A Kiss From Mexico

I can't even put into words how cold it has been, so cold that there was a week where I stopped going outside.  Even. To. The. Grocery. Store.  That's how cold.  I started craving something warm, something hearty and it had to be a soup.  I knew it had to involve lentils, don't ask me why, I'm not even a vegetarian.  I quit that many years ago and I haven't looked back.  So, I began my search.  There were countless of soup recipes that I looked at but nothing really stood out.  I wanted something spicy, something tart but also something filling and with beans (yes, on top of the lentils).  And here's what I came up with:  A Spicy Lentil-Bean Soup with a Kiss From Mexico.  Eating it will make you happy, I promise.


I should probably warn you that a lot of this soup came from a can, awful I know.  It's not that it was meant to be quick and easy it's just that I'm incredibly lazy when it comes to soaking anything overnight.  I simply can't bring myself to do it.  I like to cook spontaneously and the idea that I have to prepare something the day before turns me off completely.  I'm sorry, but unless you're making cheesecake (which I suggest is the only thing worth spending that much time on) no recipe should require 24 hours of prep time, even if it involves soaking something in water.  Of course, if you're feeling empowered don't let me stop you and go ahead, use dry ingredients.  But here is what I did:

Sautee the following in a pan:

1/2 medium sized Vidalia onion or yellow onion
4 large garlic cloves (minced or crushed through a press)
1/2 cup of chicken stock (take this from the carton you will be using to make the soup)
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil or grapeseed oil

Of course if you like a stronger flavour by all means use more onion and more garlic.  Don't let me stand in your way.

Then mix the following in a large pot:

900 ml of chicken stock (I used Campbells, you can make your own if you're feeling ambitious)
1 can of lentils
1 can of black beans
1 can of white beans

(All those canned foods!!!  Ahhh, I think I just heard Anthony Bourdain cry)

1 can of La San Marzano tomatoes (796 ml)  (use the entire "juice" plus 2-3 actual plum tomatoes)
3/4 to an entire jar of Mexican green salsa (I used the Herdez brand, it's really tasty)
4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon of paprika
1 generous pinch of chili flakes (make that two if you like it hot)
1 generous pinch of fleur de sel (or whatever salt you like)
freshly ground pepper (if you can find Cambodian pepper please use it you will love it, see Epices-Roellinger)
1/2 fresh lime (squeeze out all the juice)
1/2 fresh lemon (squeeze again)

OPTIONAL:  You can add carrots, potatoes, corn or bacon to this concoction.  Have fun and experiment.

Mix all of this stuff together with the chicken stock and then add the sauteed onions and garlic.  Cook it on low to medium heat.  If you like it thick add more lentils or beans.  The first time I made this soup I added a carrot and a potato but it was too chunky for me.  I omitted them the second time and I know that the next time I make this soup I will add corn and bacon.  I don't know why but maybe it's because this soup tastes too good to be true, and it's almost too healthy that I want to add something bad, but a little bacon once in a while won't kill you.  I hope you enjoy it as much as my family did.

And because this post has a Mexican flavour I thought I would add a bit of a literary element to it by including a couple of poems by Octavio Paz the Nobel prize winner for literature in 1990.  Happy Reading everyone.

Octavio Paz

Where Without Whom

There is not

A single soul among the trees

And I

Don't know where I've gone


I am a man: little do I last
and the night is enormous.
But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.

Between going and staying the day wavers

Between going and staying the day wavers,
in love with its own transparency.
The circular afternoon is now a bay.
where the world in stillness rocks.

All is visible and all elusive,
all is near and can't be touched.
Paper, book, pencil, glass,
rest in the shade of their names.

Time throbbing in my temples repeats
the same unchanging syllable of blood.

The light turns the indifferent wall
into a ghostly theatre of reflections.

I find myself in the middle of an eye,
watching myself in its blank stare.

The moment scatters.  Motionless,
I stay and go:  I am a pause.

On a final note, I thought I would share with you a picture of the new contemporary art museum that is being built in Mexico City by Carlos Slim who also happens to be the richest man in the world.  The museum's spectacular size and design will make your mouth drop.  It's just as grand as the Guggenheim in Bilboa.


I Must Have Missed This One At Adopt-a-Pet...

I wish I could keep this beautiful llama as a pet unfortunately it lives in Ecuador and I don't have an acre of land to let it graze on.  This pic was taken by my cousin on a farm called The Secret Garden, a heavenly oasis surrounded by volcanoes in Ecuador.  Don't you just want to go there right now?  Hope you're having a great weekend.
Photo by Karolina Armstrong


I don't normally recommend exercise books...

Because I don't believe in them.  It's always been my theory that if you walk everywhere you'll never have to diet or exercise.  And I think the French have proven this over and over again.  And that is the real reason French women don't get fat.  They're always in constant motion plus they don't put crap in their body.

Having said that, I think this NYC Ballet Workout book has a lot to offer, and not just for weight loss although I'm sure that might be one its effects.  Rather, I like this book because it focuses on stretching which like Pilates can really elongate your body, while improving your posture and making you more flexible.

And if you have a stiff back or scoliosis like I do you'll feel a major difference in your body.  The best part is that the poses themselves are easy to remember and once they're ingrained in your memory you won't need to refer back to the book.  After a few weeks you might be surprised to discover muscles you never knew existed. What's more is that your body will start to move with the ease and grace of a ballet dancer.  And who wouldn't want that?  Try it for yourself.


The Cuban People are a Beautiful People...

And so are their beaches.  In fact, I have never seen water so clean and clear before, not even in the South of France, or in San Sebastian not even in Costa Rica;  it's a perfect turquoise green, with the softest white sand you can ever hope to walk on.

Away from the resorts you can't help but think that time has somehow stood still in this country.  Foreign goods are rare and internet use is scarce and very expensive.  Before attempting to use it at the hotel we were warned that it would take a long time to download a simple web page.  And they weren't kidding.  It cost around $12 an hour and after spending 10 minutes trying to log into my email I decided that maybe this was for the best.  I was on vacation and if I couldn't handle a week without the internet, then what was the point of it anyway.  I relaxed instead and soaked up the sun for an entire week.  I'm still white like a Caucasian cabbage but I think I left with a soft and gentle glow.

I already miss the old Chevys and Ladas and Fiats that are ubiquitous on the roads in Cuba.  They give this country such an unusual and Old World presence.  It's just hard to imagine that these cars from the 50's and 60's are still going strong.

My only regret is not going to Havana but knowing that there are direct flights from the city where I live lasting only about three hours, I know that I will be going back again.  Once you're here, everything is very affordable, high-end cigars will cost you around $10 and even their rum is really reasonable.  I only wish they had more variety but being a communist country it is hardly surprising. 

This lovely bird followed me around for about an hour but when I offered it some Doritos it abandoned me at last and ran away forever.  I guess even the animals here have an aversion to anything American. Just kidding.


What you'll notice most of all is the people who are always warm and friendly and eager to talk to you.  I think it must be the weather because when you factor in that most Cubans barely make $25 a month you can't help but wonder what their secret is.  I stumbled upon this fisherman during my many walks on the beach.

Of course, a post about Cuba wouldn't be complete without some mention of Fidel Castro.  I asked around hoping to get a glimpse of this man but no luck.  I know, wishful thinking on my part.  But I did manage to pick up a post card of Fidel playing baseball in his youthful days.  I have to say he looks rather cute.  I'm not sure if that's a zero on his hat or he was just anticipating O magazine.  All I can tell you is that I left Oprah in Cuba (or at least her magazine) and she was quickly snapped up, by who I will never know.

After this post, I hope they still let me in into this country.  I know they're not very fond of journalists but I'm a blogger, so that's different.  But just so you know, everyone who arrives in Cuba is photographed at customs.  After your picture is taken it is then stored on their system, forever and ever.  Why that is, I don't know, but I suppose just like with the internet use, everyone here is carefully monitored.  Upon your departure you will pay a tax of 25 pesos without so much as a stamp on your passport suggesting you were even here. 


Interview with Artist Jeffrey Gibson

There is a formidable talent brewing on the walls at Samson Projects, a contemporary art gallery in Boston, and once you see this collection of abstract works by Brooklyn-based artist Jeffrey Gibson you won't need any more convincing from me.  The paintings truly speak for themselves.

Surveillance 2008

Gibson's solid compositions consist of numerous parallel lines which cross into zigzags and then become blurred by large exploits of colour.  This obfuscated linearity convincingly shows off the brilliance behind Gibson's layering techniques.  You get lost in the shuffle of line work, colour juxtaposition and inherent balance created by the white space that gives Jeffrey's paintings the translucent quality that is reminiscent of looking through a stained glass window.  The patterns created are truly impressive and actively engage you to contemplate his painting process.

Splinter, 2008
The Monotype series which display similar elements as Gibson's paintings feature the eyes and mouth of an unidentified being.  There is a narrative here that wants to be told, or at least, Gibson gives us the option of seeking one out if we choose.  These are emotive images and they are embedded in an intentionally jarring movement of form.  The underlying chaos on display here intimates a dimension of violence and discomfort.  We instinctively want to know more.  

Fallout, 2008

Lucky for us, Jeffrey Gibson was kind enough to respond to such curiosities.  Just before the holidays, I had a chance to converse with him over email and he was more than just generous and considerate with his time and answers.  Before I knew it, one question turned into almost a dozen and hence, this interview was born. I cannot thank him enough.

Shred, 2008

Before delving into the Q & A I thought I would give you a little bit information about his background.  Born in Colorado in 1972, Jeffrey Gibson lived in Korea, and Germany before studying with sculptor Ernest Mirabal in New Mexico.  He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago and later pursued a Master of Arts at the Royal College of Art in London, England. Being a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and half Cherokee he received great support from his community group who funded his studies in the UK (ARTnews/June 2007).  Jeffrey Gibson moved to New York in 1999 and since then he has been exhibiting his work in the US and internationally.  He is showing in Canada for the first time this month at The PlugIn Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg.  The interview follows below:

Untitled Green Stripes 2008

1.  My first question is about technique because when I look at your abstract paintings from 2008 and the Monotype series I can't figure out how you started painting these.  There's obviously layering involved but the process I can't really articulate, so please help, how do you begin?  All those lines, sometimes they're crisp, sometimes they're grainy and sometimes they're jagged, what does the line work represent?

I work with acrylic, oil and spray paint in the paintings on paper and canvas and begin by making some basic decisions about colour.  The first marks are very abstract and non-objective in nature.  I will stain the paper or canvas and then begin reacting to the marks with line drawings that emphasize some of the forms.  A lot of the time is spent looking for areas of the drawing and painting that I want to keep or build on.  I mask those areas off with masking tape and use spray paints to block out large sections of space.  This immediately calms the surface down and opens up space for me to continue the line work or mark making.  When I begin to see an image forming I push it back into abstraction, maybe keep a fragment of it.  The layering allows me to confuse the layers by leaving gaps that expose the very initial marks and by keeping a similar palette I am able to pull the initial marks back onto the surface.

Overflow, 2008

The prints begin similarly.  Each mono print goes through about 4-5 passes before the eyes and lips are put on the surface.  These passes included many transparent layers that can turn a series of marks into three or four new versions of themselves just done to colour shifts.  These prints were made over a two-week period working with an incredible Mast Printer named Frank Janzen.  This opened up a lot of freedom for me to make decisions and be concerned only with the placement of marks and use his knowledge of how inks work.

Monotype, 2008

The lines function as the very beginnings of image or possibly text.  One of the goals is to hold it there, explore what happens before an image or before a word.  How much can I express and still have it remain purely abstract.  The visual languages that I work with say a lot and they both balance and contradict each other.

Untitled, 2008

2.  When I first saw your name and your work at Samson Projects, and before I ever read anything about you, I would have never guessed that you have Native origins.  In the mostly abstract works that I'm profiling here do you feel that there is still a Native element, if I can call it that, to them?

I'm not so sure.  I don't push any of my influences to the front of the work.  I have lived in many places including the US, Korea, Germany, England, and spent time in Norway, and I "collect" many visual references in the process.  One of the goals of my work is to merge these references together to form something altogether new.  I want to describe the stimulation of visual culture, the eruptions, the obstacles, the distractions and the calming effect of form and colour.  Being Native American allows for many visual languages, formats, colour combinations and philosophies that have definitely influenced me.  This definitely colours the lens that I see the world through.

Untitled, 2008

3.  Which artist(s) do you most identify with or would like to be associated with if any?

A.  There are many but here are a few:

Shred, 2008

4.  In the Monotype series of works, you include a woman's face or at least certain facial features in the background.  Who is this?  And why have you included her?  What was the intention behind the Monotype works?

I made these prints during a two week residency in Oregon.  I knew no one there and felt somewhat on display in this small town.  These prints were my way of investigating the place and translating this place into my own visual language that I arrived with.

Monotype, 2008

5.  What do you want people to know about you as an artist, three things?

1)  I'll be working until I can't work any longer - I love creating.
2)  I want to collaborate more with creative people on projects involving fashion/design/events.
3)  I do my best to remain in the present.

Make Me Feel It, 2008

6.  You live in NYC, how do you stay connected to your Chrokee/Choctaw community group?

I don't prioritize my communities because I crossover into many groups daily.  This is what I believe in.  There is a Native American community in NYC, and most cities, and when I feel I need them, they are there.  My primary community is an artist community made up of people from all over the world.

Four Bar Eye Dazzler Study, 2008

7.  If you could pick three of your favourite paintings to hang in your home, outside of your own, what would they be?

1.  The Italians, 1961, by Cy Twombly

The Italians, 1961, by Cy Twombly (MoMa)

2.  Serapis, 2008 by Ron Gorchov

Serapis by Ron Gorchov, 2008

3.  The Dicks, 1946, by Forrest Bess

The Dicks by Forrest Bess, 1946

8.  What direction do you hope your artwork will take in the future?  Are you planning to focus on painting or sculpture or a little bit of both?

I hope to begin showing more internationally and place my work within the context of important abstract painters working today, Germany would be a great place.  I want to continue working with both painting and sculpture but I want the paintings to engage more with the space where they are hung, more like an installation.

Slice and Dice, 2008

9.  What were the first signs while growing up that made you realize you would go into art?

I always knew I would be an artist.

Monotype, 2008

10.  In the paintings I have chosen to show on this blog what can you tell us about the use/importance of colour?  Is it something that's predetermined or something you discover along the way?

Hmmm, the colour.  The latest series of paintings do have a more specific colour palette but the ones that you are looking at, each painting has its own colour palette.  In those paintings, sometimes the colour was predetermined and I would assign some meaning to colours such as reds and oranges signifying immediacy or urgency.  Grays are generally more calming and can have a neutralizing effect.  I would also use colours as representative of the natural world and of the man-made artificial world and place them side by side and on top of each other.  I am always drawn to colours that appear completely artificial but can be found in the natural world of plants, rocks or minerals.  I would combine colour to create contrast and make areas of the paintings intense because of how colour can either sit comfortable beside each other or flicker back and forth with what is next to it.  These are all things that I play with.  And, of course, much of this is discovered along the way during the process.  The paintings get many layers and my process allows me to dramatically change a painting during each painting session until I am able to hit the balance that I am seeking.

Redspill, 2008

11.  This last question has nothing to do with your art but I'm asking because I'm curious.  Who are your favourite writers, your favourite books/food and the best thing about living in NYC?

Favourite writers include Hélène Cixous, Michel Houellebecq, and Jean Baudrillard.

Current favourite book is Carnival and Cannibal by Jean Baudrillard.

Favourite food - so many - but good greek yoghurt with fresh honey and roasted almonds always hit the spot, maybe some sour cherries on top.

Best thing about living in NYC is the collision of culture makers.  It is too much and most of it will not stand the test of time, but watching it and engaging with it is rarely boring.

Jeffrey Gibson (photo: sarweb.org)

I hope you enjoyed reading about Jeffrey Gibson;  I know I did.  I especially loved learning about his creative process.  I can't wait to research some of the artists he has mentioned.  I hope maybe one day we'll get a more intimate look of how he paints maybe on Youtube.  One thing is certain: we have much to look forward to with this talented artist.  

If you would like to see more of Jeffrey Gibson's work you can view it here:


And I thought I had a big mouth...

Robert, Longleat 2008 by Jocelyn Bain Hogg

I just fell in love with this photograph by Joceyln Bain Hogg.  Naturally, the picture precipitated a perusal of Wikipedia's page on giraffes.  I couldn't help myself.  It wasn't something I had planned on writing about but my curiosity got the best of me.  So, I have compiled some interesting facts on these lovely animals for you.  All are courtesy of the Wikipedia website:

1.  The average mass of male giraffes is 2,600 lbs and 1,800 lbs for females.
2.  Approximate heights range from 4.3 to 5.2 metres.
3.  Their fur is a natural defense mechanism full of antibiotics and parasite repellants.
4.  It also has a characteristic scent and the male's odour is especially distinctive and strong.
5.  They have the shortest sleep requirement of any mammal at 4.6 hours.
6.  The giraffe name has two possible origins; from the Arabic ziraafa or from the African name zurapha.
7.  Lions pose the greatest threat to their survival.
8.  Giraffes are unable to swim.
9.  Their necks can be over 2m in length.
10.  Necks are elongated so as to allow them to reach nutrients that their competitors cannot not.
11.  A giraffe heart weighs approximately 22lbs and is around 2ft long.
12.  Males determine female fertility by tasting the female's urine.
13.  Giraffe gestation is between 400 and 460 days.
14.  Mothers give birth standing up.
15.  Newborns are around 6ft tall.
16.  25-50% of newborns never reach adulthood.
17.  Maximum lifespan is 25 years in the wild and 28 years in captivity.
18.  Giraffes defend themselves with a powerful kick.
19.  Male giraffes are hetero-flexible and one function of their necking (besides combat) is sexual.
20.  Male giraffes will court and caress each other resulting in mounting and climax.
21.  Only 1% of female giraffes engage in same-sex behaviours.
22.  They have a long tongue, at around 18 inches, and will use it to clean bugs off their face.
23.  The largest giraffe populations exist in Kenya, Tanzania and Botswana.

Who knew they were such fascinating animals.   If you would like to view some more beautiful work by British photographer Jocelyn Bain Hogg please visit his website or you can purchase his prints at 20ltd.

I'll be back to regular programming shortly.  I have a whole list of things I'm excited about for 2011 that I can't wait to share them with you.  Stay tuned...

Oh and I almost forgot, Happy New Year everyone!