How to Process Grapes With a Steam Juicer

It’s that time of year again.   The weather is hot and humid, tomatoes are coming on and the birds have signaled that it’s time to pick grapes.


Grape Vines (Background)

We have two grape vines.  One is four years old, the other more than twenty.  Both yield dependable crops with no discernible difference between them production-wise.  Grapes are almost supernaturally generous when it comes to fruit and are an ideal choice for the urban garden.


Laundry Baskets With Grapes

This is an average harvest, plenty enough for our purposes.

I have tried various methods for turning grapes into juice over the years:  cooking and straining, mortar and pestle and, most recently, an old champion juicer.  Last year I finally gave up on the juicer.  Eight hours of picking, cleaning, running through the machine and filling bags proved to be too much at this stage of life.  On the recommendation of a fellow wine-maker, I turned to steam extraction this time.  Since this was my first time to use this device, many mistakes were made.  Perhaps I can save fellow newbies from some of the sorrows I experienced along the way.


Steam Juicer in Action

Steamers come in three sections:  bottom for boiling water, middle for juice and a top basket for fruit.  The idea is simple.  Steam cooks juice out of the grapes and runs out a hose into your catch-container.  So…fill the bottom 3/4 full of water, set the middle on top, cram the fruit into the top basket, add fire and wait.   I learned a few refinements the hard way, at least when it comes to grapes.   First, although you can leave the grapes on the stems (a huge advance over the pick-each-grape-off-the-stem-and-run-through-a-mechanical-juicer), you can pack more grapes into the basket if you do a bit of rough cutting first.  Nothing fancy, just snip the bunches in halves or thirds.  Next, you need some place for the juice to go so plan ahead.  I used a big stock pot.  Extraction is slower than might be expected (over an hour and a half per load in my kitchen) but you’ll know when you’re done when the hose quits spitting.  A bit more product can be coaxed out by lifting the top lid and stirring the contents for one last spurt.  Clamp off your hose before the next step or you’ll be sorry.


Stock Pot With Juice

Every time you finish a load, refresh the water in the bottom pan.  You don’t want to ruin a fancy juicer by letting your pot run dry!

Next, you have to figure out how to safely transfer the juice into whatever containers you’re going to store the juice in.   I make wine but am not ready to do it right now so I decided to temporarily store the harvest in the freezer.

For this you’ll need….


…..a quantity of quart freezer bags and a bag filler.


Bag Filler

For those unfamiliar with the alien device known as a bag filler, this thing is a must for those in possession of only two hands.  Be forewarned: it’s only useful for quarts.  I learned the hard way the results of plopping a gallon bag onto this thing.  It only takes one time for scalding, hot juice to run down all your cabinets and behind the stove to learn this lesson.


Bag-filler in Action with Juice-filled Stock Pot

The saintly hubby who cleaned up the mess also strongly advised I use the sink next time.   Pre-planning is everything when it comes to food processing.  I arranged my bag-filling operation at a convenient height using a soup pot and it worked great.


Bags of Grape Juice

And here it is:  Voila!  Grape juice safely poured into bags, ready for the freezer.  I will make jelly or wine later in the season when the garden has slowed.  May those who read this avoid the bone-head moves I made.  Happy juicing!




2018 Ohio State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition

I submit to the Ohio State Fair every year and sometimes even get in.  When I do, it’s always a thrill.  I think there were over 2,000 entries this year and only 200 acceptances.

In general, with the exception of some lovely sculptural installations, the 2-D pleasures of the show seem mild and predictable.  April Sunami’s award-winning piece was a stand-out among the prize winners, as was Barb Vogle’s poetic, floral photographic meditations on the transitory nature of life.   My contribution, Snakes & Ladders, earned a nice, well-lit wall with plenty of space around it to cool the feverish imagery.  I would have liked a more central position in the room, but it’s always a crap shoot in a juried show.    I was hoping the piece would attract more attention than it did but, alas, this wasn’t the case.

Other pieces drew visitors to them like bees to nectar.


Linda Leviton (right) and Joel Knepp (left) With Linda’s Piece”  “As Long as it Looks Good.”

As usual, one of the standouts was Linda Leviton’s quilt overlain with an altered vintage dress and see-through, shimmery, netlike material.  It struck me that the lacey top layer produces a similar effect to what one might see after taking Ambien.  Linda makes her living working with large metal pieces but fabric forms a large chunk of her more private, fine art work.  The hand-dyed, hand-sewn dress she wore at the opening was much remarked upon and appreciated by fellow textile artists.  She looked fabulous and so did her piece.

Joel worked the room with finesse and ease, even managing to get his picture with this sartorial brother.  If you know the man’s name on the right, let me know.  He’s an award-winning photographer with a wry sense of humor and a jaundiced eye regarding the jurying process.   He also knows how to dress, something I admire almost more than art.


Joel on Left With Unknown Aging Photographer Hipster on Right

I, on the other hand, felt self-conscious, shy and unable to perform the required schmoozing which constitutes such a large part of these events.  Aaaarrrrrggghhh!!!  Evidently, one is never too old to be neurotic.


Lynda McClanahan with “Snakes & Ladders:” 2018 Ohio State Fair Opening Reception

Partly in response to the neuroto-attack, we fled the room and headed next door to the poultry barn where things seemed to make more sense.  I love standing with closed eyes in the middle of the building, listening to the calls of the birds.  The building reverberates with alien, improvisational music sung by mostly angry beings.  I love this photo.  Can’t decide who is better dressed.


Joel Knepp With Rooster:  2018 Ohio State Fair

Onward and upward with the arts.  It’s a strange life, but it suits me.


Rest & Return

After a week off to rest the hands and another to celebrate my birthday, it’s back to “Lindsay With Dogs.”  Even without the above excuses, I’ve been dragging my feet on the project, content to enjoy things as they are and afraid of where they might end up.   If only there were a way to receive credit for doing nothing!

Doing the dogs has been fraught with more anxiety than this sixty-six year old lady would care to admit, but there you have it.  Nothing has ever come easy for this one.

As suspected, the dog on the left is taking a solid week of daily effort.


“Lindsay With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan In Process

At this stage, the dog is almost there with the exception of highlights, tightening some lines and cleaning up mistakes.   I’m a bit concerned I’ve made the poor pooch look more like porcupine on a bad hair day than a dog, but it’s probably the best I can do.   I always hope my weaknesses will read as charming eccentricity, but you never know.  Onward and upward, whatever the results.  Here’s to perserverance and the hoped-for rewards of a long, slow slog.



Making a Dress From a Cotton Saree

As a sort of love-gift to myself, for the last couple of years I’ve taken to making a dress right around my birthday in July.   This year’s model is cut from a perfectly preserved old cotton saree.  If you’ve never made an outfit from a saree, here is how you do it.

Sarees usually have a decorative border running along both sides of their six-yard length plus a fancy part on the end designed to show when you throw the end piece over your shoulder.   This presents a challenge when laying out your pattern.  The first thing to decide is whether you’re going to incorporate the borders and end-piece into your garment or just cut around them.  I always choose the former.  Experience has taught that it is imperative to choose a pattern which highlights the design of the original saree, not fight it.  Why waste all that beautiful weaving?


Fancy End-piece Incorporated Into Bodice

It took a lot of trial and error and creativity before I succeeded in laying out the bodice, but things came right in the end.  I was able to cut the pattern pieces in two different directions which visually strengthens the three-piece bodice front.   A bit of ribbon languishing in the sewing drawer accentuates the design.


Pocket Cut from Scraps of Fancy End-piece

There was just enough fancy end-piece material to squeeze out a couple of pockets.  This forms a nice contrast to the field of the saree, which is mainly composed of checks (the Indian way of saying “plaid”).


Lynda McClanahan Wearing a Dress Made From a Cotton Saree

Here is the final product, worn to a birthday dinner.   I was able to get just a bit more style by laying out the skirt so that part of a border could be seen.   The main interest in the piece lies in the material and I wanted to show it off to full advantage.  The fabric turned out to be more sheer than I had anticipated, a problem solved by wearing an old fashioned cotton slip.  I made the necklace too (haven’t figured out how to make shoes).

All sewing projects force the sewer to slow down and concentrate for long periods of time, which is inherently relaxing.    Making something for your birthday is a good way to send love to the person you have been as well as to the person you hope to become.  I go forth into my 66th year literally arrayed in new garments.  All is well.





Week One of a New Project

What a difference a week makes.   The new project is steadily inching forward, without fuss.   Covering more area than usual means larger blocks of time must be allotted for each work session, but more is accomplished at the end of each day.  I can see where the piece is headed and feel good about doing something so decidedly different from what I’ve been doing lately.  The dogs will probably take at least one week a piece and, given my skill level, will be the hardest part of the project.  I’m taking the weekend off to give the hands a rest and think things over.


“Lindsay With Dogs” in Progress



The hardest part of any project is having the fortitude to start at all.    Before lift-off, the mind is fearful of failure and the body longs to be left alone.  After lift-off, things unfold quietly and naturally according to the internal logic of the project itself.    Nothing matters except for the nuts and bolts grunt work of working the idea through.

I almost always transfer imagery from the sketch to the board via home-made carbon paper.  This means covering the entire back of the original drawing with pencil, once for each diagonal and once more up and down.


Pencil Carbon on Reverse of Sketch

On a piece as big as this (30″x36″), just making the carbon is a lot of work.   Sometimes I fall in love with this part though.   If I were strictly process oriented, I might stop right here and frame the thing up.

Once the pencil carbon is finished, I tape the sketch to the board and go over every line with a ballpoint pen, rendering a perfect copy of the original.


Sketch With Ballpoint Pen

Pencil marks routinely smudge and mix with paint in unpleasant ways, so sealing the graphite, though laborious, saves time in the end.  Everything must be gone over one more time with either black paint and a fine brush, or an oil enamel Sharpie pen.   If anyone tries this method, be sure to stick to oil enamel.   Other pens bleed into the paint, causing untold headaches.

Here is the finished sketch-on-board with a bit of progress on the background.


“Lindsay With Dogs” In Progress

Just as mutations over time lead to the evolution of a species, subtle changes occur each time an image is copied.   I tried giving the trees and grass a more naturalistic treatment, to see as the camera sees, but am incapable of this.  Instead, the background looks like dyed fabric and the grass is a monolithic, psychedelic shimmering carpet of green.   Allowing the entire depth of field to be in sharp focus automatically shifts a piece into interesting philosophical territory.  Without a distorting lens, only a hyper awareness of every single point remains.  I’ve only just begun the project and already it’s going its own way.  We have lift-off.


Working Through a Block

For the first time ever, I’ve found myself empty of both  vision and will.    For the last few weeks, there’s been a huge hole in my life where art used to be.    A few ideas have wafted up but nothing engaging enough to be worth the trouble.  I’ve been bored, listless and lazy.

In the absence of inspiration, I’ve decided to push on and just do something.  A friend posted a picture of his wife on Facebook a while back and I’m using it as inspiration for a new project.  Here is the initial sketch for “Leopard Coat With Dogs.”


Initial sketch for “Leopard Coat With Dogs” by Lynda McClanahan

This is another big (for me) painting and will most likely showcase all my weaknesses as a painter, but so be it.  Maybe I’ve just gotten used to the grid-organized pieces I’ve done lately but to heck with it.   Why stay blocked when you can do something (anything!) to blast free?