Ric Brooks – Featured Artist

Lloyd Swanton during the Necks performance

Laurie Anderson with Kronos Quartet

Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond





Love is in the air.  And it’s on our walls.

It’s hanging there, mostly in bold colors, as a clear statement that photographer Ric Brooks loves music makers almost as much as he loves their music.

For years, Brooks has been the official unofficial photographer of Big Ears.  And it’s a role he loves.

He’s a straightforward guy, I suspect he wouldn’t tell you any lies.  So when he repeats that he isn’t a professional photographer, you believe that he believes it.  Yet when you look at his work, you’ll recognize that he is a passionate shutterbug – which, in many ways, is exactly what you want for a festival that touches the very heart of passion.

Artist Ric Brooks

His collection of work now hanging on our Market Square walls spans 2009 – 2017 and is mostly comprised of artists in action shots.  Each one is a studied photo in its way.  Brooks says, “I’m in the audience, listening, and I see a photograph that I want to take. Say, I see this look on the artist’s face, and I know I want to photograph it. I’ll have to take 3 or 4 just to get that expression.  Lots of musicians will do certain things, make a move or something to get that high note; you know it – it’s what people call the guitar face.  But you can see that happening in the song so you know it’s going to come back on the chorus or somewhere. I’m waiting for it. I know what photo I want.”

Some of the shots have a curious intimacy to them.  There’s a striking moment when it would seem that he made eye contact with Laurie Anderson but, “of course she couldn’t see me. That’s chance.  She can’t see me out in the audience.  I don’t like to get up close.”

Brooks opines that it might be that, like Schrodinger’s cat, the artist, even in performance, changes when observed so closely by the eternal possibilities represented by a lens: “Surely as an artist you have to feel the presence of the photographer, and wonder ‘is it looking good, is that the correct side?’ “

The exhibit represents just a fraction of his search for the images he likes and an extensive association with musicians.

Brooks and Big Ears founder Ashley Capps have a long and continuous friendship that dates back to Kindergarten.  When Capps started doing concerts at the Laurel Theatre way back when, Brooks was there with a camera and, sometimes, catering too.  When Capps opened Ella Guru’s, Brooks was there, managing, taking tickets, and meeting, hearing and watching.

Despite his wariness at labeling himself, Brooks is certainly conscious of his work as an art form – whether he admits it or not.   Each photograph is a full image; one that extends all the way to the edge and border of the photograph, which are beautifully coupled by a stamp bearing his signature.  Brooks carved the soapstone stamp himself, an inspiration drawn from his time in Japan, where he taught English for 4 years when just out of college.  The stamp means “Little River, “ he says. “It’s my name.”

This distinctive element binds the subject, the art and the artist.  And one might opine that this considered and loving combination represents a sense of a work’s entirety and rests at the heart of what makes Ric Brooks’ Big Ears photography so alluring.  “I’m not assignment,” he says, which means he’s not visiting 3 or 4 concerts a night collecting images that he needs to post before a deadline: “I like to photograph a whole concert.”

His approach is a long form that yields a lot of treasure that we’re happy to share.

“Big Ears Big Eyes – Big Ears photos from 2009-2017”, an exhibit of photographs by Ric Brooks will be on view at the downtown Tomato Head on Market Square from March 5th thru April 1st.  The exhibit will then be on view at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from April 3rd thru May 7th.

Hot Milk Cake


Despite the digital age and the ease of having all my favorite books on a portable screen, I’m still dedicated to the real thing.  Books fit my hand, and there’s something particularly satisfying about holding the bottom corner of the next page of between my thumb and index finger; it’s a tease to my anticipation.

And with actual books, when I’m browsing through a bookstore, a sense of the hunt comes over me – and that feeling’s never so intense as when it’s a used bookshop that is my hunting ground.  It’s a treasure hunt, made complete by the enticing, almost delicious aroma of old books and their inevitable dust.  Pages old and new have their own scents that mingle into something that I find almost intoxicating.

But the hunt has other, better rewards if I’m prowling for cookbooks, something I can never seem to stop doing.  Cookbooks can yield the finest treasures, especially if they’ve been well used by thoughtful cooks who scribble notes in the margins that reveal certain truths or elucidate some mystery.  Perhaps they’re adjusted cooking times, or oven temperatures, or some reminder of an improvement – things like, “needs more vanilla” or “better with pecans,” living moments that bear witness to that best of recommendations for recipes and cookbooks, too – that they been used more than once.

If you’re particularly lucky, there may be even more treasure in the form of newspaper clippings, perhaps yellowed and nearly crackling cuttings that help date books for the time of their use – a small window into the past of the book’s owner.  Or, when the fates smile, the book may have the richest treasure of them all: an original recipe.

My favorite of these come on an index card, handwritten in ballpoint pen, stained and faded with use, complete with little corrections, changes that tell that the recipe is tried, true and perfected along the way.

This how our current recipe came to us.

Mahasti found a lovingly used treasure, The Cake Cookbook by Lilith Rushing and Ruth Voss, while on her own used book expedition.  Published in 1965, the book’s cover speaks of an era of doilies under cakes and napkins between fine china tea cups and their saucers.  The authors, sisters, are pictured by their biographies: Lilith, in wise and frameless glasses, also wrote children’s stories for the Farmer-Stockman of Oklahoma City and married a Kansan; Ruth, the younger sister in cat’s eye frames, was the associate editor of the Thomas, Oklahoma Tribune, and lived with her bachelor son.

Two red cardboard leaves are pasted inside the front cover of the book, and on them are written the names Tommy and Kathlyn.  Perhaps one of them, (Kathlyn, Mahasti imagines) also took a black, ball point pen to a 3 and half by five, lined index card to record a recipe for Hot Milk Cake.

It’s a cake that seems to have been fairly standard in the American kitchen from the early 1900’s until faded out of favor in the late 60’s or 70’s.  We imagine that Kathlyn copied the recipe from her mother’s or grandmother’s cookbook, perhaps it was her favorite, perhaps it was the one that mom loved best.

The cake itself is a like a sponge cake but calls for some baking powder to help the cake rise.  It’s one of those rich and moist cakes that tastes of vanilla and butter and comfort.  Often it was served alone without adornment or just touched with a simple glaze.  Kathlyn doesn’t tell us how her cake was finished, but we’re betting it all gotten eaten with or without something extra on top.

HOT MILK CAKE (exactly as it was hand written)

Mix in a Big Bowl

4 eggs

2C Sugar

Sift Together

2C Flour

2 tspb. b. Powder

½ tsp salt


1C Boiling Milk into which 1 stick of Butter Has been cut up


1 tsp vanilla

Pour in a well greased & Floured tube cake pan

Bake 50 min in 350⁰

Chocolate Chip Cookie Day!

We don’t mean this as a bait and switch, per se.  It is not actually chocolate chip cookie day as the food calendar would have it, but, honestly, everyday there’s a warm cookie nearby is a de facto festival in my book.  Today, while we are, in fact, celebrating the chocolate chip cookie, we’re doing it all on our own terms.

Almost every package of chocolate chips has a recipe for cookies on the back; some have that most famous of chocolate chip cookie recipes, the Toll House Cookie.  At least our package did, and Mahasti decided to follow that recipe exactly and to the letter.  When the cookies came out of the oven, Mahasti concluded that it was a good time to do a little tweaking…

We’re including the recipe, but we hope you’ll take a moment to watch the cookie making in action!  While you’re there, subscribe – we have good stuff cooking all the time.


Flour Head Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Cookie

2 sticks unslated butter, softened

½ cup Light Brown Sugar

½ cup Granulated Sugar

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

2 large Eggs, room temperature

2 ¼ cup All Purpose Flour

1 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Salt

2 cups Chocolate Chips

1 cup Chopped Walnuts

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy.  Scrape the bowl down and with the mixer running on low speed add the vanilla, followed by the eggs – one at a time, and allowing the first egg to mix in before adding the second.  Scrape the bowl down after the second egg has completely mixed in.

In a small bowl mix together the flour with the salt and baking powder.  Whisk briefly to remove the lumps in the flour.  With the mixer running on low speed add the dry ingredients and mix until all the flour is inocorporated into the mixture.  Scrape the bowl down oen more time and mix for 15 – 20 seconds, then gradually add the chocolate chips followed by the nuts and mix until they are mixed in.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Scoop as many cookies as you would like to bake onto a parchment lined cookie sheet, allowing 2 inches between each cookie.  Flatten the cookies slightly and bake on the middle rack for 12- 13 minutes or until the edges are starting the brown.  Cool cookies on a cooling rack for 5- 10 minutes then enjoy.

Scoop the remainder of your cookie dough onto a parchment lined plate.  Freeze the cookie dough balls for 20- 30 minutes.  Transfer the dough balls to a Ziploc bag and freeze for up to 6 weeks.

To bake cookies from frozen, simply thaw the cookies 1 hour before baking then follow the baking instructions above.

Featured Artist Kimberly Pack


Playwright Edward Albee famously decried the efforts of critics and scholars to identify too much “connective tissue” in his work.  Albee said he didn’t control characters – they act the way they act because that’s who they are, and they do what they do because that’s what they want to do.  For Albee, writing, art if you will, isn’t limited or necessarily driven by what happens to the creator of the work.  Albee might have opined that in art, like life, the artist starts something, somewhere for reasons known or unknown, but once started that creation careens off in its own direction.

Artist Kimberly Pack, whose exhibit currently hangs in our Market Square location, isn’t exactly sure where the characters in her work came from, but she does know that they have taken up residence in her imagination where they seem to have heard and heeded a call to be fruitful and multiply.

A quick look at her collection of drawings (ink on watercolor paper) is enough to tempt an observer into wondering if these strange little people have some connection to the artist’s life:  Are they personal demons trying to get out?  Are they unkind caricatures of unpleasant characters from her past? Are they born of some great sadness or a little touch of madness?

Pack isn’t sure where her inspiration is born, but when asked about the genesis of the drawings she describes a combination of habit, self-improvement, and the mystery of inspiration’s spark:

“When my kids were growing up they never just got to sit and watch cartoons; they had to be coloring, or they could be playing with Legos or Hot Wheels –  just doing something.  So I was in the habit of sitting with a movie on and drawing circles. Just drawing circles.  And then a few years ago I recognized that I’d just never been able to draw in a way that I was happy with.  So I got one of these books, something like ‘20 Ways to Draw a Tree’ and I started drawing.  I’m not joking.”

As her drawing continued, Pack still stuck with circles but then “there were eyes, and faces, and shoulders, and then they started getting bigger and bigger and with more detail.  I do it every day; I can’t stop drawing these guys.  It just makes me happy.”

A few, and only a few of the current drawings have a connection to the real world.  One drawing, she says, is inspired by her father’s World’s Fair Season Pass photo, another by a picture of actor Viggo Mortensen, but mostly, “I just sit down and draw from nothing.”

Pack is aware that some people may not quite see her characters as she does or understand their essential happiness and whimsy: “Drawing them calms my mind but also leaves me very happy. I’m not a tortured artist – I get joy from their faces. I’ve always loved cartoons.  I’m nearly 50 and still do. “Futerama” and “Rick and Morty” – I love them and so I guess I like to look at things that are kind of cartoony or just whimsical.   You may not look at them and think these are whimsy.  But I do.”

Kimberly Pack will be on view at the Market Square Tomato Head thru March 4th, 2018.  She will exhibit at the West Knoxville Gallery Tomato Head from March 6th thru April 2nd, 2018.

Tomato Head’s White Bean Chili

White Bean Chili


White Bean Chili Recipe


2 cups dry White Beans, checked for stones and soaked overnight

¼ cup Oil

½ cup Onion, chopped

3 large cloves Garlic, minced, about 2 TBL

Preparing to Cook

1 large Poblano Pepper, seeded and chopped

4 cups Water or Chicken Broth

1 cup Cooked Chicken, white and or dark meat shredded

2 tsp Salt

3 TBL Cilantro, chopped

2 TBL Cumin

½ tsp smoked Paprika

1 tsp Chipotle Pepper, chopped fine

2 TBL Cornmeal

½ cup Heavy Cream (optional)

Drain beans, place them in a medium pot and cover with enough water to cover the beans at with a couple of inches of water.  Bring the beans to boil, skim off the foam on top, reduce heat to medium and cook until beans are soft, for about 1-1.5 hours, adding more water if necessary.

Meanwhile chop onion, poblano peppers, and garlic.  In a large 6-7-quart pot, heat ¼ cup of oil on medium heat.  Add onion and sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Add garlic and poblano peppers, and sauté for 1-2 minutes longer.  If your beans are not soft, turn the heat off and let vegetables rest until the beans are soft.

Toppings to Customize

When beans are soft, drain the beans, saving the cooking liquid.  Pour cooked beans into the pot with the sautéed vegetables.  Measure your cooking liquid and bring the total liquid up to 4 cups by adding either water or chicken broth.  Add liquid to beans and turn the heat on to medium then give the beans a good stir.  Add the cooked chicken, salt, cumin, paprika and chipotle pepper and stir to combine.  Bring the mixture back to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes until the poblano peppers are soft.  Sprinkle the cornmeal into the pot while stirring constantly to avoid clumps, simmer the chili for 5 minutes longer, then add the cream if using; stir and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Serve topped with chopped onion, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, sliced radish, sliced jalapeno, avocado, corn chips or tortillas for a full meal.

Serves 8-10 people.

Warm Winter Pasta Bake


Baked Rigatoni Recipe

8 oz dry Rigatoni Pasta

2.5 cups Spaghetti Sauce

1 ½ cups Italian Sausage, cooked

2 cups Spinach, chopped

1 cup Ricotta Cheese

3 TBL Basil, Chopped

2 TBL Heavy Cream

2 cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook pasta one minute less than the suggested cook time on the package in a large pot of salted water.  Drain the noodles into a strainer, rinse with cold water, and place in a large mixing bowl.

Add 2 cups spaghetti sauce to noodles and toss well to coat.  Add Italian sausage and spinach and toss to distribute the ingredients well.  Pour the other ½ cup sauce in the bottom of a medium cast-iron skillet or an 8×11 baking dish, then pour pasta mixture over the sauce.

In a small bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, basil and heavy cream.  Drop the ricotta mixture onto the pasta by the spoon-full, distributing the cheese evenly.  Top with shredded mozzarella.  Place the baking dish in the oven, uncovered, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese has melted and browned slightly.  Remove from the oven when done.  Allow the dish to sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with some hot bread and a side salad for a complete meal.

Serves 6-8 people.

Shopping List

1 lb box or bag of Rigatoni Noodles, or any tubular noodle of your choice

1 tub Ricotta Cheese

Heavy Cream

1 lb block Whole Milk Mozzarella Cheese

Italian Sausage



Equipment list

Medium Stockpot


Cutting Board

Chef’s Knife

Cast Iron Skillet

Small & Large Mixing Bowls

Dry Measuring Cups

Liquid Measuring Cups

Measuring Spoons

Wooden Cooking Spoon

Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce




½ of a large onion, diced (about 1 cup)

6 large cloves garlic, chopped (about 2 TBL)

¼ cup oil

2 – 20 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes

1 ½ cups water

1 – 3/4 ounce box of fresh basil, stems removed and chopped (about 3 tbsp)

2 ½ tsp salt

1 TBL sugar

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic for 2-3 minutes until onion is translucent.

Add tomatoes and water, bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add Basil, salt and sugar.  Use and immersion blender to blend the sauce smooth.  If blending in a traditional blender, cool the sauce before blending to avoid hot sauce splattering.

Makes 7 cups

Use immediately or divide up and freeze.

Kendra Carter – Featured Artist

“Dear Diary, I feel very hopeful today…”

One of my favorite (and most honest) editors warned me to avoid making my columns sound like diary entries.  But sometimes the subject of an assignment creates a sincere emotional moment for a writer, and it’s nearly impossible to eschew the personal response.  Of course, there’s a little leeway when writing about art as there’s often a blurry area between creation and creator; and in the case of our newest exhibit at the Gallery Location, “My Way” by Kendra Carter, there’s a lot to love in the artwork, of course, but the path leading to it is a story that, in modern parlance, gave me all the feels.

Kendra works primarily in acrylic to which she adds a pourable medium to create Fluid Art – you’ll know it when you see it in her exhibit.  But the idea of flow was a pervasive element in my conversation with Kendra both in terms of her current output as well as a part of what led her to this period of creativity.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of art therapy?” She asks. “It’s definitely been a help to me. The work gives me a sense of peace and clarity, and it quiets my mind. I’m a worrier.  I’m the kind of person who lays in bed and worries about when my 11-year-old starts driving.”

But finding her way to this outlet didn’t begin with a happy moment.  On the contrary, she says that “I just started a year or so ago really putting forth the effort to create art consistently.  My father passed away in January of last year and honestly that gave me this almost philosophical life crisis. I think it was what made me change my career.”

Carter was the manager of a large hair salon, and it was the kind of job she’d done all her life: “I’ve always managed people and systems, and I’m good at it. But I got to where I didn’t really enjoy it. Everybody else who worked there was able to make other people feel beautiful.  But I wasn’t doing anybody’s hair, I was writing people up for being late.  I really needed a way to express emotion, and art is how I’ve always been able to do that; I have a lot of emotion to express. I just needed a change and that’s sort of how I came to this.”

Although her job shift led her to invest more time in creative activities, Carter also found time to volunteer at a homeless shelter: “My husband was doing it, and although I am more drawn to help with needy children, this was a good place to start.  You feel needed there and purposeful.  And maybe everybody wants that, but I certainly was looking for that – especially in the last year.  And I was looking for a way to fill the need to create.  I don’t think I was looking to have an exhibit or anything, but then as my work accumulated, I thought it might be fun.  It’s intimidating to present stuff you’ve made, things that that come from your soul for other people to look at.  You hope they have some sort of reaction, something that makes them feel something – whether it’s what you felt or not it doesn’t matter – as long as it’s something.”

Although she has dabbled in many forms, Carter’s current work lives squarely in the abstract.  It’s a liberating style, she says, that allows her to express her inner rebel:  “What I love about abstract so much is that it is so freeing. I hate to be controlled and basically I don’t like being told what to do.  Of course, I can conform and I can definitely follow rules and accept certain things.  But maybe this is just my way of rebelling outside of societal parameters. I don’t know but it does seem really freeing to me.”

In the ensuing year Kendra’s work has taken up a lot of space in her home and garage.  It’s a space she shares with a husband who likes things to be a little more orderly, perhaps, than allowed by a life full of canvass and paint and the sundry material that go with them: “He’s the kind of guy who likes things to be in the right place, and now there’s paint on the garage floor and the walls are covered with color. But he’s been very supportive from the time I decided to change my career on, he said ‘I don’t care if you sell one piece, you can cover all the walls if that’s what you need to be happy.’”

Some stories have happy endings – or better yet, new and happy beginnings.  This one does, and you can see it for yourself.  Kendra Carter’s exhibit, My Way hangs in our Gallery Location.

Kimchee Soup



¾ cup onion, chopped

2 TBL garlic, chopped

½ cup ginger, chopped

3 TBL Oil

1 cup kimchee, chopped

3 TBL Gochujang

4 cups water

3 TBL soy sauce

1 tsp black soy sauce

½ tsp five spice powder

3 tsp sugar

1TBL Sriracha

2 cups Napa cabbage, chopped

1 tsp sesame oil

Ramen Noodles – spice pack saved for another use

Hard Boiled Eggs

Kimchee for garnish

Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic and ginger, then reduce heat and sauté for 2-3 minutes stirring occasionally.  Add Kimchee, Gochujang, water, soy sauce, black soy sauce, five spiced powder, sugar, and Sriracha.  Bring the mixture to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add Napa cabbage and cook for 5 minutes until cabbage is slightly softened.  Add Sesame oil and remove the soup from the burner.

To serve the soup:

Bring a pot of water to boil, add the dry ramen noodles and cook for 2 minutes.  Drain the noodles and divide into bowls, top the noodles with soup.  Garnish the bowls with a little more chopped kimchee and hard boiled eggs


© 2016 The Tomato Head Site by: Robin Easter Design