Sunday, November 28, 2010

Favorite Moments at the MoMA's Abstract Expressionism Show

Jackson Pollack - One: Number 31, 1950

I can’t speak for all New Yorkers but I think I speak for many when I say living here I don’t take full advantage of all the city has to offer.  Truth is living here is like living anywhere else; it’s often hard to bust out of the day-to-day routine and do something special. I was bound and determined to do so, however, when I found myself staring at five glorious days off of work with nothing to do but eat turkey at someone else’s house (which, 
by the way, was lovely).

So bright and early on Wednesday morning, I braved the Midtown holiday crowds, paused to watch the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree get dressed, and went to the Museum of Modern Art to see their Abstract Expressionism exhibit.
I minored in art history in college and if I could do it all over, it would be my major.  I loved studying art; it combines two of the things I enjoy learning about most; history and aesthetics. My favorite periods in art occurred from the late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century which explains the incentive I felt to get out of bed early on my first day off and see the show at the MoMA.

Abstract Expressionism, also known as the New York School, took place in the 1940’s and 50’s.  It was the first major international art movement based in America, with the majority of the artists working in New York City.   What defines the Abstract Expressionists as a group is not a particular artistic style but rather their need to react to World War II and its aftermath.  The Holocaust, end of totalitarianism, rise of communism, and victories for democracy inspired the young artists in New York to create intensely emotional and personal works of art that were largely nonrepresentational and often executed on a grand scale.  These individual reactions resulted in paintings of dynamic gesture (Jackson Pollack, Willem de Koonig, Franz Kline), sublime blocks of color (Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman) and those that crossed between the two (Hans Hoffman and Robert Motherwell).
Mark Rothko - No. 10

While there is no better way to get an overall impression of a work of art than to step back and view it in its entirety, my favorite way to look at a painting is up close.  I like to see the brushstrokes and layering of paint; for me it brings the monumentality of an historic work down to a very personal level where I can imagine the artist working through the process of creating their masterpiece.  The Abstract Expressionists are particularly well suited for this type of viewing.  I like to pick favorite “moments” in a painting - a place where I fall in love with the colors or application of paint.  There were so many “moments” in this show!  Here are a just a few….

Mark Rothko - No. 1 (Untitled)

Mark Rothko - Untitled

Helen Frankenthaler - Trojan Gates

Hedde Sterne - New York, VIII

Philip Guston - Painting

Hans Hofmann - Cathedral

Larry Rivers - Washington Crossing the Delaware

Mark Tobey - Edge of August

Joan Mitchell - Ladybug

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Cranberry Relish

Over the years I’ve made many different cranberry sauce recipes for Thanksgiving.  All of them were good but not good enough that I wanted to make them again the next year.  One year I switched from a sauce to a relish and the search was over; this has been my Thanksgiving cranberry recipe ever since. 
So much of what is wonderful about Thanksgiving is family tradition and food lends itself well to that end.  I love to try new recipes, but I also love that someone I care about looks forward to a dish I’m making.  My mom still gets excited when she sees me putting this one together and that makes me happy.  Thanksgiving is not a holiday about getting gifts; it’s about giving them and being thankful for the gifts you’ve been given all year long. 
Happy Thanksgiving to all!  And to Mom and Dad - who I won’t be with this year but will be thinking of - Happy 49th Anniversary!  You are the two people in this world I’m most thankful for.  Enjoy the day and being together, even if it means eating a hospital Thanksgiving dinner with no cranberry relish.  When Dad gets out, we’ll celebrate again.
Cranberry Orange Relish
Adapted from Gourmet November 2001

This cranberry relish is zippy and tart, a nice respite on the plate from all the delicious but rich food that tends to show up for Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s so easy it’s ridiculous; no cooking is required, it can be made a day or two ahead of time, and it’s perfect for turkey sandwiches the next day (and the day after and the day after that).
Breezy Hill Orchard brings fresh cranberries to the Greenmarket from Willows Cranberries of Wareham, Massachusetts.  They are fourth generation cranberry farmers who use as little pesticide as possible. 
Sectioning an orange is not difficult; I found useful advice such as this online.
1 navel orange
12 ounces fresh cranberries
½ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Finely grate 2 teaspoons of zest from orange.  Section orange.
Pulse cranberries with zest, orange sections, sugar, and cinnamon in a food processor until finely chopped. 
Chill, covered, at least 2 hours to allow flavors to develop. 
Relish may be chilled up to 3 days in advance. 

Serves 10

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Prince Charles and the movie Harmony

With all the talk about the British royals this week I’m going to add my two cents, just not about whom you might think.  I’m interested in Prince Charles, who I’ll venture to guess isn’t on many people’s radar of cool, interesting people to follow (which could have something to do with him famously talking to plants and infamously cheating on Diana) but he is on mine. The more I delve into the world of organic agriculture and sustainable living, the more I come across his name.  For over 30 years the Prince of Wales has dedicated himself to supporting charities that focus on the environment and quality of life issues and is now considered one of the visionary leaders of the movement towards a sustainable planet.
Take for instance a few weeks ago when I saw photos of sheep grazing on London’s famed Savile Row, home of bespoke suits.  Who else but Prince Charles was behind the campaign to educate consumers about the beauty and desirability of wool?  The wool industry has been in decline for years as people turn to synthetics and high-tech materials to make much of their clothing.  Event sponsors – and the Prince – recognized an opportune moment to promote wool’s natural properties and homespun qualities, which fit into the current rage for authentic products with a “green” bent. 

He practices what he preaches, too.  The Prince of Wales’ gardens at Highgrove House, his home in Gloucestershire, England, are a model for organic agriculture and nothing short of spectacular (having a royal staff to take care of it all surely helps).
The Prince has co-authored several books on the topic of his gardens and organic gardening and also sells his own line of organic and sustainable food products called Duchy Originals.  All profits from sales go to The Prince’s Charities Foundation, which supports everything from environmental issues to health and hospice to servicemen and women.
This Friday at 10:00 on NBC you’ll have a chance to see the scope of Prince Charles’ knowledge and research on critical global issues such as climate change, organic farming, rainforest preservation and sustainable business development.  The one-hour documentary, Harmony, will introduce the world to The Prince’s well-thought-out view that a world in balance with nature is one that embraces centuries-old wisdom with modern technology.  I, for one, can’t wait to see it.  As much as I love to follow the royal romance of Prince William and Kate (and I do), I’m happy to see the spotlight on this often misunderstood, intelligent man who just happens to be the next King of England.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Paul Newman, Michel Nischan...and sweet potatoes

Some people seem to be born under a lucky star.  A perfect example of this is Paul Newman: handsome, talented, entrepreneurial, visionary, compassionate – did I mention handsome? - he seemingly had it all.  While most of us think of him first as an actor, a very close second for me is his career as a philanthropist. The story of how, in 1980, he brewed up a batch of homemade salad dressing in his Connecticut basement for Christmas gifts, sparking a food empire called Newman’s Own, is legendary.  PN insisted the company’s products be made with all-natural ingredients and without preservatives.  This may sound like old hat to us today but in the '80s it was unheard of.
Also unheard of was PN’s idea to donate every last penny of net royalties and profits after tax from Newman’s Own to charity.  Which brings me to Paul Newman the Philanthropist and why Newman’s Own is on my mind.
I heard on the news that Newman’s Own recently passed a massive milestone:  through the Newman’s Own Foundation, $300 million dollars have been given to charities around the world. $300 million dollars!  That’s an unbelievable amount of money to have come from such a humble start (albeit, as humble as a start can be when a Hollywood legend is involved in the mix).  $300 million dollars means the foundation has given a tremendous number of people, not born under a lucky star, a chance at hope they might otherwise not have had. 
The charity closest to Newman’s heart was the one he helped start in 1986 called The Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.  Children with serious medical conditions are invited to come to the camps, free of charge, to do what all kids do at camp:  have a good time, learn, and make friends. Newman felt that surrounding kids with other kids facing similar obstacles would help free them of shyness and fear and encourage independence, confidence, and optimism.  Judging from the comments on the camp’s website, it has done just that – and more. Today there are 14 Hole in the Wall Camps around the world with more on the way.
Newman was so reluctant to highlight his work in philanthropy that in 1994, after receiving an honorary Oscar, the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, he vowed never to accept another such award and burned his tuxedo in a roaring front-yard bonfire!
If you have a chance, read Newman’s book, In Pursuit of the Common Good:  Twenty-five Years of Improving the World, One Bottle of Salad Dressing at a Time.  It’s inspirational and witty; did I mention in addition to all the other stuff, Paul Newman was a really funny guy?  That lucky star must have been huge! It’s also a moving reminder of the impact one person with a kind heart and determination can have on the world.
Cinnamon-Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Homegrown: Pure and Simple by Michel Nischan
You might ask what do sweet potatoes and Paul Newman have to do with each other?  Lest you think acting and philanthropy were enough to keep his days full, Newman also started a restaurant with chef Michel Nischan next to the Westport Country Playhouse called the Dressing Room
Oh, how I wish I wasn’t a car-less New Yorker!  I would have tried this restaurant ages ago.  The menu pays homage to the best local, organic, and natural ingredients Connecticut and her surrounding states have to offer.  Perhaps best said on the Dressing Room website by the two guys themselves:
We believe that the food we grow and cook in the place that we call home defines who we are.  In this spirit, we update and celebrate American heirloom recipes, support local and regional farmers, fishers and producers, by cooking food that recaptures the pure and simple tastes of natural and organic ingredients.  We also strive to raise awareness of a sustainable food future and work to reestablish a sense of community and a simpler, more homegrown time. 
As you may suspect, the Dressing Room’s co-founder, Michel Nischan, is no ordinary chef.  I quickly learned this a few years ago while attending the Bedford Environmental Summit in Bedford, NY.  MN was a member of a panel discussion I sat in on and while I knew everyone else on the panel, I wasn’t familiar with him.  When he was introduced, the moderator went on and on, listing an impressive number of accomplishments in the sustainable food arena, of which he has been an active supporter for over 30 years.  In addition to being owner and founder of the Dressing Room, MN is the author of three cookbooks (Taste Pure and Simple won a James Beard award in 2004), member of several boards including the Harvard Center for Health and the Global Environment, and President/CEO of Wholesome Wave Foundation
I could go on and on about his accomplishments myself – especially Wholesome Wave – but that’s for another post.  For now I want to get back to the sweet potatoes. This recipe is from MN’s book Homegrown; Pure and Simple: Great Healthy Food from Garden to Table.  As you know, I prefer simple recipes.  Too many steps, too many ingredients, and I lose interest. That’s why this one appeals to me; it’s nothing more than farmstand sweet potatoes roasted to perfection with a little honey, cinnamon, salt and pepper.
2 tablespoons local honey
2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil
6 medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled, halved lengthwise
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 cinnamon sticks or a dash of ground cinnamon*
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey and oil.  Rub the potato halves with this mixture and season with salt and pepper.  Arrange, skin side down, in a shallow baking dish and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to soften.
Remove the pan from the oven, sprinkle the flesh with cinnamon, and turn skin side up.  Roast for 20 to 30 minutes longer, or until the potatoes are cooked through. 
* The original recipe calls for cinnamon sticks to be tucked under the potatoes when flipped halfway through baking.  I decided to sprinkle them with ground cinnamon instead, which worked out just fine.
Serves 6

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins

Pumpkin Doughnut Muffins
Adapted from Everyday Food November 2010

My sister, Sue, says these muffins "taste like fall" and she's right. One bite through the crunchy cinnamon-sugar exterior into the light and fragrant nutmeg-and-allspice-infused pumpkin interior will send memories of falling leaves, crackling fires, and Thanksgiving feasts rushing back.  You might think, "All that imagery from a little ol' muffin?".  I say yes; never underestimate the power of taste - and smell - to conjure up fond recollections.  It's one reason why so many of us love food so much.

10 tablespoons (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1/3 cup buttermilk
1 ¼ cups pure pumpkin puree
¾ cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs

Sugar coating:
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour 12 standard muffin cups.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and allspice.

In a small bowl, whisk together buttermilk and pumpkin puree.

With an electric mixer, beat butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down bowl as needed. With mixer on low, add flour mixture in three additions, alternating with two additions of pumpkin mixture, and beat to combine.

Spoon 1/3 cup batter into each muffin cup and bake until a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean, about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and cinnamon. 

Let muffins cool 10 minutes in a pan on a wire rack. Working with one at a time, remove muffins from pan, brush all over with butter, then toss to coat in sugar mixture. Let muffins cool completely on a wire rack. (Store in an airtight container up to 1 day.)

* Muffins may be frozen up to 3 months. Reheat in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven, then coat in butter and sugar.

Makes 12 muffins