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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Caffeinated Artwork

In an effort to step away from recipe blogging for a hot minute, I thought I’d share a painting technique I really enjoy.  Obviously my influences come from my career as a tattoo artist and my background in watercolors, but I think this is something that can be easily mastered and used to enhance a lot of differently styled projects.  Also, it makes your artwork smell kinda yummy.

 I decided, not so long ago, that it was high time that I get myself a professional website with which to promote my artwork (although, to date, it’s not up yet so you’ll have to sate your eyeballs’ cravings for artwork on my Facebook Fan Page or my Deviant Art Page).  Since Adam has built webpages for a living in the past, I put him on the job.  We decided on a domain name, got it registered with a host and now it’s on to the tougher parts!  I decided that I’d like to paint the background textures to be used for my site.  Since the focus is going to be photographs of my artwork and tattoos, I want to avoid excessive colors that might mute the brightness of the images.   One of my favorite ways to introduce monochromatic texture into a watercolor painting (which tends to be my painting medium of choice for the moment) is by using something called a coffee wash.

Many artists (especially tattoo artists who paint flash) use the coffee wash technique to tone the painting, or to make a piece look aged or antique.  Some use tea, some coffee, there are even artists who paint using only these as their pigments.   It’s a fun and easy way to add texture to a design without taking away from the focus, and can make painting of a tattoo design look more like it would on the skin, since skin isn’t paper white, but tinted to varying degrees.  Using coffee wash can yield a great variety of textures and can provide an excellent vehicle for creative unblocking and abstract play.

Coffee wash is often seen in the artwork generated by the tattoo community, such as seen in the work of Angelique Houtkamp for example.  (She’s totally one of my favorite artists lately, I just love her style)

So where to get started?   I like to work on watercolor paper, though some prefer Bristol board.  The bottom line is that it’s all personal preference and experimentation is your BFF.  As you can see in the photo, for this exercise, I taped four squares cut from one larger sheet with masking tape to separate my effects but allow me to work fairly closely together.  (Once again, you can see that clearly I don’t do anything halfway…or with much patience for drying time, though I’m working on that)

the highly organized creation station

As you can see from this picture, I like to keep a variety of sizes and shapes of paintbrushes on hand, as well as a clear-water rinse for my brushes.  In the center, you can see a cup of coffee that was leftover in the coffeepot this morning.  Some people have ideas about instant coffee or brewing the coffee extra strong to make darker tints.  I’ve generally just used coffee that sat on the burner all morning, but just like any other watercolor, you can layer to make it darker as needed once the initial wash dries.  The one thing I do need to mention is that the washes ALWAYS dry darker than they look!  Sometimes it looks like nothing is happening at all, you walk away for 10 minutes and BOOM, suddenly there’s this crazy cool looking stuff going on all over the paper you were about to give up as a “redo”.

 Now there are a variety to effects that can be created by simply wetting the surface evenly with the coffee and then allowing it to settle or dry unevenly by periodically adding drops, drips, splatters or streaks as the initial wash slowly dries, as seen in this close-up.

Drips and Dribbles, all dried up

Another approach involves adding things to the drying process.  After flooding the paper with coffee and allowing either an even amount of settling, or by adding wetter strokes/areas, sprinkle salt over the area and allow to dry flat.

The salts I happend to have on hand in the pantry

Try both coarse and fine grain salt, as well as varying the concentration of your sprinkles, you’ll be amazed by how varied they can each be when you play with them a little!

Salty, just like me

The salt grains melt and push the stain into feathery lines as it dries.  Once it’s completely dry, you can remove the excess salt (gently) with a soft gum eraser.  There are any number of other wonderful techniques described in detail here that can be applied to coffee wash experimentation, so give it a try!  I’d love to see what you came up with!


DIY Almond and Rice Milks!

Okay, so maybe I’m still just riding high on how satisfying it has been to completely cease and desist on buying prepackaged chicken and vegetable stocks at the store because I learned how to make them myself, but when I saw these two articles, I had to share them.

I love almond milk.  I’m nuts for it.  There.  That’s right, I said it.  Moving on.  Rice milk has been a good friend on occasion too, but almond milk stole my heart (and my cereal) a long time ago.  I used to have pretty pronounced lactose intolerance, but since going gluten free about a year ago, that seems to have gotten WAAAAY better.

I’m totally going to try making both of these at some point in the near-ish future, but since I was too excited to wait and show my results, I’ll leave you with the instruction pages, if you try either one, please tell me how it came out!!

How To Make Almond Milk

How To Make Rice Milk

Lentil Love Affair, part 1 – Lentil Soup

Somehow, when I make soup, I feel more free to experiment and less stressed about “making a mistake” than I do when I’m, say for example, baking a cake, or perfecting a new side dish.  Maybe it just feels more like an open-ended equation than a concrete formula for success, maybe it’s all in my head.  But I guess in the end, all that really matters is that I’m satisfied with the final result (which I always seem to be).raw lentils

The soup I’m going to be talking about is one that I feel is too often under-appreciated.  It’s loaded with nutrition and flavor, high in fiber, low in fat, and undeniably hearty and satisfying.  It’s also one that is all too often given a bad rep’ by bland preparations, or just a lack of know-how when it comes to ‘zazzing it up.  If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about the red-headed step-child of the legume family, the oft misunderstood lentil.

Let me feed your brain with a little knowledge first; Lentils have been commonly consumed as a major part of traditional vegetarian diets, particularly in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, where there are large vegetarian populations.  With high levels of dietary fiber, protein, iron, folate, and vitamin B1, lentils are a total nutritional powerhouse.  In fact, a single cup of cooked lentils can provide 90% of the RDA of Folic Acid.  As an expecting momma-to-be, that’s a serious nutritional punch!  Lentils also happen to extremely cost effective, too, which is ALWAYS a big plus around our house!

There are many loyal devotees to the lovely lentil; some of the most ardent in our own backyard appear to be the lovely folks in Pullman, Washington, where the National Lentil Festival has been held annually since 1989.  You can check out the details of the festival here.

My love affair with the lentil wasn’t always so passionate; as a child, my first experience with lentils was less than delicious.  It was in the elementary school cafeteria, and it was the standard-issue condensed & reconstituted Campbell’s Soup.  It smelled pretty good, to be honest, but it literally tasted like lentil-water (no offense, Campbell’s).   Since my dear old dad really isn’t much a fan of it either (likely from similar experiences in his life), it was never really served in my house growing up.  It wasn’t until I attempted to make my first batch of split pea soup (which is yet another soup that I have incidentally had poor experiences with until preparing it for myself) at Adam’s request and he was so thrilled with my discoveries, that he turned to me and begged me to try my hand at lentils.  His former roommate had made it on several occasions, and it was one of his favorite kinds of soup.  Still riding the high from my split pea success, I agreed to give it a whirl.  I spent some intensive research time, reading up on any number of recipes for lentil soup (and there are about a million and one, by the way, if you’re counting).  The one that influenced my own recipe the most was one I found by Emeril Lagasse, which is as simple as it is satisfying.  I also found inspiration via searching through, where this recipe  and this recipe both piqued my interest.

In the end, I came up with my own personal formula, which I’m about to share with you.  I hope you enjoy it and find enough inspiration here to overcome your own fear or mistrust of lentils, and maybe even come up with your own version!   Be advised that, since everything I do tends to be industrial strength, the recipe is very easily doubled, and once people taste it, it goes quick!  Also, as long as the bullion/stocks you choose are wheat/gluten-free (or even better yet, make your own!), this soup is perfect for those of us avoiding wheat.


The Cast and Crew


1 large onion (or 2 small), chopped

2-3 Carrots, sliced

2-3 Celery ribs, sliced

3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled, smashed and chopped

1 package of dried lentils, rinsed and sorted

1 lb. Meat of choice (approximately, adjust to your tastes; I suggest turkey-ham, or turkey-sausage, but if pork is more your thing, feel free to sub in whatever floats your boat)

1 32 oz. carton of vegetable stock (or about 4 cups homemade)

1 32 oz. carton of chicken stock (or about 4 cups homemade)

3-4 bay leaves

2-4 T. olive oil (for cooking down the veggies)


Turkey Sausage, getting ready to rock

  Start by browning the meat in a frying pan over medium heat.  I usually use turkey ham, which I cut into cubey-squares and brown with a little bit of oil.  This time, the store happened to be out of that, and the turkey sausage was on sale, so I figured it would be an interesting change of pace.  While the meat is browning, I usually do all the veggie prepping, starting with the onion, since he starts the party in the pot first with some olive oil, followed by the garlic once the onions start to soften a little, then the carrots and celery.  I throw the bay leaves in around now, and continue to cook over medium heat until the onions are about half-cooked (not totally mushy).  After picking through the dried lentils and rinsing them thoroughly with cool water, I add them to the pot with the meat and both stocks, cover and bring to a simmering boil.

party over here!

The gang's all here!

Continue simmering over medium-low heat for approximately 1.5-2 hours, stirring periodically, until the lentils seems to burst open and the soup suddenly thickens.   Some people stop right before this happens, but I like the soup to thicken to a stew-like consistency.  If you’re looking for a time saving short cut, you could always remove the soup from the heat after about 45 minutes to an hour, basically once the lentils have softened to a consistency you enjoy, and using either an immersion blender or ladling a few cups of soup into your regular blender, puree up some of the soup and then add it back to the pot.  The soup with dramatically thicken overnight as well, but if it gets to that point before removing it from the heat, I personally think it’s better.

Thickened the loooong way....

 Some people add a dash of red wine vinegar when they serve it, it certainly is delicious but I find it almost always ends in heartburn for me, but I’m pretty sensitive these days, so try it if you like!  Enjoy!!

Om Nom Nom...

Po-TAY-to, Po-TAH-to

Have you ever gone to the grocery store, armed with a carefully, even painstakingly prepared list, only to get back home to realize that you totally bought something (like, say, yet another 5lb. bag of potatoes) that you very definitely did NOT actually need?  Obviously in this case, I went a little overboard on taters, and rather than make a ton of mashed potatoes to freeze for later use, I decided to try something a little different than the usual around here—I made a frittata!


Now, mind you, I’m not usually one to suggest that something this simple or waste-preventing would be ideal for entertaining, whether for brunch or cut up into little squares for tapas, but this really fit the bill!  (Seriously, I’m always impressed when someone can cook eggs en masse and have them cooked fluffily and deliciously through, aren’t you?

Growing up, my mom (who I swear is generally considered an AMAZING cook of all things) would occasionally make a potato & egg frittata, but I really never liked it.  Why, you ask?  Because it only contained potatoes and eggs, period (and tasted mostly like soggy spuds).  I just couldn’t get down with it, despite my (partial) Irish heritage.  It was just so…blah!  So I decided to use up some of the veggies I had just laying around the fridge, begging to be used up, as well as some turkey ham that was just hanging out and take my frittata closer to the “crustless quiche” side of town (unless that means I was supposed to bake it, because I didn’t).  I regret nothing.

So to be more specific, I cooked up some frozen broccoli (one of those neato little bricks was plenty) as per package specs.  While that was working, I cut some of that turkey ham into cubey-squares (yes, that is the technical term) and browned it up a little in a pan over medium heat with a little vegetable oil.  While this is all going on, since I’m obviously a master of multi-tasking, I had cut up some peeled russet potatoes into slices that were about 1/8th inch thick and cooked them up in the big non-stick pan with some chopped onion over medium heat and threw a lid on it, stirring periodically for 20 minutes or so, until the potatoes were soft, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste.

Halfway through cooking the eggs

When the potatoes were good to go, I tossed in some chopped up red bell pepper, and added the turkey ham and broccoli.  Then I beat up some eggs (‘cause they were just being dicks, sitting there in the fridge like they were better than everyone else in the place).  I ended up using a whole dozen large eggs, but it’s because I was using a whopper of a non-stick pan to start with, something like 12-14 inches.  You could totally dial back on the eggs and other ingredients if you’ve got a smaller pan (I promise not to judge you for it!).  But seriously, I added a splash of milk, but I’m thinking that’s optional, and a little more salt and pepper.  I smooshed all the fun stuff down into the eggs, put a lid on it and cooked it over low heat for like 20-30 minutes.  I had to periodically lift the edges and let the raw egg run underneath and the timing is really dependent both on the size of your pan and just how low the “low” setting on your stove is.  Once the eggs were ALMOST set, I took it off the heat and let it sit for 10 minutes.  Then I used a highly advanced system of turning by which I flipped the entire frittata at once.  It requires a plate and a little finesse!  I put the plate face down on top of the eggs and quickly turned the pan over, then shimmied the whole thing off the plate and back into the pan so I could brown other side. (It helps to give the skillet a good shake or two to make sure everything is all loosey-goosey before attempting the big flip!)

At this point, I sprinkled cheddar cheese liberally on top and cooked it over low heat, lid on, to melt the cheese, for another 5-10 minutes.  I cut it into wedges with my spatula, and for the first time in my life, really enjoyed a potato & egg frittata…quiche…whatever!

See? The cheese *almost* hides any "well done" areas completely!

Basic Frittata Recipe (with Jazz Hands)

3-4 T. vegetable oil

5 Russet Potatoes, peeled, halved and cut into 1/8th inch slices

1 medium yellow onion, chopped

1 c. turkey ham, cut into cubey-squares (or whatever shape floats your boat)

1 c. frozen chopped broccoli, prepared per package

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped

12 large eggs, beaten

1 splash of milk (approximately 3-4 T., optional)

Salt & Pepper to taste

1/2 – 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

Brown the turkey ham in a small frying pan with 1-2 T. vegetable oil, set aside.  Prepare frozen chopped broccoli as per package directions, set aside.  In a large (10-12 inch) non-stick skillet, heat 2 T. vegetable oil over medium heat, add onions and cook until softened, 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add sliced potatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and stir well to combine.  Cover and cook over medium-low heat until softened, approximately 20 minutes, stirring periodically.  Add ham, broccoli, red pepper and beaten eggs (with splash of milk) with salt and pepper added to taste again.  Cover skillet and cook over low heat, occasionally lifting edges of cooked egg to allow raw egg to run off top and cook underneath, approximately 20 minutes.  When the eggs are ALMOST set, remove from heat, let stand 10 minutes.  Lay a clean plate face down on top of eggs, flip the entire pan and slide the eggs back in.  Sprinkle liberally with cheddar cheese, cover and continue cooking over low heat an additional 5-10 minutes.  Slice into wedges or squares and serve!

Getting Started: Some details about your Gluten Free Gal Friday

Some people find that goodbyes are the hardest.  For me, it seems like getting rolling in the beginning of anything is the biggest challenge.  Once I get going, it’s often hard to know where to stop!  I guess sometimes the best way to start something new is to dive in head first, so I’m going to take the plunge.

18 Weeks!

Let’s start with a little bit about me; I’m 30 and I’m from a tiny town in Upstate NY of which you’ve likely never heard (and are even less likely going to be able to pronounce), so I’ll spare you the specifics.  I’m married (for almost 7 years, no less) to a man who is undeniably my best friend, who is supportive and loving to a fault.  We have an extremely opinionated cat, named Mr. Pink, who is never short on personality.  We’ve had more adventures over the last decade than I can begin to recount in an introduction, but sufficed to say we’ve been up, down and all around, and now are about to embark on the biggest little adventure to date, our first child.  That’s right, I’m expecting a little one this summer!

Hard at Work

For over 10 years, I’ve been working as a tattoo artist professionally.  It has been my passion, the fire that has literally consumed me from waking to sleep every day, my greatest challenge, and the source of my deepest frustrations.  I have plans to return (triumphantly) and will be picking up where I left off on opening my own studio once my autoimmune disorder is in remission and I’ve had this baby, since they both suddenly came up as I was about to lease some space!  But I’m a firm believer that EVERYTHING happens for a reason, whether or not we’re able to see it from where we stand at the time.

Recently, I’d been working as a dental assistant in a children’s dental program that is based in an RV that goes from school district to school district.  It didn’t stem from my love of oral hygiene or healthy smiles, plain and simple it paid the bills (and even opening a kick-ass tattoo studio takes money, kiddies!) and I have a unique skill set that allowed me to transition into it easily. Unfortunately, I’ve been out of work the last couple of months due to complications with both the pregnancy and a massive flare up of an autoimmune disorder I was recently diagnosed with, Pemphigus Vulgaris.  I probably won’t spend a whole lot of time talking about my PV (although I’m sure it will come up from time to time), not because I deny that it’s happening, or that I am still coming to terms with it (even though I kind of still am, to be totally honest), but because I CHOOSE not to let it be the definition of me.  I also suffer from gluten intolerance.  SEVERE gluten intolerance, ‘nuff said.  I tried a gluten free diet before I had health insurance to be able to have celiac testing properly done and my health improved so much it seemed unnecessary to put myself through extensive glutenings just to confirm that “Yes, a gluten free diet is the answer you seek!”  I’m just grateful that Adam has been willing to go gluten free with me; I can’t imagine trying to live in a mixed gluten house!  His enthusiasm for trying my culinary experiments has been unparalleled, even in the clumsiest of beginnings.  (See? We’re right back to beginnings again!)

Lentil Soup

There are so many other things by which I would rather be defined than by what’s wrong with me, or what I can’t do or eat.  Starting with what I CAN do, and what I CAN eat!  I’ll be posting about everything from my adventures in gluten free cooking (of which there are MANY, because it gives me a sense of empowerment and confidence knowing I’m NOT missing ANYTHING—and neither will this baby!), my personal artwork, my tattooing (when I’m able to get back on the horse, as it were) and anything else I feel the need to share with you, gentle reader.  I’m a (chronic) knitter and crafter as well, so I’ll be sharing recipes and techniques of all kinds (edible, crafting or otherwise), and I’m all about information exchange; if there’s something you want to know, I’m your Gal Friday.  Chances are, I’ve been meaning to figure it out myself and just got sidetracked.  So please feel free to comment!

Hoping you’ll join me again!

Love, Erin