Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sensory Feast

Every year my class does a project based on collection and classification. I noticed that they kept getting stuck on the same set of categories: size, color, light/dark, and other purely visual cues. I was lucky to work with chef Tara Lane to develop this workshop that gets students to switch off the visuals for a while and consider their OTHER senses, opening up a whole range of new ways to think about the things around them. The exercise itself is a lot of fun, and the work students come up with afterward is consistently innovative and multisensory.

Note: We do this project in the dark, so I don't have any photos - hence the borrowed images from the web!

1.) one very dark room (or simple blindfolds for everyone in the class)
2.) butcher paper to cover all the tables, with something for each student to write with
3.) a whole lot of small dixie cups (enough for 6 - 9 for each participant
4.) a variety of "mystery substances" to put in each set of cups, for tasting, smelling, feeling, etc. Some we have used include:
* "graduates" baby yogurt melts * powdered soup, hummus, etc. * vanilla extract * lemongrass stalks * black salt * poppyseeds *steel-cut oats *splenda *dried fruit *oddly-shaped dog treats (for touch/smell) * bubblegum-flavored cavity-revealing blue mouthwash * giant cheese-balls (for sound) * spray icing (applied to fill each student's hands) * cookie dough * various spices
Others I'm thinking of now:
* cotton candy or halva 'floss' * unflavored pop rocks * anise seeds * shiso leaves (fresh or dried) * something warming/cooling - ginger chews, mentholated drops, etc * got other good ideas? Please post 'em in the comments section!

Preparation (takes about an hour):
- Cover tables with clean butcher paper and secure with tape.
- Set each student's place with a pencil and 6 - 9 cups filled with your sensory ingredients. keep the order of these cups consistent so that you can guide them through the experience!
- Fix lighting if needed to get a very dark (but not completely pitch black) room. If you need to cover windows or add a small nightlight, do so. If using blindfolds, have them put on in the hallway and help students to their seats.

Sensory Feast:
- Have students start with one cup and experience its smell, texture, and taste.
- Ask them to write down at least three words or short phrases that are sensory associations, descriptive words, or memories connected to what's in the cup. Then move on to the next. Do this with each of the cups until you reach the end (we usually end with something a little dramatic, like the mouthwash or handfuls of icing)
- Initiate a conversation about some of the reactions, memories, and associations people had throughout the process, and answer questions about what some of the 'mystery items' were.
- Try a collaborative sound-poem with the words everyone's written down: Have all participants look over their lists to review what responses they wrote down, then close their eyes. Each person (instructor included) is asked to speak/whisper/sing/growl/yell at least three things from their list (this can be the same word repeated, or three different things), choosing the moments for these utterances in response to the words and phrases other participants are putting forth. Everyone keeps their eyes closed through this process, so that the focus is on response and sound (and sometimes laughter), but not on who's saying what. You can try different variations on this setting constraints of words uttered, repetition, voice etc.
- celebrate with leftover snacks from the experiment afterwards!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Exploring Elasticity and Economics, for example...

Recipe for pondering a staple crop, economically and functionally. Our morning hours with flour (from wheat):

1. Invite a visiting artist that combines an interest in our agricultural system, specifically a staple crop's cost and distribution (wheat), along with an artist/urban planner's mind+eye for creative research + presentation (and not only that, contributed the flour for free!).  Sarah Kavage's site for much more information, check it out, it's an amazing project:

2. Add our one & only trusted pastry chef to the day to take us artfully and pleasantly through the steps from dough mixing to shaping/adorning/flavoring to baking:  Tara Lane of course.

3. Combine with 12 hungry minds (and mouths) and 12 (well, 24) talented hands eager to participate!

4. Stir with some experimental ideas for shaping dough. Bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes.

(Tara Lane distributing dough)

Sarah, with 50lb bag of flour along with some of our finished bread forms.

From AREA magazine....

Monday, August 16, 2010

Civic Engagement with Food Not Bombs! (Spring 2010)

 The collective group of 10 classmates in our Research Studio Community Based Practices class had the opportunity to engage in a community-based project. We met, we looked at places we’d previously visited, we created a wiki with ideas and links, we talked and talked and finally decided on our collective criteria:

We wanted it to:
  1. Be free
  2. Be public
  3. Include art in some way
  4. Allow for individual + collaborative participation
  5. Provide a needed service

Get a list of places or events that interest you. Share these with each other and plan a brainstorming day.  Try to narrow down your choices based on some collectively agreed upon criteria. This really helped us to narrow it down by quite a bit.

When you decide who you would like to collaborate with, make contact and start the conversation about what might work best, where, when, etc. We decided that contributing something to the regular food distribution by Food Not Bombs was something we were very interested in. They let us know a few things about their event that they could use help with or where certain items were hard to come by and this informed our decision to create bags for people to take the food home in. We thought it would be nice if they were not disposable and if they contained original designs on them that somehow related to the work of Food Not Bombs or could be some type of logo for them. Each person wanted to create their own design. This also allowed us to create a good quantity by dividing the work between 10 people, each responsible for 10 bags.

Coordinate the work and studio days with your collaborators and lay out a schedule for days and times and the materials you will need and perhaps establish partnerships for gathering materials and setting up work stations. We set aside two studio days: one for creating the designs and transferring to masking and one for doing the silkscreening.

The distribution! We had arranged to meet up with Food Not Bombs one Sunday for their regular distribution and arrived a little early to set up a table with our bags. We found that they were very useful and people were genuinely thrilled that we wanted to give them away for free. They were gone really fast! One of the greatest parts of the day that most of us remembered was how we met people and stayed longer just to continue conversations, even though it was a cold and rainy day. I think we were surprised by how many people we met and wanted to talk to us about why we were doing this and who made the bags and with the quality of conversations all the way around. The Food Not Bombs volunteers really appreciated it too.

Ravioli Making with Mystery Filling (Fall, 2008)

The first time we decided to prepare and share a meal together revolved around the making of pasta. Our chef in residence, Tara Lane, prepared three fillings before our pasta-making day for us to use to fill our ravioli. The fillings would remain anonymous until tasting time, when we would collectively enjoy their deliciousness and try to figure out what was in them.

1. You’ll need bowls, measuring cups, big wooden spoons, a couple pasta makers, flour and eggs. Access to water helps too.

2. Pick a partner to work with and cover your work area with paper or plastic tablecloths. 

3. Measure out about 2 cups flour and pour this directly onto the table making a well in the center, crack 3-4 eggs into the center, add a pinch or two of salt. With a fork, break the yolks and mix the eggs together bringing in a little flour. You will have to use your hands when the dough starts to come together to gather up any remaining flour to make a ball of dough. Then proceed to knead, knead, and knead. This may take a while and can be pretty physical, so having a partner to take turns with is really great. Keep kneading until it is a uniform consistency and very smooth. Let the dough rest for at least 15 minutes.

4. Divide the dough into balls roughly the size of a tennis ball. Flatten the dough with your hands to an oblong pancake-like shape. The pasta setting should be at the widest to start. Feed the dough into the pasta maker, crank it through and catch it on the other side increasing (or decreasing) the dial for thinner sheets each consecutive pass through making flat sheets of dough.  For the ravioli making, we used three thin, long sheets of dough. (You might end up with more though.)

5. Now, on to filling the ravioli! We still didn’t know what our gorgeous fillings were. The fillings are spooned into the dough, spaced about a couple inches apart. You can make any shapes you want with this, but you do need to make sure the ravioli are sealed shut on all edges (press edges tightly together, you may need water to make sure they stick). One way we did this was to leave the sheet intact and put teaspoons of filling across one side (a little big away from the edge) spaced a couple inches apart, then fold over the dough (sealing it along edges and in between) so you have one big sheet with little bumps all along the length of the dough.  Cut the ravioli into separate pieces. Cooking and sharing the raviolis was starting to sound really good. 

6. Drop the raviolis into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes. Fresh pasta cooks pretty quickly. You can take one out and test it to see if it is done.

7. When they are done you can make a simple sauce with olive oil or butter and herbs, garlic, salt, etc. Have fun trying different flavors.

8. The best part! We shared the ravioli and guessed at what was inside. Some people were reminded of other meals, some of the ingredients were easy to identify, others escaped us, but the point wasn’t only to be accurate in uncovering those ingredients – it was the whole experience and shared process involving all our senses. The ingredients that Tara used for the fillings contained spices that we could relate to certain cultures, and we talked about the origins of particular spices and about their value in people’s lives, and some of their geographical or cultural significance. We shared some of our own personal stories about certain foods that reminded us of particular events or people and about when or what we might prepare and share together next…..

Friday, May 21, 2010

Collaborative Meal Challenge

This is a great activity for community-building that I learned as an artist-in-residence at the Blue Sky Project in rural Illinois. It gets participants thinking and working together,  encouraging everyone to let their guard down, roll up their sleeves, and share family recipes, personal know-how, and creative resourcefulness in some wonderful ways.

Every time I've done this project it's been delicious, fun, and a really positive bonding experience

You will need:
* a list of any food allergies or food restrictions in the group, so that you can avoid these.
* stove, sink, and refrigerator access, depending on ingredients you decide to use.
* various fruits and vegetables
* pasta, rice, and/or flatbread
* something with protein (feta cheese, peanut butter, sausage, beans, soy protein, etc.)
* something sweet (chocolate syrup, berries, honey, etc.)
* basic kitchen tools
* dishes, cups, and flatware

Project time: approximately 3 hours (including preparation,consumption, and cleanup)

Step 1
Lay all the food out onto a common table or counter space. Try not to organize things by theme or category - just lay all the options out together.

Step 2
divide your group into three teams: the salad & appetizer team, main course team, and dessert & drinks team. These teams can be self-selecting, but participants should try to make sure each group has roughly the same number of people in it.

Step 3
At this point, participants may ask, "so what are we making?" The answer to this is "That's a great question! That part is up to you." Representatives from each team will choose ingredients they want to use from the common table and brainstorm ideas of what to make with them. (the internet may be helpful for those with less cooking experience).

Step 4
Teams will have approximately one hour to complete their dishes. Any team that finishes early can get a head start on Step 6, so there's less to do later.

Step 5
Have each team present what it came up with to the group. Then line up to serve and eat. Enjoy!

Step 6
As a group, take turns washing dishes, drying, cleaning stoves and surfaces, and putting food/cookware away.