Food for Body and Soul

How many times have you meandered through a wonderful art museum only to find yourself unable to take it all in before you get burned out? You enter trying to take in every detail of every piece of art but by the time you get to the last exhibit room, the Mona Lisa starts to look like The Girl with the Pearl! I know I certainly felt that way the last time I visited the DeYoung, the Louvre, the Uffizi, the Vatican Museum…the list goes on. It was just too much of a good thing!

Packed full of treasures, the admission fees to these great venues contribute to the museum pressure as well. Entry generally doesn’t come cheaply so you want to get your money’s worth (at least I do), but I get tired, hungry and impatient with the crowds long before I get to the last exhibit.

Perhaps this is why I think the world of the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University. Going back to 1894, the museum originally opened to share, with students and with the public, the fine collection of art that the Stanford family had acquired through their travels. Like most of us, their interests were diverse so their collections reflected this diversity – oils, photographs, sculpture, pottery, totems, canoes and more from five continents – but not so many pieces that you can’t enjoy them all.

Over time, the museum has closed a couple of times – due to damage from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake – but each time the effort has been put forth to bring the museum back better than ever.

Rodin's 'Gates of Hell' in Stanford University's Sculpture Garden

Rodin’s ‘Gates of Hell’ in Stanford University’s Sculpture Garden

The Rodin Collection with 200 pieces of original sculpture is one of the best in the world. The famous Yosemite paintings by Thomas Hill  are regularly on display. The possessions and artwork that hung on the walls of the Stanford home can be found in the Stanford gallery. Contemporary works by Andy Warhol and many others are in the contemporary wing. There are even native American and Asian pieces to be found as well.

One time I was there, I was very excited to see a collection of photographs taken by Carleton Watkins on display for the first time ever. Included were some of his spectacular photographs that were circulated in Congress in the 1860’s to inspire the signing of the Yosemite Land Grant that set the groundwork for the creation of Yosemite National Park some 30 years later. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see them in person!

And what did I pay for the opportunity to see all these wonderful treasures? Absolutely nothing! The Cantor Art Center at Stanford is absolutely free! Yep. You just have to show up on a Wednesday through Sunday between 11:00 and 5:00 when the doors are wide open to anyone who wants to walk through. You can’t beat it.

As if the great content and the great price weren’t enough, the Cool Café on site is fantastic as well. The border on their menu reads “Organic. Seasonal. Local. Sustainable. Ultimately Delicious.” and I couldn’t agree more. I have eaten there many times and have never been disappointed. In fact, the same philosophy that they apply to their menu items holds true for their wine and beer selections as well. Last time I was there, every wine on the small wine list was rated 88 or higher and all were sourced from small California wineries!

The café is open on the same days and times as the museum so sometimes I even go for the food and wine and happen to stay for the art rather than the other way around. How many museum cafeterias can you honestly say that about?

Now that my mouth is watering and I am longing to visit the latest exhibits (they never disappoint), I think I’ll head off to Stanford sometime over this coming weekend….can’t wait!

Posted in Drink, Food, Offbeat, Out and About in the USA, Travels, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Death of a Salt Block

You know how some things are fresh, new and fun when you get them but, with time, the newness wears off and they find themselves relegated to some dark corner of a storage closet never to be seen again until you move or you die? I know we had a whole basement full of such items when it came time to pack up and relocate from the Midwest years ago.

Now that we live where houses have no basements, it is not so easy to just tuck things away for another day. Before long, there is no room to live in your home for all the stuff stashed away. And so, today I report the demise of the Himalayan salt block.

Asparagus on Salt Block

Asparagus on Salt Block

Some of you may recall from an earlier post that we were the recipients of a Himalayan salt block at Christmas time. We had some fun cooking on it both on the range top and on the grill. We did asparagus, eggs and a few other things but, by now, the novelty has worn off. Having to cook only what fit on the 8″ x 10″ surface…having to wait for the block to heat up slowly before cooking so as not to crack it and to get it hot enough to actually cook something…having to only cook thin items so that they would actually finish on the block…all of it added up to be more than our patience could bear. Quite frankly, the tried and true cooking tools just do a much better job and used less energy to do it.

Cooking took its toll on the beauty of the salt block as well. Straight out of the box, the salt block was a beautiful pink and white natural work of art but, after the first use, dark residues from cooking started to work their way into the natural seams in the salt. A simple rinse under running water didn’t do the trick to get rid of them. I even tried a scouring pad (soap-free, of course) to no avail. By the second or third use, the beauty of the block was gone for good.

Back when we first received the salt brick, we had gone on-line looking for tips and recipes to put it to use. I remember also seeing a site that listed the dozen or so things to do with a salt brick. Besides cooking on it, serving on it, cooling things on it, looking at it and a few others, it also listed some more unconventional options. Things like carving it into edible jewelry (hmmm), busting it up into bath salts, or using pieces as pumice.

pulverized-salt-block_cattail-studio-artsIn an effort not to tuck it away never to be pulled out again, today we sealed the salt block in a few zipped-top bags and took a sledge-hammer to it! Now we have salt crumbs to be used as garnish, or a year’s supply of bath salts, or a decade’s supply of coarse cooking salts.

I guess this is one area where the salt block outperforms the tried and true. You can’t do THIS with a cast iron skillet! ———->

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Customer Guinea Pig Tales – In Memoriam for Peanut Butter and Jelly Day

One of the things we do here at CatTail Studio Arts when we have the honor of selling a new pet dish to a customer is to ask for the story behind the name and a photo of the happy recipient to add to our blog roll. It is a fun way for us to see our handiwork in use and our customers can have the pleasure of seeing their pet posted on our blog. I can’t tell you how many times we receive a photo or a story and it puts an instant smile on our faces. Through ‘Customer Cat Tales’, we share some of our favorites with you. 

Being the day after April Fools, we are presenting a small twist on our usual Customer Cat Tale and bringing you a Customer Guinea Pig Tale!

Today, no fools, is National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. This is the day America honors the iconic peanut butter and jelly sandwich that so many of us know and love.  And, lest you think that the love for PB&J is something that passes as we cross over into adulthood, consider that the average American will eat roughly 3,000 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in their lifetime. Depending on whose data you subscribe to, half to two-thirds of those sandwiches will be consumed before we graduate high school but that leaves half to one-third to be consumed in our adult years. We are a country of peanut butter and jelly lovers! [As an aside, the average European will eat less than one jar of peanut butter in their entire lifetime so this truly is just an American thing.]

One of the obvious ways to celebrate National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day is by making your favorite combination and enjoying it for lunch. Or, if you want to make more of a statement, you can join the PB&J Campaign and eat for a cause. Yep, really, there is an organization built around making a difference through the consumption of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! In our case, we decided to post the story PB & Fig.


Although I am named after peanut butter, please don’t feed me any. It’s not good for me!

Last year, we received an order for a guinea pig bowl to be shared by a couple of cavies affectionately called PB & Fig. You can probably guess by now that their American owner is a fan of peanut butter and jelly. PB is a cute, fluffy, peanut-butter-colored guinea pig. Fig was named after the fig jelly that goes on its owner’s favorite PB&J.



Unfortunately, before we had even completed the bowl for this adorable pair, the owner contacted us to let us know that Fig passed on to guinea pig heaven. We had already glazed the bowl with Fig’s name on it and had it in the kiln ready to fire. What to do? We offered to try to wash the name off the bowl and replace with a new name before firing it. And the owner also considered naming the replacement guinea pig as FigII as no one would be the wiser. In the end, though, she made the decision that we should proceed as planned and the bowl became a small memorial for Fig.

personalized-guinea-pig-bowl_cattail-studio-arts-002In keeping with that sentiment and in celebration of National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day, we remember Fig with a blog post, our hand-made guinea pig bowl and one of our personal favorites – a natural peanut butter and royal fig jelly sandwich. No fools!


Posted in Ceramics, Customer Cat Tales, Four-Legged Friends, Other Pursuits | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment