NICOLE STRASBURG: An Artist’s Kitchen

Spring Shoreline (24×24”) Oil on Birch Panel

With so much of California’s natural beauty laid waste and charred this Winter, I took comfort in the beautiful Art works from friend Nicole Strasburg. In her celebrations of Nature’s most exquisite beauty! Nicole’s unique eye keenly appreciates atmospheric color, movement, and my personal fave, something I’ve come to think of as “coastality.” As in that special magic where water and land meet.

Island High (22×60”) Oil on Birch Panel

Nicole Strasburg is an Artist collectors (& we painters) avidly admire. As dear Rob Townsend quipped, “Well, yeah. She can do no wrong, right?” And it’s pretty much true.  How she deconstructs even the most complex natural landscapes into something raw and pure… You can feel breeze blowing and waters lapping from her Canvas and Paint. Painting large birch wood panels. Sanding it down. Repainting her scene. Sanding it down. Repainting. Sanding it down… Until her paintings BREATHE.

Maybe it was learning how to paint theatre sets in Santa Barbara with her Dad as a kid? Or her inner talents Nicole tuned up after leaving art school? Regardless, Nicole’s sheer appreciation for California’s magnificent land and central coast sets her apart.

Outgoing Tide (40×60”) Oil on Birch Panel

So of course, I was curious about her favorite foods. Because after writing these many stories, I’ve delighted to discover there really can be a deliciously specific relationship between an Artist and her Kitchen.

And how the recipes Nicole shares with us today does the exact same thing as her Art: Bringing the simply fresh outdoors inside to savor.

Murder at Twilight (40×40”) Oil on Birch Panel



Nicole adapted her green chile enchiladas from a recipe torn out of Sunset Magazine and tweaked it to suit.

  • 2 lbs Anaheim or Poblano Chiles
  • 1 large Mexican Sweet Onion or Sweet Red Onion chopped
  • 3 – 6 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 12-16 corn tortillas
  • 3-4 cups of chicken broth
  • Roast Chicken — white & dark meat shredded
  • 2-3 cups Monterey Jack Cheese (Be generous with the cheese!)
  • salt and pepper

To Prepare Chiles: Place all Chiles on a lined baking sheet and Broil until skins blacken and bubble, turning once. Let Chiles cool. Then peel off blackened skins. Nicole says, “this “roasting” enriches the flavor of the chile.”  Next, seed, destem, and dice Chiles. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400’F

Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet. Sauté your garlic and cook until fragrant (be careful not to burn.) Add the onions and cook until soft. Stir in diced Chiles, salt + pepper and cook 3-5 minutes. Stir in Chicken Stock. Nicole’s tip: “I am generous with the liquid 2 full cups at least. You can let it cook down but extra liquid means that the enchiladas stay really moist, even with the leftovers.”

Here is the Recipe “tear out” Nicole swears by from Sunset magazine.

Nicole writes, “You can follow instructions 3, 4 and 5 for filling the tortillas. I use a big 9×12 casserole dish and can squeeze in about 16 enchiladas. Use one baking sheet and lay out 6 tortillas at a time, Fill, roll and put into casserole dish. I also don’t think you need 2 full cups of liquid to do the tortillas maybe 1. Whatever you have left over after filling the tortillas can go in the sauce… I like to make a whole pan and freeze half for later. It’s great for the cabin as is the Tortilla Soup! Oh! And make the sauce you can make a day or two ahead if you don’t want to be in the kitchen all afternoon.”

Served topped with sliced avocado, cilantro and shredded lettuce.

Coastal Grasses (18×36”) Oil on Birch Panel




For Nicole’s Burgers:

  • 2 lbs Ground Turkey
  • 2 Carrots Grated
  • Handful diced button mushrooms
  • 2 scallions diced with greens
  • 1/3 Cup Oats
  • 1/4 Cup Italian Bread Crumbs (optional for GF folks)
  • 1-2 cloves Garlic minced
  • Few shakes garlic salt
  • 1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1-2 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce (skip if GF)
  • Ketchup
  • Hot Sauce (like Sriracha)


  • Corn on the Cobb (to grill)
  • Relish, Cheese, & Condiments
  • Strawberries (sliced and macerated in brown sugar or bourbon. Set aside)
  • Vanilla Ice Cream

Place all ingredients in one large bowl. Mix well by hands. Then form patties to size.  Refrigerate 30 minutes and grill to taste.

KICKING KETCHUP: Whisk your preferred hot sauce into ketchup to taste.

Serve burgers with your favorite relish, Kicking Ketchup, and Corn on the Cobb.

Nicole thinks “Strawberry Shortcake” served over Vanilla Ice Cream (not cake) is the perfect ending for this delicious meal!


Form a turkey meatloaf using the same burger ingredients listed above. Preheat oven to 350’F and bake until cooked through (45 minutes +/-). Let rest covered until serving.


  • 1 Sweet Onion diced
  • 2 packages sliced mushrooms {1 button & 1 cremini}
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 good glugs of dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons white or GF flour
  • Whole Milk

Melt the butter in a medium sized pan. Add onions and cook until soft. Add mushrooms and extra butter if needed. Shake pan to coat mixture in the butter. Cover to let mushrooms release juices. Stir occasionally. When mushrooms have cooked down a few minutes, stir in wine and chicken broth. Lower heat to reduce while you prep the flour mixture.

Optional: For Nicole’s Flour & Milk thickener: Whisk 2 TBSP flour add milk while whisking making sure there are no lumps. She elaborates, “Flour goes into separate bowl and I whisk in the milk until it’s creamy like buttermilk. My “container” is a good jar or Tupperware that has a lid so that after whisk it I can seal it and shake it to make sure there are no lumps… I’m probably doing it backwards, I’m sure you could just put the two TBSPS of flour I the pan and make a roux then just add broth afterwards but this is how I remember my mom and grandmother making gravy.”

Slowly add flour/milk mixture to mushroom and onions — adding only 1/4 of the mixture at a time until gravy begins to thicken to the consistency you want (then Stop). Give Mushroom Gravy a few good couple of stirs.


  • 4 starchy potatoes like Yukon Gold — Nicole thinks “these have a high buttery content and flavor best for mashed!”
  • Butter
  • Milk to taste
  • salt and pepper

Thickly slice Potatoes. Cook in hot water until pierced easily with a fork. Drain and mash.

Heat small amount of milk and slowly add to mashed potatoes. Mix in melted butter and salt to taste.

Serve all three dishes together family style and enjoy!


Driving to Kansas

50 East

50 East

June 30, 2016


We are camping our way from Sonoma, California to Beaumont, Kansas.  To the family homestead and cattle ranch my great-great-grandfather founded some 150+ years ago… It’s a humbling thing, driving towards such heritage, out across a wide expanse of the nation in a truck, with “Bumbelina” (our Airstream), through one of the more severe summer storm patterns experienced in recent history.  Lots of rain, gorgeous atmosphere, lighting, and thunder.  In short, wet desert asphalt steaming for hours at a time.  A scent I hope burns into the psyche of my children.  And one I remember deeply from my childhood self making this same journey every summer: that of driving to Kansas.

Dida (& often Mima) loaded us Palmer cousins up into the “Big Red” Suburban and hauled ass across the southwest.  Pasadena to Witchita took two days, not three.  Eating 0.99$ “Grand Slam” Denny’s breakfasts every stop, unless it was New Mexico. For there in that gorgeous of regions, the Hatch green chili grows and Dida freely imparted his love for that mildly spicy, earthy green pepper (and puffy/sweet sopapillas) before hitting the road again. Stopping rarely –but gratefully– for panoramic American views, pee breaks, and turquoise found in once remote outposts like Hubbel Trading. Mile after mile, windows cranked down — unless we were listening to Garrison Keeler — kids’ hair whipping in sandy sunshine. Warm winds filling that old Suburban with the smells of ever changing landscapes.  One gleeful night spent somewhere in a neon-lit Best Western with a chlorinated pool and clean, but scratchy sheets. Driving from the Los Angeles basin, through the wide open, burnt Deserts. Between rocky buttes and along mountain passes. Before sailing down into the flat, flinty grass plains of the midwest. To Kansas.

Salty, desert flats along Interstate 80.

Salty, desert flats along Interstate 80.

Mima and Dida passed “into the sunset” this past year at 99 and 100, respectively.  She thought she saw her mother days before.  His last words were “I’m going to see Peg now.” And died minutes later. Funny how the vast expanse of an Open Road unfurl recent and dormant memories.  My husband and I both love to travel. Sharing a deep, soulful appreciation for destinations unknown.  Embarking on this road trip with our kids, we had no set plans nor reservations… Just a due date when we were expected at the Ranch. Driving mile after mile, state after state… I thought often of my grandparents.  Wondered where they are now… Obviously together.  Such a life they lived some 75 years of marriage! True Loves building family, business, and artistic legacy…To give rise our delightfully smart, oft elegant, and slightly motley clan of Palmers.

July 4th: fireworks, cocktails, and a spread of leftovers served from the back of a flat-bed truck.

July 4th: fireworks, cocktails, and a spread of leftovers served from the back of a flat-bed truck.

Hot and Humid: the Palmer Girl Cousins (Hannah, me, Sarah, and Kate).

Hot and Humid: the Palmer Girl Cousins (Hannah, me, Sarah, and Kate).

Though this road to Kansas is beautiful, it sure is long.  I am grateful for the time to unpack my memories and share them with my husband, Dean, before we arrive.  I have a feeling, I may become a puddle at the end of this road… Driving in the front ranch gate.  To say final farewells to my grandmother and grandfather.  She who taught us what it meant to be truly Woman, Wife, and Mother much because He lived so strongly as Man, Leader, and Patriarch.  The Ranch is a place of lessons learned and grit. Dida wanted to be sure we city kids didn’t end up sissys.  But come 6 o’clock, it was time to fish, walk the creek, shoot, and play dominos.  As a Family.

Porch time.

End of the day: Porch time.

We left after too few days at the Ranch.  Loaded up Bumbelina and strapped in still-sleeping kids.  Hugged my Mom, brother, Uncles, Aunts, Pappa Will, and Ranch Manager Don Nelson & wife, Connie.  Two of the most trustworthy people I have ever met.  People whom my grandparents trusted implicitly.  And who are intertwined with the viability and continued heritage of our family cattle ranch.

I admit, I quietly cried for about an hour after driving up and out through green pastures.  Hearing our Beefmaster cows bellow “good morning!” Remembering so many summers of my youth astride a horse at sunrise. Trying to keep up with Amanda (Nelson) chasing down wayward calves and cattle with my family.  To “bring in the herd.” Learning to pull our own weight.  Dida sitting in the truck giving directions, working the calling horn and making notes with Don.  Presiding over a seemingly endless Flint Hills cattle ranch left to him and built by his Grandfather’s bootstraps when the West was still Wild. Mima back at the ranch house making lunch (tuna fish sandwiches) or riding right next to him. Always.

Driving home.

Driving home. Planning to return…

Little Hands

I sat at the DMV yesterday, reading my book.  Waiting.  An older man walked by holding a little boy’s hand.  They sat down one chair over. The child looked about the age of my son. He pulled himself up onto the plastic chair and his little boy fingers looked exactly like my son’s…sweet traces of baby fat and solid little hands holding onto whom I assume was his grandfather. The flash of child pride that he’d gotten himself up onto the chair himself.  “Like a Big Boy,” as my son says.  I discreetly looked at his faded clothes and very worn shoes, the oversized hat that his grandfather took off and put into his lap with kind words.  They both waited very quietly until their turn was called and walked away to their assigned window.  I didn’t see him again.

I came home to host a play date for four little children in the bright sunshine, on our green grass, while their mom and I sipped a little bit of very cold, very crisp white wine in the shade.  Watching a joyful summer afternoon in Sonoma unfold. And wondered where that little boy was now.  And what it would be like to have such little ears hear how unwanted and dirty you are by pretty much every TV or news report.  How a wall will be built to keep you away from family or a better life.  How your grandfather teaching you to not wear a hat inside is really a raping Visigoth in disguise.  And wonder deeply what has happened to us a Nation.  How far down the rabbit hole of ignorance and bigotry have we fallen that candidates like Trump have not just national viability for elected leadership but that many acquaintances we know personally are thrilled to vote for them.  What kind of future are we paving for that little boy? And my little boy? Two little people of the same age, with the same little chubby hands, learning their ways in this world but with two very different messages being taught. This is not the America I’ve known and loved.  And it makes me very, very sad.


Sunset here at home.