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The Best Salad Starts with Homemade Dressing!

Commercial dressings–even the natural ones with no artificial ingredients or preservatives–pale in comparison to homemade. They are super easy to make and last several weeks in the refrigerator.  All you need is vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and Dijon vinegar to make a classic vinaigrette. Add a variety of vinegars,  citrus, walnut oil, yogurt, fresh herbs and you are set to make an endless variety of dressings.

Store bought:

  • Uses inferior oil such as soy or “vegetable”
  • Most dressings have water as the first ingredient
  • Are expensive
  • Don’t taste good
  • Are over salty
  • Most are loaded with preservatives, artificial flavors and many unpronounceable ingredients

Some of my oil and vinegars, from left: Trader Joe’s Balsamic, Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar, Bragg’s Cider Vinegar, Trader Joe’s Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Sprectrum walnut oil, red vinegar and rice vinegar.

Variety of oils and vinegars
Variety of oil and vinegars

I use my hand held blender with mini food processor attachment to make my dressing because it’s faster than by hand and it emulsifies the dressing (mixes it and keeps it mixed when used with mustard).

The first dressing is a fancy classic vinaigrette: omit the garlic and parsley for the classic. Switch the type of oil or vinegar for different flavors.

Good basics you can keep on hand to make an endless variety of dressings:

  • Raw apple vinegar
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Sherry vinegar
  • Rice vinegar
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Orange
  • Walnut oil
  • Plain yogurt, Greek or regular
  • Shallots
  • Herbs
  • Scallion
  • Avocado
  • Egg

I use my hand held blender with mini food processor attachment to make my dressing because it’s faster than by hand and it emulsifies the dressing (mixes it and keeps it mixed when used with mustard). You can also use the hand blender itself. You can also use a whisk or shake it in a container.

The first dressing is a “fancy”vinaigrette: omit the garlic and parsley for the classic. Switch the type of oil or vinegar for different flavors.

I usually make about a cup of dressing. The oil and vinegar ratio is about 4 to 1, but depending on the strength of the oil or vinegar, you may want a higher or lower ratio. Make and taste; you’ll be preparing by eye in no time.

If you are new to homemade dressing, go easy on it–since there is no water, it will be much stronger than the commercial variety.

Hand blender with mini food processor
Hand blender with mini food processor

Balsamic Vinegar Vinaigrette

6 oz extra virgin olive oil

1-2 oz balsamic vinegar

1 clove garlic

handful parsley

salt and pepper to taste

1 scant teaspoon Dijon mustard

Toss everything together and blend.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
Balsamic Vinaigrette

This dressing container is great. Made by Oxo, it comes in two sizes. Amazon

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Become a Flower Designer Now!

Peonies in ceramic vase
Peonies in ceramic vase

Not only do flowers feed our souls and make our homes look beautiful, they give us something new and different in our home and workplace to look at every week. Let’s face it, unless you buy new things all the time, your belongings can become invisible or even boring. A fresh arrangement or two every week (in the same or in different places) can bring a whole new perspective to an entire room! This happens because a new object is seen in relation to its surroundings. For example, if you put a large blue vase with pink and magenta roses on your coffee table, the colors, shapes and textures of the flowers and vase will interact with the objects near them.

Obviously, you can buy ready-made arrangements, but making your own is fun and easy. Arrangements can be as simple as a bunch of tulips placed in a glass vase to a huge, complicated mixed bouquet topiary. If you have no experience arranging flowers, start with a simple arrangement using one type of flower in one color. Tulips are great because they grow after they are cut, and you can watch them change as they mature; opening and bending their delicate stems towards a light source.

For inspiration, there are many beautifully illustrated books on flower arranging. Another option is to take a class in flower arranging. Practice designing with different flowers, baskets and vases and have some fun!

 

Flower Arranging

I collect flower vases so that I have a variety of options for my floral arrangements. Also, different containers look better in particular areas of my home. There are plenty of eco-friendly choices you can make when selecting a flower container:

  • Antique or second-hand containers
  • Earthenware containers
  • Glass containers, especially recycled
  • Containers made out of stone
  • Recycled metal containers

Any container that holds water can hold flowers—be creative and look around your home for possibilities. You can cover empty cans from your cupboard with fabric, for example. Or, put a bunch of flowers in a watering can. If they are watertight, clay pots can hold flowers.

tulips
Tulips in glass vase

When you entertain, it is nice to have flowers on the table—but not if they obstruct your guests’ views of one another. Low containers are perfect for the dining room table. To keep flowers upright, it might be necessary to use what florists use, floral foam. Oasis® brand is most common; just make sure the package indicates that the foam is for wet floral arrangements. Floral foam is available in craft stores.

The key to using floral foam is to allow it to absorb water at its own rate, in a sink or a container filled with water. If you forcefully submerge it, the inside of the foam will not get wet. The foam is ready to use when it has sunk to the bottom of the water-filled container. Floral foam is easily cut with a knife; cut whatever size you require, wet it, and place in a container.

You will want to cover the floral foam completely. In addition to flowers, you will need green filler—either from the florist or cut some from a bush or tree in your yard. You can cover the foam first and then place the flowers, or arrange flowers and then fill in spaces with greens.

The container in which you put your flowers is almost as important as the arrangement itself. Factors to keep in mind:

Proportion: Size and amount of flowers in relation to container

The flowers should fill the container selected so that they are neither crammed into the vessel nor too sparse. The size of the flowers should be proportional to the vase. Cut the stems to achieve the look you desire.

Gerbers in glass vase
Gerbers in glass vase

How the colors of the flowers work with the vessel

Colorful flowers with a very busy vase end up competing with each other. I prefer vases to be a single color, allowing the flowers to really stand out. My collection of vases includes an assortment of pleasing shapes and a variety of sizes to compliment all kinds of arrangements. But, the color of the vase still has an impact: a light green vessel with pastel flowers looks very different from a deep blue vase with hot colors, for example.

Cut stems to fit long-stemmed flowers into a small container

Do not be afraid to drastically cut the length of the stem. Take gerbers, for example; their stems are often several feet long, their heads are approximately three inches wide and they come in a wide variety of colors. The look of the arrangement will totally change depending on the length you decide to keep them. At full length, they are dramatic in a tall, slender vase. Cut the stem to a half foot and they look beautiful in a rounded vessel. Take one to three gerbers and place them into a still smaller container. Finally, cut all but a half inch of the stem and let them float singly or in groups in a dish. Fabulous!

How the arrangement looks in the intended space

If you are making an arrangement for a specific area, select the right size container and flowers, based on that space. A tiny arrangement will look out of proportion in the center of a huge foyer with vaulted ceilings. Conversely, placing tall gladiolas under a dining room chandelier would look crowded.

Finally, relax and enjoy the process of arranging flowers! Experiment with different flowers and vases, and allow yourself to create. Most importantly, honor yourself with fresh flowers on a regular basis!

Excerpt from Harmonious Environment: Beautify, Detoxify and Energize Your Life, Your Home & Your Planet

 

Refreshing Asian Inspired Coleslaw

Asian Style coleslaw
Asian inspired coleslaw with fish sauce and lime

I eat salad almost every day for lunch, so I like variety in my vegetables for dinner. When it’s cold outside, I tend to cook my veggies, but in the summer, I like lots of raw and colorful vegetables. One great dish is coleslaw. Very fast and easy to make with a food processor, but you can use a mandolin or even cut with a sharp knife if you don’t have one.

I also like coleslaw because, unlike a green salad that quickly wilts, a batch tastes great for two days. This makes it a perfect dish for entertaining or having something already prepared for a couple days.  Make this recipe early in the day to allow for maximum flavor.

The ingredients are for the coleslaw pictured; I picked them partially for the variety of cool colors, because it just makes the dish more fun! However, feel free to substitute the vegetables.  Any cabbage, brussels sprouts,  chiffinade cut    lacinato kale (flat leaves with small bumps)  and broccoli stems all work well.

Note: I like red onion but not in big chunks where the flavor can be overpowering. One solution is to slice on fine on a mandolin, then coarsely chop it and squeeze out excess liquid. I do this whenever I use raw red onion and you never get that strong taste.

This dish goes well with lots of food. I made it with a grilled pork tenderloin (adding lime juice and fish sauce to it when removed from grill) and potato salad over this past sweltering hot weekend. Light and refreshing, it was the perfect meal!  (I’ll post my potato salad in a couple days. I use fingerling potatoes from the farmer’s market and other fresh ingredients; stay tuned!) Chicken, burgers, baked beans…this slaw goes with lots of things and is really delicious!

Asian Inspired Coleslaw 

Serves 6-8

Ingredients 

½ medium red cabbage, shredded or sliced on mandolin

1 small red onion, thinnest cut on mandolin and chopped

½ medium jicama, peeled and shredded

1 big carrot, peeled and shredded

1 cucumber, cut into matchsticks

Handful of Cilantro, stems removed and roughly chopped

1-2 Lemongrass stalks, chopped or 2 tablespoons dried (if you can’t find, no worries)

Mint, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons Fish sauce

2 limes, juiced

2-3 tablespoons Olive oil

Black pepper

Salt scant or none–fish sauce is salty, taste before adding!

Method

Shred veggies and put in colander and allow to drain half an hour. Squeeze out excess water. Make marinade by mixing oil, fish sauce, lime juice, lemongrass and pepper. Mix well with vegetables. Add cilantro. Refrigerate and let flavors meld a few hours or even overnight.

Asian Style coleslaw
Asian inspired coleslaw with fish sauce and lime

New Topics: Recipes, Feng Shui, Green and More!

I have had numerous careers and interests over my life and want to share some of what I have learned! So, starting today, I will be posting a variety of subjects on my blog:

  • Recipes and cooking techniques
  • Interior design and garden tips
  • Green or eco-friendly info
  • Feng Shui
  • Whatever else might pop in my mind.

I will post these subjects because I realize I would rather work on my art than blog about it. I am not comfortable posting “works in progress” or discussing techniques. For me, working on my art is a private endeavor. When a piece is finished, I am happy to show it, but talking about it–not so much.

I have loved fiber art since I was a kid. But for most of my life, it was a hobby,  partly because I had other things I wanted to do as well.  Like write books. Harmonious Environment was my first book and it won Best Non-Fiction!

Harmonious Environment

I also love to cook and worked as a chef and owner of a catering company.  I might write a cookbook that focuses on dinner menus–healthy, tasty and balanced meals–with what goes well together.

For almost five years, I have kept a “Dinner Diary”, recording meals and what worked well together (and not so much)!

So I will be sharing some recipes and cooking techniques that I hope you like.

I went to Parson’s School of Design for Interior Design and worked for years. I will share some useful tips on decorating your home. And since I am constantly fixing things, some DIY techniques as well.

I also studied Feng Shui and adapted it to design projects. (There are different schools of this ancient practice, and some of them are way too hard-core and not applicable in the 21st Century. I took the stuff that makes sense and ignored the rest.)

In one of those moments, it dawned on me that Feng Shui (basically, good energy, good energy flow) is only going to be effective if the home is also free from toxic chemicals.

It was around this time that I decided to gather all these subjects and write Harmonious Environment. I spent a couple years researching and a big part of that was on the environment and what was bad and good for it. (This was 2004 and green living was not on the radar like it is now.)

Anyway, I am planning on having some fun with this and I encourage you to reach out and ask me any questions or suggest a post you might be interested in reading.

Cheers,

Norma

 

 

 

 

Published in Creative Boom!

Today my artwork was published in Creative Boom! Creative Boom was launched in 2009 and is based in England (my work is now being seen internationally!) and supports visual artists. They also offer tips and resources for artists.

Creative Boom has half a million viewers a month, so my work can potentially be seen by a large audience!

Holly Wells writes: “Artist vividly captures intricate, 3D felt work in unconventional mixed media project.” She tells the audience how I am taking the ancient practice of felting (6000 B.C.) and am combining it with state of the art digital photography.

The Big Band I

I’m excited that she gets how cool it is to work with a craft that’s been around forever and combine it with the state of the art digital camera to create art! It has been a joy for me to do this, because the camera with its mega pixel capability, “sees” the intricacy of the felted work in a whole new and exciting light.

She even mentioned that I am an award winner author and included the links to my books (Amazon UK!) which I thought was very nice of her.

Here is the link to the article

The Joy of Wool

I love wool. It has so many amazing properties and is such a joy to work with.

As an eco-friendly designer and artist, wool is the perfect fabric because it is a biodegradable and renewable material. Wool comes from large and small farms all over the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and China.

Wool is a natural fiber harvested from sheep; the animal is unharmed when shorn and their coat grows back quickly. Sheep are sheared once a year in spring or early summer—no long coats for the warm months–and they are free roaming.

Wool and felt (which is wool that has been shrunk and becomes a non-woven piece of fabric) have been used for 1000’s of years—possibly as long ago as 6000 B.C.

What makes wool special is in the structure of its fibers, which absorb moisture, insulates against heat and cold, and is resistant to flame. These properties make wool a great choice for blankets and comforters.

Unlike cotton, linen, silk or polyester, wool fibers are covered with tiny scales, making them look like pine cones when magnified.

When the fibers’ scales rub against those of others, they pull the fibers together in irreversible tangles. When compacted under heat and moisture, the wool shrinks into felt.

Wool fibers have scales, compared to smooth texture of other fibers
Wool fibers have scales, compared to smooth texture of other fibers

Wool provides great warmth for little weight. Air trapped between fibers gives wool its amazing insulating ability.

The surface of wool is water resistant, yet its interior is highly absorbent. Wool is the most hydrophilic of all natural fibers, absorbing as much as 30% of its weight without feeling wet to the touch (cotton absorbs 8%, synthetics often less than 5%).

Porous and penetrable, wool absorbs perspiration and releases it slowly through evaporation so that one feels less chilled in winter; in summer the evaporation keeps one comfortably cooled.

Wool has excellent elastic recovery, giving it a springiness that makes clothes wrinkle resistant when dry. Wool can be bent 20,000 times without breaking (silk breaks after 1800 bends, rayon after 75).

Felting compacts wool, making it very useful because it becomes less porous, warmer, stronger, and more water resistant. Felt has been used for 1000’s of years for items like as boots, carpets, tents, and yurt walls.

Felted pillow of industrial felt. Insert is felted merino wool.
Felted pillow of industrial felt. Insert is felted merino wool.

For me, wool is both about it being for utilitarian purposes—like the home accessories or purses that I make and for the pure joy of my felt art. I love to go to wool festivals like the Rhinebeck Sheep Festival and Vogue Knitting in New York City to search for unique, handmade yarns. The colors and textures and feel of the yarns inspire me to create my artwork. I have yarns dating back decades and love to add to my collection!

 

 

 

Fiber Ball with Detailed Views

The ball is beginning to have the details I like. Here are a couple of photographs of the sides of the felted fiber ball and cropped versions to shoside of felted ballw the details.

When the ball is finished, I’ll take high quality photographs with the Better Light Camera, then crop and magnify the best views. cropped

The camera takes photos at a crazy high resolution–like 1200 pixels. This makes the yarns pop out, looking so real you can almost feel it.

The little white merino nips pictured in all the photographs look so cool when they are taken with the high resolution camera. And the cheesecloth, seen in the first two photographs, takes on an ethereal feel.

 
fiber ball detailsfiber ball 2

Progress with White Fiber Ball

I have continued to add more color and texture to the white fiber ball.

detail of ball

This photo was taken about a month ago shortly after beginning to add color. It was difficult in the beginning after all white to begin.

This is what the same area looks like now: detail of fiber ball weeks later

I have added more colors and textures.

Not sure at this point if I will leave white spaces or will fill entire ball. My regular Nikon camera takes these photos and they do not have the clarity to pick up details like the Better Light, which I will use when the ball is done. That will make those tiny balls and everything else, pop.

The ball itself is wet felted. Everything added–including the white layers–is needled felted. I use a wide variety of wool yarns and a few silk yarns. Most of the yarns I buy are made by hand and purchased at yarn festivals like the Rhinebeck Sheep & Wool Festival  and Vogue Knitting Live! or yarn shops that specialize in unique and varied skeins. (Searching for the most beautiful yarns is one of my favorite activities!)

I do a variety of things with yarns and roving (unspun yarn) and work mostly with merino because it felts beautifully. I also love mohair because it is so light and airy. In the top photograph, for example, you see the turquoise piece of wool. That is variegated wool that I wind around a thin piece of yarn. I do that to get some thickness and a pleasing texture. In the same photo, there is a piece of green roving that I felted into a ball. It is under a piece of fine cotton cheesecloth.

Stay tuned as the ball becomes more complex and detailed!

Purple Pops on White Fiber Ball!

Continuing work on what was a white fiber ball with the addition of much more color.

Adding color to white fiber ball
Adding color to white fiber ball

The turquoise and green are now sharing the space with purple and lavender. Everything pops so much against the white!

I will continue to add many more layers. Not sure if I will bring in more colors in addition to the blues, green and purples.

As the color builds, the feel of the ball changes dramatically. Not sure how dense it will be yet.

Here you can see where there is more color filled in:

Fiber ball getting denser
Fiber ball getting denser

There is also a lot of texture, as the yarns are very varied and irregular, which is what I love. To add even more texture, I wrap some of the thinner yarns around white wool.

More changes to come! I’ll post again about the progress soon.

Check Out New Colors on White Fiber Ball!

Adding color to white fiber ball
Adding color to white fiber ball

I have been working on adding color to the white fiber ball and have started with variegated turquoise blue and green. The merino turquoise yarn gets wound around  white wool and is cut a various lengths. The green is felted roving.

The image below shows what one full side of the fiber ball looks like.

When it is finished, I will take digital photos of each side, then crop and magnify the most interesting views.

Seeing what a side of fiber ball looks like
Seeing what a side of fiber ball looks like

There is much more work to be done to achieve the detail and look I desire.

Below is a photo with more detail.

When it is finished and I take digital photos with the Better Light; the camera will pick up every detail–even as thin as a thread.

This ball is in the very early stages of work. It generally takes me several months to a year to complete a ball.

Stay tuned for updates!

More detail of fiber ball
More detail of fiber ball

 

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