Friday, February 20, 2009

Tutorial: Illustrator Radials

One of the things that computers do that make life easier for illustrators is mathematical precision—when that is wanted, of course. Illustrator (from Adobe) is a vector-based drawing application that has sometimes baffled me, so I make a point of playing around in it a lot to see what I can learn. Recently, I wanted to create a simple illustration of some radiating rays, and along the way, I found I could make some pretty cool things. Let's get started!

For this tutorial, I am using Illustrator CS2 on a Mac, but the steps are the same for Windows. Keyboard shortcuts are shown for Macs first, and Windows second.

To begin, I set up my workspace by creating a new document, turning on Rulers (Command+R/Control+R). Turn on Smart Guides (View>Smart Guides). Click in the vertical ruler and drag a guide out to the middle of your workspace; do the same for the horizontal guide. (Remember, click on an image to see it larger)

I want to create a crescent shape to rotate to make my final design. Although I could try to draw this using the pen tool, it's much easier and faster to use the Oval tool. Select the Oval tool from the toolbar, hold down the Option/Alt key (this draws  your shape from the center) and click and drag from some point on the vertical guide line. Once you start dragging, also press down the Shift key to create a perfect circle. Give this circle a color fill of your choice and no stroke. Position this circle so its lower anchor point rests on the intersection of the two guide lines.

With this circle still selected, choose the Rotate Tool from the toolbox (just press the R key). Hold down the Option/Alt key and click on the bottom anchor point of your circle. This sets the origin point for your rotation at this location. A dialog box will open. Check the box for Preview so you can see what you're doing, then enter a value in the Angle field. For this sample, I used 20°. Now click the Copy button to create a copy of your circle that has been rotated 20° on the bottom anchor point.

Choose the Selection tool (press V) and click and drag  over both circles to select them both. If the Pathfinder palette is not open, open it by selecting Window>Pathfinder. Move your cursor over the icons and wait a second to see what they are; we want the one marked Subtract, second from the left. This will subtract the uppermost shape (the rotated circle) from the lower shape (our original circle), leaving a crescent. Click the Expand button on the Pathfinder palette to make the crescent its own shape (otherwise, it remains the result of the subtraction, while remembering both circles, which we don't need for this exercise).

You can now rotate copies of this crescent around any point you set with the Rotation Tool. I want something that creates a "hole" in the center, so I moved my crescent as shown in the screen shot.  I also rotated my crescent just a little. Select the Rotation Tool (press R), hold down Option/Alt, and click where you want the rotation point to be. I clicked the intersection of the guidelines. In the dialog box, I again chose 20°, then pressed the Copy button. This will create a copy of the crescent, rotated 20° on the point you clicked with the Rotation Tool (you must hold down Option/Alt when clicking to get the dialog box). To create a regularly spaced ring, you must enter a number in the Angle box that is a factor of 360° (eg, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, etc.)

Now that you have created and rotated one copy of the crescent, simply hold down the Command/Control key and press D multiple times to copy the shape around the circle. This can be really fun to watch as your final design takes shape. If you don't like the way things are shaping up, just press Command-Z/Control-Z as many times as it takes to remove all but your original crescent.

In the example shown here, I set the blend mode of my original crescent to Multiply, so that where the crescents overlay each other they create a darker shape. Play with the different blend modes, as well as the transparency of the original shape to create some very cool effects. Also, play with the rotation and position of your shape—sometimes the results are startling (and sometimes they're…not).

Here are two more examples of other shapes rotated in this manner. Warning: this can be really addictive!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Fun With Illustrator

(click image to view a larger version)

I've been playing with radial images in Illustrator lately. A lot.

These are so easy to do, and I'll be posting a how-to in the next couple of days. Some of the results (and I've made dozens and dozens of these) are just amazing.

In the interest of actually being able to go to sleep without rotating everything in my mind around a fixed point, however, I will step away from these for tonight.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cooking: Lime Coconut Shrimp

Here's a great, easy recipe to keep in mind when your local store has nice-looking shrimp for sale. I used "North Florida Hoppers," which were large shrimp in the shell. Any large shrimp will work for this recipe.

Lime Coconut Shrimp
serves 4

3 limes (best to use organic, as you'll be using the zest)
2 pounds raw shrimp, peeled and "de-veined"
14 oz. can full-fat coconut milk
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Use a fine grater to remove the zest from one lime (I used a Microplane for this). Juice the limes (you need about 1/8 cup of juice).

Place the shrimp in a large sealable plastic bag (or put in a deep non-reactive bowl or other container). Add coconut milk and 3/4 of the lime juice and mix it all around. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the lime zest, salt and black pepper in a small bowl and mix together.

In a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, lightly toast the coconut, stirring. Watch it so it doesn't get too dark. When it's light brown, remove the coconut to a bowl and set aside.

You can cook the shrimp various ways. To grill, generously coat your grill grate with oil and preheat on medium-high. Alternatively, heat an oiled grill pan over medium-high heat. Or, as I did, preheat  your broiler and adjust a rack about 5-6 inches away from the element.

Remove shrimp from marinade and discard marinade. Place shrimp on grill (or in grill pan or on a rimmed baking sheet under the broiler) and cook 1-2 minutes per side (under the broiler took a little longer, about 4 minutes total), until the exteriors are pink and the centers are opaque. While they are cooking, drizzle the remaining lime juice over them.

Sprinkle the cooked shrimp with the zest-salt mixture and some toasted coconut. Put the rest of the condiments on the table so people can add more if they like.

I served these with Thai red rice cooked with a little coconut milk and some salt, and some snap peas. They were really tasty as is (especially with a little extra of the toppings sprinkled on) and were also nice dipped in a little sweet chili sauce.

I think we'll be making this again when it's grilling season. I might thread them on skewers, which would make handling them on the grill a little easier.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Here We Go Again

More snow. Huh.

This has certainly been one of the snowier winters that I can remember here in the Puget Sound region, but then, my memory might not be what it used to be!

As lovely as it is, it tends to throw the whole population into a panic.

At least today's snow is already melting, although with the temperature here at our house hovering just below freezing, tomorrow's morning drive might be a tad exciting.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cooking: Paprika Chicken

I've been thinking about some variation on Chicken Paprikash for awhile now (heaven knows why) and then an adaptation of a James Beard recipe showed up in the morning newspaper. I trust James Beard. I like the simplicity of his recipes and the emphasis on clean flavors, so I decided to give it a try.

First, the recipe (with additional modifications by me):

Paprika Chicken
serves 4

1 cut-up frying chicken (I used a free-range one; total weight 2.75 pounds)
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt (if using table or sea salt, use 1 1/4 teaspoons)
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons canola or other mild vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons sweet paprika (I used half regular sweet and half smoked sweet)
2 medium onions, chopped (I used sweet onions; use whatever kind you like)
scant 1/2 Cup tomato juice, or 2 Tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 1/4 Cup water
2/3 Cup sour cream (I used crème fraîche)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

Pat the chicken dry, then season with the salt. It might seem like a lot, but you don't add any other salt to the dish, so it's important.

In a large sauté pan with a lid, combine butter and oil over medium heat. While it's heating up, measure out the paprika into a small bowl so you can dump it all in at once. When the butter/oil is hot, pour in the paprika and stir constantly for 1 minute.

Place the chicken pieces in a single layer, skin side down, in the pan and brown for 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and brown the other side for 4 minutes. It should be a beautiful golden mahogany brown. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add the chopped onions and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato juice, then lay the chicken pieces on top, skin side up. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 40 to 50 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cover with foil to keep warm.

In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream and flour, then add the mixture to the liquid in the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens slightly, about 5 minutes. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve.

I served the chicken with egg noodles tossed with a little butter, caraway seeds, and black pepper. Put a little pile of peas on the plate as well.

Verdict: quite good and satisfying. There is a definite richness even before the sour cream, perhaps from the paprika itself, without any one flavor being too dominant. The preparation also did not overwhelm the flavor of the chicken itself, which was nice. I will definitely make this again. There was enough sauce that it could have been served on the noodles as well, and some of it did manage to get mixed up with them on my plate. How did that happen?

Harbingers of Spring

Okay, I know that winter is not over, not by a long shot. That doesn't mean I can't grasp tightly any little sign that it's on the way, though.

Such signs are increasingly evident in the garden. As we work cleaning up the beds, removing the last of the fallen alder leaves, cutting down things that are falling over anyway and pulling about a ton of shotweed (grrr...), we are heartened by the first of the early crocuses, in this case, Crocus chrysantha 'Bluebird,' Iris reticulata 'Harmony,' whose clear, rich blue carries a long way, and an assortment of hellebores in varied shades. Many of the shrubs and trees are in bud (the Indian Plum is blooming) and many perennials are pushing their way out of the ground.

While on my hands and knees working in the Bird Bath Bed, I came across the Giger-esque eruption that will become one of the loveliest and hardest working flowers in the spring garden, Amenone blanda 'Blue Star,' with its lovely clear violet-blue daisy like flowers and ferny-textured leaves. We plant more of them every year.

It is not unlikely that we will have more snow, and will most likely have some nights in the 20s, but each day brings us that much closer to the whole spring show. It's perhaps my favorite season in the garden.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A New Orchid to Brighten Winter's Gloom

(Click image to see it larger)

Orchids seem to have really come down in price in the last 10 years, with many interesting flower shapes and colors to choose from.

Our house is not great for keeping orchids around after they finish blooming—we don't have the deep windowsills of our last apartment and the light in the winter is not great.

So we have decided to treat them as if they are long-lasting bouquets, keeping them around while in bloom, then adding them to the compost pile.

While they are blooming, though, they get pampered. To water, I put the pot in the sink and run lukewarm water through the potting medium (so it runs freely out the bottom) and give the entire plant a heavy misting with room-temperature water, then let it drain for awhile before putting it back into its decorative pot on the coffee table.

This particular orchid is like a chain-reaction of star-like explosions along its long flower spike. So interesting, and so beautiful.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cooking: Ersatz Fougasse

Don't you just love the word "ersatz?" I've used it in this instance because this fougasse is not traditional; it isn't even made with bread dough, but with left-over dough for pizza crust. I got the idea of using this dough because I often make a pizza bianca with olives and herbs and olive oil, and that got me thinking about savory fougasse. There also seems to be a lot of recipes out there for sweetened fougasse, but I've only ever had one made with olives.

Here's the recipe for the dough I used (I used half of this recipe for a pizza last night).

Pizza Dough
1 Cup warm water (between 85-115°)
2 Tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons dry active yeast
3 1/2 Cups flour (I use a combination of unbleached and whole wheat pastry flours)
1/4 Cup olive oil

Pour the warm water into a mixer bowl (I use a stand mixer with the paddle attachment) and add the honey and salt. Mix on low for about 20 seconds, then add the yeast and mix for another 5 seconds or so. Add 1 Cup of the flour and mix on low for 10 seconds. Add the olive oil and mix until blended well, about 20 seconds. Add the rest of the flour a half cup at a time until the dough holds together and forms a ball.

Switch to the dough hook (or start kneading by hand) and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. If you are still using the mixer, remove the dough from the bowl, then lightly oil the bowl with a little olive oil. Put the dough back in, turning it once to coat with a little oil. Cover and place in a warm spot to rise (I use the top of the refrigerator).

After about 45 minutes, the dough should have about doubled in size. Punch down, then let rise for an additional hour and a half. The dough is now ready to use. (I put the dough I was using for the fougasse in a sealable plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator overnight; the next day, I let it rise again until doubled, about two hours, before using.)

For the variation that I wanted to make, I chopped enough rosemary leaves to make about 2-3 Tablespoons. I had purchased pitted Niçoise olives and herb-brined pitted green olives (combined, about 2/3 Cup) from the olive bar at our local grocery. I drained them and put them on a paper towel to soak up some of the brine and oil, then cut the larger green olives in half. I dumped the rosemary and the olives on top of the dough, then started working it all in with my hands.

When the additions were nicely distributed in the dough, I rolled it out with a rolling pin to an oval about 14 inches long by 10 inches wide. I set it on some cornmeal on a baking sheet, then used a pizza cutter to cut some slashes in the dough (any pattern will do). Using my fingertips, I pulled the edges of the slashes apart to create gaps—I wanted lots of crust. I let it rise again for about an hour, then brushed the top with olive oil and sprinkled on some grey Celtic sea salt (just a little).

Baked it at 375° for about 20 minutes, then let it cool on a rack.

Next time, I will skip the cornmeal as it was too crunchy and I don't think the bread would stick with all of that olive oil. I would also skip the salt; the olives were plenty salty as it were. And, finally, I would bake it at a higher temperature (perhaps as high as 450°) for a shorter amount of time. And using a combination of regular whole wheat flour and bread flour might make for a chewier bread.

How does it taste? Good, if slightly salty. Needs improvement. On the other hand, it was delicious served with some beef and onions braised in beer that we had for dinner, so...