25 September 2015

Famous Food Friday --Jackson Pollock

number 14 (Gray), 1948 by Jackson Pollock
When I think of Jackson Pollock, I rarely think of food.  It's funny, but I don't think of artists as being great cooks. Maybe it is the paint-stained hands, or the chemicals, or just some weird bias on my part. Writer in the kitchen seems right but artists.... Needless to say when I saw Robyn Lea's book, Dinner With Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature, I was intrigued.

Turns out that after a busy day of splatter painting, Jackson headed into the kitchen.

Who knew?

The cookbook features recipes from Pollock, Lee Krasner, and various artist friends who hung out in the Hamptons. (The pre-99% Hamptons where struggling artists could still find a home.) Pollock and Krasner took advantage of the seafood and local produce. Much of what the pair knew of cooking came from their parents. Pollock's taste ran to the Midwestern fare ate at his mother's table. While they often hosted other artists, Stella made several appearances in the kitchen.

Lee Krasner, Stella Pollock, and Jackson Pollock.
One of the most charming items uncovered by Lea was Stella Pollock's handwritten recipe book.  A familiar site in many family kitchens. Her son built on her recipes in an attempt to become a better cook.

His biggest culinary passion was baking. Given Pollock's reputation for being erratic and boisterous, it is interesting to think that his kitchen exploits gravitate to the precision and patience required for baking. His signature baking accomplishment was his apple pie.  It won first prize at the Fisherman's Fair. It became so popular that every year, people bid to buy his pie site unseen. The recipe for the crust was written out by Stella on the back of a recipe book.

Jackson’s Prize-Winning Apple Pie


4 pounds granny smith apples, or any combination of tart apples
¼ cup water
1 cup sugar, or less if desired
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour, sifted


2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1 level teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups cold butter
2 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg for egg wash
½ cup cold milk, plus more as needed

To prepare the filling: Peel, core and thinly slice apples. Stew apples in a pot with the water (add enough to cover the fruit), plus the sugar and spices, until just cooked. Chill the apples in a little of the juice. When cold, sift the flour over the apples and stir gently to combine. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450°F. To make the pie crust: Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add butter and cut in until mixture is crumbly. Add egg yolks and mix with enough milk to make a dough. Roll out dough lightly. Place the pastry in a greased 10-inch round pie dish, allowing pastry to overhang the edge of the pan by about 1 inch; trim away excess dough, roll it into a ball, and set aside to make the top crust. Be sure there are no cracks in the bottom crust; seal them by pressing edges together with fingers. Pour the apple mixture into the pie shell and distribute evenly.

For a simple top crust, roll out the remaining dough, slide the pastry sheet onto the rolling pin, and unroll it on top of the apple pie filling. Allow top crust to overhang the edge of the pan by about 1 inch; trim away excess dough, then pinch the top and bottom crusts together all around the rim to seal the pie. Prick the top crust with a fork in about a dozen places, or slice a few small openings with a knife, to allow steam to escape. Brush the top pastry with egg wash and sprinkle lightly with a pinch or two of sugar. 

For a more elaborate lattice-style top, roll out the remaining dough, cut into ½-inch strips, and weave strips across the top of the filling. Brush the lattice strips with egg wash and lightly sprinkle with a pinch or two of sugar.
Place the pie in the center of oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, then reduce oven to 325°F and bake 25 to 30 minutes more.

Funny how something as simple as an apple pie can change the way you look at art.  Thanks to Robyn Lea, I will never look at Jackson Pollock the same way. Art and recipes! What a combo.

24 September 2015

A Rather Tangled Chrimson Field

It takes very little to pique my interest. Pique sends me down a rabbit hole of consumptive excess.  So let us back up and find out how The Crimson Field leads us to Edith Cavell and Oona O'Neil.

First let me dissuade you of the notion that I watched this thinking it had something to do with Alabama football. 

I get a very spotty PBS station from remote Ohio. Much of what they show is several years behind the rest of PBS and they are prone to start a series and not finish it which is both dumb and infuriating. To add insult to injury, they like to list Masterpiece Theater as simple that--Masterpiece Theater; with no mention of what they are actually showing.

Recently, I watched The Crimson Field. Like of much of this PBS fare, it just sort of appeared without warning in episode three. The Crimson Field is the story of nurses in World War I. I liked it quite a bit, but in in its native England it got lackluster reviews and never made it to a second season. One of the story lines was about a nurse whose husband is German. She desperately wants to know if he is alive and this leads to problems.  It also leads to Edith Cavell who was a nurse in World War I in German-occupied Belgium.  She treated both Germans and Allies soldiers. She also managed to help about 200 Allied soldiers escape the Germans which got her arrested. She was tried for treason, found guilty, and executed by firing  squad.

So of course, I wanted to read about Cavell. The major biography of Edith Cavell is written by Diana Souhami who was once described as favoring subjects of “grand lesbians and ragged mariners," having written about  Gluck, Gertrude Stein, Greta Garbo, and Radclyffe Hall.  Her major fame came from writing about the inspiration for Robinson Crusoe in her book Selkirk’s Island, which won a Whitbread Biography Award. Whatever the subject, Souhami is an excellent biographer and she does Edith Cavell justice.

And if that wasn't enough, one of the actresses in The Crimson Field was Oona Chaplin

who is the daughter of Geraldine Chaplin

 and the granddaughter of Oona O'Neil Chaplin.

So of course, I was "forced" to reread Jane Scovell's biography,  Oona.

The problem with writing a "Season 1" predicated on the notion that there will be a "Season 2" often means that story lines are left dangling. This happened with The Crimson Field. Our distraught band of nurses are left hanging as the war rages on. Too bad.

Actually, it might be a good idea that I don't get great PBS.

21 September 2015

Last Tomato

Picked the last ripe tomato of the season. As you can tell, there won't be any canning this week.

10 September 2015

Elsie de Wolfe's Paris

I admit to being an Elsie de Wolfe fan. When I saw that Charlie Scheips had a new book, Elsie de Wolfe's Paris:Frivolity Before the Storm, I couldn't resist.

Scheips, who is a social historian and curator discovered of a cashe of unpublished photographs. Not only were there photographs of de Wolfe's parties with their famous guests, there were also many candid shots of the extensive preparations for the parities. One is rarely privy to such behind the scenes preparation.

In W Magazine, it was reported that Scheips showed the photos to Babs Simpson, a former Vogue fashion editor who was, at the time, 101. Somewhat amazed, she exclaimed,  “Where would one ever wear these beautiful dresses today?”

In fact, where would one ever attend such a lavish party? Even today's 1%ers, don't throw them like this anymore. That is one of the beauties of this book -- it is truly an artifact of a bygone ere.

It is hard to think of de Wolfe, Lady Mendl, at this time as being quite so elderly. She looks very much like someones aged grand-mère, but at 81, she still partied with the best of them!

Elsie and Paul-Louis Weiller in from of her Birthday cake.
The subtitle of Scheips' book, "Frivolity Before the Storm," captures the essence of history. The final Circus Party would take place in 1939. Her home was transformed. Sets were built, caterers commissioned, guest lists made, and orchestras hired.

Everyone would be buzzing about the event, but little did they know that it would be the last legendary ball of the era. Within two months, Adolf Hitler would invade Poland and the world would be forever changed.

The Duchess of Windsor said of Elsie de Wolfe,
"For bringing together all kinds of people in a gay, airy, but flawless setting, I have never known anyone to equal Lady Mendl. she mixes people like a cocktail -- and the results are sheer genius."
Elsie de Wolfe's Paris gives us a peek into that genius and into an era that will never be repeated.

07 September 2015

Labor Day of Love

For the past few days, we have been trying to capture the Guinea pig abandoned at the book lender. He has survived dehydration, predation, motorcycles, and fracking truck, proving to be quite the little warrior.

My friend, Ann, upon seeing his picture decided to name him G-Force. And herein lies the problem...

Ann is basically a ten-year-old trapped in grown-up body. She loved the movie G-Force (as did I, I won't lie) about a group of marauding Guinea pigs who save the world from an evil billionaire. But Ann is a grown-up and not very likely to beg for a pet Guinea pig after seeing the movie.

Actual ten-year olds are not so wise. They see the movie, think in their little reptilian brains that Guinea pigs are really cool little crime fighting ninjas and beg for one from the Walmart.

At home, the Guinea pig sits quietly, eats and defecates. That's it. As a parent, one should explain this to the child, and not give in and get a Guinea pig just to abandon it when it doesn't save America.  (P.S. this holds true for Easter chicks and bunnies, and tea cup pigs who grow up to be 400 pound porkers.  Read up on a living creature before you bring it home!!)

So yesterday we devised an old-fashioned trap to catch G.  Everything went as planned. G. got trapped.  Then he went a bit berserk and frankly a berserk Guinea pig is more than just a little bit scary! Then he escaped through a wide section of the wire basket.  One tends to forget that Guinea pigs are just rats with good hair, so we should have seen the escape coming.

Today, we were prepared. Wire basket was covered in chicken wire, cat carrier was close by, leather gloves were donned and soon, G. was in protective custody. Further proof that during a zombie apocalypse you wan to be in my car, because I could feed you...but I digress.

G. is now sitting in his comfy cage with water and chopped carrots, safe from harm.
Later this week he will head off to a safe shelter where he might just find a family to love him. If not he will be housed, and fed and looked after.

While this a fine end for G. I couldn't help but think that he is in far better circumstances than thousands of Syrian children whose parents, after risking their lives would be thrilled for a roof, some water, and a few chopped carrots. Let's hope they all have a similar outcome as the abandoned Guinea pig.

04 September 2015

Notes to a Jackass

Dear Jackass:

What possessed you to abandon a Guinea pig at the book lender?

Are Guinea pigs known to be great foragers and defenders of their territory?

Last time I checked, their territory was the Walmart pet section.  Why didn't you abandon him at Walmart?

If you thought that you were leaving him at the Post Office so that we could mail him back to Walmart -- you didn't leave enough postage!

My friend, Ann, gave you the benefit of the doubt.  She suggested that the Guinea pig escaped and ran away.  (From a cage, in a house, to walk miles to the book lender?)  In all fairness, Ann, was the person who years ago yelled frantically for me at 3 am. Pointing out the window in the ground below she asked if the animals frolicking in the D.C. moonlight were bunnies.  They were rats!

Don't get me wrong...I have no great love for Guinea pigs.  Unlike actual pigs, there is no bacon, there. 

They don't sit in your lap and purr.

They don't fetch a ball.

But then, I didn't buy one.  I didn't buy it a cage and bring it home.  I didn't keep it till I was tired of it and then abandon it at the book lender.  P.S. if you wanted to abandon it, why didn't you abandon the cage, too.  That way, so someone who wanted the  Guinea pig could have it?

I have tried to catch it, but to no avail.

When I first saw it, I thought "circle of life."  But no, he has proven to be quite resilient, evading predators. And evading me.

So everyday I feed your Guinea pig, Jackass. 

Let's hope he will someday let me catch him and get him to safe place.

In the meantime, if you are considering getting an animal, think about the long term responsibilities of such a decision.  Some animal can actually outlive you!

17 July 2015

Famous Food Friday -- Audrey Hepburn

For most people, this is the image they think of when they think of Audrey Hepburn in a kitchen. Holly Golightly in full tiara examining the contents of her refrigerator: milk and ballet slippers.

Really, to look at Audrey Hepburn one might never think she ate a bite. Such a supposition has a rather sinister truth. As a child in war ravaged Holland, she suffered from acute malnutrition and came very close to starving. Some twenty-two thousand people died of hunger in Holland during World War II.

We also think of Audrey Hepburn as a movie star. Her son, Luca Dotti, says he never knew Audrey Hepburn, and vehemently denied that his mother was an actress telling those who inquired that his mother was, "Mrs. Dotti."

Recently, Luca Dotti shared the Audrey Hepburn he knew as Mum, in a lovely book entitled, Audrey at Home.  It began when a friend pulled a binder off a shelf and Dotti discovered it was a collection of recipes many that, "never made their way to our dining table."  He goes on to say,

"For in the kitchen, as in life, my mother gradually freed herself from everything that was superfluous to keep only that which mattered to her. Those are the recipes you will find  in the pages that follow  -- and the stories that go with them."

As one might suspect, the vast majority of the recipes are Italian. One might not suspect that Audrey Hepburn was a fan of junk food. Here is a recipe that combines the two.  She often ate this sitting in front of the television.

Penne with Ketchup

1/2 pound (250 g) penne or pennette
1 tablespoon (14 g) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Splash of Heinz ketchup or more to taste
Emmentaler cheese, grated for serving

Cook the penne in a pot with abundant slightly salted boiling water; strain when it is "al dente." In the same pot over medium heat, toss the pasta with the butter and oil, mixing for a minute or two. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and wait a few minutes more; this is called "mantecare" and leaves your pasta as smooth as silk. Pour the penne into a serving bowl and toss with a splash of ketchup, just enough to give the pasta a pinkish color. Dot the top here and there with a little more ketchup. Serve with grated Emmentaler cheese.

If you are a fan of Audrey Hepburn, this is a magical book to add to your collection. 

Here a few "extra" photos we have of Audrey in and out of kitchens real and imaginary.

Audrey Hepburn with Mel Ferrer in the rustic kitchen at their home, Villa Bethania.

Audrey in Sabrina.

Audrey in a California apartment.

Gary Cooper and Audrey on the set of Love in the Afternoon.

26 June 2015

Famous Food Friday -- The Algonquin Round Table

"A Vicious Circle" by Natalie Ascencios
Natalie Ascencios' "A Vicious Circle" features many of the key players in the what has been dubbed the Algonquin Round Table.  In this illustration you will find: Robert Benchley, Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Sherwood, Harpo Marx, Alexander Woollcott, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, (seated) Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun. This lively group, supplemented by the likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Alice Duer Miller, and Donald Ogden Stewart, held court from 1919 to 1929 at Algonquin Hotel.

They began meeting after John Peter Toohey, a theatrical agent, became angry at Alexander Woollcott for refusing to write about Eugene O'Neill, one of Toohey's clients. Toohey decided to invite Woollcott to lunch as a "thank you" while secretly planning on having Woollcott made fun of.  Of course, Woollcott loved it and began regular lunch meetings that became daily events.

The food came in from Frank Case.  Case managed the Algonquin, buying it in 1927.  It is Case who is credited with the first "round" table.  In the beginning, the group dined in what would become known as the Oak Room and they were seated at conventional tables as if they were any diners. As the group grew, the rectangle table became increasingly cumbersome and the the group was moved to the Rose Room where Case installed a round table.

In 1942, Frank Case wrote a cookbook entitled, Feeding The Lions. It is filled with recipes from the Algonquin kitchen alongside pithy favorites from famous Algonquin diners. Case attributes the title to Edna Ferber.  Ferber writes in the cookbook:
"Highly spiced dishes happen to be my particular weakness and, at the same time, on my dietary taboo list. I manage to be stern with myself, except on those occasions when I lunch at the Algonquin. After looking at all the dishes that I might and should order,I take those curried shrimps with rice that the Algonquin chef does so tantalizingly."
Curry of Fresh Shrimp

2 lbs. raw shrimp (or 1lb. cooked, shelled shrimp)
2 tablespoons butter
1 1.2 tablespoons curry powder
1/2 cup white wine
3 cups rich cream sauce

Prepare 3 cups rich cream sauce, using half cream and half milk.

Boil the raw shrimp in salted water for 5 minutes and allow them to cool. Peel and remove the dark intestinal tract.

Saute them for 5 minutes in 2 tablespoons butter, add the curry powder and the wine and simmer for 5 minutes.  Add to the cream sauce, mix thoroughly and cook for 5 minutes.

Taste for seasoning.

Serve with rice pilaf and chutney.  Grated fresh coconut and chopped toasted almonds are traditional accompaniments.

In 1987, Aviva Slesin won the Academy Award for Best Documentary for The Ten-Year Lunch: The Wit and Legend of the Algonquin Round Table.  Unfortunately, it has been out of print for years, but recently turned up on YouTube. The Alan Ruldoph film, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle is a pretty good fictional depiction of the era, and an excellent look at the evolving "round" table of Frank Case.

In 1998, The Algonquin received a much needed face-lift and the Rose Room was eliminated. In 2005 the Algonquin produced a new menu incorporating many of the favorites in Frank Case's cookbook.

In this day and age one might ponder if the round table seated a truly vicious circle.  Groucho Marx, brother of regular Harpo, was never comfortable with the luncheon regulars.  A quick wit who possessed his own biting repartee, Groucho Marx said of the Round Table, "The price of admission is a serpent's tongue and a half-concealed stiletto."

17 June 2015

On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life

Lesley Blanch about 100. Photo: Sveeva VIGEVENO/GAMMA
Lesley Blanch is the reason I no longer read much traditional fiction. 

If you were a writer and tried, even tried, to write a fictional account of Blanch's life, a competent editor would tell you that no one would believe it. It is a story too convoluted and rambling, a life both wildly independent and alarmingly sexy, and spanning nearly 103 years. Edit. Edit. Edit.

That was Lesley Blanch. We know of her 103 years (actually she was a month shy of 103) from the numerous books she wrote, a biography here and there, and interviews, but her life still had several large gaps. On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life is a collection of writing that helps to fill in those gaps. Gathered by Blanch's goddaughter, Georgia de Chamberet, we now have a better understanding of Blanch. When the publicist offered me a copy of the book, I jumped at the chance to expand my Blanch collection. When it arrived, it sat on my desk forever. I didn't want to read for I knew that once I had, that sense of anticipation at new revelations would be over. I couldn't wait any longer.

She began life in the English country side in the Edwardian era. It was a very conventional life.  Until a family friend, known as "The Traveller" came into Blanch's life. Though Blanch had always been secretive of his identity, he was Theodore Komisarjevsky, a Russian theatre director and designer. Under the guise of showing her around Paris, a 17 year-old Blanch was escorted and seduced by "The Traveller." Their encounters gave Blanch a flair for the dramatic and a serious case of wanderlust.

She decided to become and artist and attend the famous Slade school at a time she describes as, "post Carrington and Spencer and before the impudent gaiety and colour brought by Rex Whistler or Oliver Messel."

The most amazing revelation in On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life is her writing about her marriage to Romain Gary. She married Gary in 1945 and their marriage was "open" long before there was such a thing. Blanch traveled on her own and Gary indulged in other women. Together they were a golden couple. In 1954, Blanch's The Wilder Shores of Love about four nineteenth-century women travellers was a huge hit and Gary's novel The Roots of Heaven won the Goncourt. The couple became a fixture in Hollywood, hobnobbing with every one from Aldous Huxley to Sophia Loren.

One person Blanch should have, in hind site, kept off the guest list was Jean Seberg. Gary became besotted by Seberg and married her in 1962, weeks after his divorce from Blanch was finalized. Blanch took the divorce in stride and traveled extensively, through Afghanistan,the Sahara, Oman, Outer Mongolia, and Egypt. They continued to have what Blanch described as an amitié téléphonique.

In 1994 Lesley Blanch's house burn to the ground. She lost everything, including her library of travel books as well as her rare collection of Russian and Middle Eastern volumes. For days she sifted through the rubble. She had about given up when she sifted one more corner of ash. There she found two photographs that Romain Gray had entrusted to her years before: one of him as a child and the other of his mother.  Blanch wrote, "They were soul survivors of the disaster....Romain was once more demanding the spotlight."

One could go on and on, suffice to say, if you have never read Lesley Blanch, do. If you are a fan, add On the Wilder Shores of Love: A Bohemian Life to your collection.

15 June 2015

Garden Shots

English Peas

Green Tomatoes

Beans we thought were climbers but not!

Kale &
Rainbow Chard

We spent the day weeding and the next day 
it rained and the next day...weeds everywhere!

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