NICOLE STRASBURG: An Artist’s Kitchen

Spring Shoreline (24×24”) Oil on Birch Panel

With so much of California’s natural beauty laid waste and charred this Winter, I took comfort in the beautiful Art works from friend Nicole Strasburg. In her celebrations of Nature’s most exquisite beauty! Nicole’s unique eye keenly appreciates atmospheric color, movement, and my personal fave, something I’ve come to think of as “coastality.” As in that special magic where water and land meet.

Island High (22×60”) Oil on Birch Panel

Nicole Strasburg is an Artist collectors (& we painters) avidly admire. As dear Rob Townsend quipped, “Well, yeah. She can do no wrong, right?” And it’s pretty much true.  How she deconstructs even the most complex natural landscapes into something raw and pure… You can feel breeze blowing and waters lapping from her Canvas and Paint. Painting large birch wood panels. Sanding it down. Repainting her scene. Sanding it down. Repainting. Sanding it down… Until her paintings BREATHE.

Maybe it was learning how to paint theatre sets in Santa Barbara with her Dad as a kid? Or her inner talents Nicole tuned up after leaving art school? Regardless, Nicole’s sheer appreciation for California’s magnificent land and central coast sets her apart.

Outgoing Tide (40×60”) Oil on Birch Panel

So of course, I was curious about her favorite foods. Because after writing these many stories, I’ve delighted to discover there really can be a deliciously specific relationship between an Artist and her Kitchen.

And how the recipes Nicole shares with us today does the exact same thing as her Art: Bringing the simply fresh outdoors inside to savor.

Murder at Twilight (40×40”) Oil on Birch Panel

 

SUNSET GREEN ENCHILADAS  (Strasburg Style)

Nicole adapted her green chile enchiladas from a recipe torn out of Sunset Magazine and tweaked it to suit.

  • 2 lbs Anaheim or Poblano Chiles
  • 1 large Mexican Sweet Onion or Sweet Red Onion chopped
  • 3 – 6 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 12-16 corn tortillas
  • 3-4 cups of chicken broth
  • Roast Chicken — white & dark meat shredded
  • 2-3 cups Monterey Jack Cheese (Be generous with the cheese!)
  • salt and pepper

To Prepare Chiles: Place all Chiles on a lined baking sheet and Broil until skins blacken and bubble, turning once. Let Chiles cool. Then peel off blackened skins. Nicole says, “this “roasting” enriches the flavor of the chile.”  Next, seed, destem, and dice Chiles. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 400’F

Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet. Sauté your garlic and cook until fragrant (be careful not to burn.) Add the onions and cook until soft. Stir in diced Chiles, salt + pepper and cook 3-5 minutes. Stir in Chicken Stock. Nicole’s tip: “I am generous with the liquid 2 full cups at least. You can let it cook down but extra liquid means that the enchiladas stay really moist, even with the leftovers.”

Here is the Recipe “tear out” Nicole swears by from Sunset magazine.

Nicole writes, “You can follow instructions 3, 4 and 5 for filling the tortillas. I use a big 9×12 casserole dish and can squeeze in about 16 enchiladas. Use one baking sheet and lay out 6 tortillas at a time, Fill, roll and put into casserole dish. I also don’t think you need 2 full cups of liquid to do the tortillas maybe 1. Whatever you have left over after filling the tortillas can go in the sauce… I like to make a whole pan and freeze half for later. It’s great for the cabin as is the Tortilla Soup! Oh! And make the sauce you can make a day or two ahead if you don’t want to be in the kitchen all afternoon.”

Served topped with sliced avocado, cilantro and shredded lettuce.

Coastal Grasses (18×36”) Oil on Birch Panel

 

TURKEY BURGERS TWO WAYS

1.) FESTIVE SUMMER GRILLING 

For Nicole’s Burgers:

  • 2 lbs Ground Turkey
  • 2 Carrots Grated
  • Handful diced button mushrooms
  • 2 scallions diced with greens
  • 1/3 Cup Oats
  • 1/4 Cup Italian Bread Crumbs (optional for GF folks)
  • 1-2 cloves Garlic minced
  • Few shakes garlic salt
  • 1/4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1-2 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce (skip if GF)
  • Ketchup
  • Hot Sauce (like Sriracha)

Additional:

  • Corn on the Cobb (to grill)
  • Relish, Cheese, & Condiments
  • Strawberries (sliced and macerated in brown sugar or bourbon. Set aside)
  • Vanilla Ice Cream

Place all ingredients in one large bowl. Mix well by hands. Then form patties to size.  Refrigerate 30 minutes and grill to taste.

KICKING KETCHUP: Whisk your preferred hot sauce into ketchup to taste.

Serve burgers with your favorite relish, Kicking Ketchup, and Corn on the Cobb.

Nicole thinks “Strawberry Shortcake” served over Vanilla Ice Cream (not cake) is the perfect ending for this delicious meal!

2.) WINTER MEATLOAF + MASHED POTATOES & MUSHROOM GRAVY

Form a turkey meatloaf using the same burger ingredients listed above. Preheat oven to 350’F and bake until cooked through (45 minutes +/-). Let rest covered until serving.

MUSHROOM GRAVY:

  • 1 Sweet Onion diced
  • 2 packages sliced mushrooms {1 button & 1 cremini}
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 good glugs of dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons white or GF flour
  • Whole Milk

Melt the butter in a medium sized pan. Add onions and cook until soft. Add mushrooms and extra butter if needed. Shake pan to coat mixture in the butter. Cover to let mushrooms release juices. Stir occasionally. When mushrooms have cooked down a few minutes, stir in wine and chicken broth. Lower heat to reduce while you prep the flour mixture.

Optional: For Nicole’s Flour & Milk thickener: Whisk 2 TBSP flour add milk while whisking making sure there are no lumps. She elaborates, “Flour goes into separate bowl and I whisk in the milk until it’s creamy like buttermilk. My “container” is a good jar or Tupperware that has a lid so that after whisk it I can seal it and shake it to make sure there are no lumps… I’m probably doing it backwards, I’m sure you could just put the two TBSPS of flour I the pan and make a roux then just add broth afterwards but this is how I remember my mom and grandmother making gravy.”

Slowly add flour/milk mixture to mushroom and onions — adding only 1/4 of the mixture at a time until gravy begins to thicken to the consistency you want (then Stop). Give Mushroom Gravy a few good couple of stirs.

MASHED POTATOES

  • 4 starchy potatoes like Yukon Gold — Nicole thinks “these have a high buttery content and flavor best for mashed!”
  • Butter
  • Milk to taste
  • salt and pepper

Thickly slice Potatoes. Cook in hot water until pierced easily with a fork. Drain and mash.

Heat small amount of milk and slowly add to mashed potatoes. Mix in melted butter and salt to taste.

Serve all three dishes together family style and enjoy!

HAPPY EATING!

ROBERT TOWNSEND: An Artist’s Kitchen

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

MONET & FOOD: The Artist’s Kitchen

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