Wednesday, April 27, 2011

New Painting--Lyons Club Park Boardwalk on the St. Johns River

Join me on a spring walk in Lyons Club Park along the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, Florida. This new painting is nearly finished, but rather than waiting to post it, I decided to show it to you today. The revisions I still plan to make are so minor that the differences are unlikely to be noticeable in a blog photo. The piece is a 16" X 20" acrylic painting on gallery wrapped canvas, so can be hung without a frame. The scene wraps around the painted edges.
Today, I am showing you the painting and one of the reference photos I used. Next post, I will include some close-up photos of details in the painting and more information about the painting process.
You can see that I departed from the reference photo in terms of the viewpoint, the palette (colors), and some other details. The painting's viewpoint is a bit further away at a higher point along the walk by the marshy river bank.
Among the Jacksonville area's many lovely parks and preserves, Lyons Club Park is a well-kept jewel. Birds sing along wooded trails, and fish and other water creatures are abundant. We saw a number of people fishing along the bank while others paddled up to shore in canoes and kayaks. The water currents are varied and interesting as the St. Johns River runs straight north (unusual in the Northern Hemisphere) just before it turns east to flow to the ocean. We are on the east bank of the river looking north. The Trout River flows in from the west (out of sight from this view), and both rivers rise and fall with the ocean tides. So, the water is almost always in motion--sometimes lazy and sometimes powerfully choppy. Ripples and waves can run in nearly any direction, changing throughout the day, and sometimes swirling in eddies caused by the confluence of outgoing rivers meeting an incoming tide. It's a perfect place for a refreshing and renewing walk.
Question of the Day: Does your area treasure and preserve its natural habitats and beauty?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Quick, Easy, Lean Pork Stir-fry Recipe & Cooking Tips

Today, I made a quick and easy, lean pork stir-fry for the two of us and thought you might enjoy the recipe and some cooking tips. It's a bit of an exaggeration to call this a recipe given how simple it is--but it is healthful and delicious.
Although I love cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables and making my own sauces, etc. from scratch, sometimes I want to make something truly quick and easy with less chopping and fussing. Especially now that we are back to just the two of us and have lots of other creative, interesting things to do, I want some evening meals to be quick and easy.
I served this stir-fry on basmati rice, a very light, fluffy alternative to our family's usual brown rice. One warning, though--this rice is extra "foamy" as it cooks. Even though I thought I was watching it carefully, it boiled over at one point--something I have done before. Use an extra-deep pot for basmati rice (yes, I'll try--once again--to remember that :>). Also, it sometimes cooks more quickly than the package instructions indicate; if it starts to stick, just take it off the stove and keep it covered until it is fluffy and the water is absorbed.
Start the rice first; it will be done about the same time as the stir-fry. A couple of my favorite kitchen tips follow the recipe.
2 small boneless pork chops (6 or 7 ounces total) or other lean pork
1 Tblsp. or more chopped, fresh ginger root (see tip below)
canola oil & sesame seed oil
bottled stir-fry sauce (I used Kikkoman brand)
1/2 large onion, or to taste
16 oz. bag frozen stir-fry vegetables (I used Walmart's Great Value brand, sugar snap pea stir-fry vegetables--they are quite good)
1. Trim fat off pork, if desired, and cut into small pieces (maybe 1/2" square) or strips. In small bowl, stir pork together with chopped ginger root and a moderate amount of stir-fry sauce (I don't measure, but probably used about 2 Tblsp.). Set aside while you do step two.
2. Chop or sliver the onion. Heat oil in medium sized skillet or wok. I use a combination of maybe a tablespoon of canola oil and a teaspoon of sesame seed oil (see tip below). Saute onion lightly, about 2 minutes.
3. Add pork mixture to skillet (with more oil if needed), and saute over medium-high heat until pork is done through--about 4 or 5 minutes. Let it brown a little and stir often.
4. Again, add a dash of sesame oil and pour frozen vegetables into skillet. Pour a couple more tablespoons of stir-fry sauce over--more if you wish. Saute, covered at first, then without cover, stirring off and on, until vegetables are heated through and crisp-tender. This only takes a few minutes--don't overcook them.
5. Serve over rice. Fresh fruit is a delicious accompaniment.
One photo above illustrates some simple tips from my kitchen. Even when our boys were home, and we needed to pinch pennies on the food budget, I splurged on a few high-flavor ingredients. A small bottle of Sesame Seed Oil is well worth its cost and lasts a long time. Combined with another vegetable oil (I use it with canola oil in Asian style cooking), it adds a real flavor punch without destroying our goal of keeping saturated fats very low.
We also love fresh ginger root in any number of dishes, but find that it shrivels and goes bad before we finish even one long "knob". So, the first time I use part of a new piece, I quickly slice the rest into "coins", maybe 1/4" thick (no need to peel) and freeze them in a small zip bag. Then, we are never without, and nothing is wasted. Even straight out of the freezer, it is simple to peel and chop the amount you need for a recipe. If the coins stick together, hold under cool running water for a few seconds to separate.
Question of the day: What are your favorite quick meals or cooking tips?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another Sign of Northeast Florida Spring--Flocks of Goldfinches

Each year, once in the fall and once in late March or early April, we enjoy flocks of migrating goldfinches and smaller numbers of other finches in our coastal North Florida yard. Sometimes, they stay in the area a few weeks; other times, they are here (at least in our yard) only a few days. We felt privileged to be home a few days ago to watch a flock in our backyard. Because they swoop in and out quickly and flit around, it was difficult to count them, but we had somewhere around 30 goldfinches that afternoon--possibly more. About 1/3 of them were males. Their song is sweet, long, and canary-like--a lovely spring chorus.
Finches love the thistle seed feeder we keep out for them and were also happily cracking the larger safflower seeds in the companion feeder. Most of all, they delighted in wildly splashy communal baths in the shallow birdbath at ground level. With trees, vines, and bushes nearby for safety, they seemed to feel free to frolic and sing up a noisy storm of joy. In my birdbath photos, some of the goldfinches are a fluffy blur of splash while others prepare to chase them out for their own turn.
I didn't dare open a door or window or step around to the back to get photos, so the best I could do was to give my simple little Canon its maximum 4X zoom and shoot through the patio door windowpanes. I hope you enjoy our cheery friends, too.
Question of the day: Don't you marvel at the beauty and variety of life on our precious Earth?