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Autumn, when you can feel the warmth of the sun through your clothing, but the smallest breeze chills your skin. Tan lines are fading, winter squashes and apples appear at the produce markets, and some mornings start when the sky is still as dark as the coffee you pour. I’m more likely to notice the shorter days from the “What? It’s dark before dinner?” end of the day, just sayin’.

At one of our local produce markets with my daughter Becca, here on a visit from the hot southwest — she was freezing; I was loving the high 70s — I noticed the most gorgeous Mission figs. Baskets of perfectly ripe, uniform size, almost blemish free velvety black-purple skin… I could taste their mild sweetness and feel those microscopic crunchy seeds just looking at them. 

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Once back home with a basket of those irresistable figs, I did some googling to find just the right recipe. As soon as I saw cornmeal as an ingredient, and then mascarpone, I was captivated with this recipe on the epicurious.com website. It would have taken a lot to make me abandon it for another.

From 2003, which is a pretty old recipe in the foodie world, it still seemed pretty contemporary to me. For one thing, mascarpone just can’t go out of style. Like a soft cream cheese without the tang or the salt, it is the perfect creamy and smooth blank canvas. Flavored with a spoonful of fluffy grated of lemon zest (I used less than the recipe; it’s a hubby thing) and held by a hearty and savory cornmeal blend crust, the fresh figs still dominated the eating experience. 

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I would make this again in a heartbeat. Over and over until the jar of Fig and Caramel Preserves I used was emptied. 

And it was just as delicious for breakfast as it was for dessert.

On to the recipe adaptations. I already mentioned that I reduced the amount of finely grated lemon zest I used because my husband is NOT a fan. But even the reduced amount flavored the mascarpone well. As for the salt and unsalted butter combo, if you’re happy with the saltiness of your salted butter, just use it.

Also, do not substitute dried rosemary for the fresh; this is one of those times when it just cannot be done. Leave it out altogether if you have to, but why aren’t you growing an evergreen rosemary bush in your garden somewhere? Their long sprigs make the best scented filler in a vase of flowers as well as being perfect for winter stews and summer marinades, even skewers! They are so easy to care for, too.

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As for the figs, I think any type of fresh fig would be fantastic on this tart. I only wish I had the foresight to pick up two baskets of these beautiful little Mission figs so I could have covered the whole tart with a wall-to-wall carpet of fig slices! As it was, my scant pound was enough to make do with but the suggested 1.5 pounds would be better.

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The recipe called for a mixture of currant jelly and honey to be melted and brushed over the figs. Well. No currant jelly, not wanting to run to the store, and with little patience for brushing a coating over delicate fruit, I searched the frig (we should call it the condiment cabinet, honestly!) and came up with a jar of fig and caramel preserves. Melted with some honey and vanilla, it was a tasty but not overwhelming accent. 

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Fresh Fig Tart with Cornmeal Crust
Serves 8
A savory cornmeal crust and a silky mascarpone filling make are perfect with fresh figs.
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Crust
  1. 1 cup flour
  2. 1 cup finely ground cornmeal (should be about the same as flour; check the bulk bins)
  3. 1 Tbsp. sugar
  4. 1/2 cup butter (4 oz, 1 stick)
  5. 1 1/2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
  6. 4 - 5 Tbsp. ice water
Filling
  1. 8 oz mascarpone cheese
  2. 1/3 cup sour cream
  3. 1/4 cup sugar
  4. 1 to 1 1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest (use a fine microplane grater)
  5. 1/8 tsp salt
Topping
  1. 1 1/2 lbs fresh figs, perfectly ripe
  2. Choose either glaze or sauce: glaze -- 2 Tbsp red currant or apple jelly + 1 Tbsp honey; sauce -- 4 Tbsp. fig preserves + 2 Tbsp honey + 1/8 tsp vanilla
Crust
  1. Pulse in food processor to mix the flour, cornmeal, and sugar. Add the butter in chunks and rosemary; pulse until coarse meal with the visible butter chunks the sizes from rice to peas. Pour 4 Tbsp ice water over; pulse until just combined. Add 1/2 Tbsp more water at a time only as needed. The mixture should *just* hold together when squeezed.
  2. Press evenly into a 1" deep, 10" round (or 11" x 8" rectangle) tart pan with a removable base. Press a layer up the sides all the way to the top edge. Chill 30 minutes.
  3. Bake the chilled crust at 400F for 25-30 minutes. Set pan on rack to cool.
Filling
  1. Mix all ingredients. Can be done a day ahead; refrigerate until ready to assemble.
Topping
  1. Slice figs. Heat glaze or sauce ingredients in microwave or on stove, stirring frequently, just until runny.
Assembly
  1. Remove tart pan ring from crust. Use a thin flexible spatula or long knife to loosen crust from base. Slide crust onto serving platter.
  2. Spread filling evenly in crust. If using sauce, drizzle in an artistic way over the filling. Arrange sliced figs over filling. If using glaze, brush gently over figs.
  3. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary if desired.
  4. Cut into wedges to serve.
Notes
  1. Crust and filling can be made up to a day ahead. Crust will soften after being filled, so the tart should be assembled within an hour of serving.
  2. Fresh figs are squishy when ripe, far beyond what you look for in an avocado.
Adapted from July 2003 Gourmet magazine
2Create in Color http://www.2createincolor.com/
 Run out and find yourself some fresh figs! If your farmer’s market still has any rosemary plants, pick up one of those, too. It will be happy where it can bask in the south sun. Then make yourself this tart and do a little basking yourself on the next sunny day. 

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Happy Autumn! 

Gail

  • Diane Johnston - Sound delicious. Your photography is terrific. Happy Fall!09.27.2016 – 11:33amReplyCancel

    • admin - Thank you, Diane!09.28.2016 – 1:41pmReplyCancel

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Smoky Bacon & Blue Potato Salad

It’s September first!  To me that means fall.  I don’t care that the first day of fall isn’t until the 22nd.  I’m ready!

This week means last summer vacation, rainy weather in the forecast, cooler temps, first week of school… wait… what?!  Yep.  I have a pre-schooler now.  We are officially in back to school mode.  Thanks to Daniel Tiger, I think Abbi and I are on equal excitement levels about preschool… YAY!  We had her teacher meet and greet yesterday and she was SO sad that I wasn’t leaving her there to have school.  I love it, can’t believe what a little person she is now… three years old, potty trained, talking in full sentences, and lots of ideas of her own!

Anyway.  Fall for me means new routines too.  New workout schedule, new work schedule, new (pre)school schedule, new BLOG schedule!  

And so I don’t burn myself out before I even get started again… let’s talk recipes.  That’s always a good blogging start!  Earlier this week I made a Smoky Bacon and Blue Potato Salad and it was AMAZING!  I of course took from a few recipes and added some ideas of my own.  So if you are looking for a new side dish recipe (Labor Day potluck anyone?), try this!

Smoky Bacon & Blue Potato Salad
Title says it all! Recipe makes enough for a crowd, cut it all in half for a family sized side... probably still with some leftovers. :)
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Ingredients
  1. 5 lbs red potatoes, cut into the size pieces you want to eat
  2. 10 slices cooked bacon (we smoked it, but cook however you like)
  3. 1 cup mayo
  4. 1/2 cup sour cream
  5. 1/4 cup (maybe a little more, up to half a cup) bbq sauce
  6. 1/4 mustard
  7. a little glug of apple cider vinegar
  8. salt and pepper to taste
  9. 4 green onions, sliced
  10. 4 ribs of celery, sliced
  11. 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
  12. 1-2 tbsp tarragon, chopped
  13. 1-2 tbsp dill, chopped
  14. 1-2 cups smoked blue cheese (we used closer to two cups... we love that blue cheese flavor!)
Instructions
  1. Cook potatoes. We smoked ours at about 250 for a few hours until tender, occasionally misting with water. Don't have a smoker? Boil those suckers, the traditional method. ;) Let cool.
  2. Cook bacon until crisp and cut into pieces.
  3. In a big bowl combine mayo, sour cream, bbq sauce, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper.
  4. Fold in potatoes, bacon, green onions, celery, parsley, tarragon, dill, and blue cheese!
  5. Can be served immediately or refrigerate until ready to serve!
2Create in Color http://www.2createincolor.com/
Smoky Bacon & Blue Potato Salad

So with that, I leave you. Have a great Labor Day Weekend!
Sam

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Paint Sip and Nibble_0001

Just like Sam, my blog-partner, I also have been to a paint and sip event recently. And after painting this vase of flowers, I ventured further and went to a less-structured painting event you can see in the second half of this post.

My son and his girlfriend treated both of us moms to a fun Mother’s Day including brunch at Skillet and a paint and sip by Canvas! in Seattle (link is to our event. Robert and Rachel are the second photo!) Since I was just getting over a bad cold and don’t do alcohol anyway, I enjoyed sipping on my nice hot tea while following the instructions to create a Van-Gogh-inspired bouquet of flowers. 

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Unlike Sam in our previous post, I did not snap any meaningful pics of my painting as I went so I am filling my post with close ups of my favorite parts! Haha! I really had fun layering and mixing and brushing on the backgrounds and the vase.

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My son says, a few minutes in, “This is what I got an art degree for.” Ya never know, bud! Maybe one day you’ll be leading a room full of tipsy adults through a painting ;) 

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It was fun to see how each of us interpreted the instructions (admirably!) and then somewhat shocking to see how some people in the rest of the room carried them out. I am Quite Happy with my painting, especially the vase! It was also a great day Ubering around the city together and talking up a storm. 

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A couple weeks later, an artist friend of mine Facebook-invited me to a 6-hour painting party called “Fish and a Dish.” Curious, I went researching. A fun and encouraging artist named Brenda Boles holds a monthly painting party where you can choose from a variety of pre-sketched canvases of the month’s focus. Everyone also brings a treat of some sort to share, potluck-style. Hence, the fish and a dish title for June’s event.

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Thank you for the invite, Sandi! I’m so very glad I had this experience :) 

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I had my choice of about a dozen different fishes on different sized canvases, but this messy, highly textured angel fish really caught my attention. 

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I was quite intimidated at first, but each time I got done with one step, I asked her to tell me what to do next. When I started applying the crazy, messy, green paint streaks and spatters though, I was off and running! After all … acrylics. You can easily pull off do-overs if needed heh heh. I love love love the spatters. 

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The photocopy of the original painting I was using showed a blue-toned fish with no background (and a significantly less amount of the fun stuff.) So you see that I personalized it by PAINTING IT GREEN! If you’ve seen me on facebook, you know that my profile picture remains a neon sign saying “paint it green!” I love to paint things green :)  

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If you get a chance to paint and sip with friends, I encourage you to give it a try! 

Happy painting (and sipping), 

Gail

  • Diane Johnston - Nice work Gail, I’m not at all surprised that you have green in the flowers and a green fish. You have a lot in common with Kermit, the Frog. LOL07.02.2016 – 10:31amReplyCancel

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Paint & Sips have become a thing.  And I love it!  I don’t think they are all created equal, so I was super happy that the one I got to participate in actually felt like we created… real art!

Because I am so NOT an artist, not in the draw/paint sort of way anyway.  I can draw a stick figure like nobody’s business.  And give me some drafting tools and I can probably draw you a sweet building… but nature?  Probably not… and people?  Well, I’ve already mentioned stick people are where it’s at for me.  ;)

So a few months ago I got to go out with some friends for a fun night of wine and painting at this amazing little shop in Gig Harbor, Mood.  And it was fantastic.  I took some cell phone snaps along the way, so here goes…

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Even seeing all the steps I don’t really see how those awkward looking white lines turned into a forest of autumn birch trees. But I’m so glad they did… because now it proudly hangs in my bedroom above my dresser!

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Especially because it holds a memory of a great night with friends… the first time all of us had escaped without our little babies (all born within three months of each other) together!  A great night off!

I’m looking forward to another one of these, probably with Mom, because she has a friend that leads some fantastic classes… of which she’ll show you an example in her next post!!

Sam

  • Diane Johnston - Nice work Sam. My daughter & granddaughter went to one of those classes in Colorado and came home with some nice paintings. Then they got interested in Bob Rossi style painting and bought all the supplies & video to try his way. He says anyone can paint. Bob Rossi classes are sometimes at Hobby Lobby and Michael’s. Or you can check out his TV classes on PBS stations.06.29.2016 – 2:44pmReplyCancel

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Australia Ipswich 0125

What a lucky lucky lady I was in January! My husband got sent to Australia to work for a month and I went along for three weeks. We lived in a small furnished apartment in the adorable historic town of Ipswich, about an hour from the Brisbane airport. That’s on the east coast — almost the easternmost point of the continent. 

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I only knew the shrimp plant as a house plant with pinkish blooms. What a surprise this gorgeous blooming shrub was outside the Ipswich Visitor Information Center at Queens Park. The bird in the first picture — have no idea what he is — was also wandering wild there. 

Having the days to myself (on foot) and the weekends with hubby and car meant two complete ways to explore. There will be an upcoming post (posts?) with some gorgeous architectural details and buildings from Ipswich as I explored near our living quarters, plus a couple more field trips. Today I am showing you a selection of my favorite photos from our field trips to Brisbane’s South Bank area and from the Ipswich Nature Center. 

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After leaving a gray western Washington January behind, these blasts of bright flowers and this gorgeous mosaic bench set were breathtaking at the Ipswich Nature Center in Queens Park. The upcoming photos up until you see some skyscrapers are all from the nature center.

I will ALWAYS snap pictures of interesting lines and shapes, of gorgeous views, of fascinating details, the unexpected, and colorful flowers … well, colorful almost-anything. I hope you enjoy! 

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A Lace Monitor Goana, 3-4 feet long. Really cool pattern! And then there were these wild lizards… each about a foot long. I swear all the captive and wild lizards this day were posing for me :) 

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So many trees were in bloom with so many different colors while we were here. It was stunning. January is the equivalent of the northern hemisphere’s July. Perfect change of weather, almost! The last half of my visit was monsoon-like, with heavy humidity and heat. 

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I know we have peacocks in North America, but who can resist that BLUE!? This photo was for myself, demonstrating that those awe-inspiring tails are pretty camouflaged when viewed from a prey-animal’s sight. Too gruesome? Well, I always have all the thoughts so welcome to my inner world LOL

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Here are the obligatory kangaroo and wallaby pics! Clockwise from bottom left: Swamp Wallabies — check out the one sitting on its behind like a person; Red Kangaroo, which is not the largest kind; Swamp Wallaby again. We also saw Red-bellied Pademelons and Red-legged Pademelons which are smaller wallabies. Although this is all I saw of kangaroos, my husband saw them almost daily at the rural site at which he was working. They were actually a hazard in the evening. 

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Look at the iridescence of this black and white pigeon! We saw dozens of amazing birds and ducks in the aviary, but it was mostly too dim under the trees to get good photos. And/or, the birds and ducks were the highly camouflaged varieties. Not like this White-headed Pigeon who almost let me get close enough to touch. This was not shot with a zoom lens! 

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Cool looking pattern from this tall palm tree. Also….

***WARNING — if you don’t like to look at spiders — WARNING *** there is a short, not-really-obvious spider photo tucked onto the bottom edge of the palm tree photo. Scroll right past and onto the bright pink flowers if you want to skip. It is not a special spider, it was just floating mid-air far from anything else and I thought it was good camera practice; then I really like the picture! 

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I wish I knew what these cool flowers that leave behind cute cups were!

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Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, deep in conversation.

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Such beautiful views throughout the Ipswich Nature Center. Strangely, I didn’t capture any of the many varieties of ducks nor the black swans in these pictures.

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Let’s talk BILBIES! I became a bilby concerned human after learning how this little mouse-like creature is endangered and how one Ipswich resident set up a huge protection area for them. No photos because: nocturnal! I brought (granddaughters) Abbi and Ella back the cutest stuffed bilby and a beautiful book, Bilby Moon, which we have enjoyed reading many times. Join me in celebrating Australian National Bilby Day on September 13th? 

———*****———

On to our day in Brisbane, where we only explored the fun area of South Bank. This included wandering through a peaceful park, more like an arboretum, and riding the Wheel of Brisbane for some great city views (and the A/C inside the gondolas!) 

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A beautiful city with a lot to offer. I wish I could spend a week just in Brisbane! 

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A story of Rainbow Lorikeets.

Our first evening in town, we went to eat in Ipswich about 6 blocks away. Walking back, we heard the loudest racket coming from the trees lining the city’s streets. It was too dark with too much street-level light to see up into the heavily leaved trees to see what kind of birds these could be.

The next night, we were eating on the patio of a different restaurant (this was one of my fave things about this trip — lots of restaurants!) and observed a noisy flock of birds going overhead. Again, being the late edge of dusk and underneath of them I could not see what they were. I asked our waitress, who had never really noticed them before but she came back with a young teenage boy who told us they were lorikeets and then proceeded to question us about all things American-restaurant.

After looking up lorikeets, I didn’t quite believe him, especially since I could see no color on these flocks I heard and saw almost every evening and often early morning if I was up in the middle of my night. I kept asking everyone and *no-one* knew what I was talking about! In my head — They: what birds? Me: how can you NOT NOTICE!?

On it went. Then, 2 weeks into the visit, we saw these Rainbow Lorikeets in the palms during the day here in Brisbane. I was 90% convinced at this point that Awkward Teenage Boy was right. But I kept asking and kept getting the same non-answer.

Then, on my last night in Ipswich we went to a very cool restaurant called Char’d (braised lamb — always gotta have it) and there in a spotlighted palm tree at their entrance, making the so-familiar racket, were dozens of spotlighted Rainbow Lorikeets.

Thank you, Australia, for not sending me home doubting.

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I don’t know what this bird really is, but there were a lot of them fulfilling the function of sparrows cleaning up the sidewalks and eating areas. They are about a foot tall at the body, so they’re a little more attention-getting than dull brown sparrows.

I also don’t know what these half-inch sized berries are, growing on the tree below, but I like to imagine there are coffee beans inside the red fruits. 

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GOOD CATCH, Nature! 

These people saved my life! Cooooofffffffeeeeeeee! We had a good conversation about American vs Australian coffee lingo and habits. After he flashed the peace sign, he asked with concern if that didn’t mean anything different/bad. Peace, love and coffee, bro!

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I was fascinated with the intricate carvings on The Nepal Peace Pagoda. So many patterns. Such ancient history to humans’ love for decoration. Inspiration for meditative pattern doodling. 

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Happy travels, wherever you may go!

Gail

  • Diane Johnston - Great pictures Gail. I love the architectural ones. And…lorikeets are so beautiful! I have two of the orange flowered plants you show in the 4th picture. They are called Ixora coccinea (also known as jungle geranium, flame of the woods or jungle flame). It is from India, I think. Mine bloomed like crazy last summer.

    My daughter visited Australia when her husband was on a business trip there last year. I can’t remember what city they were in. They had a wonderful time too.

    Looking forward to more posts.

    Hugs, Diane06.20.2016 – 11:01pmReplyCancel

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Ella turns One!_0001

It’s been almost two months and I’m just now coming to terms with the fact that Ella is One!  What?!  How does time pass so quick!

This birthday theme sums up my wishes for both my sweet and spunky girls… even though the are little now I hope they always Dream Big!

And with that I’m going to leave you with a (mostly) wordless Wednesday post… filled with photos of our birthday celebration, spoiling, cake, and family.  :)

PS, aren’t those hot air balloons we created amazing?!  -Sam

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