Natchez Trace

I had the most wonderful weekend!  Most of Saturday was spent at a conference on marriage and family, and much of Sunday was spent in deep, edifying conversation about the single life.  There was much to blog about, if I could remember the eloquence with which my friend Megan and I discussed the life we are currently living and how it fits into the bigger picture of marriage and family life.

Since it’s late, I’m going to simply post pictures from our Sunday afternoon drive.  After driving out to see l’Angelus in Leipers Fork, we took a long scenic drive home through forests, along streams, and across fields.  The trees are budding and the daffodils that grow wild along the country roads are blooming.  Our leisurely drive (she had prepaid for gas on her rental car, so we decided we might as well use it) took us both under and over this really neat bridge, part of the famous Natchez Trace Parkway:

The Natchez Trace Parkway follows the historic Natchez Trace, a 440-mile historic path that connects Nashville, TN and Natchez, MS.  I don’t think this picture does the bridge justice– it seems a lot bigger in real life.  I had driven under it a few times, but never over it — so we were excited when the GPS had us turn and head up the hill and across.  And there was even a nice little overlook on the other side, where Megan took this picture of me (there was no one around to take a picture of both of us, and she wouldn’t get her picture taken):

A good Tennessee weekend!



True communication over false communication.

True friendship over false friendship.

The King’s Speech conquers all!

(After I proclaimed that, my friend Megan announced, “I Like That” with a thumbs up.  Hahaha.)

attempt #4

Allow me to introduce to you the star of batch #4:

Mexican vanilla beans and extract!

I ordered the Mexican vanilla from Blue Cattle Truck Trading Co. to ensure that there wasn’t any coumarin in it.  It wasn’t cheap, but I was hoping it was worth it.

I ended up using the recipe I used for my very first batch of vanilla ice cream, a simple recipe that didn’t have a custard (egg) base.  I made the base the day before I was going to make the ice cream, because I think it sets up nicer when the base has been in the refrigerator for awhile.  However, I forgot to stick the ice cream bowl in the freezer, so when I went to make the ice cream, I couldn’t.   Then I went out of town, so my base sat in my refrigerator a few extra days.  I assumed it would be fine, but when I went to pull it out, there appeared to be a little film on the top– almost like the frothy top of the base had separated from the rest of the base.  I stirred it around, but the film still seemed to remain, so I simply poured it through the strainer as I poured it into the ice cream maker bowl and hoped for the best.

I know you’re probably sick of seeing pictures of tupperware containers full of vanilla ice cream, but here we go again:

Verdict: the flavor is definitely different from the regular Madagascar vanilla that we’re used to using.  I can’t really describe it, which makes blogging about it hard.  It’s a stronger flavor and richer than Madagascar.

I had some of the gelato-attempt left, so I did a taste test.  You can obviously tell which is the gelato (which contained eggs) and which is the newest batch (no eggs):

Please don’t judge me and the fact that I eat ice cream every evening.  (I don’t really.)

I’m anxious to try a custard base with the Mexican vanilla now.  I really liked the flavor of the Mexican vanilla, and I think I’ll be using it in other baked goods, too.  It probably wouldn’t be worth it to use in something like brownies, but I’m wondering how it would affect my sister’s famous chocolate chip-oatmeal cookies.  Since her recipe calls for an insane amount of vanilla, I think you would be able to taste a difference.

I’ve been commissioned to make ice cream for a baby shower, so I’m going to branch out and make a few different flavors.  It’s exciting to make it for other people too, and it’ll be my last big hurrah before Lent comes and the ice cream maker is packed away for 40 days.   I’m thinking of trying to make coffee, pistachio, or strawberry, and then probably that custard-based Mexican vanilla.  I don’t think I could get a chocolate ice cream that was chocolate-y enough, so I probably won’t even try.

As always, stay tuned.

(And could someone come down here and help me eat all of this?)

the Maestro

You don’t often meet someone who goes by “Maestro.”  I’d go by “Maestro” too, if the curator of the Vatican Museums is the one who gave me the title.

My “star sighting” tag was created with the intention of documenting those random glimpses of famous people that living in this city supposedly gives you.  But this evening’s star sighting, while still uncommon, was not unforeseen.

As part of the college’s lecture series, I attended a presentation by Maestro Igor Babailov tonight.  For the first hour, he gave a talk — mostly musings on modern “art” (or lack thereof), the effect the camera has had on modern realistic painting, and his own works.  The second half of the evening, he sketched a quick portrait of a volunteer.

He pointed out that creating a portrait from a live model is drastically different from creating from a photograph, due to light and tone and color and sharpness.  For this reason, he always prefers his subjects to sit for him.  Recently he was painting General Petraeus and the general could only give him two hours of his time.  When the Maestro got to his medals and whatnot, he asked the general if he could have a bit more time — he wasn’t content to just take pictures of the medals and work from that.

He also spoke a little of his youth in Moscow, where he learned to sketch and paint. (He painted his first portrait at age 4!)  The only good thing about the Iron Curtain, he told us (paraphrasing his friend Michael Novak) was that it kept modernism out of the art schools in Russia.  So when he was learning, he was still learning according to the great masters.   He said that he and his friends would go to train stations in Moscow and sketch as much as they could.  He encouraged any artists in the audience to practice sketching from their surroundings– not only is it better to sketch real life rather than photographs, but you also have to learn to sketch quickly (before your subjects walk away!).  This, he advised us, will foster your talents faster than sketching from photographs.   Relying on photographs, he warned us, will be like running on a treadmill.  You think you’re advancing three miles, but you look up and you’re still where you started.

During the sketching demonstration, he stopped occasionally to explain something or point out a particular.  I thought the neatest point he made during the sketch was about the importance of knowing how to use the correct pencil correctly, and the pencil strokes corresponding to the muscles of the face.  He had spoken about the importance of anatomy, something they stopped teaching in the art schools in the 1950s and 60s, which he pointed out has resulted in modern artists being unable to draw the human form.

I can’t do his presentation justice, but I encourage you to check out his work at his website:

Perhaps his most famous works are his portraits of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, which hang at Castel Gandolfo and the Vatican Museum, respectively.  Currently the painting of Pope Benedict is on tour with the Vatican Splendors exhibit, and I was able to see it in St. Louis this past summer.  He brought a few of his paintings with him and walked us through a few other ones on his website.  His portrait of President George W. Bush was particularly impressive.

One of my favorites was his portrait of George Washington, which he created from the famous statue by Jean-Antoine Houdon that stands in the Capitol in Richmond, VA.  Houdon was asked by Benjamin Franklin to create a statue of George Washington. The Maestro said Houdon was originally asked to use the famous painting by Gilbert Stuart, but Houdon refused, saying if they wanted him to create a statue, he would need to see the President.  So he came to Mt Vernon and Washington sat for him.   From that, Houdon created busts of Washington and the famous statue.  After the statue was created, it was said to be the best likeness of Washington — even Stuart admitted that his face was second to Houdon’s, and the Marquis de Lafayette said, “That is the man himself.”

The Maestro studied the various busts and the statue, and eventually created this painting, which now hangs in Mt. Vernon:

It was a most enjoyable evening — to be in the presence of a master!

Here’s a neat little YouTube video of a sketching demonstration:


short thoughts

It’s scary — the more I read snippets on twitter, the more I begin to think occasionally in “twitter thought” — little thoughts that I would tweet if I tweeted.

Over the last few days, these things included:

Saturday morning: Something disturbing happened in my dream last night, but couldn’t remember at first.  Oh yeah.  The world ended.

Sunday afternoon: I always have trouble at Daytona with everyone’s new sponsors and paint schemes.  Who are these people?

Monday: On my way to Knoxville.  Home of Trevor Bayne.

10 Years Later

Ten years ago today, one of the greatest NASCAR drivers and one of the greatest personalities in all sports tragically died doing what he loved most.

Everyone has their “I remember where I was” moments for various triumphs and tragedies.  I vividly remember sitting in the front seat of the rental car as the news came over the radio.  Dad was exiting the highway as we entered Orlando.  We were coming back from the race and had been listening to post-race highlights and reports the whole way back from Daytona.  After hours of sitting in race traffic, then the drive down I-4, perhaps the most unsettling news thus far had been the lack of news.

We had seen the wreck.  We had seen the moving finish, when Michael Waltrip won his first race– the greatest race, at that — in his first week as a driver for his friend, Dale Earnhardt.

And we had seen that the owner of the car had not come to congratulate him.

Hours passed, and no word about Dale.  I suppose we all knew.  But it seemed too impossible to be true.

I didn’t like Dale Earnhardt at the time; I came into the sport as a Jeff Gordon fan, so it was a given that Earnhardt was an enemy.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t think he was an incredible race car driver — that’s an objective fact.  And now that I know more about NASCAR (and more about him), some races I wonder if I wouldn’t be an Earnhardt fan today if he was still racing.  I think I might.

Another vivid memory from the days that passed was the video that Dale Jr released after his father’s death — his first public statement after that February afternoon, where he lost his dad at the same moment he finished 2nd in the greatest race in NASCAR.  I remember it being dark and almost home-movie like, and I saw there the face of a grieving son who wanted to stay strong.  He returned to racing the next week.

For the most part, Dale Jr. has kept to himself about everything over the past 10 years.  He has admitted now that after it happened he never wanted to see another track or race car ever again.   But he went back.  It’s not really for us to decide whether that was right or wrong — he went back to doing what his dad loved and what his dad had taught him to love.

And five months later, when NASCAR first returned to the track where he lost his father, Dale Jr won the Pepsi 400.

This year, there will be one person I think everyone would be happy to see win the Daytona 500.  He’s the one I’ll be rooting for on Sunday.