A Seafaring Day

Since we're at the beach, today became a day for exploring the sea. This morning, we headed up to Wilmington to see the U.S.S. North Carolina, a battleship from WWII. It's a self-led tour, where you get to visit a vast majority of the ship's inner workings. We saw the engine room, crew's quarters, turrets, command center, and lots more. The kitchen was huge, with bread mixers and kitchen aids large enough to feed a navy. We were facinated by the analog computers in the plotting room, containing rows upon rows of transistors for navigational computing. And in the storage room, they had a old box from Garlock Packing, the company my grandfather worked for near Buffalo, NY. It was nice to see a piece of history that served in every major battle in the Pacific.

We then headed down to Calabash for dinner at Captain John's, one of a row of seafood restaurants. Calabash is the local shrimp capital, so most of us ordered either fried or saute'ed shrimp. It was large portions of medium-sized shrimp, and it tasted wonderful. We especially liked the hushpuppies appetizer.

As a final homage to the sea, we took in a movie with Dad, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, his second time, our first. Not knowing exactly what to expect, except high-seas action, it was a surprisingly good movie. It has all the plot twists of a thriller with the historical feel of a documentary. We felt like we were on the H.M.S. Surprise right along with the crew, experiencing the battles, dead time, graphic surgery, sea sickness, everything. The friendship of the capitan and the doctor was well-explored, and it was fun to see a naturalist experiencing the Galapogos Islands for the first time. We highly recommend seeing this movie.

Posted by Mark @ 10:49 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Happy Thanksgiving

This year for Thanksgiving, we're visiting family in North Carolina. It's hard living far away from family, so holidays are always special. For now, we're doing the alternating holidays, so it's Christmas in Texas and then New Years again in North Carolina. My parents made the trip from WV to see my brother and sister-in-law, and their almost two year old son, and then we all traveled over to a house on Ocean Isle Beach. For the big meal, we had a wonderful meal with all the familiar foods, turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, cranberry jelly, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes (I've been the designated potato-masher for the past few years) and gravy, with pumpkin and fruit pies for dessert.

It's amazing to see our nephew growing up. He already knows his colors, shapes, a few numbers and loves his VeggieTales. He can identify Bob the Tomato, Larry the Cucumber and the whole crew, and loves to eat tomatoes for lunch, which he calls "Bobs". He is also getting good at drawing with crayons; we had lots of fun drawing cartoon characters and abstract art. It really warms our hearts to hear him say "Mark" and "Laura" when someone points at us. Our nephew is the coolest kid ever.

Posted by Mark @ 8:11 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

First Snow in Wisconsin

Today Mark and I saw the first snow of the season blanketing the ground. Coming from central Texas, I am awed by the delicate beauty of snowflakes. My first winter in Wisconsin 4 years ago gave me more snow than I could ever dream (they say it happens about every 4 years here; it has been four years now since I first came, perhaps this winter will be another one to remember!). It also taught me how to dress for the cold weather: clothing (layering is a must) and down jackets :) The decorative scarves of the south became a necessity along with mittens (not gloves).

Since there was so much snow that first year, I got very interested in snowflakes (the love vs hate approach to dealing with something you can't influence- like the amount of snow I encountered that year). I discovered why the Eskimos have over 30 different names for "snow." Depending on the varying weather conditions (temp, humidity), different types of snowflakes fall. By "types" I mean snowflakes form into different shapes. This lead me to a wonderful site of the Willson A. Bently, The Snowflake Man. To the left is an image of one of the annual pewter snowflakes sold at the Bently site. This year Mark happily surprised me with this beautiful pewter snowflake for our christmas tree. To learn more about how these wonderful beauties are created, I highly recommend Kenneth G. Libbrecht's site.

Posted by Laura @ 10:22 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

Finale of Twin Peaks

This afternoon, we finally rolled through the last episode of Twin Peaks. It was trippy to say the least, and we found a lot of interesting things. The soap opera quality was definately gripping, and we liked how each episode confined itself to a single day. This made the pace of the show very deliberate; at times, we wanted to fast forward through some of the subplots (and there were about 10 subplots). The first season seemed much more complete than the second season, where new personality quirks were being added without hope of resolution. And in the end, there is no resolution, since the show was cancelled after two seasons, leaving the large cliffhangers unanswered. For us, it jumped the shark when they discovered the murderer or Laura Palmer (spoilers in that link, beware), but it was becoming more interesting in dealing with the White and Black Lodges near the end. Perhaps some of the loose ends will be wrapped up in the prequel Fire Walk With Me, but I doubt it. Overall, we'd recommend the series to anyone with an interest in the quirky and weird.

Posted by Mark @ 9:29 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Asian Cookery Week

This week we had a great time exploring Asian food. Since I had a craving for chinese, our Friday night dinner was a happy overview of chinese food at the Chinese Buffet at Peking Palace. Mark particularly enjoyed the General's Chicken and I got the idea to make sushi ;)

There has been many a time when either Mark or I have gone to Whole foods to get a pack of california rolls (I still can't bare the thought of "true" sushi). Come to find out, making sushi was not as difficult as we thought and oodles of fun. I got the gist of ingredients and method from Mark Hutchenreuther's fabulous site. I new that there was a special grain of rice used, but not that rice vinegar is added to the warm cooked rice.

We were able to purchase the 3 special ingredients (nori- seaweed, sushi rice, rice vinegar) from our local grocery store- but when in doubt, Whole foods has everything. I recommend the use of imitation crab meat and Mark loves adding avacado to the rolls. We both liked the color of julienne carrots in the rolls too. And when using cucumbers, I cut out the gelatenous and seeded center to avoid getting too much water in the rolls. For some tips on what to expect when visiting a sushi resturant, check out Eating and Making Sushi.

While I would have thought making sushi was time consuming, once the rice is cooked (while it is cooking you can prepare the other ingredients to go inside of the sushi roll) each roll takes at most 5 minutes to make. One catch is to make sure that you have a sharp knife for cutting the rolls and that you clean it often since the rice can "gum" up your knife.

We also had the fortune to make Pork Teriyaki inspired by recipes at A excellent recipe that should work well for chicken or beef too. I noticed that you should add a substantial amount of Teriyaki to ensure the flavor comes through. Just be careful when you add the seasame seeds- if added to early they tend loose their distinct flavor, and if too late then they taste raw and stand out.

To conclude our week of exploring asian meals (and the need to work late on Thursday when I have to finish my grading my 8am Friday), we took a trip down the street from work to SukhoThai. I enjoyed my shitaki, white button and straw mushroom thai dish, while Mark sampled the sweet & sour chicken with bell pepper.

Posted by Laura @ 8:27 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Making Blockprints

I finally made it to the scanner on campus and posted some images from our paper making weekend. You'll find there some of our marbled paper, handmade paper, and two blockprints that I carved that weekend. The marbled paper turned out really well, but the handmade paper was hard to scan. It's more texture than actual color, and really needs to be seen in person.

I'm using Speedball carving tools and ink on 4" x 5" linoleum blocks. The two prints there now are called "Foyer" and "Dining Room". I've noticed that most artists have series of works, so the plan is to someday make a whole house, well, only the first floor; I'm working on the study right now, with kitchen, living room, washroom and garage to follow. I like exploring the house, finding symmetry within and between each room. I'd like the house to be possibly populated, but sometimes that makes for a cluttered image; It's hard to find the balance between abstractness and practicality.

Posted by Mark @ 3:36 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Russian Week

On a recent outing to our local St. Vincent de Paul store, we found a classic cookbook, The Frugal Goumet on our Immigrant Ancestors. Like our meals, it is organized by ethnicity, with recipes from Armenian and Ethiopian to Welsh and Yugoslavian. This will keep our brains and stomachs occupied for a long time.

For our first meal, we chose the Russian Stroganoff. This was definately more minimal than other stroganoff recipes we've tried. Just to be different, we chose to use ostrich meat, and the result was excellent. The Frugal Gourmet recommends serving this dish on top of kasha, made primarily from Arrowhead Mills Buckwheat Groats. They don't have a specific webpage on the groats yet, but check back soon. They definately smell potent and earthy when they're being cooked. We added a lot of pepper and salt per the recipe, and will add less next time, as it combined with the groat flavor was overpowering.

As a side dish, we boiled up some romanesco broccoli that we found recently at the Dane County Farmers' Market. It looked so fractal and cool we just had to try some, and it tasted better than any broccoli or cauliflower we'd eaten before! Last week was the final market until spring time; we'll really miss seeing all the fresh produce, breads and cheeses.

To round out the week, we had some ziti topped with Victoria's Vodka Sauce. Ok, it's not strictly a Russian dish, but we think it fits. Victoria's claim to have the original commercial vodka sauce and the best; we found it thinner and less flavorful than Newman's Own, still our personal favorite.

We'll probably finish up with a stew from How To Make Soup this weekend, stay tuned.

Posted by Mark @ 12:44 AM CDT [Permanent URL]

Paper extravaganza III : Origami

While Laura led the paper-making and marbling experiments, I helped out with Origami, happily folding away an afternoon. We had fun making a number of creatures, from prehistoric birds to timely black cats, as well as some containers, flowers, and cubes. My favorite origami book is the Origami Omnibus. It has so many designs in a lot of different genre, such as masks, animals, mathematical shapes, etc. Sometimes the instructions are not exactly clear, with a few typos and such, and a few of the pieces seem designed for large sheets of paper, as the folding gets very difficult near the end, but it's comprehensive, and tells you a little bit about each type of piece as you fold it.

Laura's favorite book, and a great introduction to paper-folding, is
Teach Yourself Origami. This takes you step by step from simple to hard, teaching you important folds along the way, like the mountain fold, inside reverse fold, and ever-popular frog base. We could have used these instructions on how to divide a square into thirds while making a small vase, but everything turned out well.

There are a number of good reference sites on the web for finding folds and patterns. Joseph Wu hosts an excellently designed and comprehensive site with many popular designs, such as my favorite, the
Kawasaki Rose. His links section is more comprehensive than I could hope to be here. Someday I would like to create my own designs, but I have yet to find a good book on the subject. Please let me know if you know of one.

Posted by Mark @ 2:03 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Paper extravaganza II : Marbling

On Sunday, we also had a bit of fun with marbling. When I was in high school I first tried the craft and was amazed at what wonderful abstract creations you can make easily and quickly.

Marbling has three main parts: size, marbling paints, and paper. The size is the liquid used to float the paints on. The liquid does not have to be overly dense. The first time I marbled I created a mixture of gelitin and water to create a size (I wouldn't recomend it since the gelitin needs to remain cool to stay the right consistency; it is also difficult to remove the sticky gelitin from the marbled paper) but this time I found that purchasing powdered carageenen from your local artists supply store works best. The preperation envolves adding three cups of warm water to a blender with one tablespoon of carageenen and blenderize until well mixed. Pour the mixture into a prepared waterproof tub. Repeat. Add eight more cups of warm water to the tub and mix all together well (The depth of your size should be between 1-1.5 inches- more is just a waste). Let the mixture rest for 12 hours (putting a plastic sheet over it to reduce evaporation).

Meanwhile you can prepare the paints. While the size is thicker than plain water, care must be taken to ensure your paints are not too heavy (so they won't sink to the bottom of the size). One type of paint that works well (and is inexpensive) is artist acrylic (no gloss, they will sink). For the containers I like 5oz Solo cups. Fill your containers with your colors (1-2 tablespoons works well) and add an equal amount of water (distilled or filtered). Then add one drop of ox gall to each color (this helps to spread evenly and smoothly across the size and reduces sinking of colors).

To distribute the colored dots on the size, it works best to create small whisks. For mine, I first trimmed my broom. Then I trimmed the broom straw to 3 or 4 inches. Bunching the straw at one end, you can wrap twine or rubber bands to secure the straw. Create one wisk per color.

Now you are ready to marble. Uncover your tray of size and stir your colors up well with the wisks. Take you first color out (this will likely be the veins of the pattern you create) and holding the wisk with one hand- tap it with you index finger. Repeat with all the colors you want to use - note that you have complete control over the size of the droplets (if they are too large at first then tap the wisk in your color container first - the drops will tend to start large and tapper down). Once you like the distribution of your paints, you have the option of using a stylus (toothpicks work well) and swirling patterns in the ink. Remember that all of the ink is on the surface so you only have to dip the stylus a small amount into the size.

When you have the pattern you want, take a piece of paper and gently lay it on the size; starting by laying one end of one corner of the paper towards the other works well. Do not drag the paper across the size, it will distort your pattern. (I have read that it is better to prepare your paper (so the colors will adhear better) with 1 tbsp of alum to 1 gallon of water - sponging the solution onto the paper evenly and letting it dry - but since I am allergic I skip this step with no ill results) Once you have your paper on top of the size, grab the edges and place on a flat water proof surface. Now gently sprinkle water on the paper to remove excess carageenen. Then lay your paper out to dry (by a fan on low works well), it should be dry over night or sooner.

Note that after you remove the first paper from the colors there are still colors left on the size- even if they appear faint they will make nice stationary.

More info on marbling can be found at these sites:

These are just a bit of notes and tidbits that I picked up while experimenting with some fun crafts with my friends. Good luck with projects of your own!

Posted by Laura @ 10:10 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Paper extravaganza I : Handmade Paper

This Sunday we had a wonderful paper-filled weekend ;) To join in the fun several of our friends came over: Ina, Irene, Beth, Kathleen, Lorene, and Maleeha. I focused on helping make handmade paper and marbling while Mark had a great time helping make wonderful origami creations.

Given the right supplies and a bit of ingenutity, making paper is lots of fun! First you will need a mould and deckle (the frames to shape the paper). The mould is the part which contains the screen (your local hardware store has great inexpensive screen for screen doors). While the deckle goes on top of the screen to create a great boarder for the paper pulp. An easy frame is using two embroidery hoops (these will make circular paper) or select appropriately sized frames from the embroidery section of your local craft store (we liked the 8" and 11"). The embroidery hoop mould involves loosening the outer hoop, placing a screen on the hoop (as you would normally fabric), and fastening the outer hoop back in place. You now have the mould; for the deckle, just use the outer hoop of the second embroidry hoop. A similar process is needed for the embroidery frames. First create the two equally sized frames. Then attach the screen to the exterior perimeter of one frame (I like the staple gun for this) and you now have the mould. The other frame makes the deckle.

You also need some kind of container, perferably large and clear plastic. I find that the clear plastic helps me to see clearly what is happening with the density of water to pulp. We used a large plastic storage container (which normally store clothes for the off seasons). After placing the bin on a stable surface, I added enough water to fill 1/3 of the container. Now put a 1/4 cup of cotton linter into a blender containing 3/4 full of warm water (warmth for your hands and to help the linter absorb the water quicker). This blender should only be used for paper-making and not for food. Then just pulse the blender until the linter is evenly distributed. Pour the solution into the plastic container and repeat at least 4 times for your first batch of paper.

Once the pulp is prepared and ready to be used, it is important to evenly distribute the pulp in the container (an easy method is to put your hand into the water and make a couple of figure-eights). Place the deckle on top of the mould (screen side up) and grip it tightly with both hands. Dip the mould into the pulp mixture. To do this appropriately, start at the back of your tank of water, place the mould and deckle perpendicular to the table, drag the mould and deckle down into the water, and in a smooth motion flatten it out horizontal to the bottom of the tank. Here you can wait a bit, and then pull the mould and deckle straight up and out of the water. Let the water drain, as there will be quite a bit (we are using cotton).

Now remove the deckle; you should have the outline of a nice piece of evenly distributed pulp. If the distribution is not even and you want to start over, just invert your screen and touch the pulp to the top of the water - all the pulp should come smoothly off. Now just repeat the previous paragraph. One note: if you think that your paper looks really thin, just remember that everything is wet and looks a bit translucent right now. If you still think that it looks too thin, redip the mould and deckle into the water. Just move slowly, otherwise you are lible to loose all of your previous hard work.

To remove the "future" paper from the screen of the mould, first place a piece of pressed felt (slightly larger than paper size) onto the lid of the storage container. Now we need to couch the paper, meaning "remove it from the mould." Invert the mould on the felt and sponge the back of the screen well. This helps to release the paper from the screen. Starting at one corner, slowly lift up the mould and seperate the fibers from the mould (you may need to use your fingernails or a knife to help the process). At this point you have a piece of very wet paper. You can either stop here, or create a sandwiched piece of paper.

For sandwiched paper, at this point, add whatever you want to the paper (i.e. leaves, crumbled leaves, sawdust, seeds, yarn pieces, fabric pieces, etc). Now create another sheet of paper and place that sheet on top of your first. Couch the new sheet of paper, and you're all set. If you would like to place glitter or confetti paper pieces, you can put them on while the paper is still wet.

To dry the paper, place another piece of felt on top of the paper and apply pressure (or a good pile of books) to press the fibers together for a denser sheet and remove as much water as possible. After 5-10 minutes you can remove the top layer of felt and either lay your paper out to dry by a fan, or put an ironing cloth on top and steam more of the water out of your paper. You now have a piece of homemade paper!

As a note, we found that adding powdered spices can create a sticky and dirty iron very quickly, be warned. I did try paper from cloth, and unless you have a holland beater, I wouldn't recomend this effecient way to destroy a blender before it's time. Also, if you can't find cotton linters, you can purchase pulp via mail.

Here are a few of the sites I visited to learn about paper making:

More on marbling in the next entry...

Posted by Laura @ 10:10 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Pizza Pizza!

As we had many leftover mushroom dishes from last week, it was a slow week for cooking. Wednesday night we splurged, and ordered out for pizza from Buck's Pizza, a little shop up on Midvale Blvd. We found some coupons, so it was two for one night, one mushroom and olives, the other ham and extra cheese. Their pizza has a very thin crust, and is cut into small squares, which made it feel like we were eating mini-pizza bites. If you like thin pizza, this is a great place. One warning, they're only for pick-up, no delivery.

We couldn't get over our pizza hankering, so Friday we mixed up some homemade pizza. For the dough, we usually use the standard Bisquick biscut recipe, with maybe some oregano thrown in for spice. Top with tomato sauce, then olives and cheese, pop in the oven for 15 - 20 minutes at 425 deg, and you're all set! This gave us a great chance to use our new baking stone and pizza peel, which couldn't have worked better.

We'll have to finish up the pizza this weekend, since next week is Russian Week!

Posted by Mark @ 10:56 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Up with Movies

Last night, we finally were able to find Down With Love at our video store. My brother recommended we first watch Pillow Talk, an old Doris Day - Rock Hudson movie, and he was right. Doris Day and Rock Hudson share a telephone line (we guess this was common back then) and quickly get on each others nerves. Hilarity and complications ensue as they meet in real life, Rock in disguise, and fall in love.

Down With Love was set in exactly the same era, early 60s, and tried to emulate the same feel and carefree attitude. The jokes were so much funnier given the Pillow Talk context, especially the multiple light switches, fake southern accent, split screen phone conversations and seeing the town montage. While the attitudes towards both men and women in Pillow Talk were a little outdated, Down With Love was the perfect remedy. Oh, and David Hyde Pierce played the Tony Randall part (hapless friend to suave male lead) excellently.

Posted by Mark @ 11:08 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Friends and Blockprints

Look! It's our friends Dave and Teena in the picture on the right! We received an email that they'd be nearby visiting their aunt and uncle, so we were able to pop over Sunday afternoon for a spot of blueberry tea. It was great to see them again and just sit and talk about life.

Dave's uncle, Marvin Hill, is a blockprint artist, so there was an added bonus of seeing his studio in action. Wow. I've always been impressed by his artwork, and seeing it all in one place and some of his inspirations was a real treat. We own a few pieces that we've been able to pick up at the Art Fair on the Square (such as Soo-oop of the E-e-evening, Beautiful, Beautiful Soup) and just love looking around his booth. I've been inspired him and our friend Natalie, another really cool artist, to start drawing and carving up some blocks, one of which turned into our "Thank you" note stationary from our wedding (pictured above). It's a fun and relaxing hobby that makes me wish I had more time.

Coming up this weekend is the Winter Art Festival, where we should be able to find more of his work on display. We might also see Ken Swanson, another block printer from Racine (the link goes to a sample of his work). If our feet don't give out, there should be enough art to lose ourselves for hours. :)

Posted by Mark @ 5:36 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Pumpkin Aquariums

This morning, we kept up our Halloween tradition of carving pumpkins. Our garden was very kind this year, giving us three pumpkins, one of which was large enough to fit some carving. Cubs provided the other carving pumpkin. It's a nice way to create some art, and since the darkness is very forgiving of mistakes, it usually turns out well no matter what.

We've found that using stencil templates is the way to go. Someone else takes care of most of the complicated decisions about how to make the outlines join, what to draw, etc. Laura chose to make a mini-aquarium, with a few free-swimming fish and seaweed, while I carved out a koi, many of which live in Laura's pond in Texas. They seemed to get along well together, so we took some pictures. We're already planning out next year's designs.

Posted by Mark @ 9:50 PM CDT [Permanent URL]

Capping off Mushroom Week

There is one recipe that my Dad makes the I can eat every day of the week - Chicken with Olives and Mushrooms. The flavors in this meal are really unique and special. I remember the first time I saw my dad cooking olives, I wasn't sure what he was doing, but it turned out wonderful and is a true bounty of flavors on your pallet. Fortunately, this recipe is full of one of our favorite spices: rosemary. Served on a bed of jasmine rice, this dish is a treat. Unfortunately, I decided to mess with perfection and added both chicken stock and a thickner - not recomended. The juice will soak in well with the rice, so no thickner is needed.

To end our week of joy with mushrooms we traveled south of Middleton to the appropriately named Morels Restaurant. We should have known we were in for a treat once they served the amazing assortment of fresh dinner rolls with real butter. This wonderful evening we went all out starting with a spicy garlic mushroom pate served with toasted french bread and decorated with fruit and zig-zag cut cheese. Then we treated ourselves to a mushroom bisque - both Mark and I agree, we don't care what they put in it (cream, butter, cheese...) but we love it and couldn't get enough. We did find out that it has 5 mushrooms in it: chanterells, porchini, white buttons, and shitake, and another one, we can't remember. I would travel out there again just for a taste of that wonderful bisque!! Then for dinner I got Pheasant En Croute which was slightly gamier tasting than chicken, but deliciously moist and stuffed with minced mushrooms served in a liquer cream sauce with wild rice and steamed sliced carrots. Mark made another great choice with Chicken and Chantrelle Linguini which was a light chantrelle cream sauce over linguini, served with butternut squash and steamed sliced carrots. Overall it was the perfect touch to end our week of mushroom enjoyment (not that it will ever truly end ;) ).

Posted by Laura @ 9:38 PM CDT [Permanent URL]