Celebrate with MONET

Author’s Note: Before we get to the Food, I want to thank Couleur Nature for sharing their incredibly lovely French tablelinens as backdrop for Monet’s Food. I remember seeing their tablecloths for the first time some 15 years ago. Before I could Cook, let alone make Cassoulet! I was “antiquing” with my grandmother, Mima, in Pasadena. (She loved “Good Design.”) There was a vendor selling beautiful old platters but I fell hard for the cheery, obviously well-made tablecloth beneath.  We went back and forth until finally I convinced her to sell me her tablecloth. I use it most weeks still. What I love about Couleur Nature is not just the daily beauty they bring to my kitchen, but the memory of my grandmother. Shopping with me in the sunshine… Mima died two years ago this Spring. And I think of her every time I unfurl that gorgeous cloth onto my kitchen table. It’s been a real honor working with Couleur Nature again on this article.

When I started writing about Artists & Food last year, I had no idea I’d find a real thread of similarity across history. First with Frida and her Recipes, Robert Townsend (L.A. based & awesome) and with Monet. Three Artists who could not be more different if they tried. But each one living a purposeful aesthetic. An intentional way of being. Of creating.

Life Lived Beautifully. And Intentionally… The Parlor at Giverny.

For Monet, the second half of Life was ripe with the celebrations and deliciousness denied him in the first half. Giverny provided important sanctuary. Space to grow as a newly blended family with Alice Hoschede, Monet’s second wife, after Camille sadly died from cancer. Giverny was an oasis of seemingly “wild” waves of color — vibrantly lush! — in every direction.  Lilac shadows and dappled sunlight. Fragrant, blooming flowers, tranquil pond, and VERY organized, kitchen garden. Not an inch wasted. Giverny was a carefully structured orchestra of year-round care, grounds maintenance, and painting schedules.

Alice & Claude Monet’s restored Kitchen. Alice died in 1911 and Blanche, her daughter, took over as mistress of Giverny. When Monet died in 1926, the house continued for family and dwindling chorus of artists and friends until WWI devoured Europe. September 1940, on the brink of WWII, Blanche “wrote to Count Matternich asking him to protect the house. An official notice was pinned to the door, stating “This is Monet’s House. Forbidden to the forces of occupation.” Blanche lasted until June the following year before closing Giverny. It’s said cook Marguerite handed over her apron here in this kichen, leaving sadly in a red truck. For it was over. And Giverny deserted.

Domestic harmony being paramount for Monet, mealtimes ran like clockwork: three multi-course meals cooked by Maguerite (from scratch) per day. Fresh cut flowers in every room. Alice at the helm intentionally crafting an elegant, creatively “Artsy” Lifestyle while simultaneously protecting now-famous Monet’s privacy… and satiating his hunger. Monet built three studios at Giverny and painted every morning and late afternoon, allowing only Alice in and later, Blanche, his stepdaughter. Alice would meal-plan the week ahead or embroider while Monet painted. I love that visual… Two people so in love with each other, food and art! With daily meals,  acts of seasonal celebration.

One of Monet’s many food paintings.  Monet painted abundant scenes in courtyards, parks, picnics, and sweet family moments through his entire career… even if early reality was cold, hungry, and impoverished.

For Monet reveled in the appetizing! Bragging that he “ate the weight of three men” per meal. Insisting on a beautiful table (even when times were lean). After reading countless pages these past eight months, surviving Giverny recipes boast early “Farm to Table” fare that had to be flavorful but never fussy.  Alice and Monet, both born upper middle class, understood that domestic beauty was vital but always appear effortless. Monet insisting on eating well in celebration of season, family, and finally, financial success as Artist.

Shellfish was a true delicacy. Giverny initially boasted no Ice Box, making safe storage of these beauties difficult! Shellfish served was always a cause for Celebration! Miyagi Oysters shown here on La Mer Tablecloth from Couleur Nature.

Out of all the recipes I’ve read, these are some of my favorites — partly because they are unfussy, delicious, and easily switched up. I want to share them with you and hope you make them too for your loved ones!

Celebrating each other as the Monet/Hoschedes so often did.

 

SMOKED SALMON SPREAD ON BAGUETTE WITH CHIVES & THYME

Smoked Salmon on Toasted Baguette. Dean snuck one before I started photographing and kept saying “oh these are good!” while I worked! Shown here on Couleur Nature’s stunning Scalloped Marble Platter, Cherry Blossom tablecloth, and Grasse napkins. (I never match).

Ingredients:

  • 1-1.5 cups total goat cheese, creme fraiche, plain yogurt
  • Fresh chives
  • Fresh Thyme
  • 1 Lemon
  • About 1/4 lb Smoked Salmon Slices
  • 1 Baguette or French Bread

This dish is a perfect appetizer or light dinner! It takes minutes to prepare and pairs beautifully with chilled Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Champagne. Monet thought Veuve Clicquot the best and ordered it often for Alice.

In one bowl, mix well 1-1.5 cups goat cheese and creme fraiche with a splash of plain yogurt or half-and-half. Wash and chop fresh thyme and chives to taste. Zest or finely chop lemon peel and mix in  (I use a vegetable peeler and peel three strips before chopping.) Salt/fresh ground pepper. (A wooden spoon works best.)

Next, coarse chop about 1/4 lbs smoked salmon slices and mix into the cheese mix. I do add a splash of fresh lemon juice.

Slice & toast French bread or Baguette and spread salmon on each. Arrange on this pretty platter and dust with more chopped chives.

 

MONET SCRAMBLE

Our New Favorite. Perfect for brunch or easy night in! Served fireside on Gingham Two-Toned Napkins and Marble Platter with Bistro Glasses and Grasse Napkins.

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 Eggs
  • 2-3 slices Prosciutto (hand torn bite-sized)
  • 1 Shallot (chopped)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2-1 red Tomato (seeds drained and rough chopped)
  • 3 Asparagus (woody part discarded, cut bite-sized)iitake or Morel Mushrooms (for prep: read below)
  • Fresh Chives
  • Salt/Pepper
  • Butter

Marguerite’s Note: Really, there are too many variations of this beauty to try. For us? I “Sonoma-fied” Marguerite’s hand written recipe but kept her Mushroom Secret: And that is to trim the bottom. Cut the stems off entirely and finely slice or dice them. Then, halve or quarter the caps. She thought this preserved the texture of the mushrooms but boosted flavor. After making this scramble three times in the last week? I’ve converted.

Warm a non-stick frying pan (I worship my Lagostina non-stick (thanks to FeedFeed) and my All Clad omelette pan found at Sur La Table!). Melt two tablespoons of butter and add Asparagus. Once aromatic, add Garlic, Shallots and torn Proscuitto. Let Asparagus soften and Prosciutto crisp up a bit. (Add more butter if necessary). Add the chopped chives, salt and fresh cracked pepper (& mix) just before the cheese! Some 30 seconds later? Turn heat way down and add the eggs. Slowly scramble the eggs so they remain soft. Top with more chives and serve immediately with a crisp green salad.

Monet adored light-red wines such as Grenache with this dish. Idle Cellars (my friend Ben) makes some of the finest Grenache in the new world and pairs beautifully. We opted for a warm fire and our cold 2014 Annadel Sauvignon Blanc. Served here on Grasse & Gingham Napkins with Bistro glasses and marble circle.

CHEESE PLATTER WITH PARMA CANTALOUPE BITES

Living on a Vineyard has some perks. One of them is sundown with friends, great wine, and eating Monet’s favorite cheeses! Served here next to our Merlot Blocks on Cherry Blossom Tablecloth and assorted marble platters with Pink & Green Bistro Glasses thanks to Couleur Nature! Roses fresh cut from the garden behind me.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 of 1 Melon (Canteloupe here but any neutral Melon will work)
  • Thinly sliced Prosciutto or Parma Ham
  • 1/2 wheel Camembert
  • Artisan Goat Cheese with Herbs (We like Skyhill Farms from Napa or Laura Chanel)
  • 1 Slice Blue with good marbling
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1-2 Sprigs fresh Mint
  • 1 bottle Veuve Clicquot (Monet favored Veuve above all else and enjoyed it with family at Christmas and every special occasion!)
  • 1 bottle chilled white wine (enjoyed with our Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Toothpicks (the cuter the better)

Easy to assemble! Arrange cheeses on chilled platter.

Next cube canteloupe. Fold bite-sized prosciutto/ham and top with fresh mint leaf. Spear the trio and place on platter. Lightly drizzle with high-quality balsamic vinaigrette. Serve immediately or wait awhile… Chilled marble platters keep everything fresh.

Sunset in the Vineyard, here at the historic Annadel Estate Winery, May 2017

 

MONET & SEAFOOD

Monet had a special place in his heart for fish. In fact, he painted 22 separate paintings along a particular stretch of coastline between Dieppe and Varengeville-sur-Mer. When visiting, Monet stayed at the Hotel La Terrasse where Fruits de la Mer is the house specialty. This “dish” remained a family favorite and was highly prized. Giverny was built before refrigeration so Alice & Monet splurged on this luxury only a few times a year, mostly Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve… In the meantime, Monet enlarged the initially small pond at Giverny and stocked it with fish for eating.

Dean could wait no more to dive into this gorgeous feast! Fresh, wild caught crab, oysters, shrimp and lobster paired beautifully with our 2015 Los Chamizal Vineyards Chardonnay atop Couleur Nature’s new La Mer tablecloth! Dipping sauces set in totally darling painted Aero Ceramic BowlsBistro glasses come in many colors… Chuck Williams selected this style of glass when he first brought back French cookware to America and opened the first Williams Sonoma here in Sonoma. Chuck thought they were practical, good for water, juice or wines, and were pretty. I could not agree more! Thrilled they now come in these beautiful colors at Couleur Nature!

Ingredients:

  • Assortment of fresh, preferably wild-caught fish. Monet loved mussels and clams, oysters, lobster and crab. My kids love all things prawn and I didn’t have the mental energy for mussels and clams so we went easy with oysters and a lobster tail (all to grill) as well as two crabs.
  • Lemon
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Tartar Sauce
  • Cocktail Suace

Shallot Vinaigrette if you do oysters: Chop 1 garlic and 1 shallot. Marinate in rice vinegar and squeeze a bit of hot sauce and fresh lemon into the thin mixture. (Keep it more vinegar than sauce.)

Chill platter in refrigerator. Arrange fresh greens artfully and place shellfish in a pretty pattern.  Garnish with fresh cut lemons.  I like putting bay shrimp in a separate small bowl (they look prettier.) And serve to great cheering of your guests!

 

Bibliography:

Monet’s Palate Cookbook, The Artist & His Kitchen Garden At Giverny, Aileen Bordman & Derek Fell

Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet, Claire Jones (1989 ed.)

Art History, Vol. 2, Marilyn Stokstad

The Art Book, Phaidon

Food With The Famous, Jane Grigson (1979 ed.)

Monet Foundation at Giverny

ROBERT TOWNSEND: Artists & Their Kitchens

FREE COLOR T.V.

Candy Hearts, Robert Townsend, Watercolor. (Sold but a personal favorite).

One perk as a painter, is genuinely appreciating other Artists. And sometimes, becoming really good friends. Robert Townsend is just such a person: stunning Painter — in a League of his own! — and solid family friend.  The fact he’s now a famed painter is just too fun.

I met Rob back in 2004 opening night of “Icons,” his very first solo show. I was a young professional working for the Mayor of L.A. and Rob, a Longshoreman in Long Beach.  Working in a shipyard at night and teaching himself to paint by day. Through books, exhibitions, and museums, Rob mined within a shockingly fine talent for colorfully painting vintage Americana.

Fun Pack, Robert Townsend, Watercolor. Altamira Gallery

Fast forward 10 years, and Life finds Rob and I earnestly still pursuing our dreams.  I make wine and paint in Sonoma and Rob thrives quietly as much sought after Artist, working long months on a single canvas, in Downtown Los Angeles. Remembering to hike and eat the end of most days. We’re still fast friends; it’s been a true joy watching him rise from sweetly awkward new painter to still-humble Star.


Reflections & Rivers, Robert Townsend, Oil.

From pinwheels to chipped neon signs, rusting trucks and forgotten roadside diners, Rob brilliantly catches the mystique and vibrancy of mid-century America. All that cheery, post-war optimism! Cautiously muted with nostalgic sadness for what’s been lost. On a personal note, I especially love his kitchen and food related works. I cook facing a trio of colorful confections he painted for Anni when she was born. It makes our kitchen happy.

Grand Canyon, Robert Townsend, Oil. Hanging in our Dining Room.

NOW. To me? As Rob’s friend and cheerleader, his newfound love for “Helen” is the stuff of Legend.

Helen was a mid-century, Indiana housewife. A woman who loved a good time, backyard barbecues and long road trips across 1960s America. Though Helen died long ago, Rob breaths life back into this huggable woman through a twist of fate — he found an old Kodak slide of Helen from one of her many trips and painted her. Finding his maternal muse in the process — or at least a favorite Aunt.

“Just Kay & Patty,” Robert Townsend, Oil… Rob first called Helen (on Left) “Kay” but later learned her real name in time for the second painting.

In Rob’s words, “…I found some slides on eBay, which had been bought at an Estate Sale in Indiana. I discovered they were part of a huge collection, featuring one very special and delightful woman with jet black hair and an amazing collection of clothes. She loved the camera and the feeling was mutual. I was able to acquire the whole collection” after more than a year of trying. Flying out to meet Helen’s family, even touring her home and small town with her niece.

Helen and Roy were married some 69 years in a Sears & Roebuck kit house. Playing host to many, many memorable backyard and cocktail parties. This is what Rob paints. Her echo. The memories of Laughter. Love. A real zest for Life!

Keeping Up With The Conleys, Robert Townsend, Oil.

Rob now owns (& cares for) some 3,000 slides of Helen, Roy and their loved ones. With 60 paintings planned in coming years – all set during Rob’s cherished mid century modern 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

It’s no wonder Rob doesn’t get much time to cook. Luckily, I fatten him up every couple of months when he visits our Farm.  Below are two recipes Rob makes often. Like, a lot.

Mango Smoothie, Robert Townsend, Watercolor. Owned by Weismann Art Collection.

 

MID CENTURY MODERN CHILI 

Rob’s note: “So here’s the thing, as a single artist working at home, it’s perfect. Spend an hour making it and have easy leftovers for days…. There’s also no onions in this, as I’m not a big onion person, but obviously it could be added along with peppers.”

“Probably” Makes 8 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 1lb ground Turkey
  • 1 can diced organic Tomatoes
  • 2 Carrots
  • 2 Celery
  • 1 Box Low Sodium, Organic Chicken Stock
  • 2 cans Kidney Beans
  • 1 Can Corn
  • 1 Bag Power Greens (Kale or Spinach)
  • Fresh Garlic
  • Smoked Paprika
  • Cayenne
  • Cumin
  • Oregano
  • Chili Powder
  • Salt / Pepper

Recipe explained, “Ok, in a big pot, sauté chopped carrots and celery. Then add Turkey. Break it up and cook to brown turkey. Add spices and garlic [to taste]. Add tomatoes, broth and beans and simmer 30 minutes. Add corn and greens for another 10 minutes.”

“I like to make Trader Joe’s Cornbread to serve with, and drink with an A&W Root Beer. That’s my meal!”

 

ROB’S BREAKFAST SCRAMBLE

Ingredients:

  • Eggs
  • Handful Yukon Gold Potatoes
  • Handful Shredded Cheese (to taste)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt / Pepper

Rob’s Recipe: Cut up some Yukon Gold potatoes and cook 35-45 minutes in olive oil, seasoning salt and pepper. Scramble [or fry up] a couple of eggs. Put potatoes on plate. Eggs on top. Sprinkle shredded cheese on top of the whole thing.”

Enjoy!

EAT, Robert Townsend, Oil.

SOURCES:

Friendship & Cooking for Rob: www.freecolortv.com

Helen Film Trailer, The Art of Robert Townsend (video)

Galleries, Bios, & Available Works: Altamira Fine Art (Tucson), Hespe Gallery (San Francisco), & Imago Gallery (Palm Springs).

Interview at http://www.frankie.com.au/blogs/art/artist-appreciation-robert-townsend-interview

Cook with FRIDA

Mary Cassatt wrote that women must choose between Art or Family & Hearth.  That Mind and Soul cannot properly support both. As an early 20 something, I dismissed that as antiquated. Fast forward 20 years, to me as mother, cook, and painter, I understand. How the Heart and Mind struggle to create each side of itself equally.

Frida’s Kitchen, La Casa Azul. Photo courtesy of the Frida Kahlo Museum

Frida navigated these waters herself. As Artist and as Wife, Artist & Homemaker… “We could not have a child, and I cried inconsolably but I distracted myself by cooking, dusting the house, sometimes by painting…” Though she did not have children, Frida’s focus largely orbited her husband, Diego Rivera. For Frida was most prolific as Artist when apart from Diego — and impassioned Wife and Domestic Goddess when together. Painting early, stopping by eleven to cook/bring Diego lunch and ensure a visually vibrant home with fresh cut flowers, indigenous foods, sculpture, art, monkeys, dogs, talking parrots, beautiful tablescapes… For Frida believed in attractive surroundings — starting with her Kitchen Table.  Teaching even her Art students to move servingware and decorative items around the table to find the most “pleasing manner…” From her kitchen (and home) outward, to see “in a way that was much different from the usual.” That enthusiasm for daily Beauty mattered. That Food and Rituals of Eating, mattered. And still does.

Here is where I ask you to join me!  When I wrote about Frida and her Cooking in October, many wanted to read her recipes. But I confusingly learned that Frida loved to cook and that she did not, that she preferred to host parties, decorate elaborately, or that her cook cooked… Regardless, here are a few (of many) recipes Frida’s stepdaughter remembers cooking and eating in their family kitchen. Most of the books I’ve read recently highlight dishes rooted in pre-Colonial, indigenous ingredients but the following recipes, most of us should be able to make from what we find in our shops and market places — swap in what you can’t find or don’t want to use such as butter or avocado oil for Lard, jalapeño for exotic chiles, etc. For Heritage and Traditions played much loved and revered roles in Frida’s (and Diego’s) Art as well as in the elevation of everyday aesthetics. I’ve only cooked her Shrimp Tacos but plan to cook the rest over the coming weeks… including Diego’s beloved Molè.  Join me!

Frida’s last painting before her death, Watermelons titled “Viva la Vida” (1954)

 

SHRIMP TACOS

(8 servings)

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 serrano chiles, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons / 65 g butter
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 pound / 50g cooked shrimp (peeled/deveined)
  • 24 medium tortillas

Sauté the onion and chiles in butter until the onion is translucent. Add tomatoes and salt/pepper to taste.  Cook for 10 minutes, until the tomato is thoroughly cooked. If the sauce becomes too thick, thin with a little chicken stock or water.

Add the shrimp and cook 2 minutes, just until they are heated through.

Fill the tortillas with the shrimp mixture and serve piping hot. Or serve the shrimp mixture with the tortillas on the side.

Note: I’d grill the tortillas and garnish with chopped cilantro and fresh lime.

 

SOPA SECO DE FIDEO

(8 servings)

  • 1 pound / 500g thin noodles
  • Corn oil
  • 10 medium tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • Salt
  • 3 parsley sprigs
  • 2 cups / 500 ml chicken broth
  • Pasilla chiles, fried and chopped, to taste
  • 2 avocados, peeled and sliced
  • 1& 1/2 cups / 375ml heavy cream
  • 1/2 pound / 250g añejo cheese grated (parmesan, queso fresco, or cojita cheese)

Sauté the noodles in hot oil in a saucepan until golden. Drain off all but three tablespoons of oil.

Puree the tomatoes with the onion, garlic, and salt to taste. Add the puree to the noodles and simmer together until the mixture has thickened. Add the parsley and chicken broth to cover. Cover the saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes, until the noodles are tender and the broth absorbed; add more broth if necessary. Discard the parsley leaves.

Pour the noodle mixture into a heated serving platter and garnish with chiles, avocados, cream and cheese.

 

BLACK BEAN SOUP

(8 servings)

  • 2 tomatoes, roasted and peeled
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 3 cups / 500g cooked black beans
  • 6 cups / 1.5 l cooking liquid from beans (or water)

Garnish:

  • Dried Oregano
  • 1/2 pound / 250g panel cheese, cut into small squares (or mozzarella, muenster, or quest fresco)
  • 3 tortillas, cut in small squares, fried in oil, and drained (or chips)

Puree the tomatoes with the onion, garlic, oregano, and salt to taste. Sauté in hot oil until thickened. Puree the beans with their cooking liquid. Add the bean puree to the tomato mixture and cook 5 to 10 minutes to blend flavors. Serve soup garnished with oregano, cheese, and tortilla squares.

 

ENCHILADAS TAPATíAS

(8 servings)

  • 24 small tortillas
  • Oil

For Sauce

  • 8 to 10 ancho chiles, roasted and deveined
  • 2 cups / 500ml boiling water
  • 1/2 large onion, chopped
  • 2 small garlic cloves
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • Salt
  • 1&1/2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
  • 1 cup / 250ml sour cream
  • 1/2 pound / 250g añejo cheese, crumbled (or cojita or parmesan)

To make Sauce: Soak the chiles in the boiling water for about 10 minutes. Puree and drain. Sauté the onion and garlic in hot oil until translucent. Add the puree and salt to taste.  Cook for about 10 minutes to blend flavors.

Fry tortillas very briefly in hot oil. Dip in sauce, fill with chicken, and roll up. Arrange on a serving platter [or on serving dishes] top with more sauce, then with sour cream. Sprinkle with crumbled cheese.

 

SHORTBREAD COOKIES

(25 to 30 cookies)

  • 1 pound / 450g flour, sifted
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons/ 300g lard
  • 1 cup / 190g superfine sugar
  • 1/4 cup / 60ml rum
  • 2 cups / 160g confectioners sugar

Mound the flour on the counter or in a bowl and make a well in the center. Fill the well with the lard, sugar, and rum. Mix well to make a smooth dough. Roll out 1/2 inch thick. Using a round cookie cutter of desired size, cut the dough into rounds and place on baking sheets. Bake in a preheated 350’F / 175’C oven until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and toss with confectioners’ sugar to coat well.

 

POTATOES IN GREEN SAUCE

(8 servings)

  • 2 pounds / 1k small potatoes
  • 2 pounds / tomatillos, peeled and scrubbed
  • 1 cup / 250ml water
  • 4 serrano chiles
  • Salt
  • 3/4 cup / 100 g coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons lard
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped

Peel the potatoes and parboil them for 1 minute.  Set aside. Simmer the tomatillos with the water, chiles, and salt to taste until tender. Let cool slightly, the puree with the cilantro. Heat the lard in a skillet and sauté the onion until translucent. Add the tomatillo puree and cook for 10 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and continue to cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Note: Find smallest potatoes you can. You may parboil your potatoes 1-2 minutes longer if larger than small.

Serve in shallow bowl pooled with sauce and:

REFRIED BEANS

(8 servings)

  • 1/2 pound / 250g lard
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cups / 500g cooked beans
  • 1 cup / 250ml cooking liquid from [Pinot} beans
  • Salt
  • Grated añejo cheese (or parmesan [or Cojita])
  • Totopos (fried small tortilla triangles)

Heat the lard in a skillet. When it starts to smoke, add the onion and sauté until golden. Add the beans and cooking liquid. Mash the beans to make a puree. Season with salt to taste. When the Beans are well fried and pull away from the bottom of the pan when stirred, remove from the heat. Place the fried beans on a serving platter, shaping them into a log. Sprinkle with cheese and garnish with totopos.

Frida Kahlo, “Still Life With Parrot & Flag” 1933

An excerpt from the exterior wall of Frida’s La Casa Azul Kitchen: “This Kitchen contains a typical Mexican hearth. Although gas stoves were commonly used at the time Diego and Frida lived here, they preferred to cook the old fashioned way, with wood, and to prepare pre-Hispanic, colonial, and traditional dishes… “If we are not our colors, aromas, our people, what are we? Nothing.”

BLACK MOLÈ FROM OAXACA

(16 to 20 servings)

  • 1 pound / 500 g chihuacle chiles
  • 1/2 pound / 250g mulato chiles, seeded and deveined, seeds reserved
  • 1/2 pounds / 250g papilla chiles, seeded and devised, seeds reserved
  • 3/4 pound / 375g lard
  • 2 large onions, roasted
  • 1 head garlic, roasted
  • 3 stale tortillas
  • 2 slices egg bread
  • 3/4 cup / 100g blanched almonds
  • 1/2 cup / 75 g shelled peanuts
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 cup / 70g sesame seeds
  • 1/2 cup / 60g pumpkin seeds
  • Pinch of anise seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 10 coriander seeds
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 8 cloves
  • 3/4 cup cup / 100g raisins
  • 3 large bars Mexican chocolate (or semisweet chocolate)
  • 4 pounds / 2k ripe tomatoes roasted and peeled
  • 1 pounds / 500g small green tomatoes
  • 8 tablespoons lard
  • sugar and salt
  • 2 guajolotes (small turkeys) or 4 large chickens cut into pieces and cooked in a strong broth with carrots, onions, and herbs ** Reserve the broth.

** There’s a bit of discrepancy between this recipe and others, mostly in terms of herb count. Such as 2 cloves versus 8, 1 teaspoon anise versus pinch, 4 garlic versus one head… So use intuition and cook to taste.

Quickly fry the chilies in hot lard, being careful not to let them burn. Place the fried chilies in a large saucepan in hot water to cover. Bring to a boil, then simmer until soft.

In the same hot lard, sauté the onions and garlic until translucent. Add the tortillas, bread, almonds, peanuts, cinnamon, reserved chile seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, anise seeds, cumin seeds, thyme, marjoram, oregano, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cloves, raisins, and chocolate. Sauté for a few minutes. Puree this mixture with the tomatoes and the chiles. Strain the puree and cook in 8 tablespoons lard. Stir in sugar and salt to taste and 2 cups turkey/chicken broth. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the turkey, and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes to blend flavors. If the mixture is too thick, add more turkey broth as needed.

Note: Chihuacles are special chiles from Oaxaca: you can substitute cascabel chiles.

Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Select Acknowledgements:

Frida Kahlo At Home by Suzanne Barbezat

Frida’s Fiestas: Recipes and Reminiscences of Life with Frida Kahlo by Guadalupe Rivera and Marie-Pierre Colle (*all featured recipes above)

PBS Documentary (2004) The Life and Times of Frida Kahlo. A Film by Amy Stechler

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait. Intro. by Carlos Fuentes and Sarah M. Lowe.

Weeknight LASAGNA

Ready for easier, lighter fare that’s still delicious? Yep. Me too. Read on for LASAGNA: easy to make, potluck AND leave with your sitter on NYE! Photo by Sarah Deragon.

“SCREW IT. I’VE COOKED ENOUGH,” runs through my head this time of year…. But seriously, the holidays are winding down. You (and your Kitchen) likely need a break from nonstop baking, braising, and cooking.  Am I right? But you still need to eat. And celebrate our New Year!! So if you’re going out (or staying in) this is a great, quick recipe to make everyone happy.

Enter my simple, kind of a cheater’s guide to Lasagna. Great for every night but also perfect for family style New Year’s Dinner. Little and big eaters will ALL love it. (Trust me.)

I hadn’t thought to share it before (sorry about that) but after pow-wow-ing in Napa with some EPIC foodie talent (see below) thanks to hostess Teri Turner, I’m more than delighted to share as part of our #virtualpotluck. The idea is to share what our tables’ will boast on this most auspicious of annual celebrations. Then keep ’em coming!

Truly wonderful week of food talks, ideas, and development. I popped in & out depending on the kids and winery but to say the least, it was a wonderful experience for all of us. I whole heartedly hope you follow each one us here. From L-R: that’s me in Cheetah (straight from the streets of London), No Crumbs Left (Teri), Zach Attack, The Lemon Apron (Jen), The Cooks In Their Kitchens (Naomi), Husbands That Cook (Adam & Ryan (far right), Displaced Housewife (Rebecca), Bazaar Lazarr (Christi), Rainy Day Bites (Deborah), C.R.A.V.I.N.G.S. (Christine). Read more at this lovely write up by the Husbands! Only missing Food Fashion Party (beloved Asha), The Daley Plate (Dale) And Jam Lab (Amisha)!

Now in the midst of some seriously accomplished food talent, I realized my place wasn’t in perfection at the table, so to speak.  But in my perfectly imperfect family table and our demanding vineyard life.  And I quickly thought to share my go-to Lasagna for families of all kinds and sizes. Yes, this dish is delicious! But also, SO easy to make… Easy to potluck… Easy to serve… Everyone loves it… With Zero Leftovers. (Yay!)

Pantry Tip?  Watch for grocery sales and stock up. Keep at the ready boxes of dried pasta (we use DeCecco), jars/boxes of diced or strained Italian tomatoes like Pomi or Jovial brands, tomato paste, dried Italian herbs, and a few cloves of garlic. These will be the backbone for any quick sauce. The rest of the ingredients are more flexible and easily changed.  For example:

  • Swap in verdant green pesto for this red tomato sauce (just don’t cook pesto… Ever)
  • Change out Spinach with Broccolini (or chopped Kale)
  • Throw in those wilting Tomatoes (chopped up)
  • Use Shallots instead of Yellow Onion
  • No Ricotta? No worries, just add more Mozzarella
  • Add ground Lamb, Beef, or chunks of cooked Italian Sausage (mild or hot) for your Carnivores
  • Skip the Ricotta should you feel like whisking a Béchamel sauce

TIP: For large gatherings including little mouths, please keep in mind the ages of all your guests. Do all parents a solid and don’t use lasagna sheets. Use Rotelle pasta (those little wheels) or Farfalle, Macaroni or Gnocchi shells instead. So you/they aren’t bending over every four minutes to cut your kids’ dinner into little chewable pieces. Stand tall and sip wine instead…

Think “bite size” chopped greens. No stress, easy to eat. Photo by Sarah Deragon. Email me if you’d like to try our Sauvignon Blanc? It’s the best ever.

Abi’s Quick Lasagna:

Ingredient Suggestions (make yours to taste):

  • 3-5 Cloves Garlic (peeled)
  • 1 Carrot (peeled & quartered)
  • 1/4-1/2 Yellow Onion (Peeled & quartered)
  • 1 Stalk Celery (quartered)
  • 1 small jar Tomato Paste or Concentrate
  • 1 26-28oz. Jar/Box fine Italian Tomatoes (Diced or Pureed)
  • 2-3 Handfuls Spinach (Kale or 1 bunch Broccolini)
  • 5-10 Stalks Asparagus (course parts trimmed & removed)
  • 1/2-3/4 Box of Roselle or Farfalle Pasta (or 6 sheets dried Lasagna)
  • 1 16oz bag shredded Mozzarella
  • 1-1.5 cups shaved Parmesan
  • Dried Italian Herbs
  • Kosher Salt (or Fluer de Sel) and fresh cracked Pepper
  • Handful chopped Italian Parsley and Basil, if you have it

Set large pot of water to boil.

Puree garlic, carrot, celery, onion, and drizzle of olive oil, in a food processor.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide bottom pan and sauté your mire poix mixture 3-4 minutes (careful to not burn garlic and onion). Stir in dash Italian herbs. Cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds).

If using chopped Asparagus and coarse chopped Spinach, add now and quickly stir. (Don’t overly wilt because your greens will cook fully while baking.) Next, add tomato paste and stir well 2-3 minutes. Let sauce alone now to “BROWN” (about 1 minute more). Stir in the whole jar/box of diced tomatoes with juices (and 2 leaves finely shredded fresh basil, if using).  Mix well. Remove from heat and let stand.

Step 1: Quick Sauce now cooling. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Pot of water should be boiling. If not, wait until roiling. Then add one giant pinch salt. Add pasta and briefly pre-cook according to directions (usually about 4 minutes). Drain quickly. (Do NOT rinse with cold water!)

Here I didn’t have Rotelle pasta and used Farfalle… Marrying into an Italian American family, I’ve learned a thing or two about Pastas. That said, this quick Lasagna is more of a “cheater’s guide” and my WASP-y go-to for a quick, very yummy dinner — and wonderful potluck addition when doubled.  Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Slick casserole dish bottom with olive oil or tomato sauce. Toss in half the pasta (or three lasagna sheets). Layer half of your tomato-vegetable sauce. Dollop large spoonfuls of half your Ricotta cheese.  Hand tear and evenly distribute 1/2 hand torn mozzarella. Then lightly layer half of your shredded mozzarella over everything and dust with shaved parmesan.

Lasagna in process: In this photo shoot with Sarah, I didn’t remember to add the veggies until later so you see them separated! But I like cooking them in the sauce for easier cleanup. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata works too). Italians often skip the heavier Béchamel sauces and focus on simple cheeses. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Repeat for a second layer and top with chopped Italian parsley.

Topped with herbs and ready for the oven. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Wrap with tin foil. Bake 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20-25 minutes more, until cheese browned. Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Happy Eating & Sipping: Cheers!

Happy Eating!

The Road “Home” to Cooking.

My Road Home to Cooking looks like this. Photo by Sarah Deragon

My Road Home to Cooking.
Photo by Sarah Deragon

Sur La Table “Bigwig Cool Chef Man” Joel Gamoran (I’m pretty sure that’s his title) asked me “So Abi, how did you come to Cook?” I’d flown up to Seattle to tour Headquarters and talk shop. We wore sweaters and munched Cookies freshly baked by icon Dorie Greenspan as TV cameras cooled from her demo.

Dorie's "Jammer" Cookies are really good.

If Dorie wasn’t already lovely enough, her “Jammer” Cookies are really good.

The painter in me watched purpled, gray rain clouds roll in and my food-geek side wondered, how in the hell did I get here? I’m a stay at-home Mom. With two kids. And a fat, lazy dog.  Sure, I make a little wine and LOVE to cook. But trained, professional chef, I am not. (I stifled crazy-person laughter.)  For I am sure the hallowed halls of Sur La Table ought command more reverent reactions than idiotic giggles.

I’ve written my answer to Joel some nine times, happy with none. Tonight though, I poured myself a “local pour” of our Sauvignon Blanc and envisioned women and men like me, out there wielding spatulas and tongs. COOKING — alone or for family.  (Hopefully) Loving the very act of taking raw ingredients and creating something lovely.  Nourishing.  How carrots feel freshly peeled or how broccolini crisps up with solid amounts of salt. That duck confit is surprisingly easy to make.  And if you add green peas to anything starchy, kids love it.

My Apple Thief. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

My Apple Thief. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

I looked back to how I learned to cook in my kitchen — this gorgeously old Victorian, farmhouse remodeled last sometime before 1939. First cooking with my now-husband and then alone with my cookbooks, pencil and post-it’s at hand. Now repopulated with toddlers under foot.  And gave renewed thanks to Sur La Table salespeople for helping me learn the ropes around my own kitchen.

Mixing Fine and Kids' Art. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Mixing Fine and Kids’ Art. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

*Big Side-note: Please know this piece is in no way sponsored, written only in appreciation from this home cook to a store that helped me answer my questions. And still does.*

XX

Grateful to cook every day here at home, Annadel Estate Winery in Sonoma Valley, California.

Readers of my column Abi’s Farmhouse Kitchen know that I quit NASA after 10 years in public service, took about a 92% pay cut and embarked on new life as a “Cellar Rat” making wine. Trading high-heels for steel-toe Wolverines and a pallet jack. Committing myself whole hog to a healthier, seasonal, fully artistic life in Sonoma Valley (Oct. 2007). I literally could cook one thing then.

Harvest is a family affair. The kids skip school to pick one row each. (October 2016, picking Cabernet Franc in the lower blocks.) Photo by Rachel Hairston.

Follow along on Instagram to see more winemaking and winery life: @abisfarmhousekitchen or Annadel Estate Winery on Facebook. Like Harvest is a family affair. The kids skip school to pick one row each. (October 2016, picking Cabernet Franc in the lower blocks.) Photo by Rachel Hairston.

You laugh, but really, it was not even my recipe. My grandmother, Mima, made buttermilk Waffles every Sunday (recipe and tribute)…. Traditions we continue today, albeit with champagne vs. Folgers crystals instant coffee.

Christmas Bells on the side door. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Christmas Bells on the side door. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

It was Love that brought me “home” to Cooking once Dean and I met one summer night at the Farmers Market. I’d gone to town to buy flowers and instead, met the most handsome Man (ever). Tall. Strong. Wearing long shorts and a Stetson with just the right amount of sweat on the brim. Searing blue eyes……………… I stood there in wine-stained work boots. Smelling like Chardonnay lees. Remembering my deodorant failed hours before when cleaning barrels with a gamma jet.

It must be love. Still at it, nine year's later of harvesting estate grown grapes. "Punch Downs" Merlot and Cabernet, October 2016... We made wine here at Annadel for the first time in about 110 years this past Fall.

Still wearing those boots, years later harvesting estate grown grapes. “Punching Down” Merlot and Cabernet… Making wine at Annadel for the first time in 110+ years (Oct 2016) Photo from epic machinist and family friend Garage Metallica, Chrystiano Miranda.

Dean and I moved in four days later.

And started cooking.

First, I cooked to flirt. Food can be quite the passionate exercise, have you noticed?  But lust & love soon expanded into one powerful marriage, babies and circadian Life built near the cycles of our Vineyard.

Proud Wife: Dean rode this beautiful 1914 Harley across the country in September. Winning Division 1 in the Cannonball. Riding the oldest motorcycle ever to cross America. And he did it. Video here of Annadel and our Team Vino.

Proud Wife: Dean rode this beautiful 1914 Harley across the country in September. Winning Division #1 in the Cannonball. Riding the oldest motorcycle ever to cross America. Video of Annadel Estate &  Team Vino.

I really do consider myself a kitchen cook. A Mom and Wife, trying to keep up with the day. Mapping out my grocery list by quadrant, according to the market floor plan (that NASA side lives on). Nerding-out on Food, cooking away earnestly in our farmhouse here at Annadel Estate Winery. We literally live “Between Wars.” Our walls are horse-hair and plaster and my 1941 Occidental Automatic — we found in the Carriage House — we modernized to a 6 burner, 2 stove Wolf Range.

My oldest Sous Chef and little girl. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

At first, I cooked mostly Italian as Dean is 1st generation American-Italian, though I first stepped out when our daughter, Anni, was little to make Julia Child’s Cassoulet from scratch. It took me 28 hours. I fell asleep at the table.

Cooking.

Cooking. Shot by wonderful Sarah (again).

Then fellow home cook and neighbor a few vineyards down, Gail Ross, started working part time at Sur La Table and brought me Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. “Try it!” she said. “You’ll love it.” And I did.  Making “Roast Chicken for les Paresseux” (pg 200) most weeks still (+extra garlic and garden-cut herbs.)  More importantly, Dorie’s cookbook expanded my home-cooking-horizons. A beautiful gateway to French food. Which then led to Curries, Thai or Mexican, Japanese, Jams and Canning, Southern, and yes, Italian once or twice a week: Much new fare mixed in with Dean’s family heritage dishes.

Long running favorites. Dorie's French Table, Ruth Reichl, and turned on to Hugh Acheson thanks's to friend Deborah's Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on IG (@rainydaybites) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Still in heavy rotation: Dorie’s French Table, Ruth Reichl, and Hugh Acheson thanks’s to friend Deborah’s Rainy Day Bites Cookbook Club on IG (@rainydaybites) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

From my pre-War, ghost-winery Kitchen, I then started to write, first urged by TV food star Heather Christo who visited Annadel some years back. And more recently, by Indian Chef sensation Asha Shivakumar to really take up Instagram (@abisfarmhousekitchen) Thanks to social media, and writing about food, food history, and Winemaking, I’ve connected with such wonderful food lovers, like Naomi’s The Cooks in the Kitchen series, or finding Susana best Carnitas recipe, Potato and leek soup at Jen’s Lemon Apron, and Malaysian style fish stew by Hazel plus many others. All sharing our loved, home-kitchens and earnest -cookery. I’m not talking “perfect shot” kind of bloggers but rather, warm-hearted, apron-clad souls similarly appreciating good living, wine, and home cooking. “Shaking hands” by proxy from our very agrarian spot in northern California’s wine country. Which is how I came to meet the wonderful directors at Sur la Table.

XX

Collecting herbs for a quick lasagna (see below) with Sarah Deragon

Sonoma County — really, the whole national Food Movement — is a return to basics. One giant step away from gridlock and desks and clocked-in/clocked-out days. A blue-skies return to the clean rhythms of seasons and harvests in grapes, vegetables, olives and food stuffs. Eating “close to the source” becoming increasingly a way of life. How we cook. Shop. Menu plan. Even potluck.

Marrying into an Italian American family, I've learned a thing or ten about Pastas. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Marrying into an Italian American family, I’ve learned a thing or two about Pasta. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Through reading food (& art) history, I’ve also learned we American cooks did not pioneer this approach to cooking. I now research (&write short pieces on) how famous Artists curated their own tables, if you will. How their respective Art directly influenced their Food.

Read more of my Creatives and their Kitchens series: Frida was first. Monet second. O'Keeffe is next.

To Read more: Creatives and their Kitchens. Frida was first. Monet second. O’Keeffe is next.

As for me and our little family, good food, art, and real wine are proof of Love. For each other. Our Family. And Friends. And thanks to Sur la Table, I’m whisking proof that real food knowledge makes all the difference as a Mom once asking “timer questions” between blanched and oversmushed Asparagus. I was glad Julia’s words read warmly from the Test Kitchen walls. Making me feel like just another Cook talking shop, eating cookies. Global icons or not, all of us ardently still in love with Food. And our Kitchens.

“Learn how to cook — Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.” ~ Julia Child

Vineyards Sunset. Annadel Estate Winery. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Vineyards Sunset. Annadel Estate Winery. (12/1/16) Photo by Sarah Deragon.

 

Read on for an easy weeknight lasagna recipe. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Read on for an easy weeknight lasagna recipe. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Easy, Weeknight Lasagna:

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic (peeled) (We use 5)
1 carrot (peeled & quartered)
1/4 yellow onion (peeled & quartered)
1 stalk celery (quartered)
1 26-28oz jar/box of fine Italian diced tomato, or puree
1 bunch Broccolini (5-10 stalks) (Spinach or Kale)
1 bunch Asparagus (5-10 pieces trimmed)
2 handfuls dried pasta (shells) or five lasagna sheets
1 16oz bag shredded Mozzarella
2 balls fresh Mozzarella
Handful shaved Parmesan
Dried Italian herbs
Handful chopped Italian Parsley and Basil, if you have it.

Fall foliage beautifully caught by Sarah Deragon.

Fall beautifully caught by Sarah Deragon.

Preheat oven to 350’F. And set pot of water to boil. (Do NOT salt it).

Puree garlic, carrot, celery, onion, and drizzle of olive oil, then heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté veggie mixture 3-4 minutes. Stir in dash of Italian herbs. Cook until fragrant (30 seconds). Add tomato puree, stir well 2-3 minutes to “BROWN” sauce. Remove from heat.

Step 1: Quick Sauce

Step 1: Quick Sauce Photo by Sarah Deragon

Pot of water should be boiling. If not, wait. Then add one giant pinch salt. Add pasta and briefly pre-cook according to directions (about 4 minutes). Drain quickly. (Do not rinse with cold water!)

Think "bite size." No stress. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Think “bite size.” No stress chopping. There is no wrong size. Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Finely Chop Spinach/Broccolini and Asparagus. Quick sauté in butter or olive oils until greens brighten but retain crunch.

Slick casserole dish with olive oil. Layer smear of your quick tomato sauce. Toss in half the pasta (or three of the lasagna sheets). Layer Half vegetables and evenly distribute 1/2 hand torn mozzarella. Lightly layer with half of your shredded mozzarella and dust with shaved parmesan. Repeat for a second layer and top with chopped Italian parsley.

Lasagna in process. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata can work too). Italians often skim fattening Béchamel sauces and focus on simple cheeses for thickening.

Lasagna in process. Note coarse chunks of Mozzarella? (Burrata works too). Italians often skip Béchamel sauces to focus on simple cheeses for thickening. Apron at Sur La Table (casserole too). Photo by Sarah Deragon.

Wrap with tin foil. Bake 35 minutes. Remove foil and bake 20-25 minutes more, until cheese browned. Remove from oven and let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Happy Eating! Happy Eating & Sipping: Cheers!

MONET: Artists & Their Kitchens

The summer of 1997, I earned a spot in an Art Theory class taught in south of France. I fell in love three times that summer — and no, not with French boys leering at our glaringly white-bikini-lined breasts that yelled “American!” as far as boobs could see.  But far more seriously: True Love affairs, the kind that never leave you:

  • First with Matisse.
  • Then Monet.
  • And with the Cote d’Azur.

Deep blue waters, even bluer skies. Wild lavender under nose. Soft green olive branches rustled overhead. Countless stone alleyways to walk, art to see, fascinating lectures about galleries and the act of Art Display — something as a young artist I hadn’t yet thought to even consider. That was also the summer I met espresso, chilled Rose, crisp green Niçoise salads, briny olives, and plates of cheap meats coaxed into something heavenly after long afternoons simmering in light bodied, red wine, sautéed ramps, and garlic. We ate well once a day and sometimes, I snuck off from the other girls and ate alone. With a book. Or just the view… Trying something new or revisiting a glistening strawberry tart I just couldn’t forget. This was before the popular food revolution back home in America; many flavors were simply revelations. I called home on pay-phones and carried money under my shirt. I tried to miss life back in college. But summer was THAT delicious. It’s no wonder my love affair with French food interlaced with my youthful discovery of Fauves & Impressionism –to capture how a single, real moment FEELS and painting that which your heart wishes only to remember. Much like flavor…

Water Lilies Teal.

Water Lilies Teal.

Oscar Claude Monet is arguably king Impressionist and, it turns out, painter of good looking food. Cookbooks, essays, lectures, and biographies have detailed Monet’s love for food and for family.  But I was surprised to learn that he struggled to earn this luxury. For decades. That his young adult life was frought with hunger, bills, sadness, disdainful family, and creditors. But that after his early 40s, and the untimely death of his young wife, Monet bravely began again. Enjoying the culinary, domestic, and artistic revelry to which he had so rightly earned.

Claude Monet

Jar of Peaches, Claude Monet

Born November 14, 1840 in Paris to a wealthy grocer father and a vibrant singer mother, “Oscar” Claude Monet lived a pleasant, rather strict Catholic childhood first in Paris and later in seaside Normandy. Then, as a young teen, Monet decided to become an Artist. His parents discouraged his painting but did allow him to attend art school in Le Havre — learning Plein Aire painting, or painting of natural light in fresh air. When his mother died suddenly in 1857, Monet’s father gave his teenage son an ultimatum: stop painting NOW and join the family grocery business. Monet refused. And his father cut him off entirely, forcing 16 years old “Claude” to take refuge with his widowed Aunt Sophie Lecadre. Though she provided him only with food and housing, Monet began to build a local reputation for sketching striking charcoal portraits of neighbors and beachgoers.

Earning enough to take him to Paris, Monet skipped the Louvre (& museums in general) — where he saw fellow students only madly copying the Masters — and opted instead to paint what he “saw out windows” with the meager art supplies he had brought with him. Starting in 1862, Monet enrolled in Art School under Charles Gleyre and met lifetime friends Pierre August Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Edouard Manet… and then? There was his model Camille Doncieux whom he met first when she posed for his “Camille, La Femme a la Robe Verte”.  She was soon very much pregnant and the couple moved into a cold, one bedroom apartment.  With no kitchen.

Friends and painters Monet, Renoir, Sisley, etc gathered their meager reserves and held picnics in the public parks to eat better together than alone.

Friendly painters Monet, Renoir, Sisley, et al gathered their meager pantry reserves and held picnics in public parks to eat better together than alone. Camille glows center. Detail of Monet’s “The Picnic” (1865-1866)

Now this was a heady time, pregnant or not. And I am skipping/simplifying much for the sake of getting to the food… But while Monet and friends are famous today, back then? They were literally “starving artists” pushing back against the establishment to carve their own branch of modernism: the Impressionists. Much of their meetings taking place in cheap Paris “cafe’s where the cutlery was chained to the table” and over inexpensive picnics in public parks with cheap wine, stale bread and cheese.  Monet’s father and Aunt hated all of it — the squalor, the art, the pregnant girlfriend. And Monet concealed much of his life but just could not stay away. From his art, Camille, and baby boy; returning to Paris and marrying Camille in June 1870. Their life did not improve but they were at least together — moving often to avoid creditors, losing commissioned paintings to debt collection. Still, Monet painted some of the most touching, peaceful scenes of his young family and friends sharing bucolic meals together often in dappled sunlight.

One of Monet's many food paintings. Even though Wine was not quite his thing? Food definitely was.

One of Monet’s many food paintings. Even though Wine was not quite his thing? Food definitely was.

After their second son, Michael, was born, Camille’s health deteriorated further and Monet drew dangerously close to committing suicide under the mounting pressure of poverty. But his love for Camille and their sons sustained him. Still “beautiful Camille” died from cancer in August 1879 at age 32 in the house of wealthy patron and friend, Ernest Hoschede.  Monet was alone again. Destitute, heart broken, and with two young sons to raise. Monet had painted 31 paintings featuring Camille in scenes of domestic, well-fed harmony… when reality was one of cold, hunger, debt… and Love.

Camille in Japanese Costume (Claude Monet, 1876)

Camille in Japanese Costume (Claude Monet, 1876)

Monet stays on to live with the wealthy Hoschede family (and eats well for the first time in decades). Monet was still recovering from the death of his wife when Ernest suddenly went bankrupt, abandons his wife Alice and their six children (6!) and flees for Belgium 1881. Never to return.

Widower Monet, jilted Madame Alice Hoschede and their total combined EIGHT children platonically regroup and collectively move to Poissy where after time, a slow love affair begins to flame.  Then burn. And, finally, finally, FINALLY, Monet begins to reap the financial reward of his growing fame. 

Perhaps once of the most famous paintings in the entire world: Impressions of Sunrise by Claude Monet 1872

Perhaps once of the most famous paintings in the entire world: Impressions of Sunrise by Claude Monet 1872

Monet and Alice hated life in Poissy but during a train ride, discovered nearby Giverny. Promptly purchasing acreage with a pond and moving into a small home with all eight children and a Cook.  Garden design and home renovations began at once with Monet’s eye focused on natural light for interiors and thick, lush floral beauty outside complete with now famous water-lily gardens and his burnt orange, Japanese bridge.  Monet chose happy colors of lemon yellow for the dining room, many blues and white tile for their kitchen, and a soft pink exterior created by hand mixing crushed bricks with white plaster. Monet treated the design and coloring of their home — especially their dining spaces — with sincere artistic affection.

Branch of Lemons, Monet 1883

Branch of Lemons, Monet 1883

Alice finally marries Monet upon the death of her long estranged husband in 1892. And it is during this second marriage, Monet achieves the culinary bliss denied him during his first chapter in adult life. At Giverny, Monet grew happy “to eat as much as four men at every meal” and deeply relished their domestic refuge.  Happily, his art, regular visitors, and large, loud, lovingly blended family rotated around mealtimes. Literally.  It is during this period that Monet paints pictures of food and tablescapes with a sumptuous, new richness certainly enjoyed in real time.

Alice & Claude Monet's restored kitchen in Giverny.

Alice & Claude Monet’s kitchen in Giverny. Note the Briffaut stove and blue cupboards with brass handles.

Jane Grigson in Food with the Famous (my new favorite, out of print book) describes a day in the life of Monet and his food: “Monet got up at four or five in the morning, ate a huge breakfast and set out to paint. He came back to the house at eleven o’clock, ready for lunch promptly at midday. This was the time for greeting friends…and distinguished visitors, more and more of them as the years went by. After the meal, which might take place on the wooden terrace in front of the house if the weather was right, everyone would walk around the garden, and over to the water-lilies… Six gardeners were employed…He demanded a delicate fullness of color and delight in the garden as well as on the table.”

Monet carefully chose the most jubilant, buoyant colors in their garden to bring indoors. This is their Dining Room.

Monet carefully chose the most jubilant, buoyant colors in their garden to bring indoors. This is their Dining Room.

No matter the meal, Monet preferred fine, freshly grown food in what we understand today as “farm-to-table.” Breakfast followed a bit of routine however for Monet: fresh goat cheese, sliced cold meats or smoked salmon, warm sausages, omelettes spiced with fresh herbs, toast, marmalade and hot tea. Monet ate at 5:00am before sunrise, honoring Plein Aire painting beliefs that dawn and dusk offered the finest natural light. Lunch to be taken at midday because light then was flat, dull, and not romantic in the least.

Dinner after dusk was often a lively, happy affair with family and many formerly “starving” Artist friends dropping in to enjoy Giverny’s bounty and their ever-growing success.  Relishing fine, light bodied wines (like Sancerre and reds from the Loire) over lingering meals including foie gras, truffles, roasted poultry with fresh herbs, sautéed mushrooms, green salads just garden picked, local cheeses, roasted beef, garlic vinaigrettes, and heavily peppered olive oils for dipping fresh bread. Monet loved homemade charcuterie, rillettes, and pate before lunch or dinner — all spiced with “quatres-éspices” (fine ground pepper or all-spice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves.)  Freshly caught fish was a big favorite and served with beurre blanc. Monet also regularly requested sides of veal, risottos, and lots of fowl such as duck. After a second trip to Algiers with Renoir, Monet directed his gardeners to add “new” Mediterranean herbs and vegetables to their garden to liven up traditional Normandy fare.

Monet’s household menus reflected each season. Not because of an epicurean preference but because in late 1800s – early 1900s this was the norm. Monet did stipulate foods should be fresh and as fine as possible… Accented with hints of luxury.  Common Asparagus was to be trimmed, bound with twine, and steamed upright with baby potato halves tucked into the water below. Served together garnished with bits of chopped boiled egg, vinaigrette and minced parsley. (I want to make this next week). Asparagus holds a special place on French tables, rich or poor, as a flavorful vegetable and easy to acquire when in season at local markets or picked roadside where growing wild. And was a vegetable Monet enjoyed even when impoverished throughout his 20s and 30s.

Another fine side dish Monet carried forward to his bountiful table at Giverny is “Haricots au Vin de Chanturgues”: red beans simmered barely submerged in a light, bulk red wine.  At Giverny, however, this simple dish bumped up the opulence by using Gamays from the Chanturgues region along with sliced bacon, creamed butter, chopped parsley, and a beurre blanc for finishing this once rustic staple.

 Fun fact? Monet enjoyed sketching a particularly beautiful food for later painting, making his family wait like so many today on social media. Especially baked goods, like these Galettes.

Fun fact? Monet enjoyed sketching particularly beautiful food for later paintings, sometimes making his family wait like many food lovers today on social media. Especially baked goods, like these Galettes.

Monet’s most treasured friendships continued to thrive, rooted deeply in their past, shared experiences as struggling, hungry artists.  Regular friends at table often included Pissarro, Rodin, Renoir, Cezanne, John Singer Sergeant, Sisley, and Mary Cassatt mingling with his ever growing brood of family.  With such an incredible guest list, I was surprised to read that Art was RARELY discussed during mealtime; Food being the main topic.  Monet believed that verbally discussing and enjoying the food in front of them was an important mental and sensory exercise.  And compliment to Cook. To not do so, he considered “barbaric.” Food played a significant, daily role in Monet’s art and inspiration — both as struggling artist and later, as grateful, blended family patriarch happy to eat well and reap rewards earned from decades of hungry effort.

When I started this process last month, I wanted to see if there was any connection between creative types and what they chose to cook and eat. Plus how they chose to dine.  Or if there even was any connection?  And I’ve found that there really can be direct correlation between an Artist’s state of mind and their table. I’m not sure who is next but it could be Thomas Jefferson, Georgia O’Keefe or Jane Austen.  Either way, I hope you stay with me.

Happy eating everyone! And stay tuned on FB or Instagram as I cook through recipes from Frida’s Kitchen (last month) and Monet (November, this month.)

Abigail

 

FRIDA: Artists & Their Kitchens

Welcome to “Creatives & Their Kitchens”: a new series!

Cooking and Art are two sides to the same coin. (In my book.) Taking raw ingredients to create something nourishing body or soul. Sometimes both. I’m not talking artsy culinary “perfect” but rather, what we as cooks (artists) choose to EAT and make for ourselves (families and friends) in the privacy of our own homes.

Cloaked from public eye, singular behaviors become just that: personal and private. Intimate. Being a food lover, and an artist, I began to wonder how some of my favorite artists and writers, leaders and visionaries approached their own kitchens and daily meals. Or did they even think of it? As I mulled this over making carbonara, I realized I did approach my cooking similarly to my easel: with an impressionistic vision in mind but open to seasonal influences and available ingredients/colors.  But how did the great creatives approach their FOOD? Did they cook for themselves? Or hire cooks? How did they choose to dine? Any rituals or routines? Did they eat in their socks and read the paper? Or have long meals filled with conversation? And did their favorite foods reflect style of Art? And recipes! Do any survive?

Nerding out completely, I started ordering out-of-print books on food history and reading up online. And it turns out, many artists did in fact have specific opinions about food, eating routines and favorite recipes. Like you’d imagine Julia Child whipped up fancy fare for guests but she did not.  Instead, serving guests bowls of cheddar flavored Goldfish crackers. (Isn’t that a hoot?) I kept going, reading about Georgia O’Keefe, Monet, Jane Austen among others. Amazon had quite the month with my credit card. And the first artist I want to tell you about is Frida Kahlo.

Frida Khalo captured later in her life before she died at age 47.

Frida Khalo captured later in her life.

Born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon on July 6, 1907, “Frida Kahlo” was a Mexican painter known particularly for self-portraits and surrealist, Feminist expression of the female experience, indigenous folk art, and nationalistic rhetoric.  Leading Surrealist Andre Breton beautifully described her work as a “ribbon around a bomb.” Painting herself came naturally as the horrific traffic accident she survived as a teenager  (after surviving Polio) in her native Mexico City left life long health effects that often isolated Frida from her family and community. Kahlo’s volatile marriage to the hugely famous Diego Rivera brought her to the international stage but her sheer talent, unusual beauty, and original painting kept her there. And in some ways, eclipsed those accolades of her husband. In droves.

Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace & Mockingbird (1940)

Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace & Mockingbird (1940)

When not traveling for mural commissions (Diego) and shows (both souses and later. Frida), Diego Rivera and Frida lived a colorfully domestic life — when happy — with very definite opinions about food and how they ate. Preferring traditional indigenous Mexican dishes eaten together as part of a kind of elevated artistic experience rooted in the “working class.”  When relished, Frida purposefully created “small still lifes” for Diego to visually enjoy during their noon meal (Comida). Her tablescapes celebrated native Mexican vibrancy, flavors, and culture with colorful pre-Colonial styled ceramics, linens, small flower arrangements, 10-12 plates of foods… Even inviting household pets to the table “for movement.”  Their parrot –who only said “No me pasa la cruda” (“I can’t get past this hangover”) — pecked at fruits while their little monkeys jumped between their shoulders.

I love these details. And I like to think of her as a happy spouse. From the beginning, eating “food of the people” was part of Diego’s daily creative process. And for Frida too.  During these times, Frida departed from her excruciating self-portraits to include still-lifes and vibrant domestic interiors drawn increasingly from Mexican folk art.  How fascinating that an artist so revered for her unflinching take on the female experience (plus ardent Communist and Feminist), loved sweetly enough to endeavor domestic beauty. And harmony.

So many images to choose from. Volatile a marriage, yes. But great love and collaboration as well.

So many images to choose from. Volatile a marriage, yes. But great love and collaboration as well.

Recipes kept to pre-Colonial, pre-Hispanic foods rooted in the deep culinary traditions of indigenous Mexico. Dishes like Zucchini blossom soup, cucumber salads, pork stews, and chicken Escabeche.  Diego’s favorite plate of all was Mole, a recipe Frida learned to make from Lupe, Diego’s second wife (and her predecessor) who lived upstairs in their first home as married couple. Actually, Lupe owned the building and lived on the top floor with her two daughters while Frida and Diego, lived ground floor. Despite the unconventional housing arrangement, Frida and Lupe grew to be good friends and Lupe taught Frida many recipes Diego preferred.  Frida later expanded her cooking repertoire when the couple moved to La Casa Azul and began cooking from her mother’s The New Mexican Cook (published first in 1888).  Ironically, the Rivera’s did not see a conflict between their domestic help and their politics, employing cooks who could authentically create indigenous dishes.

Often entertaining many guests at once, meal time gatherings at the Rivera’s were noted not just for good food, strident leftist discussions, music, and copious libation but also for eating in the manner of the “poor working class.”  Tortillas in lieu of forks and knives.  Food cooked in the old style over wood flame and no modern stove or equipment like a refrigerator. Should Diego be painting a mural and unable to make the noon meal, Frida took him his lunch in a turquoise pewter pail just as “campesino women” took lunch to their husbands in the fields. Frida’s pail for Diego likely included a protein, rice and beans and topped always with warm tortillas, fresh fruit, sweet breads, and flowers artistically arranged.

Biographer Hayden Herrera describes the couples’ typical eating day (during happy times): “breakfast would be leisurely with Frida or an assistant reading the newspaper to Diego, who did not want to tax his eyes. Afterward, Frida would either paint or go to the market and Diego would go off to work. If he’d been drawing in the marketplace — where he went often to observe the poor who were his most important subjects — he would come home for comida… bringing an ingredient for the cook to incorporate.”

Food and the rituals of Eating were important to the couple. Part of their marital rhythms.  Frida relished being the central woman in Diego’s life and they divided kitchen, household responsibilities according to traditional Mexican roles.  And for Frida, “domestic tasks took on the nature of an art project…Setting the table was a ritual.. [And] the food itself was treasured for it’s beauty as well as for it’s flavors. After her self portraits, most of Frida’s paintings her still-life works of flowers, food, and domestic interiors. Pivotal paintings still celebrated for her surreal depictions of Mexican national and indigenous pride and unflinching imagery of female experience and form.

Viva la Vida (1954)

Viva la Vida (1954)

Frida’s most personal kitchen was her last (and first kitchen) in her childhood home “La Casa Azul”. Frida continued to live (and eat) here throughout her life — with or without Diego. With or without her parents. Her sisters. Friends. She had no children. Despite their numerous attempts…miscarriages…abortions. Today, it is part of the Frida Khalo Museum and still decorated with her brightly colored yellow and cobalt blue tile, sugar skulls, fresh flowers, and her traditional ceramic cookware, much of which was no longer made even by 1940s.  Both the names of Frida and Diego decorate one wall and the recipe for Diego’s favorite Mole is enshrined outside on a museum plaque.

I had trouble finding recipes and kitchen notes about her cooking habits after she and Diego divorced.  Frida took great pride in feeding Diego, fussing over him and even bathing him.  I appreciate Frida embracing her inner Sapphos yet Wifely Warrior while navigating the early 20th century world to which she was born.  Reveling as Artist, Beauty, Wife, Survivor, Daughter / Sister, and Cook… All the while on deep pain medication of some kind. Always… Perhaps though, when Diego was gone, Frida turned to Art more fully as her emotional outlet (her marriage) gave way to sharing her creative wellspring between Diego and Easel. image-1-2-png

Eggs.

13935086_1246737735338882_8438539756714467478_nIt takes a lot to put me off my eggs.  Or to leave a Mimosa half finished. But today’s breakfast was just such an experience.  The next table over was occupied by a visiting foghorn for bigotry, racism, gender disdain (especially for “the very dangerous” FLOTUS Michelle Obama), and politically conservative extremes. Wave after wave of verbal diarrhea washed over not just myself and fellow patrons but also my children and our lovely server, Jasmine.

We are each entitled to our personal views.  But explaining to your guest (+ we unfortunate bystanders) how “south american immigrants” are the visigoths at the gate while a Latina American serves you Huevos Rancheros curdled my stomach.  Jasmine didn’t hear much of what you said but my daughter did.  And so did my son.  “Brown people” aren’t “duped into becoming democrats” and Trump does not “represent the savior of our great nation.”  Your eggs were prepared for you and served to you by the children of migrants, or immigrants themselves; hard working people each and every one.  Mexican, Italian, Venezuelan, Asian, and French… Many of which our sweet wine country cafe (Garden Court) was filled with a demographic makeup much like this country: DIVERSE.  And THRIVING.  All of us now covered in your verbal vomit.

I thought to say something.  But the Huevos irony was lost to you already.  That, and you wore black athletic socks with topsiders.

I would like to set something straight however. When you come to Wine Country, or dine out in general, bring a shred of common decency.  Even if you’re faking it.  Your servers, cooks, hotel maids, gas station attendants, waiters are known and appreciated not just to each other but also by the winery owners, restaurant owners, hotel owners, tour company owners, magazine owners, etc.  The ” owners” of which you esteem so highly and loudly plan to milk for political donations while here? News flash: We prize and appreciate good teams of staff. For something fascinating and good happens in regions governed predominantly by agriculture.  A good or bad year is shared by all and oft dictated by weather and consumer confidence. There’s a shared camaraderie amongst most of us.  We rise and sink together.  Much like this already great Nation of ours.

So don’t saunter in from your Florida rental car brimming with runny vitriol for the very people serving you eggs. Go back to the Wonder Bread Box from which you came.  And never order Huevos Rancheros from my colleagues and friend again.

Original art by friend Eric Bowman.

Original art by friend Eric Bowman.

Driving to Kansas

50 East

50 East

June 30, 2016

DRIVING TO KANSAS

We are camping our way from Sonoma, California to Beaumont, Kansas.  To the family homestead and cattle ranch my great-great-grandfather founded some 150+ years ago… It’s a humbling thing, driving towards such heritage, out across a wide expanse of the nation in a truck, with “Bumbelina” (our Airstream), through one of the more severe summer storm patterns experienced in recent history.  Lots of rain, gorgeous atmosphere, lighting, and thunder.  In short, wet desert asphalt steaming for hours at a time.  A scent I hope burns into the psyche of my children.  And one I remember deeply from my childhood self making this same journey every summer: that of driving to Kansas.

Dida (& often Mima) loaded us Palmer cousins up into the “Big Red” Suburban and hauled ass across the southwest.  Pasadena to Witchita took two days, not three.  Eating 0.99$ “Grand Slam” Denny’s breakfasts every stop, unless it was New Mexico. For there in that gorgeous of regions, the Hatch green chili grows and Dida freely imparted his love for that mildly spicy, earthy green pepper (and puffy/sweet sopapillas) before hitting the road again. Stopping rarely –but gratefully– for panoramic American views, pee breaks, and turquoise found in once remote outposts like Hubbel Trading. Mile after mile, windows cranked down — unless we were listening to Garrison Keeler — kids’ hair whipping in sandy sunshine. Warm winds filling that old Suburban with the smells of ever changing landscapes.  One gleeful night spent somewhere in a neon-lit Best Western with a chlorinated pool and clean, but scratchy sheets. Driving from the Los Angeles basin, through the wide open, burnt Deserts. Between rocky buttes and along mountain passes. Before sailing down into the flat, flinty grass plains of the midwest. To Kansas.

Salty, desert flats along Interstate 80.

Salty, desert flats along Interstate 80.

Mima and Dida passed “into the sunset” this past year at 99 and 100, respectively.  She thought she saw her mother days before.  His last words were “I’m going to see Peg now.” And died minutes later. Funny how the vast expanse of an Open Road unfurl recent and dormant memories.  My husband and I both love to travel. Sharing a deep, soulful appreciation for destinations unknown.  Embarking on this road trip with our kids, we had no set plans nor reservations… Just a due date when we were expected at the Ranch. Driving mile after mile, state after state… I thought often of my grandparents.  Wondered where they are now… Obviously together.  Such a life they lived some 75 years of marriage! True Loves building family, business, and artistic legacy…To give rise our delightfully smart, oft elegant, and slightly motley clan of Palmers.

July 4th: fireworks, cocktails, and a spread of leftovers served from the back of a flat-bed truck.

July 4th: fireworks, cocktails, and a spread of leftovers served from the back of a flat-bed truck.

Hot and Humid: the Palmer Girl Cousins (Hannah, me, Sarah, and Kate).

Hot and Humid: the Palmer Girl Cousins (Hannah, me, Sarah, and Kate).

Though this road to Kansas is beautiful, it sure is long.  I am grateful for the time to unpack my memories and share them with my husband, Dean, before we arrive.  I have a feeling, I may become a puddle at the end of this road… Driving in the front ranch gate.  To say final farewells to my grandmother and grandfather.  She who taught us what it meant to be truly Woman, Wife, and Mother much because He lived so strongly as Man, Leader, and Patriarch.  The Ranch is a place of lessons learned and grit. Dida wanted to be sure we city kids didn’t end up sissys.  But come 6 o’clock, it was time to fish, walk the creek, shoot, and play dominos.  As a Family.

Porch time.

End of the day: Porch time.

We left after too few days at the Ranch.  Loaded up Bumbelina and strapped in still-sleeping kids.  Hugged my Mom, brother, Uncles, Aunts, Pappa Will, and Ranch Manager Don Nelson & wife, Connie.  Two of the most trustworthy people I have ever met.  People whom my grandparents trusted implicitly.  And who are intertwined with the viability and continued heritage of our family cattle ranch.

I admit, I quietly cried for about an hour after driving up and out through green pastures.  Hearing our Beefmaster cows bellow “good morning!” Remembering so many summers of my youth astride a horse at sunrise. Trying to keep up with Amanda (Nelson) chasing down wayward calves and cattle with my family.  To “bring in the herd.” Learning to pull our own weight.  Dida sitting in the truck giving directions, working the calling horn and making notes with Don.  Presiding over a seemingly endless Flint Hills cattle ranch left to him and built by his Grandfather’s bootstraps when the West was still Wild. Mima back at the ranch house making lunch (tuna fish sandwiches) or riding right next to him. Always.

Driving home.

Driving home. Planning to return…

Little Hands

I sat at the DMV yesterday, reading my book.  Waiting.  An older man walked by holding a little boy’s hand.  They sat down one chair over. The child looked about the age of my son. He pulled himself up onto the plastic chair and his little boy fingers looked exactly like my son’s…sweet traces of baby fat and solid little hands holding onto whom I assume was his grandfather. The flash of child pride that he’d gotten himself up onto the chair himself.  “Like a Big Boy,” as my son says.  I discreetly looked at his faded clothes and very worn shoes, the oversized hat that his grandfather took off and put into his lap with kind words.  They both waited very quietly until their turn was called and walked away to their assigned window.  I didn’t see him again.

I came home to host a play date for four little children in the bright sunshine, on our green grass, while their mom and I sipped a little bit of very cold, very crisp white wine in the shade.  Watching a joyful summer afternoon in Sonoma unfold. And wondered where that little boy was now.  And what it would be like to have such little ears hear how unwanted and dirty you are by pretty much every TV or news report.  How a wall will be built to keep you away from family or a better life.  How your grandfather teaching you to not wear a hat inside is really a raping Visigoth in disguise.  And wonder deeply what has happened to us a Nation.  How far down the rabbit hole of ignorance and bigotry have we fallen that candidates like Trump have not just national viability for elected leadership but that many acquaintances we know personally are thrilled to vote for them.  What kind of future are we paving for that little boy? And my little boy? Two little people of the same age, with the same little chubby hands, learning their ways in this world but with two very different messages being taught. This is not the America I’ve known and loved.  And it makes me very, very sad.

Sunset

Sunset here at home.