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

MONET: Artist 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