Archive for January, 2010

Brushes Portraits of my Grandparents

I was in Florida visiting my grandparents over the weekend, and I started playing with my newest iPhone app, Brushes, creating a picture of my sister singing karaoke. I showed my grandmother my little finger painting and she liked it so much she wanted me to do one of her and my grandfather.

grandparents brushes iphone painting

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Playing With the Brushes iPhone App

I have been looking at the Brushes iPhone app on and off since I got my iPhone more than a year ago. I’d seen some incredible images created with it, and I wanted to try it out, but it was pretty pricey for an app at $4.99, and I wasn’t sure if I’d really use it.

But just before my flight to Florida on Wednesday, I decided I would treat myself to a little present, since I knew I’d have some free time in Florida.

I played around with it a bit on the plane, but found it awkward — I kept making the strokes too thick, or making strokes when I meant to be moving the canvas around. I also didn’t have a clear plan for what I wanted to create on it or how I was going to go about it.

Last night, though, I decided to give digital finger painting another try. I started with a simple image close to things I’d painted in the past. A lake landscape with a sailboat.

Brushes Lake Landscape

Then I decided I’d move on to something more complex. I’d had so much fun creating my Conan-Leno Illustrator piece, I thought I should try out another portrait, though this time it would be more freehand. I chose a photo of my sister Michelle that I took on my iPhone a few months ago and got to work.

I outlined the image, colored it in and added some shadows and highlights. Then I added a fun background that went with her hilarious karaoke posing.

Brushes portrait karaoke

Then I found out that Brushes lets you play back your brushstrokes from your .brushes file, and I created this little movie of creating the image. It’s a little strange in that it doesn’t actually go 100% chronologically, but starts with the back-most layer, and fills in your brush strokes in order for each layer. It’s actually quite backwards from how I created the image. Still, it’s quite cool. And my grandma has already asked that I create a portrait of her.

Creating a Brushes Portrait of my Sister from Francine Kizner on Vimeo.

How to Create a Late Night Disaster

For my first Illustrator II class assignment, we had to create a how-to illustration. I decided to go timely with How to Cause a Late Night Disaster based on all the hoopla going on at NBC with Jay Leno, Conan O’Brien and the Tonight Show.

How to Create a Late Night Disaster per NBC, Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien

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How to Make Chocolate Drop Cookies

chocolate cookies

A few weeks ago, we invited friends over for dinner on very short notice. I had enough food in my fridge and pantry — I just needed to figure out what to make. I put together a salad with grapefruit, avocado and a shallot-citrus vinaigrette, and I pulled some little puff pastries out of the freezer, baked them, and filled them with a mixture of cauliflower, goat cheese and other vegetables.

I was worried that dessert would be a problem. I only had one egg in my fridge. So I started looking for something relatively simple that would work with the ingredients I had on hand. I found a recipe for Butter Drop Cookies in my trusty How to Cook everything and saw that there was a modification to make them into Chocolate Drop Cookies. That sounded perfect.

They were quick to make — about 30 minutes from gathering the ingredients to pulling them out of the oven, and they turned out to be fluffy, cakey, soft cookies that weren’t too sweet or rich. I was missing a few ingredients, including milk, which I substituted with water, and vanilla, which I just did without. I also didn’t have enough plain sugar so I used some light brown sugar — and the cookies still turned out just fine. And though the recipe didn’t call for it, I dusted them with powdered sugar to make them look a bit more festive.

The cookies kept well for quite a few days, and I even made them again a couple of weeks later — and I had all the right ingredients — when Evan’s brother was in town and wanted something sweet after dinner. They were even better when I was able to include vanilla and milk.

The Recipe:

Adapted from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) of unsalted butter, softened slightly
  • 3/4 cups sugar (I used a combination of white and light brown)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (the first
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted
  • 1 oz semisweet chocolate, melted


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees
  2. With a mixer, combine the butter and sugar, then add in the vanilla and egg. Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder, and add the dry ingredients and the milk a bit at a time. Once all the ingredients are incorporated, add the melted chocolate.
  3. Spoon the soft dough into mounds on a baking sheet, and bake for about 10 minutes, until the cookies seem to be firming up a little, but still soft.
  4. Let the cookies cool a few minutes before removing from the pan, and dust with powdered sugar before serving.

Making Butternut Squash Gnocchi

A few weeks ago I decided to try making gnocchi. I’d been thinking about doing it for a while, ever since I read about a traditional potato gnocchi recipe, but I was worried it would be a huge failure. Gnocchi are easy to mess up — too much flour makes them heavy, not enough flour makes them fall apart. Some recipes call for egg, more traditional recipes don’t… and then there’s the need to smash everything up but not puree it, so that meant doing some mashing by hand, not using the food processor.

I guess I was feeling courageous one evening when I had a half a butternut squash left and needed some inspiration to use it. I started to look for a gnocchi recipe and found one online that seemed simple enough.

I added more flour than the recipe called for since the dough wasn’t coming together enough, and when I rolled out the first bit and started cutting the little pillow shapes and trying to curve and mark them with a fork, they looked like a bit of a disaster — misshapen, lumpy and a bit sticky.

Buttnernut Squash Gnocchi

The first batch didn't look great

Thankfully, things got better from there, and the rest of the batches looked a bit more appetizing, though maybe I should have just skipped the fork step — it creates a more traditional look, but isn’t required.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

The gnocchi started looking a bit better -- at least a bit more like gnocchi

I cooked them in small batches in boiling water for just a couple of minutes each, and topped them with some butter and asiago cheese. I served them with some tasty green beans with almonds, thyme and dijon mustard — a really delicious recipe (even with much less butter than called for), and a few tomatoes.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

The finished dish -- gnocchi with green beans and tomatoes

The gnocchi were a little bit denser than I’d hoped, but for a first try I think they turned out quite well, and they had an interesting slightly sweet and nutty flavor from the squash and cinnamon.

Chocolate Mousse from the ‘Alien’ Cookbook

“Oh, look Mummy! CHOCOLATE MOUSSE!”

I got a cookbook called “Debbie Learns to Cook” when I was quite young. It’s a combination storybook and cookbook with some rather funny illustrations of a family with rather large, alien-like foreheads. So of course, what did we call this book while I was growing up, but The Alien Cookbook. As far as I can tell, the book is out of print and pretty well unavailable except for a few used copies.

The only recipe we ever made out of the cookbook was pancakes, and they were truly great pancakes — always light and fluffy. My mom had written in cup and tablespoon measurements next to the measurements in the book, which were all in grams. There were a few other recipes in there, too — for mayonnaise, candy apples and chocolate mousse.

When at my parents’ house recently, my mother pulled the book out and decided that I should take it home with me. I was happy to have this little piece of nostalgia — and the secret to delicious pancakes — and a few days later when Evan and I were hankering for some dessert, I decided to make the simple chocolate mousse.

chocolate mousse recipe

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I only made one serving, which we both shared, and it turned out very rich, but quite delicious. It could have used a little more sugar for my taste, and maybe a splash of a liqueur or vanilla to cut richness a little, but the texture was good, and it came together quickly.

I’m glad to have my first cookbook back!