We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Chihuly In the Garden and Chicken Cacciatore

My Traveling Tales by Michelle

"I never met a color I didn't like." ~Dale Chihuly

The glass sculpture is titled Blue Fiori Sun.
My beautiful niece, Sonora enjoys a leisurely afternoon
in the garden with her mom, Juliette and me.

   "Artist Dale Chihuly returns to the Desert Botanical Garden with a stunning exhibition of 
his extraordinary and vibrant works of art. Chihuly is credited with revolutionizing the 
Studio Glass movement and elevating the perception of the glass medium from craft to 
fine art. He is renowned for his ambitions architectural installations around the world, in 
historic cities, museums and gardens. Chihuly's work is included in more than 200 museum 
collections worldwide." 
                                                                     ~Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens website

The chipmunk is eating the fruit on the barrel cactus.
The little guy uses the needles to climb the cactus, as if scaling a ladder.

   Last November when the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix announced a special exhibition featuring glass sculptures by the artist Dale Chihuly, Juliette and I immediately made a pact to visit the garden together. We sisters—Linda, Juliette and me—have been fans of his work since Sistercation Las Vegas when we cast our eyes upon the lovely profusion of colorful flowers, which includes over 2,000 pieces of glass, that grace the ceiling of Bellagio's lobby. As time passed painfully through the holidays, and quickened its step through the winter and spring, Juliette and I realized that we were running out of days to keep our promise—the exhibit is due to close this Sunday, May 18th. We finally made it the day after Mother's Day. If you live in the greater Phoenix area, I highly recommend that you see the exhibit this weekend. I, for one, would really enjoy returning tonight to see the sculptures illuminated against a darkening sky.

Red Reeds and cacti.

   I'm a person who is curious to learn how things are made whether it's refining a mineral into copper sheets or transforming cocoa beans into chocolate bars. Usually the process is far different and more complicated than I initially imagined. Fortunately for me, in addition to the exhibit, the museum featured a video on a 30 minute loop, that showed the artist at work. Boy was it an eye opener. I'm one of those naive people that imagines a prolific artist working solo in a studio space. Such is not the case with Mr. Chihuly. In fact, while watching the video, I recalled a slogan I saw emblazoned on a T-shirt being worn by a rather large, quasai-intimidating man wandering around a show where my company recently exhibited:

A lot of people 
doing what I say

   After experiencing two accidents, a car crash that left Chihuly blinded in his left eye (which he covers with a pirate-style patch) and a body-surfing injury that was serious enough to prevent him from holding a glass blowing pipe again, the artist moved to a team approach, which he first observed while working at the Venini glass factory in Venice. In his wikipedia biography, Chihuly is credited with describing his leadership role as, "...more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor." The Bellagio installation, which weighs 40,000 pounds, required the skills of a diverse team of over 100 people, including glassblowers, architects, engineers, shippers, installers, fabricators—and one Dale Chihuly to lead them all.

   After seeing various water installations on the educational video, I told Juliette, in a lamentful tone, that I wish we could see a Chihuly sculpture floating in the water. I surely had very little hope of this since I was standing in barren Phoenix, even if I was walking through a Botanical Garden. Soon though, I was to have one of those revelatory moments: Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. As you may have read here previously on the blog, I like to say to myself as a positive, lighthearted affirmation, "Everything works out for me." Proof of this was that just a little further down the path, around a bend on the dusty trail, there was lo and behold—a pond. On its surface floated a boat filled with glass gourds, flowers and reeds—the shapes reflecting in the rippling water. There were even bullfrogs soaking in the muddy bank and dragonflys perched on cattails. Who could ask for anything more? It was indeed a magical tableau.

Sonoran Boat and Blue Crystals.
Juliette's nickname in high school was Bullfrog.

   This day's excursion was a beneficial reminder to take some time for myself. I am a true believer that experiencing creativity, feeds creativity. I've been keeping myself indoors way too much. There have been years where I steadfastly kept a rule to have fun one day a week, and I admit—I have not been good at adhering to it over the past year. When my daughter was a toddler, and I was working full-time—there were times that I felt completely overwhelmed. It was then that I decided to take a college level art class in order to learn how to draw. Making that decision and following through with it was the best thing I did for myself in those years as a new mom.
   As a result, I learned a new skill that completely absorbed me for the hours I was in the studio, and I also enjoyed the time spent drawing at home while completing projects for the class. When the next semester rolled around, I signed up for Drawing 102 and continued on. Although I was participating in an activity that took time and attention, and added to my already very full schedule, I found the time mentally relaxing and stimulating at the same time. The  blossoming artistry that I experienced during the class by sharing a common experience with my fellow classmates, helped to feed creativity in all aspects of my life—including finding more innovative solutions to challenges at work.

Juliette and her youngest daughter, Sonora.
   As I move through my life I often think of myself in terms of a person that is a "Jack of All Trades, Master of None." And, I don't mean that in a derogatory way. I'm good at a lot of different things, but I don't feel masterful at any one subject, even with cooking. I tend to wonder what a artist like Dale Chihuly thinks of himself? Does he consider himself a master of glass? Or, does he think of himself as ever evolving and continuing to learn his chosen craft while he climbs the seemingly never-ending uphill journey of life? I tend to think it is the latter.

   What I particularly found appealing about the Chihuly exhibit was its diversity in designs, from the long reeds to the writhing gourds to the giant glass spheres. Many of the pieces involved hanging or installing the glass on frames to make interesting one-of-a-kind art for the delight of the viewing audience. If you want to read a piece with a lot of metaphors and a few snickers involved (because I'm once again 10 years old) give this blog post a read. The glass blowing process is really quite fascinating and is ever evolving as artists press the limits of what's achievable.

   I could see that Juliette was quite enthusiastic after her day spent basking in the outdoors and enjoying art, which in turn, made me very happy. We all felt replenished by spending a day away from our cares, to join together in a new experience—to laugh, to talk, to share our thoughts about art—and what it takes to enjoy it, and what it takes to create it. In the book, The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, the author writes of the artist's need to refill his or her internal creative well. The artist accomplishes this task of replenishment by giving attention and specific time to "nurturing your creative consciousness." For me, when I see art that I admire, it nurtures in me the desire to create. So it is for Juliette—and, so I suspect it is the same for all artists. We want to be inspired so that we too feel compelled to create. Chihuly In The Garden was just what we both needed to light the creative flame anew.

Chicken Cacciatore

   The first time I ate Chicken Cacciatore that I truly liked, it was prepared by my future mother-in-law, Joan. I especially liked that her sauce was easy to eat because Joan took the time to prepare and serve the chicken off the bone. This was before boneless chicken thighs were available, so she'd patiently cook the chicken and then remove the fat and bones, returning big chunks of chicken to the simmering tomato-pepper sauce.
   Now that boneless chicken thighs are widely available, I find it easier than ever to make this hearty, classic Italian dish. If you feel energetic and inspired, by all means brine the boneless chicken thighs for a couple of hours, in the same manner as for Linda's fried chicken. Keep this dish in mind when you want to make a wonderful family-style meal ahead of time. If pasta isn't an option for you, then the chicken would also be delicious served over cooked rice.
   As I have written previously, I avoid going out for celebratory meals for major holidays such as Valentine's Dinner or Mother's Day Brunch, opting instead to enjoy a nice evening at home. For Mother's Day, which always lands on a Sunday, I wanted to have most of the meal prepared ahead of time, so I made Chicken Cacciatore sauce on Saturday. Juliette brought fresh, naturally leavened sourdough bread from her bake that morning for Guadalupe Baking Company. All that was left for me to do was to reheat the sauce, assemble one of my favorite green salads, boil pasta and open a bottle of red wine. We enjoyed a cocktail of bourbon and amaretto before dinner and then finished the night with Chocolate and Vanilla Pudding with Berries and Whipped Cream. I also made the puddings a day ahead, and then presented all the desert fixings as a pudding bar, so everyone could assemble their own concoction of pudding deliciousness.

olive oil, as needed
2 red bell peppers
2 yellow bell peppers
2 green bell peppers
12 ounces uncured apple smoked bacon
about 4 pounds boneless chicken thighs
1-1/4 pounds small cremini mushrooms, cleaned of dirt and debris, and quartered
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 tsp fresh rosemary
2 tsps Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp red chili flakes
about 1 tsp smoked sea salt
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup red wine
2 Tbsps red wine vinegar
2 Tbsps balsamic vinegar
2 28-ounce cans Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes
1/2 to 3/4 cups pitted dry-cured Italian or Greek olives
1/4 cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnishing
1/4 cup minced Italian parsley, plus more for garnishing
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
pappardelle pasta or prepared rice

crumbled bacon
chiffonade of basil
minced Italian parsley
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1. Roast the peppers: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Wash and dry the bell peppers and place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Drizzle the peppers with olive oil, using your hands to evenly distribute the oil, or use a brush. Roast the bell peppers for about 50 to 60 to minutes, turning the peppers about every 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow peppers to cool to room temperature. Halve the peppers and remove (and discard) the peels and seeds. Slice the peppers into long thin strips. Roasted peppers can be stored for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.

2. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs and set aside at room temperature while you cook the bacon. Alternatively, if you have brined the chicken, remove the thighs and pat dry with a kitchen towel or paper towels and then let sit at room temperature while the bacon cooks.

3. Heat the sliced bacon in a large pot (I use a rather wide, heavy soup pot made of enameled cast iron) over medium to medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp. Remove the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon, leaving the hot bacon fat in the pan.

Fry the chicken thighs in bacon fat until nicely browned on both sides.
Then, slice chicken into large pieces.
4. Fry the boneless chicken thighs, on both sides, until cooked through about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Do not overcrowd the pan. Cook the thighs in batches, if necessary, placing the cooked thighs on a platter.

5. Add the diced onions to the pot, along with the fresh rosemary, dried Italian seasoning, chili flakes and the smoked salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are soft, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for one minute, stirring occasionally. Add the red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and the red wine, and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes.

6. Add canned tomatoes to the pan. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into large pieces. Return the chicken to the pot. Simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 20 to 30 minutes. Add half of the minced, cooked bacon.
7. In a large skillet, heat one to tablespoons of olive oil. Saute the mushrooms until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the chicken and sauce.
7. Add bell peppers and olives and heat through. Add basil and parsley and double-check seasoning. Add more sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve immediately over pasta (or rice), garnishing with bacon, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and chiffonade of fresh basil.

Juliette is well known in southern Arizona for her naturally leavened sourdough loaves, rolls and bagels sold under the brand name, Guadalupe Baking Company, available at farmers markets and retail stores throughout Bisbee and Sierra Vista.
Wide pappardelle noodles are the best choice for this type of  hearty sauce.
Rockin' French Salad with French Vinaigrette pairs nicely with the Chicken Cacciatore.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I have to see this exhibit now! What great photos and background information. A very interesting read.


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