Sunday, February 26, 2012

Super Simple, Terrifically Tasty Fish Tacos + Mango Salsa

Watercolor, pen & ink, 9" x 12"
I can't think of anyone who doesn't love this recipe. The secret to its savory goodness is the spicy-sweet rub that is sprinkled on the fish fillets as they cook. It gives them a smoky flavor with a hint of heat and a touch of spice. Contrast that with a cool yogurt-lime coleslaw, and you have a fish taco to die for! And best of all, it only takes 20 minutes from the time you take the fish out of the fridge to the moment you lift that taco to your mouth and take the first heavenly bite. So, grab a jar of McCormick Grill Mates Sweet and Smoky Rub and give it a try. Here's the recipe...
Fish Tacos

1 pound fresh or frozen skinless cod, orange roughy, tilapia, or other fish fillets
1 T. olive oil, vegetable oil, or butter
1-2 T. McCormick Grill Mates Sweet and Smoky Rub

2 T. mayonnaise
2 T. plain yogurt
1 tsp. fresh lime juice
2 cups coleslaw mix, shredded cabbage, or shredded lettuce

8 6-inch flour tortillas or crisp taco shells
1-2 cups grated cheddar cheese

1. Thaw fish, if frozen. Rinse fish and pat dry with paper towels. If fillets are thick, cut crosswise into ¾” thick slices.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet, and arrange fish fillets to cook. Sprinkle generously with McCormick Grill Mates Sweet and Smoky Rub. When fillets are almost opaque, flip them over and sprinkle again with the Rub. Continue sautéing until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
3. Meanwhile, stir together the mayonnaise, yogurt, and lime juice. Add coleslaw mix or shredded cabbage/lettuce. Toss to coat.
4. Warm the tortillas or taco shells.
5. To serve, spoon some of the coleslaw mixture onto each tortilla or taco shell, top with a fish fillet, and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.  Add a tablespoon or so of salsa.

Recipe Notes:
- Bottled lime juice may be substituted for fresh, in a pinch, but fresh is definitely tastier.
- Monterey Jack cheese or a grated Mexican blend of cheeses may be used in place of cheddar.

Homemade mango salsa is the absolute best with fish tacos. Here's the recipe I use (from Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book) ...

Mango Salsa

In a medium mixing bowl combine:
1-1/2 cups peeled, chopped mangoes or peaches
1 medium red sweet pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (more or less, to taste)
3 T. olive oil
1/2 tsp. finely shredded lime peel
2 T. lime juice
1 T. vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

That's all there is to it! It's great fresh, but I like to allow the flavors to meld together for an hour or so before serving. Delicious!

Friday, February 24, 2012

In the News...

Our local weekly newspaper, the Greene County Messenger, was nice enough to publish an article today about my book, Sketchbook Journeys: Ireland, and my interest in sketching. Click here to read the article by Dave Zuchowski.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Listening to That Little Voice

My last few posts were all about the sketches I did when my husband and I took a short trip to Pensacola Beach, Florida. Well, after I wrote that last post, I took one final look at my Pensacola sketchbook, closed it, and put it on a shelf with all the others. But something kept nagging at me. Maybe it was the fact that I really didn't like that last sketch I did in the airport, or maybe it was those five blank pages at the end of the book, or the ugly front cover -- something was telling me that this sketchbook wanted a little more attention. So, who am I to argue? I'm a firm believer in listening to that quiet but persistent voice in my head when it tells me to soldier on, that the project can be better, that there are more stories to be told with paint and pen.

So, I filled those last five pages of my sketchbook with paintings and collages, using photos that I had taken as reference materials. This first one is a schematic drawing of the view from our hotel balcony. It was so pretty looking down on all that sparkling aqua blue water. Adding diagrams like this one, changing the scale and focus of my sketches, and mixing in pages of text or collage are all ways that I add interest to a sketchbook.

(Click on any page for a larger view)

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

I snapped a picture of this biplane at the Naval Aviation Museum, but decided it might be fun to paint it flying over the Gulf with a colorful sky behind it. My husband (the pilot) pointed out that the prop really should be shown as a blur, but, hey, maybe the engine just sputtered and died and the guy's going to make an emergency landing on that beach down below. What's really funny is that I realized, as I was finishing up the sketch and feeling pretty good about it, that the cockpit was empty - I had forgotten to add a pilot! Luckily, I was able to squeeze him in (and no one would be the wiser if I hadn't confessed.)

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

These seagulls were having their morning get-together on a sand bar on Pensacola Beach...

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

Since my husband's name is Fred, we got a kick out of this dilapidated old pick-up truck sporting his name. It was part of the outdoor decor at a local restaurant.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

I thought I'd do one collage page to finish up the book...

Collage & watercolor, 6" x 9"

... but I had a few leftovers, so I glued them on the back side of the last page. I wasn't planning on doing anything with them, but I just can't leave something like that alone! I started drawing a few lines, and was having so much fun doodling that I filled the entire page.

Collage, watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

For years I've been thinking I should do something to pretty up the covers on my sketchbooks, but I can never decide on the perfect thing, so I end up doing nothing. Well, this time I decided to follow the advice of Scott Allen, who said, 
"Done is better than perfect." 
I found a piece of colorful batik fabric in my stash and glued it to the covers. It looks sort of tropical, doesn't it?

Sketchbook cover

To finish off the inside of the front and back covers, I glued down maps of Pensacola and Florida.

Now it's finished! That niggling little doubt in the back of my head has gone away, and this sketchbook feels complete. I can relax now. :)

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sunshine Getaway, Days 3-4

Wrapping up our trip to Pensacola ...

Here's the sketch I mentioned yesterday, drawn when we had lunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbor.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

It was the most delicious meal I had on the trip. Simply delectable!


The next morning we went exploring and drove east on Santa Rosa Island, the narrow barrier island that we were staying on, and discovered miles and miles of deserted dunes and beaches that are part of Gulf Islands National Seashore. We took a walk along a sparkling white sand beach in the brilliant sunshine, just ambling along, picking up shells and watching the waves, without a care in the world. That's my idea of a perfect day.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

This sketch of a battered fence is my favorite. I completed it on site, and I think that gave it a more spontaneous quality than some of the others. I punched up the color of the plain grey fence by adding touches of warm yellows and pinks.


After touring around the area all morning, we decided to just relax by the pool in the afternoon. The pool water was pretty cold, but Fred did one loop around the "lazy river" (trying not to touch the water!) I much preferred the jacuzzi. It felt great!

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

The pool area was so pretty, with its cute tiki hut, palm trees, waterfalls, and spouting jets of water. I couldn't wait to sketch it all.


I painted while Fred napped in the sun...


We celebrated our anniversary that evening with a wonderful dinner in town, then headed home the next day. I dashed off this last sketch at the airport just before we boarded our flight to Charlotte, then painted it while we were en route.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

Some of you probably wonder why I would bother to do all this "work" while I'm on vacation. Well, for me, drawing and painting is a way to relax. When I'm deeply involved in sketching, it's almost like meditating. I get so focused on what I'm doing that, if someone speaks to me, I may not even hear them. I'm "in the zone", and there's no room in my head for worry, stress, guilt, or obligations. With my Type A personality, it's quite a feat for me to be able to relax like that just by opening up a sketchbook and picking up a paintbrush.

The other reason I put all this effort into my travel sketchbooks is because I love the results. Instead of returning from vacation with photos like this ...

... storing them on my computer, and probably never getting around to printing them out, I have a sketchbook that I can hold in my hands, filled with sketches like this ...

It's like bringing a piece of that place home with me.

I hope you'll give it try sometime. Anyone can do it -- really! All it takes is the willingness to try. And when you find out how much fun it is, you won't want to stop!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Sunshine Getaway, Day 2

Our visit to Pensacola, Florida, continued...

Since my husband, Fred, is a pilot, we had to keep our priorities straight and visit the National Museum of Naval Aviation at Pensacola Naval Air Station our first morning in town. Usually I get bored with airplanes after about fifteen minutes, but this musem was really great. They had a lot of interesting displays and some really amazing restored airplanes.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

I sat in the grass outside, in the 70 degree temps, soaking up the sunshine while I drew and painted the entrance to the museum. That's Fred sitting under the wing of the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The other two figures are bronze statues of Navy crewmen.


After sitting and painting for about 20 minutes, I went to stand up and realized that my left leg was completely numb from having it bent under me while I worked. I couldn't walk! I must have looked like I'd had too much to drink as I tried to make my way over to Fred, who, by the way, had a perfectly comfortable seat on a bench. (I'm sure he was sitting there daydreaming about flying around in that fighter plane instead of the commuter jet he flies.)

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

This chubby little biplane that we saw in the museum was just begging to be painted. I love how it turned out. I'm amazed that I actually got the proportions right, and it looks fairly true to life.


The colors on this next page are softer and more muted. I like the way the two sketches complement each other.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

The Pensacola Lighthouse, on the grounds of the Naval Air Station, is still operational. The lighthouse keeper's cottage is now a museum. I sketched this scene in pencil while standing up, leaning against a post, balancing my sketchbook on one hand and drawing with the other. I left the ink and watercolor for later, when I had a little more control.


Even if I don't have time to complete a sketch while on location, I like to do a quick drawing to record my impressions. It seems to work out best for me to do it that way. Otherwise, I'm just drawing from a photo, and my sketches seem lackluster and lifeless.

We had a late lunch at a restaurant overlooking the harbor in historic Pensacola, and I sketched the view from our table while we waited for our food.


I think it's kind of cool that the tiny lighthouse off in the distance in this sketch is the same one that I had drawn earlier in the day when we were across the water. 

When my lunch came, it looked so awesome that I decided to sketch it, too, but only for a minute... I was ready to dive in and eat.

Tomorrow I'll show you the sketch of that yummy lunch, plus a few more paintings that I completed before we headed home.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sunshine Getaway, Day 1

I can't complain about the winter we've had so far this year, but still, I'm not one to pass up a chance to head south for some warm weather and fun in the sun. Fred and I wanted to get away for a few days to celebrate our 35th anniversary and found a good deal in Pensacola Beach, Florida. We stayed in a nice hotel right on the beach and woke up every morning to clear blue skies, sparkling white sand, and water so clear it looked like we were in the Caribbean.

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

I packed a few sketching supplies, just what would fit in a Ziploc bag in my purse:
6" x 9" Strathmore watercolor sketchbook
Winsor & Newton travel watercolor set
Mechanical pencil
Faber-Castell Pitt Artist's Pen
Kneaded eraser
Click eraser
6" ruler

Travel sketching supplies

I amazed myself with how much sketching I did in a few short days, without even trying all that hard. I didn't want Fred to be bored waiting around for me, so I worked fairly quickly, getting the pencil or pen sketches done on site, and adding color later that evening in the hotel room. It was so much fun! Fred says he didn't mind the waiting at all. Sitting in the warm sunshine with absolutely nothing to do isn't a bad way to spend a few minutes... or an hour... or two.

Walking on the beach one afternoon, I drew a few of the hotels closest to ours (the one in the center with the tiki hut.) I added the cute little biplane to fill the empty area over one of the lower profile hotels. Now I can't imagine the picture without it - it adds some life to it. Funny how being forced to solve a problem makes for a better picture.

It had been stormy the day we arrived, but by evening the weather had cleared, and we were treated to the most gorgeous sunset! The waves were crashing, a brisk wind was blowing, and the sky was lit up with shades of pink, orange, and purple - we were euphoric! To be transported in a matter of hours from dreary, grey, cold weather at home, to this spectacular scene - wow!

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

I love how the paint granulates and settles into the texture of the watercolor paper - doesn't it look cool?

The storm had washed up some seaweed, which made for interesting beach combing. We saw Portuguese man-o-war, starfish, and lots of shells. The seagulls loved picking through it all.

This beach ball water tower just puts you in the mood for fun ...

Our room was nice and beachy, with lots of chartreuse and aqua colors, and I thought it would be fun to draw a floor plan of it. (I just realized that I forgot to draw the coffee table in front of the couch, where I did my painting in the evenings! Totally spaced it.) Well, anyway, I think this sketch is a lot of fun. I got the floor plan idea from Liz Steel, over at her blog. If you enjoy sketching blogs, hop on over to hers for a visit - you're in for a real treat!

Watercolor, pen & ink, 6" x 9"

Watch for more sketches coming in a day or two....
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