Archive for the 'DIY' Category

How to Get Through A Day (& Even Function) Without Sleep

A Manual

Wake up at your usual time… or only slightly later. Basically, don’t sleep all day and mess with your long-term  sleep schedule.

Make a cup of good, strong coffee and an easy breakfast, i.e. nothing where you could easily burn or cut yourself. Protein is crucial, but avoid bacon and sausage because digestive systems freak out without sleep. I like avocado and melted cheese on toast.

If you don’t have a desk or a table because, say, you haven’t quite moved into your new apartment yet, at least make the bed. Don’t lie around in the sheets all day.

Also, put on real clothes as soon as possible. You must trick your body into thinking that it’s adequately prepared to act like a functional person today.

This also might require putting on makeup. Possibly with bright eyeliner, but definitely with under-eye concealer. If you can see yourself as bright-eyed and awake in the mirror, you can trick your brain is thinking you actually are awake. This tactic also helps avoid the shock of seeing your sleepless-zombie self in a mirror later today.

N.B. If you’re a dude, this step still applies.

Pack a bag. Don’t forget obvious things, like a cell phone or house key.

Head out door. Don’t forget shoes or pants.

This Side Up

If only instructions for life were this easy: This Place Now. This Job Up. All Arrows To The East.

People often make overarching statements about the cultural differences between the West and the East in the U.S. – and generally, they’re talking about New York versus Los Angeles: one big city pitted against another.

But it’s not so easy when you’re comparing mid-sized Virginia towns to tiny Ohio villages to medium-ish Colorado towns. Or when the small Colorado town is one of the most isolated liberal bubbles in the state. Kind of a cultural blip.

What I’ve missed about Eastern Appalachian and mid-Southern towns: The kindness. The total lack of pretension. Lower food prices. Lower rents. Lower cost of living. Black people. Being able to rely on community. Generosity. Good hosts. The way people have a real sympathy for other people, even if they’re only acquaintances. The way people are really aware of other people, even if they don’t have sympathy. Mixed-income populations. Obesity. Ugly gardens. Ugliness in general. Conservatives. Manners. Better drivers.

What I’m going to miss about Boulder: Sunshine every day. The total lack of self-consciousness. The beautiful gardens. The beautiful houses. Not living anywhere near a Wal-Mart. Or a CVS. Intentional living. The intellect. My favorite coffee shop from over the summer. Big skies. Being able to hike at a moment’s notice. The big forbidding metaphorical mountains.

Anyways, I’m going to on a train for the next few days, and then driving for another, so I won’t be posting until I get settled in on the other side.

Wish me luck!

A Brief Stint as a Holiday Food Writer

Literally The Best Apple Pie Ever (Scroll down for the recipe)

We celebrate Thanksgiving with a pie-baking day at the office. During yesterday’s wind-whipped afternoon the kitchen was filled with nine women, cases of apples, a row of cutting stations and scattered rolling pins, handfuls of cinnamon and bowls of lemon juice. And lots of wine (which can be risky if you find yourself in the row of cutting stations).

Feasting may make a brain sluggish, but it’s always worth taking a step back from celebrations. Personally, I find it hard to strike a balance between good cheer and dealing with the aspects of Thanksgiving that I don’t support. Like (for example) the way that it gets used in elementary schools to perpetuate a myth about peaceful Indian-Colonist potluck dinners. Or the way that it promotes the image of an idealized, nuclear family: why does Dad carve the turkey if Mom prepared most of the food? The whole image is always a tiny bit awkward for anyone who isn’t married, or who isn’t straight.

I think those things are important to remember (even just subconsciously) when you pause for those Thanksgiving moments of reflection.

In any case, I definitely support Good Cheer. And I hope a sense of awareness, gratefulness, and graciousness spreads throughout everybody’s year. (I realize Thanksgiving is usually not a holiday for wishing, but eh!)

I also support pies, so here’s a recipe for Literally The Best Apple Pie Ever.

» Literally The Best Apple Pie Ever «

A combination of my dad’s semi-famous apple pies, and my foodie co-workers.

The Crust

Sometimes, storebought is just as good as homemade.

…when it comes to pie crust, this is not the case.

A flaky-crumbly-golden-crisp-crust is the difference between a B- pie and an A+ pie, and unfortunately, you can’t get it in the freezer aisle. It turns out that making your own crust doesn’t actually take much time at all, especially if you make the dough a day or two before and store in the fridge until you’re ready to bake.

The trick to a perfect crust is to use both shortening and butter: the shortening helps it to be firmer and crumbly, while the butter makes it flaky and golden. Also, don’t underestimate the importance of ice water! My brief lesson in dough-science yesterday taught me that the dough has to stay cold until right before it goes in the oven in order to get that beautiful flaky separation. If the dough gets warm when you’re mixing it, or if you take it out of the fridge too early, the butter begins to absorb the flour and they won’t separate into flaky goodness while baking.

You’ll need:

  • 2 ¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 10 tablespoons butter (soft, but not melted)
  • 8 tablespoons shortening
  • 6 to 8 tablespoons of ice water (I’ve heard you can substitute one spoonful of water with a spoonful of cider vinegar, though I’m not sure why)

Mix the flour, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Then cut in the butter, shortening, and ice water– and take care not to overmix! Pie crust is not a smooth, whippy dough; it should be more bulky and just barely mixed up. Then wrap your dough in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes (or overnight, or whatever).

The Filling

For this recipe, I’m sticking with a basic apple filling. In Advanced Pie 301, we can move on to subtle flavor additions like ginger, cranberries or bourbon, but for now we’ll have our bourbon on the side.

Selecting Apples

Some cooks like to combine different apple varieties to create a more complex flavor. You can use whatever combination you prefer, but the thing to remember is that you want to use apple varieties that are firm enough to cook beautifully without losing their shape or structure. We don’t want no apple sludge.

In general this means you should stay away from any apple variety that you would eat for lunch, such as Red Delicious or Gala. They tend to be softer and sugary-er, and don’t bake well.

The best varieties for apple pies are firmer and tarter: Granny Smith apples are a reliable choice, but I would recommend getting organic because I’ve found that the non-organic ones are weirdly tasteless and sour at the same time. If you want to branch out past Granny Smith, try varieties like Jonathan, Jonagold or Honeycrisp. A lot of cooks swear by Pippins, but they’re smaller which can make peeling difficult. I’ve also good heard things about Winesap, Northern Spy, and Pink Lady.

The consistency of the filling is not an exact science, but it shouldn’t be too watery, or too thick like canned preserves. The juices surrounding the apple slices should be the consistency of a silky syrup, with just a bit pooling in the bottom of your mixing bowl. You’ll probably develop an instinct about your preferred filling so the measurements below are just approximate.

You will need:

  • 8 to 9 apples (don’t skimp on this! You need more apples than you think to stuff a perfect pie)
  • Lemon juice (I recommend using a couple of Meyer lemons; they have a more complex flavor)
  • A couple teaspoons of tapioca powder (this is another addition from yesterday; before I would have used corn starch)
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 4-6 teaspoons cinnamon

Peel and slice your apples. Thinner slices will create a dense pie with the crust resting on top of the apples, while thicker slices will collapse and leave the top crust domed. Both pies are pretty, so it’s just a matter of preference.

In a large bowl, add the juice from the Meyer lemons to the apple slices immediately. If you’re a slow peeler, you might want to add the lemon juice to the  sliced apples earlier on.

So add all your spices, and use a big paddle spoon to mix everything up. Make sure you keep pulling the juices from the bottom of the bowl upwards, coating everything evenly. If you need to pour off some of the juice, do so.

Preparing and Cooking the Pie

You will need:

  • 3 or 4 pats of butter (¼ inch thick)
  • 1 egg, beaten

Take your dough out of the fridge and split it in half, putting one half back in the fridge. Make sure you’re using flour to coat the rolling pin and the counter surface. Now roll out your dough as evenly as possible, aiming for 1/8 inch thickness and creating a large, round shape.

To get the crust onto the pie dish: Make sure both the dough and your hands are coated in flour, and maybe you have a cute smudge of flour on your cheek in case someone takes a picture. Fold the dough in half, then pick it up and lay it over half of the pie dish. Unfold and gently adjust so that it’s molded to the dish. This method was another trick from yesterday and it helps to avoid stretching or tearing the crust.

Now pile in your filling. Like literally. Heap it as high as you can. Gently place the pats of butter on top of your apple-mountain.

Take the second half of your dough out of the fridge and roll it out using the same method as before. Transfer it onto your apple-mountain using the handy-dandy folding tip.

Depending on how much excess dough you have hanging off the sides of your pie dish, you may have to trim. Ideally, you want 3-ish inches of dough around the edges. If you do trim, cut the layers of crust together, using the knife to press them together as you cut.

Now, going around the edge of your pie, roll both layers of excess crust underneath and tuck them into the edge of the pie dish. The idea is to seal in your filling so that the top and bottom crust don’t separate while cooking.

Once you’ve done this step, go around the edge again and pinch the rolled part together every half inch or so. That’s how you get those beautiful magazine crust edges.

Using a knife or a fork, make ventilation holes in a pretty pattern. Maybe a smiley face. Then brush the egg onto the top crust thoroughly, but not thickly.

Oh right, you should’ve preheated your oven to 400°.

Assuming that you read the recipe all the way through before starting to cook, your oven should already be hot and you can finally begin to bake! And then make your roommate or spouse do the dishes while you rest and munch on cinnamon-sprinkled apple peels.

Bake at 400° for 10 or 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375° for the rest of the cooking time – another half hour or so. Your pie is ready when the innards begin to bubble out of the ventilation holes.

When that happens, take your pie out of the oven, let it cool, and feast.

Custom Office Moleskines

My office is a very Do-It-Yourself kind of place: we make breakfast bars in the Big Fancy Kitchen (BFK), test potential clients’ food products in the conference room, and hike mountains on our staff retreat. And when the Boss wants to make a retreat goodie bag for every employee, we interns get down with our crafty selves.

So that’s how I ended up cutting and pasting through a set of 10 large ruled Moleskine notebooks …despite my general aversion to Moleskine notebooks. Our retreat focus this year was “ReFresh” –note the clever use of company name! –and, as always, green dominates our color scheme.

Note to those interested in attempting a similar project: if you have a laser printer that uses toner oil, Lasertran is a pretty sweet method for transferring images onto the cover. However, if your office has a shiny new laser printer, chances are that it does not use toner oil and you will have wasted $30 on a pack of transfer paper. Not that I’m speaking from experience.

The Game of Giving Gifts

A watercolor I painted as a present

Gift-giving has always had a political element to it. Tribal groups typically exchanged gifts in order to keep good relations, build new alliances, or repair tensions; from the Middle Ages through the Reformation and the Victorian Age, elements of charity and philanthropy evolved into various forms– but they were always based on the foundation of the Gift.

Today I might argue that gift giving has become less political, but no less strategic. In a globalized free market, our primary form of exchange is monetary, and certainly that economic element infuses our gift-giving: last year we spent $446.8 billion dollars on retail gifts alone during the holiday season.

But real strategy of the gift game plays out on an individual level:

  • How well do I know this person? (How personal should this gift be?)
  • What kind of a relationship do we have? (How much time or money should I spend preparing or buying this gift?)
  • What is this person’s personality? (What the hell should I actually give?)

The political element hasn’t disappeared from gift-giving, though– especially when women complain how hard it is to buy presents for men. Or when men feel frustrated because they don’t know how to shop for women (or how to shop at all). Marketing and sales industries are primarily aimed at women; women are taught how and when to spend money from a very young age. Men, on the other hand, are given a small range of typical gifts for women they care about: flowers, jewelry, candy. It kindof limits their creativity, don’t it.

I’m feeling the strategy of gift-giving these days. All of the birthdays in my family but one fall within the October to December range (not to mention that whole Holiday Season thing…).

I recently made the painting at the top as a gift for one of my co-workers (a cheaper alternative than pitching in for a gift certificate). But now I’m questioning my strategy: is it appropriate; will she like it; is it her style…

I’ve also never done a still life before– I tried a lot of new techniques with this piece. A word of advice to artists: it’s REALLY FRIGGIN’ RISKY to experiment with a new technique when you’re planning to give away the painting as a gift.

MIA: Multi-tasking In Action

I’m in the middle of a few different projects right now, but nothing is really completed enough for a full post. I’m sure I’ll have a finished post for each of these eventually.

But for now, let us remember that most of Life is a Do-It-Yourself project… unless you have a wife, of course. Or nanny. Or housekeeper. Or personal assistant.

Okay, it turns out that many people don’t build their own lives. Shame on them.

Re-tiling the shower. And avoiding mold infections...

Painting the exterior of our apartment.

Making chicken salad, banana bread, and salsa. The salsa is in-progress, but the banana bread is in the progress of being eaten.

Oh, and this huge-ass painting.

and art.

Artist/Writer Stranded Without A Book

I’ve written before about the importance of journals, art journals– whatever you want to call the Blank Book that causes you to stop, reflect, and articulate. Art journalers may not use text the way that a ‘traditional’ journaler does, but art journals still offer the same benefit; instead of articulating in words, the journaler is visually articulating his or her experiences, thoughts, feelings. The important thing is the reflection and processing of the, um, ‘external’ world.

So basically, I’m Without A Book.

Right now.

–> Look, no panic mode! (Okay, maybe a little panic mode). I finished a wonderful Fabriano Venezia art journal right before leaving on my road trip. (For the record, the Venezia journal was reviewed by Biffybeans as “glorious,” and I have to agree). But now it has been three weeks, and I’m still without a Book.

It turns out that this is quite the interesting experiment for an artist and writer. I’ve found that all my journaling energy has been redirected onto many different projects. Not only have I been using several different sketchbooks, but I’ve also begun some large-scale paintings, which I don’t do very often. As for writing, I’ve been directing a lot of that energy into poems, which I’m mostly composing on half-empty Rhodia pads around the apartment.

In general, it feels a lot more productive. Maybe it has been valuable to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and just CREATE, no matter the surface and no matter the medium.

But, I do have a fancypants new journal in the mail, so look for an upcoming review.

In the meantime, here are some sketches: (as always, click for full view)

A picnic lunch at Manitou Springs

10 minute sketch of our tent, just as it got too dark to draw.


Art adventures, literary hangovers, rural politics and other songs worth sharing.

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