Saturday, March 19, 2011

Week 12: Hamantaschen

This Sunday, March 20 is the Jewish holiday of Purim. We celebrate our victory over the evil villain Haman in ancient Persia by dressing in costumes, giving gifts of food, and making the iconic Purim pastry: hamantaschen. These triangular pastries, traditionally made with fruit or poppyseed filling, are easy to come by in my hometown of Los Angeles. In San Jose, not so much. So I conquered my fear of dough and rolling pins this week by attempting hamantaschen for the first time. Here's how to make them -- no baking experience required.
Apricot and chocolate hamantaschen
What You Need
For the dough:
(dough recipe adapted from Entree to Judaism: A Culinary Exploration of the Jewish Diaspora by Tina Wasserman)

  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • grated zest from 1/2 orange
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • confectioner's sugar

For the apricot filling:
(filling recipe from Gale Gand on

  • 2 cups finely chopped dried apricots
  • 1-1/3 cups orange juice
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • grated zest from 1/2 orange

For the chocolate filling:

  • Trader Joe's semi-sweet chocolate callets (chocolate disks for baking)


  • cookie sheet
  • parchment paper
  • 2-1/2 or 3-inch round cookie cutter
  • electric mixer
  • rolling pin

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cream the butter and sugar together with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs, vanilla, and orange zest, and beat until lighter in color and fluffy. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix until the mixture starts to hold together.

Gently knead the dough on a lightly floured surface about ten times, or just until the dough is smooth and holds together. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

While the dough is cooling in the refrigerator, make the apricot filling. Place the filling ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until the orange juice is absorbed. Let the filling cool a little before proceeding.
Let the apricots absorb the orange juice.
Roll the dough out on a board lightly covered with confectioner's sugar, which will slightly glaze the baked cookie and make it a little sweeter. Work with part of the dough at a time, keeping the rest refrigerated so that it stays cool. Cut the dough out into circles with the cookie cutter.
Cutting out the dough. Notice that the rolling pin technique here is not perfect, and neither is the cut-out circle. Taste-wise, that didn't make a bit of difference in the final hamantaschen.
For the apricot filling: place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of each circle. Be generous with the filling. Store-bought hamantaschen are notorious for being mostly dough, with just a teeny dab of filling inside. When making them at home, you can top 'em up with as much filling as you like.
Adding the filling

For the chocolate filling: place three chocolate callets in the center of each circle.

Shape into triangles by pushing two of the outer sides of dough upward toward each other, then pushing the bottom part of the dough up to form the bottom of the triangle. Pinch the dough seams together at each corner of the triangle, letting the filling show in the middle.
Making a triangle shape
Bake 15 minutes or until golden. Makes approximately 1-1/2 dozen hamantaschen.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Week 11: Sea Joy

When it comes to art, sometimes it helps to just stop thinking rationally at all, which is how I came up with the idea of a huge seashell with a girl on top of it. This isn't a project to imitate step-by-step - you'll want to come up with your own irrational art idea - but the various mixed media techniques we'll explore in this project can help you get there.
What You Need
For the painting and background:
For the image transfer:
  • gampi paper (available from FineArtStore or Flax in the San Francisco Bay area)
  • workable fixative (Krylon)
  • gloss polymer medium (Golden)
For the mixed media elements:
  • light modeling paste (Liquitex)
  • small unfinished wooden boxes (available at craft stores)
  • gesso
  • craft glue (Mod Podge or Aleene's Tacky Glue)
  • embellishments: rocks, seashells, yarn
  • pigment powder (Perfect Pearls)
Some of the materials needed, clockwise from left: polymer medium, gesso, workable fixative, light modeling paste, pigment powder
Working with smooth gessobord, we'll create a painting and collage that melds several mixed media techniques. We'll transfer an image using gampi paper, add texture to the smooth board with modeling paste, and add dimensionality with sea-themed objects inside small boxes.

Start by gathering the items you'll be using, and placing them on the board in roughly the position you want. Here, I have a paper poseable figure and a smaller printed version of the nautilus shell.
Find and place your objects for a rough composition
Next, we'll work with a new image transfer technique: transfer using gampi paper, which is a very lightweight paper that seems to melt right onto the surface you adhere it to. This technique creates a perfect inkjet image transfer; I learned this from Darlene McElvoy and Sandra Wilson's Image Transfer Workshop book.

Cut your gampi paper to slightly smaller than the size of a sheet of printer paper and scotch-tape it to the edges. I printed out half the seashell on one page and half on the other so that the image would be larger.

Spray the image with a coat of workable fixative, which allows you to then work with it, paint over it, and protect it. I'm chemically sensitive, so I use a heavy-duty face mask and spray it either in the garage or outdoors. Let the image dry and the fumes disperse.
Image printed on two sheets of gampi paper
The nice thing about painting on smooth board is that you can add your own texture using modeling paste, rather than being limited to the texture of canvas. I wanted the seashell to pop out of the background, so I applied a few coats of modeling paste in the shape of the seashell, letting each coat dry overnight before applying the next coat.
Adding texture with modeling paste, using a palette knife
Next, rough in the background colors using acrylic paints. I started with light watery washes of transparent colors for the ocean and sky, and then built them up in several different sessions, adding more color and texture. Once the background was painted, I cut the seashell image out and affixed it to the seashell-shaped area of modeling paste with polymer medium, which is a very thin acrylic medium. The paper is so thin that any color added to the background will show through, so I kept the modeling paste background white.
Starting to add in the ocean and sky
Here's a "first draft" of the painting. The sky ended up being too purple, which clashed with the colors of the poseable figure.
Once the sky and ocean were painted, I added texture to the waves with modeling paste and, using tape, temporarily placed the figure and boxes to check the placement.
When I was happy with the placement of the boxes, I painted them with gesso to prime them, let them dry, then glued them to the board with Mod Podge collage glue.
Painting the boxes with gesso
To add more interest to the composition, I added diagonal lines for the waves and the sandbar. After posing the figure on the shell and affixing her with earthquake putty, some multicolored slubbed yarn became her hair. And inside the boxes you'll find a fossil ammonite and a sparkly rock, purchased several years ago from Jackalope in Santa Fe.
Almost finished . . .
The painting needed a little something extra to add interest to the water and sky. Mixing pigment powder with water and brushing it on in spots on the sky, sea, and sandbar added some shine and echoed the sparkles in the rock. The one thing left to do is varnish the painting.
The final painting
I wanted to create something that made me smile; something I'd enjoy looking at. Something you've just gotta do something a little crazy.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Week 10: Just a Little Bit Nicer

This week, we're not going to do anything wacky with new art materials and techniques. We're going to create a few small projects that use what we have and make our corner of the world just that little bit prettier. We'll be sprucing up an ugly painting, and rejuvenating a few planter pots. Plus, we'll piggyback on Week 7 with a new take on the folk art planter pot.
New plants brighten up the yard
Formerly hideous painting is now bearable
Project 1: Springtime Planter Pot
It's early spring here in the San Francisco Bay area, and last year's geraniums are looking pretty tired. Time to send them to the great compost heap in the sky and pretty up the front window.

Bye bye, old geraniums
What you need
  • potting mix
  • balanced fertilizer
  • plants (I used lysimachia for the trailing plant and two perennial violas in each pot)
  • terra cotta pot
  • garden gloves
  • trowel
  • optional: wire mesh window screen material (available at hardware stores)
Everything you need for this project
1. Take out the old plants and compost them.

2. Cut a piece of window screen to cover the bottom drainage holes of the pot. That prevents the potting soil from leaking out of the pot and making a mess.

3. Fill up the pot about 2/3 of the way with potting soil. Water the soil so that it's moist.

4. Sprinkle some fertilizer over the surface, then scoop it through the soil so it's evenly distributed.
Sprinkle fertilizer
5. Add your plants. It's nice to have a trailing plant that spills fetchingly over the edge of the pot. Keep the plants close enough together that they give the pot a filled-in look.

6. Add more soil as needed to fill up the pot, and water thoroughly.

And there you go!

Our cute little springtime pot

Project 2: Painting SOS
Several years ago, I painted an enormous dahlia flower and hung it in the dining room across from a complementary dahlia flower canvas that I'd painted previously. It creates a nice symmetry to have these opposing dahlia paintings. But man, I hated that flower. Something about it always bugged me. And I had to look at it every single day. Time to fix it up -- finally.

This week, I happened to be sitting in the dining room painting something else, with some red paint on my palette. I just walked right up the wall and started whacking away at the painting right there. It ended up much the better for it.
This painting used to annoy me so much I stuck another picture over the middle of it. 
What You Need

  • acrylic paints of your choice
  • paintbrush
  • palette paper
The main problem with the painting -- and it's hard to see this in the "before" picture -- is that the colors are muddy. This is a red dahlia, but I used these gloomy yellow ochre-like colors in the centers of the petals, with dark shadows in the center and under the petals. Adding bright, saturated, opaque reds -- a mix of cadmium red medium and cadmium red deep -- makes the painting pop.

Also, the composition is boring. The flower sits floating in the middle of the picture without touching the edges. Pulling some of the petals over to the edge of the canvas gives it considerably more interest.

Finally, the flower's center was previously quite dark. That gave the whole painting a gloomy, draggy feel. Covering up the dark center with new bright yellow paint gives the painting new energy.

Petals move to the edges, the center is brightened up, and the petals get a coat of bright red paint.
Lesson learned for this project: if you don't like something you've made, go ahead, paint over it and try again -- even if it is three years later. The only gotcha is making sure the painting isn't varnished before going back in; this one wasn't. I must have known I wasn't really done with it.

Project 3: Planter Pot Redux
Here are some updates to the planter pot we made in Week 7. This planter pot here is a stenciled version, done by third graders for a school fundraiser:

And this is the planter pot from Week 7, now outdoors with a plant in it:

And that's this week: a few little projects, adding a little cheer.