Saturday, July 30, 2011

tying up July

I just couldn't let the month out without one last update. I realize it's been about a week and half, and we have been BUSY. So much has been seen and done but alas! I took almost no pictures. You'll just have to take my word for it.
Sean's birthday was on Tuesday so we drove up I-75 for a weekend of good old fashioned fun with his family. World class cook and mother to Sean, Heidi, made this incredible birthday spread complete with prime rib AND beef tenderloin. And it was topped with asparagus, hollandaise, and crab. And we got to eat it the next day for lunch again in the form of philly steak sandwiches. Yowza. Sean also got this incredible set of tools from his family which we have already used a few times around the house, and they came in his Dad's vintage toolbox from 1982, a gift Sean felt very proud to receive.
The last day we were there we went to Cedar Pointe with the whole fam. The last time I was at the park the Magnum was the tallest coaster in the world and I was too afraid to ride it. Much has changed since then. The Millennium Force is about twice as tall as the Magnum, a fact I was unaware of until Sean and I were strapped in, committed, and being ratcheted up to a 300 ft drop. It was a lot of fun riding coasters again, though, and I think my award for favorite ride has to go to the Maverick, even though I felt a little freaked out about it after Sean's brothers informed me the initial drop is 95 degrees, meaning it's more intense than just a straight drop; it actually curves inward. The ride was full of twists and Sean's hair was blown straight back, a la Doc Brown stepping out of the DeLorean. And it wore us out! It made me realize that we are indeed growing older. When I was little I didn't worry about becoming dehydrated or motion sick or my feet hurting, and when I woke up the day after a family excursion to Kings Island, I had energy yet to spare. Not so these days. It seemed like it took us a day of recovery afterwards to get back our usual energy. We were beat, but quite satisfied.
For his birthday I had found Sean one of those old time German hats at an antique store in Iowa City a few months back. Just to keep on theme, we had a nice deutsches Frühstuck to go with it, complete with würst and brötchen and beer.
On Tuesday night we had a pseudo surprise party for Sean, meaning he knew there was a reason his buddies were taking him out for a beer at 5:30 in the afternoon, but he wasn't sure why. It was a lot of fun. All our Oxford friends came out and we grilled brats and drank beer and even the Quays showed up as an added bonus all the way from Colorado! It was so good to see Shannon and Brian again. They stayed with us that night and we got to hang out with them all the next day, but it still wasn't enough time to get our fill. Some people your heart just misses when they're not with you.
Since then things have settled down a bit, except that we've been to 2 going away parties in as many days, and have another yet tonight. It's that time in Oxford when the leases are up and the people are moving on. We're losing some good ones this time, including Hannah, Lara, and Leah. Though this is hard, I think I'm starting to become more accustomed to it. Better at letting people go. Another year in Oxford awaits Sean and I, and who knows what it will bring.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

fresh bread + dutch oven chicken

There's not too much to report these days at the old Oswald homestead. Perhaps our most notable triumph this week has been Sunday night's supper. I used my dutch oven for the first time to make a whole chicken we bought at the farmers market, and Sean baked fresh bread. Even though the temperature outside was well over 90, it made it feel like a nice fall day.

Sean with his loaves. This is right after he punched down the dough and separated it before the second rise.

And look at that! The bread tastes delicious, especially fresh. He made it with only whole wheat flour, so it's dense but very healthy.

The chicken was pretty easy, and I browsed a couple recipes online and then sort of winged it(no pun intended). I stuffed the bird with a quartered lemon, diced garlic, and some rosemary from the herb pot outside. Also, salt and fresh ground pepper inside and out.

Next that went into the dutch oven over some sliced carrots, celery, and onion with more rosemary. I remember sometime in my youth learning to stuff a clove of garlic under each wing, and so I did.

It went into the oven at 350 F for a little over an hour. I read online that the steam in the dutch oven would be very important, so not to open it during that time and also to put a sheet of foil over the top in addition to the lid to seal better.

When it came out it was very moist and delicious, though I did read one recipe that said to sear the chicken on the stovetop before putting it in to bake, and I think I'll do this next time. I missed the crispy skin. I removed the chicken to another dish and strained all the veggies out of the natural juices in the pot. Then I put the dutch oven over medium heat and stirred in some flour and cornstarch and a little chef paul's Poultry Magic, and it made a very savory gravy with a hint of fruitiness. Really made the dish in my opinion.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

adventures in domesticity

This weekend my husband and I were quite domestic. Here is a short synopsis of our homebody ways:
  1. farmers market
  2. potluck/beer tasting (in which I brag about how nice our home is looking these days)
  3. skunk attack
Farmers Market
We are trying to set goals for this year in Oxford, things like riding our bikes everywhere in town instead of using our car and going to the farmers market uptown for most of our weekly groceries. Well, we've done a little work trying to order our bikes, but we don't have them yet. There's this Trek Soho with all the bells and whistles up at the bike shop that I just find ravishing, and we could afford it because it's slightly used and priced way lower than a new one, but I went and looked at it this week and it's just too big, plain and simple. So now I feel pretty indecisive as far as what I want as a bike. I'm basically looking for a commuter, but I like the feel and speed of a road bike much better. My front runners right now are probably the Raleigh Port Townsend or Trek Belleville. Any suggestions?

As for the farmers market, we started that tradition this week. On saturday morning we walked uptown (we have been walking machines lately!) and got coffee from Kofenya and sat on a bench and drank it with some of the banana bread I made the other night. It was really lovely. And then when the banana bread was all in our tummies we took our coffee and walked through the booths. We bought all our meat for the week from a gentle-eyed, bushy-bearded amish man. Sean, who usually keeps to himself in places like this, really liked talking to him and wanted to be his BFF. We bought fresh eggs from him as well, so fresh they still had feathers in the crate, and he told us that most eggs go through a cleaning process that strips them of their natural coating, a coating that helps to preserve them longer. We also got some very potent onions (I have literally wept every time I've cut one) and a bag of spring mix, which is spicy and flavorful and makes our salads taste incredible. And it was just nice being uptown and feeling part of the community, then trudging home with our wares.

Some little plums we bought at the market. The flesh is very sweet but the skin is extremely tart! "Like eating a warhead," says Sean.

Potluck/Beer Tasting
That day we came back and invited a bunch of people over, and then, after realizing there were indeed folks coming over, we cleaned like the dickens, which was actually very good because we got the house looking better than ever before:

It was nice having people over, and everyone brought a beer or two and we had a little progressive beer tasting with dinner, which were brats Sean grilled on the electric skillet Shan and Brian gave us. I think my favorite was a double IPA that Spencer brought over. I never fail to be surprised by it, but I am liking those dark IPA's more and more these days. We had some really good fellowship, and Hannah showed us this RSA Animates video/lecture about education which was really cool. Its this lecture by sir Ken Robinson that this guy animates on a white board. It was wild how much better I couldunderstand what was being said when I saw it in pictures. Later on we finished off the evening with a few late night rounds of bananagrams.

Skunk Attack
Sunday was pretty chill. We came back from church and just hung out for awhile. Then, when we thought it was going to be just another peaceful evening at home, we saw a bunch of skunks milling around the back of our property. They were everywhere. We counted 7 skunks in all, though not all at the same time, and some were in the front and some in the back, so we felt surrounded and needless to say felt a bit skittish about going out the rest of the night. Also, one of those little jerks came up on the front porch and chewed our Dahlias in the middle of the night! And ate a stalk of one of our tomato plants. I'm just saying: it pissed me off and I don't like them.
two of those little jerk faces snuffling around back there.

Finally, in other news, Sean's friend and fraternity brother Thomas sent him a little something in the mail and yes, it's true, I got lavaliered. Here we are with our handbooks, t-shirts, and the Bible:

Yes, friends, this GDI is now an honorary Theta Chi.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Over the Moon: Block Prints

After remembering all the great art we'd seen during our travels in Indiana yesterday, I started doing a little more research on Gustave Baumann, the mantle-carving printmaker who was such a good friend to T.C. and Selma Steele. Baumann was a very prolific woodblock printer who appears to have done a lot of color reduction printing, a method in which one begins with the lightest, broadest color in the piece and gradually carves down and prints each subsequent element with the same block onto the same print, slowly creating the desired image as the shapes become more defined with each new color. It seems he was able to be quite exact with this process, meaning most of his prints are sharp and crisp, though he often seemed to choose ephemeral subjects. For example to the right is his South Water Street Chicago, which illustrates an urban landscape but is also open and atmospheric. Looking through his work today rekindled the love I have always had for prints and, though I have mostly dabbled in intaglio, this sort of woodblock printing reminds me of how beautiful relief printing can be.

Baumann's The Landmark

Baumann's Mathis Alley

As I poked around online looking at his work, I found Baumann had done an interesting collaboration with James Whitcomb Riley, famed Indiana poet. Riley had written a poem for each month out of the year and Baumann illustrated. The final work was called All the Year Round. I only wish I could get my hands on a copy of that, it's completely adorable. I actually found a few of them on eBay; I think Sean and I need to start saving for an art-on-the-wall fund. Below are pictured July and April, respectively.

While I was looking at Baumann another beloved block printer came to mind. I was introduced to her work one Michigan winter by my friend Ellen, who had invited Shannon and I up north to sled down the Sleeping Bear dunes and cross-country ski at her family's vacation home there. Frostic made beautiful and simple nature prints (that simplicity seems to be a theme), some of them similar to Baumann, except when she layers her prints she has made a separate plate to lay down for the background, I think, instead of using the color reduction method. I couldn't find much of Frostic's work online aside from this great little guy:
So I took some photos of the work we have of hers hanging on our wall. These are just some greeting cards I bought at her studio and put into cheap Ikea frames:

On one final note, though perhaps the note about which I am most excited, I found some ancient block prints done a different way. The famous Great Wave by Hokusai from his 36-views of Mt. Fuji series has been recreated in a medium called Tatebanko, which is a Japanese art form where one uses cut out paper to create a three dimensional diorama. I am just smitten with these! They also have a version of Hiroshige's Evening Snow. Both are available for sale here. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

two honeymoons

Since Sean was in a wedding the weekend after ours, we didn't leave immediately for our honeymoon. We had a little interim week where we had nothing to do, which was actually really nice. We had decided beforehand that we would go on a short trip for a couple of days that week, but we didn't want to plan it. We would just decide, pack up the car, and go.
and that's what we did.

After some debate including Michigan and Tennessee, we decided on Indiana. A friend of Sean's who went to school in Bloomington gave us some great recommendations and we drove out to Brown County state park and stayed in a tiny cabin down the hill from the Abe Martin lodge. The park is really beautiful and is right outside of Nashville, Indiana, which it turns out is this cute artists colony. There are blocks and blocks of stores and restaurants and fudge shops that have a million knick-knacks and handmade goods hanging everywhere. There were all sorts of artisans, some with chainsaws carving giant stumps into various animal forms, leather smiths, painters, you name it. At one leather shop I was able to rummage through the old scraps and took home a beautiful teal jewel-toned piece. I don't know yet what it will become, but I will add it to my resources.

While visiting a used bookstore we learned of a famous artist of the past whose homestead was preserved nearby from the shop owner there.

Turns out he was a retired pastor of 20 years and gave us a nice lecture on marriage when he found out we were newlyweds. Anyhow, he told us about T.C. Steele, who, with his wife Selma, built quite a remarkable property not 10 miles from there. It had been given to the state and now people can go through there on tours. We checked it out on our way into Bloomington that evening--where by the by we had the best Thai food ever--and went back
the following day. Turns out T.C. Steele was pretty much the man in the early 1900's. You can see Sean standing outside of the Steele's large studio in the dad sweatshirt we bought him at Indiana U. That was only one of the many buildings they had built in the middle of nowhere in Indiana, because it was beautiful there and T.C. wanted to paint landscapes. After they camped there, though, artists started following them out there, and thus the artists colony in Nashville was born. Their house was pretty sweet. They had friends and fellow artists come visit them often, one of whom was Gustav Baumann who did these fantastic nature woodblock prints. He also engraved the phrase
"Every morning I take off my hat to the beauty of the world" into the granite of the fireplace of the House of the Singing Winds, which is the name T.C. and Selma gave their home.It was just all very beautiful to Sean and I. We had about a quarter bottle of wine in the trunk of our car and did a little toast to these pioneer artists as we sat in the parking lot there. We also got to stop by the Limestone Symposium before we left town, which made Sean all giddy like a schoolboy. A tall, weathered stone carver from New Mexico by the name of Sharon was very kind to us. She had a long blonde-grey braid that trailed down her back and took off her weight lifters gloves to lend to Sean as she taught him to use the pneumatic tools. We are going to save our money and hopefully go back next year so Sean can actually take official lessons with them. He is out in the back yard as I write this sanding down some panels he built a few weeks ago. He's becoming quite the hardworking artist, that one.

Our second honeymoon could not have been more the opposite from our first. We went to this all-inclusive resort in Mexico, a little south of Cancun. Here you can see Sean sleeping on the outdoor bed on our balcony and yes, that is the actual view with the ocean there being that unreal shade of blue. At the resort we had lots of time to read by the ocean and eat. Man, did we eat! There were all sorts of different restaurants in the resort including an Asian place, Caribbean and Italian fare, but by far the best was the Mexican food (duh) that you could order off a separate menu at most places. My one big complaint about the resort was that because of the all-inclusive thing, it seemed like many of the other guests were there to mainly drink 24/7. By 11am usually the stools at the pool bar near us were full, and when we came back from the beach around 4 or 5, the same folks were still there drinking, maybe joined by a few other couples. It must have seemed very strange to them that we only wanted to actually swim in the pool.

But enough of that. It was still really enjoyable. We did an excursion one day to Chichen-Itza and saw the ancient Mayan ruins. Our guide, Victor, was extremely knowledgeable and told us the history of the place by drawing in the sand with his walking stick. We stopped at an ancient Yucatan sink hole on the way there called the Ik-Kil cenote and we actually got to swim in it! I have never experienced anything quite like it. There were all these little black catfish swimming in the strange, cool, blue water that you could just reach out and touch. Vines hung in from the top and little streams trickled down and we felt like we were on the set of The Goonies or something. It was probably one of my favorite parts of the whole trip.

And now we are home, safe and sound in Oxford, just setting up shop. Our house is really starting to take shape. Sean unpacked a lot of things and cleaned like a banshee yesterday and now our living room really looks like a living room. We spent last night watching Fiddler on the Roof and reveling in the clean. Pictures to come soon!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

books + breakfast

On the flight back from our honeymoon, after having completely devoured our other reading materials, Sean purchased a copy of Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles at an airport bookstore in Atlanta. We were both in withdrawal from the good reads we'd had during the week; I had finished Ann Patchet's new novel State of Wonder, a story of a Minnesotan research doctor who gets plunged into the brazilian rainforest in a search of her dead coworker/secret fertility tree bark/ex professor (I know it sounds sort of wild, but it was pretty good), and Sean read Shop Class as Soul-Craft by Michael Crawford, a book that explores the nature of work in our culture (he read me excerpts, and it sounds phenomenal. Can't wait to get my hands on it). The Sherlock Holmes was a perfect rebound book for us, the only issue being that we both wanted to read it, so we decided to read it out loud with each other. It's has been so much fun! We actually just finished it this morning, which brings me to my next topic: breakfast.

Our routine this past week, before jumping into our "nesting" activities for the day, has been to cook a mighty breakfast. One of us reads while the other mans the kitchen, pressing coffee and frying up eggs. Then we pause to eat together, and afterwards we switch duties reading and doing dishes. It has been quite relaxing and a great way to to start our days. I wanted to share a few notable breakfasts with you that I felt rather proud of. The first was breakfast bruschetta. We had a little left over garlic bread from the night before which I cut into slices and pan crisped. Then I chopped a tomato and a bit of onion and minced up some fresh basil which I stirred in with some sea salt and fresh ground black pepper. Eggs were laid over-easy onto the garlic bread and topped with the fresh bruschetta mixture. Tasty, simple and fresh. The next day we had some fresh guacamole just sitting there in the fridge and some chicken andouille sausages from trader joe's, the latter of which we diced up and threw into a skillet with eggs and salsa. That got served over pan-fried corn tortillas and topped with the guac and some fresh cilantro. My mom also gave us a little table with two chairs that we put out back and were able to enjoy many a meal at. The particular one pictured out there features these great breakfast bowls Sean makes. He fries up a bunch of potatoes with cayenne pepper and onions and peppers and puts fried eggs over the top with cheese. The result is absolutely delicious.

We have been fortunate enough to have made these delicacies in our lovely kitchen, which we spent a lot of time on this week. Sean mounted a shelf above the pass-through and I put screw-hooks in it and red shelf to hang our mugs and teacups in. We are quite proud of it and the way our little nest is taking shape. I wish I had before and after pictures to show you, but alas, just the after pics will have to suffice on their own.