Sunday, July 30, 2006

Maine anyone?

Life is full of nice little surprises. Like today for example...I set out late this morning to buy a new pair of running shoes and stopped in at Monstah Lobstah afterwards for a basket of fish and chips. Mmmm….fried fish…oh wait, that wasn’t my point. Anyway, the owner of Monstah Lobstah was born and raised along the coast of southern Maine and decided to come to Tampa to bring the local community a real Maine experience and I thank him for that.

While I was waiting for my basket of goodies, I thumbed through an old copy of Down East magazine that was on my table and ran across an article about The Reverend Paul Plante, a priest and artist from Maine who creates small, beautiful oil pastels of bird’s and fish, focusing in on a single eye. He produces about 1000 paintings per year with his unique perspective and displays and sells throughout the northeast and online. I’ve never been much of a bird or fish lover, but his stunning creations have made me reconsider.

You can see some more of his original artwork online at mixed greens and The Firehouse Gallery.

Friday, July 28, 2006

penne all’arrabbiata

I don’t know what I would do without this recipe in my bag of tricks. It’s another fave from Vera. In Italian, arrabbiata means angry or in this case spicy. If you order this dish in Italy, just make sure you linger over the n’s in penne, otherwise you’ll be ordering an angry, um,*part of the male anatomy used to make babies* (ahem). Ok, now that you’ve been forewarned, on to the recipe:
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup butter
a couple of slices Pancetta, diced
1 onion, chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
red pepper flakes to desired spiciness
½ cup white wine
28 oz. can of tomatoes, diced
½ cup parmesan cheese
½ cup romano cheese
1 lb penne
Saute onion, garlic, red pepper flakes and pancetta in olive oil and butter over medium heat until onions are golden brown. Add wine and simmer on low, stirring occasionally until most of the liquid has reduced down. Add tomatoes and simmer on low heat for 45-60 minutes, stirring often. Cook pasta to al dente and drain. Combine pasta, tomato sauce and cheeses in one bowl and mix well. Serves 4-6.

Note 1: Quality of ingredients is ESSENTIAL to the success of this recipe. Do not attempt if you have only cheese from a shaker can, wine out of a box, or minced garlic out of a jar. And absolutely do not use margarine instead of butter. I shudder to think of it.

Note 2: I usually use more olive oil and less butter, then pat myself on the back for being healthy. I also usually leave out the pancetta just because I don’t always have it in my fridge unlike the rest of the ingredients. It still tastes delicious although I have to admit whenever I make the full blown version it gets a bigger thumbs up from my husband.

Note 3: I use whatever wine I have available – red or white. I think it’s just as good either way since it’s buried deep within the sauce, but then again I am not a complete wine snob.

Note 4: Since this makes enough sauce to serve 4-6 and I’m usually cooking for just one or two at a time depending on travel schedules, I no longer mix the pasta, sauce and cheese in a bowl. Instead, I just dollop some sauce on our pasta and then grate the cheeses right on top of the sauce. Sometimes we do a pasta, cheese, sauce, cheese layer if we’re feeling really spunky. That way, the extra sauce keeps better for leftovers (tastes great over grilled polenta with mozzarella di bufallo).

Note 5: The recipe does not call for additional salt because the pancetta and the romano cheese are both pretty salty. If you’re leaving out one or both of these, then I would add a small pinch of salt to the sauce. Just don’t overdo it because (trust me, I’ve been there) too salty = inedible.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

wooly timbuk2

Get ‘em while they’re hot! Timbuk2 has just released a limited quantity of extra-small messengers in wool, camo and lightweight x-pac nylon specialty fabrics. This lime green wool has your name all over it suttonhoo. They also have it in brown or light blue if you’re feeling less adventurous ;)

Los Angeles sketchbook

Los Angeles sketchbook
Originally uploaded by velvetina.

This is what I imagined I'd do when I packed a moleskine and sketching supplies on my last trip to Europe. Instead I ended up with a few scattered notes on the run. Seeing this has me motivated to try again.

Check out the rest of Amanda's beautiful sketches on her blog.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

retirement home

My husband would like nothing better than to chuck most of our worldly goods and move onto the water. Now, a fair portion of said worldly goods are made up of my stuff – books, project materials, bags, etc. – that I could not imagine leaving behind for cramped quarters on some leaky vessel. That is until he sent me a link to Van Gorkom Yacht Design’s Villa Houseboat.

I think I could be persuaded to toss everything and take up needlepoint for that.

Monday, July 24, 2006

wishing for winter

I have a very long neck which frequently gets cold. My strategy is to keep warm and make a fashion statement – no plain black wool for me thank you very much. Admittedly, summer is not the most motivating time for scarf shopping, but I’m always thinking ahead and keeping an eye out for something special.

Enter mogwaii, a contemporary furnishings and fashion design studio run by the very talented Sarah Campbell. Aside from the scarves, the shop also carries hats, bags, throws, cushions, lamps and blinds. I love the texture and dimensionality of her designs. Truly fabulous.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

on my nightstand

I love books, but unfortunately rarely have time to sit down and read one from start to finish. Usually I have about ten going at a time in various stages of completion. Here’s what’s in my stack this week:

“Paddy’s Lament” – research for an Irish heritage project; it’s a sobering read.

”First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You” - who doesn’t need help with this?

”Visioning: Ten Steps to Designing the Life of Your Dreams” - always looking for creativity sparks

”Collage Discovery Workshop: Beyond the Unexpected”
- the author was featured in our local paper and I fell in love with her Poppet® designs. I SO want to go to her workshop in Cortona, Italy next spring.

”The Artist’s Sketchbook” - looking for ways to let go and speed up my perfectionist rendering technique

”Drawing From Life: The Journal as Art” - more creativity and visual journaling techniques…a bit of an obsession lately

”The House in Good Taste” - the Elsie de Wolfe classic which I can’t believe I’m only just now reading

”The Elements of Style” - because my dad said everyone should have a copy and my good friend suttonhoo sold me on the illustrations by Maira Kalman

”Interior Graphic Standards” - hardcore interior design specs

The Architect’s Studio Companion: Rules of Thumb for Preliminary Design” - because I’m a glutton for punishment

And last but not least:
”Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity” - for obvious reasons ;)

Saturday, July 22, 2006


I love T.J. Maxx. It’s where I scored my new favorite bag, a Donald J. Pliner Infinity Quilted Shopper at less than half the full retail price. Not only is the bag easy on the eyes with the fabulous stitching and subtle metallic color with fresh green interior, but it also is comfortably soft on your shoulder or in your hand and still maintains it’s shape when you set it down. But what really makes this my favorite is the zippered center section with interior pockets and the two open sections on the sides for quick access to my sunglasses, keys and Burt’s Bees lip balm. Form and function. Now that’s good design.

If you don't care for sparkle, you can pick one up in either white or camel for 30% off at Nordstrom.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

travel rule #1

Never pass up the opportunity to take a good, long, hot shower.

You may think it’s a good idea to wait until morning to be *fresh* for your journey but you’ll regret it sorely when you wake to find your hotel’s plumbing has gone belly-up then realize the shower at your next hotel is shooting hot salt water into your eyes leaving you crustier than when you started and spend the next week on a sailboat attempting to rinse off quickly with a shower wand while straddling a toilet, trying to maintain some scrap of dignity in the cramped space as you bend over to pick up the soap you’ve dropped for the 10th time as crewmates on deck peer at you through the hatch skylight…until you finally abandon your standards of cleanliness altogether just in time for your return home to civilization.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Italian comfort food

I’m a lazy cook and a food snob. There I’ve said it. I like delicious meals that can be made in one or two pots max with minimal supervision. Actually, what I really prefer is when my husband, the gourmet, whips up something magical in the kitchen leaving only one or two pots for me to clean up.

When it’s my turn to man the stovetop, I usually rely on my battered copy of “Cucinando con Vera” to guide me through tried and true recipes from cooking classes I took in Naples, Italy. One of my favorites is a one pot (!) dish that is standard fare in Neapolitan families: pasta e fagioli (pasta and beans).

½ lb. dry cannellini or white beans
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
7 oz. small tube pasta or tubetti
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup olive oil
2 qts. Water
2 cloves garlic, crushed or minced
salt to taste

Soak the beans overnight and drain. Add all the above ingredients to a pot, except pasta and salt. Cover the pot and bring mixture to a boil. Keep mixture at a low boil continuously until beans are cooked (add water if needed) and almost all water has evaporated. Add the pasta and salt, stirring frequently to prevent sticking, adding a little water if necessary while pasta is cooking. Cook ‘til done. Serves 4-6

Note 1: The pasta and beans are meant to be cooked until a state of *mushiness* in the traditional Neapolitan fashion. It’s also served up pretty dry so it’ll stick to your ribs. However, I prefer it with the pasta cooked al dente and a little saucier so I usually add more water and keep a close eye on noodle firmness.

Note 2: After years of experimentation, I have pretty much doubled the main seasonings, i.e. basil, parsley and garlic, because I like stronger flavors. I sometimes even add in a couple of hot peppers to spice things up. Otherwise it just ends up tasting like paste to me. But that’s me, do whatever sounds good to you. There are no hard and fast rules with this dish.

Note 3: I cheat and use a can of beans 95% of the time. In this case, I boil everything but the beans, pasta and salt in a smaller quantity of water for a while before adding the beans. Then I let the beans cook long enough to soften up and take on the spice flavors before adding the pasta. This is a much faster method and suitable for last minute meals.


art of the handbag

I have two great loves: fiber arts and bags. So you can imagine how excited I was to come across the yahoo group AGirlCanNeverHaveTooManyHandbags, a forum for people who “make, buy, collect or just plain love handbags”.

The group is led by Prudence Mapstone, an Australian fiber artist known for her freeform designs. Attending one of her classes, preferably in Australia, is at the top of my workshop wish list.

You can check out some of the group’s creative handiwork at their virtual exhibit. My "felted hipster pursette" is featured in the March 2006 show.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

world's longest yard sale

It’s almost time. In a little over two weeks, hundreds of thousands of bargain shoppers will descend upon a 450 mile stretch of US Route 127 from Covington, Kentucky, through Tennessee and Georgia, to Gadsden Alabama for the world’s longest yard sale . The sale, which started in 1987, runs for four days beginning the first Thursday of every August.

A few years ago, four generations of the women in my family piled into a couple of SUVs for a day of camaraderie and a little friendly competition over custard dishes and folk art furniture. Sacks full of candy bars and peanut butter crackers were our only provisions. I was the designated driver for my grandmother, mom and aunt. My cousins manned the other vehicle and attempted to take the advantage with their eagle eye kids as scouts. But while they had youth and vigor on their side, we had 100 extra years of collective bargain hunting experience on ours.

At first we stayed together, relying on urgent hand signals indicating possible treasures ahead. As the day wore on we leapfrogged each other, scoping out territory and reporting back to the team. That year we braved scorching heat and torrential downpours but came away with truckloads of dishes, furniture, artwork, vintage linens, watering cans, glassware and the deep satisfaction of a job well done.

Most of my finds are in daily use while others, like the set of vintage ice cream sundae glasses that I had to have, still sit unused in my cupboard three years later. I suppose I should pass them on to someone else but, even now, I remember the thrill of peeking into a sodden card board box shoved under a wobbly card table and seeing them for the first time. For now, they stay - at least until next year when I need to make room for my haul from the 20th anniversary of the sale.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Chicago to-do list

Last spring I headed to Chicago to visit a good friend for a much needed girls only vacation. We were both exhausted from too much work and not enough play and planned to spend a few days of nothing but relaxing, chatting, shopping and eating (in no particular order).

To start things out right, we got rooms at the stunning and ultra luxurious Hotel Burnham downtown. Highly recommended - if you get only one chick weekend a year, you might as well go all out.

I had done some research before arriving and had two items on my wish list that were MUST DO’s. First was a visit to P.O.S.H., which advertises “an eclectic assortment of vintage Hotel Silver, Restaurant China & Flea Market Finds” from America and Europe. To me that represented a shopping trifecta – vintage goods, European pedigree, restaurant-ware. My only disappointment was that I had room neither in my luggage nor my cupboards back home for a set of dishes from Provence. Sigh.

The second critical item on my to-do list was a trip to the Lincoln Park shop of 1154 Lill Studio to create my own custom handbag. Opening the door to the vast array of colorful fabrics and handbag options sent a tingle zipping up my spine. If you’re into bags and textiles even a little bit then you know what I mean. You can order custom designs from their website but being able to play around with the fabrics in person is much more satisfying. They have representatives in select cities around the country for home handbag parties which, if you ask me, sounds a lot more fun than gathering around plastic ware or candles.

After a good hour of design deliberations, we staggered over to Ethel’s Chocolate Lounge, a brilliant concept, to recuperate with a dose of life-affirming hot chocolate and assorted truffle chasers. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to both of us, my friend had developed a nasty case of pneumonia and was able to hold it together just long enough to drive us back to the suburbs before collapsing into bed for the rest of the weekend. Had it not been for Ethel’s chocolate, I’m not sure she would have made it.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


I have the bug - the travel / workshop bug that is. Just the thought of jetting off to Tuscany, paint brushes in tow, for a week of plein air painting and pasta makes me giddy. Packing my glue and scissors for a week of collaging at a historic 200-year-old farm in New England, while maybe not as glamorous, sounds relaxing and soul-fueling.

The search for the perfect art getaway is not an easy task. There are countless options to be found on the ‘net alone and that doesn’t even include the gems that are less well-advertised. Nevertheless, I’m on a quest to track them down. If you have any suggestions, send ‘em my way. I’ll post the workshops of interest as I come across them and when I finally make up my mind, you’ll be the first to know.

dinner of champions

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as indulging a craving, is there?

Sure you might regret it later when you have to pop another antacid and stay up late sitting bolt upright watching "Forrest Gump" for the fifth time on TBS so the reflux doesn’t kill you in your sleep, but in the moment, when the nutella first hits your taste buds, it’s liberating to embrace the unadulterated immoderation.