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Art Weekend in Paducah

Unexpectedly at the Yeiser

Last weekend I found myself rather unexpectedly in Paducah, KY.  It wasn’t until after I got there that I remembered there was an Opening Reception for Paducah Photo 2013 at the Yeiser Art Center Saturday evening. I had originally hoped to attend the reception but then declined to plan on it because of the long drive to Paducah and other demands on my schedule.  Sometimes the unexpected, even inconvenient, twists of providence end up bringing us to the right place at the right time to enjoy what might otherwise have been neglected.

Labyrinth beside Etcetera Coffeehouse.

The presentation of Paducah Photo 2013 turned out to be fascinating.  This year’s juried exhibition featured over 100 images selected from a much larger pool of entries from around the world. Submissions were open to all without restriction to size, photographic technique or content, offering photographers “an outlet for their art, encouragement for growth in their vision and presentation and cash rewards for works of exceptional merit.”

Looking up Broadway.

The content of the exhibit was notably eclectic with many different takes on the art of photography melded into one show that somehow felt coherent, challenging and exciting. I took away a developing sense of the new energy that is emerging in the art of photography. Paducah Photo 2013 was witness to a broad spectrum of artistic experimentation with evolving equipment and techniques that are both more and less than the traditional components of photographic art.   The works featured ranged from nearly pretentious to humbly inventive in every element from subject to lighting to presentation. The impact was energizing and empowering in most every instance.  

Yeiser Art Center

Most of all it was inspiring to see the exhibit as presented at the Yeiser Art Center in Paducah’s Historic Market House.  Seeing each piece framed and presented at it’s intended size, through the artist’s choice of media and description adds a great deal of perspective that is absent when merely viewing the photos through the portal of an on-line gallery. The physical exhibit felt so much more inspiring and artistically consequential. I was grateful for the opportunity to see it in person.

Garden seating at Max's Brick Oven Café
Paducah Favorites

While serendipity graciously allowed me to attend the reception at the Yeiser I was not so fortunate in coordinating a visit to my favorite Paducah restaurants. We had to pass on our reservations at Max’s Brick Oven Café due to a scheduling conflict on Saturday evening.

d. Starnes Restaurant on Broadway

Sunday we had hopes of sharing a plate of barbecue and a piece of Pecan Pie but were disappointed to find d. Starnes BBQ downtown closed.  We knew that the counter at Starnes Barbecue near Noble Park, with their simple wrapped sandwiches and unbeatable prices, would be closed too, leaving us out of luck where barbecue was concerned.

Starnes Barbecue on Joe Clfton Drive

Luckily, when I stopped at Etcetera Coffeehouse in Paducah’s Lowertown Arts District, one of my favorite coffeehouses anywhere, they were open. I love the colorful little tables at this place and the quirky collage style counter that frequently features notes and signs displayed with humor.

Etcetera Coffeehouse in Lowertown 

Years after my first visit I am still finding that they make consistently satisfying coffee drinks. Sunday I ordered a Cubano Latté, espresso brewed with raw sugar to twice the normal volume and fancied up with steamed milk in latté form. It was no exception. In fact I think it is my new favorite! The taste was just a little husky, as if it were tempered in a Turkish pot over an open flame and the raw sugar gives it just enough rustic sweetness to make it special. As always it was made with excellence, pretty foam art and all.

Cubano Latté
Engaging Signs

Among the notes and signs on display at Etcetera is this ceramic sentiment that has been hanging on the wall near the pick-up counter for years.  I took a picture of it some time ago. I keep it on my desktop for those occasions when I need a little nudge.  

Then I got to thinking, I can’t be the only one, can I?


Minted Watermelon and Cucumber Salad

Choosing a Watermelon

Usually I am among the world’s worst at choosing a ripe watermelon, especially when the watermelon is small and seedless. Somehow I just don’t understand the whole thumping thing. That leaves me to rely on the sympathy and judgment of strangers or, when shopping at off hours as I was last week, with little to go on except the color, size and general attractiveness of the fruit in question.

All the same, alone in the produce section one day last week, I was confronted by a large box of relatively small watermelons that were so pretty I just couldn’t resist the impulse to put one in my basket and take it home.

Sweet Surprises

Cutting into that watermelon a few hours later on a warm June evening, I was thrilled to discover that luck had been with me. The watermelon I brought home was perfectly ripe and sweet, with a gorgeous ruby flesh that was full of flavor and without the slightest hint of mushiness around the few small seeds I found inside. It was a wonderful surprise.

Still, there were leftovers. Try as we might we weren’t able to consume more than half of that small watermelon with our dinner. After dinner I turned to my recipe files and soon had the perfect antidote: a recipe clipping from Real Simple for a watermelon, cucumber and mint salad. It even included a handful of that lovely chocolate mint growing just outside my back door.

Luck had stayed in my corner. This recipe, a combination of just a few fresh and simple ingredients I would have never thought of combining on my own, turned out to be amazing.  Honestly, you’ve got to try it! It’s the perfect side dish to brighten a dinner plate while adding a cool and refreshing note to most any summer meal. 

Minted Watermelon and Cucumbers
Recipe from Real Simple

4 cups seedless watermelon, cut into thin wedges
½ English cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced
¼ cup mint leaves, roughly chopped (I used chocolate mint leaves)
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice (juice from half a fresh lime)
1 Tablespoon salad oil
½ teaspoon salt pinch of salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

In a medium bowl, toss the watermelon, cucumber and mint leaves with the lime juice, salad oil, salt and pepper.

Set aside for 15 minutes or so to allow flavors to meld.

Serve and enjoy!

Simple Salmon

Suddenly, Summer!

Suddenly, it’s summer.  Do I sound surprised? Truly it has been years since I have felt summer bearing down on my bare shoulders before it actually arrived on the calendar.  But here I am, sleeveless, drinking iced tea, watching my ice cream melt as fast as I can eat it and planning backyard barbecues before the middle of June. Can’t you just hear the smile in my voice!

To me, summer means easing back. It means sipping tea in the shade and planning easy menus around whatever beautiful thing you happen to find at the market, whether its fresh picked corn, crisp green beans, fragrant peaches or a perfectly ripe watermelon. Sometimes that one thing may be so perfect it IS the menu.  Other times you may find so much lovely freshness you can’t decide and dinner becomes a feast, all the better for inviting in the neighbors you catch sight of over the fence or for looking forward to tomorrow’s leftovers….when you won’t even need to turn on the oven or grill.

Taking it Easy

Salmon is probably my favorite entrée. It goes great with a variety of bright summer fruits and vegetables and, once cooked, its light fresh color provides a nice visual relief to the luscious ripe beauty of summer sides.

Salmon is also easy.  It tastes wonderful unadorned.  The creative addition of a few seasonings isn’t even necessary, though it can take the experience up a notch and add to the presentation. Choose from a light sprinkle of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, a little drizzle of melted butter or olive oil, a seasoning rub, a few snipped herbs, whatever you have in the garden: dill, basil, rosemary, parsley, chives, thyme.   Slice a lemon or lime thinly or squeeze on a little of its juice.  Choose one of the above, or several.   Sprinkle or scatter across the fish with enthusiasm.

Simple Salmon

One or more salmon or steelhead fillets, approximately ½- 1 inch thick in the center.

Your choice of salt, pepper, fresh snipped herbs, thinly sliced citrus, minced onion, drizzle of oil or butter, if desired.

1. Preheat oven to 350F.

2. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.  Arrange fish fillet(s), skin-side down, on the aluminum foil.

3. If you like, sprinkle fish with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. (Be careful not to oversalt before baking.  More salt can be added after baking, to taste.) Drizzle with a little olive oil or melted butter and scatter a few thin slices of citrus fruit, a few bits of minced onion or some snipped, dill, chives or other fresh herbs, if desired.  Remember that this step is optional.

4. Place fish in preheated oven for approximately 15 minutes, or until fish flakes easily when pierced with a fork and/or appears opaque throughout.

5. Serve and Enjoy!

Tips from The Team

This is my husband’s go-to dish for entertaining, indoors or out.  As such, here are a few comments from the Grill-master:

- Look for salmon fillets with large sections between the veins of fat.

- For the most uniform cooking it is best to choose a center cut that is the same thickness on both ends.  On the other hand, I love it when the edges of the fillet are thinner. Those edges tend to crisp in the baking process and add a contrast of texture to the soft smooth center.

- Your fillet of fish will come with skin on one side.  Don’t worry about the skin.  Simply lay the fillet, skin side down, on foil if you like, for easy cleanup.  When the fish has cooked through it will (cooperatively) slide away from it’s skin most often leaving the skin stuck to the foil as it releases it’s tasty flesh.

- Same on the grill – Place the fish on a piece of foil.  Dress as desired. Slide the foil onto the grill rack and cook on a hot grill, lid down, for 16 minutes, checking occasionally.  Do not turn.

Sweet Strawberry Salsa

Strawberry Salsa

Following  Recipes?

Sometimes I just can’t follow a recipe to save my life. Last weekend, inspired by a beautiful picture from Kitchen Parade I had pinned to a board at Pinterest, I set out to make Alanna’s Strawberry Salsa.  I bought the ingredients I needed: a box of strawberries that smelled heavenly, kiwis, a lime.

Back home I went out to cut a few sprigs from the chocolate mint plant thriving just outside my back door. There, before I even got started, I began to get side-tracked. I noticed the cinnamon basil growing nearby.  I planted it this spring because it was pretty and sounded unusual but I never really know what to do with it. I pulled a leaf and crushed it between my fingers breathing in the scent. It did smell like cinnamon and cinnamon was in Alanna’s recipe. I cut a few sprigs and added them to my small bundle of mint.

Inside, I sliced the strawberries.  As I reached for the apple I noticed some jicama that was left over from another recipe and decided to use it instead. It added its own agreeable note of crunch.  Then I threw in some finely chopped fresh pineapple that hadn’t fit into a fruit salad I made earlier for brunch.

Remembering the discovery from a few seasons ago that balsamic vinegar is delightful with strawberries, I decided to substitute it for the lime juice in the recipe and stir in a little brown sugar for sweetness. Mixing things together I made a last minute decision to dial up the spicy notes of mint and basil with a pinch of fresh minced ginger.

Strawberry Salsa Ingredients

The Benefit of Circumstance

Sometimes I think those kitchen improvisations are for the best.  Salsas, like salads, often benefit when they are embellished with a little of this, a little of that, whatever you have on hand that tastes wonderful and makes an interesting combination. Better that than following the recipe to a tee without taking circumstances into account as I did for the Cantaloupe Salsa I also had on the menu.

I found cantaloupe at the market, precut in a plastic container.  Trusting that it wouldn’t be cut if it wasn’t ripe I took it home.  After chopping it I found it had no more taste than the jicama and far less of an interesting texture. Lesson: don’t use any fruit in a fruit salsa if it isn’t wonderfully ripe.  It might look pretty but it won’t taste good.  The sweetness is necessary to balance the spice and to allow the flavors to meld properly.  That Cantaloupe Salsa is gorgeous but it still tastes like onions and feels like hot peppers without any of the sweet appeal that is intended.

The Strawberry Salsa, on the other hand, was fragrant, tart-sweet, and just a little spicy.  Good strawberries made a good salsa and allowed for a creative revelation of ingredients. Had I followed Alanna’s recipe more closely I’m sure it would have been delicious but adapting it to the realities of my own kitchen at that moment made it my own Sweet Strawberry Salsa. Maybe those kiwis that I forgot all about adding at the end will even inspire another recipe adaptation next time I'm in the kitchen.


Note: If you enjoy reading about the experiences of Uncle Hal and other folks from the early 20th century, be sure to read Alanna’s sweet post where she introduces us to Strawberry Bill.   

Strawberry Salsa, Blueberry Salsa, Cantaloupe Salsa
Blueberry Salsa, Cantaloupe Salsa and Sweet Strawberry Salsa

Sweet Strawberry Salsa
Inspired by Alanna's Strawberry Salsa with Cinnamon-Sweet Baked Tortilla Chips at www.KitchenParade.com

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
1½ cups strawberries, diced
½ cup jicama, cut in fine matchsticks or diced
½ cup pineapple, diced
1 Tablespoon cinnamon basil, chopped
1 Tablespoon chocolate mint, chopped
¼ - ½ teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

In a small bowl or cup, stir together the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar until sugar is dissolved.

Combine the remaining ingredients.  Pour the vinegar-sugar mixture over all and gently toss to coat.

Place in the refrigerator until ready to serve, allowing at least 20 minutes or so for the flavors to meld.

Serve with Baked Cinnamon Tortilla Chips (recipe beow) or other chips of your choice.

Strawberry Salsa with Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

Baked Cinnamon Tortilla Chips

6-8 small flour tortillas
Nonstick cooking spray
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375F.

In a small bowl or cup, stir together the sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Using a pizza cutter, if you have one, or a knife, cut the tortillas into 8 wedges each. 

Place a wire cooling rack on a large baking sheet.   Arrange the tortilla wedges on top of the rack in a single layer. (Not all chips will fit at one time.  I baked two pans full.)

Once arranged as efficiently as possible, spray the tortilla wedges lightly with non-stick cooking spray. 

Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the tortilla wedges as evenly as possible. (Remember to save some for the second pan of chips.)

Bake at 375F for 12- 15 minutes, or until lightly brown and crispy.