FRIDA’S Food: Artist Kitchens

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

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

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

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

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

 

SHRIMP TACOS

(8 servings)

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

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

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

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

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

 

SOPA SECO DE FIDEO

(8 servings)

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

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

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

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

 

BLACK BEAN SOUP

(8 servings)

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

Garnish:

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

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

 

ENCHILADAS TAPATíAS

(8 servings)

  • 24 small tortillas
  • Oil

For Sauce

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

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

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

 

SHORTBREAD COOKIES

(25 to 30 cookies)

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

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

 

POTATOES IN GREEN SAUCE

(8 servings)

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

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

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

Serve in shallow bowl pooled with sauce and:

REFRIED BEANS

(8 servings)

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

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

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

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

BLACK MOLÈ FROM OAXACA

(16 to 20 servings)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Select Acknowledgements:

Frida Kahlo At Home by Suzanne Barbezat

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

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

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

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.