Friday, May 31, 2013

The PIxie and the Scout, or, Love in the Age of Restaurants

(A guest post from one of the diners at The Pixie and The Scout. You can find more of his writing on his blog, He Feasts!)

Dear Reader,

The difference between love and dinner is barely discernable under the right circumstances. If you were one of the fortunate few who booked a table at the Empty House Studio's recent Pixie and Scout dining event, then you know what I mean and need read no further.

Katy preparing a board of meat, lavash, and fig.
"Menu" is a relatively modern, 19th century word that comes, like most culinary things (except the word "culinary", oddly enough), from France by way of the Latin word for "to diminish." This is a realistic assessment of what it means to make a list - an exercise that shrinks the possible to the manageable or relevant. We're accustomed to dining out on diminution, and a menu is just as often a taxonomy of limits as it is a positive statement of what the restaurant or the chef can do. We need lists. We need to distinguish in any given day whether we are going to buy groceries or to the moon. Without lists - formal or informal ones - we might hope for everything and accomplish nothing. But Jonathan and Katie Hittinger (the creative geniuses behind the Pixie and Scout dinner) turned the idea of a menu into a creative exercise that made limitations into gastronomical liberties.

Bread and olives were the only things that came out to us unbidden. The bread - a handcrafted sour dough that deserves a poem written about it - was loosely torn into pieces and lay tumbled around a large wooden platter, interspersed with whole roasted garlic bulbs and herb laced goat cheese. This was delivered to our table along with what would under any other circumstances be considered a menu. It was a laminated sheet which was part quiz, part questionnaire, part doodle pad. The instructions for the food and the menu were the same - engage. And so we did. Bare handed and at once, we were tearing off hunks of bread, mashing the roasted garlic and cheese and jointly filling out our menu.

Being served by chefs with professional backgrounds that include Blue Hill and Parm in New York City, guests were prepared (in a BYOB environment) for fresh and seasonal food - and our table alone had stocked up for the adventure with Pilsners, IPAs, Saisons, a Dubbel and a handful of clever white wines. We were ready for anything - which turned out to be fortunate. Having drawn a picture of an onion, described our hunger level, mentioned a dairy allergy at the table, and found the right word to describe a ripe strawberry (this was how we filled out our "menu") we surrendered the document, and hunkered down for food.

We hadn't ordered. Not really. Certainly not in the accustomed sense of interacting with a waiter as charming messenger from the kitchen. The folks staffing this event at the Empty House Studio efficiently swept in and out, each of them serving every table. The sense of intimacy was startling. I happen to know Jonathan and Katy, through college and friendship, but I looked around the room and found the same sensibility of theatre in the round to be pervasive at other tables in the small space. Mechanical tolerances of selecting an item and awaiting its timely delivery belonged elsewhere, and restaurants (that one's a French word) were a distant memory. Our table was made up of friends, and effortless conversation moved along with the unpredictable certainty of weather and was woven into our meal.

What could I tell you about the food without betraying a confidence? It was flawless, of course, but it came as part of a diners discourse with the kitchen. Soft shelled crabs, calamari, radishes, herbs, chicken, liver pate and over easy eggs. These were responses. The fruits of knowledge. Edible conversation but without a hint of a gimmick.

Love is a curious frontier myth. It is the process of bringing hope and anticipation slowly into line with knowledge and experience. It is both the setting out and the settling down. Food love is something we usually only know at home, or with friends. And many restaurants have labored in vain to replace professionalism with an approximation of this kind of love. But it is a rare thing, and highly valued, to find it working - to truly eat together and be fed.

(You can see more of our pictures from this event on our Facebook page, "The Empty House Studio") 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Get Excited!

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” 

[Virginia Woolf]

We are so looking forward to MAY 29th's dinner! 
Are you ready to reserve your spot? 
Details coming this week!!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Save the Date!

The Evening of Wednesday, May 29th. 

NYC Chefs at The Empty House Studio! 

More info to come.

 ..... .......................................................................................................


The bathroom is finished!

We're finished!!! 

Well, mostly. I have to frost the window and get the lights fixed... but we're back in business, ladies and gentlemen! 

That IS the same bathroom. 

More pics to come! 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dinner Shares

"Potlucks" are beautiful times of sharing and community. Everyone who comes is part-host, part-participant: the perfect combo for an interactive evening. It gives people ownership, it starts conversations, it gets people thinking about the evening before the evening even starts... 

But is that really what you think of when you hear "POTLUCK"?? I don't. 

What in the world does "potluck" mean?! Really. Potluck? It makes me think of someone being lucky enough to get the good pot of food out of all the 1970's Church Lady casseroles (not to knock all of those as a group... there might be some good ones). Or being lucky if there is any food left in the pot once you get through the line. The etymology claims that the first use meant "food provided for an unexpected or uninvited guest, the luck of the pot"... and perhaps faded into a mesh with the term "potlatch" which is a gift-giving ceremony. While potluck food is most definitely a gift, luck doesn't seem to connote the right atmosphere. Not only that but the historical term holds this unfortunate equation with faded jello based Betty Crocker amalgamations. Thus, we have changed the term to "dinner-share." 

The Empty House Studio dinner-shares have been fabulous. Whether we cook it together while sipping wine or bring it all prepared, the time of community and making is treasured by all who come. If you don't have enough money to host a full out menu for guests, perhaps this is a way you can open your home? Invite friends to participate while you host. Share in creating and eating together. 

We'd like to share a little with you all as well! Here are a few recipes (with their personalities attached) from friends at our recent dinner-shares:

GF Dumpling Soup 
(R. Anderson)
Here's a fairly bad scan of the chicken and dumpling soup. I followed the recipe for the most part, though I sub'd all purpose GF flour for the regular in the dumplings, and used "buttermilk" coconut milk instead of milk. Also I used probably double the broth (but I like broth!)--I added the extra at the end to achieve the desired consistency. 

Beef Tongue Stew (A. Clevenger)
(yeh, thats right... whens the last time you ate a tongue?!):

Celeriac Slaw with Apples and Onions (M. Perry) 
Peel a celeriac and cut into matchstick. Boil is salted h2o for 10 min till tender then throw in ice bath. 
Celeriac Slaw/ GF Dumpling Soup

Meanwhile Caramelize the onions. I used a red onion. Add the raisin at the last minute to get them a little softer. 

Toast the almonds in the oven (or buy toasted ones).

Toss everything together with a homemade vinaigrette (2 parts olive oil to one part acid -- sherry vinegar, tarragon vinegar, lemon juice, but balsamic is too strong) and salt and pepper to taste. 

I think that's what I did. I don't gave measurements though. I'm not that kind if cook. 

Kale Apple Salad (E. Lavigna & M. Schultz)
K, here is the "recipe." Don't be mad but I have zero idea about the dressing proportions.

Kale ("massaged" by Meredith, which is BS)
Shredded brussel sprouts (I buy these in a bag from Trader Joes, or you could just roughly chop)
Goat cheese

Orange juice
Olive oil
White wine vinegar
Dried thyme

You honestly just mix it up, more oil than OJ, more honey than salt. 

Guacamole (P. Rabinowitz)
3 avocados, mashed
1 medium-large onion, diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 lime, squeeze 1/5 sections at a time to taste
cilantro, finely chopped (optional & to taste…I just use a pinch)
salt and pepper to taste
cumin to taste (start with 1 tsp if you’re sensitive to spice)
cayenne pepper to taste

When avocados are exposed to air they brown very quickly, so cover tightly if not eating right away. This is why some recipes say to put the pit(s) in the bowl of guac; the guacamole touching the pit is sealed off from the air.

Cheese and Appletizers
Brie and Appletizers (K. Maria)
Stack the following:
Cracker or crostini bread of choice
1/2 tablespoon of Brie or Soft Goat Cheese
Topped with a thin slice of a crisp/sweet apple like a Fuji. :)

Anna's Hummus (A. Goist)
I always double this recipe and make one big batch at a time (i.e.: 2 cans chick peas, etc. but usually stick to one lemon) - but here's the single version:
One 16oz can chick peas/garbanzo beans
1/4 c. (liquid measure) tahini
1/6 c. olive oil
juice of one lemon
3/4 tsp salt
1-2 cloves garlic
Drain but save water from chick pea can(s). Mix chick peas, tahini, garlic, olive oil & 1/6 cup of the chick pea water in a food processor & blend until slightly chunky. Stop and add the lemon juice. Begin processing again and gradually add saved water until desired consistency.

    Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    Drab to Fab

    Address available upon registration. We are in Alexandria, VA. 

    Monday, March 18, 2013

    Preparing for the Worst...or just fixing it.

    So what about the house?!

    I am excited to bring you fresh tales of the new home-liver... wait, that doesn't quite sound right. But, if you've read our "The Story" tab, you know that part of this venture involves readying the house for the wonderful and generous home owners, my cousins, who made this alternative arts space experiment possible. So, yes, I am a 'new home-liver' not a 'new home-owner.' I am working out the kinks for them before they get here.

    There is a non-working vent fan in the attic with loose metal strips. In certain winds, they flap and bonk. I didn't know about the flapping and bonking.

    One windy morning at 4am, I woke with a start... Someone with a box of metal torture devices? The Terminator? Robocop? I thought my time had come. This was it. And metal was going to be involved.

    Imagining that someone had just set down a large metal object at the base of the attic stairs, I sat up, stiff as a board. After hearing it a few more times and doing some 4am deductive reasoning, I fell back asleep. The next morning, while dressing, I heard the blasted sound again and traced it to the loose metal vent flaps. 

    They are dirty and gross and extremely inconvenient to get to. After talking to H., I wove twine between the blades, bending one fan blade and knocking out one vent flap in the process... I also stuffed material in there and wrapped it up with duct tape. Right. It doesn't dare make a peep anymore. After telling Cousin and Husband, they suggested replacing the awkward gaping hole in the side of their house with a porthole! Like from a ship! How fun are they?! So, after looking at porthole's on Ebay (who knew?!), we are in the process of finding a wiling carpenter to tackle the project. We have one willing soul, I believe. A Baltimore based contractor who does beautiful work. More on that later. 

    The first BIG project that Cousin and Husband are tackling is the family bathroom. The only full bath is a cute, cramped space. The awesome claw foot tub is a keeper but possibly for a bigger space. The lack of storage space is made up for by two different cheap cabinets that fill too much space. Here is the bathroom as we found it... 

    From the entrance... 
    The two cabinets cramping the toilet and window. 

    That cute bathroom mirror is, unfortunately, not actually one unit. Its a mish mash of left over wood turned into a built-in vanity. I saved the hardware but it will be replaced.

    Notice the 'fish shelf' behind the shower curtain...Left for us by the previous owners... Any takers?

    No wonder they painted... faux (thin plastic) baby blue marble? Bleh. But painting it fleshly peach? Not sure they improved the situation... 

    Oh, and a faux bright blue marble border. 

    So, we have a contractor coming in to redo this bathroom into a family friendly and bungalow appropriate little space. After one contractor estimated an exorbitant amount for the redo, Cousin went with a contractor whose work she's seen and liked. He and his brother are coming in to make beautiful things happen!

    Meanwhile, the bathroom must be 'readied' for its makeover. Clean the canvas! It was pretty satisfying taking out some of the STUFF. More to come...

    Cabinet: gone!

    Both cabinets gone! 

    Don't worry! I saved the awesome hardware from this!

    I love these little nubs for some reason! The shelf holders from the vanity mirror. 

    Saturday, March 9, 2013

    Come hear about The Empty House Studio!

    Tuesday, March 12th, I will be talking about The Empty House Studio project for The Center for The Creative Economy in DC!

    Space is limited. See flyer for details...

    Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    Failure: the not so dirty word.

    Today’s TEHS blog post is brought to you by the letter ‘F’ and a few brave artists sharing about failure. 

    [Kerin BackhausCandy and Thought Maker]
    Rock Candy Update
    Before I go sob into cups of failed crystallized sugar at The Empty House Studio, let me say one thing: the only failure is the failure to try. OK, I’ll admit it, I stole this inspirational quote from a romantic comedy, but it can be aptly taken a as a truth in any creative pursuit. We all know the general gist -  just do something – and if it doesn’t work? Learn from it, and simply do it again. Adapt process post contemplation and reflection. Be gritty, be loyal, but know when it’s time to elegantly bow out of the game.  

    Failure is a key catalyst to change, therefore, embrace it, stare it in the face, but never accept it. A good dose a failure is as good for you as a good dose of success. And we as human beings see-saw in-between the delicate balance of what is the optimal amount of success and failure versus what is maximum, we refine our intellectual agility. Intellectual agility is the core of any great creative mind. It is our ability to cultivate, refine, and redesign concepts in new ways. These visions and creations bring value to the human experience, not only to others, but to ourselves. although, I have failed "to pass go" in the rock candy making game I have successfully reminded myself to flex my intellectual ability muscles. To all of us here at The Empty House Studio, as we perfect our methodologies let us remember one thing: sometimes it is best take two hands toss the board up in the air and start over.
    (Kerin has blogged for TEHS before. Kerin is a colleague, friend, and subcommittee member here at TEHS.)

    [Daniel Levi Goans: Musician]
    I have a short anecdote from the recording process of the album we are coming to the end of now.

    I got into the studio early in the morning and jumped right into creating a percussion track for a song that had only my voice and lauren's voice and guitar.  I thought that some leg slaps, hand claps, bass drum, tambourine and egg shaker would really fill the song out and bring it to its finished iteration.  After working for 3-4 hours on it, I asked Lauren to join me and she just said, "It sounds like you just played everything you could play but the song didn't need any of it."  Although this was extremely frustrating in that moment, after getting some space from the song, I realized that she was right.  I had created a sort of stock percussion deal and was trying to slap it on that song.  All it ended up needing was one snare drum, our voices, one guitar and harmonica.  

    I think I had to do all that work and feel the pain of erasing it to find the real recorded version of the song that works.  
    (Daniel and his wife are a folk duo, Lowland Hum, from North Carolina who will be performing at TEHS on April 5th with We Were Pirates. Email us ( to get on the list for details!)

    [Jennifer Coffin: Potter and Painter]
    One of the stepping stones for an artist is to jury into something. My first attempt was a negative. The organization I chose required a sponsor. She was a fellow artist I had known casually. I boxed my work and took it to her to look at. She did not pick up one piece and just said they looked fine. I really had no idea what the whole thing entailed. Well, I then submitted my work to the jury committee and they rejected it! I was devasted...for a while. Then I got back to work, picked a different sponsor and voila it worked. 
    (Jennie has been a potter for over 30 years. She is a relative and friend of the TEHS team. She serves as president of the Kiln Club of DC and shows at Scope Gallery in The Torpedo Factory.)

    [Ives Salbert: Portrait Painter]
    In my process, failure brings about a lot of learning. My creative growth happens whether I succeed or fail. Sometimes more-so when I fail. Failure can be discouraging, but I'm trying to learn to not let that slow me down too much. Bad critiques are almost necessary to keep my artwork on the right track and can push me out of stagnant creative periods.
    (Ives is a local painter and frequenter of TEHS Happenings. He is currently an artist in residence locally.)

    [Amy Hughes Braden: Acrylic and Mixed Media Painter]
    Stream of consciousness about failure:

    I'll probably fail at illustrating my thoughts on failure as an axiom, or maybe I know what my own personal self-evident truth about failure is but am sure others will instantly poke holes in it. Which equates to failure. Because I have these doubts/fear of failing regarding offering up my thoughts for others to read on this subject of failure I will present it now: Everything is failure. Failure is not negative.  
    Okay the real Failure --or the negative interpretation of the concept of failure-- is to think it's bad to fail. So I've already failed (in the Bad way) in this quickly scribbled note (see, I noted that I wrote this quickly so that if you are mentally criticizing this as you read, I can cut you off at the knees and invalidate any correct critique you may be forming) (because I'm afraid to fail) (which means I've Failed). 
    I think it's sick and gross to not want to fail. I bristle at disclaimers before presentation of art, or argument, or when excuses like "limited resources" are offered to prevent the label of "failure" from being applied to a thing. I always Fail-fail at this. My personal hierarchy of values puts honesty somewhere very close to the top (actually at the top) (no I can't decide) and I'm not sure yet, but I think that it's very possible that it is impossible to try to present oneself as not-a-failure without being dishonest. 
    Lastly, I despise those FAIL memes. Or ever using the phrase "Epic Fail"

    (I've probably included the above line --incorrectly labeled as "last" of all my lines-- to soothe myself as I begin to fear all the failed sentences I've released in this moment) (because saying what you like/don't like is all about pumping yourself UP). 
    (Amy is a colleague and friend of the TEHS team. She exhibits regularly in and around DC, most notably in a show titled "Low Moments" which was a presentation of bad art curated by Pleasant Plains Workshop.)

    [Henri Bielawski: Metalsmith and TEHS Assistant Director]
    Ive got a lot of metal that ended up in the scrap bin because of mistakes and the learning curve. I'll just melt it down and try to use it again. What is a failure? It's usually when something doesn't go your way. Despite the effort you put into it. That's what makes it disappointing. The time and effort lost. But, if you subsequently spend your time reflecting on that resentment, you will be wasting time that you could be reveling in triumph. I say this: Let the failures fly, and don't let them bog down your chances of future success. 
    (Henri is on TEHS' team and splits his time between his studio, school, and TEHS. His work will be exhibited at TEHS' pop-up gallery in May.)

    [Sarah Coffin: TEHS Founder and Potter]
    Art & Fear (subtitled: “Observations On The Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking”) is a popular book for artists these days. I usually avoid books like this since they tend to tout typical techniques promised to magically produce action. Self help books for artists should be one page that reads: “Put this down and get back into your studio.” 

    But I read this book for The Empty House Studio venture, to see how other artists describe the act of making. In this book, the authors take a few more words to say, “get back to work.” They argue that artists must take responsibility for their actions; that art is learned skills that require hard work; that “ordinary people” make art and must make a lot of it. Making art is “learning how not to quit.” 
    Oh. Now that last one struck home. I am a potter by training. A few years ago, while apprenticing in Virginia, I struggled with failure in a bad way. I kept my failures stored away and piled them up until they became a messy brick wall labeled “Sarah’s failures.” From Virginia, I traveled to Spain to study with another potter. It was incredible but I didn’t return with the results I set out to generate. My brick wall seemed complete: I was a failure. I was exhausted and had produced an ugly brick wall rather than a body of work. So I stopped.

    After some time, I couldn’t stay away. Long story short, the wall began to crumble and I tentatively stepped back into the studio. Failure still makes me squirm and always will. It is inevitable and obviously has an expiration date. And that's just it! It must have an expiration date! We must use the failure from one piece right away in the start of the next piece. In other words, each failure should have a label: Warning – Do not store. Use within 7-10 days.
    (Sarah is the founder and director of this alternative arts space venture called The Empty House Studio.)

    Monday, February 25, 2013

    Sharing in Community Spaces

    A few weeks ago a colleague of mine shared a TED talk. If you've never heard of TED, welcome and be prepared to spend hours watching inspiring and fascinating short talks by incredible humans. Yes, so there I was, watching Cindy Chang share, in 15 minutes, the projects that she creates in public spaces.

    The inspiration for her projects and, specifically her most popular project, came from wanting to do something with abandoned spaces, from wanting to know her neighbors, and from the struggles after the death of a loved one. Chang created a huge chalk board on the side of an abandoned building in New Orleans. It read, "Before I die I want to_______." People could pick up the chalk and fill it in. It was full in a day. As Chang said, "neglected space became a constructive one."

    I immediately thought of The Empty House Studio, of the creativity, constructive creativity, we hope to foster in this area and all over. Why did Chang create those boards? Why do I create? The "why" brings up motivation and purpose, it brings up belief and practicality.

    Now inside the house are two large boards that read "I Create Because____." As makers come through the space, they can share the reasoning, motivations, humor, and passion behind their act of creation.

    And for now, I will leave you with a few...

    - I create because 'I want to bring more beauty into the world.'
    - I create because 'I can.'
    - I create because 'well, see, what happened was...'
    - I create because 'esuaceb etaerc I.' 
    - I create because 'these two tea yo demon zit!'
    - I create because 'of the passion that is running through me.'
    - I create because 'the world is not enough.'
    - I create because 'there is a rhythm to the beat.'

    Wednesday, February 20, 2013

    Guest Blogger: Henri Bielawski on ReOrganizing his Studio

    Today we have a guest post from Henri Bielawski. He is part of The Empty House Studio team, a colleague from my Arts Management program, and a very talented metalsmith and engraver. He and I talk a lot about the tension between management school and studio time but we've been able to spur each other on to creating ... in the tension, not despite it. 

    He recently installed a vent system in his studio space and reorganized his bench. I found it so interesting to see the details of a space like this that I asked him to document the process. I hope you enjoy! 

    Studio Reorganization by Henri Bielawski

    I was at my studio a few nights ago, testing out a new low temperature solder. During the process I burned my table with a blowtorch and the smoke and fumes that resulted made me realize I needed to get some sort of ventilation system in my studio.

    So ... I began to clean up and make some changes so I could rig up an exhaust vent from my soldering station to the outside.

    First, I would like to show you what my bench looked like after I took everything out of it and laid it all on to my soldering station. 

    My brother, who was also cleaning the garage (the location of the studio) at the same time, prompted my studio cleaning. I had wanted to reorganize for a while, and I had a few thoughts about how to do it. Also, I knew that I had collected more tools on my bench than I needed, lacked places to put them, and needed to do something about it.

    The next pic is another picture of the soldering station. Unfortunately, these are the only two before photos I have of the studio. I wanted to take more but the battery on my phone ran out of juice that day. 

    Note the empty drawers on my bench. Also, I would like to make a note that this is NOT what my studio looks like at all times. I don't toss everything onto my soldering table into a giant heap like this. Most of this stuff came from the top of my bench and the drawers. As you can see I took this photo after I had partially installed the exhaust vent (the big silver pipe running out of the right hand corner of the photo. 

    I did a lot of things to make more room and cut down on the amount of space I use on and inside my bench.

    I had a bunch of papers, mostly drawings, sketches, and other stuff sitting on the corner of the soldering station. Never bothered me before, but honestly, its just not safe and I really didn't want any paper around at all. I decided to save all that stuff for the drafting table at home. Boom - all papers banned. 

    I had a collected a freakish amount of little metal scraps. Wires, metal shards, cuttings, sawed out metal scraps, practice plates, strange experiments, old projects, cool little knickknacks, etc. For some reason as a jeweler, engraver, metalsmith you just don't want to let go of anything that is metal, even if its not really anything. These scraps got separated into boxes as materials to use later. I made a collection box for copper, brass, nickel, aluminum, steel and unknown shit-metal, and a box for plastics and plexiglass. If I need any metal I can either choose from the scraps or melt down and roll my sheet and wire as I need it. Hard work? Yes. But I have the materials and I have the ability to make it instead of buy it if I need to. 

    For a long time I had a burr organizer, but the holes were too small to hold most of the 3/8th inch engraving tools that I use. I drilled the holes bigger and that got rid of about five little boxes of gravers, allen wrenches, burrs and other things on my bench. Boom - bigger holes, more tools can fit, more space.  

    I had hammers IN my bench. I hung those on the wall where I can see them. 

    Anyways, long story short, because this is actually getting quite boring hearing a story about how I organized my studio...
    Cleaning happened.
    Organizing happened.
    Moving stuff out of my general work area besides the immediate tools I need happened.

    This is the polishing and sharpening station. I polish things here, and I sharpen tools here too, including my gravers. You can see the green thing on the corner of the table is my rolling mill. This is where I make sheet and wire. You can't see in this picture, but the bins that I separated the metal scraps are underneath this table. 

    This is my soldering station. I am going to try to keep this station as clean as possible because, well, fire. The silver duct is an exhaust. I have found that it doesn't pull enough air to be very effective, so I am going to build a hood around this area sometime soon to capture the smoke and fumes. The air compressor I use for my engraving equipment is here too (the big hunk of equipment on the top right corner of the table) and I want to move that because it is expensive and I don't want to damage it. 

    This is my bench. There are many like it, but this one is mine. The blue thing is the burr organizer, a majority of the engraving tools and burrs that I use are there. You can see that the inside of my bench is pretty clean. it used to be filled with tools. I hung all my pliers to the right on the drawer.  Right now my ball vice is connected to the bench as I am beginning to work on a new and quite large engraving of a bird. My brother put a folding shelf on the top of my bench. I have only a few things on it right now but it will definitely come in handy. 

    There you have it. That’s the nitty-gritty. There is so much more I could write but I'll spare you. Time to work.