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

It Doesn’t All Have to be Thomas Keller.

“It doesn’t all have to be Thomas Keller, Abi” Wilson said.  I was arranging broccolini “just so” before snapping a quick shot.  Maybe another.  And THEN serving the hungry legion of family gathered ’round the table.  Seeing me for exactly what I was… BEING LAME. Well, in all fairness…what I still AM.  Which is an oft LAME, Food Nerd.

Here my loved ones are waiting for the vegetable side I had prepared at Mom’s house. To go with their entree that Wilson was holding aloft… “en platter” … if that is such a word.  And here I was selfishly zeroing in the focus of my iPhone camera to catch something “just so.” Mouth agape like some bullfrog.

“It doesn’t all have to be Thomas Kellar, Abi.” J*sus, he was SO right.  I hear those words in my head from time to time still.

Now, months later, today — we have just returned from camping in Bodega Bay.  Smelling like campfires and sweat. On the cool-yet-golden sandy beaches most loved here in Northern California.  Hints of dirt and S’mores still under my nails.  And I am flipping through pictures taken on our happy overnight at Chanslor Ranch… I find about 15 shots of me lining up dinner-prep “just so.” The light had to be perfect.  The steaks marinating happily.  Corn steaming in their husks on the grill.  Bumbelina in foggy sunlight.  And then? The setting Sun broke through and caught my glass of Big Pink Rose “just so!!!!!!” SNAP.  That 15th shot was “IT.” Food Nerd JOY!

Catching the shot...before laughing to myself. And sipping more of our Big Pink Rose of Cab!

Catching the shot…before laughing to myself. And sipping more of our Big Pink Rose of Cab! Jacobsen Salt, by the way? Is most perfect on steaks.

I had caught that fleeting glimpse of visceral beauty that only we Food Dorks who take pictures of food understand.  That snippet of OH MY GOD THIS WILL ALL TASTE SO DELICIOUS.  But still comes through as “hey idiot, bring me the steaks and tongs? The grill is ready!” Or as “stop ARRANGING the Broccoli! We’re starving here!” #broccolini

You have to laugh at yourself.  I mean, I do.  With that sentence running itself through my brain.  At the same time, I’m not really anybody global… It’s just me, cooking in my old Farmhouse.  Here in the darkened vineyards that blanket Sonoma Valley by night and glow verdant green by day.

Hard to believe our old Farmhouse here at Annadel Estate Winery was neglected for so long. A great place to

Hard to believe our old Farmhouse here at Annadel Estate Winery was neglected for so long. A great place to Cook.

But people who use their photos and “food styling” as a source of income or self esteem feel very strongly the opposite.  Food styling is the epitome of their gastronomical passions. How they voice their food art in color… Still, sometimes the dark recesses of my brain think these must be the same people who handmake foam on a weekly basis…. Or would that be whip?  And I (perhaps naively) differentiate them from say, the earnest bloggers (and foodie photo-takers) such as Asha (Food Fashion Party) or Dennis (Eat Delicious) or Naomi (Farm to Table Feasts) — people I think I’d could comfortably share at least a bottle of great Annadel wine and talk of family and s’mores and oh, I don’t know, growing tomatoes maybe.  People I’ve never met in person ever.  But somehow, through film—digital versions thereof — find that shared joy in our daily plates and our sincere passions for shared pursuits. They, and others like them — professional photogs or not — are the people I love to follow and read about.  Love to “cook with” by making their version of a dish.  After all, there is no new story or new food-dish — aside from say, foam, which I loathe and refuse to make ever — in this great big world of ours.

Because somehow, their photos and words written capture FLAVOR. Earnest efforts at FLAVOR.  A “Joie de Vivre” in their own meals.  Nothing haughty or pretentious.  Just happy.  And Delicious.  A pursuit well followed.

S'Mores. An old classic from my childhood tweaked only by swapping in Scharffen Berger 70% dark chocolate for Hersheys.

S’Mores. An old classic from my childhood tweaked only by swapping in Scharffen Berger 70% dark chocolate for Hersheys.

Not to be catty, but I am SO over the glossy shots of the perfect kumquat.  Aren’t you? That superbly styled white bowl on charcoal table.  It’s always a charcoal table.  Filled impeccably with gleaming cherries or kale.  I mean, really? Who’s kitchen looks like that?  Not mine. Does yours?  Maybe after I move six Leggos, a small pile of mail, and my husband’s cowboy hat, and suck in my two c-sections to seem slim-ish in my Apron. But Why?   Aren’t you tired of the overly perfect pictures that go with those yummy recipes? We don’t shop for perfect fruits and vegetables… We shop for Organic foods.  Healthy.  With dimples, and wrinkles, bits of bruising.  Prizing those divots! So why prize food photos showing only the “perfect Thomas Keller effect,” if you will, when really kitchen-cooking is about talking to your kid about homework and sharing a glass of wine with your spouse. About how dinner smells.  How it will TASTE.  On some nice Serving Ware. (Don’t judge, I went to Finishing School…Twice.)

Nothing against the French Laundry and the banner standards they set waaaayyyy up there, but “it doesn’t all have to be Thomas Keller.”  And I, for one, am glad It’s not.

It doesn't all have to be perfect. XO

It doesn’t all have to be perfect. XO

PS — thanks to my Mom for watching my kids while I write this…and start dinner.

#beautymatters

Beauty is everywhere: Wildflowers in the Parking Lot at North Salmon Creek Beach last weekend.

Beauty is everywhere: Wildflowers in the Parking Lot at North Salmon Creek Beach last weekend.

Beauty Matters. It’s a favorite thought these days with Spring riotously awake.  I’ve been happily saying these words on posts and to friends lately because that’s what happens: Seeing something lovely makes you feel Happy. It just does. You can’t argue with Beauty. You’d never win. Beauty is visceral. Intrinsic. Adding wonderful Value to our Lives. I get this from my Mom and grandparents. A Philosophy I hope to give to my children. How “Living Beautifully” is NOT what you’re born with, but what you do with yourself. And I don’t mean some tiny dress size. Beauty is so much more delicious than that. Taking effort, like cooking.

I keep a lipstick or two in the pantry...!

I keep a lipstick or two in the pantry…!

Going to serve beans last night for dinner, I reached for one bowl but chose another. I realized I was picking serving ware like I do my shoes or lipstick to work with my outfit. Matching the Food to the Bowl.

Yummy cheese and fruits from nearby Petaluma look so pretty on a platter from the Pasadena Flea Market purchased at least 10 years ago with my grandmother.

Yummy cheese and fruits from nearby Petaluma look so pretty on a platter from the Pasadena Flea Market purchased at least 10 years ago with my grandmother.  San Marzano Apron by Hedley & Bennett.

Like jewelry, the colors and shape of the platter or bowl enhances the prettiness of the meal I just spent time cooking. I guess I’ve been unconsciously collecting colorful serving ware for some time. “Curating” an assortment of beautiful servers — new and vintage, budget conscious and splurge.

Gorgeous little bowls and salad plates from Cost Plus World Market will double as serving ware. $24 for all four!

Gorgeous little bowls and salad plates purchased individually from Cost Plus World Market (Corsica Collection)will double for me as serving ware. $24 for all four!

Like Art. And Wine. You love what you love. Everyone’s tastes are different. I love happy things. A guest to my home once sniffed “your home has so much COLOR.” Uh…Yeah.

The best cookie jar ever. Vintage find at an Antique Fair. I love color!

The best cookie jar ever. Vintage find at an Antique Fair. I love color!

It started with Art. Slowly buying original Art. Shopping local. Developing my tastes as I matured. I mostly collect living California artists. Some now dear friends. Like Dennis Ziemienski and Robert Townsend.  Meredith Abbott and her daughter Whitney Abbott.  Michelle Hoting or Ashley Morgan Designs. It’s not like I’m some zillionaire either. I often pay on “Lay Away” — there is no shame in that.  Collecting Art takes time to save and also time to wait until you experience that “lightning bolt” of Beauty. Joy! Curating one, maybe two, beautiful pieces each year that mean something special.  Adding color to our walls or my person with feelings of joy.

Beauty does not have to be expensive. A peak at my bedside table: a $50 Pier One table, Pottery Barn bed,linens bought on sale and two worthy splurges: "Apricots" by Meredith Abbott and a $150 lamp from the last Pacific Asa Museum Festival of the Autumn Moon

Living beautifully does not have to be expensive. A peak at my bedside table: a $110 Pier One table, Pottery Barn bed linens (bought on sale) and two worthy splurges: “Apricots” by Meredith Abbott and a $150 lamp from the last Pacific Asa Museum Festival of the Autumn Moon

All 1960s: Costume broach from Sweet and Spark and Mexican blouse. Standing in front of a Robert Townsend painting of old ladies visiting the Grand Canyon circa 1960s.

All 1960s: Costume broach from Sweet and Spark and Mexican blouse. Standing in front of friend Robert Townsend painting of old ladies visiting the Grand Canyon in 1960s.

Now as a Cook, I just love finding beautiful serving ware. Bringing the same feelings of Beauty from our Walls to our Table. Even if I may be the only one who notices some nights with two toddlers! Just like picked wild flowers, prettiness on the table makes me so HAPPY.

Twinkle lights glow over our 1930s kitchen sink + clean kitchen = Happiness.

Twinkle lights glow over our 1930s kitchen sink + clean kitchen = Happiness.

My new favorite is a 1976 Majolica Bowl from the original WILLIAM SONOMA. Makes even the most old school side dishes — Bush’s Baked Beans? — looked too elegant. And worth the splurge last month.

Beautiful vintage Lettuce Bowl from 1976 found at the William Sonoma Sonoma Store -- the very first one is here in town!

Beautiful vintage Lettuce Bowl from 1976 found at the William Sonoma Sonoma Store — the very first one is here in town!

Did you know our Sonoma store is the ONLY WILLIAM SONOMA in the Country now to sell vintage piece? Some are from founder Chuck William’s personal collection and others are cherry picked by a Buyer traveling for the chain. Isn’t that fantastic? Definitely worth the visit next time you’re in Sonoma.

This may be a First World topic. But I like to think the idea of Beauty — and that it matters — transcends culture and money.  To wild flowers and enjoying a sunset. Or the smile of a little kid. How lucky are we to live and love where Beauty can mean pretty platters? Fine Wine? Fresh vegetables? And Art.  Finding out and more importantly, trusting what you love.  And Cultivating it as much as you can.  For me, it is Food, Wine, and Art.  What is it for you?

Happy eating! And Beautiful Living.