Author Archives: Marie Marfia

Scratch Cook

The day I gave up cooking stands out in my memory because it started out as a day full of the best intentions. I was going to follow a recipe. I was going to be patient and let the flavors meld properly. I was definitely not going to cook the way I normally do, which is to google the list of food items that I happened to have in the cupboard at 5:30 pm and see if there was anything at all that could be made from them in a half hour or less.

My husband Steve is the real cook in our family. Let me just say that cook is a misnomer for what he actually does, which is craft gourmet-quality meals, using skills honed over a lifetime of working as a chemist. My only beef with Steve is that these exquisite repasts usually take hours to prepare and since he is chronologically challenged, often results in dinner being served anywhere from 7 pm to o-bed-thirty, by which time we are all starving and he could set a heaping bowl of gruel in front of us at that point and we’d gratefully eat it all up and ask for more.

Up to that day, I had always considered myself an okay cook in that I could take five or six ingredients and combine them to make a meal that would be, if not excellent, at least filling, and would probably not kill you. Almost as importantly, it’d be ready by 6. But lately, my offerings felt like they were lacking a certain something. Like taste, texture, toothsomeness. Steve was just so good and I’ve always been super competitive. Blame it on growing up as one of eleven children. I can’t even take a yoga class without hurting myself trying to prove I can bend over backwards a scootch more than that other grandma doing stretches next to me. 

I just wanted to make something without tuna in it for once and that everyone would sigh over and be grateful to eat, oh, and serve it at dinner time, which is when I’m hungry, versus 9 pm, which is when I’m slavering for any remotely food-like substance.

That day I carefully got out the crockpot, paged through the cookbook and selected a recipe. I figured a crockpot recipe was the perfect choice because it satisfied my need to produce something really tasty with only a half hour’s worth of effort. I could slap it together and forget about it until later. Piece of cake. This would also have the added advantage of preventing my usual end of day meltdown which was me realizing I needed to come up with something for dinner and no idea what it was going to be. 

Being the work-at-home parent back when the kids were small and Steve was working out of state, it fell to me to make dinner most of the time. I enlisted their help to make the decision as to what dinner was going to be. By the end of the day I just couldn’t muster up the energy to think of what to feed everyone. This resulted in a lot of “backwards dinners” where I’d serve ice cream or pass out the little yogurts. The kids didn’t complain but I felt a lot of guilt over this. I was the parent, dammit. I was supposed to make them eat vegetables at dinner time. There’s rules and things.

And the kids helped, each taking a couple days a week to choose what was going to be on the menu. We ate a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches (Sam), hamburgers (Nick), and pizza (Alice) back then. It all worked out.

Now, however, I felt like I was competing with Steve to make something more than just edible, hence the stab at crockpot cooking. I remember dutifully reading the ingredients list and layering meat, vegetables and broth into the pot, putting the lid on it and then waiting for the magic to happen.

All day I resisted the urge to peek under the lid to see how it was coming along. I mean, why worry? I was using a recipe! It couldn’t fail. People didn’t just put random instructions in cookbooks without checking to see if they worked first. There were test kitchens. I had heard of them. Probably this recipe had been tweaked at least fifty times before being added to the final edition of this cookbook.

At the crack of 6pm I opened the lid of the crockpot and gazed inside, anticipating juicy pork steaks in tomato sauce, artfully dotted with capers (I was pretty proud of the capers, thinking they lent a certain sophistication to the mix, without actually knowing what, in fact, they were). Instead I saw a crock pot full of dried out slabs of gristle in no sauce whatsoever, just red and green bits stuck to the sides of the pot. It was a disaster.

When Steve came home, I apologetically informed him that dinner was a failure and we would be ordering pizza. He lifted the lid, sniffed the contents, and said, “The capers were because…”, letting the sentence dangle. “They were called for in the recipe,” I said, not at all defensively. Then he tasted it and announced that if I had done three things, which he proceeded to describe in great detail and which I have since completely blocked from my memory, it would have been fine. Edible, in fact.

And that was the moment when I hung up my apron for good. In a hundred million years, I would never have been able to not only diagnose what was wrong with that glop in the crockpot, but to know what it would take to make it delicious. 

I was reminded of a time when I called in a repairman to fix the dryer. I’d already tried to repair it myself and managed to lose a screwdriver down the lint trap in the process. The repairman came over that same day. As I let him in and showed him the partly disassembled appliance skulking in the basement, one kid on my hip and the other toddling along behind, he told me something I’d forgotten until now. He said, “It’s okay that you don’t know how to do everything. You don’t have to be an expert at this. It’s okay for someone else to earn a living, too.”

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Cookie making time

Recently, Steve and I were making gingerbread cookies for Ludington’s Downtown Cookie Walk and I could only find one cookie sheet. Everyone knows you need two cookie sheets in order to make cookies in the most efficient way possible. While one sheet is in the oven, you can load up the second sheet so it’s ready to go in soon as the first one is done.

I knew we had a second cookie sheet somewhere and could picture it in my head. I dimly recalled making something with it (apple slices? nachos?) between the time we’d moved into this house and now. That ruled out the storage unit but left open the possibility it was lurking somewhere in the house or the garage. 

Steve and I were methodical in our search for it. We took turns getting down on our hands and knees to look in the very backs of all the bottom cupboards (nope), and then we tried the tops of all the shelves (nada), the gaps between all the appliances (zilch), and then the cupboard over the fridge, which necessitated first clearing off all the stuff on top of it in order to get the doors open (which also explains why the cupboard turned out to be completely empty—why bother to put anything in there when it’s easier to pile it in front?—whereupon I immediately nominated that space for storing liquor, which still needs to find a designated forever home after the move, but Steve said it’d be a pain in the patootie for any future drunks looking for a quick shot, so it’s still empty, in case you were wondering.)

This is a problem with moving into a new house. The place where you first put things usually ends up being the place where you always put things, no matter how inconvenient it may turn out to be later. Like cookie sheets, for instance.

This morning I found it behind the fridge, and I know it was me who put it there, because I remember thinking it was a good idea at the time. It’s a narrow, vertical space, and cookie sheets definitely fit there, but it’s also much, much closer to dog fur, of which we have a plethora, and which now covered it, front and back.

What was I thinking?

The answer is that I wasn’t thinking at all, or I wasn’t thinking very hard, or possibly I was distracted by the next thing on my list, which in no way involved making a once and for all decision about where it would be best to store flat items that only get used once a month, if ever.

The upshot is that it took longer than it should have to bake a hundred cookies, not least because we spent some of that time in a fruitless search for a cookie sheet.

But we had fun looking, which is the most important thing. And it made a memory, which would never have happened if the cookie sheets had both been in the same place at the same time. Have you ever noticed that it’s the things you’re not expecting that last the longest time in your head? 

As for the cookies, we iced them to look like reindeer skeletons with red noses and then called them “Rudolphs, Deconstructed” for the Cookie Walk. They were both creepy and delicious. A nice balance, I think.

skeleton reindeer gingerbread cookies
Rudolphs, Deconstructed.

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Skeleton window art

the final skeleton art window painting
This means you! Final window art over my office.

Ever since I moved into my space at the back of 307 S. James St. I’ve been meaning to put something in the window that overlooks the office where I work. The truth is I like to take naps in there every once in a while and it makes me feel a little too exposed to lay on the floor on a yoga mat and know that anyone walking by the window can see me snoring in there. I could have just hung up a curtain but why settle for fabric when I can make something awesome instead? So naturally I decided to make some skeleton window art.

It took a little longer than I hoped and this was because I had to order more leading strips and paint colors directly from the manufacturer (Plaid Gallery Glass) and their cheapest shipping option turns out to be very slooooooooow. But oh well. I was busy doing other things, if you recall. It got delivered eventually and then the whole project was finished up quickly after that.

Step 1: Make a sketch

sketch
I changed the bottom line to “for the skeleton army” because it’s closer to the original. Also I didn’t want it to seem like I was being a money grubbing jerk.

First I needed a design for the window. I settled on the classic Uncle Sam army recruiting poster as a starting point. Not hard to convert to a skeleton version. If anyone is interested in doing the same thing for themselves, just let me know and I’ll send you a scalable pdf file that you can use as a template.

Step 2: Convert to scalable vector art

template

This is what my template looks like. I have the colors on separate layers in Adobe Illustrator. It took about 16 letter-size pages which I then taped together.

Once I printed out the template I taped it up to the back side of the window and then started putting leading strips on the front side of the window, cementing them in place with a drop of liquid leading.

Step 3: Do the fiddly bits

I made the skull, hand, stars and lettering separately on clear plastic sleeves using the liquid leading. That’s because they were too detailed to do using the leading strips on a vertical surface. You can bend the strips into large, simple shapes but anything smaller and they don’t hold the curves. They peel off the glass when my back is turned and it’s frustrating as hell.

making a skeleton art window painting
I am using an exacto knife to trim away the little blobs of dried liquid leading that I used to anchor the strips. See my office through the window? I have plans for later on next spring, so stay tuned. All I’ll say right now is it’s not going to be white when I’m done with it.
skeleton art window painting
Here he is with the head, hand and lettering on the window. See all the little blobs of trimmed off liquid leading on the sill? The floor was covered with them by the end.

Step 4: Decide on a background

The next question was what to do with the background? It needed to cover the whole window, but the original Uncle Sam poster was just plain white. I wanted something kind of gothic. So I ended up using radiating stripes in purple and lilac.

skeleton art painted window
Here’s where I had to stop because I ran out of leading strips. Also, I needed more colors to finish than what I had in my studio.

Step 5: Break up the big shapes

I’m breaking up the big shapes in order to be able to apply the paint and not have the weight of it cause it to drip down the window. This meant there were a lot of places to dab the liquid leading and subsequently a lot more trimming to do.

Step 6: Fill in the rest of the color

Finally filling in the colors! This is the fun part and it goes pretty quickly, although my right shoulder needed a long soak in the tub after I was done. The guy that appears at the end was asking whether I liked the idea of food trucks parked on Filer St. next summer. I said I was all for more food choices in town ;).

Step 7: Enjoy my cool window art!

So this is it! This is my Uncle Skelly Wants You for the Skeleton Army window. What do you think? Pretty cool? I think so, too. And best of all, I can nap in peace!

skeleton art window
I Want You for the Skeleton Army painted glass window, 34″x34″, by Marie Marfia, ©2019.
detail of skeleton window art
Detail, I Want You for the Skeleton Army window art by Marie Marfia
looking down the hall from skelly window art
Detail, I Want You for the Skeleton Army window art by Marie Marfia

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pastel painting of the ludington lighthouse in late fall

Ludington Lighthouse, pastel painting of a late fall scene by Marie Marfia

Another painting of the beach in Ludington, Michigan. Love snow fence as an element in a painting! It’s so bright and lively in an otherwise pretty dull colored seascape. Some people don’t care for the red slash but I just love the splash of color!

Time-lapse of Ludington Lighthouse.
Ludington Lighthouse, 7×5″ pastel painting of a late fall beach in Ludington, Michigan. Available $145.

Here are the studies I made of this painting. Each is 3.5×2.5″.

study of the Ludington Lighthouse painting.
Study No. 1.
Study for the Ludington Lighthouse painting.
Study No. 2.
study for the Ludington Lighthouse painting.
Study No. 3.

This painting is part of a series I’m doing for the Holiday Artsie Craft Show coming up soon! Read all about it here.

If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please email me.

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pastel painting of the Lake Michigan shoreline with snow and clouds

Ludington Lighthouse, pastel painting of a lake scene by Marie Marfia

November Clouds, 9×6″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia, ©2019. Available $200.

Here’s a piece that I just completed today. I have been getting out to see Lake Michigan whenever I can now that I live so close. I hope to have a series of these kinds of paintings, the dunes covered in snow and the sky peaking through the clouds, by next spring.

Here’s the time-lapse:

Here are the three small studies (4.5×3″) that I did before I started on the final.

Study No. 1
Study No. 2
Study No. 3

This painting is part of a series I’m doing for the Holiday Artsie Craft Show coming up soon! Read all about it here.

If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please email me.

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First Light, pastel painting of sunrise in Michigan

My dogs love wandering around in our “back forty” now. So many little critters to roust out of their beds! I like being out there, too. Especially on mornings like this, where the sun and the clouds combine to make a colorful layered palette in the sky–blue, purple, pink and gold. It’s just glorious.

First Light, 8×5″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia, ©2019. Available $180.

Here’s the time-lapse for this painting:

Time lapse of First Light, pastel painting by Marie Marfia.

And here are the studies I did first. Each one is 4×2.5″ on sanded paper.

First Light study no. 1, red and purple underpainting.
First Light, study no. 2, red and yellow underpainting.
First Light study no. 3, blue and yellow underpainting.
First Light study no. 4, blue and aqua underpainting.

This painting is part of a series I’m doing for the Holiday Artsie Craft Show coming up soon! Read all about it here.

If you’re interested in purchasing this painting, please email me.

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pastel painting of a winter scene

Heavy Snow, pastel painting of the first snow of the season

I know I’m probably going to get tired of it sooner than later, but for right now I’m really loving the snow!

Here’s a time-lapse of a pastel painting from this morning’s walk out in the back of our new place.

Heavy Snow, pastel painting time-lapse.

I’m busy painting a few originals to bring to Laurie Carey & Friends Holiday Artsie Craft Show that’s coming up in just about 10 days. This snowfall came at just the right time for me to make some new winter scenes.

Before I did the larger painting, I did four little studies using a different watercolor underpainting for each one. Then I picked the underpainting I liked best for the final. Here are the little studies, all 2.5 x 4″. Can you tell which study I used as a reference?

Heavy Snow, study no. 1
Heavy Snow, study no. 2
Heavy Snow, study no. 3
Heavy Snow, study no. 4
Heavy Snow, 5×8″ pastel on sanded paper by Marie Marfia ©2019. Available $180.

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