Thought I’d plant a few gourd seeds and see what would happen.  This happened.  These beauties are ripe for sketching.  I especially like the Daisy variety, but each one has its own appeal, even the dumpy, warty white ones.  Do you see the lone little orange pumpkin and 2 little white ones hiding in there?  I also planted some smaller varieties of pumpkin this year but they didn’t perform as well as the gourds, sadly. I think the cucumber beetles and the odd early summer weather had something to do with it.  The choice of shirt was purely accidental.  I wasn’t planning to look like a large gourd standing there in the background, but that also happened.  Life is funny that way.

Kufta – for the record

Kufta is an Armenian specialty dish that you really must learn to make at the elbow of someone who knows how, but if you do know how and are just not sure about ingredient quantities, here’s my most recent method:

Make the filling balls a few days ahead and freeze.


  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 4-6 yellow onions (enough to fill my largest skillet), chopped into approximately 1/2″ size pieces in Cuisinart.  Be very careful not to over process the onions.  They need to be chopped, not macerated.
  • 3 cubes butter, 4 if the lamb is very lean.
  • 1/2 tsp salt.
  • Dried Basil–to taste, but at least 2 tablespoons

Melt the butter in a very large skillet and brown the lamb gently over medium heat in the butter, chopping it into every smaller pieces.  The best tool for this is a Chinese Wok Chuan/spatula/turner.  When the lamb is uniformly brown, stir in the onion.  The skillet should be completely full.  Begin cooking and stirring the meat and onions, reducing the heat as needed to prevent scorching of the onions.  Cook until the onions are greatly reduced in volume, transparent and no longer sending off much steam.  As you stir this filling, use the Wok Chuan to cut pieces of onion that are too large if you find any.  You cannot walk away from Kufta filling.  It takes well over an hour of constant stirring for the filling to reach the right consistency because you cannot allow it to brown.  Once you are satisfied that the onions are cooked down as far as they will go before disintegrating, add the basil and salt to taste.  Stir this thoroughly off the heat and place in a dish with a tight fitting lid and allow to cool a bit before covering and placing in the refrigerator overnight.  The next day, form the inner filling balls and place them on a wax-paper covered cookie sheet(s).  Cover gently with waxed paper and then with foil, sealing well.  Freeze these pre-made filling balls thoroughly.  Overnight is best.  They can hold in the freezer for a few days, but no more than a week or they will start to dry out and get freezer burn.

Keyma, or outer covering:

  • 3 lbs. leanest available ground beef, passed through the grinder a second time.  The butcher will complain about doing this but it makes ALL the difference.  He will tell you that the meat is already finely ground.  Just smile and ask him to please pass it through the grinder once again because you are making something special that requires the meat to be almost paste-like in its consistency.  If he tells you that you will lose some of your 3 pounds of beef to the grinder as it passes through, let him sell you a quarter pound extra.
  • 3/4 cup fine bulgur
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3-1/2 cup water for mixing into the meat and more for dipping your hands while forming the meatballs

Mix all of this together very well, kneading in water as needed to achieve the proper texture of Keyma.  This cannot be described, it can only be shown.  You must knead the Keyma thoroughly and notice the way the texture changes as the bulgur absorbs water and the meat responds to the kneading.  If you’ve made kufta before, you can see and feel when the texture is right.  If you have not made kufta before, all I can say is that I hope you have a sweet Armenian grandma nearby to show you how to make it like I did.  Once the Keyma has achieved the proper texture, remove the frozen filling balls from the freezer and begin forming the Keyma in a consistent layer around the outer surface of the frozen filling balls.  Usually the ideal is to use a volume of Keyma approximately equal to the volume of the filling ball.  I form a flat patty in my hand, place the frozen filling on top and gently form the Keyma around the frozen filling.  A more traditional method is to form the Keyma into a ball and hollow out the center with the thumb of your opposite hand.  I have never been able to get this technique to work.  After you form the Keyma around the filling, use water to seal any edges together and smooth the surface of the Kufta.  Then place on another waxed paper-covered cookie sheet.  Work quickly as the frozen balls will begin to soften.  If they are frozen on more than one cookie sheet, only remove one sheet from the freezer at a time.  Having the filling balls made ahead and frozen makes the job of forming the Kufta much easier than the old method where the filling was only refrigerated and not frozen and you formed each filling ball as needed for each portion of Keyma.  That tip came from Ernie Darpinian via the Fresno Armenian Church Ladies.  The tip of using beef for the Keyma came from Laura Basmajian.

They come in droves

Cedar Waxwings

Some years they do, some years they don’t, but when they do it’s spectacular and kind of scary in a Tippi Hedron sort of way. You know what I mean if you’re of a certain age.

March Sketch

Spring has sprung!

Although you’d never know it from the weather lately. My plan was to use peach blossoms for my sketch this month and the blossoms were making me a bit nervous because they were not opening due to all the cold weather. Finally they did open but they immediately got battered by yet another storm. Still, I was able to find these sprigs and get them staged and photographed. Let the sketching begin.

But here’s something new. Because of the transitory nature of blossoms and the poem I wanted to include this month, I wanted to trace my sketch onto the paper. I often work this way, but rarely in journals. Surprise, this book has sketches on the other side of the paper, making tracing with my trusty light box a bit tricky.

Peekaboo! I see way more than I need to trace.
But I was able to get the essentials n if ailed down.

Many people seem to think it’s “cheating” to use any mechanical or optical aids to begin artwork. Tell that to Vermeer and all the other masters who used camera obscura to trace images on to canvases. What’s cheating is using someone else’s photos. I selected the subject, staged it how I wanted it and photographed it myself. So I own it start to finish.

Getting there…

Only April and May are left and then I will get my own book back. It will be like Christmas in June!

The Fix Is In

Or I should say on because I’ve just finished spraying this little journal entry with fixative.

I’ve had that same can of workable fixative since 1990-something and it’s still going strong since I don’t use it for most of my drawings that will be framed. But in journals that will be hauled around and handled, fixing graphite or colored pencil is essential or they will smear and/or imprint on the opposite page.

The subject of this drawing is an oak gall found on a local walk. Even folks who know about oak galls are usually not aware that there are so many different kinds. I’ve started a little series to document the ones I find. This one I call a brain gall. For obvious reasons. That’s not its real name, because I’m no expert on the 90+ different gall wasps endemic to California’s native oak population. I call them as I see them if I can’t find out the real name.

Graphite is a medium that always circles back around in my art practice as drawing has always been my first love and pencils are such familiar, reliable, predictable, accessible, controllable and correctable instruments that they are irresistible to me. Sure, everyone wants to paint and watercolors sparkle with personality, but the humble graphite pencil can really shine as an art tool.

Here is the development of the oak leaf:

It’s all about that gall, baby!
But the leaf it’s sitting on deserves some attention too.
I could keep going, refining the shading and tidying up, but I’m calling this a sketch and leaving it as is.

Here’s a snapshot of the stars of the show. I use these clutch pencils each loaded with 2mm leads of various hardness and a rotary pointer. These old line drafting tools are getting a little hard to find in the computer age, but they are my favorites from way back. I don’t get many comments here, but if anyone visits and asks for it, I’ll do a post dedicated to the tools and techniques I use for graphite drawings.

I’ll leave you with my other entry in the Oak Gall series, Red Cone Galls plus a few Silk Button Galls for good measure.

Next up, this month’s sketch for the Sketchbook Exchange Project, then I’ll come back for a few more varieties of galls. The Spiny Turban is a fun one.

To ink, or not to ink…

This month’s sketch was a response to the comments made at our recent Zoom meeting about artists not using this sketchbook exchange opportunity to experiment with tools, techniques, etc.

As with most of my sketches, I began with a rough pencil drawing which I then inked with an 005 micron pen. Then to add the color I used water soluble pencils. That’s the experimental part. I’ve used these pencils before, but not in quite this way and I like the result, especially on this cold press watercolor paper that doesn’t take straight colored pencil well because of the rough texture of the paper.

Now I’m just trying to decide if I should ink the lettering. I’m leaning toward not, to fit in with the rest of the artists in the book, although normally I would ink letters like this.

Below is a picture of the book to date. We only have 3 more illustrations to add: March, April and May, and then we look ahead to round 2. But everyone agreed a break would be nice so I’m thinking of starting the next one In January of 2024.

I can’t wait to get my book back at the end of May!

Minestrone, lots of it!

This is my most requested recipe.  I have codified it since my previous post and updated it since I had to double everything because you can’t get 8 oz. cans of Garbanzo and Kidney Beans anymore.  It makes enough to serve a very large crowd, or to freeze.  It freezes pretty well for a soup with potatoes in it, but when you reheat it, you have to make sure to keep stirring it as you reheat it or the tomato base will separate and be unsightly.  


Minestrone Soup


Base Ingredients:

1 onion, diced

1/4 c. olive oil

2 c. chopped celery

2-4 cloves garlic, chopped 

1 large can S&W ready-cut tomatoes (28 oz. size)

1 can tomato sauce (15 oz. size)

1 can garbanzo beans (15.5 oz. size), undrained 

1  can kidney beans(15.25 oz size), undrained 


salt to taste (3-4 tsp.)

dash pepper

6 bay leaves

2 tsp. oregano

1 Tbsp. dried basil

The Secret Ingredient:

 1/2 cup barley


2-3 chopped carrots

8-10 small red potatoes, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces

1 1/2-2 cups green beans, fresh, cut or broken into 1/2 inch pieces or frozen cut green beans


1/2 of a head of finely shredded green cabbage, or spinach, or any other green you prefer.  I use 2 of the regular 10 oz bags of spinach from the grocery store or an equivalent amount from Costco.


1 1-2 cup noodles of choice I prefer orrechiette or rotini 


The Method:

Sautè onion and celery in oil until soft and fragrant.  Add tomatoes, tomato sauce and canned beans, seasonings (I know that seems like a lot of salt, but it’s a LOT of soup; definitely adjust to your preference) and 4 quarts water and bring all to a boil.  Add barley and return to boil. Cover and simmer for approx. 1 hour.  Add chopped fresh vegetables (but not the greens yet!) and return to simmer. Cover and simmer soup until vegetables are thoroughly cooked, another 45 minutes.  Keep stirring periodically and adding water as needed during the cooking process.  15-20 mins. before serving soup, stir in spinach or other greens and return to simmer, then stir in raw pasta and cook at a slow boil until noodles are thoroughly done.  Stir and check frequently at this point as you may need to add water. Serve when noodles are cooked.  You can keep this soup on the back burner for quite a while and it just improves as the flavors meld.  This can resemble anything between a thick vegetable stew to a broth-based soup depending on the amount of water used.  You will also have to adjust the seasonings depending on the amount of water.  Keep in mind that the barley and the noodles will absorb water and salt like mad.  As you might guess, it’s even better the second day, reheated.

This is a good recipe to get 10 year-old boys (or vegephobes of any age really…) to eat their vegetables.  Especially if you offer it with freshly baked bread.  A little freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese on top doesn’t go amiss either.


Seams Great by Dritz

Seams Great is a product for encasing raw edges of fabric to prevent fraying.  It has sadly been discontinued, but there are some alternatives:

  1. You can make your own.  I’ve got some 15 denier nylon tricot fabric on order to do this.  All you have to do is make a continuous bias tape the width you want.  The original was 5/8 inch.  You’ll want to determine the direction of the curl so you can place seam allowances of the joins on the side you prefer.  The nylon curls so that the right (public) side is on the outside. There are many tutorials online describing how to make continuous bias tape.
  2. Buy a similar product from Farmhouse Fabrics, which is selling it as “Seam Finish.”  They are still offering it as of February 2023.
  3. Try to buy some on Etsy or Ebay, but as of February 2023, there was none available.
  4. Use an alternative seam binding product like rayon seam tape.  Not as easy to apply, but very pretty.  Wawak offers it in a slew of colors.

What makes the original stuff so great is that curl I mentioned in option 1.  As you apply it, you stretch it just a bit and it wants to curl right around the raw edge you are finishing.  It’s also extremely lightweight and doesn’t add bulk to the raw edge and is a very sheer light gray color so it doesn’t visually stand out. I could not find that gray color in 15 denier nylon anywhere so I settled for natural/cream.  It’s always so sad when a favorite crafting product or sewing notion is discontinued.

Plan ahead, or…

You’ll have to be really creative to solve the problems you create for yourself. Many, many moons ago I started this oak and berries appliqué quilt top. I did the appliqué on the center of the medallion style design. It’s easy to cut your fabric a little larger than you need it to be, then do your appliqué and after it’s done trim and true everything on a small block like this center piece.

So far, so good.

But then come the borders. And the design for the large appliqué border that comes next after the flying geese and solid borders cannot be done in pieces because the design travels across the corner miters. Without pausing to think beyond that insight, I sewed on those borders with mitered corners, traced the design on and started doing the appliqué. Then this started happening:

Hmmm, that’ll eat up a 1/4 inch seam allowance in a hurry and I’m only about 1/4 of the way through the appliqué work on this border.

Well now, this border pretty much has to be done this way. I suppose you could do it in pieces all except for the corners, then construct it, then finish off the corners, but that method has no appeal and I’m sure it would have presented equally thorny issues. So since we’re on this path, let’s go to the Internet and see what quilters recommend for stabilizing the raw edges of hand appliqué projects…

  • Starch: too messy and can discolor over time and attract pests.
  • Making the background bigger and trimming later is the standard advice but we already rejected that because of the design.
  • Folding the raw edges and basting them down; that idea has merit, but the raw edge is still somewhat exposed plus that fold is going to get abraded and dirty and will never press back out.

Well, the Internet wasn’t much help but, wait, wait, could I baste bias tape over the edges? Yes, now I’m thinking: do I have enough purchased bias tape on hand? It would be a little bulky on that edge. Hand basting it on would be a pain. But while I’m mulling this over, I may as well go look for bias tape. On the way to the bank of drawers that houses bias tape…Hah! Light bulb moment! I have a product in there designed to stop raw edges from fraying that is 100% reversible and can be quickly applied by machine. It’s called Seams Great. And it is!!!

This stuff is the ticket. I’m using the longest stitch my machine has and I’ve loosened the top tension a bit for easier removal later.

That problem is solved. Now how to stay motivated and finish this aged UFO. I’m in a finishing mood now, but tomorrow, who knows?

Spring anyone?

It’s quite cold here for our usually temperate climate, but then it IS winter and so many folks across the country are really suffering from the effects of winter weather that I can’t really complain.  But I do know that spring comes early and I’ve been focused on making some things that have 3-season wearability.  Here’s a recent combo.  I believe I may have gotten both of these fabrics at JoAnn’s, proving once again that you can find decent fabrics there for garments if you really slow down and look.  The pants are linen and the top is a brushed poly or maybe poly/lycra knit that is butter-soft and quite stretchy.  Once I took the pictures, I switched to some deep dark olive wool pants and a red wool jacket because it’s it’s in the 30’s outside right now and not expected to get above 54 at the highest today.  I know that’s a balmy day in Minnesota but it sure feels chilly to this California Girl.  I do love the versatility of this top.  Because of the many colors in the print, it can go with all the red, navy and olive green solid coordinates in my closet.

I don’t generally pay much attention to where design motifs fall when I sew because I don’t care for the “fussy cut” look you get if you plan where everything lands and match motifs over seams and so forth, but maybe I should plan ahead a little more when a design has perfect circles in it like this one.  I just got lucky that the prominent blue circle medallion in the design fell in mostly inocuous places and the secondary circles in the design did the same.  Lucky is often better than good.  Here are side and back views of this outfit below.  Incidentally, I can see that I need better makeup and better lighting for these photos and a fresh shorter haircut for spring.  Warning, I might go REALLY short again with the hair.  Will my electronic devices still recognize me if I do?