Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My Favorite Things #2: Impressionist Paintings

OK, now it's time for the second installment of My Favorite Things, in which I talk about the things I love the most so my faithful readers can learn more about me and maybe even find a few new passions of their own. Ready? Here we go!

The impressionist movement in art is by far my favorite. Everything is so abstract, but it's still clear what the artist was trying to represent (not like modern art...I mean, come on, colored squares and blobs are not a suitable self-portrait unless you happen to be an alien). Lines are blurred, colors blend into one another, and reality becomes hard to tell from dreams. Some paintings look like you're viewing them through a rain-covered window, which just makes me so very happy, because I like rain when I can be inside listening to it patter on the roof.

Ok, here's one I actually read about in a book by one of my favorite authors, Laura Jensen Walker, about a woman who goes to Paris and sees this painting of a woman with a green umbrella. I was intrigued by the way the author describes the character's enthrallment with this painting, and how it inspired her to start painting again. It made me want to see this painting that obviously had an effect on the author, since she wrote so eloquently about it.

Source: ibiblio.org
And just look at it! How could you not be enraptured with this woman? She stares at me like she can actually see me. The look on her face seems so sad, like she is leaving her best friend behind and will never see her again.

The next one was actually my introduction to impressionism. I saw it in an article about a traveling exhibition from the Art Institute of Chicago that would be in my local art museum for several weeks. It gripped my imagination, so I simply had to go see the whole exhibition. Then I was hooked, and I've been an art lover ever since.

Source: Art Institute of Chicago
She seems so dainty and feminine, with her head turned slightly away from the viewer. It's like we're sneaking up on her to surprise her with flowers or something. 

This is another one I saw at that exhibition. It was definitely one of my favorites from that day. The colors are so incredibly vivid, and the layers were very, very thick. I was impressed with the depth of detail and the incredible skill of the painter.

Source: Art Institute of Chicago

She seems so wistful...I also really love the background of trees, vines, and water. Oh, the outdoors! They call to me with a siren song I wouldn't be able to resist if it weren't so very cold outside.

And on that note, I found this gem while perusing Google images for my green umbrella painting.

Source: News on Art
Red poppies, a field, and trees. What more can a girl ask for? 

Well, I hope you all have enjoyed this little survey of impressionism. And no, I am not going to tell you who the artists are. Anything worth knowing is worth searching out. 

And with that bit of wisdom, I bid you all goodbye. I made some pumpkin spice cupcakes for Thanksgiving, and I must go do some quality control...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Brownies, Nail Polish, and Pride & Prejudice

My best friend and I spent the whole day yesterday baking, painting our nails, and watching Pride and Prejudice. And no, it was not the recent Keira Knightley version, but the wonderful 6-hour BBC version with Colin Firth. Oh, Colin Firth! Even when he looked like he had just sucked a particularly sour lemon (which was for about 90% the movie), he still looked handsome. (Also, after listening to 6 hours of Jane Austen's masterpiece, I'm afraid I picked up the manner of speaking. So please forgive me if I sound like Elizabeth Bennett.)

Anyways, I thought I would share a recipe we made quite spontaneously. We had just finished making a huge batch of pumpkin bread for a party that night, and I thought that it would be really great if we had a few brownies for ourselves (because when ladies get together, you know there is going to be chocolate at some point). But then I thought, what if we had brownies with wine in them? Red wine has such a lovely, rich flavor profile (at least, that's what the descriptions on the labels say) so it would be a nice addition to a simple brownie recipe.

Morgan was all for a little experimentation, so we began our "adventure in baking," as she called it. It was not without troubles, though, because due to an oversight on my part, we had used up all the eggs I had for the pumpkin bread, so we had to make do with a vegan eggless recipe I found on Allrecipes.com. Although the brownies turned out fine, I'm going to recommend using a different recipe because ours were too oily for my healthy sensibilities.

And in case you're wondering, yes, that is Morgan. And yes, that bobblehead is indeed staring creepily at the camera. Pudge sees all!

OK, back to seriousness. You will need cocoa powder, flour, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, salt, eggs, and red wine. My favorite rich red wine is the Yellowtail Pinot Noir. Not only is it the tastiest Pinot Noir I've had, it's also only $5 a bottle. Huzzah!

Mix all the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl, and all the wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Next, combine all your ingredients in the same bowl and stir until well blended. And try to resist licking your spoon, because that wine makes the batter smell amazing.

Pour into a greased baking pan and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Now you can give in to that urge to lick the spoon. Believe me, that bowl barely needed any scrubbing by the time we were through with it. Mmmmm....brownie batter....

Red Wine Brownies
Adapted from an Allrecipes.com brownie recipe

1/2 cup of your favorite red wine
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x9 inch baking pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the wine, sugar, and vanilla. Beat in eggs. Combine flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt; gradually stir into the egg mixture until well blended. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan.
  3. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the brownie begins to pull away from edges of pan. Let cool on a wire rack before cutting into squares.

I hope this recipe works better than the vegan one. It seemed very similar, so hopefully it will achieve similar results with less oil. And by the way? The brownies made my apartment smell absolutely wonderful. The wine and chocolate melded together to form this tantalizing aroma that still haunts the living room.

Friday, November 11, 2011

My First Flight and Business Trip

So apparently only hicks and small children have never flown on planes, because when I used to mention to people that I have never flown, they usually react with astonishment, confusion, and/or disbelief. Is it really so uncommon to drive everywhere? Seriously.

Anyways, the point of the previous paragraph is that my boss decided that since I had never flown on a plane, I needed to fly to company headquarters to have some training and schmoozing. Was I excited? You bet! Was I afraid of the TSA? Oh, yeah I was. I was so certain they would think I was suspicious and take me away to a small room to be searched. As if anyone would think I could be threatening!

Well, I got to the airport just fine and managed to find the security line with plenty of time to spare. I got into a random line and copied the actions of the lady in front of me. Everything was going fine until I went through the metal detector...and it went off! With no metal on my body, I was extremely confused why the detector would go off. I was trying to remove my Aggie ring and my earrings, and the TSA person was getting annoyed with my confusion, and the line was backing up behind me! AH!

Thankfully the next time I went through, nothing happened. Then I went to the end of the conveyor belt that brought the bins that had my purse and shoes and stuff past the metal detectors, and I guess I took too long to put everything back in order, because the other bins started piling up. And then they started falling off the belt! And the TSA people started coming over! AH!!! So I grabbed my stuff and ran away, hanging my head in shame and muttering, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Yep, security was terrifying.

The rest of my airport experience was pretty uneventful. I got on the right plane and everything!

And then I started taking pictures of the ground crew. I think all the businesspeople on the flight with me rolled their eyes in tandem at my enthusiasm. Especially since we had gotten on the plane before the sun was up.

I said farewell to my home. And yes, my side was on the same side as the rising sun. That's why there's so few pictures of the flight up to Tulsa. 

Well, I made it to Tulsa just fine and got to my hotel room. Boy, was I surprised! I'm used to Motel 6 when I travel. This was SOOOO nice! See that TV? Yeah, it was HUGE. I spent my evening curled up on the squishy couch under a nice warm blanket watching Blue Ocean. Oh yeah! I even got to see a lovely sunset outside my window.

About Tulsa: I like it! It's super pretty! There's so many trees, and cute little hills, and even some cute little mini-mountains! (Tulsa people call them Turkey Mountains, but they are actually very nice. Even if they are rather small.) I think I amused my coworkers at HQ, because I kept saying how "adorable" Tulsa is. The part of town I was in was rather quaint, with nice little buildings that remind me of New England architectural styles, and did I mention the trees? They were already changing color. Yes, I was very excited about the plethora of trees in the city. Can you tell I grew up in West Texas?

My experience in Tulsa International Airport was much better than my original departure! I went right through security with no mishaps or annoyed TSA people, and had plenty of time to eat some delicious frozen custard and enjoy the new Francine Rivers book. (By the way, it is really good!)

Well, it was rather overcast the day I left Tulsa, so I thought it would be a dull plane ride back. Looks really boring, right? You can barely see the ground for the rain. 

You can imagine my surprise when all of the sudden the view outside my window was completely white! We were going into the clouds, so I couldn't see anything at all. And then, all of a sudden...

BOOM!! We broke through the clouds, and there was the most beautiful blue sky above them! It seems kind of silly, but I guess I just thought rainclouds went high enough into the atmosphere that we would be stuck in them the whole time. Boy, was I ever wrong! 

There is a cloudy wonderland up there! Sometimes it felt like we were flying over the Antarctic, sometimes like we were flying over some magical Narnia-like land made of white fluffy stuff. Either way, I was enchanted the whole way home. 

See? Antarctica! Or possibly Narnia.

Far too soon, it was time to get off the plane and go home. But I will be back, airplanes. Oh, I will be back.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Baking Experiment

I have a friend who can't eat, well, anything. Seriously, he can't eat butter or ground beef or a whole bunch of other really tasty things. Since all of my favorite recipes require butter, I thought he would never get to eat any of the desserts I bring to Bible study. But lo and behold, I came across a blog post saying that there was an acceptable substitute for butter. Are you ready for this? It's beans. Beans! Sounds disgusting in a baked good, right? Well, the blogger sang the praises of beans, so I thought it was worth a shot.

See? Black beans for a chocolate cupcake. And it already had applesauce as an ingredient, so that was a bonus for the moistness. 

OK, I had to use 3 bowls for this recipe. Yes. Three. Because your ingredients should never touch! Ever! (Am I the only person who thinks it's a little silly to mix things in separate bowls and then mix them again in a bigger bowl?)

The most interesting part of this recipe was trying to whisk the boiling water and the cocoa powder together in a measuring cup that is most definitely not big enough.

Now that takes some serious whisking skills, my friends.

And then I creamed the beans and the sugar together in my giant bowl. Looks appetizing, yes?

After the beans and sugar looked like wet sand, it was time to add the applesauce and the vanilla. At this point, it looked like some weird health food thing for people with funny allergies. Or perhaps something I was making for my friend's beagles. 

OK, looking a lot more like a cupcake batter here. This is when I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe it would work after all! You know what's coming, don't you?

No you don't! Because they actually turned out great!

Just look at those beautifully rounded tops awaiting my butter-free frosting!

At some point during all this baking and photographing, I took the time to make an "icing," which was really nothing more than powdered sugar and water. It ended up looking a lot like fondant, which is what those petals are supposed to be. My foray into marshmallow fondant making did not end well, though, I'm afraid. Those petals were all sticky and goopy by the time I brought them to my friend. And the icing? It was basically marzipan without the almond! Go figure.