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David Gibbs and his Jell-O ‘stache

“Well, I use mustache wax every day,” said David Gibbs. All he had to do was add a sprinkle of gelatin powder and- voila!- a magnificent blue caterpillar. It turns out Jell-O has that bedazzling effect on most things. Perhaps somewhere on its list of mysterious ingredients (disodium phosphate? fumaric acid?) is the scientific term for fairy dust.

Need more evidence than a vibrant upper lip? Last night, Gibbs, a horde of local creatives and a giant mass of Jell-O turned the Maude Kerns gallery into a constantly jiggling, entirely edible wonderland.

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…Or at least that’s one version of what happened.

“What’s in Jell-O exactly?” I wondered aloud, inspecting a “blackberry fusion”-flavored box of the stuff. Before my lovely companion Melissa could respond, two gruff gents at the end of the bar chimed in.

“I hear it’s got cow hooves!” said one.

“Animal products,” agreed the other.

“All I know is processed fruits are bad for you,” said the bartender, inspecting one of the boxes I’d scavenged from my cupboard.

Melissa and I were doing research of sorts at the Tiny Tavern on Blair Blvd. She’s a local food writer who pens Two Pots of Coffee and a Slice of Pie at Midnight and Dispatch from a Yellow Bicycle when she’s not, you know, writing articles for the Register-Guard and food guides for Eugene Magazine.

I’d thought it was only natural to invite a food blogger to a Jell-O art show, but now I was facing an undeniable truth: Jell-O is hardly natural. In more discerning circles, it may not even be considered food.

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“We built this city on Jell-O rolls,” unknown

What, then, to make of the Kerns’ annual competition and its strictly mandated medium? When you’re molding to this year’s themes of “Occupy Jell-O” and “End of the World,” perhaps the more unnatural qualities of the goo actually work with you. What could show the instability of a recession or the meltdown of the apocalypse better than a material that turns into a slimy puddle before your eyes?

I have no doubt that 80’s band Starship, if they’d thought of it, would have included a Jell-O metropolis in their fiercely earnest video for “We Built This City.” “Someone always playing corporation games/Who cares they’re always changing corporation names.” They were like so ahead of their time, man.

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16, David Gibbs

16 had wholly crossed the bridge from the snackable to the sculptural, and it wasn’t looking back. Gibbs started with 8 pounds of gelatin and several ponds of food coloring, applied heat and created this Seuss-meets-and-tangles-with-Tim Burton confection.

“It smells like spray paint,” said Melissa, taking a long whiff like the good food critic she is. Okay, so maybe “confection” is the wrong word.

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Occupied, Jeff & Leah

But look yonder- a twist served sunny side up! Though eating Jell-O makes her queasy, Melissa was instantly salivating when she saw this hyper realistic and ├╝ber gelatinous breakfast layout.

“They even made Jell-O coffee!” marveled Melissa.

We deemed Occupied the winner of the night, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Jeff and Leah had successfully closed the gap between art and food using the most unreliable of glues.

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We The Peeps (Occupy Jell-O Zone), James Carwile

…Or at least they almost did. If only this marshmallow death pit hadn’t been jiggling nearby. The slimy little Peeps reminded me of the body parts floating in jars from the laboratories of movie mad scientists. Perhaps Melissa was thinking the same thing.

“How much of that Jell-O could you eat?” I asked.

“How much could I eat, or how much could I eat without puking?” she asked.

“Without puking,” I said.

“The blue Peep in the back row,” she answered.

If all this talk is making you a little green, take heart. Jell-O probably doesn’t look much different on the return journey.

…ewwww.

So there you have it: the art has been reviewed, and the food pooh-poohed. For safety reasons.

BIG BONUS: Click here for Melissa’s review of the Tiny Tavern, with cameo by yours truly. You should also probably follow her on Twitter.

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Jenni’s Belle Cake, by Jenni’s beau (?)

“You know those people who take so many pictures that it’s annoying, but then later you’re really glad they did?” said my friend Matt, trawling Facebook to find photos for a class project.

“Yes!” I said instantly, thinking of my father. He recently got a phone with a fancy camera, and we’re getting used to looking into a dull lens instead of his eyes. No slight up-twitch of the lips has gone uncatalogued.

Little did I know, but I would soon encounter the artistic products of another compulsive paparazzo. My mom discovered a stack of photos in the bottom of the Twister box during family game time tonight. We apparently inherited it from a mysterious lady named Jenni, who not only loves the “stockin’ feet game” but also Disney princesses. Go figure.

I’ve been waiting for interesting anonymous photos to float into my life since I had that adventure with artist Sarah Refvem, who paints from close-ups of vintage photos. The first one she discovered was hidden in a box at a friend’s house and shows a group of kids at a swim meet. Inspecting the faces in the photo closely, she noticed that a group photo, which is usually thought of as “just a form of documentation” could actually tell dozens of stories.

“Some people are doing what they’re told, but everyone’s having their own individual experience,” Sarah said. She stole the photo, and later blew it up so that she could see the faces more clearly. Some of the kids were looking self conscious as they posed in their swimsuits, while others seemed confident and outgoing. Some were focused while others distracted each other.

It was a breakthrough moment for Sarah. “I realized that you can use other people to talk about what you’re feeling,” she said.

After weeks of waiting, my Refvem moment had finally arrived. Here’s a bespectacled gent, slightly embarrassed but very intent on his goofy task. There’s the birthday girl, overwhelmed as only a Belle fangirl could be by her ballroom cake, complete with a chandelier. The photography is documentary-style, recording each and every moment in the party’s proceedings. You could almost splice it together to create a filmstrip.

You have to admit, it’s a pretty sweet cake. But is it sweet enough to merit a birthday kiss?

…And she went for the hug. Aw, shucks. Perhaps there’s some hidden tension in this situation? Why is the girl behind them folding her arms and averting her gaze?

We’ll never know the real story, but that’s not the point. As Sarah might say, the stories we create are really about us.

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Caroline and the Central Lutheran espresso machine

“GRRRRRRRRRRACKLEACKLEGRRRRRRRRR…”

Based on whatever knowledge you have of espresso machines, does that onomatopoeia sound healthy?

I’d never done the barista thing until this Sunday, when my friend Caroline and I worked a church espresso cart. However, I have spent lots and lots of time in coffee shops (1) eyeing baristas with bitter envy, and (2) watching espresso machines with utter fascination.

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I mean, just look at that polished metal box. It’s as gorgeous and compact as a Swiss-made wristwatch. It huffs and it puffs and it innocently dispenses a dark, aromatic drink that holds the world captive each morning until they get a sip. What a design!

Oh, except when it gets finicky.

“GRRRRRACKLEACKLEGRRRRRRR”

“WHAT DRINK WOULD YOU LIKE SIR?” I yelled, leaning in close.

We made quite a few lattes before a staffer appeared and put an end to the madness.

“You’re going to BLOW US UP!!” she said, pulling the plug.

For all my attempts at European suave, all I succeeded in was almost burning down a church. It turns out the espresso machine is a little more evil than it initially appears.

But there’s always next week!

(The monster agrees with a resounding GRACKLE)

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Terry Holloway and Graeme Haub, Secret of the Ooze

The two men in hazmat suits paced the gallery with a metal detector, cautiously sweeping innocent bystanders and suspicious objects. When they came upon the enormous gastropod lying like a beached whale in a puddle of its own slime, the clean-up job began. By the end, each man had a great mountain of sluggy refuse oozing around his shoulders and the crowd had erupted into applause. Our heroes!

Of course, both gentlemen were more than aware that no amount of cleanup could completely deslime the Eugene Storefront Art Project’s pop-up gallery on Willamette, which was stop number 4 of the First Friday Art Walk. SLUG Queen Holly GoSlugly was not only hosting the walk, but she’d also teamed up with ESAP to deliver a gallery chock-full of slug-inspired art- everything from One Step Big Shot guest Queen Slugasana’s legendary gown to the giant glowing chicken wire-and-fabric slug sculpture by Terry Holloway and Graeme Haub (aka the hazmat men).

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Marilyn Kent, Future Slug Queen

One of my favorite pieces was Marilyn Ken’ts sexy Elphaba acrylic. Besides being a gorgeous piece of pop art (can’t you just see nine colorful permutations of it on a print signed “Warhol”?), it’s also a clever homage to reigning royal GoSlugly, whose main cause is local arts. As any Eugenean knows, the SLUG Queen competition is all about sucking up, and Kent has just won herself some serious brownie points. Speaking of which, I’m sure Ms. GoSlugly wouldn’t mind a pan of brownies as well, Ms. Kent.

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Slug donut from Voodoo Doughnut, modeled by Megan

To cap off this mondo post, let me just alert you to the fact that Voodoo Doughnut on Broadway sells a slug doughnut. Just don’t ask what they use for filling.