. Quick sauté in butter or olive oils until greens brighten but retain crunch.

Slick casserole dish with olive oil. Layer smear of your quick tomato sauce. Toss in half the pasta (or three of the lasagna sheets). Layer Half vegetables and evenly distribute 1/2 hand torn mozzarella. Lightly layer with half of your shredded mozzarella and dust with shaved parmesan. Repeat for a second layer and top with chopped Italian parsley.

Lasagna in process. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata can work too). Italians often skim fattening Béchamel sauces and focus on simple cheeses for thickening.

Lasagna in process. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata works too). Italians often skip Béchamel sauces to focus on simple cheeses for thickening. Apron at Sur La Table (casserole too). Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Wrap with tin foil. Bake 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20-25 minutes more, until cheese browned. Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Happy Eating! Happy Eating & Sipping: Cheers!

FRIDA: Artists & Their Kitchens

Welcome to “Creatives & Their Kitchens”: a new series!

Cooking and Art are two sides to the same coin. (In my book.) Taking raw ingredients to create something nourishing body or soul. Sometimes both. I’m not talking artsy culinary “perfect” but rather, what we as cooks (artists) choose to EAT and make for ourselves (families and friends) in the privacy of our own homes.

Cloaked from public eye, singular behaviors become just that: personal and private. Intimate. Being a food lover, and an artist, I began to wonder how some of my favorite artists and writers, leaders and visionaries approached their own kitchens and daily meals. Or did they even think of it? As I mulled this over making carbonara, I realized I did approach my cooking similarly to my easel: with an impressionistic vision in mind but open to seasonal influences and available ingredients/colors.  But how did the great creatives approach their FOOD? Did they cook for themselves? Or hire cooks? How did they choose to dine? Any rituals or routines? Did they eat in their socks and read the paper? Or have long meals filled with conversation? And did their favorite foods reflect style of Art? And recipes! Do any survive?

Nerding out completely, I started ordering out-of-print books on food history and reading up online. And it turns out, many artists did in fact have specific opinions about food, eating routines and favorite recipes. Like you’d imagine Julia Child whipped up fancy fare for guests but she did not.  Instead, serving guests bowls of cheddar flavored Goldfish crackers. (Isn’t that a hoot?) I kept going, reading about Georgia O’Keefe, Monet, Jane Austen among others. Amazon had quite the month with my credit card. And the first artist I want to tell you about is Frida Kahlo.

Frida Khalo captured later in her life before she died at age 47.

Frida Khalo captured later in her life.

Born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon on July 6, 1907, “Frida Kahlo” was a Mexican painter known particularly for self-portraits and surrealist, Feminist expression of the female experience, indigenous folk art, and nationalistic rhetoric.  Leading Surrealist Andre Breton beautifully described her work as a “ribbon around a bomb.” Painting herself came naturally as the horrific traffic accident she survived as a teenager  (after surviving Polio) in her native Mexico City left life long health effects that often isolated Frida from her family and community. Kahlo’s volatile marriage to the hugely famous Diego Rivera brought her to the international stage but her sheer talent, unusual beauty, and original painting kept her there. And in some ways, eclipsed those accolades of her husband. In droves.

Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace & Mockingbird (1940)

Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace & Mockingbird (1940)

When not traveling for mural commissions (Diego) and shows (both souses and later. Frida), Diego Rivera and Frida lived a colorfully domestic life — when happy — with very definite opinions about food and how they ate. Preferring traditional indigenous Mexican dishes eaten together as part of a kind of elevated artistic experience rooted in the “working class.”  When relished, Frida purposefully created “small still lifes” for Diego to visually enjoy during their noon meal (Comida). Her tablescapes celebrated native Mexican vibrancy, flavors, and culture with colorful pre-Colonial styled ceramics, linens, small flower arrangements, 10-12 plates of foods… Even inviting household pets to the table “for movement.”  Their parrot –who only said “No me pasa la cruda” (“I can’t get past this hangover”) — pecked at fruits while their little monkeys jumped between their shoulders.

I love these details. And I like to think of her as a happy spouse. From the beginning, eating “food of the people” was part of Diego’s daily creative process. And for Frida too.  During these times, Frida departed from her excruciating self-portraits to include still-lifes and vibrant domestic interiors drawn increasingly from Mexican folk art.  How fascinating that an artist so revered for her unflinching take on the female experience (plus ardent Communist and Feminist), loved sweetly enough to endeavor domestic beauty. And harmony.

So many images to choose from. Volatile a marriage, yes. But great love and collaboration as well.

So many images to choose from. Volatile a marriage, yes. But great love and collaboration as well.

Recipes kept to pre-Colonial, pre-Hispanic foods rooted in the deep culinary traditions of indigenous Mexico. Dishes like Zucchini blossom soup, cucumber salads, pork stews, and chicken Escabeche.  Diego’s favorite plate of all was Mole, a recipe Frida learned to make from Lupe, Diego’s second wife (and her predecessor) who lived upstairs in their first home as married couple. Actually, Lupe owned the building and lived on the top floor with her two daughters while Frida and Diego, lived ground floor. Despite the unconventional housing arrangement, Frida and Lupe grew to be good friends and Lupe taught Frida many recipes Diego preferred.  Frida later expanded her cooking repertoire when the couple moved to La Casa Azul and began cooking from her mother’s The New Mexican Cook (published first in 1888).  Ironically, the Rivera’s did not see a conflict between their domestic help and their politics, employing cooks who could authentically create indigenous dishes.

Often entertaining many guests at once, meal time gatherings at the Rivera’s were noted not just for good food, strident leftist discussions, music, and copious libation but also for eating in the manner of the “poor working class.”  Tortillas in lieu of forks and knives.  Food cooked in the old style over wood flame and no modern stove or equipment like a refrigerator. Should Diego be painting a mural and unable to make the noon meal, Frida took him his lunch in a turquoise pewter pail just as “campesino women” took lunch to their husbands in the fields. Frida’s pail for Diego likely included a protein, rice and beans and topped always with warm tortillas, fresh fruit, sweet breads, and flowers artistically arranged.

Biographer Hayden Herrera describes the couples’ typical eating day (during happy times): “breakfast would be leisurely with Frida or an assistant reading the newspaper to Diego, who did not want to tax his eyes. Afterward, Frida would either paint or go to the market and Diego would go off to work. If he’d been drawing in the marketplace — where he went often to observe the poor who were his most important subjects — he would come home for comida… bringing an ingredient for the cook to incorporate.”

Food and the rituals of Eating were important to the couple. Part of their marital rhythms.  Frida relished being the central woman in Diego’s life and they divided kitchen, household responsibilities according to traditional Mexican roles.  And for Frida, “domestic tasks took on the nature of an art project…Setting the table was a ritual.. [And] the food itself was treasured for it’s beauty as well as for it’s flavors. After her self portraits, most of Frida’s paintings her still-life works of flowers, food, and domestic interiors. Pivotal paintings still celebrated for her surreal depictions of Mexican national and indigenous pride and unflinching imagery of female experience and form.

Viva la Vida (1954)

Viva la Vida (1954)

Frida’s most personal kitchen was her last (and first kitchen) in her childhood home “La Casa Azul”. Frida continued to live (and eat) here throughout her life — with or without Diego. With or without her parents. Her sisters. Friends. She had no children. Despite their numerous attempts…miscarriages…abortions. Today, it is part of the Frida Khalo Museum and still decorated with her brightly colored yellow and cobalt blue tile, sugar skulls, fresh flowers, and her traditional ceramic cookware, much of which was no longer made even by 1940s.  Both the names of Frida and Diego decorate one wall and the recipe for Diego’s favorite Mole is enshrined outside on a museum plaque.

I had trouble finding recipes and kitchen notes about her cooking habits after she and Diego divorced.  Frida took great pride in feeding Diego, fussing over him and even bathing him.  I appreciate Frida embracing her inner Sapphos yet Wifely Warrior while navigating the early 20th century world to which she was born.  Reveling as Artist, Beauty, Wife, Survivor, Daughter / Sister, and Cook… All the while on deep pain medication of some kind. Always… Perhaps though, when Diego was gone, Frida turned to Art more fully as her emotional outlet (her marriage) gave way to sharing her creative wellspring between Diego and Easel. image-1-2-png

Bio.


imageI have to write a Bio on myself.  My Solo Art Show is rapidly approaching in June.  Not only do I need to finish another 3, maybe 4, proper paintings but now I need to write a Bio.  Lord help me.  For the life of me I can’t think of what to say.

It’s easy to present yourself as this always-fabulous humanoid in the glossy scrolls on Instagram and write something witty on Facebook.  But to write something honest-yet-shiny about your Painter Self that somehow speaks truthfully to my inherent need to paint and capture the natural world… well, that’s where I feel short. So much so, it’s got me up this week wondering what on Earth to say.  How to not sound like some pretentious Artist-Mom-Cook.  Because there’s no separating my creative processes.  Cooking is much like Painting. For me, anyway.  Taking raw ingredients and assembling them into something beautiful and nourishing and lovely. Albeit for your wall, not the plate.

Painting what I see and feel around me is every bit a part of that revelry in food, family and wine that we strive to accomplish here in Sonoma County and beyond in California.  Because I paint beautifully rural CALIFORNIA.  I paint natural SONOMA COUNTY.  And because finding my inspiration in our lands and waters is usually woven into culinary adventures with my family.  Shucking oysters in Bodega and Tomales Bays.  Cheese in Valley Ford or Petaluma. Wildflower picking and picnics around our Parks and watersheds. Driving the preschool run up and down the beyond-scenic Valley of the Moon, stopping at local markets, taco trucks, and playgrounds with my babies.  Who have been incredible sports in this oft selfish pursuit to my Art when I stop to paint, take tons of photos, or just watch the shifting colors in changing Light.  And it’s really nap time.  Or cook dinner. Or get Anni to Ballet.

Studio time is solo time.

Studio time is solo time.

Feeding my family and writing about food is my relaxation and also very much a part of my artistic process.  I didn’t realize that until Gallerist, Ellen Easton, visited Annadel and recognized this truth about myself.  Something I do not feel guilty about because I am giving my children and husband good meals, cooking with my daughter, and creating (hopefully) warm and fuzzy memories in their childhoods.  Whereas painting has me up in the middle of most nights working.  Creating layer upon layer upon layer of natural Light and Lines found here in this most gorgeous of Valleys and States.  But what drives me to do this… and how to express it eloquently… is much harder to pinpoint.

I suppose painting is my form of meditation.  It is NOT relaxing.  But it IS Centering. And what I should be doing right now at 1:56 in the morning.  Not fretting over what to write in my Bio and secretly hoping this important Solo Show endeavor isn’t making me suck as a parent and wife until then.  Don’t get me wrong — Art and Painting can be so deeply satisfying.  And profoundly frustrating.  Where I scrape that damn canvas and start over.  Losing countless hours of sleep to get that filtered sunlight or twilight or sunrise or moonset or watery light or foggy haze or whatever just right.  This takes “it” out of me.  And whatever “it” is feels rather low in reserves these days.

There’s not much that nourishes me in return for these nocturnal hours.  Even after weekends where I sell a lot of art.  Often I feel grumpy the next day.  Not always the best version of my Mommy self.  Where I have that third cup of coffee and read another children’s book a bit on auto-pilot before starting the three meals, 10 diapers, 2 loads of laundry, 2-hour-preschool-commute Day.  But who wants to read that honest truth in an Artist Statement for a famed Art Gallery?

I’ll leave these honest words here with you tonight and get back to painting.  Luckily it’s coming along beautifully.  Maybe somewhere in the lilacs, warm grey blues of Wisteria I’ll find my answer to what the on Earth should I say about myself in my Bio.

Sonoma Wisteria: Inspiration for my current painting.

Sonoma Wisteria: Inspiration for my current painting. Shot by Rachel Hairston.

Something wonderful just happened!

One Giddy Cook!

One Giddy Cook!

Something wonderful just happened. Right now. Like 15 minutes ago. I’m on a one hour break from the kids — who after a great beach morning opted to turn into dervishes. So much so that Dean said “go to town! Go! Go shopping. Read something!”  Well! You didn’t have to tell this Mama twice. And off I went. First, to my favorite art and local jewelry shop called Elements where I found my annual necklace.

And second? To Bamboo for an iced tea (read “mommy code” for Mai Tai) and catch up on some back issues of Archaeology.

Behind me, this lovely couple was trying to figure out her new iPad camera so they could take a selfie. I volunteered to take the picture for them.  And a few minutes later, she taps me on the shoulder and says “Excuse me? Are you Abi?”  She reads my blog! In CANADA! I was stunned. I STILL am! I mean, I’ve been hearing good things from new corners of the globe about the recipes and meeting people at our Winery who know me/us already thanks to Social Media and the consuming love of Taste we foodies share. But I’ve yet to meet someone out of the blue who knew me by my recipes and writing. Especially since day-to-day you’ll find me on Facebook and Instagram. A blog post takes time and careful thought, recipe testing.

But here she was! My first “fan!” She was glad to meet me and I her.  In a hippie bar no less — far from our respective stoves. I hope she’s reading this and knows how glad I am for her. This Mama is one thrilled Cook today, let me tell you!

Local made by artist Leighton Lam and sold by Elements@elementsjewelryandcrafts.com

Local made by artist Leighton Lam and sold by Elements@elementsjewelryandcrafts.com

 

Boudoir Birds

"Boudoir Birds circa 1952" 16x20" oil

“Boudoir Birds circa 1952″ 16×20” oil

I’m stuck in Southwest-SFO Hell. Trying to make it to Santa Barbara for my part in tonight’s fun Opening for the 100 Grand Show at Sullivan Goss Gallery. I am all set. Cute dress, new lipstick… If only we could take off! Trying to not go nuts. So instead, focusing on what to paint next for my Solo Show this coming June at Easton Gallery in Montecito… Thumbing through my iPhone archives brought some interesting thoughts to mind. Namely, what art seems to sell and what does not.

Now I work very, very hard on each piece. Working for weeks often before dawn. Trying to catch the light and the feeling of each scene and subject. And I am deeply thankful that after 20 years of earnest painting, my art supports itself. I try never to think of a new painting as “I hope this will sell.”  I think selfishly that dilutes whatever creative essence and creative flows within me as I surrender to canvas, brushwork, shading and colors. I seriously LOVE Color.  And Light. Beauty. Atmosphere. But occasionally I stumble upon a scene that I know will likely never sell.  And for the very life of me, I have to paint it anyway.  Feeling so moved by that moment, whatever moment “that” is, I know it will become a piece of my art.

As they are. Since 1952.

As they are. Since 1952.

 

Such a moment happened in October when I was lucky enough to meet Ralph Benson, Executive Director of the Sonoma Land Trust when he came in to my Art Trails Open Studios. He invited me to tour Glen Oaks, a previously unknown spot to me 100%  old California. In fact, the Civil War era home has remained largely untouched since 1952 when the last owner deeded the property to our beloved Land Trust.  I remain honored for that private step back into time. And I vowed to paint Glen Oaks in all of her glory — and have since.

But one facet of this old place, was the old woman’s bath and Boudoir. Still intact. Hairbrush still on her table. Bath salts on the tub ledge. That touched me deeply. Here, this woman is long dead yet her most intimate beauty ephemera remains in place. From 1952.  I had to paint her aging bath bottles with a piece of decorative Mexican sculpture caked in dust. Knowing full well the finished painting might never find a home. And that I bloody well don’t care. Such moments are rarely given and when given to an artist? We must act and act well.

 

Why You Haven’t Heard from Me…

I am sorry for Radio silence from me here in this old kitchen.  Life has been so nuts and it’s odd that on the first day of Harvest 2014 (Merlot blocks came IN today!!) and on this very same day I pulled on my big girl panties and faced my fears: I got my Epidural on the very lower left side of my Spine, my L5 disc. And today of all nutty days…including puking all too close to a lovely (and totally cute Doctor) coming out from anesthesia that I feel compelled to write to you all lovely, lovely Foodie Friends.

First Harvest — Merlot SO divine, I wear it around my neck as pendant every single day, thanks to sculptress and artist friend MIchelle Hoting (Michellehoting.com )

Scultpress friend Michelle Hoting has created custom made pendents out of pure chunks of Silver for us here at Annadel from our Cabernet and Merlot leaves. (Sold Out but visit here in October during Art Trails http://www.sonomacounty.com/sonoma-events/artrails-open-studios ) or at michellehoting.com

Scultpress friend Michelle Hoting has created custom made pendents out of pure chunks of Silver for us here at Annadel from our Cabernet and Merlot leaves. (Sold Out but visit her in October for Art Trails http://www.sonomacounty.com/sonoma-events/artrails-open-studios ) or at michellehoting.com

Anni and baby Trane helped IMMENSELY today “Bringing In The Fruit”.

Little People + Great Big Helpers at Harvest here at Annadel

Little People + Great Big Helpers at Harvest here at Annadel

Annadel Estate Merlot picked at day-break.

Annadel Estate Merlot picked at day-break.  Hand picked, hand sorted and headed for crush at Deerfield Ranch Winery in Kenwood where we custom make our wine!

Truth is, we’ve been too busy to write something even remotely worth reading.  Summer ended and Anni started Preschool at Moldovan Academy.  Dean is racing the Cannonball 2014 right NOW from Daytona to Tacoma, WA on his 1923 Harley with dear friends on Team Vino.  The Open Road is his very first love and beyond good for his Soul! Yes, I hear you: “a month without your husband with two kids under 4 and a winery to run…what?what? what? Are you NUTS?” The answer is YES, totally.  But trust me, the Cannonball is a gloriously rare adventure of the finest vintage bikes in the world.  If you can’t hand-weld a metal part over a traffic cone? You can’t be there. Besides, I’m fierce too.  In my Mom, yoga pants, paint brushes turned apron and kitchen spoon sort of way.

Dean is racing in the Cross Country Cannonball again this year! GO TEAM VINO! From Daytona to Tacoma for the most of September on his 1923 Harley and totally fun period garb made for him in North Beach, SF.

Dean racing in the Cross Country Cannonball again this year! GO TEAM VINO! From Daytona to Tacoma for the most of September on his 1923 Harley and totally fun period garb made for him in North Beach, SF.

Here I sit. ‘Holding down the Fort”– Making wine, running tours, weddings, and crazy kids.  Speaking of, Coltrane turned 1&1/2 officially yesterday! Both of our babes are great.  But since August, my back got worse and I scheduled today’s procedure.  Weathered the American Canyon earthquake aftershocks. Rehung the Art Gallery in the Barn including amazing art by Dennis Ziemienski (Ziemienski.com ).  We DID manage to take our first “kids free” vacation — first one in four years! Yay us! And I’ve been trying to keep up with our garden and cooking as much as my body allows…and discovering that every year that we unplug more. I become more free and open to Universe and all of her crazy colors like some giant pseudo-Hippie now.  I do promise to forever remember the under-wire and Chanel lipgloss though.  Have no fear.

I LOVE Table Linens. Like LOVE. Found this beautiful Indian pattern stitched from saris at the Alamdea Antique Market with dearest friend Sondra Bernstein of beloved Girl & the Fig.

I LOVE Table Linens. Like LOVE. Found this beautiful Indian pattern stitched from saris at the Alamdea Antique Market with dearest friend Sondra Bernstein of beloved Girl & the Fig.

RECIPES: Lots of Tomato Crack (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=99 ), Garden Green Pesto “Lasagna” (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=508 ), and Easy Pea Soup (http://abisfarmhousekitchen.com/?p=434 ) around here.  Last night, I thawed some frozen pancetta and sauteed it with the aromatics (onion, shallot, garlic) in EVOO then crap white wine (perfect for cooking) for heart warming “umpf” to the pea and wilted kale lettuce soup. Paired it with our 2008 Estate Blend (the earthquake revealed we had a whole palate more!) as well as Spinach and Feta Cheese Puffs.  Hell, I needed some butter and carbs last night to face the big needle this morning. If you haven’t made these yet? Here’s the link. http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/spinach-puffs

Pea/wilting Greens Soup made with chopped pancetta this time and served with those crazy amazing Spinach Puffs.

Pea/wilting Greens Soup made with chopped pancetta this time and served with those crazy amazing Spinach Puffs.

But those of you following Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook and on Instagram (@abisfarmhousekitchen) see me every day.  I hate to tell you, the domain here dumped 95% of my subscriber emails.  So if you’ve stopped receiving any recipes and essays from me ALL Summer? That is why.  I urge you to either save this Food Blog to your Bookmarks or better yet, Follow me on Facebook and Instagram? Then we won’t lose touch!  I’m the one with Kermit the Frog cracking up over Sandwiches…

Me on Instagram! Or follow Abi's Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook -- I'm doing lots of pictures and easier recipes than a full blog warrants.

Me on Instagram! Or follow Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen on Facebook — I’m doing lots of pictures and easier recipes than a full blog warrants.

Living Life In Art

Abi’s Farmhouse Gallery: ANNE ZIEMIENSKI

Anne Ziemienski & PersphoneEach artist finds his or her own path.  Some go to art school.  Some apprentice.  Some lock themselves away to toil relentlessly in obscurity.  Others come to Art later in life after success frees them to explore passionate hobbies.

But few, if any, can claim a first life as Belly Dancer.  In Europe.  In the Middle East.  And Egypt.  With her own 13 piece band.  Now? Acclaimed Mosaic artist celebrated from Sonoma to the pages of the New York Times.

Anne Ziemienski is a colorfully vibrant person, a dear friend, and an inspiration to artists.  She and her husband, famed painter Dennis Ziemienski, have done the near impossible – they live by art alone.  There is no day job.  There is ART.  And their Mediterranean home in Glen Ellen surges with it:  with creative vibrancy, warmth, and sweat equity.

It was here that Anne turned her love of Old World’s mosaics into decoration in her family’s home – works that celebrate nature, lore, and mythology.  Like Anne’s 8-foot-tall- Persphone at their front door, a grand stone fountain for their garden, and splendid Aphrodite for the Master Bath complete with tub reclaimed from the Old Chevron Building in San Francisco.

“Mosaic art has ancient roots and a rich cultural heritage,” says Anne.  “I particularly love the Greco-Roman style that was popular 2,000 years ago.”Portrait

Anne absorbed the ancient world’s “lost art” first as a young girl living abroad in Italy with her parents and then again as a flourishing Dancer in Cairo, Europe, and the Middle East. A chance encounter at the Salute to the Arts Festival gave Anne her first (huge) commission (3 installations) and brought her talents into the outside world.  The rest, they say, is history.

Commissioned Pebble PathsAnne is lucky (and very hard working).  Her art is coveted.  It is also great source of joy for her.  And it is this quality that I think fires the soul in viewers when looking at (or living on) each of her pieces.  You can feel the drama or love or lust in each subject and installation. This makes Anne’s work truly unique and I think, very valuable.

Wyrm of Inverness“Every aspect of my work intrigues me; picking out the marble and stones, hand cutting each piece, designing and implementing the design.  For some mysterious reason I am very drawn to work in this ancient art form as it connects me to all the cultures that I have lived within, whether it be Egyptian, Italian or Celtic.”

If you want to reach Anne, you can email her at az@ziemienski.com

She is probably in her studio, hand-slicing marble with a wet saw.  Or something equally fabulous…!

Announcing the GALLERY

Clearly I don’t write every day… or even every week.  Rather, I wait until truly inspired by something luscious.  Something drenched in flavor, aroma, and taste.  Something worth the calories and that extra time doing sit-ups.

Art has always been key to the intent behind “Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen” but in writing at least, my love affair with beauty and art has been usurped by the more easily quantifiable joys of gastronomy and wine.   Art is ephemeral.  And so strikingly personal.  Its joys are hard to get down on paper…especially with 2 little kids under foot.  It seems like I get one thought “just so” and then someone poops themselves or starts to cry.  Or scream.  Over a marker. Or Leggo.

But in my adult brain, art reigns equal to food and wine.  Art is the pursuit of beauty (for me at least).  The very act of celebration in which elevates humans to glory in our finest state.  If you think about it, it is Art and Music and Architecture (& Rationality) that cannot be snuffed out by even the most repressive regimes and ideologies.  At least, not yet.

For those of us that are lucky to live in cultures celebrating independence, Rationality, and beauty — and for those of us that are more sensory driven, I believe that art is every bit a key part of the human maturation process.  We start out with cheap prints of Monet’s “Water lilies” or Munch’s “The Scream” in our dorm rooms. Drinking $2 Buck Chuck.  Then graduate to generic Z-gallery collages, $11 bottles of wine, and geometric mirrors.  In short, rooms designed for us by catalogue people.

I may be a dick for saying this but I fear most of us stop here.  And neglect to explore the very real world of real artists, real chefs, real growers of real produce, and real wines.  And the very real joys and color such things gift us.

Here my brother hangs Hoshino's Oyster's next to Ziemienski's Tomatoes...above a New Orleans scene Dean bought from an unknown street artist.

Here my brother hangs Hoshino’s Oyster’s next to Ziemienski’s Tomatoes…above a New Orleans scene Dean bought from an unknown street artist.

The thing is – real art, like real wine, enriches our lives each and every day. That first sip of hot coffee as the sun breaks over the Mayacamas warms my soul just as much as cooking dinner beneath Dennis Ziemienski ‘s “Tomatoes” or Robert Townsend’s “Pastries.”  At the other side of the day, drinking fine Annadel Estate wine by the fire under Whitney Abbot’s cows or Nicola Hoshino’s abstract Oysters.

Nicola Hoshino's amazing Oysters

Nicola Hoshino’s amazing Oysters

Truth is, I’d rather die than hang a Thomas Kinkade on my wall.  Or drink $2 Buck Chuck, for that matter.  My friend and esteemed gallerist Michael Hollis once said something like “we all start out with college posters and cheap wine but we grow into fine wines and real art.”  So that is my goal here, to celebrate real Art in a new chapter for the Kitchen called “Abi’s Farmhouse Gallery.”

I promise the art and artists I highlight will be worth the few minutes you spend here…or the money you wisely investing in these fine artists.  Because art (& wine) make the very best gifts to ourselves.  Ever!

Why Paint? Why Plein Aire?

I am coming up on my first real Opening as a solo artist next week and the restaurant owner asked me to send her my BIo or something that explains why I am my kind of artist…. Writing about yourself is hard enough without trying to codify what it is that drives you to create. You don’t want to sound pretentious or arrogant, however, you do want to put the right words to the internal, primal impulse that causes you to regularly breathe life onto canvas through paint. So instead of some bio, the better question for me anyway, may rather be to answer “Why Plein Aire? Why landscapes?”

Making it all work as an artist Mom

Making it all work as an artist Mom

My answer is simply that painting the natural world focuses my life to feel appreciation and gratitude. Painting outside or in the studio, this practice teaches me to step back, BE CALM, and LOOK. To take in these blue sky breezes and creamy gray fogs and heavenly vistas then to selfishly make them mine, truly see this region for the national treasure that it is, before carefully placing these celebrations back onto a canvas panel for others to love too.

Catching those first hints of fall over our Annadel Estate vineyards earlier this month

Catching those first hints of fall over our Annadel Estate vineyards earlier this month

Life in Sonoma County is aesthetically stunning. Moving here in 2007 allowed me freedom to breathe – in all 5 of my senses. And opened my eyes on a daily level to the wonder of our natural world. Always a closet painter, once I left Los Angeles my work turned from large watercolors and urban-inspired abstracts to smaller works in oil that celebrate the natural beauty of these bluffs, vines, and waters in Sonoma. While I’ve been painting Sonoma County literally every day or every week since moving north 6 years ago, it has only been in the last year that my art works have returned to a more abstract narrative.

Bluffs over Salmon Creek Beach north of Bodega Bay

Bluffs over Salmon Creek Beach north of Bodega Bay

When I visited the Maynard Dixon retrospective at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, printed on the wall was a Dixon quote explaining that he sought “to minimize the noise.” In everything. Those words stayed with me. To this day, when I work to capture the essence of a scene, of a single place or a single moment, I work to strip out that static noise that does not need to be there. Often the human imprint poor development has left us. But also people, cars, cell phone towers, billboards. I also work to retain the vibrancy and LUSHNESS that life in Sonoma gifts. Sonoma Artist Dennis Ziemienski and his fabulous wife Anne – and the great people making wine from these hills — have infused my works with a reminding calling to celebrate TODAY. This sunlight? This fog? Those hills? Vines, mountains and waves? This is IT. Celebrate THIS. And REVEL.

Lunar Nocturne over Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, winter 2013

Lunar Nocturne over Bodega Bay in Sonoma County, winter 2013

We now have two kids under 3 years of age and a start-up, critically acclaimed winery named Annadel Estate Winery. I don’t have crazy amounts of time to luxuriously devote to painting al fresco but I do have the spiritual drive to SEE this stunning County for all of her splendors and catch it. As best I can.