Fund Raising – Part 2

My daughter Rebecca loves to create and painting is her primary means of expressing that. Lately, she had been selling some of her work – but not just to pay off a parking ticket! Her latest ‘commission’ was for her friend Hannah.

Hanna wanted a painting to hang up in her dorm room. She texted Rebecca an image of a poster she saw on line and asked if she would paint something similar. It was an image of wild flowers which reminded her of the flowers she knew from Wisconsin. Hanna was born there, has family there and visits often. Now she is going to school there.

Rebecca liked the image of the flowers. She suggested painting a picture that identified the common wild flowers of Wisconsin. Since she had been painting small portraits in water color, now refereed to as the parking ticket series, she continued with that same technique.

When Native Flowers of Wisconsin was finish Hanna and Rebecca were both pleased with the final product. I thought it was neat that she did this for her best friend. It is a symbol of their friendship as well as a beautiful water color painting.

If we could have a little of this relationship mixed into everything we do for others, no matter how simple or difficult the task, the world would be a much different place.

Stamp Of The Week

A few weeks ago, I acquired a banker’s box worth of older United States Post Office issued year books; each with a packet of that year’s commemorative stamps. The years of these books run from the mid seventies to the early nineties. They are all in post office fresh condition, never opened, which made this an extra special procurement.

I have to say, they are really neat offerings celebrating a given year’s commemorative issues.

The early issues of these books, from the nineteen seventies, consisted of just a glossy folder to mount the stamps in. The folder included a paragraph or two of information on the subject of each stamp.

By the nineteen nineties, the post office developed them into bound, hard cover books. They are smartly designed and the graphics are lavish. The quality of the printing, weight and finish of the pages, and the album’s cover, are of impressive quality. The background story of each stamp’s subject was expanded to several pages. Photos of the stamps’ designers are included in the table of contents.

Over time their price tags have increased substantialy too; from around eight dollars to a current price of sixty four dollars.

Here are a few pics of the 1995 album.

After looking at a few of these albums I am definitely including them in my collection. The shelves of stock books and vinyl binders full of sheets in my office need a little verity.

The Summer Retreat

Door Country Wisconsin is a popular vacation spot for the inhabitants of the Archipelago. A visit to this narrow peninsula that juts out into the big waters of Lake Michigan is like stepping into a summer scene painted by Andrew Wyeth. The pace of life there is slow and relaxed. It is a place where you can ramble down a narrow country road and get lost in a landscape of woods and rolling fields, old farm houses and rustic barns.

It is not well known outside of the Midwest. I never heard of it when I lived in New York, but it does remind me of Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, and some stretches of southern coastal Maine. (Well, when our family vacationed there in the 60s and 70s. It may have gotten built up since then.)

Here are a few scenes from our visit in July.

This one I found while biking down a country lane.

Hiking along the lake had countless little scenes to stop and enjoy for a moment.

On Washington Island, we visited a replica of an old time Norwegian church. Unfortunately, it was closed but still worth the trip out to see it.

Of course there was relaxed family fun, which is easy to accomplish in a place like that.

We ended most of our days with glorious sunsets. I saw so many I stopped taking photos of them!

Fund Raising

Last week the City of Chicago issued my daughter a parking situation in the amount of $50.

That hurts when you are working a summer job to help pay for university.

As mad as my daughter was about it, she saw it as an opportunity to use her creativity. She was going to pay the parking ticket, but not with money she already saved. She decided to do extra work to finance her vehicular misfortune.

Being artistically inclined she posted the following on her face book page – Have a fun water color portrait done of yourself for just $5!

Evidently, she found a willing market. In a few days she received over 12 request for portraits.

She let me take a photo of her works in progress.

Rebecca also does ‘serious’ paintings and has sold a few of them as well. This talent for painting, and marketing her work, was passed down from her maternal grandfather Frank Gerardo. He was an excellent artist too. Below is one of his portraits.

The Sun Flower Islands

Stretching through central Illinois’ Island Archipelago is a second chain of islands. Compared to the five main island cities, they are very small in size. They can only be found from late spring to early autumn. Their prominent feature is the fields of tall sunflowers that cover them. Each island is home to thousands of these flowers soaking up the hot summer sun and the cool rains of passing thunder storms.

These islands appear in different places every summer. When the right person finds one, the social media lights up with texts, tweets and post spreading its’ location to those who visit them each year.

Every day people travel out to visit these island, until the flowers have lost their big, sunny yellow blooms and the birds feast on their dried seeds. I met a car load of girls that drove from a little town twenty miles away to visit the one near Peoria.

Finding an island in a different location each season summer gives it a special quality and you cannot help but feel that enchantment when you wander among the rows. If you visit at sunrise, and the mist is still laying low over the field and into the dark woods at it’s edges, it is like sleep walking through a dream or a fairly tale.

I tried to capture something of that magic from the island we visited. These photos were taken an hour or so before sunset.

Back From Fishing

Being an avid angler, I find it ironic that I spent time at the fifth largest fresh water lake in the world and did not go fishing once!

I swam in it, paddled a kayak across it, rode a ferry over it, and eat fish someone else caught in it. I probably drank the water too.

It was excited to fish Lake Michigan, as I did the last time we visited. But life, with its’ mysterious way, had a different plan for me. It took me on a fishing trip across the water that I would never have imagined. It showed me the lake of the past that now lay buried beneath the rolling farm fields and quint tourist towns.

One morning I went for a walk and came upon a quarry. In the middle of it was a multitude of birds flying over a pool of water that had collected at the bottom of this vast hole in the ground. I walked into the quarry to see what type of birds there were. The piles of rocks beside the road caught my attention too. On closer inspection I realized these piles were full of fossilized remains of the lake’s aquatic life. It seemed like every other stone had the impression of something that lived in those waters millions of years ago.

At first I was disappointed that these relics had been turned into gravel and used to make countless driveways. Each fossil was like a page in a family photo albums of the lake’s past. These were old memories too, mounted in that album before people were even around. In that hole, I saw the present carelessly feeding off the sacred heritage of the past.

Then I wondered how big this field of fossils was? The hole was as large as two football fields place end to end. It was twice as deep as my three story house. When I looked at the rolling landscape, beyond the rim of the quarry, I realized that these layers of the past could extend out in all directions for miles.

I also thought about all those gravel driveways with happy little kids pedaling their bike’s up and down the white stones or running through the sprinkler on a hot summer day. My disappointment faded away and I happily gathered up as many fossils as I could hold.

Here are a few I found that morning. Pretty amazing for a twenty minute morning ramble!

I made a desk sculpture out of one by mounting it on an a paving stone of contrasting color.

I would have enjoyed fishing for small mouth bass, but my unintended change of plans was just as enjoyable. There are awesome experiences to be had wherever we go and whatever we do.

Happy Vacationing!

Stamp of the Week – Addendum to Self Adhesive Stamp post May 17

My original intention of a Stamp of the Week post was to take a stamp in my collection, post an image of it and point out a few facts. A five minute philatelic escape, a moment to share my passion with other collectors. Simple enough. But as we know, each stamp has a deep and long history. The first self adhesive issue was no exception. Here is more information on the stamp that changed U S Postal Issues forever.

Avery Dennison, the giant, multi international label maker worked with the U.S. Postal Service to develop this stamps. Since Avery Dennison pioneered the shelf adhesive label in the 1930’s, who better to work on this project? Unfortunately, they encountered technical problems with the adhesive bleeding through the paper and discoloring the printed image.

The discoloration problem, and the lack of perforations, received complaints and printing more issues of self adhesives was stalled. It seems that the majority of complaints came from collectors, still a formidable share of the stamp purchasing public in the 1970’s.

It was not until 1989 that the next self adhesive was issue. American Bank Note Company printed this issue, without any adhesive problems to date.

In the same year Avery Dennison signed a multi-million dollar research and development contract with the U S Postal Service to develop self adhesive stamps and machines to dispense them. In 1995 they were back to printing self adhesive stamps for the U S Postal Service.

Adding old fashion perforations to self adhesives appeared to have been a part of this research contract as well. The Flag Over Porch issue below was the first.

Love them or not, all stamps issued by the U S Postal Service are self adhesives. (If I was twenty years old, I would consider starting an Occupy the Post Office movement to bring back the old stamps. No, we would not burn down the local post office; just stand in the lobby chanting engrave and perforate, engrave and perforate, until the post master general got tired of us and caved into our demands. Judging from the present political insanity, it may work!)

Evidently, a small group of companies print stamps for the U S Postal Service. As of this writing Avery Dennison appears to have the major share of that market.

That is an outstanding accomplishment for a company that lost big the first time out.

I also learned that the United States was not the first country to issue self adhesives. They were initially printed for countries located in tropical climates. Sierra Leone brought out an issue in 1964 and Tongo in 1969. It was a necessary change with the persistent humid conditions of those locations. With out the use of perforations, die cutting the stamps into unique shapes was much easier. This was exemplified in the Sierra Leone issue having the outline of the country.

On a related matter. The U S Postal Services Postage Stamp page gives facts about their stamps. It lists 1992 as the national roll out for self adhesive stamps. However, it does not mention the issues that came before this date.

Happy Collecting!

Summer Cooking

For a lot of people summer eating means big, thick steaks sizzling on the charcoal grill. That goes on in our backyard too but not as often as some of my friends and neighbors.

The essence of summer cooking for me is a great seafood dish paired with a simple, lite white wine or sparkling pilsner beer.

The classic summer dish is a combination of shell fish and fin fish, cooked in a covered pot. It is usual flavored with some combination of sautes vegetables, fresh herbs and a splash of white or red wine. If tomatoes are used, and a heavy flavor is the order of the day, then red wine is used. If tomatoes were not included, and the flavors are to be lite, then always white wine. I serve it over thin vermicelli pasta or some type of rice; red, black, or medium grain white.

This culinary idea of summer is welded into my mind from childhood. In the hieght of the city heat my dad would drive us to City Island for clams on the half shell, fried calamari and other seafood treats. City Island is a small piece of suburbia out in East Chester Bay. It is tucked away in that strange little convolution of ocean inlets where Eastern Long Island meets the coast line of New York State.

There were a few times too when my dad had gone on a business trip and my Uncle Jim DiScillio took us to Vincent’s Clam Bar in Little Italy for dinner. We drove into the city in his red 1965 Impala convertible. That was a big thrill for me when I was ten years old.

That culinary image of summer was further ingrained into my memory when I took my first real cooking job at the now defunct Aldo’s Restaurant in Middletown NY. Aldo made awesome pizza and his wife Phillis had the magic touch when it came to shell fish combinations cooked in a pot. Whether it was seafood fra’diavolo pile up on a hill of linguine, or a buttery broth flavored with white wine, garlic, parsley, butter, they were to die for!

Every time I made one of those I thought of summer, even if it was the middle of winter with sixteen inches of snow on the ground.

I don’t have complete recipes for any one of these dishes. They are a variation of one recipe, similar to what Phillis showed me how to make forty one years ago. What makes them different is that I start each one with the same question; What flavors am I thinking about today? Once I answer that question, the steps from one stage of the creative process to the next find their own way as I shop and cook.

After chefing professionally for most of my life, cooking is like a seasoned musician playing a solo over a well loved cord progression. Like the musician, all the required cooking skills, knife skills, and the knowledge of a favorite list of ingredient have been completely integrated into my thinking. I only spend time imagining possibilities and how to get there.

Interestingly, when I started out I thought that only major changes in ingredients and cooking methods resulted in major changes in the final product. Now I understand that making several small changes in ingredients and cooking methods can dramatically transform what is located on the end of your fork. This is now my preferred method of keeping meals interesting.

A good example of this is the two dishes in the photos above. There is only a difference of three ingredients between them, including the different starch used to serve them on. They have the same two cooking techniques, sauteing and simmering, but greater emphasis was placed on sauteing over simmering in dish number two.

Photo one’s ingredients: baby clams, diver scallops, cold water shrimp, garlic, onions, mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, olive oil, white wine and fresh basil. It was served on red rice.

This dish is lite on saute and heavy on simmering. The garlic, mushrooms and onions were saute in the olive oil. The spinach was added next until it was wilted. Then the tomatoes were added for a minute. To finish, I added the rest of the ingredients, covered the pot and simmered until the clams were open and shrimp cooked.

For the second dish the scallops were substituted with sockeye salmon. The shrimp and salmon were dredged in flour (flour being the second change of ingredients) before they were simmered with the other ingredients. The third change was serving it on vermicelli pasta.

Flour, even a small amount, can greatly transform the character of a dish. Here it thickened the liquid and also put a thin batter-like coating on the salmon and shrimp. Both big changes in mouth feel and flavor.

On the technique side I did a lot more sauteing then simmering. The shrimp and salmon were sauteed in olive oil. I set them aside along with the drippings I scraped off the bottom of the saute pan with a rubber spat. That is the flavor treasurer the french call fond de glaze. Never tossed it aside, hoard it at all costs!

In a separate pan I sauteed the garlic and mushrooms in olive oil. I added the spinach long enough to wilt it.

Then I took the oil from both pans and sautes the diced tomatoes in it ; several minutes for that.

Finally, all the ingredients were combined. The Fond de glaze was gently mixed into the liquid and this summer seafood combo was simmered in the pot under a lid. When it was done it went over a pile of vermicelli pasts.

Both look similar with their reddish color and big pieces of fish . But those simple changes made enough variation in the two dishes that they could no longer be called by one name.

The fist one was like a flavorful fish soup that makes you want to eat more because it is lite in texture. The second is almost a fish stew with more body due to the flour. Sauteing more of the ingredients added deeper flavor notes to the broth as well as an under lying toasted note. This in combination with the flour satisfied our appetites much faster then the previous version.

These are just two versions of the summer fish dinner. But these are the two that the family likes the most. Cooking for my family is about sharing my love with them as well as eating, so these get made a lot.

Happy cooking and don’t forget to say grace.

I have a few other seafood variations that will appear in a second post.