Saturday, November 1, 2014

Elayne Spinks Kuehler, a Romantic Realist

Plein air painting
When Elayne Spinks Kuehler was three years old, her mother remarked on her daughter's artistic abilities.  Her third grade teacher noticed her ability to draw and often gave her tips on drawing at her desk while the others in the class were coloring or enjoying quiet time with reading.  She admits to pulling the encyclopedia from the shelves at home to spend hours studying the paintings of the Old Masters.  When she was twelve years old, her father told her that he believed that since she loved art so much and was so good at it that she should delve into it whole heartedly and "do something with it.".   While still a teen, she spent her summers dabbling with various media, but admits to loving oil the best.   Her high school art teacher took her aside and told her that she really had talent and should develop it.  When she was eighteen years old, she sold the first painting she ever completed.

"Poetry in Motion"
The journey to becoming a professional artist was not straightforward.  Elayne found herself with small children, a house to manage and a job.  Painting became last in her priorities in her youth, but it was always there.  She reminisced that her son used to cry and cry when she went for an occasional art lesson.  For about eight years she had no time to paint. But she did pursue art and honed her skills.  Today she is recognized all over the country for her beautiful paintings.  Her works can be seen in galleries and in private collections in many places.

She has studied with Barrie Van Osdell, Carol Peebles and Auseklis Ozols who each specialize in a different form of art.  She has crafted her skills and has won many awards for her work.  When she was 28 years old she found directions in an art magazine to enter the Catharine Lorillard Wolfe Art Club contest to be allowed the privilege of exhibiting in its gallery in New York.  The CLWAC is named after a collector who wished to promote women artists.  Her painting was accepted and she has since become a member with privileges of exhibiting there.  That was her first competition.  Since then she has won many awards internationally, nationally and regionally.  Her website, lists all of her memberships and exhibitions.
Teaching Studio
Elayne's motto is taken from another famous artist, Michelangelo, who when asked about his worked stated:  "I am still learning."  As a learner she is also a teacher.  She maintains, in addition to her private studio, a teaching classroom where she instructs budding artists.  Some just want to learn the basics but a few have become professional artists in their own right.  She teaches private and group lessons in oil painting.  Her classes include instruction on technique, composition, drawing, color and design.  She has also been known to host "painting parties" from time to time for those just wanting to have fun while expressing themselves creatively.

Elayne's art can be currently seen in several galleries including Taylor Clark Gallery in Baton Rouge, LA or on her website.  She participates in exhibits across the nation and has often been selected to have one person exhibits.  One such recently was in Fayetteville, Texas where she displayed her work featuring the hill country and its beautiful wildflowers.  In October of 2014 her works will appear in the Garden District Gallery  in New Orleans, LA and the Three Rivers Gallery in Covington, LA.  

"Hail Istrouma"-Private Collection
Prints available
Elayne is a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana and attended Istrouma High School.  This year the school closed and Elayne created an oil painting of the building as she remembered it from her days there in the mid 60's.  Istrouma has the unique distinction of having a closely-knit group of alums that gathers at least bi-annually at someone's country home for a meal, music and fun.  The hosts of these gatherings are to be the recipients of the original oil painting as they have some very generous and appreciative friends.  In order for more people to have a copy of the painting Elayne had giclée prints made for folks to purchase.  These prints can be ordered directly from Elayne  by contacting her through her website.  They can also be purchased from Taylor Clark Gallery in Baton Rouge, LA.  One can learn more about the alumni gatherings for graduates of the 50's and 60's by reading another post by this blogger

"Azalea Still Life"-award winner

Elayne Kuehler is a prolific painter who focuses on oil painting, but is equally talented with pencil drawings and she has illustrated a children's book as well.  If you are lucky enough to see her works in person you should not miss the chance.  However, her website depicts many still life paintings, pencil drawings, miniatures, landscapes and wild life works.  She is versatile and widely recognized for her passion for art.  She is shown here at the Brush With Burden exhibit in Baton Rouge in the spring of 2014 beside her award winning painting, Azalea Still Life.  

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Musical Reflections of Boomers of the Deep South

Recently, Next Avenue,  popular website for "grownups who keep growing" published an article delineating The 15 Songs That Defined the Boomer Generation by Doug Bradley.  The link was shared on a closed Facebook page where about 200 high school boomer friends are members.  Most agreed with the list, but would have added tunes by the Righteous Brothers; Peter, Paul and Mary and Simon and Garfunkel.

My friends and I grew up in south Louisiana and went to a huge high school where there were about 500 graduates each year during the 60's.  Through the miracle of social media, many of us have reconnected.  We enjoy sharing our ideas, pictures, prayer requests, happy times and sorrows each morning as we gather for coffee together on the Internet in our various locations around the world.  We often post songs that stir memories of our younger days.  At least twice yearly we get together in person to celebrate our shared pasts and our present endeavors.  When we read Doug Bradley's article it set our minds whirring about our teen days and the music that became the fabric that still binds us together.

One friend, Judy, stated:  "My grandkids like music, but it's not part of their being - not the way it was with us.  I think we had something really special."  Then it began.  We started forming our own list.  We collectively decided that such lists are probably regional so we began to think of songs from the southern part of the country and particularly our home state, Louisiana.

Many of us still remember the first transistor radios we owned as kids.  The one I got for Christmas when I was 12 was green.  I loved that radio so much that I kept it by my pillow at night.  We were able to get on our party-line telephones and call the local radio stations to request songs or dedicate songs to special folks or our current crushes.  Then we had to wait up to listen to see if the DJ played our requests and read our dedications.  Often names were not mentioned.  It was sort of a code with words such as this:  "Dedicated to R. by D."  It was a code and the teens knew the meanings.

We also had many rock bands that formed in our parents' garages and always included a drummer, a guitar player and at least one vocalist.  Often there was a horn section, too.  The bands hired out for school dances and parties and were very affordable as we really didn't have much money in those days.  Some of the bands caught the ear of a local producer and got "recorded"  Names such as "John Fred and the Playboys", "Van Broussard" and "Floyd Brown" became well known as they had been successes.

It's not uncommon for boomers in my area to have impromptu gatherings to play the old songs while some dance.  My friend, Frank, owns a jukebox where he frequently loads the old favorites and plays them for us when we gather.  It's truly a magical way to travel in time.

We were influenced by New Orleans musicians and even claimed them as our own.  Many of these became well known around the country and had billboard hits.  There were basically two kinds of songs:  (1) "belt buckle polishers" aka "belly rubbing" music and (2) jitterbug music.  The variation on fast dancing included the Twist and maybe an early line dance known as the Stroll.  It was not uncommon to see girls dancing with girls as they boys were often shy, unskilled or both with the fast songs.  Some our music stirred memories of the war of our generation that was called the Vietnam Conflict.  Some of the tunes reminded us of the rebellion from the music of our parents.  Some even reminded us of learning new dances by watching dance shows on our black and white televisions after school.

We got our music from television, radios and record players for the 45 rpm vinyls that were very popular and easily affordable.  We could buy the week's top tunes for less than a dollar each and it was not at all expensive to collect many hits tunes.  The next big change in the way we listened to music was when 8-track players became popular.  If all else failed, you could just get in your hotrod and listen to the local radio stations to get your music fix.

After much Facebook bantering and discussion we came up with a list of the songs that had influence on the Boomers of the Deep South during the 60's, as that was the decade of our youth.  Perhaps we cannot say they "defined" us, but we still like to hear them and many of us still enjoy dancing to them.  They are listed in no particular order and for the sake of brevity, is highly edited as we had so many suggestions.  The performers of the song versions we remember are listed in parentheses.

Many of these songs can be purchased yet today electronically, some are available in shops such as Atomic Pop Shop that specializes in the old tunes and the old ways of listening to them.  Some, however, exist only in our hearts and memories.

Great Balls of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis)
I Can't Sleep if I Can't Sleep With You (Floyd Brown)
Kiss Me Just One More Time (Floyd Brown)
Mother In Law (Ernie K-Doe)
It's Raining (Irma Thomas)
Ruler of My Heart (Irma Thomas)
Lipstick Traces (Benny Spellman)
Anna (Arthur Alexander)
You Better Move On (Arthur Alexander)
Blueberry Hill (Fats Domino)
Crazy Baby (Van Broussard)
Feed the Flame (Van Broussard)
Judy in Disguise (John Fred and the Playboys)
All These Things (Art Neville)
Mustang Sally (Wilson Pickett)
I'm Leaving it up to You (Dale and Grace)
Sweet Soul Music (Arthur Conley)
St. James Infirmary (Bobby "Blue" Bland)
Ya Ya (Lee Dorsey)
Working in the Coal Mine (Lee Dorsey)
Counting the Steps (Greek Fountains)
Keep Your Hands off My Baby (Hal Ellis and Ye Old Inn Crowd)
and lastly, ANYTHING by Elvis Presley, a true southerner!

Thanks for Frank Parker, a dear friend, for allowing access to his extensive collection of music from our boomer era.  Also a thank you very much and a "shout out" to Atomic Pop Shop in Baton Rouge, LA for the excellent pictures of the record players.  Many of these songs are on Youtube....just listen to your heart's content and enjoy.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pepper Heaven on Earth

The Poblano pepper is a mild chili pepper that originated in Puebla, Mexico.  It's a large pepper and many grow to be about the size of an adult hand.  Probably the most popular way to serve this flavorful vegetable is Chile Relleno that consists of roasted Poblanos, stuffed with cheese, dipped in egg white and flour and fried until the cheese melts.  It's a common menu item in restaurants that serve Mexican and/or Southwestern cuisine.  My husband and I have become very fond of this dish and wondered other ways to "stuff" the peppers that have become readily available in our grocery stores.

I grew up with stuffed green bell peppers, since my parents grew them in a garden almost every year.  My mom would use a ground beef and rice mixture and I got to be pretty proficient with that dish.  I developed a recipe for those and it can be found by clicking this link to another edition of Weekday Rambler.  The preparation of the Poblano pepper that requires roasting and removing the skin before cooking had remained a mystery to me, but was a technique I was eager to learn.

roasting over flame
The other day my husband came home with a sack full of beautiful Poblano peppers.  It just so happens that I have a very good resource for learning to cook with this ingredient.  My neighbor, Patti, was born and grew up in Mexico and is an expert chef!  Yesterday she was at my house and I was able to get a first hand demonstration of the roasting technique.   She showed me how to roast the peppers over the open flame of my gas cooktop and peel away the scorched skin.  She also showed me how to slit  and remove the inedible seeds without using a knife, thereby not compromising the integrity of the pepper and so it would hold its shape during preparation.

after roasting, let it set
The first thing to do is to wash the peppers using a vegetable brush and drain them on paper towels to make sure the skin doesn't have excess moisture.  Leave the stems intact.  The stem is not eaten, but while roasting you hold on to the stem as the peppers are turned in the flame.  When the pepper is blistered and has a charred appearance all over, remove it from the flame and place it in a bag.  Patti said to use a plastic bag.  Some recipes I found on the Internet suggested a paper bag.  She also suggested adding a little salt to the bag and wrapping in a damp kitchen towel while letting it set for about 3 or 4 minutes.

The next step is to peel away the skin.  This is faster if you do it with a stream of water running to help "rinse" away the tiny pieces that may  get stuck to the surface.  Patti suggested the technique of using  "all of your fingers to massage the skin from the pepper.  I had a tendency to scrape and that wasn't working well.
remove skin

When the skin is removed, turn the pepper to "feel" the weakest point and use your finger to "slit" a small opening.  A knife can be used but it is easier to control the size of the slit if one is not used.  The seeds will be exposed and these are also easily removed with your hands.  Every seed should be removed as they can be "heat" filled if you bit down on one while eating.  The running water can be used to rinse the pepper to get all the seeds out.

The peppers can be roasted ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to fill and bake.

Patti's words of: "be patient, don't rush the process, be gentle with the peppers and don't burn your hand"  came to me the entire time I was preparing the vegetables for the delicious shrimp stuffing I was planning to use.  I found a recipe on the Epicurious website and I loosely followed it with a few changes to suit ingredients I had in my kitchen and to our tastes.  Here's what I came up with for the stuffing.

Ingredients for the filling that I used:
2 T. melted butter
1/2 c. (or so) chopped Vidalia onion
1 T. minced garlic (from a jar if you don't have fresh)
1/4 c. (or so) chopped parsley (or cilantro)
1/2 c. chopped red bell pepper
1/2 c. goat cheese (natural, not flavored)
1/4 c. Monterrey Jack cheese cut in chunks
1/2 lb. boiled shrimp, peeled and coarsely chopped)
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute the onion, garlic, cilantro, red bell pepper in the butter until tender.  Remove from heat and stir in goat cheese, shrimp and seasonings.  Spoon the filling into the cavities of the prepared Poblano peppers.  Place the peppers in a baking dish sprayed with a nonstick coating and bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the filling is hot.  This makes four peppers and serves two generously.

Now the finishing touch is the Red Bell Pepper Sauce that I adapted from the Epicurious recipe found at the link given above.  I altered the recipe by leaving out the step of roasting the red bell peppers and by using a scant handful of pickled jalapeño peppers instead of a fresh serrano pepper to add "heat" to the sauce.  I also used my food processor instead of my blender.  It occurred to me that I could have used an immersion blended to puree the sauce after the broth was added.

Sauce Ingredients that I used:
1 T. olive oil
2 T. (or so) chopped vidalia onion
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 red bell peppers, coarsely chopped
1/4 c. pickled jalapeño pepper slices
1 chicken bullion cube dissolved in boiling water

Saute vegetables in the olive oil until tender.  Add the chicken bullion mixture and puree in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender.  Return to pan to keep warm until ready to serve

The plating can be seen in the picture.  Our side dish was Jazzmen rice garnished with basil from our garden.  I had some Monterrey Jack cheese on hand, so I melted a little with additional chicken broth for a topping before serving.

The entire process took about 3 hours, so don't attempt this on a day when you are in a hurry for a quick meal.  I do recommend that you try it as it will broaden your culinary horizons and increase your appreciation for Mexican cooking.   Thank you, Patti, for all of your help!  I am more confident now and plan to try other fillings.   Let's see.....ground beef,  chorizo, rice and cheese....the possibilities are endless.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

La Divina Italian Cafe....It's Simply Divine!

Lance and Mary LeBlanc were enamoured with the gelato from La Divina Gelateria in New Orleans, so they wanted to share it with their hometown, Baton Rouge.  The owners of the original stores, Katrina and Carmelo Turillo, were inspired to create gelato that would replicate the taste of the frozen dessert they learned to love while living in Italy.  The LeBlancs became interested in bringing the gelato to Baton Rouge because of its unique qualities: 1/3 less fat and fewer calories than ice cream, and it is served at a slightly warmer temperature than traditional ice cream.  The combination of less fat to coat the tongue, and the fact that taste buds are not frozen allows the flavor to shine through.

The crowning glory of La Divina is the artisan gelato and sorbetto.  The ingredients are fresh and many times from local vendors.  The frozen desserts are made at the  New Orleans Magazine Street location and are delivered weekly by Carmelo.  The small batch production ensures quality in product and the flavors. The offerings change seasonally, but there are a few staples that are real crowd pleasers.  The Bourbon Pecan  has a hearty bourbon aroma and flavor and is laced with toasted nuts. The Azteca Chocolate is made with Valrhona couverture, local honey, cinnamon and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.  Peach Amaretto sorbetto.......well the name says it all.  The Ping Pong flavor is pink, fruity and fun and is a favorite with kids of all ages.

Gelato & Sorbetto
The gelato and sorbetto can be purchased in very small amounts
(2 oz. bambino portion) to a full quart to take home.  If a customer cannot decide on a flavor, the tastes are free until such an important decision can be made.  There are normally 24 flavors from which to select.  They even make a gelato for dogs...not kidding!

The menu also features a variety of espresso drinks, pastries, panini, soups, salads and creative side dishes.  The full menu can be found at this link.  For announcements of daily specials and  of new flavors, their  Facebook page is invaluable.

Custom Coffee
Espresso drinks are served all day, and the baristas have fun creating new drinks to add some variety to the selections.   The coffee is custom roasted  100% Arabica and can also be purchased in bulk under the LaDivina label.  The most recent specialty drink item is Butter Coffee using grass fed butter and coconut oil.  Those following carb free diets really like that one.  The coffee menu is rounded out with mocha, cappuccino, macchiato and basic espresso.  Every Monday morning there is a BOGO special where you can indulge yourself and a friend.   Coffee drinkers and dessert lovers will also be tempted by the variety of fresh baked pastries.  The pastry selection changes daily and it doesn't disappoint.

My favorite panini is the Cabrini.  It is served warm, and the ingredients include  prosciutto, creamy chèvre cheese,  Asian pears and a tangy honey mustard sauce.  The Carmelo (named after the creator of the restaurant) is a scrumptcious concoction of seasonal vegetables, pecorino cheese and arugula pesto.  The sandwich paired with the house made Zuppa create a great meal.  Tomato Basil soup speaks for itself, but the Tuscano merits an ingredient list so you can get the full idea of this delicious menu item served almost daily.  It starts with a cream base and is chocked full of Italian sausages, chopped kale and potatoes.  It is hearty and could be a meal in itself.

Carmelo Panini
Don't be fooled into thinking you are eating light if you order  Insalate.  The salads are huge!  You could share one and still be completely satisfied.  The Azul is made with romaine lettuce, sliced red onion, gorgonzola cheese, spiced pecans and a soft boiled egg.  All are tossed in a red wine viniagrette dressing.  The Il Polo has grilled chicken slices, romaine lettuce, avocado slices,  red onion and tomatoes in a pancetta vinaigrette dressing.   This summer an "off the menu" special was the Strawberry Insalate made with fresh Louisiana fruit and a fruity balsamic dressing.
Strawberry Insalate

For those wishing to have a side dish with a panini or salad, there are several of those, too.  There are Rosemary Roasted Potatoes served up in a large bowl and house marinated olives.  The very best side (in my opinion and worth driving 30 minutes from my house to LaDivina) is the Truffled Mac and Cheese.

Truffled Mac & Cheese

The space at LaDivina Italian Cafe is pleasing with an eclectic look that pops with a bright orange color and speaks of loving attention to detail. Lance found the chairs at auction and refurbished them.  He also gave the plain tables a faux marble finish.  A local furniture maker designed and constructed the banquettes along the side walls.  There are always fresh flowers on the table and most are grown in Mary's garden at home.  The copper topped bar area was hand crafted by Lance and is unique and functional.

Copper Bar
The artwork on the walls is changed monthly  as they feature local artists.  On my last visit the art of Claudia LeJeune, a juried watercolorist, was featured.  The paintings are for sale or for your enjoyment as you dine.   Lance and Mary support the arts in Baton Rouge and have donated gelato to various art events.
Casual Ambience

Except in the summer, La Divina hosts a monthly Italian Night.  The programs are varied but include mandolin music and lessons in speaking Italian.  Announcements of the programs and dates are found on their Facebook page.

 La Divina is a great place to hang out, drink coffee and eat.  Drop in for coffee, gelato, breakfast, lunch or dinner, and be transported to a little part of Italy.  The restaurant is located at 3535 Perkins Road, Baton Rouge, LA in the Acadian Village Shopping Center.

Be sure to tell Mary and Lance that I sent you and enjoy!

Mary & Lance LeBlanc