FLORINE STETTHEIMER: Artist Kitchens (Jazz Age)

"Family Portrait II" 1933 (L-R: Florine paints, Ettie reads, Rosetta plays cards, and Carrie smokes).

They like a woman
To have a mind
they are of greater interest
they find
They are not very young
women of that
kind.


FLORINE STETTHEIMER

Florine Stettheimer was FABULOUS. Unabashedly fabulous! A striking, major figure in American modern art that you’ve probably never heard of. (I hadn’t).

Poet. Painter. Salonista extraordinaire. Purposefully unmarried. Intentionally beautiful. Vibrant. Female. Florine reveled in her carefully crafted, eccentric and very extravagant lifestyle — the glittering world of Manhattan’s elite. A realm she savored but incisively observed as irreverent poet and artist. Catching the rich layers of 1900s New York with an eye for all things beautiful BUT cutting a sharply acerbic wit.

For she suffered no fools.

I like slippers gold
I like oysters cold
and my garden with mixed flowers
and the sky full of towers.

Florine was born August 1871 into a wealthy German-American Jewish banking family. Her father (Joseph) soon deserted the family but Rosetta (mother) held her own fortune. Thus she and three daughters (Carrie, Ettie, and Florine) moved to Europe for the daughters’ arts education. Living between Paris, Munich, Italy, and Berlin before returning home to America at the onset of World War I.  The Alwyn Court — a pinnacle of Art Deco modernism on W 58th Street — would be home for the rest of their lives. Remaining decidedly unmarried and adhering to the adage that “fully realized” women do not distract themselves with romantic love or children.

Florine Stehttheimer’s studio in New York’s Beaux Arts Building. Notice her many paintings? She NEVER sold any of her work. Sharing only on private occasion. After her death, Florine wished all to be burned. Ettie, her sister, ignored the request and invited top American museums to instead choose for their permanent collections.

“Distraction” free, Ettie earned a PhD in Philosophy and published two novels under the pen name “Henry Waste.” Carrie assumed domestic management once back in America. While Florine wrote poetry and privately painted some of our country’s greatest modern works. The Stettheimers also hosted some of New York’s most famous cultural Salons — and, Marcel Duchamp’s legendary 30th birthday party.  Unique at the time, these women were independent, financially secure, private, and FULLY empowered.

The Stettheimer women witnessed a time of great change in New York, not least of which was the skyline.  Optimism bloomed as industry changed landscapes. Giving rise to urban culture and a general faith in human progress. Upper and middle classes embraced a love for Beautiful Things — craving luxury and opulence after the austerity of World War I. Almost a frenzy to sparkle with diamonds, live in “stylishly appointed” rooms, and eat and drink the finest. Florine’s spellbinding paintings capture this new pulse in wealthy Manhattan. Revered by elite taste makers as she deftly celebrated, paid tribute to, and was yet equally critical of high society, luxury, and institutions. Boldly colored, inventively composed, Florine’s visionary work shows modern, rich, avant garde society witnessing the dawn of “New York-ness” and painting it with graceful, chic satire and humor.

“Asbury Park” (1920) Florine paints her white family and friends into a joyful scene on a segregated beach pulsing to the rhythms of Jazz, beautiful color, and racism.

The fact she literally refused to ever sell her work was also unusual. Insisting she didn’t want her art “to end up in the bedroom of some man!” Instead, she hosted dynamic peers for private “Birthday Parties” for each new painting in her studio. As central intellectual aesthetes in Jazz Age New York, Florine and Ettie especially enjoyed close friendships with luminaries like Duchamp, Alfred Stieglitz, E. Steichen, Carl von Vechten (Music critic & Jazz lover), Gertrude Stein, and Georgia O’Keeffe. Florine did allow the Whitney or Museum of Modern Art to show her work publicly. For she shunned press, pursuing Art purely in a singular style all her own: ethereal, fiercely feminist, luxuriously delicate…and shredding racist, imperial, sexist themes in her details.

Century old critics incorrectly panned her work as “decorative” but buried in her sparkling finery, flowers, skyscrapers, and lacy interiors lurk some of the most subversive imagery in 20th century art.  Gender bending silhouettes, Surrealist sensuality, self nudes (a first!), social parody, and cutting commentary on the follies of human character. Leading her work (and personality) to be admired but left unknown to the public.  And as her style was so unique, she fell through the cracks. Where she sort of remains today.

An Artist’s Artist. And Cult Heroine.

“Spring Sale at Bendels” (1921) shows an almost hysterical riot of shoppers struggling to buy beauty from a department store.

 

As a wealthy Manhattan woman, Florine likely did NOT Cook.  Upper class homes hired domestic staff for cooking and cleaning. That said, wealthy homes in the 1920s and 1930s would similarly cook dishes that showcased one’s wealth. Before the rise of early refrigerators, dishes like Aspic, Deviled Eggs, Salmon Mousse, Jello Molds, even Crudites showed your kitchen was equipped with an expensive Cold Room. Champagne cocktails, Gin Fizz, Claret, Mint Juleps, even Lemonade demonstrated access to fine alcohol and citrus garnish during Prohibition. The phallic “Candle Salad” at holidays was all the rage — literally an upright banana nestled in a yellow ring of canned Dole pineapple with a maraschino cherry on top — practically screamed “we can afford fresh produce in winter!” When the more affordable “Frigidaire” launched 1925, middle class homes joined the party and these dishes? Fell somewhat out of favor.

1920s advertisements in Ladies magazines shared recipes using new, read-made foods available thanks to advancements in canning and curing. Dole, Kraft, Miracle Whip, and Heinz brands joined an increasingly full market place. Historians credit the rise of condiments to the large influx of Immigrants in the early 20th century.

Data from 1920s show women spent 44 hours per week cooking meals. Thanks to technology (i.e. refrigeration and canning), upper and middle class Americans now had new fresh and ready-made food options. Vitamins and the concept of dietary health benefits lead to diverse diets. Between 1920-1929, consumption of carrots increased x7, lettuce x4, and green beans x6.5! Fresh O.J. and tomato juice became available year-round while processed foods, gas stoves, and the “Frigedaire” (1925) modernized many American kitchens forever.

One fascinating part in this era of food history, is that while wealthy homes still trended towards more lavish, traditional European dishes (such as Florine’s steamed lobster picnic below), Manhattan’s upper crust hotels and restaurants certainly capitalized on these new foodstuffs and cold storage technologies. Creating new menu items that were cutting edge in 1920s/30s but later? Trickled down into more middle class bistro, diner, and cafeteria fare. Long distance trucking, cold cars, and the invention of those big, almost walk-in refrigerators allowed high-end commercial kitchens to hold (and sell) fresh greens (a novelty!) all year round. And crisp, chilled SALADS became hugely popular. Especially among New York’s wealthiest women lunching on “diet fare.”

“Picnic at Bedford Hills” 1918

Here are the original Jazz Age era recipes for the what was then, brand new Salads —  Chef’s Salad, Chicken Salad(s), Waldorf Salad, Chinese Chicken Salad, and the original French Dressing. I am also including Bob Cobb’s original Brown Derby Cobb Salad as well since New York quickly copied the Los Angeles icon.

POSTSCRIPT: ChristineCarlson from What Do You Crave delighted in Florine so much that she created a new cocktail in her honor! The “Nouvelle Femme!” recipe is below.

Enjoy!

 

CHEF’S SALAD

Original “diet fare” from (likely) Louis Diat, Chef of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel with roots in the 1930s English American immigrant community in New York.

A published 1941 recipe is clearest, “In a bowl, place equal amounts chopped lettuce (place in bottom of the bowl), boiled chicken, smoked ox tongue, and smoked ham, all cut in julienne style. Add 1/2 hard-cooked egg for each portion, Place some watercress in the center and serve with French Dressing.”

(I’d skip the ox tongue…)

A bit different is this 1936 recipe from the Joy of Cooking (2nd printing), Irma Rombauer called “Chef Salad:”

  • Rub a salad bowl with: Garlic
  • Place in it tender lettuce leaves
  • Add to them anchovies, pitted ripe olives, sliced radishes, peeled and quartered tomatoes, sliced hard-cooked eggs, shredded Swiss cheese
  • Peel, slice and add: 3 hard-cooked eggs
  • Drain and chop: 6 or 8 anchovies
  • Peel, slice and add: 2 tomatoes
  • Moisten the salad with French Dressing
  • Toss it in the bowl. Serve at once.

A published 1937 Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook Chef’s Salad Recipe skips the cheese but adds chopped celery, endive, and watercress.

That said, iconic Los Angeles Brown Derby restaurant developed a “Derby Chef Salad” in the late 1920s, some 11 years earlier than the New York Ritz. The Derby Chef was originally a light starter plate but by late 1930s and 40s, saw the salad take on heavier and fancier ingredients.  In general though, the Derby Chef was a light tossed salad made from chopped iceberg lettuce, hard boiled egg, tomato and roquefort dressing. Menu deviations saw guest appearances from sliced radish, garlic, chicory, Swiss cheese, fresh parsley, bacon, anchovies, and lemon.

 

Duche
A Silver-tin thin spiral
Revolving from Cool twilight
To as far as pink dawn
A steely negation of lightning
That strikes
A solid lamb-wool mountain
Reared into the hot night
And ended the spinning spiral’s
Love flight —
Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy (his femme alter ego) 1923

 

CHICKEN SALAD is first seen in German American recipes in 1845 and then again in 1865 (with an option to swap in turkey).  Early Germanic cooks saw this protein packed salad as a primary meal, not repurposing leftovers. In the 1920s, twists on high-end chicken salad pop up with additions of chopped olives, green celery leaves, lemon juice, and cucumber pickles.

This 1930 recipe lists the “Old Way Of Making It:”

  • 2 large chickens, boiled
  • 6 hard boiled eggs
  • 4 uncooked egg yolks
  • 4 tablespoonfuls lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoonful cayenne pepper
  • 6 stalks celery
  • 2 teaspoonfuls mustard
  • 1 teaspoonful salt
  • 4 tablespoonfuls vinegar
  • 6 tablespoonfuls milk
  • 1 pint bottle olive oil
  • “Chop the chicken, white and dark meat, not too fine, being careful to remove every bit of skin and not to use the hard or gristly parts. Cut up the celery and chop hard-boiled eggs, salt and pepper to taste. Make a dressing of the rest of the ingredients by mixing the egg yolks, mustard, salt and pepper together until smooth and thick. Drop in the oil a little at a time, then add vinegar, lemon juice, and lastly, milk. Just before you are ready to serve mix all ingredients together and mix with the dressing.”

 

“Birthday Bouquet” (Flowers with Snake). 1932

CHINESE CHICKEN SALAD

Chinese ingredient and inspired ingredients became all the rage in big American cities starting in the early 1930s. But these salads were a far cry from what we think of as a Chinese Chicken Salad since raw salads were (& are) not traditional in Asia. Uncooked vegetables being considered dangerous and holding little appeal to most Chinese. Many early versions of this American concoction used par-boiled or stir fried ingredients and served hot or cold.

Cold Chicken salads, however, do have roots in Szechwan were “pong pong” chicken (or “bong bong”) is mixed with blanched bean sprouts and dressed in whisked peanut butter, red peppers, and garlic sauce. Food historians think THIS may the start to what became Americanized as the “Chinese Chicken Salad” (aka “Oriental Salad” or in San Francisco, “So See Chicken.” Early recipes seem to exclude soy based ingredients with high-end restaurants and hotels serving salads to fashionable Hollywood / Broadway diners made generally from chicken, iceberg lettuce, fried wontons, and a spicy, sesame oil dressing. (And sometimes, canned tangerine.)

For something akin to a Jello Mold, this charmer appeared in 1936 for household or potluck gatherings:

  • Chopped iceberg lettuce
  • crispy fried noodles
  • strips of roasted chicken (breast usually)
  • 1 cup almonds
  • 2 tablespoons gelatin (sic)
  • 1/4 cup cold water
  • 1&3/4 cup boiling chicken stock
  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1&1/2 cups finely cut boiled chicken
  • Chili sauce
  • Horseradish
  • Whipped Cream
  • Salt to Taste
  • “Blanche the almonds, then place them in a hot oven until they are quite brown. Shred very fine. Soften the gelatine (sic) in cold water, add the boiling stock, and stir until gelatine (sic) is dissolved. Add the pineapple and strain through a meshed sieve. Add salt to taste and paprika. Arrange the chicken, pineapple, and almonds in a mold; add the chilled liquid and place in the coldest part of the refrigerator to set. Unfold on a large platter garnished with lettuce or chicory and serve with a dressing of whipped cream, to which a little chili or horseradish has been added. This makes eight to ten servings.”

 

“Self Nude” 1915 caused quite the scandal and is thought to be the first self portrait by an American woman artist. Florine hung her painting in the main room in her studio for all to see.

 

FRENCH DRESSING believe it or not is rooted as a 1300s popular digestive for raw vegetables and was mostly vinegar based until this big popularity of American style salads in the 20th century.  One of the earliest recipes for French Dressings (plural) is 1928 and based on COLOR:

  • Pink dressings were made with Heinz tomato ketchup and paprika (with some mustards).
  • Yellow French Dressing used lemon juice.
  • Orange French Dressing was a whisked blend of lemon and paprikas.

The tomato based, creamy French Dressing Americans know today stems from a 1928 Edgewater Beach Hotel Salad (Cook)Book by Arnold Shircliffe which used Heinz tomato ketchup as the base.

The Brown Derby in Los Angeles, however, was considered the final word on midcentury French Dressing. Publishing this recipe in 1949 after decades in use:

  • 1 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Juice 1/2 lemon
  • 2.5 tbs salt
  • 1 tbs black pepper
  • 1 tbs Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp English mustard
  • 1 garlic chopped
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups salad oil
  • Mix all ingredients well and chill in a 2 qt Mason Jar.

Other Salad Dressings in 1920s-1930s modern restaurants and kitchens include Thousand Island, Russian, and Ranch.  Bottled options from Kraft and Miracle Whip played pivotal table roles as early as 1915 and reigned supreme until Julia Child reintroduced vinaigrettes in the 1960s.

1930s Kraft advertisement with recipes.

 

COBB SALAD is thought to be the parent of all Chef Salads and is named for Bob Cobb, owner of that legend, the Brown Derby. Tired of LA’s “hot dog-hamburger- diet,” he experimented with an avocado in his icebox.  Chopping it up to toss with chopped lettuce, celery, tomato and a leftover piece of bacon for his dinner.  A few days later, he tried it again with some chicken breast, chives, watercress, hard boiled egg, and a wedge of roquefort cheese for dressing. And the salad legend was born!

 

THE NOUVELLE FEMME

Behold this beauty from Christine at What Do You Crave: the brand new Nouvelle Femme!
Femme (a take on the jazz age cocktail The White Lady)
2.0 oz vodka
.75 oz Cointreau
1 oz Lemon rosemary simple syrup (recipe follows)
1 egg white OR 1oz aqua faba
In a cocktail shaker combine all ingredients, muddle, and dry shake (no ice) very well.
Add in ice and shake again. Strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with fresh rosemary and lemon.
Simple Syrup
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup water
3 springs rosemary
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan.
Simmer on low, stirring occasionally.
Strain into a heatproof jar and cool completely before using.

 

Family Portrait II (1933) Florine considered her masterpiece. Her “Life’s best work.” The Museum of Modern Art dearly wished to acquire this painting and only succeeded in 1956, some 12 years after her death.

Select Bibliography:

“Florine Stettheimer; Painting Poetry” from Stephen Brown & Georgiana Uhlyarik in conjunction with the Jewish Museum (New York), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), and Yale University Press (New Haven & London) JEWISH MUSEUM ART SHOW: Summer 2017

“A Case for the Greatness of Florine Stettheimer” by Roberta Smith, New York Times, May 18, 2017 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/18/arts/design/a-case-for-the-greatness-of-florine-stettheimer.html)

“From the Archives; Florine Stehttheimer’s Rococo Subversive” by Linda Nochline, September 1, 1980 in Art in America Magazine (http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-features/magazine/from-the-archives-florine-stettheimer-rococo-subversive/)

“Crystal Flowers; Poems and a Libretto” by Florine Stettheimer (1923). Edited by Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo (2010)

“How Florine Stettheimer Sabotaged Her Own Art Market” by Sarah Cascade on May 26, 2017, Artnet News (https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/florine-stettheimer-market-938318

National Women’s History Museum, “Women, Food & the Jazz Age” by Sydnee C. Winston (http://www.nwhm.org/blog/foodie-friday-women-food-the-jazz-age/)

“1920’s Food: Introduction to Processed Foods”, “1920s Art: The Age of Surrealism & Art Deco” from 1920s-1930s.com (http://www.1920-30.com)

“Art Deco — One of the Most Enduring Design Styles” by Petra Bjelica, May 9, 2017 for Walls With Stories (Wallswithstories.com)

Joy of Cooking, Irma Rombauer

Assorted Food History and Recipe Research thanks to Food Timeline (Foodtimeline.org)

“How Suffragists Used Cookbooks As A Recipe for Subversion” by Nina Martyris for NPR’s “The Salt,” November 5, 2015 (www.pr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/11/05/454246666/how-suffragists-used-cookbooks-as-a-recipe-for-subversion

The Jazz Age: American Style in the 1920s Sarah D Coffin and Stephen Harrison. Contributions from Emily M. Orr. Publication from Yale Univ. and the Cleveland Museum of Art (2017 Exhibition)

“The Flamboyant Feminism of Cult Artist Florine Stettheimer” by Alexxa Gotthardt, March 15, 2017 artsy.net

ROBERT TOWNSEND: Artist 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

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!

FRIDA: Artist Kitchens

Welcome to “The Creative Palate: Artist Kitchens!”

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 people, let alone our 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.