Tuesday, May 26, 2015

First part of the Icon Project is Installed

It was a busy weekend at our house. Saturday I had the opportunity, with the help of John Birge and my lovely bride, to hang the first panel of icons at the church.
Discussing the merits hanging canvas. The 2 icons in the background are also mine.
Final touch ups

The installed project
The second half awaiting transfer

So what's next? After I transfer the rough sketches to the canvas, I will create the final outline with a brush and brown/black paint adding some shading in as I go. From there I will begin the laborious process of coloring in the 'proplasmos' or base layers then large detail then finally small detail. The last panel took a good 3 or 4 months to complete. Since most of the research is finished on this piece, I can begin to paint. Finding several prototypes and then cherry picking the best features from all of them is just a part of the process but takes a while. I may have 5 or 10 downloads of the same saint, looking for common features and unique details I can incorporate.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Summery Salsa

Last night we had our usual sautéed Mahi Mahi with a side of green beans. I was tired of the same ol' thing so I made a fruit salsa with whatever we had on hand. Brenda happened to have a bag of fruit in the freezer with mango in it so...

Spicy Mango Salsa

1 1/2 c mixed fruit including strawberries, mango and blueberries
1 hot pepper of choice
2 green onions chopped
Red and Yellow sweet peppers
1 T Red wine vinegar
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
Juice of 1/2 lime
 If I had cilantro I would have thrown that into the party also.

I chopped the fruits pretty fine then added the rest of the ingredients. Test seasoning and serve over the fish.

 The pepper was quite spicy. I have no idea what it was as I freeze peppers whole to keep them fresh but this was some sort of long thin chili. One of my workmates brought them in last year. Muy caliente! 

Monday, May 18, 2015

KC weekend

We had a busy few hours to spend with our favorite men this weekend sampling the local BBQ as well as a very robust Farmer's Market. Of course we had to hit the local IKEA to pick up Mackenzie's order as well as a few odds and ends for ourselves.

The Q39 BBQ stop was a good choice. Lots of tasty, albeit pricey, choices for tender smoked meats and unusual sides. The burnt ends was by far the best of the lot. This was not the place we had planned on going but Nicholas has great taste and directed us here, off the beaten path yet quite busy. Graduation weekend has caused a lot of celebration in town for sure. We saw a few wedding parties and just a bustling great time.

The Farmers Market in the River Market District was fantastic and loaded with deals and great places to eat. I even found my elusive Mediterranean spice I was looking for. The spice stores are well appointed for sure.  We left early right after breakfast but way too early for the Outlet Mall so, all our treasured finds in tow,  we came home.

We stopped in Omaha at the Dollar Store and bought 3 packages of clear plastic forks. Not sure if this works or I am just imagining things, but I have been positioning the forks, prong sides up, to deter garden nibblers. So far so good around the larger plants who can't wear one of our fashionable hats. I now have hundreds of forks menacingly guarding the garden against invasion. Crazy huh?  It has worked better that cayenne pepper or any of the other methods I have tried. The rabbits have been particularly active this year eating things they normally would leave be like my irises, coreopsis and Joe Pye Weed. My more showy plants are being spared.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hosta Hats and other oddities

a few of the hostas from last year including Wheee!
Lucky to have anything come up since the squirrels love this pot. The cabbage looking plants are Bergenia just about done blooming. The pot is filled with Canna Lillies and Gladioloas.

glass sculpture for accent
Hosta wearing a hat.

So I finally got around to planting our bounty from last weeks adventure to the Hosta Farm. Now, I have a rabbit problem like most of us suburbanites and they destroy everything I put in the ground unless adequately protected. I have tried it all, sprays, powders, human hair, dog hair and the neighbors cat. Nothing seemed to do the trick.

I found some small link, coated chicken wire at the local Menards and resigned to putting a fence around everything. I got thinking and cut a 2 foot length of the 2 foot wide wire and put it over a 5 gallon bucket. I forced another bucket on top effectively creating a 'cloche'. Secured with a few bamboo stakes and voila! No more rabbit food.  For the smaller plants, I used 2 clay pots. Look Ma, no more nibbled leaves. Now if I could just keep the squirrels from digging in the pots....

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day Fail

Nick was in town Sunday so he showed with Jill and we had a nice brunch planned. Caramel Pecan Rolls, Egg Benedict and breakfast meats. Sadly I thought I could use the Sous Vide for the eggs instead our usual fail proof method on the 6 and a half minute boil. In the future, stick to the tried and true methods. What we got instead of soft boiled was a jelled yolk. Not much fun there.

Ben and Mackenzie were working so most of the rest of the day it was just Brenda and I. Rainy and a little nippy, there was not much to do. A fruitless search for our favorite trailer for our pots was frustrating but we did find our pond plants at a local garden spot. Just not much out there. Last few years we found our huge ferns at Sam's Club but this year nothing. Funny how you get used to something and just nothing else will do.

Busy regrouping now for the rest of the week and what lies ahead.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Road Trip to visit friends

On Saturday we motored to Des Moines to visit Matt and Lori who recently moved back 'home' where Matt got a new assignment. While we grew close after 8 or 9 years in Omaha, we missed them a lot. Part of the weekend was a trip the Flying Frogs Hosta Farms where Brenda and I added another 5 plants to our collection of about 30 distinct varieties from over a thousand choices. So many more to go! It was a grand weekend and we had a blast. We drove back right after breakfast on Sunday and are looking forward to a visit from them next time they are in the Big 'O'.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Dinner with Friends

Same post but different day. This week we host the Baumers after an invite for some fine dining. The offer was to go out or me to cook. The decision was Indian at our house and I quickly took a boneless lamb leg from the deep freeze.

Brenda is not crazy about lamb so I also decided to make a chicken tiki masla for her. We hit the local Indian grocer twice Saturday and picked assorted fried goodies from the cart as well as supplemented my arsenal of Indian spices and a few sauces. We, of course had to eat one samosa hot out of the case. Delicious. I planned to make Na'an and Roti but had time only to make the Na'an. I bought pre-made, uncooked roti and cooked them myself.

I used a Tandoori marinade for the chicken this time and laid off the heat. The Butter Chicken I made last week was a bit over the top with heat so I went a slightly different route this time. I used nearly a quart carton of yogurt this time around between the Lamb Vindaloo, Chicken Tiki Masala and the Na'an dough.  The lamb simmered close to four hours in the oven  and was meltingly tender.

4 pound boneless lamb leg cut into 2 inch cubes
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala
1 onion, chopped
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup sliced fresh ginger
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
1 large onion, chopped
salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, for garnish

1 cup yogurt

1. Place lamb in a large resealable plastic bag. Whisk together cider vinegar, oil,
salt, tamarind concentrate, and garam masala in a bowl, and pour into the bag.
Squeeze out excess air and seal the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 8 hours or
2.Heat 2 tbls oil in a Dutch Oven.
3. Remove marinated lamb and season all
sides with salt. brown in batches and set aside.
Reserve marinade in the bag.
4. Combine 1 onion, garlic, ginger, cherry tomatoes, and water in a blender and pulse on and off until smooth. Set aside.
5. Combine cayenne pepper, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, dried mustard, and black pepper in a small bowl.
6. Melt clarified butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Cook and stir 1 onion
until softened and well-browned, about 30 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and pour in cayenne pepper mixture. Cook and stir until spices are aromatic, about 2 minutes.
7. Pour marinade from the bag into the stockpot, and stir in tomato-onion mixture and brown sugar. Bring mixture to a simmer. Place lamb in the pan and reduce
heat to low. Cover and cook, turning occasionally, until meat is tender and easily pierced with a fork, 3 to 4 hours.
8. Remove lamb from the pot and cover with foil. Increase heat and simmer the sauce for a few minutes, skimming the fat from the top. Taste and add salt if needed. Serve
lamb shanks with sauce spooned over the top. Garnish with cilantro. I added about 1 cup yogurt before serving.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dinner with Friends

They have been a part of our lives since the beginning of our lives together, the Kropps came for dinner Friday night. Nothing special, just meatballs and spaghetti. A special dessert for chocolate crazy Kim. Mackenzie joined us also.

We don't see them often but we make the most of it when we do. A random football game, an investment seminar and occasionally a happy run in here or there. So nice to have folks in your life like this. The recipe was one I had used recently for another gathering and still remains one of our favorites.

On Sunday I made Butter chicken and fresh Naan bread for dinner over a cauliflower rice. So tasty and easy to prepare. I used my Masala Dabba for the spices and subbed a few ingredients since I had no yogurt or cilantro but it still tasted great without having to run back to the store.


  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/4 white onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon ginger garlic paste
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 pinch black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup water


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Sauté shallot and onion until soft and translucent.
  2. Stir in butter, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, 1 teaspoon garam masala, chili powder, cumin and bay leaf.
  3. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add tomato sauce, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in half-and-half and yogurt.
  4. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Season with salt pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat, and season with 1 teaspoon garam masala and cayenne.
  7. Stir in a few spoonfuls of sauce, and simmer until liquid has reduced, and chicken is no longer pink.
  8. Stir cooked chicken into sauce.
  9. Mix together cornstarch and water, then stir into the sauce. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Pascha...the Greek way

finished loaf
after the second rise

Matt Boulos checking his 'baby'
The final moments of the roast
We were graciously invited to spend the Paschal feast with some great friends this year since we were minus our own kids and feeling a bit sad about that. The first years since I can remember that I wasn't making a Meat Festival on the grill after 40+ days of abstinence.

Lamb? well of course there was lamb, whole and grilled and delicious. I had to make a dessert and brought a Lemon Cheesecake but did a bit of research and made an authentic Greek Easter Braid called "Tsoureki".  A fine cake-like bread flavored with masticha and anise seed.
We had a grand time. Lots of kids and lots of food with a very gracious host and hostess.

From My Greek Dish, the recipe:


  • 135g butter, from cow’s milk, at room temperature (4.7 oz.)
  • 135g milk, at room temperature (4.7 oz.)
  • 200g sugar (7 oz.)
  • 4 medium eggs, at room temperature
  • 870g bread flour (30 oz.)
  • 21g dry yeast (0.7 oz.)
  • 100g lukewarm water (3.5 0z.)
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 3g ground mastic (0.11 oz.) 
  • 4g ground mahleb (0.14 oz.) I used ground Anise Seed
  • 1 egg and 1 tbsp water, for glazing the tsoureki


  1. To prepare this tsoureki recipe (Greek Easter Bread), add in a bowl the lukewarm water, a pinch of sugar and yeast and stir. Wrap well with plastic wrap and set aside for about 6-7 minutes, until the yeast rises and starts bubbling. Be careful not do add hot water, as it will kill the yeast, nor cold, as it will take forever for the Greek Easter bread to rise. The water should be at the same temperature as your finger, so check it out sticking one finger in; you should feel no difference in temperature.
  2. Use a pestle or a blender to ground the masticha and mahlepi, along with a pinch of sugar and set aside. (These aromatic spices will give Greek Easter bread its distinctive taste and amazing smell. But be careful not to add any more mastic than this tsoureki recipe calls for, as it will leave a slightly bitter taste to your Greek Easter bread.)
  3. In a saucepan add the butter, sugar and milk. Place over very low heat and stir the mixture, until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. The key is to melt the butter at very low heat, so that the temperature doesn’t ‘kill’ the yeast. Remove the pan from the stove and check the temperature. The mixture should be at the same temperature as your finger. If it is warmer, leave to cool down for a few minutes and check again.
  4. Pour the butter mixture in a large bowl and whisk in the eggs. Add the yeast mixture and whisk to combine.
  5. In the mixer’s bowl add the flour, the ground mastic and mahlepi, orange zest and the butter-egg-yeast mixture from step 4. Using the dough hook mix at first at low speed, until the ingredients start to combine and then mix at medium-high speed for about 15 minutes, until the dough doesn’t stick on the sides of the bowl. At this point the dough should be really soft, like seen in the picture and a little sticky. (Be careful not to add any more flour than this tsoureki recipe calls for, as the dough should be really soft and not firm).
  6. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and place in a warm environment, until at least it doubles it’s size (for about 2-3 hours). If the environment is cold, preheat the oven at 30C, turn it off and place the bowl inside.
  7. Gently deflate the tsoureki dough with your hands and cut in 6 equal portions (three for each Greek Easter bread). Take one piece of the dough (do not flour the working surface!) and roll it a little bit with your hands. Hold with your hands from the edges and shake to stretch the dough into a rope. This technique will help the Greek Easter bread (tsoureki) form the characteristic stringy texture, as seen in the picture. Form the Greek Easter bread into a braid and transfer on a large baking tray layered with parchment paper. Repeat the same procedure with the second tsoureki. Let the Greek Easter bread rise for about 1 more hour at room temperature or in the oven, until it almost doubles it’s size, like seen in the picture.
  8. In a small bowl add the egg and 1 tbsp water and whisk with a fork. Brush the top of each Greek Easter bread with the egg, being careful not to deflate it, garnish with almond silvers and bake in preheated oven at 170C for about 40-50 minutes, until nicely browned and fluffy.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Last Supper with Great Friends

We entertained the Fangman's this weekend as they head for Des Moines in a few days. We have been friends since they moved here 8 years ago and will miss them sorely we just had to have a evening on the patio. A bit chilly that night as the ladies will attest but fond memories are there as we bid them farewell until we travel to Des Moines to catch up with them again.

I made an old favorite recipe that I haven't made in years. Scallops Au Gratin or Coquille St. Jacques. A french dish thats a little fussy and we found great dishes to serve it it. Usually we eat this over rice but tradition calls for mashed potatoes so we went with tradition. All in all it was a grand evening. Cigars and wine followed before we retired inside to have a rich dessert for a cap on the festivities. I made Pot de Creme with a surprise caramel sauce on the bottom.

The recipe comes from my Joslyn Cookbook which is loaded with kind of fussy recipes that only I would love. I believe they still sell the book at the museum but mine is a signed copy from when the author was still living.

Coquilles St. Jacques

3/4 c Dry Vermouth
1 bay leaf
1 diced shallot
1 pound Bay scallops, rinsed and dried
8 ounces of sliced cremini mushrooms
Water or Clam broth (optional)
4 tbl butter
3 tbl flour
3/4 c milk
1/2 c cream
2 egg yolks
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
2 cups mashed potatoes

I started by heating the Vermouth , bay leaf and shallots and simmering for 10 minutes. Add the scallops and mushrooms with enough water or broth to cover. Simmer gently till the scallops are just done (do not boil or the scallops with toughen). Remove the scallops and mushrooms and reduce the remaining liquid to 1 cup. 

In another sauce pan, melt the butter and add the flour to form a roux but don't let it brown. Add the milk and cook till thickened. Add the beaten egg yolks and cream. Add lemon juice and zest. Thin if needed with more milk. Should make for a heavy cream sauce. Add the scallops and mushrooms back and stir to combine. Keep warm and set aside.

Cook and mash your potatoes. I used Yukon Golds. Load into a large pastry bag and pipe a border around the serving dish. Fill the center with the scallop mixture, top with Gruyere and broil till potatoes have a golden edge. Serves 4.

Chocolate Pot de Creme

Heat 300 gm cream and add 300 gm of semi sweet chocolate and 50 gm of butter. Allow the chocolate and butter to melt and stir till the mixture is dark brown and creamy. Set aside to cool slightly. I did all this in a 4 cup measure in the microwave.  Makes 6 servings

Caramel base

1 c sugar
1/4 c water
6 tbl butter cut into pieces
1/2 c cream

heat 1 cup sugar and 1/4 c water in a heavy saucepan till the sugar turns amber. Add the cream off heat and mix adding butter a little at a time stirring after each addition.

Divide the caramel between 6 dessert cups. I refrigerated the caramel to set up a bit before pouring the chocolate on top. After pouring the chocolate, refrigerate till firm then sprinkle with Grey salt just before serving.


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