28 March 2012

The tip of the iceberg

My latest artist's book: Where Sea & Sky Meet.

This post's title references the number of things I had hoped to share this past month versus the few that I will actually have time to record before March draws to a close. I am so impressed by all of the artists who manage to document & post not only their finished work, but also their process, somehow keeping a thread running from day to day (or at least week to week). It amuses me when I think back to my original plan for this 'reinvented' blog: to put together twelve (!) entries each month. I have been exploring a dozen different themes/elements each month this year, and envisioned being able to write about/photograph everything for Arzigogolare. Hmmm...

Which brings me to my word for this month...reassess. It took most of March to find the right word, but it seems fitting now that I have a better grasp of how 2012 is progressing so far. Some projects have been let go; others have surfaced.

One recent piece is a new artist's book, Where Sea & Sky Meet, which I created as a submission for a two-year-long traveling exhibition (the acceptance announcement has not gone out, so I still don't know if it will be among those chosen). This is yet anotherthe thirdvariation of an exploration of Venice through photos (and a brief text). I have retained certain elements from one book to anothera bead-embroidered ribbon, a large selection of photos & a similar text/titlebut the central themes that guide the individual books differ, which in turn influences the structure and many other design details.

I actually had the chance to return to Venice earlier in the month, and was very much looking forward to gathering new imagery to mine in future; it seemed like the perfect way to celebrate the completion of another artist's book featuring Venice. But then the submission deadline was extendedgiving me much needed extra timeso I gave up the trip. Perhaps it was just as well, as plenty of past photos are still awaiting their chance to become part of various projects.

In some ways I almost felt like I'd been to Venice anyway; it's funny how working with images and text relating to a place can make you feel as though you've been immersed in it. I still remember experiencing this sensation each afternoon when I would pick up my daughter from preschool...only back then, while living in Pasadena, I was 'spending' my days in Florence as I worked on the earliest versions of The Piazzas of Florence. There was always a brief adjustment as I reentered the real world again. How lucky I am to actually be spending my days in Florence now, even if my mind might briefly be elsewhere...

{Click here for more photos + details of Where Sea & Sky Meet.}


Meanwhile, we've been having another glorious month in Florencenot at all like the usual marzo pazzo, 'crazy March', with the sun and rain clouds playing hide-and-seek all month long. The city is so alive, becoming fuller, and louder (in a nice way), by the day. It won't be long before the primroses and pansies retire from excess sun exposure, but they're still brightening up the windowsill.

The impromptu garden that 'grows' along the sunny southern edge of Piazza Santo Spirito during the monthly flea market.

We brought home five creamy/white primrose plants from the market.

Pansies & lavender lined up on the windowsill before planting.

15 March 2012

The rose garden in winter

Before spring officially takes hold, I wanted to share some images from a visit to the Giardino delle Rose (Florence's rose garden) earlier in the year. Beginning last October, the garden is now open year-round, so this is the first time I've been able to experience it in January. I went up there with the intention of spending some time under my favorite olive tree, but ended up wandering with my camera in hand, drawn from rare rose buds to plentiful rose hips, from plump persimmons to cracked pomegranates, from smooth stalks to thorny stems, only returning home when my memory chip was full. It was bitterly cold that day, and the branches of the trees, bare of leaves, stood out sharply against the blue sky. Yet, as I have sat from time to time with these photos over the past several weeks, trying to cull a collection nearing two-hundred-and-fifty into something more manageable (there will surely be future 'sets'), I am struck by how much color and life was present in the garden that afternoon. And where color was absent, the sun stepped in to lend its magic.

I distinctly recall enjoying that outing to the rose garden so much that, over the course of those few hours, I repeatedly chastised myself for not making a point of getting out of the studio more often; sometimes it seems like such a waste to not take advantage of all that Florence offers. In the two months since that garden visit, various projects & deadlines have continued to keep me, recluse-like, mostly at home. But I have realized that I don't really tend to think much about what I'm missing...I do love our top-story 'house up in the sky'which fills with light all afternoonand my work. Living against the background of the city's soundtrack...with church bells ringing, birds chirping, voices carrying, bicycles whizzing past...I still feel very much a part of it. And every time I do step through the portone, into the piazza and beyond, I seem to see the city with new eyes.

News on my latest projects soon, but for now, here's a glimpse of some of my favorite images from the Rose Garden in January...

{Past entries about the Rose Garden are here, here & here. The first link is to an image-heavy page, so it will likely take a minute or two to download properly.}

01 March 2012


Polenta―made with corn meal―is a staple in our house in autumn and winter (it can actually be hard to find locally during the warmer seasons). I love how polenta shares the same versatility as eggs or potatoes or spring onions...it pairs well with countless other things, and the possibilities are endless.

When I first moved to Italy I thought the only option for producing the proper consistency was to stand by the stove, stirring constantly for the required fifty minutes. But then I discovered the baking method, in which the mixture only needs to be stirred once toward the end of the cooking period. I love how quick and simple this is―you mix it right up in the pan it's baked in―and it can stand alone or make a wonderful accompaniment to meats, vegetables, cheese and eggs.

I usually serve polenta as an evening meal, but decided to make it for lunch so I could take advantage of the sunlight and photograph the ingredients. So, before winter gets away (and just in time for those of you in the southern hemisphere), here's the recipe... 

First, a few notes ~
  • Pan size: I tend to favor my 8-inch square 'cake' pan, but a 9-inch round pan or anything with a similar area is fine.
  • Polenta: I prefer the bramata variety, which is coarsely ground. 'Instant' versions are also available, but I have never tried them (and they would likely be quicker cooked on the stove).
  • Herbs: These can be anything you like/have on hand: sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram are those I have tried.
  • Stirring: Initially, the ingredients will separate after being stirred, but they will have come together nicely by the time you take the pan out to stir at the forty-minute point.
  • Serving: We love to eat the just-cooked polenta with a dollop of Gorgonzola or a scattering of Parmesan shavings and served alongside a simple salad of greens and a red onion & pancetta omelet or a fried egg...
  • Leftovers: As it cools, the polenta will become firm. I smooth any leftovers into a layer roughly 2 cm deep, in preparation for future use. Cut into little triangles and brushed with olive oil, the polenta can then be fried in a pan or crisped under the broiler; these little wedges can be topped with Gorgonzola or Parmesan, or simply sprinkled with a little salt. Recently I ladled some leftover balsamic pork (recipe on this page) over chunks of polenta that had been quickly warmed in the microwave; the polenta made a nice contrast to the pork, which in turn beautifully flavored the polenta.

For four servings

Set the oven to 350 F/175 C.
In an 8-inch square baking pan, stir together:
1 cup polenta flour (cornmeal);
4½ cups water;
generous drizzles of olive oil;
several grindings of salt & pepper
a few sprigs of sage & marjoram
in the mixture (they will likely promptly float to the top, but will integrate during baking).

Bake for about forty minutes (don't worry if the oven hasn't yet reached 350 F/175 C), then remove to give it a good stir, making sure to incorporate any polenta that's clinging to the sides. Return to the oven for another ten to twenty minutes, until the top begins to form a slight crust.

Give the mixture another thorough stir, then spoon into shallow bowls, top with a generous dollop of gorgonzola and grindings of salt and pepper.

Before sitting down to eat, smooth any leftovers in a shallow, more or less uniform layer across the pan, as it will begin firming up immediately. (Alternatively, you can pour it onto a wooden board.) With the slightest prodding of a flat-edged wooden spoon, it will 'peel' right off the surface of the pan/board when cool.

The polenta just before the 40-minute stirring.

Polenta in its simplest form, with a little Gorgonzola waiting to be swirled through.
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