Tag Archives: Corvallis

Pandora’s Recipe Box

Posted by Kerry McFall December 3, 2018

Christmas is upon us, time to make fudge and cutout cookies, so out comes the old recipe box.  ‘Dusty’ doesn’t do justice to the accumulation of oily residue and fingerprints and smudges on it as I wrestle it out of its position as honorary bookend on the cookbook shelf, resulting in the usual cascade of books and 3-ring binders off the shelf and onto the floor.  Dang.

sketch of wooden box and recipes

“Pandora’s Recipe Box,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

I pry up the lid of the box, and there is “Kerry from Dad 87” etched into the inside top with a woodburning tool.  He made it for me during his Woodworker Phase, one of many oak-and-walnut projects, including my pepper mill.  Utilitarian and one-of-a-kind, both my Dad and the box.

The box is packed so full that opening it makes me wonder what keeps all those cards and papers from literally jumping out.  The dividers, printed in my hand-writing on blue cardboard, are frayed and stained.  Given the accessibility of recipes via the Internet, this collection doesn’t get as much use as it did back in the day, so it’s been several years since I really paid any attention to it, but I’m on a mission: the fudge recipe on the back of the marshmallow crème jar just doesn’t look right.  Didn’t the marshmallow jar used to be way bigger?  Wasn’t it the large can of evaporated milk, not this itty bitty thing?  I need to find my old “original” recipe, THE recipe that actually results in creamy, delectable fudge.  As opposed to gooey chocolate sauce with walnuts sunk to the bottom…

As my fingers “walk” through the categories (two of my favorites are “Front Burner” and “Tea Treats”), I am remembering when I discovered the hard way that just because my mother gave me A recipe didn’t mean she had given me THE recipe.  I had tried for years to make Parker House Rolls during the holidays, but they were never as light and fluffy as hers, which I couldn’t understand because she had copied the recipe for me.  And then one day, she said smugly, “Well, I see you still can’t make them melt in your mouth like mine!” The light dawned.  I compared the two handwritten 3 x 5 cards.  She had written “1 package yeast” on my card, hers said “2 pkgs yeast.”  She had written “let rise” on mine, hers said “let rise, punch down, knead lightly, let rise again.”  Oh for crying out loud!

I put that memory behind me with a low growl, and finally coax out the recipe in Mom’s handwriting that says fudge.  And sure enough, the label on the jar is different in several places from this old yellow chunk of legal pad where she copied the recipe, so I’m going to have to call my sister-in-law.  She’s got Mom’s old originals now… but then I realize that squeezing the recipes back into the box is not going to happen unless I get rid of some of the never-used bulk.  In my head I hear the words to “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…” echoing: “…he’s probably going to want a glass of milk…”

But it can’t be helped, they just refuse to be jammed back into the box.  I start at the back.  There is the 3-hole-punch version – with hand-drawn X-rated illustrations – of “Fricasseed Boar Balls” from a once-young man who shall not be named… I’ve always thought this could be used to great advantage in a blackmail effort given his affinity for public office, so clearly that has to go back in the box!  There is a page of graph paper with a recipe for a potato casserole, in French, from someone named Devismes – nope, recycle.  But I wonder who that was?  Is that the family I stayed with on my first trip to France?  A double-folded card spells out a complex process for a casserole from the mother of the husband of my husband’s ex-girlfriend, with a sweet note at the end: “When you take the first bite, think of Ursula and Christmas 1993 in Corvallis”.  Aww, what a sweetheart.

And so it goes.  I find my long lost recipe for Hot Buttered Rum squirreled away under Vegetables.   There are pages and pages of typed gourmet entries (which means the main ingredient was cream of mushroom soup) from my Aunt Muriel, who loved to entertain – I never tried most of them so they go into the recycling, but a few are now family classics.  Most of the recipes are on 3 x 5 cards in the handwriting of the cooks who shared them with me, with unintentional samples of most of the ingredients spattered here and there – those are very hard to part with.  Ultimately I was able to recycle just enough so that I can close the box – but this little exercise was thought provoking.  When I google a recipe, it comes with no memories, fond or otherwise.  It comes with no evidence of little helpers in the kitchen with peanut butter on their fingers, no notes from friends, no reminders of co-workers who organized recipe exchanges, no clippings from ancient newspapers with ads on the back for honey at $.59.  It’s faster, yes, but it is SO not personal.

I wipe down the recipe box, and try not to think about how much shelf space I could regain if I took the time to sort through the cookbooks before I smash the books back into a row and wedge the box back on the shelf.  The fudge ingredients are calling my name…  I’ll save the cookbook shelf “weeding” for another Mouse and another cookie on another day.  Besides, I had to write about this while it was fresh in my head, and after I make the fudge I want to do a watercolor of all the ingredients and the recipe box… Time Flies!

(No surprise, finished the painting, still haven’t gotten around to the fudge or the cookies or the cookbook shelf.  What the hey – Christmas is still WEEKS away, right?)

We Won’t Be the Only Ones Watching

Posted July 23, 2017 by Kerry McFall

#makingALivingAsAnArtist #totality #eclipse #fishArt

trout watching totality

“Oregon Eclipse 2017”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

The media is abuzz about the potential crowds showing up for the coming total eclipse of the sun.  Neighbors are wondering how much food to stock up on before the hordes descend.  The library is full of cool books about eclipses – I checked out one called “Mask of the Sun” about the history and forgotten lore of eclipses.   I recently wrote about my concerns that eclipse fans need to stay on trails when they’re tramping around here in the woods.  And the OSU art gallery, the LaSells Stewart Center, is planning an exhibit in August focused on all things celestial.

I was going to submit my painting (above) for that exhibit, in fact I painted it expressly for that show, painted it on the day before the submission deadline.  I wasn’t procrastinating, I just managed to come up with the concept and squeeze in the two hours to create it in the proverbial nick of time.   I was wondering how the darkness would affect all of the creatures who would experience it.  And what about fish?  Would they be aware?  What would it look like from their watery viewpoint?  What do fish see anyway?

I actually have quite a long history with fish.  One of my middle school science projects involved getting up in the middle of the night for a week to see if my goldfish were sleeping.  Another project asked the burning question, “Do fish see colors?”.  Both projects led me to the conclusion that I was in way over my head for middle school research technology in the 60’s.  My kids were curious about fish, too -there was one memorable moment, waiting to attempt a left turn from 9th street onto Circle Blvd. at what passes for Rush Hour in Corvallis, when a small voice from the back seat inquired, “Do fish throw up?”  Still don’t have an answer for that one…

And over the years, I’ve made and sold quite a bunch of fish art.  Fiber art, digital art, sketches, oil paintings, birdhouses… fish are so very elegant and graceful.

“BirdhouseView7″by Kerry McFall, Acrylic and mixed media on roughcut cedar

So, I finished my Totality painting after some inconclusive internet research about fish that involved the potential for neon and infrared paint and light.  But then…  then I saw that it cost $20 to enter a piece (up to 5 pieces actually) to be juried in.  And then I realized that I didn’t have a mat and frame to fit the size of my painting, I would have to buy new.  So there’s another $40 to $60 for just a basic prep.  And then I thought about the gallery commission – it’s usually 40%.  And then I reminded myself that I’ve exhibited there many times, and nothing has sold.  I’m not being pessimistic, mind you, this is simply experience speaking.  Artists often pay – a lot – for the privilege of attempting to sell their work.  Just like corporations and governments rarely offer “real” jobs anymore, (they contract out to headhunters and middlemen who take 40 to 65% of what would otherwise be a decent salary), the majority of artists can expect to earn just about enough to buy their next batch of art supplies, if they’re lucky.

So now what?  I know ways to market my art.  I’ve studied it.  I’ve done it before, with some success.  But I’m so weary of all that.  This is not my year for that much effort.  Now I have another unique original to add to my “body of work”.  I like it.  I had fun doing it.  I learned something.  It makes me smile.  Those are the real reasons I make art.  And that’s enough.

Guardian of the Grapes

gnarled grape vine

“Guardian of the Grapes,” mixed media by Kerry McFall

The best image from our California Wine Country tour was not in a vineyard, not in a tasting room, but in a vacant lot in St. Helena, beside the city library and the Robert Louis Stevenson museum.  I was sad to see the abandoned, gnarly old vines, looking more like tortured tree trunks or driftwood than anything I would recognize as a grape vine.  This one took the shape of a skull, maybe a horse’s skull, with what appeared to be an eye glaring up at me.  This year’s new growth sprouted from its forehead like horns, thick as my wrist.  The vines were heavy with grapes – blue, amethyst, amber, green – although some were raisins already, some mashed by unseen forces.  The message was clear:  try a grape at your own peril.  I fear for the future of whoever drives the backhoe that uproots this Guardian, this Demonic Troll… beware the uprooted ghost!

Lovely Day for a Quick Plein Air Sketch

sketch of lupine

“Lupine”, watercolor and ink, by Kerry McFall

sketch of fields and mountains

“Midge Cramer Trail”, ink and watercolor by Kerry McFall

Half a mile from the parking lot at the fairgrounds, there is a bench on the Midge Cramer trail, the perfect spot for sketching.  By the time you’ve reached it, you can’t help but feel your batteries re-charging.  It smells good (wild roses and sweet meadow grass), it sounds good (crickets and birdsong), it’s gorgeous and green.  People jog and pedal along smiling, dogs can barely walk for wagging, the occasional horses even seem glad to see you.  There are lots of wildflowers this time of year, and unfortunately also lots of poison oak so stay on the trail.  The lupine I sketched above are undoubtedly transplants from someone’s garden via a blue jay or squirrel, they’ve sprouted up just behind the bench.

Technique Notes

I sketched these in my Grey toned Strathmore book, which just happened to be the right size to fit in a small pack, and discovered that a toned paper is really great when you’re sitting out in the direct sunlight.  Instead of being blinded by the reflection on bright white paper, you can actually see what you’re doing.  And as a bonus, just a white charcoal pencil makes for easy highlights.  I wondered if the watercolor and colored pencil would still be as bright after photographing, and I think they look good!

Organic Dandelions… Really

sketch of baskets of vegetables

“Organic Dandelions”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

At the Corvallis Farmer’s Market a couple of Saturdays ago, I snapped a few photos in the Gathering Together Farm booth.  Their veggie basket displays are visual feasts, but it’s difficult to sketch “live” because hungry people have shopping to get done.  I didn’t realize until I got home and began sketching that the main “veggie” in the center of this display was your common ordinary run-of-the-mill dandelion leaves!  Who knew that you can get $3.00 per bundle for a handful of “weeds”?!

But I’m not that much of a dingbat.  I have read that dandelions are one of the healthiest, most vitamin-packed greens.  Ironic that we spend so much time and money and herbicides trying to eliminate them.  Refreshing to see them being recognized for their potential!

This painting/sketch uses my evolving technique of mixing china marker with watercolors and colored pencil.  The challenge is that the waxy china marker not only resists watercolor, it also resists my final phase, which is ink.  It’s wrecking all of my best pens!  The wax eventually builds up on the tip of the pen and it’s almost impossible to get off.  Looks like I need to come up with a “work around”…

Small Town, U.S.A.

market sketch

“Corvallis Farmer’s Market”, mixed media by Kerry McFall

From the lovely little white courthouse to the old telephone poles lining the clean (!) brick alleys, Corvallis is the penultimate “small town”.  Saturday mornings in summer find about half the populace (and their dogs) strolling through the farmer’s market down by the river on First Street.  It is a mouthwatering collection of homemade pies and local cheeses and fresh eggs, and potato bread so soft you can’t even slice it.  It is a visual candy dish of glistening strawberries and rotund radishes and potted tomato vines that already have blossoms.  And every half block you can hear a different band or singer or fiddler, some terrific, some off key, but all enthusiastic and filled with the joy of just bein’ alive and kickin’.

Market Saturday is a ritual, a celebration, a feast.  I have always loved it, but never was brave enough to sketch it until now.  Funny how I don’t mind drawing where I’m a stranger, but in Corvallis, no one is a stranger… I planted myself on a shady bench between the ‘Health Care is a Human Right’ booth and the guy who will consult with you on how to fix your bike.  I had a good angle on the courthouse and the food tents, and used the perspective of the street to funnel the parade of humanity.  But shade turned out to not be such a good idea, so I picked up my gear and moved off down toward the bread van, Oven & Earth, always my favorite vendor.  I passed a singer, two young jugglers, a couple of bands, and then I stopped in my tracks to listen and watch as the “Grange Hall Drifters” performed.  The songs they sang are as old as the hills, I’m sure my Grandfather called Square Dances to them back in the day, but these guys were young.  “Philomath boys,” one bystander said, and they were certainly dressed the part.  Jeans as jeans were meant to be, cowboy boots (real ones, not fancy Texas pointy-toed ones, but the kind you work in), plaid shirts.  Coulda been cowboys, coulda been loggers, one mighta been a hippie, but definitely Musicians with a capital M.  I didn’t realize I was grinning like a fool until a friend came up and asked me who I knew in the band.

sketch of musicians

“Grange Hall Drifters”, mixed media by Kerry McFall


There were too many enchanted listeners drifting in and out of my line of sight to be able to sketch live, so I snuck up close, snapped a photo, and went back to listening and grinning.  If Corvallis wasn’t so uptight and self-conscious, we all would have been dancing in the street, not just the three-year-olds.  I miscalculated when I got home and started sketching because I couldn’t fit the fourth musician onto the page – definitely a cowboy, banjo, white straw hat and all – and if he sees this I apologize.  Next time I’ll slow down and do a better job of composing before I jump in with the watercolors.

I also decided that sketching the produce booths was not a good idea – people were there to shop, and visit, and there was no place to sit, stand, or lean.  The longer I stayed, the more crowded it got, and the more people wandered over to chat.  More photos await my next opportunity to sit still long enough to sketch.

Penultimate is too close to the truth in describing Corvallis, I am afraid.  The definition is “next to the last”.  This year saw the advent of a WalMart and a bunch more national franchises, and the demise of our local grocer.  The university is busily erecting industrial barns and paving their lovely agricultural meadows, doubling the student head count to vastly outnumber the resident population, while Florida developers bulldoze through my neighborhood to build 5-bedroom “luxury townhomes” for college kids not even old enough to drink legally.  I know – Change is a constant, but we are destroying what we came here for in the first place.  I’m going to miss it when it’s gone.  Shoot, I miss it already.

Drink ‘n’ Draw – What a Concept!

women drawing

Drink N Draw, by Kerry McFall

I like things that are properly titled.  The Drink n Draw events at the Majestic Theatre here in Corvallis are what they say they are: you drink, you draw.  Mostly you draw.  If you don’t know what to draw, Michael from the Drawing Board provides prompts in the form of a deck of cards from games that feature words.  Or, if you’re in a drawing people phase at the moment, your fellow sketchers become unknowing subjects. Wine and beer and soft drinks are available, and folks even bring cupcakes and crackers… sweet!

I was surprised and pleased at the turnout, particularly at the mix of ages.  And it sounds like Michael has been trying out some interesting approaches — I’m sorry I missed the event in May which I hear featured someone in costume posing.  I hope he tries that approach again, it was really fun when I did something similar in London.  So I’ll be going back, first Wednesdays of the month.  Cheers!

A Taste of Winter

sketch of Odell Lake

"View from Odell Lake Lodge", mixed media copyright 2013 by Kerry McFall

We spent a relaxing long weekend up at Odell Lake Lodge, my husband skiing at Willamette Pass, me toasting myself in front of the lodge fireplace.  As always, Odell came through for us:  we drove up on dry pavement, it snowed the second day, there was perfect powder the third day, and the sun came out for a glorious finale and dry pavement to drive home.  I sketched this view from the back corner of the dining room on Saturday morning, racing the clouds to get the mountain outlined before it disappeared for two days.  A storm was blowing in, and the only thing that really didn’t change as I worked was the rock in the foreground.  Everything else tossed in the wind or foamed in the current, and a few hours later the landscape became a study in white and grey, very different from the early spring feel of this sketch.

Once I finished this one, I moved into the fireplace lobby, where I had fun sharing my pencils and paper with several children who were in between snowball fights, skiing, and games of CandyLand.  My new surrogate grandchildren, Kyle, Anya, and Ryan, were eager students.  Kyle at age 12 was reticent to share his drawings, Ryan at age 4 made all of his into paper airplanes and flew them on suicide missions into the fireplace, but 7-year old Anya carefully crafted this detailed sketch and left it for me of the elk’s head mounted over the mantelpiece:

child's drawing of elk above mantel

"Anya's Elk" by Anya age 7

Well done, Anya!  It was a much-needed dose of winter quiet, of simply watching sparkling snow, swaying trees, endless waves on a wide expanse of water.  Odell Lake Lodge is a hidden 1920’s vintage gem in the Willamette National Forest, only two hours away on a good day from Corvallis.  I’ve been visiting Odell since I was a child.  There are cabins for those who want to have a family outing – nothing fancy, but a kitchen for making spaghetti or brownies – or simple lodge rooms and a lovely dining room for those who prefer to enjoy someone else’s cooking.  You can rent snowshoes or cross country skis if you have knees that still function, grab a beer from the cooler or a red licorice rope from the jar, or just sit by the fire.  Otters play (and poop) on the docks, eagles swoop at the edges of the lake, and by Sunday afternoon I felt like a queen with the whole place literally to myself – except of course for the concierge and the chef, who kept the fire crackling, brought me more chardonnay, and made extra-crispy bacon for my BLT croissant with avocado.

Summers are busier at Odell, with their own appeal – but it’s not summer, and our taste of winter was idyllic.  Thanks, Odell!


Hazelnut Harvest

watercolor of hazelnut in casing

"Hazelnut Harvest", mixed media by Kerry McFall

Tyee Vineyards is such a lovely spot in the autumn: excellent wine, beautiful scenery, gorgeous grapes, and hazelnut orchards.  We took guests for a Willamette Valley Tour a few weeks ago, including the Corvallis Farmer’s Market for picnic ingredients, Hazelnut Hill where we had dessert first (always a good policy), Tyee, and Finley National Wildlife Refuge.  The only disappointment was Finley – see previous post – but all is again right with the world since the geese are more or less “back” at this writing (November 6, 2012).  Hoping to do a goose painting for my next post.

This piece is primarily watercolor with just a few touches of colored pencil.  I used real watercolor pencil for once, as opposed to my slightly-flimsy sketchbook, and took the time to stretch the paper before painting… it worked!  I have a flat painting!

River Rhythms

"River Rhythms", mixed media by Kerry McFall

People who live in Corvallis tend to look down their noses at Albany, the slightly smaller “used-to-be mill town” just a few miles south (oops, north – my husband the geographer has pointed out that my total lack of compass has once again triumphed) on the Willamette River.  This conceit is completely unjustified, particularly if you compare the summer music events:  pretty much just one concert in Corvallis, something they like to call Red, White & Blues over the Fourth of July, where admission is charged, and porta-potties and bouncy carnival thingies obscure what little riverfront is left after they lock you out of most of the lawn with their ugly temporary fences.   There are plenty of good restaurants along First Street, but you can’t see them, and frankly, who wants to stroll along beside the potties on the way to dine.  There’s simply no There there.

Albany, by contrast, has one or two free concerts weekly known as River Rhythms, set in a gorgeous little amphitheater overlooking the Willamette.  Yes, there are potties, but they don’t obscure the views.  Take last night for example – The Loving Spoonful entertained us, old rockers having a lot of fun singing for “old farts” as they put it.  But there were also people of all ages and walks of life, and the people-watching was terrific given the warmish weather.  Kids and families can splash in the water, dogs can dig in the sandy riverbank.   Albany also has many good restaurants nearby, plus soon they will have what promises to be a knockout carousel museum.  Come on, Corvallis – get over yourselves and do something to make summer a reason to be downtown!

Whoops – almost forgot to mention Da Vinci Days.  There is usually some good music in the midst of this nice little July weekend festival, and I just heard that our native boys YoYa will be playing – go Alex and Noah!  But it’s not on the river… and it’s not free.  So, yeah.  Why live on a river if you don’t play on it?

This sketch was made from a deck just downstream from the River Rhythms concert area in Monteith Park.  I’ve always wanted to sketch the bridge, so we went a few hours before the concert started.  I had just about figured out a composition when that sly crow flew down and teased me with the promise of posing.  He was very still just long enough for me to get him started, then he did a 180 for another 30 second pose, and flew off with a derisive Caw.  I was hoping that I could use the direction of his eye glancing back into the center of the piece to keep all of the lines from dropping off to the east, but his beady little eye just isn’t quite enough… oh, well, better luck next time.

And while I’m ragging on Corvallis – while we’re slapping together townhouses in our quiet little village for 20,000 more hard-drinking OSU students, let’s just go ahead and stick a WalMart on 9th street…  Nuff said.