Author Archives: realartisbetter

About realartisbetter

Real Art Is Better! Real Artist living and working in Anchorage and McCarthy, Alaska, making Real Art - colorful oil paintings and prints that brighten any space.

This Alaskan Summer Has Been Smoky, So Why Not Smoke Some Meat?

pork bbq

Pairs well with a sour beer!

Alaska has had a dry and hot summer, and that’s a recipe for wild forest fires, which have made the air smoky for most of the summer.  So we decided, we might as well start smoking meat!  I smoked salmon in my Big Chief electric smoker this year, which keeps the temperature colder than a Texas-style BBQ, making it more suitable for fish.  Although, I suggest barbecuing some pork — it is my current favorite!  What could pair better than an ice cold brewski with a pile of delicious BBQ?

A couple of years ago I was over at my friend’s house and he had just pulled a brisket off his Traeger smoker.  I was amazed at how delicious this otherwise nearly-impossible-to-cook piece of meat was, and he told me how he slowly smoked it for over 12 hours in the pellet smoker.  Since then, I have been obsessed with real BBQ.  I can tell you what it is not: steaks, sausages, burgers, salmon, chicken, or anything else that is cooked over high heat.  That would be grilling.  A hot grill is the antitheses to BBQ.  Now there is nothing wrong with grilling, it’s a good way to cook the meat fast and produces delicious outdoor cooked treats, but it ain’t BBQ.  Grilling happens at 400 – 600 degrees and sears the meat.  BBQ needs to be done slowly and at low heat.  It involves cooking less desirable cuts of meat for several hours, which then makes them highly desirable.

The word barbecue comes from the Caribbean native people Taino’s word Barbacoa and refers to the process of burying meat in a pit oven wrapped in agave leaves.  Texas-style BBQ is a bit more complicated, and needs a specific tool to achieve the desired effect.  Whether it be a computer-controlled Traeger smoker, or a stick smoker, you need a way to produce smoky heat that can be kept at an even 200 – 250 degrees for many hours.  Ribs and roasts are normally preferable, but you can BBQ a suckling pig or larger cuts of meat.  

I have a stick smoker in McCarthy where I prepare my BBQ.  It has a lower compartment for burning the fire, and a larger chamber above where the smoke filters through and exits through a smokestack chimney.  I use oak lump charcoal to keep my fire going and I use chunks of wood to produce the smoke.  I prefer mesquite for that real authentic Texas flavor.  It takes about an hour per pound of meat, so a 3lb boneless pork shoulder takes about 6 hours to BBQ.  The smoker is big enough to handle larger cuts of meat, so you can either make two at once, or smoke for a lot longer with bigger cuts of meat like that brisket I mentioned earlier.  Since you are cooking the meat at low temperatures for a long time, that breaks down all the proteins and makes what would be a tough grilled meat a tender smoked delicacy.  The meat looks blackened and it is the black part, referred to as the bark, that is really good.  Make sure you get to try a piece with some BBQ bark — it has the most smoky flavor that is sooo good.  I like to wait an hour after pulling the meat from the heat, and I use a meat thermometer to make sure it hits 180 degrees — the perfect time to pull the meat.  I like to have some fresh buns ready to make pork sandwiches.  You will probably need some BBQ sauce.  Don’t buy the BBQ sauce with liquid smoke in it.  You only need some sweet tangy sauce to add to your already smoked meat.  Oh, and don’t forget to pair your meat with your favorite beer!  The only beer I wouldn’t use to pair with perfect BBQ is a smoked beer.  There is already enough smoke in the meat!  I would go for a tasty fruity sour ale, or a killer hoppy IPA, but there ain’t nothing wrong with a Euro or American pale lager either.  

Cheers to BBQ!  Meat and beer are really, really tasty! 

pork bbq

A pork shoulder right off the heat — resting for one hour.

Hours of chill time!

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When Things at an Alaskan Cabin Go Wrong

~ by Maria Benner

Alaska cabin

We managed to get this far on the new Arctic entry building project.

At the beginning of this summer Scott and I had a great trip to our cabin in McCarthy, and he wrote about it in an e-mail to his subscribers.  His story described how much he loves being at the cabin in the woods in Alaska’s wilderness, and maybe even inspired some people to get out of the city and get closer to nature.  Well, there’s another side to that story, and this latest trip to the cabin will give you a more accurate account of what life in remote Alaska is really like.  Sometimes the simple life becomes really complicated due to the fact that you’re many miles away from civilization, and all your stuff just breaks in one week.  That’s what happened on this last trip. 

First, the most traumatic incident occurred (or so we thought at the time) when Scott’s iPhone X suddenly turned off, and just died.  We used my phone to Google how to bring it back to life, but nothing worked.  Unfortunately, the Apple store in Anchorage is about 300 miles away, so Scott had to live without his beloved phone for a whole week.  Turns out his logic board had fried, and $549 later, Scott has a new iPhone X from the Apple store.

Then, only an hour later, I did something really stupid that could have resulted in awful consequences, but I got lucky.  We started building an Arctic entry, otherwise known as a mud room.  The plan is to use this addition for a shower, a small washing machine, dry wood storage closer to the cabin, and to store muddy boots and bulky coats.  Well, the first step was to remove the wooden ramp that we’ve been using for years to get into the cabin.  Scott told me he removed it.  Then I had to make a phone call, but needed a receipt from the truck, and as I was dialing the number while looking at my phone, I opened the door and stepped onto… nothing.  Right down to the ground about three feet at full speed, and onto a rock.  My ankle did not like all that force, and I felt strong pain.  My first reaction was to deny that it may be broken, and to keep walking on it, while repeating the phrase, “It’s not broken, it’s not broken!”  Then I started to panic, because if it was broken, Scott would have to drive me for three hours one way to the nearest clinic in Glennallen.  So I felt nauseous and got all sweaty, and had to lie down on the ground while Scott ran and got me some ice.  Luckily we brought a small fridge to the cabin on this trip that is powered by our solar panels, so we actually had ice!  Turned out that I have pretty strong ankles, and it was just sprained.  So I taped it, and gently walked on it, and managed to finish my building project that day.  Phew!  That was a close call.  I’m going to call our insurance company to confirm that we have coverage for a Guardian or LifeMed flight out, and if not, we’re buying that insurance ASAP!

The next day, we noticed that a weld had broken on our little trailer that was holding the wheel cover on.  The McCarthy Road is rough, and nothing survives multiple trips without some damage.  We decided we need to buy a welder in Anchorage, and bring it to the cabin on the next trip.  We have a running list going on my phone of all the things we need to bring to the cabin from Anchorage.

Then we started smelling a funky odor inside the cabin, and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from, until Scott opened the trap door under the house to access our extra stash of beverages, and saw that they were sitting in a soapy pool of dirty water.  Last year I installed a French drain next to the house, and pipes leading from the sink into the ground to drain water, so that we could get rid of the slop bucket.  Well, apparently, a pipe connection had come apart for some reason (maybe the log cabin shifted slightly), and all the dish water was just going under the house.  Gross!  Since I was the one who completed that project, I got to be the one to clean up the mess and fix the pipe.

A couple days later we noticed the smell of propane occasionally, and finally decided that the only possible source was the gas range, so we shut off the propane tank, and went to bed.  In the morning we had to figure out what was happening.  So we moved the counters out of the way to access the back of the stove, and inspected all the connections.  Everything seemed tight.  The instruction manual to the stove wasn’t helpful — it just told me to call the local fire department.  McCarthy has a VFD, but the Fire Chief encourages self-reliance.  So I made a soapy water solution, and brushed it where I thought the gas could be coming from, and sure enough, I found a leak right were the yellow propane hose connects to the first nut.  The hose had failed, because we installed it at a sharp angle.  Since the closest Home Depot is about 300 miles away, we couldn’t fix this problem until we can bring a new hose on the next trip.  So we just didn’t have a stove, or an oven for four days.  Luckily, we have an outdoor propane two-burner that we could use to cook food, so we cooked outside for the remainder of the trip.

So, if you have been dreaming of building a cabin in remote Alaska to get away from all your problems, just be prepared to handle a whole different set of challenges.  Living in the wild does have many benefits, and some amazing things happen right outside our door, like a mama moose and a baby suddenly showing up, or a bunny coming over to nibble on some grass, and the mountains and the sky are so big and majestic.  The silence is also nice — we sleep so well out here, not to mention the fresh air.  But it all comes at a cost, like so many things in life.  Everything seems to always work out, but when stuff goes wrong, it seems like a bigger deal out here when you have to be self-sufficient. 

Mama and baby moose

These two visited the cabin one evening.

Product Review – uKeg 128

ukeg growlerwerks

In 2014 I was really into craft beer, well I guess I should be honest — I am still really into craft beer.  I might just know more now about it than I did five years ago, which means I realize how much more there is to learn!  Anyway, in 2014 I was releasing a new beer painting every day, and so 2014 was the “Year of Beer” for us.  We entered a giveaway on Twitter for a uKeg pressurized growler by a new company called GrowlerWerks in Portland, OR, and actually won!  We were really excited, and I remember telling everybody about it.  Well, the uKeg didn’t show up in 2014.  In 2015 we contacted GrowlerWerks inquiring about the contest, but apparently the company was struggling with production delays, so it didn’t arrive in 2015.  A few months ago I started seeing these things all over the place: the local home-brew shop (Arctic Brewing Supply), Zymurgy Magazine, and at the homebrew club meetings as well.  So we decided to ask whatever happened to our uKeg one more time.  Well, we received a very nice and apologetic reply from GrowlerWerks, and a few days later, the uKeg, along with a bonus insulated steel pint cup arrived!!!  Better late than never.

A uKeg is a fancy insulated stainless steel growler with a cap that houses a CO2 cartridge.  It has a pressure gauge, a sight glass, and a mini-tap allowing beer to be poured without the beer oxidizing.  I have had a draft system in our house since 2006, and I’ve enjoyed home brewing for quite a bit longer than that.  A 5 gallon keg can be a bit much (the 2014 me would be shocked to hear me say that), and I’ve lately been making 1 gallon batches — part of my house yeast and coolship project.  I brewed two one-gallon batches this week and now I can use the uKeg to dispense my homebrew.  I wanted to test the system so I made a trip to my favorite beer store here in Anchorage, Alaska — La Bodega. It has many draft beers available for sale, and when I asked if I could fill the 128oz uKeg they said, “Of course!”  

I had it filled with an exclusive IPA brewed by Midnight Sun Brewing Co. for a restaurant called The Potato, located in McCarthy and also Valdez.  The beer is called Hop Potato IPA, brewed with (no, not potatoes) Idaho 7 hops.  This is a one batch beer at this time, so you can only get it at The Potato restaurants in Valdez, or McCarthy, but there is also only one keg at La Bodega because the owner is friends with owners of The Potato.  I enjoyed this beer greatly two weeks ago at the release party in McCarthy, so naturally I filled the uKeg with this IPA.  So my house might be the only place in Anchorage to get a draft pint of Hop Potato from a CO2-charged dispensing growler keg, thanks to my uKeg!

Using the system is pretty easy.  I first cleaned and sanitized the uKeg with just an iodine rinse and a second rinse with plain water.  Then the fill at the growler bar.  Put the cap together with the CO2 cartridge, adjust the pressure and pour away!  There is a cute little button to lock the tap closed so it won’t pour out while in transit.  The gooseneck on the faucet swivels in order to fit better in a backpack. The people at GrowlerWerks really designed this product well!  It holds two growlers, so expect to pay double, but you won’t have to feel obligated to finish the beer in one session, since it will stay fresh in the uKeg. 

Cheers to GrowlerWerks for inventing the uKeg and bringing draft beers to the nano scale!  

ukeg growlerwerks

How to Tell If You’re Looking at Real Art, or a Reproduction

~ by Maria Benner

The name of our business is Real Art Is Better, and people often ask, “What is real art?”  Although there is no widely-accepted definition, generally people know it when they see it.  Right after buying one of Scott’s original oil paintings, customers often exclaim, “This is my first piece of real art!”  But simply put, when speaking about wall art, real art is original paintings that an artist actually created by hand.  They can be oil, acrylic, pastel, water colors, etc.  The reason I’m writing this post, is because I’ve noticed that often people have a difficult time differentiating between real works, and reproductions.  And that’s largely due to the way art reproductions are often presented by artists and galleries to look like “real art”.

Reproductions of art come in many forms, and often they are hung on walls of galleries without a proper explanation, masquerading as real art, when in fact, the piece is a reproduction.  So, pay close attention if you’re about to buy a piece, to be sure that you’re getting an original, if that’s what you want.  There’s nothing wrong with buying, or selling reproductions, just as long as the customer is aware that he/she is not getting the real thing.  The best way to tell the difference is by reading the details on the price tag.

Giclée – a high quality reproduction using an inkjet printer.  These are often printed on canvas, and look almost like the real thing.  Pay attention to the price tag, it should tell you whether the piece is a giclée, often also referred to as a “print on canvas”.  Often they are framed to make them look even more like originals.

Prints – these reproductions are easier to recognize, because they are printed on paper most of the time, but can also be printed on canvas, metal, wood, you name it.  Sometimes these are framed as well.  The price tag should say “print”.  Some prints are limited-edition, which means there’s a number under the image like 112/500.  This means that only 500 copies will be produced, and you’re looking at copy #112.  Sometimes prints are signed by the artist.  The smaller the number of total prints produced, the more valuable the print.

So, next time you’re perusing art at a gallery, pay close attention to the price tags to see how art is labeled.  If the tag says “oil on panel” or “acrylic on canvas” then you know you’re buying real art.  Sometimes artists will paint a few strokes onto a canvas print, which is a nice touch, and makes the painting look more like an original.  In this case, the tag should say “painted giclée”, or “painted canvas print”, or something similar.

Scott sells original oil paintings and limited-edition, signed prints.  You can differentiate easily between his prints and originals.  At an art show, or at the studio, the art hanging on the walls is real.  Each piece is an oil painting on panel, framed in a natural wood frame.  There is only one in all of existence, and the value of it will increase over time.  Limited-edition, signed prints are in the black print bins.  They are printed on paper with archival ink by an inkjet printer in our studio, signed by Scott, and numbered.  Prints can also increase in value, but not as much as originals.  We chose to make prints, because we realized that some people don’t have a budget for originals, but still love the images, and we want them to be able to enjoy them.

To see the latest Clendaniel originals and prints, I invite you to attend Scott’s art opening on June 7th at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. in Anchorage.  He will kick off the art show at 5pm by tapping a firkin of Sloth Belgian-style stout barrel aged in bourbon barrels and cask-conditioned with tart cherries soaked in Cabernet!  Scott’s paintings and prints will be on display at the brewery and available for sale until July 4th.  If you’re on Facebook, here’s a link to the FB event.

Black Note Stout by Bell's Brewing Oil Painting by Beer Artist Scott Clendaniel

Framed original oil painting.

Limited-edition print, numbered and hand-signed by the artist.

Limited-edition print, numbered and hand-signed by the artist.

Beer Painting of Solid Gold Premium Lager by Founders Brewing Co.

Solid Gold — ice cold!  I don’t know if I can call this the holy grail of beers, that distinction is reserved for barrel aged brews with an ABV over 10%.  The Solid Gold Premium Lager by Founders Brewing Co. in Michigan is way better than any other beer you can buy at this price point.  When I get done doing yard work here at our log cabin in McCarthy, Alaska, I don’t want a whale of a beer to quench my thirst and ice my aching hands.  I‘m looking for a traditional American premium lager, something that is thirst-quenching and not too strong for the after workday libation.  The first one goes down in about 10 minutes and that’s if I try to sip and savor.  If I were to start with something stronger, I might have a good time, but won’t be good for much, except rolling around in the moss giggling to myself.  This lager tastes as good as any premium Mexican lager, but at a much lower price point.  

Founders opened its doors in 1997 right about the time craft beer was still called microbrew, and discerning Americans were still drinking wine.  In 1997 ice beer was all the rage, and thank the heavens that Founders started to show the world that beer can be classy, should be drank from a glass, and should be valued rather than looked down upon.  I say if you are a macro domestic lager fan and are tired of supporting the Clydesdale of brewing, give Solid Gold a try.  A win-win — stay a bit less drunk and keep some extra money in your pocket.  Your friends will thank you at the next backyard bbq, when you show up with a case of the SG when they can still drive home after dominating the corn hole pitch.  A perfect brew for pong or any game that requires dexterity.  Try new beers, but keep drinking this premium lager as new brews are silver but this one is Solid Gold!

This original oil painting, and limited-edition prints are available at my Etsy shop RealArtIsBetter.

Solid Gold Premium Lager by Founders Brewing Co. Oil on panel, 8"x10", by Scott Clendaniel.

Solid Gold Premium Lager by Founders Brewing Co. Oil on panel, 8″x10″, by Scott Clendaniel.

 

1% for Art Project for Gladys Wood Elementary: Part I

Tomorrow is the May First Friday Art Walk, and normally we would have converted our studio into a pop-up gallery for the evening, and opened it to the public, but this month I’m working on a huge 1% for Art project for Gladys Wood Elementary that is taking up most of the space in the studio, so open studio events have to be postponed.  This is our second 1% for Art project.  The first one was in 2017 at Ryan Middle School in Fairbanks.  Right about this time last year I was awarded the Gladys Wood Elementary project, and now I am finally putting oil paint on panels.

Signing the contract and receiving the first payment installment took about a month.  In the meantime I started working on design concepts for four large ellipse paintings for walls in two different hallways, themed Spring and Fall, and six circles for the ceilings in those hallways.  The committee of ten people approved the designs immediately, which was so much faster and easier than I expected.  Then we left the country for a month, but when we returned we started looking for contractors to help us install the panels securely, especially since six of them are going to be on the ceiling.  I decided to hire the same crew that remodeled the school, since they know the admin staff, and everything about those walls they built.  Luckily Cornerstone General Contractors agreed to work with me, even-though this project is small potatoes for them.  About a week after my conversation with the contractor, that 7.1 earthquake hit, and I didn’t hear back from those guys for about two months, which was totally understandable.  I didn’t really mind, because the holiday season was in full swing, and we were busy mailing orders, and selling art at craft fairs around town.  So finally, in January, I ordered all the panels from Hardware Specialties, a great wood store, and arranged with the property manager of the building where we lease our studio to get some extra working space.  Luckily, there’s a huge room downstairs that is vacant at the moment, with a garage door for easy unloading from the truck!  So we unloaded all the wood panels, and then Maria and I went to the school and made templates out of paper and tape of the four ellipses, so I could trace the templates onto the panels.  That took us two evenings.

Maria helping to make a template of the ellipse shape, with an opening for an outlet.

The next step was to trace and cut the panels, which I accomplished with a skilsaw and my trusty sander.  I finished that step right before we left on a two-week ski trip to Idaho and Utah.

All the panels cut for four ellipses, and six circles.

So now the contractors finally came into the picture.  We hired two strong guys to help us pre-install the panels.  I really wanted to make sure they would fit, before I started painting, and also, to figure out where all the screw holes would be, so I could try to camouflage them in the design.  The pre-install took two evenings.  Those guys were great to work with!

Next, I sanded the surface of the panels to remove any wood texture, and coated them with two coats of white primer.  Then we coated them with gold paint.  The gold shines through small gaps in the oil paint, making my paintings glow when light hits them at certain angles.  Before I could start painting the design with oils, I had to figure out where I could work on such large pieces.  One option was to lay them out on the floor, but I’ve worked on the floor before, and it’s painful after many hours of crouching.  So I modified my existing easel with 1x3s so it would hold an entire ellipse at once.  The whole set up barely fits in my studio!

At this point I have finished one ellipse for the Spring hallway, and am now working on the second one.  Progress is steady, and I’m expecting to finish on time and on budget.  The deadline is October 2019.

The first ellipse completed for the Spring hallway.

Work in progress on the second ellipse for the Spring hallway.

Zip Kombucha Taproom Review

~ by Maria Benner

I try to find places to hang out before they get discovered by everyone else, and become too crowded for my comfort.  Mostly because I dislike waiting in line (like a typical Alaskan), and prefer less noisy environments where I can easily communicate with my friends.  The Zip Kombucha tap room is one of those places that is still mostly under the radar.  I shouldn’t even tell you about it, but at the same time, I want it to prosper.

I prefer brewery taprooms over bars, because they offer a comfortable setting without the meat-market/sketchy vibe that most bars have.  This taproom is unique in that it offers draft beer in a brewery-taproom setting, but can stay open past 8pm.  It can also have live music and games.  The craft beer selection is really top-notch.  Last week it was the only place in Anchorage that had No Woman No Cryo IPA by Girdwood Brewing on tap.  The price is a very reasonable $5 per pint!  For those who don’t want to drink alcohol, or are gluten-free, kombucha is on tap in several delightful flavors like blueberry, ginger, or mint.  Wine is also on the menu.  Delicious and healthy food is available as well.  Recently, Glacier Bowl teamed up with Zip to offer poke bowls.  Several nights a week there is live entertainment including open-mic night, and music by local musicians.  The large space in the brewery even has enough room for dance lessons.  The taproom also exhibits art by local artists.  In April the featured artist is Scott.  His oil paintings and limited-edition prints are on display and available for sale through Zip until May 2nd.  This place has it all!

What is kombucha?  It’s a beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria.  It tastes sweet and sour at the same time, but the flavors are not overwhelming.  The yeast eats most of the sugar, so this beverage won’t rot your teeth, and it’s loaded with probiotics.  Added flavors like ginger, berries and mint really shine in this clear and fizzy drink.

So next time you’re looking for a quiet, yet hip space to meet your friends where you can get food, craft beer, and non-alcoholic, gluten-free beverages, along with entertainment, and art, check out the Zip Kombucha taproom at 3404 Arctic Blvd.  The location in midtown is convenient, with plenty of parking.  Open every day 4-9pm.

Kombucha and draft beer menu.

Live music in the Zip Kombucha taproom.

Ahi poke bowl by Glacier Bowl.

Mint kombucha.