A blog of art, photography, food and writings.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

5 x 7 "

by Rena Williams, watercolor artist
Auburn, Alabama

Rena Williams's Blog
Rattling Gourd Gallery website

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


We're on the home stretch of National Peanut Month and I have at least one more posting related to the little legume.

Last year, my father-in-law, Joe, introduced me to a mild tasting drink called Peanut Milk. He had read about it in the Los Angeles Times and immediately went on a hunt to find some; not an easy task because peanut milk is not mainstream yet.

When he offered me a taste, I just had to try this unusual milky-white beverage. I sipped, critiqued, and liked it. Richer than rice and almond milk, with a consistency similar to full fat soy milk. This drink definitely hints of peanuts, which may taste great to some--and not so great to others. Well worth a try if you're a goober fan.

According to Jack Chang, the creator, peanut milk has health enhancing properties; though I'm a bit skeptical about that since it contains sugar.

I imagine down the road we'll see more of this product in supermarkets throughout the U.S. But for now, it's only available in health food stores, general market retailers, and Asian grocery stores in Northern and Southern California.

Place of origin? KK Cafe, San Francisco, California

Here's some info on it:

Signs & Wonders® web site
Where to find Signs & Wonders® Peanut Milk

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Sunday, March 25, 2007


Last night I attended a public stargazing event in Seal Beach, which was sponsored by Bogart's Coffee House on Ocean Ave. Out on the green lawns next to the pier, a few local astronomers set up their telescopes and happily shared their knowledge with those of us who came to view the heavens.

My previous experience with the Andromeda Society in Joshua Tree, CA was so exciting that I knew I couldn't pass up this local opportunity when my sister told me about it. Though the gathering was small, I'm glad I made it.

The first telescope my group gazed into revealed an eerie, gray, pock-marked moon. Such a sight was a humbling reminder of how miniscule we are down here on Earth.

The second peek into the dark and sparkling galaxies gave us a look at Venus. A small, moon-like planet, shining white from being near the sun.

Our next viewing, thanks to Michael Beckage, took us one billion miles away into the depths of the black, black sky. Beckage, who set up his C-14 (Celestron 14") telescope with a concave mirror to collect light, focused on Saturn--a true stunner. Each of us who looked through the lens made comments like,

"No way! That's not real!"
"That looks like a stencil! A painting!"
"How could that REALLY be Saturn?"

Well, it was.

Even my sister, 16 year-old cousin and 12 year-old daughter were impressed.

That made my little jaunt from Long Beach to Seal Beach well worth the mother-daughter struggle:

"Do I have to go?"


"I'm tired."

"The stars will be spectacular. You'll wake up."

Nothing like stargazing to get a preteen out the door...

Nasa Astronomy Picture of the Day
Andromeda Society in Yucca Valley, CA
Bogart's Coffee House

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photo of Saturn courtesy ©Michael Beckage

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


And here is a beautiful watercolor from Rena's "Sketchbooks" collection.

by Rena Williams
Watercolor artist
Auburn, Alabama

Rena Williams's Blog
Rattling Gourd Gallery website
Rena's Sketchbooks

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Each morning when I open the door to my backyard, I am greeted by the scent of fragrant orange blossoms. Luckily, my neighbor's tree hangs over my fence, and throughout the winter, is laden with the best oranges I've ever tasted. Now as spring is soon upon us, white flowers sit tucked into the leaves offering a delicate aroma.

There are still lots of oranges hiding deep in the foliage and high on the branches above. Guess it's time to take out the ladder...

Here's a recipe that's ready in a snap.

serves 3 or 4

2 oranges, peeled
few slices red onion
olive oil
chopped mint

Cut oranges in half, then slice into pieces. Add a few slices of red onion. Drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with chopped mint.

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Friday, March 16, 2007


7 x 10"
by Rena Williams
Watercolor artist
Auburn, Alabama

Rena Williams's Blog
Rattling Gourd Gallery website

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007


by Sarojni Mehta-Lissak

How bold you are
hibernating for months
under the foot of an
old sycamore, then...
pushing up through crusted
soil you take center stage,
perfuming the air with
intoxicating precision while
dragging our winter bodies
to you in our inebriated stupor
to sip more of your beauty
which you so wickedly
enjoy... a spell that you
cast every year, until your
glory fades with the
passing of time.

This poem first appeared in Wild Violet, 2003. Second place contest winner.

Wild Violet website
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Monday, March 12, 2007


Since it's National Peanut Month, I'm on the lookout for anything related to the glorious goober. Today I picked up some peanut butter chips at my local health food store, Vitamin City, and had hoped to do some baking this afternoon. Unfortunately, Southern California is in the middle of a heat wave so I don't know if I feel like turning on the oven, which might cause my house to implode (yesterday's temp in Long Beach reached 94 degrees!).

Perhaps where you live turning on the oven would be a pleasure. If so, here's a recipe for cookies using SunSpire Peanut Butter Chips:

Double Peanut Butter Cookies

3/4 cup MaraNatha® Peanut Butter
4 oz. unsalted butter (1 cube), softened
1/2 cup (packed) dark-brown sugar
1/2 cup organic sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 cup Sunspire® Peanut Butter Baking Chips
4 Tbsp. organic sugar for coating

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, salt and baking soda together and set aside. In another mixing bowl, cream together butter, peanut butter and sugars until smooth. Add the vanilla and egg, mix until well combined. Slowly add the flour mixuture just until all wet and dry ingredients combine. Add in your baking chips and mix. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Scoop 2 tsp. of dough and shape into a ball. Roll the ball into the remaining sugar and place on the cookie sheet. Lightly press down on the top of each cookie with the bottom of a jelly jar. Leaving 1 inch in between each cookie.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, depending on whether you desire a soft or crisp cookie. Allow cookies to cool for 10 minutes and transfer to a wire rack for remaining cooling time.

Yields: 4-6 dozen

*Image and recipe courtesy SunSpire.

Buy SunSpire Peanut Butter Chips

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Friday, March 09, 2007


"Sumi!!!" I say as if a train is barreling toward me.

"Whaaaat???" she yells back.

"American Idol is on!"


I try again...

"Sumi, American Idol is on!"

"Okaaay," that dipthong twang reverberating down the hallway straight into my piqued ears. The kind of response sure to make any mother mad.

I don't push; she's obviously preoccupied with music, homework, art.

But how did I end up on the sofa in the family room beckoning HER to the TV to watch American Idol?

Usually, in the evenings my husband, daughter and I watch PBS shows like NOVA, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, or NATURE--you know, the one which captures penguins toddling over the Antarctica ice. We sit together, we learn, we discuss.

So how does American Idol fit into all of this? No seahorses, profiles of Jackie O, or rings of Saturn on this show.

I look back over the past few years and realize, at first it was our daughter Sumi who wanted to watch the tryouts. With all the blunders and ear-tweaking attempts at singing, we found ourselves laughing--and laughing was good for us. So we continued to watch. Pretty soon, the next season was upon us, and the next, and the next.

Before you know it, we're in it for the long haul. But along the way, we've slowly been losing Sumi. She drags in well after the show has started. She doesn't ooh and aah the way I do. (Husband is usually schnoozing after 15 minutes.)

Why have I stayed hooked? Because I like to see budding talent. I like to see people try and succeed. I enjoy speculating and choosing my favorite singer. It's not easy to get up on stage in front of millions and perform.

Though our family picture is changing with a growing daughter, my husband and I plunk ourselves down on the couch at 8 p.m. to watch Idol hopefuls belt out their best. In that hour, I am reminded of myself back in elementary school participating in a talent show with tophat, "tux," and cane in hand. I sang and tap-danced my hardest after weeks of practice: "There's no business like show business..." along with other girls in a group.

American Idol may not be mind-stimulating entertainment, but on the sofa I'll be each week to offer my silent support.

My Idol pick? Melinda Doolittle. She's smooth, flawless and has the composure of a pro. Just what America needs.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


"Rescue Me, 2"
5 x 7"

by Rena Williams
Watercolor artist
Auburn, Alabama

Rena Williams's Blog
Rattling Gourd Gallery website

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007


"Sing along with the elevator music."
--Dove chocolate message

Monday, March 05, 2007


Okay foodies and anyone else interested in culinary timelines--the word is out: March is National Peanut Month, and we better start popping peanuts in our mouths instead of crunching on tortilla chips for our midafternoon snacks. Sorry corn lovers.

According to PeanutButterLovers.com, Americans eat about 3 pounds of peanut butter per person, per year. That's pretty impressive. I can attest to that hefty intake because my family goes through a 16 oz. jar within days.

In honor of National Peanut Month I will be posting one peanut-related recipe per week. Since my previous post was of a "heated" nature (remember those smoky chipotles?), I'll start off with a Schezuan recipe for Kung Pao chicken, which includes peanuts, peanut oil and hot, dried peppers. I'm still researching the potency of these chilies on the Scoville heat scale, so when I find out the rating I'll be sure to share.

Interesting info: Peanuts are not nuts; they are legumes like peas, beans and lentils, and grow in the ground and not in trees.


2 T. cornstarch
3 T. each, soy sauce, water, cooking sherry
2 chicken breasts, boned, skinned and cut into 3/4 inch chunks
1/2 cup peanuts
3 T. peanut oil
2 T. hoisin sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
6 small dried hot, red chilies
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 can water chestnuts, drained and sliced

In small bowl, stir together cornstarch, soy sauce, water and sherry. Add chicken and marinate one hour at room temperature.

In medium skillet or wok, fry chicken (save marinade) and peanuts in oil until golden. Lift out and set aside. Add hoisin and sesame oil to remaining marinade in bowl.

Fry chilies in oil until they turn black. Add garlic and 1/2 cup green onions.

Return chicken and peanuts to wok or pan; add water chestnuts and marinade and cook until mixture sizzles.

Spoon into serving dish and sprinkle with remiaing 1/4 cup green onions.

Note: I would love to cite the source of this recipe, but unfortunately, I don't have it. It was more than 20 years ago that I scribbled down the ingredient list and directions for this Chinese dish on a tiny piece of paper. Oh well...

Learn more about goobers by visiting these sites:

American Peanut Council
About peanuts
Peanut Butter Lovers website

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Friday, March 02, 2007


My in-laws recently returned from a visit to Louisiana, where they celebrated Mardis Gras in Cajun style. Through the years it's become a ritual for them to bring back a "food token" from their peregrinations, whether they've flown south to bayou country or miles away to Brazil. This time, during their trip they made it over to Avery Island, LA to visit the McIhenny plant, where peppers ferment and stew, producing the much-loved Tabasco Brand sauce.

But the company didn't stop at using tabasco peppers for their world famous condiment: they now offer a chipotle sauce made from smoked, red jalapenos with a warming temp of 2000-2500 on the Scoville Heat Scale (habaneros rate 7000-8000!).

My husband is still on his chipotle kick, smothering all kinds of dishes in these smoky chilies. I need only to raise my nose to the air to know that he's opened another can in hopes of making a brilliant concoction--which he usually does. Luckily, thanks to my in-laws, his acts of experimentation have been made oh-so-much easier with the convenient chipotle sauce in Tabasco's trademark bottle.

Ready to fire up your own flagging menus? All you need to do is shake, shake, shake--and poof--you can banish those bland foods forever!

McIlhenny has quite an interesting website, with listings of all their pepper sauces on their "Country Store" page. You can also learn about the history of the company and other "hot" tidbits of info that will make any Tabasco lover drool. Take a look around.
McIlhenny Tabasco Website